Tim Hopkins on the making of the edition.
I like a challenge. In making books of various descriptions, the Half Pint Press has always sought to stretch ourselves and to present readers with a set of challenges. This one represents a departure for the Half Pint Press: a step out of the old world of typesetting and printing entirely by hand into the new world of digital fulfillment. It’s been something of an adventure.
I have known about this novel for nearly as long as it has been around – we’d already been friends for the best part of a decade when Dan told me about this novel he was writing and that he’d had this idea about using shapes. I enjoyed the few bits I read and I looked forward to some smart publisher doing the right thing and my getting to read the whole thing. I felt Dan’s pain as the novel remained unpublished all these years, another thing on the pile of great stuff that never found its way to the right record company, the right gallery, the right publisher. It all seemed so hard.
Some time around 2015 I had decided that I really loved playing with the little printing press on loan from my brother and I wanted to make something more substantial with it than beermats and greetings cards. I didn’t really care if it took ages and made no money. I wanted to make things for people to read, but used the constraints and the flexibility of doing it myself and printing on a tiny tabletop printing press. I had two ideas: a boxed, unbound edition of The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa and Dan’s novel. Dan seemed willing. The two projects paired in my mind: putting things on pages, turning pages into things, turning things into pages. I had no idea how I was going to approach either.
I quickly worked out how to do the Pessoa book, collecting and printing on ephemera; almost as quickly it became clear to me that there was no way for me to approach The Edge of the Object as a hand-typeset and hand-printed effort. The only way I could think of to do it was via digital typesetting. Part of the reason I had got so interested in letterpress in the first place was to get away from computer screens and digital typesetting was another thing on the list of things I didn’t really know how to do. In fits and starts, and in the gaps between working on The Book of Disquiet, and my subsequent book-length letterpress project, Mary Butts’ Imaginary Letters, I got on with learning enough Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign to put The Edge of the Object together. There was a great deal of trial and even more error, a fair number of false starts and I am in no hurry to review any of my early attempts at pages.
Once we were on our way to designing the pages, it was time to start thinking about the finished form of the book. It made sense to present the three very distinct, roughly equally-sized parts as separate volumes, and from that came the simple opportunity of flagging the Frenchness of the novel with a tricolore. I’d thought about holding them in a slipcase but I got to thinking about edges of objects and I liked the thought that each edge of each book would be peeping out from the wrapper and a wrapper offered the opportunity to print some of the final edition myself (the image is screen-printed and the text is letterpress).
I love this novel as a novel – I have read it through several times now, as a whole and in parts and it still rattles around my head uncomfortably: something about how men – white men I suppose – are, or can be, even when they’re good and trying to be good. The narrator, this weird distant second-person, is vulnerable and maddening and selfish and charming and gauche and wise and unwise and self-obsessed and I love that the novel just has you look at him. I catch my feelings about him and his behaviour from the corner of my eye as the novel’s rushing by. I hope the shapes (calligrams, I’m learning to call them) bounce off the reading experience in a way that enriches it but I slyly hope that the blatant strangeness of the presentation of the book might distract from the slyness of this sly novel, and that an acute reader might find themselves caught unawares, from time to time.
None of the Half Pint Press books sit comfortably in the hand. Even setting aside the text, each presents a physical challenge of some kind to the reader. This one is big and rather heavy and (like the narrator) is awkward and in bits. Its pages are shiny and strange and I’m very proud of it. I hope you enjoy it.