Indie Fiction Subscription #2: Introducing Peninsula Press
Each month, we'll introduce our subscription titles with exclusive interviews with their fierce, fabulous independent publishers. With the difficult second album we have…
Peninsula Press was formed by three booksellers in 2017. Following a successful kickstarter campaign, the list launched in 2018 with a series of Pocket Essays and a collection of short fictions by David Wojnarowicz.
In 2020 their list has grown to include full-length fiction and non-fiction, as well as further Pocket Essays.
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Peninsula is coming up to its third birthday and third round of titles – what have you learned since launching with a crowdfunder in 2018?
I feel like we've learned a lot about all parts of the publishing journey, and how much work is involved at every stage! As a bookseller you often only get to see the finished product. The main thing I think that we've developed is a more accurate picture of our readership.
Men and Apparitions is your second American fiction title, after David Wojnarowicz’s The Waterfront Journals – Lynne Tillman’s is a novel about photographs; David Wojnarowicz’s was short fictions by a photographer. Are there other connections or overlaps between them?
I think both writers have been best understood in a visual arts context, and rather neglected by literary readers. Bringing them both to this new readership has been a key aim of ours in publishing their books. I think often, for the sake of convenience, writers get pigeon-holed by press and marketing, and we try and always find new contexts and readerships for our writers.
Men and Apparitions challenges the boundaries between fiction and critical non-fiction, narrated by Zeke, who is an ethnographer of family photography, and is relating his scholarship mixed in with his life experience. Where’s the line, for you as a publisher, between fiction and non-fiction – or is the crossover where the excitement is?
Certainly there are plenty of writers having fun in those borderlands, whether that’s between novel and memoir or between novel and essay. But then with the novel, that’s always been the way. As a publisher of both fiction and non-fiction, I guess it’s natural that we feel drawn to books that challenge our ideas of how—or even whether—that distinction can be sustained. One of the paradoxes of being a publisher is that these labels can come to seem arbitrary while becoming, from a marketing perspective, all the more important (after all, one’s books have to go onto or into a particular shelf or category).
Lynne’s book presented us with ample new possibilities for thinking these divisions through. Sections of it read like they’re lifted from a book of cultural criticism. Yet these are also some of the liveliest, funniest, and even saddest moments in the book—the ones that reveal the most about Zeke, its narrator. And so this isn’t Thomas Mann: we don’t have static essayistic introjections breaking the novelistic flow (readers familiar with Lynne’s wonderful writing on art and culture, by the way, will definitely recognise something of her own thought in Men and Apparitions). Lynne’s ever-inventive stylisations show how critical language can be vivid and piercing (just as the languages we prefer to reserve for talking about ourselves can be moribund and flat).
This cuts right to the heart of how we usually divide non-fiction from fiction, intellect from emotion, criticism from life. For Zeke, the ‘life of the mind’ isn’t just some facile evasion of ‘life’ in its other guises, as it might have been if the novel were written by another hand. As a writer, Lynne is interested in how any language we use brings certain things close and pushes other things away, makes some things visible by rendering others invisible. For Zeke this is a strategy, but it isn’t a straightforward one. Part of the fun of the novel—of any novel—is seeing what the narrator reveals through what he tries to hide, and what remains obscure through his attempts to reveal himself and his world. If part of the book’s excitement is the way it blurs that line between novel and criticism, then that’s partly because in doing so it expands the possibilities for both.
How do you choose what to publish – did you have a clear vision in mind when you started out (and if so, how has that worked out)?
A mixture of ways. Some books have started as fan mail: ‘Dear Writer, I love what you do. Please write a book for us.’ Others grew out of conversations, or came to us through agents. And others have developed from an open call for submissions which we put out. In the future we hope to do more of our commissioning in this way. It’s a lot of work—you open up your inbox and suddenly everyone wants you to see novel one in the ten-part saga they’ve been working on—but it also gets us out of ourselves, undermines our ideas of what we might have been looking for. I suppose our hope, then, is that we will continue to publish excellent books, while having those ideas continually undermined.
Peninsula’s name suggests both attachment and isolation, and perhaps a good position from which to contemplate the long view: does it describe the press’s relationship to the wider publishing world?
Yes that sense of seclusion and attachment is definitely something of what we had in mind with the name: perhaps as a slightly hopeful metaphor for our fledgling press, but also for the position that any great piece of art—such as the ones we wanted to publish—sits in relation to the wider culture that sustains it: a little apart from yet unmistakably a part of. Since starting we’ve been really overwhelmed by the support we’ve had from other publishers (we wouldn’t still be here without it), and heartened to see the emergence of plenty of others—Ignota Books, Cipher Press, Tenement Press, and Hajar Press, to name just a few. Also, a time of closing borders—we started thinking about starting the press in 2016—felt like a good moment to recall the somewhat closer geological relationship that, until a few thousand years ago, the blink of an eye really, the British ‘Isles’ maintained with mainland Europe.
Your first three Pocket Essay authors – Will Harris, Katherine Angel and Olivia Sudjic – are all following up with big titles that are making waves. What’s next for Peninsula, in terms of new books and continuing to develop new voices?
Well, we’re about two publish two wonderful essays: Radical Attention by Julia Bell and A Nazi Word for a Nazi Thing by So Mayer. Both are already available to order and, at £6 each, or a special price of £12 for the two, a total steal.
We’ll start next year by publishing Sterling Karat Gold, a new novel by the Goldsmiths Prize-nominated Isabel Waidner. We really couldn’t be more thrilled about that: it’s no secret that Isabel has been writing some of the weirdest, most expansive, inventive, and relevant fiction over the last few years, and we know this one is going to get a lot of well-deserved attention.
Then later in the spring we’re publishing another book by Lynne Tillman, her incredible and bizarre novel about skin and sensitivity – and everything else – American Genius, A Comedy, first published in the US in 2006. Later in the year we have essays from Amber Husain and Josh Cohen, as well as more good things yet to be announced…