Our Haunted Year 2021

If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s that running a small press is not an easy job. It’s a precarious balancing act with limited resources on one side and an ever-shifting set of challenges on the other. This year was perhaps the most difficult I’ve experienced, due not only to the continuing pandemic, but also from the very real fallout caused by those twin bad decisions: Brexit and the Trump administration. We’ve been subjected to significant jumps in postage, reams of customs forms where there were none before, and supply chain issues that are likely to affect the entire publishing industry for the foreseeable future. And yet . . .

. . . despite all this, publishing remains a pleasure. Swan River Press generates a domineering amount of work—and it’s not even my day job. What it is, though, is an opportunity for me to engage with friends, colleagues and ideas, indulge in creativity, and put some truly wonderful literature into the world. I love designing books, the thrill of unboxing each new shipment, and getting them into the hands of readers. I take a lot of pride in what the Swan River team does, and I know we work hard to do it. Sure, I might grumble occasionally (and will continue to do so), but rest assured, I wouldn’t trade Swan River Press for anything.

As most of you already know, I’ve made it a tradition to take stock of our accomplishments over the past twelve months. I find it’s a good practice, even therapeutic, as it’s easy to lose sight of all the good work that’s being done. It seems all the more important to do so this year as the struggle to keep the barge on an even keel felt all the more difficult. But here we are. We made it. So let’s have a look at 2021.

Our first book of the year was in collaboration with our multi-talented friend to the north, Reggie Chamberlain-King: The Fatal Move and Other Stories by Conall Cearnach. Reggie first wrote about Cearnach for The Green Book 11, prompting me to track down a copy of the Irish writer’s sole collection. “Cearnach” was the pseudonym of the Belfast-born F. W. O’Connell, a peculiar Protestant divine, linguist and Irish language scholar, oddball essayist, and early national broadcaster. The Fatal Move is truly a strange and fascinating collection. It showcases a wide scope of modes: the conte cruel, the ghost story, the locked-room mystery, and the science-fictional satire. I published the Jamesian tale “The Fiend that Walks Behind” in The Green Book 15, and shortly thereafter decided to publish the whole damn book—which hadn’t seen an outing since its initial publication in 1924. Reggie provided a lengthy and erudite study of Cearnach’s fascinating life and works, and we added a selection of equally oddball essays to round out the volume. As Supernatural Tales’ David Longhorn observes, this book “illuminates some of the more obscure byways of Irish literature”. If you want to read more about The Fatal Move—and the fascinating story behind the book’s cover art, check our my previous blog post. You can also listen to Reggie discussing Cearnach on BBC Radio. (Also be sure to check out The Black Dreams: Strange Stories from Northern Ireland, a new anthology edited by Reggie Chamberlain-King.)

(Buy The Fatal Move here.)

Next is the fifth instalment of our ongoing anthology series, Uncertainties, our showcase of new writing—this time featuring contributions from Ireland, Canada, America, and the United Kingdom—with each writer exploring the idea of increasingly fragmented senses of reality. I decided to take the reins this year and put together a line-up of stories from twelve contemporary writers such as Ramsey Campbell, Alan Moore, Aislínn Clarke, and Carly Holmes. The cover for this volume was provided by Ksenia Korniewska, whose work I had long admired on Instagram. With Uncertainties 5, I finally had an excuse to work with her. Along with The Fatal Move, Uncertainties 5 is the first of our books with printed buckram boards, a feature with which we will endeavour to continue. As with previous volumes, Uncertainties 5 has been well-received: Deirdre Sullivan’s “Little Lives” won the An Post Book Award for Short Story of the Year, while the Irish Times reviewed the anthology as, “Challenging and uncanny, these are exactly the kinds of stories we need to survive in a world that keeps getting stranger.” I’m also quite proud of the foreword I wrote, the culmination of an awful lot of ruminating about the horror genre and it’s many facets. You can read the essay online: “That Didn’t Scare Me”.

(Buy Uncertainties 5 here.)

A selection of stories by L. T. Meade was something I’d been considering since Bending to Earth came out in 2019. In that sense, Eyes of Terror and Other Dark Adventures is the next instalment in our unofficial “Strange Stories by Irish Women” series, which to-date includes titles by Dorothy Macardle, Rosa Mulholland, B. M. Croker, Katharine Tynan, and Clotilde Graves. For Eyes of Terror, I went to Meade scholar Janis Dawson, who had written an excellent author profile on Meade for The Green Book 16. Meade’s stories were widely published in popular fin de siècle magazines, and this selection showcases her macabre specialties: medical or scientific mysteries featuring doctors, scientists, occult detectives, criminal women with weird powers, unusual medical interventions, fantastic scientific devices, murder, mesmerism, and manifestations of insanity. Quoth Michael Dirda in the Washington Post, “[Meade’s] scariest, and hitherto scattered, short horror fiction is finally reassembled in Swan River Press’s Eyes of Terror and Other Dark Adventures, superbly edited by Janis Dawson. Highly recommended.”

(Buy Eyes of Terror here.)

Our fourth book this year has its roots in the Dublin Ghost Story Festival at which Joyce Carol Oates was our guest of honour in 2018. Surely working with Joyce would be a career highlight for any publisher: it certainly is for me. The Ruins of Contracoeur and Other Presences is a collection of Joyce’s trademark grotesqueries; check this out: “A group of resourceful young girls punish the men of a small town for unspeakable lusts by luring them to a derelict factory and into the toils of a bizarre contraption; a dead man tries to makes sense of a strange epiphany he experienced one day when out hiking amid gigantic ancient redwoods; and a state judge, fleeing disgrace, settles with his family on an isolated ruinous estate where some dread thing prowls in the night . . . ” Wow! So for this publication, I wanted to do something extra special. First, asking Lisa Tuttle to write the introduction was an obvious choice—folks, I’m still kicking myself for not recording the fascinating guest of honour interview she conducted with Joyce at the DGSF. For the cover, I went to Meggan Kehrli, who mainly serves as Swan River’s designer. I hope you’ll agree, she turned in something special (and just wait until you seen the boards). Finally, the entire edition is signed not only by Joyce, but also by Meggan and Lisa. And in atonement for my aforementioned sin, you can watch an online conversation between Lisa and Joyce that we recorded, with the help of Eric Karl Anderson, for the launch of The Ruins of Contracoeur. My sincere gratitude again to you, Joyce, for the opportunity to publish this book!

(Buy The Ruins of Contracoeur here.)

Our last hardback publication for the year is another entry in the “Strange Stories by Irish Women” series: A Vanished Hand and Other Stories by Clotilde Graves. Of course, you’ll always be familiar with Grave’s work from Bending to Earth. Graves is one of the most interesting and neglected writers I’ve come across, whose writing is as difficult to pin down as her personality. In her early years, she was known as the dramatist “Clo Graves”, but became better known under her fiction-writing persona, “Richard Dehan”. She transgressed contemporary gender norms by dressing in male attire, wearing her hair short, and smoking in public. This border crossing can be seen also in her work, which encompasses a wide variety of forms and modes. And while she wrote relatively few fantastical stories, she was devoted to tales of lingering revenants, mysterious cryptids, and grotesque sciences—often laced with her sardonic sense of humour. This volume seeks to recover this side of Graves’s writing by including stories from across her career, which challenge definition and range across the speculative genres. The selection of thirteen stories was made by Melissa Edmundson, who also provided an expert introduction on Graves and her work. You’ll also, no doubt, notice the exceptionally striking cover by Brian Coldrick, who also gave us the cover for Eyes of Terror earlier in the year (as well as the covers for our Mulholland and Tynan volumes). I had a lot of fun working on this book, another landmark of its kind. We’ll be working with both Brian and Melissa again for sure.

(Buy A Vanished Hand here.)

We also published two issues of our journal The Green Book: Writings on Irish Gothic, Supernatural and the Fantastic. It’s hard to believe that the journal will read its ten-year anniversary next year. Based on the popularity of Issue 15, The Green Book 17 featured a selection of rare fiction and poetry by the likes of H. de Vere Stacpoole, Herbert Moore Pim, Katharine Tynan, Dora Sigerson Shorter, and L. T. Meade. We also reprinted in this volume Althea Gyles’s “weirdly powerful and beautiful” illustrations to Oscar Wilde’s poem “The Harlot’s House”. Issue 18 featured eleven entries from our (still tentatively titled) Guide to Irish Gothic and Supernatural Fiction Writers project, including profiles of George Croly, Anna Maria Hall, Fitz-James O’Brien, Jane Barlow, Harry Clarke, Iris Murdoch, and more. Our issues for 2022 are already coming together nicely—the next will be loosely themed on Dublin’s theosophical scene of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. (Anyone who is unsure where to jump in on this journal, we’ve a special offer running too. It’s a secret.)

(Buy The Green Book here.)

You also might have noticed that we substantially added to our paperback catalogue this year. In 2020 we published three paperback titles. In 2021, we increased that to a total of nineteen. Among them you’ll find Curfew & Other Eerie Tales by Lucy M. Boston, Strange Epiphanies by Peter Bell, and The Anniversary of Never by Joel Lane. We’ve got another six titles waiting to be reprinted in early 2022, including The Pale Brown Thing by Fritz Leiber and The Sea Change by Helen Grant. Rest assured, hardbacks will remain our primary focus—not to mention still the best way to support the press’s ongoing work. Please also be aware that our anthologies featuring contemporary writers will not be reprinted as paperbacks. Once those are out of print, they will truly be gone! If you want to see what books we have available in paperback, have a look here (scroll down to “Paperback”). And if your next question contains the word “When” in it, do be sure to join our mailing list.

Now if anyone is interested in the figures, we published 7 new titles this year, totalling 1,288 pages, 2,481 copies, and 363,460 words. I have a nifty spreadsheet that keeps track of all of this stuff for me. I love literature, but these numbers help put our achievements into perspective too.

We had a bit of change up this year as well. Ken Mackenzie left the team having worked with us since 2013. His first book with us was Seventeen Stories by Mark Valentine and he’d typeset every publication through Uncertainties 5 earlier this year. Ken brought a polish to our pages and helped make our books all the better for it. I’m grateful to Ken for all his work over the years and wish him the best in all his future endeavours. Quickly stepping up as our new typesetter and team member is Steve J. Shaw, who many followers of independent press will know from his own Black Shuck Books imprint. Steve proved himself invaluable from the outset, not only as our new typesetter, but with his insight into the workings of independent publishing. Welcome, Steve—and thanks for your help! (And if you get a chance, do check out his books. I recently enjoyed Only the Broken Remain by Dan Coxon.)

No summation of the year would be complete without acknowledging the rest of the Swan River team: Meggan Kehrli, who does all our design work; and Jim Rockhill and Timothy J. Jarvis, both of whom help with the editorial and proofreading duties, not to mention general advice and support. I’d also like to thank John Howard, Joe Mitchen, Alison Lyons of Dublin UNESCO City of Literature, and John Connolly (check out his new anthology Shadow Voices: 300 Years of Irish Genre Fiction), all of whom continue to give their support, encouragement, and enthusiasm for our work.

This year has been difficult for many, and I’ve had a lot of books and media to keep me company lately. I’d like to give a shout out to the creatives that I’ve been enjoying lately. Maybe you’ll find something new and interesting: Tartarus Press, Zagava, Ritual Limited, Egaeus Press, Sarob Press, Side Real Press, Black Shuck Books, Supernatural Tales, Hellebore, Nunkie Productions, Eibonvale Press, Undertow Publications, Nightjar Press, Friends of Arthur Machen—all of these people are doing the sort of things that I love, so be sure to give them your support if you find something new and exciting. Not to mention the many booksellers out there who stock our books—and even if they don’t, be sure to support your favourite local, independent bookseller. Choose to put your money into their pockets instead of Am*zon’s, because it really does make a difference.

Lastly, thank you to everyone who supported Swan River Press this year: with kind words, by buying books, donating through our patron programme, or simply spreading the word—I’m grateful for it all! If you’d like to keep in touch, do join our mailing list, find us on Facebook, follow on Twitter and Instagram. We’ve got some exciting projects for next year that I’m looking forward to sharing with you all. Until then, please stay healthy; take care of each other and your communities. I’d like to wish you all a restful holiday season, and hope to hear from you in the New Year!

Our Haunted Year 2021

Our Haunted Year 2020

We can probably safely say that few could have guessed what 2020 would have in store for us. I haven’t quite decided yet whether or not I take comfort in the fact that this can be said at the start of any given year. Anyway, here at Swan River Press I had to adjust quickly: I started to work my day job from home last March, which then blurred daily into the evening hours that I put into the press. Time is a bit elastic in this room, and it isn’t uncommon to find myself wondering what day of the week it is.

Whenever I write one of these annual reviews, it seems that the most recent passing year is the “most ambitious yet”. This year feels no different, if only because most of my free moments—for better or for worse—were given over to Swan River. I suppose one must keep oneself distracted, right? I admit, I enjoy the indulgence in work. At least this sort of work.

But here we are at the end of a difficult year, and it’s time for me to take stock of what we’ve accomplished on the publishing front. I say “we” because, though it’s just been me in this room for the majority of the year, Swan River is far from just myself as you’ll quickly see.

So let’s start at the beginning.

Our first book of the year was the fourth instalment in our ongoing anthology series, Uncertainties, our showcase of new writing—featuring contributions from Britain, America, Canada, Australia, and the Philippines—each writer exploring the idea of increasingly fragmented senses of reality. This year’s volume was edited by Timothy J. Jarvis, and included an impressive line-up of stories from fourteen contemporary writers such as Lucie McKnight Hardy, Camilla Grudova, John Darnielle, Brian Evenson, and Claire Dean. I was particularly delighted to feature on the cover a painting by B. Catling, who we’ll return to in a moment. David Longhorn of Supernatural Tales had some kind things to say about the anthology: “[Uncertainties 4] has, for me, illustrated yet again the broad range of Gothic fiction, and more than hints at a genre revival in this century far more impressive than anything in the last. Perhaps this is because, like the Victorian era, ours is one of uncertain peace, irrational fads, scientific progress, and deeply unstable societies that are mirrored in confused personal identities and relationships. And people still like spooky stuff a lot.”

(Buy Uncertainties 4 here.)

Lucifer and the Child by Ethel Mannin felt like one of our biggest discoveries of the year, something to be truly excited about: the first Irish edition of an overlooked novel once banned in this country. An atypical book from Mannin, Lucifer and the Child was originally published in 1945, then reviewed in the Irish Times as “a strange, but gripping book”. Our new edition of this extraordinary novel features an introduction by Rosanne Rabinowitz, and was given favourable notice in the Dublin Inquirer: “It is not surprising that this book was deemed unsuitable for 1940s Ireland. The allure of Lucifer and the occult would certainly have been deemed inappropriate, as would the depictions of female sexuality.” (Although no records exist that give reason, I personally suspect it wasn’t the occult themes that got the book banned, but rather the mention of abortion.) Despite the challenges it poses to conservative pearl-clutchers, this book was warmly received as evidenced by the many emails I got from delighted readers. The cover is by Australian artist Lorena Carrington—she did a wonderful job of depicting the dark faerie tale within its pages.

(Buy Lucifer and the Child here.)

Our next title, Munky, allowed us not only to work with artist and novelist B. Catling RA, author of the Vorrh trilogy, but for the cover art the opportunity to team up with artist Dave McKean. This project started as a submission to Uncertainties 4, but after some consideration, we decided it stood better on its own. Munky is a quirky novella that illustrates an English town and its inhabitants, as ridiculous as they are quaint, evoking an atmosphere that “might be called M. R. James with a soupçon of P. G. Wodehouse and a dash of Viz” (The Scotsman). We had also arranged for this edition to be signed by both author and artist, making this book one helluva package. Once a book is published, I tend not to go back and read it (yet again). Not so with Munky. Over these past months I found myself picking it up on occasion to revisit Catling’s charmingly cracked world.

(Buy Munky here.)

Our fourth book this year was also our fourth by Irish author Mervyn Wall: Leaves for the Burning, originally published in 1952. We’ve been championing Wall’s work for quite some time now: The Unfortunate Fursey (2015), The Return of Fursey (2015), A Flutter of Wings (2017), and in a few issues of The Green Book. A mid-century portrait of Ireland, Leaves for the Burning is rich in grotesque humour and savage absurdity, depicting a middle-aged public servant who works in a shabby county council sub-office in the bleak Irish midlands, mired in Kafkaesque bureaucracy and petty skirmishes with locals. Although we stray from our typical fantastical themes with this one, we hope you’ll still give it a chance. With an introduction by Susan Tomaselli, editor of gorse, we are proud to make available again Mervyn Wall’s great “half-bitter book”—as it was judged by Seán O’Faoláin—surely now just as relevant as it was over half a century ago. The cover art for this one is by Niall McCormack, whose work will be recognisable to those who read Tomaselli’s gorse.

(Buy Leaves for the Burning here.)

Continuing with our “recovered voices” of Irish women writers of the supernatural, this year we published The Death Spancel and Others by Katharine Tynan. Research for this project started over three years ago—though you’ll recall we featured Tynan in Bending to Earth: Strange Stories by Irish Women (2019) and in various issues of The Green Book. Consisting of fifteen stories, seven poems, three appendices, and an introduction by Peter Bell, The Death Spancel is the first collection to showcase Katharine Tynan’s tales of the macabre and supernatural. It is also the only volume of this once-popular Irish author’s work currently in print, perhaps making this book all the more important. The Death Spancel was reviewed in Hellnotes by Mario Guslani to be “of remarkably high literary quality . . . a great collection recommended to any good fiction lover.” Brian Coldrick, who is quickly becoming one of our favourite artists to work with, did the cover for this one. You might recognise his work from the cover of Rosa Mulholland’s Not to Be Taken at Bed-time (2019).

(Buy The Death Spancel here.)

The final hardback of the year was Ghosts of the Chit-Chat, edited by actor and scholar Robert Lloyd Parry. The book is as much an anthology of stories and poems as it is a work of scholarship. Lloyd Parry introduces each author with a short biographical sketch, building a portrait of those in the orbit of M. R. James, who debuted his own ghost stories on the evening of Saturday, 28 October 1893, Cambridge University’s Chit-Chat Club. Like many of our books, this one was long in the works. In addition to reprinting numerous rare and only recently discovered pieces, Ghosts of the Chit-Chat also features earlier, slightly different versions of James’s “Canon Alberic’s Scrap-book” (here titled “The Scrap-book of Canon Alberic”) and “Lost Hearts”. We also had a Zoom launch for Chit-Chat, and though it wasn’t recorded, we’ve got a video of Lloyd Parry reading Maurice Baring’s “The Ikon”. The volume was published on 8 December, and proved to be so popular that the already extended edition of 500 swiftly went out of print on 20 December, breaking some sort of record for us. Reception has been encouraging, with James scholar Rosemary Pardoe noting, “People who’ve missed out on it should be kicking themselves.” But don’t worry. We have plans for a paperback edition next year—sign up to our mailing list if you want advance notice.

(Buy Ghosts of the Chit-Chat here.)

We also published three issues of our journal The Green Book: Writings on Irish Gothic, Supernatural and the Fantastic. Issue 14, outstanding from 2019, was published simultaneously with Issue 15. Based loosely around the theme of memoir and biographical sketches, Issue 14 contained pieces by or about Dorothy Macardle, Fitz-James O’Brien, Rosa Mulholland, among others. Issue 15 was a departure from our standard practice: we decided to feature fiction, and so reprinted rare pieces by Conall Cearnach, Herbert Moore Pim, Robert Cromie, and others. Issue 16 featured ten entries from our (still tentatively titled) Guide to Irish Gothic and Supernatural Fiction Writers project, including profiles of Edmund Burke, L. T. Meade, Forrest Read, Elizabeth Bowen, and more. Our issues for 2021 are already coming together nicely.

(Buy The Green Book here.)

And there you have it!

So is anyone interested in the final tallies? I’ve got my nifty spreadsheets set up to spit out some figures. We published 8 new titles this year, totalling 1,584 pages, 2,950 copies, and 462,763 words.

Naturally we attended no conventions this year, either online or in person. I think the last might have been FantasyCon in Glasgow. But I look forward to seeing everyone again soon!

Perhaps the biggest Swan River development over these past twelve months was a long-mooted foray into paperbacks. We’ve dipped our toes in the water so far with Earth-Bound (Dorothy Macardle), The House on the Borderland (William Hope Hodgson), and Insect Literature (Lafcadio Hearn). We’ll be doing more in 2021, so it will be your chance to read some of our out-of-print books at a more reasonable price than what you’ll often find them for on the secondhand market. The reason it took so long is because I wanted to make sure we were doing paperbacks as best we could given the myriad challenges I had to consider and balance. This not only includes the books themselves, but also the behind-the-scenes admin work they create. But I’m happy we’ll been able to make available again some great stories. If you want to read more about our paperbacks, I wrote an entire blogpost about it.

(Buy Swan River Paperbacks here.)

Next I’d like to extend a warm welcome to Timothy J. Jarvis, who will be joining (actually, already has) the Swan River team. I’ve known and worked with Tim for a good many years now. I’ve always found both his fiction and writings on supernatural literature to be nothing but insightful; and I, as I am sure do many, value his generosity, passion, and friendship highly. If you want to check out Tim’s work, I suggest starting with his novel The Wanderer (2014). Tim also edited Uncertainties 4 this year, and his short fiction and articles can be found in innumerable anthologies. He is also co-editor of Faunus, the journal of the Friends of Arthur Machen (to which you should subscribe if you don’t already). Welcome, Tim!

Not forgetting the Swan River team, who make sure that I’ve not sat alone in this room for the year: Meggan Kehrli, who has once again done a superb job designing and laying out all our titles (including the various other ads and graphics I occasionally need); Jim Rockhill, who is always at the ready to provide proofreading and sage editorial input, always backed with his thoughtful scholarship; and Ken Mackenzie, who takes care of all our books’ insides, always patiently putting up with my dithering until things are just right. And finally, Alison Lyons and the team at Dublin UNESCO City of Literature, who continues to give their support, encouragement, and enthusiasm for our on-going work, allowing us to reach just a bit further than we might otherwise be able to.

(Don’t worry, I’m nearly finished.)

This year has been difficult for many, and I’ve had a lot of books and media to keep me company lately. I’d like to give a shout out to the creatives whose work I’ve been enjoying lately. Maybe you’ll find something new and interesting too: Tartarus Press, Zagava, Ritual Limited, Egaeus Press, Sarob Press, Side Real Press, Supernatural Tales, Hellbore, Nunkie Productions, Eibonvale Press, Undertow Publications, Nightjar Press, Friends of Arthur Machen—all of these people are doing the sort of things that I love, so be sure to give them your support if you find something you like. Not to mention the many booksellers out there who stock our books—and even if they don’t, be sure to support your favourite local, independent booksellers anyway. Choose to put your money into their pockets instead of Am*zon’s, because it really does make a difference.

Lastly, thank you to everyone who supported Swan River Press this year: with kind words, by buying books, donating through our patron programme, or simply spreading the word—I’m grateful for it all! If you’d like to keep in touch, do join our mailing list, find us on Facebook, follow on Twitter and Instagram. We’ve got some exciting projects for next year that I’m looking forward to sharing with you all. Until then, please stay healthy; take care of each other and your communities. I’d like to wish you all a restful holiday season, and hope to hear from you in the New Year!

Our Haunted Year 2020

Our Haunted Year: 2019

2019b Christmas

It looks as though 2019 was our most ambitious year to date. I had a suspicion this time last year that it might be and I wasn’t wrong. I had originally planned nine publications for 2019—alas, we only managed seven. But they’re seven of the best books we’ve done and results of which all involved can be proud. So let’s have a look at what we got up to these past twelve months.

53717333_775664036154255_1018230587174944768_nThe first book was a long time in coming: Bending to Earth: Strange Stories by Irish Women edited by Maria Giakaniki and Brian J. Showers. The anthology came together over many years, after much searching for tales that were not only good, but also infrequently reprinted, if at all. The original publications of these tales range from 1847 to 1914. There are names you might already be acquainted with, such as Lady Jane Wilde and L. T. Meade, and those that will certainly be less familiar to most, such as Katharine Tynan and Clotilde Graves. Darryl Jones, in his review of the this volume for the Irish Times, notes a particularly exciting aspect of this book: “Bending to Earth is full of tales of women walled-up in rooms, of vengeful or unforgetting dead wives, of mistreated lovers, of cruel and murderous husbands . . . ‘The De Grabrooke Monument’, a previously uncollected story by Charlotte Riddell [ . . . ] is a significant coup for Giakaniki and Showers.” Bending to Earth also marks the first time we worked with Dublin illustrator Karen Vaughan, who did an excellent job on the cover. We hope to work with her again sometime! You can read some more reviews and even an extract from the introduction if you wish.

2019-01-25 Final PosterOn a related note, some of you will recall the “Irish Writers of the Fantastic” poster that I designed with Jason Zerrillo in 2015. The poster was later issued by Dublin City Libraries and Dublin UNESCO City of Literature—I hope some of you managed to get a copy. Well, Jason and I created another poster this year: “Strange Stories by Irish Women”. It’s meant as a sort of illustrative companion to Bending to Earth, showcasing portraits of each author in the anthology and featuring suitably unsettling quotes from each of their stories. I believe the library still has plans to issue this as a poster at some point. I’d love to see it in libraries across Ireland and beyond.

IMG_20190426_144126_190Our next book was Not to Be Taken at Bed-Time and Other Strange Stories by Rosa Mulholland. As an Irish author Mulholland, of course, also featured in Bending to Earth, so those who liked her story in that anthology may wish to explore her other gothic offerings. There is something of a faerie tale quality to Mulholland’s stories, or as David Longhorn pointed out in his review for Supernatural Tales, “Mulholland also draws strongly on her Irish heritage, and this gives the tales an extra dimension, that of the looming Celtic Twilight.” Not to Be Taken at Bed-Time was originally published by Sarob Press in 2013 and swiftly went out of print. With an introduction by the late Richard Dalby, I’m pleased to bring this title not only back into print, but also under Swan River’s wing. An extract from Richard’s introduction can be read here. Our edition was given a vibrant new cover by Irish artist Brian Coldrick. Fans of the ghost story will want to check out Coldrick’s Behind You: One-Shot Horror Stories, a marvellous collection of illustrations perfectly capturing that moment of a pleasing terror.

67143631_1806947816074520_6074629506683895808_nAfter Mulholland we published a new collection by John Howard: A Flowering Wound. This is the third book we’ve worked on with John, having previously published Written by Daylight in 2013 followed by The Silver Voices in 2014. Once again, David Longhorn of Supernatural Tales weighs in on this marvellous collection: “John Howard’s tales seemed to me like suitable summer reading. Many of the stories concern overlit urban landscapes not unlike those in the stories of J. G. Ballard, though the mood is very different . . . . There are also some stories that recall Arthur Machen’s approach to London, his insistence that the great metropolis is a place of magic and mystery.” The cover, perfectly evocative of John’s writing, was provided by our long-time collaborator Jason Zerrillo. If you’d like to read more about A Flowering Wound, check out this wonderful interview with John Howard conducted by Florence Sunnen.

ECGhq8pWkAAOvArThe Mulholland book was not to be our only Sarob Press reprint this year. We also reprinted “Number Ninety” & Other Ghost Stories by B. M. Croker, originally published in 2000. This volume, like the Mulholland, was also long out of print, and being written by an Irish writer, we were keen to bring Croker’s stories to our audience. Unlike Mulholland, who wrote often about Ireland, the majority of Croker’s stories are often set further afield. In his review for Wormwood, Reggie Oliver writes: “[Croker’s] Indian stories evoke colonial life vividly and there is no imperial condescension towards the native characters who are treated with the same respect and sharpness of vision as her British ones . . . . What makes them all readable are the well-observed characters and settings which, besides India, include Britain, Ireland, Australia, the South of France and the American Deep South.” You’ll find Croker also represented in Bending to Earth; likewise, Richard Dalby has provided us with another excellent introduction. The expert cover for “Number Ninety” is by Alan Corbett, who also provided the illustration for The Green Book 2—a panel from his excellent Cork-set graphic novel The Ghost of Shandon.

IMG_2173Next up was quite a special project, an opportunity that could not be missed: a 150th anniversary edition of Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s Green Tea, which was originally published in Charles Dickens’s All the Year Round in October 1869. “Green Tea” stands as one of my favourite ghost stories; it’s the world at its cruellest, Le Fanu at his bleakest. To create something really special, we put together a great team: Matthew Holness (writer/director of Possum) is a long-time admirer of Le Fanu’s work, and provided an introduction to Reminiscences of a Bachelor back in 2014. We also called in Alisdair Wood, who provided illustrations for our edition November Night Tales by Henry C. Mercer. For Green Tea, Alisdair not only fully illustrated the story, but designed the cover as well. We then teamed up with Reggie Chamberlain-King of Belfast’s Wireless Mystery Theatre to produce a dramatic recording of Le Fanu’s masterful tale of paranoia and fear—you’ve got to hear it!

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Finally, the book is rounded out by a pair of essays, written by myself and Le Fanu scholar Jim Rockhill, exploring the background and publishing history of “Green Tea”. The entire edition is signed by Holness, Wood, Rockhill, and Showers—and includes a facsimile signature of Le Fanu. Just to make the occasion even more special, I took the pile of signing sheets to Le Fanu’s grave here in south Dublin, where they rested for a while with a cup of strongly brewed green tea before I sent them off to the printer to be bound. Praised by Michael Dirda in the Washington Post as a “beautiful keepsake volume”, I’m confident our new edition of Green Tea is book Le Fanu himself would be proud of.

IMG_2312Our last book of the year arrived just a few short weeks before the holidays: The Far Tower: Stories for W. B. Yeats edited by Mark Valentine. Stories of magic and myth, folklore and fairy traditions, the occult and the outré, inspired by the rich mystical world of Ireland’s greatest poet, W. B. Yeats. The Far Tower is something of a tribute anthology, similar to The Scarlet Soul: Stories for Dorian Gray (2017), and Mark invited many of the same collaborators to the project, including cover artist John Coulthart, who really gave us something special this time. As the calendar draws to a close, I hope readers will enjoy this final offering of the year somewhere warm and relaxing. If you’d like, you can read Mark’s introduction as well!

67063061_715995905509991_3361863342883864576_nMoving on to The Green Book. Some might have noticed that there was only one issue this year. This was quite unintentional, and one of the two books I had hoped to publish, but simply didn’t manage. However, The Green Book 13 did see the light of day last spring. Much like the previous two issues, issue thirteen contains a number of entries on obscure Irish writers of the fantastic, including Dora Sigurson Shorter, Cheiro, Oliver Sherry, Stephen Gilbert, and others. Issue fourteen will likely appear around the same time as issue fifteen, so don’t fret. Apologies for the delay!

Uncertainties 4The other book I was hoping to publish this year, but was unable to complete in time, is Uncertainties 4 edited by Timothy J. Jarvis. However, I am happy to say that the book is now finished, with a remarkable selection of stories, and will go to print in early 2020, complete with a fantastic cover from the painting “Night Beach” by B. Catling. This is the first time Swan River has worked with Catling, and won’t be the last . . .

A lot of publishing takes place in isolation, with me sitting here in Dublin at my desk tapping away at the keyboard: answering emails, updating accounts, editing, or simply reading. Occasionally I also have the opportunity to leave the house. This year Swan River Press attended Worldcon here in Dublin. It was my first Worldcon: slightly overwhelming, but loads of fun to meet people and talk about books. In October I made my way up to Glasgow for Fantasycon. Although smaller than previous years, it was still great fun to see friends. I’m very much looking forward to Stokercon in 2020—Scarborough is such a fun city to visit. I hope to see you all there!

dublin logo final copyJust because I’ve been asked lately, it does not look as though we’ll be hosting a Dublin Ghost Story Festival in 2020. The event is not permanently cancelled, so don’t despair just yet, but the idea does need to reach a certain momentum before I’m comfortable committing myself. The events in both 2016 and 2018 were great fun, guests of honour being Adam Nevill and Joyce Carol Oates, respectively. So I do hope we’ll be able to do another one when the time is right. If you want to keep abreast of any announcements, do join our mailing list or follow us on Facebook.

While much of publishing can take place in isolation, it is by no means a vacuum. There’s a reason Swan River books look so good. Jim Rockhill continues to proofread all of our volumes, offering his sharp eye and invaluable advice; Meggan Kehrli once again designed all our covers, keeping the look of the Swan River books uniform and exciting; and Ken Mackenzie, who typesets all our books, often a less noticed contribution, but one of great importance. I’d also like to thank Alison Lyons of Dublin UNESCO City of Literature for her constant support of fine literature.

Lastly, thank you to everyone who supported Swan River Press this year: with kind words, by buying books, donating through our patron programme, or simply spreading the word—I’m grateful for it all! If you’d like to keep in touch, do join our mailing list, find us on Facebook, follow on Twitter and Instagram. I’d like to wish you a restful holiday season, and hope to hear from you in the New Year!

 

 

Our Haunted Year: 2019