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Sean Costello Interview

Posted on 29 January 2004. © Copyright 2004-2018 WriteWords
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Writewords talks to Sean Costello, publisher, from Mercat Press and new imprint Crescent Books, whose first novel, The One, is fast becoming a cult classic.

Tell us something about your background.

The Mercat Press has been publishing books of Scottish interest since 1970 but it was only in autumn last year that we ventured into fiction for the first time with the launch of our new imprint, Crescent Books. Our first title was The One by Paul Reed. Paul is a first-time novelist from Edinburgh and his book is a remarkable achievement. It takes you inside the mind of someone suffering the torments of schizophrenia. Iíve seldom read anything as gripping, or as scary. Weíve been delighted with the reaction to the book. It got off to an excellent start with a heartfelt endorsement from Irvine Welsh, who described it as Ďa searing, incendiary and highly original debut novelí, and the reviews have been overwhelmingly positive. Crescent came about because we felt it was a shame that there seemed to be so few opportunities for new writers to get their work published, or even looked at, in Scotland. Canongate have done great things, but their focus is increasingly international and they wonít consider anything that doesnít come through an agent. Our attitude was that there was bound to be good work out there that wasnít being picked up, so in early 2003 we decided to start considering fiction submissions for the first time. By a very happy coincidence Paul Reedís book landed on my desk almost immediately, and almost immediately I read it I knew we had to do it. So far The One is our only Crescent title. We are only beginning to get a name for doing fiction, so this is probably our Ďbefore the delugeí period as far as submissions go. Nothing we have seen so far has impressed us in the way that Paulís book did, but we live in hope!On the non-fiction front, our bestselling Mercat author is Jess Smith, who has written two volumes of memoirs of her life as a Scottish traveller, Jessieís Journey and Tales from the Tent. Autobiography is one of the most difficult genres to get right, in my view, but Jess has a head start on the competition because she comes from a tradition that has a great respect for the art of storytelling and is herself a great exponent of the art.

How do you find writers?

At the risk of turning this into a sales pitch, I would strongly advise anyone who is interested in sending us proposals for fiction or memoirs to get hold of Paulís book or Jessís books to see the calibre of work we are looking for. We are only interested in work that genuinely excites us and reminds us of why we got into publishing in the first placeó believe me, we donít get a kick out of writing rejection letters. I think you can tell pretty quickly when you are in the hands of a real writer with both the desire and the ability to communicate an experience, but unfortunately that also happens to be the kind of writing you very seldom encounter, whether youíre trawling through the slush pile or browsing for something decent to read in a bookshop. Because Scotland is our primary market we are only considering work with a strong Scottish dimension at present. This could mean that the book has a Scottish setting, or that the author comes from or lives in Scotland.

Who are your favourite writers and why?

I read everything Paul Auster publishes because there is something about his prose style that commands attention and makes you willingly suspend disbelief no matter how outlandish his plots become. Tobias Wolff is a great short story writer, whose work is full moments of revelation that just stop you in your tracks. I am looking forward very much to reading his first novel, which has just come out. I have discovered a number of writers in the past year or so who were new to me and whose work Iíll be looking out for in future, among them Dan Rhodes (Timoleon Vieta Come Home), DBC Pierre (Vernon God Little) and Ben Rice (Pobby and Dingan).



A longer version of this interview is available to WriteWords Full and Community Members.
Click here to learn more about becoming a member.







Comments by other Members



roovacrag at 13:30 on 29 January 2004  Report this post
Enjoyed this interview, what was said is true. No time to read the whole book,first couple of pages says it all. I know been there and sometimes you cry, because no one tells you where you went wrong.
I was lucky, sent so many stories in and i got an answer.That was 30 years ago. Now too many,too much talent. xxAlice

Zigeroon at 17:42 on 31 January 2004  Report this post


Gives us all an insight into the mind of a publisher. It reinforces the message that we have to write with passion and controlled abandon to ignite the spark inside the reader that empathises with the characters in the story.

Understanding is one thing, practical application is another. Back to application once more, then!


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