Last Monday was a red-letter day for my novel, The Rising of Bella Casey, published under the Brandon imprint of O’Brien Press. It was one of five Irish novels nominated by libraries for the lucrative International Impac Dublin Literary Award 2015 – and I mean lucrative, €100,000! – along with Donal Ryan’s The Thing about December, The Guts, Roddy Doyle, Transatlantic by Colum McCann and The Herbalist by Niamh Boyce.
Apart from being in such good company – 142 Irish and international writers – the long-listing is also a vindication of O’Brien Press’s sturdy individualism as a small independent Irish publisher. The Rising of Bella Casey was roundly and generally rejected by many prestigious publishing houses, both in the UK and the US, before Michael O’Brien took a gamble and published it.
What made the Impac announcement a bitter-sweet occasion, however, was that O’Brien Press, celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, has just had its publishing grant slashed by the Irish Arts Council – from €63,000 last year to €10,000 for 2015. This despite O’Brien’s unchallenged contribution to Irish children’s publishing for several decades, and its re-establishment of the Brandon imprint, which is committed to publishing serious Irish literary fiction.
The Rising of Bella Casey and Frank McGuinness’s Arimathea were the debut novels published by Brandon last year. If either of these two novels were to be submitted to Brandon in 2015, there’s a good chance that neither of them would see the light of day. The Impac long-listing means that there’s a world stage for a courageous Irish publisher being starved of funding at home. For me, it means vindication for The Rising of Bella Casey, a novel that without O’Brien Press, might never have been.