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Recognition through Literary Prizes and Awards by Liz McSkeane

Writing.ie | Magazine | Interviews | Literary Fiction
In the Dark by Anamaría Crowe Serrano

By Liz McSkeane

‘On The List…’ What does recognition in the form of literary prizes and awards mean for writers and publishers?

Spring this year has brought with it some great news for Turas Press.  On February 15,th the longlist for the Republic of Consciousness Prize was released, and In The Dark –  the haunting Spanish Civil War novel by Anamaría Crowe Serrano, which Turas Press published in June 2021 –  was named as one of the ten works of fiction nominated for this prestigious international award.

The Republic of Consciousness Prize for small presses is unique in that it is recognises works of fiction published only by small presses in the UK and Ireland: ‘small press’ being defined as one with fewer than five full-time employees. What is most unusual in this award, is the strong emphasis on acknowledging, and directly supporting, the work of the small presses, as well as the nominated writers and their books. This is reflected in the distribution of the prize money, which is divided between publishers and writers – and significantly favours the former.

The rationale underpinning the overall aim of the award – to advance for the public benefit literary fiction of the highest merit from small presses in the UK and Ireland – focuses on the role of these micro-enterprises in nurturing ‘biodiversity’ in the literary landscape:  

Without them, fiction of the highest literary merit, especially experimental and innovative writing, would struggle to find a home, and by extension readers’ choice would be impoverished. [Statement of Aims, Republic of Consciousness Prize for Small Presses]

Through this prize, therefore, outstanding works of fiction that might otherwise have garnered little attention can achieve wider recognition and readership; and their publishers receive practical support that will allow them to continue, and even expand, their work.  

When I first learned that Anamaría’s marvellous book had made it to the longlist of this important award, amidst all the thrill of excitement, I found myself reflecting on the impact of a literary award – be that reaching the long or shortlist, runner-up or winner –  and what this can do for the book, for the writer, for the publisher.  

Among my first thoughts and feelings was great delight in knowing that other people saw the merits of this book and were enthusiastic enough to choose it for a longlist of ten, out of over a hundred others. I have believed in this book from the very beginning, not only as a gripping story set in a specific time and place – the struggles of a family to survive the darkest day of the Spanish Civil war– but also, in its fearless approach to complex and challenging themes.  The sources of political allegiances, personal loyalties, family dynamics are all there; but even more importantly, this book resists safe, familiar narratives in favour of a nuanced exploration of difficult questions. These are questions that invite the committed reader to reflect on different versions of truth, on the fluidity of what passes for fact, on propaganda, and how all these elements can influence our choice of opinion and beliefs, and ultimately, our actions.   

Even so, despite my initial conviction that In The Dark is not only a brilliant novel, but an important one and deserving of public recognition –  a conviction that has not wavered – when I first decided that I wanted Turas Press to publish it, I was by no means confident that that I could guarantee it would receive the recognition it so richly deserves. Of course, in the world of books and publishing there are no guarantees but to be honest, I did doubt the capacity of an outfit as small as Turas Press – and they don’t come any smaller! –  to give Anamaría’s book a platform that would do her work justice.

Partly, this is a result of competition, the world of books being a very crowded marketplace populated by large publishing houses with PR departments and big marketing budgets to promote their books and their writers.  All these resources help to maximise visibility for a book – plus, I imagine, perhaps increase the chances of its being noticed, and nominated, for prestigious prizes and awards.

For the small press with limited resources of staff, budget and time, as I have learned during the five years since I founded Turas Press, the production and release of a book is only the beginning. Getting it ‘out there’ – into media outlets, festivals, cultural events and even, on the shelves of bookstores – can be an uphill struggle. It is almost too obvious to state that this is very far from being a level playing field.  

And yet, there are, occasionally, exceptions, very successful outliers. We can all think of a few books originally published by small presses that are huge successes, capture the public imagination and somehow, manage to overcome the many hurdles that stand between a book and its potential readers.  So, when Anamaría elected to go with Turas Press in spite of the many obstacles to literary fame and fortune (yes I am joking!) that come with being published by a small press, I felt both honoured, and determined to do whatever possible to maximise the chances that In The Dark would get noticed.  And with the help of our excellent publicist, Peter O’Conner, Anamaría’s book was indeed widely featured in Irish print, digital and radio media during the summer of last year, which had a significant impact on its visibility. Thank you, Peter.

What is still work in progress – and this is something I would dearly love to happen for this book –   is recognition for the remarkable literary qualities of In The Dark, some of which I mentioned above.    I believe that making it to the longlist of the Republic of Consciousness Prize is an important step in that direction, perhaps even a decisive one. Of course, at the time of writing, with nine other superb books on the longlist, the shortlist and winners have yet to be announced. Still, we dare to dream…

But whatever happens on March 26th when the short list and winners are announced at De Montfort University’s Leicester Centre of Writing, in my mind, the recognition already accorded this novel by the judges of this uniquely egalitarian prize, is a win in itself– a heartening vindication of our work, as writer and publisher alike.

We are both hugely grateful, and we are looking forward to celebrating the final result, whatever that may be.

(c) Liz McSkeane

Director, Turas Press

February, 2022

About In The Dark: Teruel, north-east Spain, winter, 1937. The civil war is raging, pitting neighbour against neighbour, tearing families apart. Franco’s Nationalist rebels have surrounded the devastated, Republican-held city. The people are struggling to survive in a battle zone, enduring the coldest winter in decades. This is the story of a house, of the people who take refuge there – and a dangerous secret within. While the bombs fall and the world crumbles, María and her sister Julita, bitterly entrenched on different sides of the conflict, mourn their lost loved ones and try to bury their differences. But only one person knows the secret of the house, hidden deep in the dark – a soldier who has dared to leave the fighting to come home – and the woman who dares to protect him. In The Dark is a heart-rending tale of the bitter daily hardships of survival during war, of the struggle to extract truth from a multitude of truths – and of a love that yearns to transcend the conflict, no matter what the cost.

Order your copy online here.

About the Author of In the Dark: Anamaría Crowe Serrano is an Irish writer, translator and editor born in Dublin to an Irish father and a Spanish mother. She grew up bilingually, straddling cultures, in Co. Meath and did her schooling in Trim. The long summer months were spent in Spain with her grandparents and maternal relatives. Her poetry and prose has been published internationally and anthologised in Ireland and abroad. Anamaría has translated many works of poetry and novels from Spanish and Italian into English. Her poetry collections include FemispheresOne Columbus LeapOnWords and UpWords and Crunch – published by Turas Press in 2018. As she explains ‘I decided about three years ago I wanted to try and write a novel about the Spanish Civil War. I needed to understand how my kind, loving, magical grandfather had chosen to fight with the fascists. I tried asking him about three times but he always gave evasive answers. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realised the collective silence around the war wasn’t confined to my family’.

About the author

Liz McSkeane, founder and Director of Turas Press, is also a poet and writer of fiction. Liz has published four collections of poetry anLiz McSkeane, writer and publisher, headshotd one novel. She won the Sunday Tribune/Hennessy New Irish Writer of the Year Award in 1999 for her poetry and in 2016, her début novel, Canticle, based on the life of the Spanish mystic poet John of the Cross, was a joint winner in the Irish Writers’ Centre/Greenbean Novel Fair. In 2020, one of her poems was long-listed for the UK National Poetry Competition.

Liz’s collection of short stories, Lessons, will be published by Turas Press in June, 2022. One of the stories from the collection, A Hot Coffee was published in The Irish Times Online on Christmas Day 2021.

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