Welcome to our Ask a Publisher! After the success of our Ask a Bookseller series, we’ve been reaching out to a bunch of our publishers with some questions about what they do. Up next is François von Hurter from independent publisher of translated crime fiction and more, Bitter Lemon Press. Read on.
Tell us about your publishing house in a few sentences.
Bitter Lemon Press is a small, very independent, London based publishing house with a focus on crime and noir fiction but also a keen publisher of eclectic non-fiction under our imprint Wilmington Square Books. We are 15 years old, a mere teenager, but our list is close to crossing the 100 title threshold.
What is your role and how long have you worked there?
Co-founder and publisher, so have worked here 15 years.
What does a typical day at work look like for you?
It starts with the Piccadilly Line to Russell Square: our office is next to Exmouth Market. Very lucky to work with Laurence Colchester (another co-founder) and John Nicoll who is our non-fiction and general publishing guru. Days are not very predictable as we each handle all aspects of publishing of selected titles. Could be reading foreign language submissions, editing a draft MS, preparing sales materials, choosing covers, etc. Productive and satisfying chaos, I guess.
What are you reading right now?
Too many books at the same time. A Lucia Berlin collection of short stories called Evening in Paradise. Loved her rediscovered collection A Manual for Cleaning Women published two years ago. A Hollywood Station cop story by Joseph Wambaugh called The Black Marble: word perfect noir. The Bridge over the Drina by Bosnian Ivo Andrić. Visit Bosnia and take this novel with you. And yes, the graphic novel Coronado by French genius Loustal, based on Until Gwen, a seminal short story by Dennis Lehane.
What is the one book you wish you had published?
Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley. I read her over and over again, an example of psychological suspense writing that cleanses my palate after a surfeit of overwritten submissions. Reading almost any Simenon is another good antidote to a surplus of badly written serial killer stories. Ok, I’d start with Mr. Hire’s Engagement.
What do you look for in a book? What makes a book amazing?
A strong sense of place and insight into the dark criminal secrets of foreign places. More interested in well rendered complex characters and good writing than fast-moving plots. Leavened by a bit of humour if that’s not asking for too much.
Not so much a moment, but we are proud that over the years we have introduced authors new to Anglophone markets and doggedly supported their novels. For example eight novels by Leonardo Padura, starting in 2005 with Havana Red, and in the same year launching Gianrico Carofiglio’s first novel in English Involuntary Witness, which was followed by six titles. Both these authors went on to win multiple literary prizes and gain wide international recognition.
What are your favourite publishers and what do you love about them?
MacLehose Press and No Exit Press. Both London based, both with wonderful taste. MacLehose does translated fiction like no one else: see Cees Nooteboom, Daniel Pennac, Pierre Lemaitre, Elias Khoury, etc. No Exit has been a favourite of mine for over twenty years with its strong and reliable list of US crime writers. James Sallis, Edward Bunker, Kem Nunn and Robert B. Parker to name but a few. And the German Turk Jakob Arjouni.
What would you like to see more of in publishing, and what have you seen enough of?
A renaissance of independent bookshops, willing to take more risks with indie publishers than the chains and staffed by book-loving fanatics willing to chase showroomers out of their shops. Can I ask for a return to fixed book prices?
And finally… name three of your absolute favourite authors.
Georges Simenon, David Peace and George V. Higgins. All three masters of crime writing, different eras, different nationalities but all sources of inspiration.