Peirene launched their first titles in 2010. They publish translated novellas, “that can be read in the same time it takes to watch a DVD.” We reviewed one of their titles, Portrait of the Mother as a Young Woman, last year.
I’m sure many of this blog’s readers are already familiar with Peirene, but for those that aren’t, would you like to start by telling me a little about your latest title, Tomorrow Pamplona?
Tomorrow Pamplona by Dutch author Jan van Mersbergen is a road movie in book form. It tells the story of two men, a family man and a boxer, who take a car journey from Amsterdam to Pamplona where they join in the bull run. It’s a book about men, their aggression and desire for freedom on the one hand, and their need for intimacy on the other.
Was it really only last year that Peirene published its first title? You’ve done a great job of establishing Peirene in a relatively short time. Part of that I think is down to the distinctive branding: the cream paperbacks with the cropped images and flaps. Could you tell me a little about how you settled on that design?Thank you for the compliment. From the start I knew that I wanted to go for a strong branding. I initially had a different designer and design, but that was before the first book was printed. I wasn’t happy with it. Then I found Sacha Davison-Lunt, Peirene’s current designer. She is great and we work well together because she understands to combine quality and elegance with individuality.
I think it would make me nervous to have one consistent design like that: What if I got bored of it? What if people stopped responding? Do you have any plans to publish in any other formats, or can you imagine doing so? I’m thinking of perhaps a hardback edition of a special title, as Hesperus have done a couple of times, or a radically different one-off cover design—say, as CB Editions did, breaking their distinctive typographic cover style for Knight Crew and Marjorie Ann Watts’s book.
Our design is very flexible. Next year will be Peirene’s Year of the Small Epic, short books with over 30 chapters each. Although the design will still be recognizably “Peirene”, the covers will reflect the annual theme.
Do you have any plans to release ebook editions of your titles?
Yes, we have just signed a contract with Faber Factory who will do the ebook distribution for us.
That’s interesting. What made you decide to work with another publisher on the ebooks?
About 60 publishers have already signed up with Faber Factory. They will do the e-book distribution for us. Since they are experts in that field, it’s much better that they do it for us rather than we trying to do it all by ourselves.
When do you expect to release the first ebook titles?
And in terms of content, can you see Peirene every publishing a book of short stories, or a longer novel, or even a book written originally in English?
Peirene No 6, Maybe This Time by Austrian Alois Hotschnig, which will be published in September, is a collection of short-stories. As for an English novella? If a well-known English language author has a novella in his or her drawer, I’d be delighted to have a look.Speaking of translation, one thing that worries me as a publisher about translated fiction is in the editorial side, the fact that one loses the immediacy of being able to work directly with the author, because effectively, however good the translation, the author and the publisher are always looking at different texts. This often wouldn’t apply to you, as I know you’re multi-lingual, but is that lack of an immediate connection ever an issue?
No, I wouldn’t say that. The original book and the translation are of course two different texts. I love texts. What is important to me is to present the English reader with a text that is true to the essence of the original but at the same time is a perfect English text, “as if it were written in English”, without of course changing names, street names etc.
Aside from the publishing, you also run a regular Salon. Could you tell me a little more about these events? Would you say they have played a big part in Peirene’s success to date? Do you have more plans for different types of event, perhaps touring the salon around the country?
The Peirene Salon is our flagship event. They take place in my own house, where I invite up to 50 people – readers, book lovers, critics, colleagues. Some people I know, others I have never met before. These Salons very much represent what Peirene stands for – to build a cohesive community of booklovers and readers. The evenings don’t present boring readings but are parties with performances, conversation, dinner and wine. In fact the Salons are now funded by The Wine Society and so the hospitality is always excellent. We are always booked up with a waiting list in place. The majority of the guests leave around 11pm but some stay on until 2 or 3 in the morning, drinking and talking. It’s wonderful. We also run regular Coffee Mornings in a local cafe. There we reach out to a different readership. Even children are welcome. And then we also have an event series called Peirene Experience where we present books in unusual places and different ways. For example, in March we held an event with the actor Jack Ellis and our German author Matthias Politycki in a bookshelf designer shop. The evening was a huge success.
Overall, how have you found the experience of entering the publishing industry? Any particular frustrations (naming no names, of course!) or pleasant surprises?
It’s an incredibly exciting journey because the book market is changing so fast and no one yet knows where it will take us. And to be right in the middle of this is a huge privilege.
And finally, just so that I’m absolutely certain, how exactly does one pronounce “Peirene”?
Watch the movie below and the mystery will be revealed…