My Cultural Life: Paul Feldstein

The literary agent on nurturing new talent, living in the land of Yeats and taking a lifetime to write it all down

What/where/why is the Feldstein Agency?
The Feldstein Agency is a literary agency and publishing consultancy, the first of its kind in Northern Ireland, based in Bangor and started by my wife Susan and I in August of 2007. I've been in book publishing for over 30 years, and when I first started my goal was to be an acquiring editor, finding and developing new fiction authors. But because of my innate skills in management, organization and maths, I ended up on the sales, finance and distribution side of the business. Susan has always been on the rights and editorial side. We married in 2006 and the company I was running in the States was sold later that year, so we decided to move back to Susan's home town and set up the agency.

So now I am finally doing what I first set out to do - finding new authors and working with them to develop them into successful published authors - actually working with the texts and the writers themselves. We believe there is a tremendous amount of writing talent in Northern Ireland and we aim to help bring their works to the market.

What drew to you into the publishing industry?
Simply a love of books and reading, and a degree in English and American literature that either leads you to publishing or academia. When I first got out of university and moved into New York City, I worked in a bookshop, and loved it. My parents had a friend who worked at Abbeville Press, then a brand new art book publisher, and they needed someone to be a sort of general assistant. It was a great way to learn the business, as I did a little of everything - editing, design, credit and collections, sales. I can't imagine being in any other industry. Each book is an individual item, no two are the same. There is always something new and different, and many of them are worthwhile.

What books have you worked on that you're most proud of?
I can only speak of the authors we represent, and I am proud of them all. Writing a book is a very difficult process and anyone who has the will and determination to do so is someone to be proud of. I started writing a novel when I was 21, and 30 years later I am still writing (or not writing) it.

If you could have published any book in history, what would it be?
Well, Harry Potter so I could retire and play poker. I would have perhaps liked to have been Faulkner's, Steinbeck's or Fitzgerald's publisher. Or to just be a publisher during that period - what I consider to be the golden age of American fiction.

If you could have any three cultural figures from throughout history round for dinner, who would they be?
WB Yeats, Van Morrison and JD Salinger. Yeats because he originally inspired my interest in literature and poetry in particular, Van because he is The Man, and Salinger because no one really ever had the chance to sit down with him. He was and is an early inspiration for so many readers

What cultural event did you most enjoy over the past year?
The Aspects Literary Festival in Bangor. We met a lot of people in the publishing industry here in Ireland, authors, small publishers, and a lot of ordinary people with a love for books.

What cultural event are you most looking forward to?
The launch of any of our author's books, and the Frankfurt Book fair in October - the world's largest book fair and the place where Susan and I met.

Everybody has that one book in their personal collections that they keep going back to - for nostalgia, for the power of the writing, for the comfort of something familiar. Which is yours?
It’s actually the Collected Poems of WB Yeats. When I was at university, in my second year I took a poetry course, even though at the time I was thinking I would major in anthropology. The professor was named Michael O’ Loughlin, and he was a rotund, bald and bespectacled fellow, obviously of Irish descent. We would have tutorials in his flat on campus on Sunday mornings, always with a pitcher of Bloody Marys or vodka and orange juice provided. When we got to Yeats it was like a light had turned on for me - I was so inspired by Yeats and O’Loughlin that I decided to major in literature and that decision has really dictated how the rest of my life has gone.

I go back and read Yeats all the time, and many of my holidays before I moved here were to Ireland, to Yeats’ country. So to actually be living in Ireland is for me a sort of coming home, the place I was meant to be.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers in Northern Ireland?
Keep writing, keep knocking on doors, and never give up, and if you need an agent please get in touch.

Lee Henry