McBride attacks 'conservative' publishing

Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction winner Eimear McBride has criticised publishing for becoming “conservative and market driven”.

McBride last night (4th June) won the 2014 prize for her debut novel A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing (Galley Beggar Press/Faber & Faber). The Irish author had spent nine years trying to get the novel published before finally succeeding with the tiny independent Galley Beggar Press. The co-publishing arrangement with Faber for the mass market paperback and e-book editions developed after its shortlisting for the Folio Prize.

Speaking to The Bookseller following her £30,000 prize win, McBride said: “It’s very hard to spend a long period of your life feeling like a failure. Trying to write is difficult. It was hard because I didn’t think I was wrong. It was hard because I think the book was on the outside [of publishing culture].”

She claimed: “Publishing has become very homogenous and conservative and market driven, under false pretences. [There’s a thought that] heavyweight middle-brow fiction is all readers want. There is a place for that, but there’s plenty of room for others too.”

In her prize acceptance speech McBride told the audience at the Royal Festival Hall that publishers needed to stop underestimating readers.

Eloise Millar, co-director of Galley Beggar Press, which is based in Norwich, said the quality of McBride’s novel was always seen by publishers, but that the rejections the book received “were saying it was unmarketable and that they were never going to get it [the book] past the money men”.

But publishing it was "certainly not as difficult as we anticipated," she added. A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing received a review in the Times Literary Supplement and a spread in the London Review of Books, and booksellers in Ireland got behind the book. “We didn’t know if it was going to sell 200 copies, or if people would think ‘wow'. Luckily it was the latter,” said Miller. She added that she hoped the win would mean “more room will be made for books that need active participation”.

Nielsen BookScan has recorded sales of 3,156 copies for the original edition of the novel, published in June last year, with the Faber co-publication edition recording 3,338 copies sold since it came out in April.

A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing won the inaugural Goldsmiths Prize last year, was shortlisted for the inaugural Folio Prize and most recently has been put on the shortlist for the Desmond Elliot Prize. Last week it won the Kerry Group Irish Novel of the Year Award.

Of the Baileys win, McBride said: “I am bowled over. I hoped but the whole way through Donna Tartt was the front runner and I expected her to win. To be chosen is fantastic. I think it means I won’t wait nine years to be published again.”

McBride is currently working on her second novel, which she hopes to complete next year.