- "Publish Little, but Publish Well":An Interview with the Founders of Tramp Press
Tramp Press is an independent Irish publishing house founded by Lisa Coen and Sarah Davis-Goff "to find, nurture, and publish exceptional literary talent."1 Named for the transgressive figures who people the drama of J. M. Synge, Tramp has, since its founding in 2014, published a small, steady stream of award-winning books, including Sara Baume's Spill Simmer Falter Wither (2015) and Mike McCormack's Solar Bones (2016). They have also published reprints of neglected fiction in the Recovered Voices series, among them Charlotte Riddell's A Struggle for Fame (1883; reprint 2014) and Maeve Kelly's Orange Horses (1990; reprint 2017). They have produced timely collections as well, including Dubliners 100 (2014), in which contemporary writers reimagine Joyce's famed stories, and A Kind of Compass: Stories on Distance (2015), a collection of short stories from international writers considering distance as a theme. Coen and Davis-Goff have created a nimble business model that is simultaneously approachable and rigorous: They are committed to reading everything in the "slush pile," the sobriquet used to describe unsolicited manuscripts received by publishers, as well as to integrating their progressive politics with their mission to publish extraordinary fiction. In their endeavors they have successfully merged new and traditional practices to support writers, employing social media such as Twitter and Instagram very effectively to promote the brand, but also meeting face-to-face with booksellers and attending public readings with their authors. In December 2016 Coen and Davis-Goff met with Paige Reynolds to discuss Tramp's past, present, and future.2 [End Page 372]
Can we begin with Tramp's origin story? How did you initially conceptualize the press after you met working together at Lilliput Press here in Dublin? I have read articles in which the decision to start Tramp sounds like the start of a caper movie: "Well, we're young women in publishing and we'll just have to create a job for ourselves!"
That is literally the case! I remember having lunch in [the restaurant] Seven Seven Seven, where Sarah said, "This'll probably just be part-time."
I cannot believe I said that. I mean, we are not people who work part-time at anything, ever. Apart from the fact that we could not find jobs, there was a real need for a fresh look at publishing in Ireland. We were, as you mentioned, working at Lilliput, and while there, this incredible manuscript from Donal Ryan came in that took a while to get people interested in, even though it was obviously something very special. That put the frighteners on me, thinking that there are great manuscripts out there that are being completely ignored on the slush piles. Those manuscripts really need a voice and a champion. Publishers were not publishing with their gut, and publishing according to what you think the market wants is always death. Plus, we wanted to provide diversity to the publishing industry in Ireland. If for example only middle-aged guys are in a position to say yes or no to manuscripts, my experience is that they will generally be saying yes to works by other middle-aged guys.
We knew there were important manuscripts being neglected. I remember people saying, "Why did the Celtic Tiger not produce any great writers?" I think there are two reasons for that. One is that people actually had jobs, and so maybe did not take the risk because they had to pay the mortgage. But I also think publishers were not looking for great, challenging work. There are a lot of very conservative choices being made, particularly by large U.K. houses. They are leaving a lot of good stuff behind and publishing things that are very similar. I am very wary of this conversation about this great new wave of Irish literature. The great work has always been there, but there has not been anyone to champion it. [End Page 373]
Has new media created ways to find new voices?
Lisa McInerney is a...