When her husband died, Joan Didion wrote The Year of Magical Thinking. Looking back with equanimity, it is likely that if my own original book deal offer had not been interrupted, I may not have taken the decision to move into publishing myself. Without the embers of that whirlwind endorsement still burning bright – a vote of confidence from a highly respected international press – this new publishing house called The Leopold Bloom Press on Grafton Street may never have emerged. But it has, because if there is one thing I have learned it is that there is always a silver lining in what seems like the nadir, a certain spark of light in the conflagration of original intent.
If the story that follows – the one which led up to the birth of The Leopold Bloom Press sounds fairytale-esque – that is appropriate. It is the belief in magic that keeps one going when things seem impossible. Similarly, the fiction that I write, and the fiction that I love is meticulously researched, but often reaches for demonstrations of the human spirit in heroic flight, characters driven to overcome their steepest challenges. There is an uplifting edge to the stories that inspire me. They say ‘believe, and you can,’ and then chance puts her hand in, and sparks fly.
Even though my career started in London in publishing, my future lay in design, or so I thought. I loved print, fonts, vector art, paper and of course colour. Having established the first In-House graphic design department at Brown Thomas and ran it single-handedly for three years, the latent ‘gut health’ issues that seem to loom in my genes – alongside the writing – had made themselves known. Then a doctor warned me against more antibiotics – I had already had two episodes of anaphylaxis. The third, he warned, would be fatal. He put it bluntly. “You will die, if you keep going. Do you hear?”
With the celtic tiger roaring, a heliotropic urge to be amongst the twinkling foothills of Andalucia beckoned. There I discovered that I could feel better, and it hit me that there must be others like me. Arriving back in Ireland, I launched Vitality Centre, Ireland’s first gut health clinic brand. People with almost identical stories to my own came in their droves, each one eager to learn more. So I did what people in my family had been doing for generations, I took to the pen, and put my story down on paper. Only I went one step further, and designed it into a book using all that publishing software experience of mine. To my utter surprise, people loved that book which I later called Gut Happiness. Shortly after that, I was humbled to be offered a hefty advance and contract proposal by an international publisher. I have a great nose for items of value. That value hunting proboscis signalled that it was time to mine the potential that lay untapped in my writing. And so to Trinity College Dublin where I accepted a place on the M.Phil Masters in Creative Writing.
Roll on the pandemic, and the quotidian lockdowns during which only silence rang out from that once ebullient publisher’s emails. Watching my book deal slip away, I was strangely devoid of the saturnine devastation one might expect knowing intuitively that it was for the best. I can do that myself, I thought. I know I can. Once again I saw opportunity, and potential in the midst of the maelstrom. If people needed books with an uplifting message before, they will really need them once all this is all over. What was required, I thought, for this job of establishing a publishing press was someone with two decades worth of design and professional publishing software experience, along with a first class degree in business and ecommerce, and a proven track record of running businesses; someone I could trust implicitly. Shortly after, that very person came along. Myself. To create a publishing press in Dublin for books like my own was my new vision. It was a magical idea, a fantastical goal. Somehow it made sense though, and during the doldrums of the pandemic, I began to explore it. Writing Man, my debut novel would be published first because the aperture of cultural focus had moved on to the noumenon of war, peace, trauma and resolution, the very themes explored therein.
Great stories happen somewhere between where we thought we were going and where we actually end up. When The Lord Mayor of Dublin Alison Gilliland got behind The Leopold Bloom Press stating, ‘I am delighted to support the indefatigable creative spirit which prevails in this country, kept alive and well by those who, like James Joyce himself are innovators; those who refuse to be bound by limitation, but who instead travel beyond it, held up by the golden threads of their own imagination,’ there was coalescence in the alchemy. It was clear that people liked the idea of a new publisher on Grafton Street in a Joycean building coming exactly one hundred years to the day after Ulysses was first published in Paris. Back to London with me for some industry upskilling, and it was time to find a publicist. In February 2022, exactly one hundred years after the first publication of Ulysses, The Leopold Bloom Press was born.
Naturally, as a publisher, I am drawn to stories that mirror that which I find compelling. For me those are plot driven historical fiction with a contemporary narrative message of hope; page-turners that are fundamentally entertaining because they hang on the psychology of finely crafted characters. The Leopold Bloom Press aims to open for submissions from 2023. People have responded well to its first title Writing Man, a book with its underlying message of hope through the most challenging of times; war. When I began writing it, people said ‘nobody cares about war these days.’ Only through a deeper understanding of our recent history can we have the best chance at finding peace. Writing Man feels right as a first title
Those wishing to know if their book aligns with the press’s brand identity should read Writing Man before considering a submission. It is released this centenary Bloomsday 16th June 2022. Gut Happiness is due for publication in December 2022 as The Leopold Bloom Press’s second title. Long may the magic continue.
(c) Frances Flannery
See here for further details about The Leopold Bloom Press and to order your copy of Writing Man.