Publisher John Chapple has been bringing out titles in English on Greek subjects since 1968

Publisher John Chapple runs Lycabettus Press from his home in Palaio Psychico. Since the company’s foundation in 1968, he has been publishing books in English about Greece, a job he describes as “fun and gratifying.” He talked to Kathimerini English Edition about the joys and pitfalls of his work.

Chapple came to Greece after a five-year stint in the Middle East, working as an editor on a projected but never-completed Arab edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica. Apart from early stints of working in a bank, on construction sites, driving a truck and teaching swimming, he has spent most of his working life in the publishing business.

At quiet moments in the publishing trade, he also does translations. Clarity and beauty “I like to produce good books in clear language, and I’m interested in anything that’s interesting about Greece,” he says. “I come to this with very strong editorial interests. I care a good deal about clarity and maybe some beauty in the prose.”

Inevitably, sales prospects help to determine which titles get published. “The sensitive point is whether you can get enough sales. And, by definition, selling books in English in Greece is restricted.” So how does he choose which books to publish? “There are two criteria, so far as I’m concerned. Is it interesting and are you interested in it, and then the harder and less pleasant one, can I sell it? I often have to turn down books that I like a lot but simply do not believe I can sell. Unfortunately, my interest and sales figures do not always go hand in hand. If it’s interesting and I think that I can sell it, I don’t care what it’s about.”

Targeting potential readers is “a tricky business,” explains Chapple. Advertising in the daily press is costly, “and it’ll be gone the next day. There’s no real way to reach a transient English-speaking public that I’ve found. The only thing I’ve been able to do is to make my books available in places where an Anglophone will go. That means getting involved with distribution companies, and some of them are less than cooperative. But the one company I’ve worked with for years is great.”

The Lycabettus Press list ranges from guidebooks and works of history to cookbooks and children’s literature. Among the most popular items are “St John of Patmos” and “St Paul of Greece,” both by Otto Meinardus and both frequently reissued. The last two also generate sales abroad, largely to travelers who have returned from trips to Greece and recall having seen the titles here. The book about St Paul has been in print for 30 years, subject to continual revision, going from black and white to color, and due out again soon with improved color plates.

Does Chapple solicit manuscripts, or do people come to him with projects? “By and large, things have come my way. It’s such a small pond. There was a time when I was pushing the guidebooks, and I found that I would meet some archaeologist that knew some particular area, and collar him or her.”

Chapple obviously derives great pleasure from his work. “The physical production tasks I find very interesting; I enjoy them; I’ve got good people, printers, with whom I work.” He speaks with enthusiasm of his books, especially those from which he has learnt something, and which often record the lives of small traditional communities. Referring to Rae Dalven’s book, “The Jews of Ioannina,” he comments, “There’s a small community of 60-70 souls, and their history is fascinating.”

Another title for which he cherishes special affection is “The Unwritten Places,” Tim Salmon’s account of the Vlach shepherds in the Pindos range, who might be the last generation to lead their traditional lifestyle. “It’s absolutely beautifully written,” says Chapple. “It describes a way of life of which most people are totally ignorant, myself included, until I read the text. It describes the transhumant life of the Vlachs. The author happens to have become good friends with a Vlach family that still transports its sheep up and down in the correct season, on foot. It takes about 10 days, the so-called diava or crossing. And he writes about them with great affection and with great respect. The Vlachs go back, on the 15th of August to Samarina, a little town way up there near the border, where the Italians came through in 1941. These people come back, from all the towns, from Athens, and they go back and water their cultural roots. It’s moving, this life. I can’t do it, I don’t have the strength, and I’m not exactly a weakling. We’re losing that now, we’re losing our traditional lives. Everybody decries it, and I’m not part of it, but I respect it, at any rate. I’m not alone in that, of course.”

In the works What titles does he have in the pipeline? By a quirk of fate, one is by Alexis Ladas, the man who was originally responsible for bringing Chapple to Greece. “I worked for him in New York and he made the connection and brought me over here. He wrote a novel about friends in an English group and a Greek group based in Turkey that used to make raids on the German-occupied islands towards the end of the Second World War. It’s a fictional occurrence, but every incident is real. I worked on it for quite a while with him, and then, when he died, I simply had not had the heart to go back. It’s been two years plus since he died and I’m beginning to feel that I can do it again. That’s a wonderful book.”

Other projects include a cookbook on Mediterranean food and a long-cherished dream: “A book on Cavafy, with a new set of translations of Cavafy’s historical poems, which I’ve been salivating to do for several years, but it’s a major task and I’ve got to clear my decks and marshal the thoughts and the time to be able to turn to it. I really hope I can do it next year.”

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