Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Guest Blog! Simon Marshall-Jones (Spectral Press)

After having reviewed a couple of the chapbooks from Spectral Press (and enjoying them) I found myself wondering just what it was that led Simon Marshall-Jones to set up Spectral Press in the first place... and why ghost stories? I also found myself wondering if Simon would be happy to contribute a guest post here that would answer my first question; luckily for me, Simon was only too happy to oblige. Check out what he has to say...

Life is full of odd little twists and turns, and the birth of Spectral Press is no exception. So why, when there are already hundreds of small independent presses out there (not to mention the ‘e-presses’), did I decide to start up my own imprint?

Perhaps I should begin by winding back the tape to just over a year ago, to last year’s FantasyCon in Nottingham in fact. I was more of an aspiring writer then, and the thought of a) becoming a publisher and b) editing other people’s work were the lowest items on my long list of ambitions. I was also reviewing books for a couple of websites at that time and more than a few books were thrust into my hands. Of the thirty or so I came away with, the products of two publishers stood out: Ray Russell’s Tartarus Press and Nicholas Royle’s Nightjar Press, for completely different, but ultimately related, reasons. First, Tartarus produce some extremely handsome (and hefty) hardback volumes, the kinds of books that, because of the attention to detail and sheer quality lavished upon them, anyone would be proud to display them in pride of place on their bookshelves. Nightjar Press, on the other hand, specialise in a format that became the direct inspiration for Spectral: the chapbook. They, too, were produced to the highest quality, being as handsome as the Tartarus books, in my view. And I realised, after I’d reviewed these fantastic little booklets, that it was a perfect format for showcasing an author’s short story-writing talents. Additionally, they’d be great for allowing readers the chance to ‘try before buying’ those authors they’d heard about but whose work they either hadn’t encountered or weren’t sure whether they’d actually like them.

And so was sown a little seed, one which continued to germinate over the next two or three weeks, until I suddenly decided that setting up Spectral Press was more than a good idea. Despite my enthusiasm, I did still harbour some doubts, as I’d just wound up another business in January that same year, a record label that simply didn’t get off the ground for various reasons (not least of which was my inexperience in the music industry). Even my wife thought setting up another venture a bad idea, although she let me go ahead on the proviso that I had to raise all the funds myself. So, I started the ball rolling and the initial aim was to launch the first ‘issue’ at THIS year’s FantasyCon in Brighton.

Having decided that, I needed to hit upon what Spectral was going to publish. Genre publishing spans a very wide spectrum, but I thought that I’d go for something a little different – so, rather than concentrating on ‘horror’ as most people think of it, I decided I would aim more for the supernatural end of said spectrum. I took, as my initial cue, the work of Robert Fordyce Aickman (1914 – 1981). Many consider his literary output to contain elements of the supernatural, but he himself denied this. That was an idea I found intriguing: a ghost story with no ‘ghosts’ in the tale itself.

I’m also a fan of the stories of HP Lovecraft, a writer who created creeping dread and cosmic terror using suggestion and implication, rather than outright in-your-face horror. Add in to the mix the fact that I’d read a lot of ghost stories, of the classic ‘haunting’ type, when I was a great deal younger, stories which I remembered with some fondness (Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol was a perennial favourite), and so my choice became obvious. It just struck me that this was a particularly fruitful direction in which to go. Don’t get me wrong – I like modern horror as well, being a big fan of early Clive Barker, but I think that there are plenty of publishers who cater to that kind of material already. I, as is entirely typical of me, wanted to tread a different path, a path that’s seen as being less frequented these days than of yore. And so, I began looking for stories that rely more on atmosphere, suggestion and implication than having everything splattered onto the page.

I’d built up a lot of goodwill amongst the authors I’d met through both Facebook and attendance at FantasyCon, so they were the first people I contacted. The response was incredibly positive – some even sent me a manuscript or two. Gary McMahon’s What They Hear in the Dark was one of the first sent to me, and I felt that it would be a spectacular opening gambit for Spectral. After a while, the project took on a momentum of its own and it was almost a certainty that something would indeed happen. However, there was one major obstacle: I had no money with which to do anything.

It was at that point that I came up with the subscription idea: exactly the same as people can subscribe to a magazine for a certain number of issues, I thought it might a great idea to offer potential readers the chance to ‘buy’ a year’s worth of chapbooks at a time. Having thought that up, even I pondered whether it was a bit cheeky, considering that I was something of an unknown quantity. Well, I needn’t have worried; not only did people start buying subscriptions almost immediately, but they were being bought in such numbers that I was able to start publishing a lot earlier than planned – in the January of 2011 instead of the September.

And I am glad to say that I went ahead with it – all three chapbooks so far have sold out, and Volume IV, Paul Finch’s King Death (which is due in December), is almost on its way there too. I have received a great deal of positive press for Spectral, which has validated taking that step to plunge into the heady world of publishing, as well as justifying all the hard work and effort I’ve put into it over the last year (including that of graphic designer Neil Williams). I’ve enjoyed every second of it – and now I have plans to publish novellas next year and then single-author collections in 2013. Exciting times are indeed ahead for Spectral Press.

The Spectral Press website can be found at: http://spectralpress.wordpress.com/ – hope you can drop by!

Simon Marshall-Jones is a UK-based writer, editor, publisher, artist and blogger: also a book, wine and cheese lover, music freak and is covered in way too many tattoos.

If I can find enough pennies down the back of the sofa I have every intention of taking out a subscription; based on what I've read so far I'd recommend you do the same if you're into supernatural fiction, no question about it :o)
Thanks Simon!

1 comment:

A Shadow Falls said...

Thanks for the informative post. I'm helping my friend out with his epic fantasy novel, which started out with me setting up his site. Off the back of that I've helped edit and format his work for Kindle and for print via Lulu. The more I've become involved with it and the more I've looked into it the more tempting it becomes to take the formatted work to see a few printers, getting ISBNs and start looking at publishing it myself.

It's good to hear the success your having, it's definitely spurring my ambitions! The idea of a subscription is a novel way of raising funds and it's inspiring me to try and think of a good way to fund an initial print run.