As an intern with Dublin’s Lilliput Press, Sarah Davis-Goff discovered the internationally celebrated author Donal Ryan. She recently co-founded Tramp Press with Lisa Coen, a fellow Lilliput alumnus
You set up Tramp Press with the aim of championing the kind of literary fiction often overlooked by commercial publishing houses. How would you define your mission statement? Put simply, we’re trying to publish brilliant books and put quality first. Rather than being the kind of publisher – of which there are probably too many in the world – that tries to find a book that’s commercial enough to sell, we’re trying to find books that are so brilliant they make us sweat and shake to the point we just have to match them up with like-minded readers.
How did the venture come about? Lisa was doing an internship at Lilliput while I was managing the office for a colleague on sabbatical. We both knew our time there together was coming to an end, which was a shame because we loved the work, had a shared passion for emerging fiction and had really hit it off. We started making jokes about eventually having our own publishing company; then one day it stopped being a joke and it suddenly seemed like something that might well be feasible.
How did you come to discover Donal Ryan? I’d been working in Lilliput for a while as an intern and I’d been pestering Anthony [Farrell, Lilliput founder] to keep me on. One of my favourite tasks was working my way through the slush pile, the mound of unsolicited manuscripts sent in by authors hoping to be published. I’ve always been excited about the prospect of finding gold and that’s what happened when I came across The Thing About December [the second Donal Ryan novel to be published] which I fell in love with immediately and wouldn’t shut up about. Not everyone was an immediate convert like me but I kept badgering Anthony until he read Donal himself. When he did he really got it and took a punt.
Despite being garlanded with praise, Ryan clocked up some 47 rejection letters before Lilliput published his debut, The Spinning Heart. How do you account for the fact he’d been turned down so many times? It’s difficult to say. I think it’s a mystery he received so many rejections because he’s such an exciting and powerful new voice. That said, as publishers get larger and more successful, I think editors drift further away from the slush pile so people lower down the food chain don’t always get the hearing they deserve. One thing we’re keen to do at Tramp Press is to sift through the slush pile ourselves and hopefully unearth whatever new talent is out there.
Do you worry about the future of the printed book? I believe the sale of e-books has actually slowed over the last year. I’ll always love books in traditional bound form but the important thing is that people are actually reading. We’re excited about bringing great work to people, be it through paper or electronic means. Personally, I think it’s impossible to improve on the packaging of a well-produced hardback book in the same way it’s impossible to improve on the packaging of an apple.
Your first Tramp Press title, Flight by Oona Frawley, has just been published. Why did it appeal to you? It was another book that a lot of publishers had read and turned down, which left me gobsmacked because Oona’s clearly such a fantastic writer with a tremendously accomplished style. The book centres on the dynamic between an elderly couple in Dalkey and the African carer who moves in with them. It deals with subjects such as immigration and ageing – often neglected in contemporary Irish literature – in a very nuanced way and really speaks to the here and now, especially to a generation of people faced with the prospect of caring for ageing parents.
You have two more titles planned for this year… To celebrate the centenary of James Joyce’s Dubliners, we’re publishing Dubliners 100. It was the idea of Thomas Morris at The Stinging Fly, a brilliant Irish literary journal, who thought a great way of celebrating the book was by inviting contemporary Irish writers to respond to each of Joyce’s stories with one of their own; it’ll include work by John Boyne, Belinda McKeon, Donal Ryan, Eimear McBride and Pat McCabe, with some exciting up-and-coming writers too. We’re also planning to publish neglected Irish books that are out of print and near the end of the year we’re putting out Charlotte Riddell’s A Struggle For Fame, first published in 1883, about a female Irish author who travels to London to make a new life. Not only is it a great read, but it boasts a sex scene – which has to be one of the earliest in Irish literature.
Flight by Oona Frawley is out now. Oona Frawley and Lisa Coen will take part in The Town We Love So Well (Sat, Irish Writers Centre, 1pm), a new series of talks exploring the ways in which writers have responded to Dublin city in their work. www.tramp.ie.