Called a ‘bog rat’ at Harrow, how Antony Farrell became top dog in Irish publishing
Podcast: the founder of Lilliput Press on its 35 years, publishing Hubert Butler and Tim Robinson
Antony Farrell, founder of the Lilliput Press in his office in Arbour Hill, Dublin. Photograph: Eric Luke
Antony Farrell, of Lilliput Press, which this year celebrates its 35th anniversary, discusses his career in publishing, the history of the press and the “genius” authors with whom he has worked over the years, including Hubert Butler – “he was a secular saint to me” – Tim Robinson, John Moriarty and Desmond Hogan.
He talks about his background – his father was “a Castle Catholic”, his mother an Ulster Protestant and he was educated at Harrow public school, where he boxed (“I was more athlete than aesthete”) and was called “a bog rat”, inspiring him to embrace his roots, studying Irish history at Trinity College Dublin.
We also touch on Brexit and Boris Johnson, including James Shapiro’s witty advice to the British prime minister on how to approach his book on Shakespeare.
Farrell also discusses the pros and cons of being published by an Irish publisher rather than a British one, the importance of alliances and building long-term relationships with authors, the different challenges of publishing fiction and nonfiction, and the people he has worked with over the years, many of whom have gone on to establish high-profile careers in publishing, the arts and as authors.
Describing it as “a kind of finishing school”, he speaks of the 300 or so interns he has employed over the years, including Aideen Howard, Brendan Barrington, Sarah Davis-Goff and Lisa Coen, Tom Morris, Elske Rahill and Nicole Flattery.
He speaks of his pride in publishing the first Dublin edition of Ulysses by James Joyce, bringing it home and establishing it as what he calls the canonical text, and other landmark books in his publishing career.
We also touch on the delicate subject of legacy planning. At 68, he intends to carry on until 80 and looks forward to soon overtaking Liam Miler’s Dolmen Press in terms of longevity.
He offers a sneak preview of major titles coming up: including – a podcast exclusive! – Stephen Rea’s memoir, A Lifein Parts; A Letter marked Personal, a posthumous novel by JP Donleavy; and The Last Footman by Gillies Macbain, an Anglo-Irish memoir for which he has high hopes.