In replying to Dan Holloway’s Where is the Great Indie Literary Fiction?, I remarked it was refreshing to read about literary fiction in the Indie world, and thanked him.
The article begged the question in the comments as to how to define literary fiction. The following is an expanded version of my response.
I could be wrong but I think we’re relaxed about literary fiction in Ireland. I suppose it’s fiction which tries to conjure complex human beings on the page, and to occupy their mind and soul, rather than concentrating on plot, mystery, pace – all of the techniques which compel a reader to turn the page late at night. Yes, it’s a minority taste, but I don’t think there’s anything precious or self-conscious about it, which is often the subtext in discussions about it. Let readers enjoy what they enjoy.
Banville writes detective fiction too. No big deal. One of the finest literary stylists, Eoin McNamee, writes mostly about crime, but also for children, both beautifully. Publishers like to put writers in boxes, I think, but a lot of writers, like Dermot Bolger, Mary O’Donnell, and Sebastian Barry, and indeed myself, like to – need to – wriggle out of them.
Over here – which is to say, in Ireland – while there are quite a few mystery, romance and fantasy Indies, there are two other literary fiction writers that I know of who like myself have turned Indie, having been prize-winning in the conventional publishing world. One is Brian Lynch, who heroically publishes other writers too; the other is Emer Martin, recently moved to California and part of an Indie co-op there, Rameash. Her latest book is a children’s story based on Irish legend, Pooka, released in time for Halloween. A third, James Lawless, I think it’s fair to say switches between literary and popular fiction, at ease.
But of course my books didn’t sell, or not enough.
And that probably won’t change, unless – and this is very unlikely – I suddenly turn into a marketing genius.
I’m now writing history, a long-term, complex project which conventional publishers aren’t interested in, because, and here’s the box again, they know me as a novelist, not an historian. I’m looking forward to returning in due course to fiction and poetry, and publishing all my future work myself.
I relish the the freedom to do that, to publish what I want, when I want. I relish the fact that I own my own work. I relish the fact that because of world-wide Indie publishing, that albeit rare reader in Brazil, or the US, or Japan, or the UK, is moved by what I write, and goes to the trouble of telling me. In the end that’s what it’s about, whether the writing is deemed literary or not.