February 2019


Not long ago, I attended an event held to raise awareness of English Pen and writers who are currently being held in prisons around the world. I had been asked to speak about a woman called Narges Mohammadi, a woman who was sent to jail for being a member of an organisation called “Step by  Step to Stop the Death Penalty” and for  “committing propaganda against the state.” One of the main focusses of that propaganda campaign was to stop the state killing juvenile offenders. Kids, in other words. She wanted to protect children. 

I could talk about this case for a long time, as well as the trials this woman has undergone in jail - but it’s probably more productive if you have a look for yourself at the web pages her supporters have set up for her - and also if you have a look on the English Pen website. If you like, you can also look at the talk I gave by clicking on this link. There you’ll also see several other videos, each one of them moving and important. I’d especially urge you to look at the talk by Steven Fowler, who asked the troubling question of what it is about these writers that makes them speak out? Why don't they stay at home, have an easy life, protect themselves and their families? Why can't they shrug off injustice and oppression like most other people tend to do? Could we really blame them if they opted instead for safety? Could we even blame them, instead, for being so bloody difficult?

There’s clearly something about some writers, isn’t there? They can’t shut up. They won’t shut up. If you’re doing something wrong, they’ll tell you - and if that rebounds on them, well, that’s the price of truth. 

I realised when Steve was speaking that every single Galley Beggar writer would be in jail if faced with the right (actually, let’s call it ‘wrong’) kind of oppression. I felt a faint flicker of amusement at the thought of trying to encourage Preti Taneja and Alex Pheby and Lucy Ellmann to keep quiet and do as they are told, but mostly, I felt pride and horror. Pride, for obvious reasons. Horror because of the realisation that those writers who are in jail probably have a great deal in common with our friends here, who have given us so much through their books and their lives. 

And I have to tell you that because you read this newsletter, and because you’ve read this far, you’re probably in the awkward club too. So, I salute you, comrade! But I guess that my saying that you might also find yourself on the wrong end of the long stick of an absurd law is really another way of saying that English Pen is a fine organisation and it deserves our support. They're looking out for people like us, after all. I joined up after speaking for Narges and it felt good. 


We also have book news - good book news. 

As I may have mentioned before, we’ve got some stonking titles on the way this year. Elly's prepared a nice little info sheet for bookstores about our forthcoming releases, which I’ll paste at the end of this newsletter so you can peruse it at leisure. 

On the subject of release schedules, do also look at the amazing books some of our fellow independent publishers have got on the way in 2019. Elly compiled a big list with information from a lot of presses here.

I’m also delighted to announce that we've started the year with the wonderful news that Alex Pheby's Lucia has been longlisted for the brilliant and important and, frankly, faith-in-literature-renewing Republic of Consciousness Prize. Yay!

Not only that - January has also seen a lot of love for our beloved Francis Plug, with reviews in the TLS (“ memorable invention”) and Review 31 (“a refreshing rarity: a book that really will make you laugh”). How’s that?! 

(Oh and I’m going to be one of the judges on the Edgehill Prize soon, alongside Tessa Hadley and Elizabeth Baines. It’s always nice when people mistake me for a respectable member of society.  Please don’t let them know the truth about me!)

And that's enough for now - except to say, don’t let the bastards grind you down, and here are those exceptional 2019 releases:  


Out on July 4 (limited editions available to pre-order - and disappearing fast!)

Brilliant, fiery, furious – and terrifically funny, Lucy Ellmann’s Ducks, Newburyport has already been making headlines as a book to watch in 2019. With good reason. It’s nearing 900 pages, it’s one sentence long… and it’s the Great American Novel we’ve all been waiting for. All of the USA is in it: right and wrong, better and worse – and with frequent detours into the wild insanity of Donald Trump’s Whitehouse… It’s also America seen through female eyes. The narrative plunges the reader inside the head of a stay-at-home mother who is struggling to pay her medical bills, communicate with her teenage daughter, put food on the table, keep her home safe. But this is no cosy domestic saga: as the Evening Standard says, “Reading Lucy Ellmann is like finding bits of broken glass in your lollipop.” 

“[In July] look out for Ducks, Newburyport, a wildly ambitious and righteously angry portrait of contemporary America.”  —Observer Fiction Picks, 2019


Out in August (with limited editions available to pre-order)

Meet Elliott. Elliott may well be a genius – and he’s also a boy who is unable to speak or walk and lives in a children’s home run by Catholic nuns in 1979. A beautiful, bittersweet meditation on the frailties and pleasures of language and communication, Patience is also a glorious celebration of childhood, friendship… and the sheer pleasure of wreaking havoc. With a plot revolving around a break-out attempt on the part of the children – think Samuel Beckett got drunk, decided to have a bit of fun, and wrote The Great Escape.

“Toby Litt has a wonderful streak of playfulness in him… his narratives wonder freely into unexpected forms.” —Wall Street Journal

“One of the most original and inventive writers around.”—The Daily Mirror


Out in December (limited editions available to pre-order)

With his first two Galley Beggar novels – 2015’s Wellcome Book Prize-shortlisted Playthings and 2018’s Lucia (an exploration of the life of Lucia Joyce, which, in the words of the Irish Times, “set(s) the standard… for fictional biography”) – Alex Pheby has established himself of one of the bravest, most eloquent and most challenging novelists working today. Mordew will only enhance that reputation, while also defying all genre expectations. Because Alex’s latest novel is the first in a new fantasy trilogy – set in a world where God is dead and the city of Mordew is held under the power of a Master who feeds off His corpse. A rollicking, disturbing adventure, for fans of Susanna Clarke and Mervyn Peake – to read Mordew is to walk through streets wherepeople are stitched from rags, where cannibal dogs freely roam, where half-formed creatures writhe in the gutters… and only a boy called Nathan Treeves can save the day.

“A writer possessed of unusual – indeed, extraordinary – powers.” —The Guardian

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