Publisher Q&A - MOIST Books

Publisher Q&A - MOIST Books

For our latest publisher interview, we're speaking to MOIST Books about their approach to publishing, their interest in 'formally innovative' work and much more besides. Inspired by the North American DIY publishing traditions that grew out of art, music, and LGBTQI+ scenes, MOIST publishes works of literary fiction, creative non-fiction, and poetry in series of threes. Each of these ‘seasons’ are loosely based around a common theme, and acknowledge a diverse range of lived experiences, educational backgrounds, and cultural reference points. 

 MOIST was founded by Paul Finlay in 2020. Paul ran the press with the assistance of friends and family for three years. However, at the age of 84 he retired. In January 2024 his daughter, the author Susan Finlay, and the artist-writers Nastassja Simensky, and Hugh Nicholson took over as co-directors.


Tell us a little about your publishers… what is it that you do differently?

Brigid Brophy famously said that good art does something in addition to being entertaining - i.e. entertainment isn't the only thing you need, but it's still the foundation for success. We're neither a literary publisher (far too strange) nor an art-writing one (far too readable). Instead, our aim is very simply to publish books that are relevant to this specific moment in time, and that reflect the wide range of cultural reference points that constitute contemporary life.

Why did you choose to get into publishing?

Moist Books was originally set up by Susan and her Dad (although it should be stated that the money came from an Arts Council grant and not a trust fund!). Like many such endeavours, the press was the result of not seeing their tastes and backgrounds represented in the way that they wanted, as well not knowing enough about the business to realise how much work would be involved. Last year, Susan's Dad retired at the age of 84, and Hugh and Nastassja joined as co-directors. They're both artists and writers, and this felt very much like an expansion of other projects that they were already involved in.


Which book throughout history do you wish you’d published?

Susan - The Blue of Noon by George Bataille (so French in so many ways!)

Nastassja – Well, if he’d been up for maximizing his readership, I’d have published Liber de Laudibus Sancta Crucis, a very beautiful book of devotional pattern poems, by Rabanus Maurus, a 9th century German theologian.

Hugh – And to complete this pretty eclectic roster, I’d perhaps choose Blindness by José Saramago - a novel I come back to again and again. 

What are you looking for in a manuscript - what makes for a book that you simply have to publish? 

Susan - I don't know. I often over think things and become very confused. 

Hugh – I guess these are relatively new concerns for Nastassja and myself, but I think for both the reader and the publisher, it really depends on the specificities of the text, and that something - though it’s not always easy to say what - which catches you off guard or by surprise. At Moist, we’re also very open to working with authors to develop existing manuscripts further before their publication, so these qualities can sometimes emerge during these conversations too.

What can people expect from you in the next 12 months?

Artist and publisher Rachel Cattle's debut novel, Uh Huh Her is coming out at the end of July. It's a really poetic, moving account of creative endeavour, as well as an enjoyably nostalgic read. We are also currently working with a young American author called Arielle Burgdorf whose writing concerns translation and queerness, as well as being a kind of satire of European literary pretensions. We hope to finalise our third title in the next few weeks.

What has been a significant book from your backlist, in your development as a publisher?

Publishing only two to three books a year means that our backlist is pretty small, but each one has provided a steep yet rewarding learning curve!

What are you reading right now? 

Susan - Portal by Tracy Faud 

Nastassja – Season of Migration to the North by Tayeb Salih

Hugh – As usual, I’m ineptly juggling fiction, poetry, and theory – this morning I was re-reading Diane Di Prima’s Pieces of a Song alongside Peter Osborne’s recent essay Crisis as Form. A few days ago, it was Rob Halpern’s very brilliant Hieroglyphs of the Inverted World.

What was your first job in the book world?

Susan - I worked as the assistant-manager of the now defunct Shipley Specialist Art Booksellers shortly after leaving art college. Our bestseller was called The Bottom Book.

Nastassja – I suppose this is my first book world ‘job’! Prior to this, I just spent all of my disposable income on books. 

Hugh – Well, we all went to art school, so while I’ve always written, I’ve never really thought of being in ‘the book world’ as such. Among numerous ‘book-world-proximate’ jobs, my closest would probably be working as a freelance editor during my twenties, where I edited texts for various publications and platforms situated at the intersection of critical writing and contemporary art.

What are the greatest threats to independent publishing at the moment? 

Brexit - Our desire to produce unusual but affordable books is increasing challenged by rising prices. Everything has become more impractical and more expensive: from paper costs to printing costs, from local distribution to international export. The direct and collateral impacts of this process have been suffered by independent publishers across the board, and mean that shipping books to the rest of Europe and the States is now virtually impossible for the small UK publisher today. This has been severely detrimental, imposing limits on what is practical or possible. That said, independent publishers are generally pretty resourceful and it’s almost always possible to find a way. 

Favourite book?

Susan - A blank, as yet unsullied one.

Hugh – Oh wow, this alters far too often; I know if I do give an answer, I will only regret it later when I come to see it in print! 

Favourite book in translation?

Susan - The War by Marguerite Duras (although it changes pretty regularly)

Hugh – Perhaps Hopscotch by Julio Cortázar

Nastassja – Rubbish Wind by Andrei Platonov - a short story from his pre-censorship days, which appears in the collection, The Return.

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