Galley Beggar Press

Galley Beggar Press

Galley Beggar Press is a new publishing company based in Norwich founded by Henry Layte, Eloise Millar and Sam Jordison.

Their stated aim "is to be an old fashioned publisher for the 21st Century. Old fashioned because we believe in the beauty of books and the printed word, in the importance of nurturing authors and paying serious attention to editing, and in the vital importance of art as well as commerce. 21st Century, not just because that’s where we are, but because we also believe in the fantastic potential of ebooks to reach new audiences, to spread our writers’ precious words around the world and to revive and revitalise books that would otherwise either be out of print or lost on the backlist."

Galley Beggar supremo, Sam Jordison, kindly took the time to answer my questions...

Mark Thwaite: When and why did you start Galley Beggar Press?

Sam Jordison: We started in 2011/ 2012, largely as a pipe dream. There are three co-directors, Eloise Millar, Henry Layte and myself. Henry is also the owner of the award winning independent bookshop The Book Hive and we all used to spend a lot of time in there talking about the stock he was getting in, what we liked, what we'd want to do differently, what annoyed us... We began to talk about having our own company and how much good stuff we could do. We didn't really take it that seriously until one day Henry said he had this really interesting book that he wanted a second opinion about... It was written by a friend of his, who couldn't get it published, but Henry thought there was something magical there. So Eloise and I read it, and loved it too, and we all realised that since no one else was publishing it, and because it was so good, that we had to do it. That book was The White Goddess: An Encounter by Simon Gough and luckily it got some wonderful reviews, and sold very nicely for a literary debut by a 70-year-old man from North Norfolk, and we were away...

MT: Does Galley Beggar have a 'mission statement', or a particular 'objective'? Why not leave publishing to the big boys!?

SJ:I don't know about statements or objectives, beyond publishing fucking good books.

I suppose I could say that on our website we call ourselves "an old fashioned publisher for the 20th century". Which is to say we want to have the traditional virtues of top quality story-telling and design, and produce paper books that people will want to keep forever. But we also want to harness the opportunities offered by digital publishing to do new and interesting things (like our monthly Singles Club of £1 ebook short stories, which is starting to get more and more subscribers) and to use twitter and everything else to get our books out there too.

To answer the second part of the question, we're small, and don't have as much to lose, so we can take risks that the big boys can't. We can publish books because we believe in them, and love them and not because the sales team think they might get them into Sainsburys. We are answerable only to our readers, rather than marketing departments. Most of the books we've published have been rejected by the big boys, even though editors have always come back and told the authors that they love them. Our editors are also our marketing team, and our financial directors. So if the editors love a book, that's the end of the story. We try to bring it into the world.

MT: Galley Beggar's books are quite beautifully designed, so I presume book aesthetics are quite important to you...?

SJ: Yes, crucial! We spent a lot of time in those early days talking about having plain, elegant books, that would really sell the words inside them. But talk is cheap. We were very lucky to come across a fantastic designer, Niki Medlik, who shared and understood our vision and put it into practice.

MT: Where do you stand on ebooks?

SJ: I stand on them as hard and often as I can. Not really. I actually think they're great in lots of ways. Certainly as a way of getting across short stories and new writers, they're amazing. I'm really excited by the subscriptions for our Singles Club. If we hit our targets in a few months, we're going to be able to start paying writers up front for short stories and know they'll have a guaranteed readership. That's really exciting and a great way to nurture talent. They're so easy to deliver and can be so cheap that that's wonderful. I'm hoping we can use them to get people to discover new writers in ways they just wouldn't risk with paper books. I also find them quite useful for travel. But I still very much prefer paper books. In my other life, I review for the Guardian and I hate having to review on ebook. It just isn't as convenient (I'm yet to find a note system as effective as the good old post-it-note on the side of the page and flick through...) or as pleasurable. I'd rather have paper nine times out of ten. Except on walking or cycling trips...

MT:Can you tell us something about each of your titles?

SJ: Our most recent book, Everlasting Lane by Andrew Lovett, is a cross between The Secret Seven, I'm Not Scared and A Month In The Country. It has that lovely glow of lost summers, it's drenched in nostalgia and childhood adventure, and it's really funny. But it's also dark and shocking as well as beautiful. It's about Peter, a boy who doesn’t really understand the present, who refuses to think properly about the past, but is compelled to come to terms with both... And I'm wary of saying more because part of the joy of reading it is the number of surprises it springs on you.

A Girl Is A Half-formed Thing by Eimear McBride is the first book by a genius. It is a book written in a voice unlike any you will have encountered: the interior, secret thoughts of a young woman as odds with everything around her. Not so much a stream of consciousness, as an unconscious railing against a life that makes little sense, and a shocking and intimate insight thoughts, feelings and sensual urges. To read it is to plunge inside the narrator’s head and experience her world. That isn’t always comfortable - but it is always a revelation. It's had amazing reviews in the TLS and the London Review of Books, won and been shortlisted for serious prizes, and has helped make our reputation. I read passages of it now at random, just to marvel at how good the prose in every single bit is, and how well it's sustained.

The White Goddess: An Encounter by Simon Gough is best explained by plot summary. Set between the magic of a bohemian Majorca and the horror of Franco’s Madrid, it is a haunting evocation of a lost time and place, dominated by the extraordinary power of one of the twentieth century’s greatest writers, Robert Graves. When 10-year-old Simon Gough went to Majorca in 1953 he thought he had landed in paradise. Far from the misery of his English boarding school and his parent’s divorce, he fell in love – with the tiny village of Deya, with his wild cousin Juan and most of all with his beloved ‘Grand-Uncle’ Robert. When he returned in 1960, paradise had been overrun by beatniks and marijuana – and Simon liked it all the more. But soon he fell for the enchanting Margot Callas, Robert Graves’ muse. He found himself entangled in a web of lies and deceit and playing a game whose rules he didn’t understand. The repercussions would haunt him for the rest of his life... It's mesmerising. It also got a rave in the TLS, not to mention The Observer while Libby Purves on Radio 4 said it was "extraordinary."

Randall, Or The Painted Grape , by Jonathan Gibbs, which will be released in June, is another tour-de-force. It gives an alternate history of the art world, in which Damien Hirst was run over by a train and an even more charismatic artist took his place. It's a fantastic, hilarious commentary on art and culture - but it's also a really moving look at friendship and humanity. There are moments that brought tears of laughter to my eyes - but, you know, it made me sad too. It's wonderful.

We’ve also got a whole stack of books published in our Singles Club - and I’m really proud of all of them. But I don’t want to use up too much space... You’ll have to visit the website if you want to find out more!

MT: If Galley Beggar Press had a patron saint, who would it be?

SJ: John Calder. He was not only one of the greatest publishers of the 20th century (Beckett! Burroughs! And that’s just the B’s!) he also had one of the best understandings of the industry. Of course, he's most famous for saying: "you can make a small fortune in publishing - so long as you start with a large one." He's probably right on that. But the thing that he should also be remembered for is his heroic defence of the Net Book Agreement when the Office of Fair Trading brought the final case came that got rid of it. He said the Publishers’s Association was “craven, foolish, ignorant, suicidal" for failing to fight against the ruling. He predicted that independent traders would quickly start to go under, then that the large chains who had advocated the destruction of the agreement would start to fail too and then that publishing would be in a hell of a mess. He was right. He was our Cassandra.

MT: What are you working on right now? Both personally, and with Galley Beggar?

SJ: At Galley Beggar, we’re working on getting Andrew’s book into the hands of as many people as possible, and also wrapping up Jonathan Gibbs' Randall. And, of course, Eimear continues to do brilliantly. And we've got a line of paperbacks on the way too, starting with a new release of The White Goddess: An Encounter that will hopefully bring it into the mass market. It's a brilliant beach read, as well as everything else...

Personally, I’ve just launched my own book Crap Towns Returns, the ten year anniversary edition of the genuinely rough guide to the UK and I'm completely in love with my job at the Guardian. I've been spending the last month writing about WIlliam Burroughs and reviewing books. I'm very lucky to be able to work at something I find so interesting and so enjoyable.

I’m also toying with a book about bikes and HG Wells - but it’s much too early to say whether or not that will work. I hope it will. It’s a fun idea... But we’ll see. I've written quite a few thousand words. But am as yet unsure if they're rubbish or not.

MT: Who would you love to publish?

SJ: Is it too trite to say I’m happy with the writers we have? If it is, I’d like to think we’d have had the brains to publish Joyce. No, no, no, what am I saying. I’d love it if Galley Beggar could publish Dan Brown and JK Rowling! I’m sick of being poor!

MT: What are the biggest challenges of being a 'micro-publisher'?

SJ: Cash flow! Bills! Lack of welly in contract negotiations. We’ve been lucky in that our books have sold well so far, but we don’t have much room for error. And even when they do sell, the money always goes out as fast as it goes in.

MT: What is next for Galley Beggar Press?

SJ: Well, I’ve already mentioned Jonathan’s book. There are a few more very exciting manuscripts we're looking at at the moment too. Pretty sure we're going to sign up a couple of them. In terms of the company, we’d like to expand, build up a bigger backlist, do a few more things with digital. Take on - and pay! - some staff. Conquer the world. The usual...

-- Mark Thwaite (17/02/2014)

Readers Comments

  1. What an extraordinary press. Thanks for bringing it to my attention, Mark

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