Thoughts on Small Press #2—What to Publish?

Brian, here’s a question for the small press discussion; What recurring characteristics and factors do you find yourself weighing up when considering whether to publish a collection/ text? What leads up to that decisive moment? Cheers, Stephen J. Clark


11219560_10203828863556682_4593675160824950728_oHi Stephen—At first I thought your question might be a relatively easy one to answer, and on some levels it is: I tend to know what I want to publish, generally. But the more I thought about it, the more I realised that there was quite a bit of unconscious thought and a few more overt goals that influence my decision-making.

Before we start, I’d like to disclose the fact that the above question comes from Stephen J. Clark, who is not only a fine writer, but also an extraordinary illustrator—you really should check out his work. It’s also worth mentioning that Swan River published Stephen’s The Satyr & Other Tales in 2015, and his artwork adorns the cover of The Green Book 14.

Green Book 14So now your question. Generally I think one of the strengths of small press is the ability to specialise and often take greater risks than mainstream publishers. Notice how with some of the best small presses, you more or less know what you’re going to get—and even if what you get is unexpected, you can still be assured of quality. There are small presses that focus on poetry, contemporary or experimental literature, early twentieth century pulp fiction, or in the case of Swan River Press, the broader genre of supernatural fiction. This is a mode of literature I’ve loved for as long as I can remember. I touch on the beginnings of my affection for strange and uncanny in an interview conducted by Jon Mueller in 2017.

It might be obvious, but is probably worth stating, that the best small presses—those that publish books that dazzle and become the most treasured volumes in your collection—are usually driven by passion and a genuine love for what they publish. So on a basic level that decisive moment is when I have that feeling that I want to be a part of this book’s life. (Yes, books—the texts themselves—have lives. They’re conceived, written, and born; they grow through various editions. Some are seemingly immortal, some die quiet and early deaths, while others are resurrected to live their twilight years as our revered elders.)

IMG_2080Probably the best example of this is Swan River’s 2018 edition of The House on the Borderland by William Hope Hodgson. Hodgson’s novel, at least in our genre, is certainly a revered elder. With Borderland’s reputation already secure, there was probably no good reason for the Swan River Press edition to exist. It’s widely available in myriad cheap editions; hell, you can even read it online for free if you want. But it stands as one of my absolute favourite novels of the weird and cosmic. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read it—to say nothing of the multiple editions of this book that I’ve collected. My shelves hold a copy of the first UK edition, the Arkham House, not to mention a rake of twentieth century paperbacks. I love The House on the Borderland.

Maybe it was inevitable that the next logical step in my mania was to publish my own edition of The House on the Borderland—and I aimed to produce the best that I could: everyone involved with the Swan River edition has a fascination with and deep passion for the book. And I think the final result exudes this enthusiasm. It’s a book I can be proud of knowing that all contributors channelled as much affection into it as they could.

When it comes to contemporary writers, I’m driven by a similar sense of passion. I admit that I am not generally open for submissions (I don’t think I could handle the deluge—this will definitely be the topic of a future post). But I’m first and foremost a reader, so I have my favourites, people whose stories I enjoy, and with whom I want to work. While I don’t want to single out anyone in particular, all you need to do is have a look at the titles by our contemporary authors and I can, hand on heart, say I put the entirely of my passion behind their work.

Now the problem with passion is, left unchecked and unguided by reality, it can be ruinous. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, right? So I’ve developed over the years a sort of unofficial mission statement for Swan River Press that guides some of my publishing decisions. And with only a limited number of titles I can produce in a year, this can leave some hopeful writers disappointed (or maybe even feeling locked out of my roster). While the most books I’ve published in a year is eight, I seem to average about six, so let’s use that as our baseline.

21752797_1893374134011115_5541895445579173781_oThere are a handful guides that I employ—often not successfully! But I do usually at least consider them. First, being based in Ireland, I am uniquely positioned to champion Irish fantastical literature. This is my mandate for publishing The Green Book, our twice-yearly non-fiction journal that focuses on writings about Irish Gothic, fantastic and supernatural literature. With two issues of The Green Book per year, that leaves four slots for hardbacks. Not a lot, huh?

The second guide in my mission statement is a reasonable mix of genders. Looking back over my bibliography, this is something at which I’ve failed. Of the 41 hardback books that I’ve published to date (end of 2019), only 10 are authored or edited by women. (Of the six books I have projected for 2020, only one was written by a woman.) I could do better in this area, and it’s something I’m aware of. We fare only slightly better with gender parity in our contemporary anthologies, of which there have been six. Thus far, 38% of contributors identify as women. This will increase overall with the publication of Uncertainties 4, edited by Timothy J. Jarvis, in early 2020.

IMG_0005Next up, I try for a mix of both reprints of rediscovered writing and publishing work by contemporary authors. Reprints are important because this is how great books are resurrected to find new audiences. Most of my reprints tend to be by Irish writers. For examples, there is Earth-Bound by Dorothy Macardle, The Unfortunate Fursey by Mervyn Wall, and Bending to Earth: Strange Stories by Irish Women. I feel all of these are important titles that are more than deserving of a second life. Conversely, it’s the duty of small press (but no less a pleasure) to nurture contemporary writers. Here you’ll find collections by Lynda E. Rucker, Mark Valentine, and Rosalie Parker. These are the people who are pushing supernatural literature into new and exciting places, and it’s the responsibility of Swan River Press to be a venue for this. Given that I can publish on average only four titles per year, I try for one of those to be an anthology of contemporary writing, such as our Uncertainties series. This gives me the opportunity to work with more writers than I would be able to with single-author collections.

IMG_0088Finally, I love a good anniversary—the celebration of works by some of my favourite writers. The aforementioned novel The House on the Borderland was published for the 100th anniversary of William Hope Hodgson’s death. Similarly, Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s Green Tea, one of my favourite ghost stories of all time, celebrated 150 years last October, and so it was too good an opportunity to miss. Anniversary editions are among the trickiest as their publication dates are immutable. These are often the books that barge in and take their place, regardless of anything else. In 2014 we celebrated the 200th birth anniversary of Le Fanu, so that year Swan River published Dreams of Shadow and Smoke (an anthology written in tribute to the Irish gothic author and his work) and Reminiscences of a Bachelor, reprinting Le Fanu lost Gothic novella “The Fatal Bride”, which hadn’t seen the light of day since 1848.

ELQ0UfMW4AAnnt8

Anyway, there you go. Publishing, for me, is driven by a deep passion for the work, but also guided a handful of professional goals. It’s often a balancing act: what I want to publish versus what I’m capable of publishing. But ultimately, when there’s a text that I come across, and I feel those stirrings of wonder and awe, I usually just know I’ll be publishing or looking for a way to publish it. And yet, despite my ambition, and the many books I would like to publish—I can only manage on average four titles per year (not including The Green Book). With a sense for the workload I can manage, taking on any more than this would result in a loss of quality—and that’s something I’m never willing to sacrifice. In the end, it ain’t easy. But I do my best always.

So I hope that answers your question, Stephen. If you or anyone else has any further questions or thoughts on deciding what to publish, please write in the comments below. I’d also be interested in reading comments from other publishers. How do you decide what to publish?

My inaugural post for this series of posts is here, if you’d like to read it. As always I can be contacted by email, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or in the comments below. Please share this post where you think is appropriate. I’m looking forward to hear from you!

-Brian

Thoughts on Small Press #2—What to Publish?

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!

69426386_10216983751123616_2449381894282805248_o

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

Le Fanu’s “Green Tea”: A Sesquicentennial of Fear

Green TeaOn this day, 23 October 1869, readers of All the Year Round, edited by Charles Dickens, may well have been unprepared for a chilling tale of paranoia and despair that commenced in Mr. Dickens’s weekly journal. That story was “Green Tea”, and though it was originally published anonymously, it was penned by the Dublin writer Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu.

While Le Fanu is probably now better known for his pre-Dracula vampire novella “Carmilla” (1871/2), for me “Green Tea” will always be his masterpiece. The story tells of the good natured Reverend Mr. Jennings, whose late night penchant for green tea brings on a curious malady—that of opening the interior eye. The Reverend Mr. Jennings finds out that, in opening the interior eye, genii of the infernal plane can also perceive the world of man, and soon he is plagued relentlessly by a demonic chattering simian. For the delight of hell is to do evil to man, and to hasten his eternal ruin.

20190502_180832.jpg“Green Tea” was collected (along with Carmilla”) in Le Fanu’s most famous volume, In a Glass Darkly (1872), one of the author’s final books before he died in February of 1873. “Green Tea” has since become a staple of horror anthologies, gaining admirers from Dorothy L. Sayers to V. S. Pritchett.

For the story’s 150th anniversary, I wanted to create an edition worthy of such a powerful tale. My first port of call was Matthew Holness, known to many for his horror send-up Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, but also as the writer/director of Possum, one of the most emotionally chilling horror films I’ve ever seen. Holness is a long-time admirer of Le Fanu, which is why it seemed natural to ask him to write an introduction for our new edition. We’d also previously worked together on a volume in 2014 for the bicentenary of Le Fanu’s birth: Reminiscences of a Bachelor.

71559572_1182617248613887_3454389733147279360_oThat same year I asked Reggie Chamberlain-King of Belfast’s Wireless Mystery Theatre if he would adapt “Green Tea” as a radio drama. He did this, and the piece debuted at Toner’s Pub that August. I’d been searching for an excuse to record this wonderful adaptation, and when work on the new edition began, an opportunity had finally manifested. Each copy of our new edition of Green Tea will be issued with a CD of this magnificent recording.

Then there are the illustrations of Alisdair Wood, with whom I worked on November Night Tales by Henry C. Mercer. As with Holness, working with Wood again seemed an obvious choice. His pen and ink style is reminiscent of magazine illustrations from the nineteenth century. For the book, Wood created twelve original illustrations, plus the book’s striking cover.

CHAPTER IX FINALRounding out the volume, Jim Rockhill and myself once again teamed up to write a pair of afterwords to explore the publication history and contemporary reception of “Green Tea”. We had previously done the same for Reminiscences of a Bachelor. Rockhill has long worked as a Le Fanu scholar, with perhaps his greatest achievement being a three-volume complete stories of Le Fanu, published by Ash Tree Press (2002-2005). It was great fun looking at “Green Tea” in depth. As always, we hope you find our scholarship illuminating, possibly even useful to your own explorations.

Other features found their way into the design. For example, the monogram on the full title page is from Le Fanu’s letterhead; and on the signing page, signed by all contributors, we’ve reprinted a facsimile of the author’s signature—I’m afraid the best we could do under the circumstances. The rest of us have signed the page ourselves. I did, however, take the opportunity to visit Le Fanu’s vault with the signing pages before they were bound into the books. There they rested while we enjoyed a freshly brewed cup of green tea (a pot of which I am drinking now. In moderation, of course).

ED8OBXEX4AAK8GeFurther instalments of “Green Tea” were published in All the Year Round over the subsequent three weeks in 1869: 30 October, 6 November, and 13 November. While you may have read this story before, we hope you’ll make time this season to return to its pages. For “Green Tea” Le Fanu holds no punches: exploring as he does the absolute limits of a man dogged by a fiend from hell, caught in the enormous machinery of a malignant universe. This is no cosy ghost story, no pleasing terror. The climax in “Green Tea” remains one of the bleakest in all of supernatural literature.


Swan River Press’s deluxe hardback edition of Green Tea, in celebration of the story’s 150th anniversary, is now available on our website www.swanriverpress.ie.

If you’d like to read more about Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, please see our previous post here.

And don’t forget to check out our journal The Green Book (Writings on Irish Gothic, Supernatural and Fantastic Literature), past issues of which have featured J. S. Le Fanu and his work.

 

Le Fanu’s “Green Tea”: A Sesquicentennial of Fear

The Passing of J. Sheridan Le Fanu

28 August 1814 – 7 February 1873

large_obit3

18 Merrion Square
Dublin
Feb. 9th /73.

Dear Lord Dufferin,

I write a line to tell you of our terrible loss. My darling father died on Friday morning [7 February] at 6 o’Clock. He had almost got over a bad attack of Bronchitis but his strength gave way & he sank very quickly & died in his sleep. His face looks so happy with a beautiful smile on it. We were quite unprepared for the end. My brother Philip & I never left him during his illness & we were hopeful and happy about him even the day before he seemed to be much better. But it comforts me to think he is in Heaven, for no one could have been better than he was. He lived only for us, and his life was a most troubled one. I know you will feel this Dear Lord Dufferin. He loved you very much and very often spoke of you.

Ever your affectionate,

Emmie L. Le Fanu


The above note was sent by Le Fanu’s daughter, Emma Lucretia, to his cousin, Frederick Temple Blackwood, 1st Marquis of Dufferin and Ava. It was written in a long flowing hand on card with a heavy black border. According to the diary of Le Fanu’s brother, William, the author breathed his last at “½ past 6”. He was interred in a vault in Mount Jerome Cemetery, Harold’s Cross, Dublin on 11 February, where he joined his wife Susanna. A stream of obituaries followed, lamenting the loss of Dublin’s “Invisible Prince”.

Le Fanu had many admirers, among them ghost story writer M.R. James, who famously observed that Le Fanu, “succeeds in inspiring a mysterious terror better than any other writer”; and Henry James who wrote that author’s novels were, “the ideal reading in a country house for the hours after midnight.”

E.F. Benson’s brief laudatory essay on Le Fanu, published in The Spectator (1931), is available here.

In 1880 an anonymous reviewer of Le Fanu’s posthumous collection The Purcell Papers opined that, “The genius of the late Mr. Sheridan Le Fanu (the author of Uncle Silas and other romances) was also of a chill and curdling nature. No author more frequently caused a reader to look over his shoulder in the dead hour of the night. None made a nervous visitor feel more uncomfortable in the big, bleak bedrooms of old Highland houses.”

To celebrate the life of Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, take the time today to read one of his most notable and chilling tales, “Green Tea”, available to read online here.

His vampire tale, “Carmilla”, which almost certainly influenced his fellow countryman Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula, can be read here.

Or if you’re in the book buying mood . . .

In celebration of Le Fanu’s 200th birth anniversary, Swan River Press published two books: Reminiscences of a Bachelor, a brooding gothic novella not reprinted since its first publication in 1848; and a tribute anthology Dreams of Shadow and Smoke, which won the Ghost Story Award for best book in 2014.

MEMORY
by J. Sheridan Le Fanu

One wild and simple bugle sound,
Breathed o’er Killarney’s magic shore,
Awakes sweet floating echoes round
When that which made them is no more.

So slumber in the human breast
Wild echoes that will sweetly thrill
Through memory’s vistas when the voice
That waked them first for aye is still.

Oh! memory, though thy records tell
Full many a tale of grief and folly,
Of mad excess, of hope decayed,
Of dark and cheerless melancholy.

Yet, memory, to me thou art
The dearest of the gifts of mind,
For all the joys that touch my heart
Are joys that I have left behind.

large_boneyard10

The Passing of J. Sheridan Le Fanu