Giant Sparrow Press: A Q & A with the Publisher
Amid the ongoing publishing revolution, 2014 saw the birth (or should that be hatching?) of a new local publisher, Giant Sparrow Press. Alison McCulloch, for SRB, asked the woman behind the press, Clare Needham, why, why now, plus a few other questions:
Q. Why start a new press, and in such challenging times for publishing?
A. Giant Sparrow Press, or GSP, started life as a Lotto fantasy. You know when you imagine, if money was not a factor, what you would want to do with your time? Of course, money is a factor, particularly if you are going to start publishing books as a business. But Giant Sparrow wasn’t started with the focus on making a profit. I want the books to do well, but whether or not GSP is successful is more about creating good books by writers whose work ought to be out there in the world for readers to enjoy.
Q. Who’s behind Giant Sparrow (and what about that cool name)?
A. Giant Sparrow Press is run by me, Clare Needham. I manage, with Helen Rickerby, the annual literary magazine JAAM. JAAM has been publishing New Zealand short stories, poetry and creative non-fiction since the mid-1990s. Helen and I have been editing JAAM together since 2009. We often have guest editors, but when we select the content Helen focuses on the poetry and I do the prose. Helen has her own boutique publishing press, Seraph Press, which specialises in beautiful books of New Zealand poetry. She’s been in business since 2004 and I’ve watched what she has done over the years and thought how I would like to do something too, but with prose. Helen has given me a lot of moral and practical support with GSP.
The other character in the mix is Giant Sparrow. He appeared in a short story that I was writing years ago, and he’s stuck around. He’s part mascot, part cheerleader, with his motto “there are places where anything is possible”. He is a rather elusive fellow who pops in now and again to offer words of wisdom and encouragement. He has good taste too. He’s a big fan of Michael Parekowhai’s work. And he kindly agreed to pose for our logo, which was designed by UK artist and author Katie Green.
Q. What kind of writing are you focusing on?
A. Giant Sparrow Press is focusing on good New Zealand fiction, short and long. Our first publication is Julie Hill’s debut collection of short stories, ShameJoy.
Julie is a journalist and playwright and her writing is, as you might imagine with that pedigree, very strong. Her work is intelligent and funny – David Hill on National Radio described it as drawing out “cerebral chuckles”. She has great attention to detail and uses language creatively, in surprising and satisfying ways. Her stories have fantastical elements, but they are grounded in the real world and often in a fairly bleak version of the real world, which is counter-balanced by her fresh, striking sense of humour.
Q. Publishing, like pretty much every other industry, is changing at light speed. What will your approach to new formats, new ways of selling, promoting and reading be?
A. I am actually rather excited by the changes that are happening in publishing. The next title we are going to publish will be in e-book format and I am excited about the possibilities that creates for getting work out to people not just in New Zealand but all over the world. The challenge will be in accessing the right readers, by which I mean the people who will truly love the book. That is always the challenge, of course. We will use established ebook sales channels like mebooks.co.nz and Amazon, but I also want to see what creative ways there might be to reach out a bit more specifically to people who are likely to enjoy particular titles.
I’ve been talking with some other New Zealand small press publishers, and they also feel excited by the prospect of what electronic books have the potential to become, in terms of interactivity for example.
Q. How’s it going so far?
A. It’s going well. ShameJoy has had a very positive critical reception and we’ve been well supported by the independent bookshops. I’m looking forward to launching our second book, which is a novel called Wolf Hopper and the Anarchy Flat by pseudonymous author Reiner Zufall. It is the first in a series of novels about The Little Revolution That Could. It tells the story of the Little Revolution’s attempt to get started by finding itself a suitable revolutionary – in Wellington, New Zealand of all places. Again, it is an intelligent, funny, partly fantastical book, which I think must mean that I have a preferred kind of story to publish.
Q. Do you have any other general comments about Giant Sparrow, or the writing/publishing scene in general?
A. I recently attended the first ever LitCrawl in Wellington in November. The idea is that on one night in three time slots, there is a range of literary events scheduled at a range of interesting venues around town. People can come out and for a gold coin koha choose between slam poetry, people devising short stories, well known authors reading and talking about their work and so on. The reason I’m mentioning LitCrawl is that thousands of people came out and the feeling was that we were all there with a shared love of books and reading and writing. That is very encouraging to a publisher.
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