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

Conall Cearnach’s “The Fatal Move”

A few years back I wrote a short piece on how we put together Lafcadio Hearn’s Insect Literature (2015) from a design point of view. There are often embedded design details of significance in our books—the sort of things you might not notice until they’re pointed out and the various meanings explained. With the imminent publication of The Fatal Move by Conall Cearnach, I thought it might be a good time to write another such essay looking at how we designed this particular book.

Irish author F. W. O’Connell (1875-1929)—who often published as “Conall Cearnach”—was brought to my attention by Reggie Chamberlain-King, probably sometime in 2017. Chamberlain-King had been pitching to me Irish writers to consider for The Green Book’s ongoing profile series “Irish Writers of Gothic, Supernatural, and Fantastic Literature”, and Cearnach was among them. You can read the resulting biographical overview in Issue 11.

During his lifetime, Cearnach was known as the author of two Irish grammar books, A Grammar of Old Irish (1912) and Irish Self-Taught (1923), as well as for his broadcasts on 2RN, Ireland’s first radio broadcasting system. (It’s these broadcasts that I suspect formed the contents of Cearnach’s three essay collections.) But the primary reason for Cearnach being considered an Irish fantasist in The Green Book is for a slim collection of short stories he published in 1924: The Fatal Move and Other Stories (M. H. Gill & Son, Dublin). Chamberlain-King describes the stories as “ranging from the darkly macabre, to the speculative, to the absurd”. I had to track down a copy.

When the slim volume arrived—the first edition is only 96 pages—I was even more intrigued by the story titles: “The Vengeance of the Dead”, “The Homing Bone”, “Professor Danvers’ Disappearance” . . . I found among them a supernatural thriller, a locked-room mystery, a conte cruel, and even a “delightfully comic dystopia” in which Bolshevik Russia had taken over England, wiping out the English language. Eventually I reprinted “The Fiend that Walks Behind”, a Jamesian ghost story, in The Green Book 15, where it drew a favourable response. I grew to quite love this quirky little book, perhaps not a lost classic, but certainly a quirky gem of Irish literature, which I decided was worthy of inclusion in our 2021 publishing schedule. Naturally, Reggie Chamberlain-King provided the introduction, greatly expanded from his previous profile in The Green Book, and probably the lengthiest piece written about Cearnach to date.

So back to the book itself: the first edition copy of The Fatal Move that I managed to track down was complete with a somewhat grubby (and fragile) fawn paper wrapper. Depicted on the cover in green ink were two weary chess players, one slumped over their game board, both overseen by the disembodied head of an Edwardian beauty with red pupils—all this being an illustration from the title story.

While the name of the artist is neither listed in the book, nor in any bibliography I could find, my own copy bore two interesting inscriptions on the front endpaper. At the top, in black ink: “To the Artist with the Publisher’s Compliments, Dec. 1923”; below that, in red ink: “From Tom Grogan, as a specimen of his productions, le hárd-cion [with great affection]”. Certainly this established the identity of the artist, but begged the further question: Who exactly was Tom Grogan? A “Father Thomas Grogan” is registered at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art in 1919, and is a possible candidate, but apart from that the trail is cold. Any amateur art sleuths out there want to take up the challenge?

Courtesy of L. W. Currey

I noticed something else while putting together The Fatal Move. The eyes of the woman on the jacket are blank on all the other copies I was seeing for sale on the internet. Mine would seem to be unique with its crimson glare, which, until this realisation I had thought was part of the original design as opposed to added. Some of you might already have made the next leap in logic, but I confess, it took me a moment before I got there: the red ink with which Tom Grogan made his inscription is the same ink used on the jacket to enhance the eyes. In other words, the cover of my copy was embellished by the artist himself.

Usually when we reprint a book, I like to commission a new piece of art so as to modernise the edition—though always with sympathy to the text’s history, of course. But for The Fatal Move we decided to retain Tom Grogan’s original artwork, though not without a handful of minor alterations. First, you’ll notice that the letters in Conall Cearnach’s name are crowded together on the cover of first edition. I asked our designer Meggan Kehrli if she could fix this, which she did beautifully, rendering the author’s name more clearly. Next, we decided to print the image in a metallic green ink, which should give the jacket a striking look (Pantone PMS 8722C, for those who like knowing this sort of thing). The book isn’t back from the printer yet, but I hope it looks good. Finally, we decided, for our new edition, to retain Tom Grogan’s red eye embellishment, an indelible addition to my own original copy, now embedded in Swan River’s updated design. We hope Tom Grogan would approve.

As for the pattern we’re printing on the book’s case, Meggan lifted that from Cearnach’s essay collection The Age of Whitewash (1921). This also seems appropriate as Chamberlain-King wanted to include in The Fatal Move a selection of the author’s more outré non-fiction, hoping to give more insight into Cearnach’s life and milieu. Using the pattern from The Age of Whitewash is a subtle nod to this consideration.

And there you have it—a bit of insight into what goes into putting together the book as a physical object, readying the stories so that a new readership might discover them. I’m excited to see what the book will finally look like when it arrives back from the printer within the next few days. Our limited edition hardback edition will be the first time The Fatal Move has been reprinted since it’s first outing in 1924—nearly one hundred years ago.

So have you ordered a copy yet? Have you read Cearnach already? Or maybe there’s something else about this book you’d like to know more about? Drop us a line or leave your comments below.

If you liked this essay and want to support an independent Irish press:

Order The Fatal Move by Conall Cearnach.

Conall Cearnach’s “The Fatal Move”

The Green Book 15

Green Book 15EDITOR’S NOTE

In our previous issue, we focused on the lives of writers, featuring as we did reminiscences, interviews, and memoirs. For this issue I’d like to do something different. While we have featured occasional pieces of fiction in previous issues, including “Saved by a Ghost” by Bram Stoker in Issue 6 and “The Boys’ Room” by Dorothy Macardle in Issue 9, I’ve decided this time around to turn over the entire issue to fiction.

Consider this issue a special anthology issue, and an eclectic one at that. There is little to tie these pieces together, save for the fact each author grew from the soil of the same island at the edge of Europe, which is to say they are all Irish by birth. Perhaps, instead, to state the obvious, one might find that each story reflects more so its author than any affinity with one another — and yet they are here between these covers. I hope most, if not all, of these stories will be new to you.

Rosa Mulholand’s “A Priest’s Story” is certainly informed by her own Catholic beliefs, the supernatural elements driven by faith more than fear. Similarly, “The Story of a Star” is a fable that could only have flowed from the pen of the mystical poet and painter A.E.

Robert Cromie is best known for his novel The Crack of Doom (1895), which contains what is thought to be the first description of an atomic explosion in fiction. Published here is his supernatural short story “Squire Grimshaw’s Ghost” — decidedly more gothic than the scientific fiction for which he is now remembered.

Herbert Moore Pim’s “The Madman” is indeed a mad bit of writing from his singular collection Unknown Immortals of the Northern City of Success (1917). Whether the madman in question is based on a real person known to Pim is anyone’s guess. Beatrice Grimshaw’s “Cabin No. 9” is a ghost story set on the high seas, full of the adventure and incident one expects from Grimshaw. Unfortunately it is also marred by her racism, but I hope you will enjoy the tale nevertheless. Cheiro’s “A Bargain Made with a Ghost” purports to be based on true events — insofar as any tale told by Cheiro can be trusted as true. But the story is ably told and certainly entertaining.

Dorothy Macardle’s “The Shuttered Room” was originally broadcast on Radio Eireann on 13 September 1957. It was the sixth and last talk by Macardle in her Days and Places series. The other pieces in the series are reminiscences of her travels and experiences in post-war Europe and her sole trip to America. Though the “The Shuttered Room” was the story’s original title, on the manuscript this is crossed out, and a new title given: “A World of Dream”. This new title is then crossed out with “stet” written beside the original. This is the first time “The Shuttered Room” has appeared in print.

Finally we have Conall Cearnach’s “The Fiend That Walks Behind” from his sole (and slim) volume The Fatal Move and Other Stories (1924); a mixed bag as a collection, this tale of revenge from beyond the grave is perhaps the best of the lot.

And there you have it: I hope an entertaining crop of stories that will keep you amused for an evening. If you enjoy this all – fiction issue, maybe we’ll do another sometime?

Brian J. Showers
Rathmines, Dublin
19 April 2020

You can buy The Green Book here.

Contents

“Editor’s Note”
Brian J. Showers

“A Priest’s Ghost Story”
Rosa Mulholland

“Squire Grimstone’s Ghost”
Robert Cromie

“A Scrap of Irish Folklore”
Rosa Mulholland

“The Madman”
Herbert Moore Pim

“The Story of a Star”
A.E.

“Cabin No. 9”
Beatrice Grimshaw

“A Bargain Made with a Ghost”
Cheiro

“The Shuttered Room”
Dorothy Macardle

“The Fiend That Walks Behind”
Conall Cearnach

“Notes on Contributors”

The Green Book 15

The Green Book 11

Green Book 11EDITOR’S NOTE by Brian J. Showers

Our previous issue saw a fabulous array of reminiscences of Lord Dunsany — and also some contemporary assessments of his works — written by his Irish colleagues, including Yeats, Bowen, Gogarty, Tynan, A.E., and others. Issue 10 was fascinating to assemble and the process gave me a better understanding of and more insight into Dunsany’s literary standing in Ireland during his lifetime. If you’ve not yet had a look at our Dunsany issue, and you are in any way interested in this important author, I urge you to track down a copy.

The focus on Dunsany’s contemporaries in Issue 10 was an approach that evolved during research and production. However, during that time I also received a handful of modern appraisals of Dunsany and his work that I simply couldn’t fit into that issue. That’s why I’d like to start this instalment with just a bit more Dunsany.

First up we have Dunsany bibliographer Darrell Schweitzer’s career-spanning survey of the fantasist’s considerable body of work — where a new reader could start, what aficionados might have overlooked, and which titles can, perhaps, be left until later. Next, Martin Andersson, co-editor of the posthumous Dunsany collection The Ghost in the Corner (also reviewed in this issue), explores a lesser-known episode in Dunsany’s life: his Nobel Prize nomination. Finally, novelist Mike Carey offers an appreciation of Fifty-One Tales (1915), a collection not as widely celebrated as Dunsany’s other titles, but maybe one that should be given another read.

The remainder of this issue sees The Green Book in a little bit of a transition.

I’ve long had a penchant for bibliographies, indices, literary guides and encyclopaedias: I frequently take down from the shelf E. F. Bleiler’s Supernatural Fiction Writers (1983), wander the pages of Jack Sullivan’s Penguin Encyclopedia of Horror and the Supernatural (1986), and of course Neil Wilson’s Shadows in the Attic (2000) can keep me captivated for hours. I could go on . . .

Last year I commissioned a series of short articles for a book tentatively entitled A Guide to Irish Writers of Gothic, Supernatural and Fantastic Fiction. Over the past twelve months, Jim Rockhill and I have been working with a range of literary scholars, each exploring an Irish author that has in some way contributed to the broader literature of the fantastic. The results have been nothing short of captivating.

Therefore, in addition to the usual essays and reviews, I’d like to present, for the remainder of this issue, a selection of eight entries—some names you will recognise, others won’t be as familiar — but I do hope you’ll discover new writing to explore.

You can buy The Green Book 11 here.

Contents

“Editor’s Note”
Brian J. Showers

“How Much of Dunsany Is Worth Reading?”
Darrell Schweitzer

“Lord Dunsany and the Nobel Prize”
Martin Andersson

“Appreciating Fifty-One Tales
Mike Carey

“Regina Maria Roche (1764-1845)”
Albert Power

“B. M. Croker (1848-1920)”
Richard Dalby

“Edmund Downey (1856-1937)”
Gavin Selerie

“Conall Cearnach (1876-1929)”
Reggie Chamberlain-King

“C. S. Lewis (1898-1963)”
Reggie Oliver

“Denis Johnston (1901-1984)”
Reggie Chamberlain-King

“Louis MacNeice (1907-1963)”
Reggie Chamberlain-King

“Conor McPherson (1971- )”
David Longhorn

“Reviews”
Bram Stoker’s Powers of Darkness (Albert Power)
Lord Dunsany’s The Ghost in the Corner (Jay Sturner)

“Notes on Contributors”

The Green Book 11