Until recently, directing films seemed off-limits to women in Spain, but a new generation of filmmakers —Carla Simón, Pilar Palomero, or Paula Ortiz, among others— have broken through that glass ceiling.
Honest Books with Queer DNA
Paz Olivares and Weldon Penderton are Niños Gratis; a new publishing house in Madrid that is on everyone’s lips after only one year. What’s their trick? To publish books that catch your eye and touch your soul.
In less than a year, Niños Gratis’ first references, Salvemos La Jarapa by Penderton himself, and Vivan los hombres cavales by journalist Guillermo Alonso, have become two must-reads on the shelves of young Spanish intellectuals and avid readers of all kinds. These young publishers have been brought together not only by their passion for well-told stories, but also by their desire to raise awareness about gender diversity issues through their books. They define themselves as queer, probably the most inclusive term when talking about identity minorities. We spoke to them in the middle of the promotion of their last release, Calypso, by Rafael de Jaime Juliá. An epistolary novel set in Spain in 1967, it features swims in the sea, telegrams, gin fizz and music that never stops playing.
How did you come up with Niños Gratis?
We were surrounded by really talented people and we both needed to do something with the part of our lives that had not been taken over by logistics or food yet. We decided to bring together that talent and give it its own space; investing our efforts in a mission in itself.
Founding an old-fashioned publishing house in the era of e-books sounds risky. Did you consider other formats?
No. We wanted to work on paper from the beginning. As readers, we’re really interested in new formats, but the original idea was to create physical objects, perhaps taking advantage of the fact that books that are made to be hard-wearing and survive multiple readings and moves are becoming an extravagance.
Your books fit under the LGBTI umbrella. Tell us about this.
We like “queer” better. LGBTI can be very prescriptive and harmless, and we like to think that we’re much more interested in discomfort and dissent. Whenever rules are made, someone’s always left out. Everything that calls this out with its mere presence is queer. We don’t want to sound pretentious, we aren’t here to make the world a better place, but Niños Gratis is the reaction of two people who, over the years, haven’t managed to fit into the professional sphere, for example. We’ve been queer at school and at the office, but also in bars. We’d like there to be no rules at Niños Gratis.
Is there a lack of explicit visibility regarding sexual and gender identity within this sector?
Gender and identity are issues that are being reflected on now more than ever before. Nevertheless, it’s possible that they’re not being talked about enough. It’s good to question everything from the foundations. In Calypso, our latest publication, the protagonist says that he’s never been a political person, that he’s always been more interested in individual problems than collective issues; well, we believe that when we think about something as intimate as identity and question it, it becomes a political issue because it questions us all.
Since you’ve mentioned Calypso, by Rafael de Jaime Juliá, what caught your attention about this text?
First, his dazzling and enjoyable prose. We really enjoyed reading the manuscript. Calypso is a beautiful house on the Mediterranean coast; a perfect place to stop for a rest. Then, we find characters that feel out of place and on the move, trying to figure out who they are and what they want out of life again. It’s impossible to not become interested in them.
What has a text got to have to get past the first selection phase at Niños Gratis?
We’re a small business. Financially, we’re hanging by a thread, so we need texts that catch your attention from the beginning, that become known by word of mouth and allow us to pay the printer and the next author. But we also need to believe in what we do, so they have to be well written, honest and leave a mark. We want texts that pop into your mind every now and then and that prevail as a reference.
Your books are designed by the Paadín brothers (Best Edition at the illustration awards Premis Junceda d’l·lustració 2018). With Instagram in mind, not only is content key, but packaging is also crucial now to position a title, don’t you agree?
The Paadín brothers are also Niños Gratis. We can’t imagine it without them. They’ve given our stories a unique casing, a particular identity and charm. We sought them out because we knew the care they put into their work, and they gave us books that fill the shelves and whose pages unfold like galaxies.
Can you make a living out of an independent publishing house in Spain?
Hopefully. We’d love to find out, but we’ve only been going for a year. Niños Gratis survives. We pay the authors, the booksellers, the manufacturers, the designers, the State... but I’m afraid that we all need other sources of income. For now.
As you know, many other small publishing houses like yours have fallen into the hands of big corporations. Would you consider this in the long term?
We think it’s unlikely. Big publishing houses aren’t necessary. Nevertheless, we trust the work of small publishers with our eyes closed. For that dissenting culture, that broadens horizons, saves us and gives a voice to those who have none, to grow, we need independent businesses. We’re lost without small publishers who decide to subjectively publish whatever they want.
Which authors are easy to get along with?
The ones we like. We follow Guillermo Alonso’s advice, a recruiter among our recruits, who says that you can’t trust authors that try to make you feel special. These authors are easy to identify, because they struggle to convey the feelings and psychology of their characters without it seeming choreographed, like children that imitate adults playing house.
The truth is that we usually agree as readers and we don’t like to be pigeonholed into certain styles, genres or moments. We’re looking for that spark and honesty; true and powerful voices.
“We don’t like to be pigeonholed into certain styles, genres or moments. We’re looking for that spark and honesty; true and powerful voices”
To date you have a single collection, Asterisco, within which you’ve published three novels. Are you planning on expanding into other genres?
Yes. In fact, Colección Asterisco is open to other genres. It’s more an issue of length. The books within this collection must be short so that they fit into the concertina book designed by the Paadín brothers, whether they be narrative, non-fiction or experiments. Books that people read as soon as they buy them, instead of putting them on their TBR pile.
What we have thought about is exploring other formats outside of this collection. Bigger books that can support other weights.
As well as your publishing work, Niños Gratis is also a podcast about books and even literature compared to other disciplines such as films. Which came first, the chicken or the egg?
At the beginning we thought about making books. Then we had the idea of making a podcast to start catching the audience’s attention and make the most of that energy for when the first book came out. We have a whale of a time with these literary talks, so we hope to continue doing them forever. The podcast is also allowing us to get to know readers, writers and editors that we’ve only been in touch with through social media. It’s a great tool for building a community.
Who do you recommend your books to the most?
To anyone who enjoys reading. We want everyone to read us and we hope our readers have a good time. It would be great if Jorge Javier Vázquez, Úrsula Corberó, Pedro Sánchez, Rafael Nadal or Letizia Ortiz read us, because they can help us reach a much wider audience than we’re able to on our own.