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7 March 2024

Interview with Richard Village
of Foundry Editions (London)

Ailsa Wood

Foundry Editions is a new London-based independent publisher with a focus on translated literature from the Mediterranean basin, based on founder Richard Village’s three passions: the Mediterranean area, reading beyond English, and books in general.

His professional background is as the strategic director of his own branding and design consultancy but languages were his first love: “I’m inherently a linguist, with a degree in Modern Languages from Oxford. I speak four languages and read a couple more. What I want to do through Foundry is convey a love of languages and reading, and the excitement of discovering books from other regions.”

Foundry’s first Italian publication is Maria Grazia Calandrone’s Your Little Matter, shortlisted for the 2023 Premio Strega, translated by Antonella Lettieri.



Why did you set up Foundry Editions, and what are its aims?


With no experience other than the reader’s perspective, at age 52 I decided to go back to languages and explore the possibility of translation. I enrolled on the MA in Literary Translation at UEA, but soon realised I was probably better suited to promoting translated literature than the solitary craft of translating it. I’m quite a gregarious person! So after much persuading and even more soul-searching, publishing seemed like a better fit for me to make my contribution to the growing appreciation of literature in translation in the UK.

As a small independent press, I believed that Foundry needed to present a very clear, unique point of view to the UK market, hence our focus on the Mediterranean. Firstly, it’s a territory I feel more naturally at home in because I speak Italian, Spanish and French.

Secondly, it may be a cliché but there’s an inherent, almost obsessive relationship between us northern Europeans and Shelley’s “warm South”– we’re all drawn to it, that mystical place of sunshine and lemon trees, described by Goethe, Forster, Gerald Brennan and many others.

Thirdly, the region is a such rich melting pot of cultures, a place of crossing, through trading, migration and emigration, a place of ancient cultures but totally contemporary, that it is a source of some amazing stories and beautiful writing. Foundry wants to bring this to English-speaking readers.



In your view, how are translated Italian books received in the UK?


According to some research done by Booker in 2022, sales of books translated from Italian currently rank 5th in the UK, below Japanese, French and German but, interestingly, above Spanish.

I suspect that the huge Elena Ferrante phenomenon has brought Italian books into the spotlight and determined the perception of Italian literature over the last few years. How and why Ferrante worked so well, and whether this can be repeated, are open questions. Certainly, it has meant Anglophone readers are more likely to engage with Italian books.



A writer’s success in one language doesn’t always translate into another culture. How do you choose what will work in English?


You never can know, there’s no magic formula. As a small press, our editorial decisions are very much based on my personal process and taste, such as a tangible sense of place and, giving the Anglophone reader an insight into what it means to be living in these places today.

Style, form, and language are all important to me as a reader and editor. I want to read beautiful or interesting writing but also an odd take on things, a story presented in an unusual way, possibly an element of satire or wit, definitely something that is a joy to read, however difficult its themes.

But these features alone aren’t enough unless I can get people interested in the book – I need a hook in order to sell it. So I am looking for a balance between what I like, personally, and what other readers can relate to.

People will engage with a story: books sell because of word of mouth, the creation of a community around a story and its world, the characters inhabiting it. Calandrone’s story is very personal, and knowing the author’s personal story helps understand and appreciate the book more. There’s a stark contrast between this and, for example, the total anonymity of ‘Elena Ferrante’. Every book is different. My job is to make sure Foundry can use both types of situation to engage readers.



Are satire and wit very common features in contemporary Italian writing?


I would say not, no. Italian literature tends to be quite serious, with a marked difference between what is and isn’t considered literary. Other cultures may have more crossover. My Italian choices  play towards the more literary because that is what’s currently available and good.



Are you looking at particular genres in Italian literature?


Not specifically. Loosely, I’m looking at narrative fiction but overall, something that will captivate a reader. Calandrone is an example of this, with the extraordinary versatility of her writing: the book is a combination of biography-memoir-forensic reconstruction, and a  mirror on Italian society in the sixties, all presented as prose-poetry narrative.

There’s a boom in gialli in Italian just now, and I love them. They always engage me more if there is an overriding element of sense of place. Foundry is very young, though, so we’d need more scale to tackle them. Watch this space in a year or so.



What are your thoughts on grants and funding for translations?


With grant opportunities like Cepell, it’s very much in the hands of the Italian publishers, which means less admin for Foundry but less of a working relationship on a personal level. But that’s the Italian system. Applying for grants is a useful discipline for a publisher, because it forces you to think about why someone should fund a book – it’s an interesting exercise as the first stage in the selling process. Can I convince them to fund it? It’s helpful in making a case further down the line.



Tell us about your view of the translator’s role and relationship with the publisher.

Well, I think it’s a crucial relationship. My aim is to build a family of translators in order to create an ongoing and fruitful relationship based on dialogue and sharing ideas.

Approaching larger publishers, who can be inaccessible, might seem daunting for translators. The widely accepted practice of spending weeks preparing a pitch for a publisher just doesn’t seem a good idea to me at this stage. Dialogue is so much better and I feel that, as a small press, it’s almost a duty to act on a personal level. However, the fact that I do speak many of the languages I am interested in publishing means I don’t need English samples, at least for the western Mediterranean languages, which saves a lot of time and effort on both sides.

I do think it’s essential that translators have a good grasp of how the publishing industry works, in order to stand a chance of promoting something they want to translate.