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Small Press, Big Stories: Arachne Press

Small Press, Big Stories is a monthly column focusing on small and independent presses from around the world. This month’s featured publisher is Arachne Press.

Cherry Pots

This month on #SmallPressBigStories, we’re delving into the realms of Arachne Press, an award-winning imprint based in London that specialises in short stories, collections, and poetry. I met Arachne’s Cherry Potts at Edge-Lit in July, where observant con-goers will no doubt have seen the press’s catalogue on sale in the dealers’ rooms.

Arachne Press is five years old on September 8th this year! Happy Birthday! When you started up the imprint, did you ever look this far ahead?

Not exactly – I knew that I was prepared to give it a good ten years, which would see me to retirement, and a plan to publish 4 books a year (not far off, we’ve done 16 in 5 years, and a lot of them have at least some element of fantasy.) There was also a really short-term one, that if I didn’t make money on the first two books I’d stop – but that was never going to happen, stopping, or making money it seems. I only realised it was coming up to our 5th at a conference in January – I wrote in the margins of the programme – it’s our fifth what shall I do about it? I like a milestone, it’s made me think much more concretely about the next 5 years.

You publish a wide range of poetry and short story collections, as well as fiction. Where would you suggest a new reader start?

Weird Lies (cover)Well, your readership would definitely enjoy our award winning anthology Weird Lies – it’s our third collaboration with Live Lit supremoes Liars’ League and is a mix of fantasy, SF and the indefinably odd from authors in the UK, USA, South Africa, Europe and Japan. It won the Saboteur 2014 best anthology award and I have a little plastic trophy above my desk to prove it! There’s a lot of humour and it’s about as wide ranging in style as it’s possible to be in a book of only 160 pages.

Or perhaps Liam Hogan’s Happy Ending NOT Guaranteed. He writes brilliant characters, who cope (and fail to cope) with all the horrors he throws at them with panache. Poetry-wise Jennifer A McGowan’s With Paper for Feet takes myth, legend and fairy tales (and more) from all over the place and skewers them elegantly and ferociously – getting to the heart of the harsh realities. It didn’t surprise me a bit to discover that she does historical re-enactment and is a wiz with a bow and arrow.

Your most recent releases include two stories by Ghillian Potts – The Old Woman from Friuli, and Brat, both intended for younger readers. Can you tell us more about them and the differences you found between the YA market and the adult reading market?

The Old Woman from Friuli (cover)

Ghil is my mum. She’s the reason I write, I grew up in a house filled with stories, (told at bedtime, lining the walls – even the hall is floor to ceiling bookshelves and the main bedroom has shelves at 90 degrees to the walls like a library. There’s a separate room for fantasy and SF! It’s where my love of these genres was born.

Ghil had a raft of books published in the 1990s for seven to nine-year-olds. She now has dementia, still early stages, but she’s finding life a bit difficult, and I thought, “What would cheer her up?” I rather warily asked to re-read various books I remembered her working on as I was growing up, with a view to possibly publishing them. Not all of them stood the test of time, and some she can’t find, which is upsetting, but I picked The Old Woman from Friuli immediately. It is a riotous, scurrilous feminist folk tale that thumbs its nose at that mainstay of folk tales, feudalism. Illustrated with linocuts by Ed Boxall, for children of about 5 up to 90 – I’m amazed how many people say to me, I’m from Friuli – it’s all true!

Brat (cover)Brat is the first in a trilogy for young adults, The Naming of Brook Storyteller – I did a first ‘readers report’ on them in 1996 (I still have the emails!) so I was pretty sure I wanted to publish them. And they are as good as I remember. A notionally familiar fantasy landscape of horses, swords and magic is gently subverted by Brat herself, not allowed to lie because of her calling as a Storyteller, and with the power to make or destroy people by the names she gives them, she is a prickly twelve-year-old forced into disguise by the murder of her father, and falling in with outlaws Gray and Baylock, and there’s so much more to them than meets the eye.

The main difference between the markets is children’s publishing, and more importantly bookselling, is quite rigid about what age a book is aimed at – I can’t register the book as for 9-16, its 9-11 or 11-18 or whatever. I find that frustrating – anyone over 9 with sufficient vocabulary could enjoy Brat but if I say 9-11 the teenagers won’t read it – possibly never even see it, and adults adore it.

We had the same problem with Alex Smith’s Devilskein & Dearlove our other 9 – 900 year-old (there’s a 900 year old demon and we all like to relate to a character our own age, don’t we. Don’t we?), which was nominated for the 2015 Carnegie Medal. Really difficult to market. I was at the London Book Fair this year and had a mosey round the children’s area (about the size of an aircraft hangar) and was a bit horrified by the uniformity of it all – the same colours of covers even. I suppose this is what the bookshops want, but it’s just not my style! It’s much easier to sell into the adult market – even if it’s children’s books we are selling to the adults!

Your own novel, The Dowry Blade, is published through Arachne Press too, and gained an honourable mention in the 2016 Rainbow Awards – please sell it to us!

The Dowry Blade (cover)Twenty years in the writing, about 180,000 words – it’s the very definition of an epic! It started as a short story published as “Perfect Pitch” in an anthology of the same name years ago. One of those stories you finish and look forward, and back and think so how did they get here, and what happened to them after, and I realised I knew – in detail – the answer to both those questions, and that I wanted passionately to write it, but there was so much!

Someone described it as Game of Thrones with lesbians and missing the dragons, but I don’t think that really does it justice! It’s far more female focussed and less gory for a start. My life’s blood is in that book. It’s a wonderful doorstop! (Also available as an ebook.) I had so much fun writing it that it was hard to stop, but I decided if I didn’t publish it I’d never write anything else, I’d just go back to spending time with my lovely, multifaceted, difficult, glorious characters. It’s quite a serious book, with themes of trust and betrayal, and the foolish or dangerous things people do have consequences, and some of it is quite shocking (so I’m told!) but there is generosity and love and laughter too.

What’s next for Arachne Press? Can we find you at any more conventions?

Maybe. Conventions are a lot of work – fun, but travelling with books is exhausting! If we have a particular book and writer to promote we’ll be out on the road again. Where you will find us is celebrating our 5th at our party, (public, free but ticketed) at Manor House Library, Old Road London, SE13 5SY on 8th September 2017 from 6:30pm – 9:30pm.

Arachne Press - 5th Birthday

And then on 21st December at our own Solstice Shorts Festival – short stories, poems and music (original and traditional) on the shortest day of the year, which is also short story day.

Solstice Shorts Festival (logo)

The theme this year is Dusk, and we are branching out. Dusk falls earlier in the northeast than the southwest so we are trying to get multiple sites all over the UK on board. That way there will be songs and spoken word starting at Inverness and ending in Penzance with a live link up via Facebook or YouTube (not sure still figuring out how). It will be a wave of words across the country, and as each site joins there will be more and more voices in the ether, like a murmuration of starlings, and it will finish in the southwest with a single voice. That’s the theory anyway! There will be a call out very soon for music and words, once we’ve finalise the sites, so any writers, watch for that. We are crowdfunding for that too!

The fifth anniversary is taking us out and about too, Archway with Words Festival, Shoreham WordFest, we are trundling about saying look at us, almost ready for school! Big publishing plans are afoot too, but until we have the funding in place…

You can also find Arachne Press on t’web at their website, as well as on Facebook and on Twitter.

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For those Factioners attending Fantasycon in Peterborough later this month, you’ll find me (Steven Poore) on a panel debating and celebrating small presses, along with David A Riley (Parallel Universe Press), Francesca T Barbini (Luna Press), Peter Mark May (Hersham Horror Books), and Andrew Hook, chaired by Donna Bond. Don’t be shy!


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