Anna Blackburn takes a look into literary journalism and publishing at Banshee Press in conversation with author, editor, and publisher Laura Jane Cassidy.
Literature greatly contributes to tourism and the economy in Ireland. Writers like James Joyce and W.B. Yeats fashioned their art in a way that allows readers around the world to appreciate the simple beauty that encompasses Ireland. Inspirational writing is not limited to the great authors in Irish history. New authors are continuously emerging, and literary journals are becoming a popular way for the voices of new writers to be seen and heard.
At Banshee Press, founders and co-editors Laura Jane Cassidy, Claire Hennessy, and Eimear Ryan strive to expose new authors and their work in their literary journal, Banshee. In 2014, during the resurgence of literary journals in Ireland, Cassidy, Hennessy, and Ryan created their publication, and since then it has grown immensely, giving opportunities to many writers. The publishing company is based in Co. Kildare and publishes Banshee twice a year. I sat down with Laura Jane Cassidy to talk about Banshee Press and how she and her co-editors started their company.
Before Banshee, Hennesy and Cassidy were both authors of several young adult novels and Ryan had worked with other literary journals. Cassidy attended Trinity College Dublin until her career as an author took-off and led her to publish her first YA novel, Angel Kiss. Since then, Cassidy has thrown herself into her work and her writing. Through mutual friends, blogs, and Twitter, Cassidy met her business partners - women who shared her taste in fiction, short stories, and poetry. Cassidy said that they “swapped stories and critiqued each other's work” which helped them familiarise themselves with each other’s style.
Cassidy, Hennessy, and Ryan created this opportunity for themselves and set a strong example for women in publishing.
Cassidy wanted a career in editing and publishing but feared the lack of job offers due to the fact that she had taken a step back from college to focus on her writing. In 2014, a new wave of popularity began surrounding literary journals, and the three publishers decided they wanted to create something new. While there are several literary journals in Ireland, Banshee is the first journal to be run exclusively by women. When asked how they came up with the idea to start their own literary journal, Cassidy described it as “a lesson in not limiting yourself.” Cassidy, Hennessy, and Ryan created this opportunity for themselves and set a strong example for women in publishing. Seeing the influx of women emerging in publishing at the time gave the creators of Banshee the confidence to start their own publication.
It took only one year to get Banshee off the ground, from their first meeting in September 2014 to the print release of the first issue in autumn of the following year. As with any new idea, Banshee started as a lot of bullet points written onto documents, questions, and pages upon pages of ideas. Their previous work in publishing gave them a great start, and for their other questions, they reached out to other literary journal publishers: “Tramp Press were quite generous with their advice and Declan Meade at The Stinging Fly was very supportive,” stated Cassidy. “We were so lucky to have their support and if anyone came to us, we would offer them the same.”
Cassidy said that the most challenging thing about starting their company was the time-old cliche of time and money. Fortunately, in 2015 they received the Artistic Entrepreneur Bursary Award from Kildare County Council, which covered the cost of printing their first issue, and they have received funding from the Arts Council every year since 2016; “We couldn’t operate without the Arts Council Funding”.
The initial support for their journal came from writers and others who worked in literary journals. When they called for entries for the first time in Spring 2015, Banshee received hundreds of submissions. Since then their readership and number of applicants have continued to increase, receiving over one thousand pieces for their most recent issue. “We include both established and emerging voices,” said Cassidy, “for our first issue we were incredibly blessed to publish the work of writers such as Nessa O’Mahony, Jessica Trainor, Lucy Sweeny Byrne and many others.” The first issue of Banshee also included Sinéad Gleeson’s first creative nonfiction piece, Hair.
Lucy Sweeny Byrne’s work has continued to appear in several issues of Banshee, and she became the author of Banshee Press’ first book. When asked how Banshee turned into Banshee Press, Cassidy said that it had always been the plan to publish books, but it never seemed to be the right time. Then one day, Byrne sent Banshee a collection of her work asking if they had ever considered publishing books, and suddenly it seemed like the right time; “We felt it was like a sign. She didn’t even know we had been talking about her and were wanting to publish a book with her, so it was definitely the right time”. In 2019, Banshee Press released Paris Syndrome by Byrne, a collection of auto-fictional short stories. Cassidy described Byrne’s writing as “sharp, funny, and very current”.
Banshee Press has recently released their second book, Gold Light Shining, a collection of poetry written by Bebe Ashley, another writer who has appeared in their journal. The book was released two months ago and was followed by their first virtual book launch on Thursday October 29th, with special guest Stephen Sexton. The launch was a success, and featured Ashley reading her own work and described the nature of her poems as “the nostalgic relationship that comes with youth and celebrity” and “a treasure hunt of Harry Styles references.”
Small publishing houses in Ireland are able to work on a freelance basis, allowing them to work with experts in the field such as Cormac Kinsella, who manages their publicity, and Brookside Publishing Services, their sales representative. Cassidy pointed out that “one of the challenges with commercial publishing is that there are so many books being published at the same time”, resulting in those publishers not having the opportunity to spend as much time with each story. She then noted, “whereas in a small independent press, you have the luxury of fewer titles and you are able to give all your time to them”. Banshee Press publishes only one book a year, but this way they can provide so much more attention to a single author and make the book the best that it can be.
the best way to develop your work is through 'patience, positivity and consistently turning up at the desk'
Submissions for Banshee are open twice a year and Cassidy, Hennessy, and Ryan always encourage new writers to send in their work. Writing is a great challenge, especially when inspiration is hard to find when you’re stuck at home, but Cassidy says the best way to develop your work is through “patience, positivity and consistently turning up at the desk”.
Banshee Press is currently working on putting all of their publications online and their website also features their first web-only issue, #9.5 Banshee: a lockdown journal. You can find more information about Banshee Press and their publications at www.bansheelit.com.