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Stefan Tobler, founder of innovative new publisher ‘And Other Stories’, talks to NBG

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The Back Story
 
And Other Stories was born of frustration, really. Along with several other translators and publishing people, I felt that many amazing books weren’t being published in the UK because they were perceived as too risky for larger houses with significant overheads. About three years ago I started mooting the idea of a publisher with grassroots support to friends and colleagues.
 
In the intervening years it’s been great to see that things are changing. There’s an increasing openness to international literature in the Anglophone world, thanks in no small part to translators.
 
So after a long gestation period involving public meetings and reading groups, spreadsheets and business plans, our first books are out. A really crucial step came in the autumn of 2010, when we heard that Arts Council England was awarding us National Lottery funding to start up. The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation’s funding of a Portuguese reading group has also allowed us to put up web pages with generous sample translations and information on a number of books, opening up our reading group discussions to those who wish to read the extracts in English.
 
Such funding, though, is not enough even to cover basic costs. From the start we have appealed for subscribers to support us and help us bring out these books. It’s been heart-warming to see that before our first books had been seen or read, well over 100 people had already subscribed. As a little sign of our gratitude, we give all our subscribers specially numbered copies and a mention in the next books that we print.
 
The Programme
 
Initially, the aim was to run the publisher as a collective. In order for the publisher to have a recognisable profile, the workable practice seems to be that a few core people run the project, with a lot of support from others who contribute in all sorts of different ways. And Other Stories is a not-for-profit, which means that any profits (when – if! – they come) will go back into the company, in particular so that we can continue to pay translators properly. That aim is helped a great deal by support from translation grants, and the Goethe-Institut generously supported the translation of our German title, Clemens Meyer’s All the Lights.
 
The Books
 
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Clemens Meyer signs copies of
All the Lights
All the Lights and Juan Pablo Villalobos’ novel Down the Rabbit Hole were our first books to appear, launched with the authors reading at the Edinburgh Book Festival in August. A novel by our ‘home’ author Deborah Levy, Swimming Home, comes out in October.
 
And Other Stories prefers to find its books through recommendations from readers and translators than from agents. There are a lot of people who know so much about literature from different parts of the world. So we’re open to suggestions that fit in with the contemporary literary fiction that we publish. We also run reading groups, where a bunch of readers can read one of a few select, as yet untranslated titles. Our recent Spanish, Russian, Portuguese, French and German reading groups have all brought incredible books to light.
 
After our first Spanish reading group, Down the Rabbit Hole was suggested by the translator Rosalind Harvey, while an Argentine student in the London group said that the publisher Entropia and their novel Open Door by Iosi Havilio (our November title) were attracting a lot of attention in Argentina. A number of people suggested the German author Clemens Meyer, and I was so glad that they did. He has done that rare thing: taken tough, raw experience and turned it into breathtaking, world-class literature.
 
The Translators
 
As Sophie Lewis, our editor, and I are both literary translators, we’re in the lucky position of knowing many great translators. We look for the translator who is best able to translate the book and is passionate about it. In Clemens Meyer’s case that was clearly Katy Derbyshire.
 
The Future
 
The Swiss writer Christoph Simon’s novel of an eccentric old man who cannot shut up or stop walking around his city, meeting all kinds of people, is a pure delight, and is very moving about marriage and family relationships. It will come out next year, currently under the working title ‘The Art of Walking’.
 
There are plenty of interesting younger writers that we aim to look at, as well as some giants of recent German literature that are due a revival in the UK: Wolfgang Hilbig and Hubert Fichte, for example, or Peter Handke.
 
 
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Stefan Tobler
Christoph Simon’s novel, Spaziergänger Zbinden (Bilger), was reviewed in the Spring 2011 issue of New Books in German, and was also part of NBG’s first Emerging Translators Programme.
 
 
 
 

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All the Lights

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By Clemens Meyer
Translated by Katy Derbyshire
 
 
A man bets all he has on a horserace to pay for an expensive operation for his dog. A young refugee wants to box her way straight off the boat to the top of the sport. Old friends talk all night after meeting up by chance. She imagines a future together.
 
Stories about people who have lost out in life and in love, and about their hopes for one really big win, the chance to make something of their lives. In silent apartments, desolate warehouses, prisons and by the river, Meyer strikes the tone of our harsh times, and finds the grace notes, the bright lights shining in the dark.
 
‘When I was reading Clemens’s first book, Als wir träumten, I was so impressed that it made me miss my stop on the tram. And since then I’ve been dying to translate him, because he writes really well about things that matter.’ – Katy Derbyshire, translator of All the Lights
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