Small Press, Big Stories: NewCon Press
To kick off this new monthly column focusing on small and independent presses from around the world, what better place to start than Ian Whates’ NewCon Press, which has published stories, collections, and novels by some of the biggest names in the genre over the last ten years. I caught up with Ian as NewCon gears up for a very busy few weeks.
NewCon has five new releases scheduled across six weeks between March 20th and May 1st – that’s quite a commitment for a smaller publisher! How do you manage such a schedule? Are there any particular challenges in launching titles in this way?
2016 was NewCon’s busiest year to date. It marked our 10th anniversary (I’ve no idea how that happened) and, for some reason, I thought it would be a great idea to release twice as many titles as ever before (eighteen in all). That included five and a half anthologies (don’t ask), all of which I commissioned stories for, edited, compiled, commissioned covers etc. myself. It proved an insane workload, which meant I was working ridiculous hours under constant pressure from the start of the year to the end. I’ve vowed to ease back on for 2017, and yet we’re probably releasing a similar number of titles this year. This time around, though, I’m boxing clever. There are more novellas in 2017 (a new line I’m very excited about), and I’ve learnt a new word: delegation. For the first time ever, I’m bringing in other people to edit some of the anthologies. As a result, my own workload ought to be eased considerably once Easter is out the way.
I always target Eastercon for a major tranche of releases, because it enables me to make an occasion of the launch, gathering the authors for a signing, letting readers interact (not to mention enjoy some complimentary wine), and generally have fun. This year I’m unveiling four new titles as well as celebrating the newly released first set of four novellas.
Of the two new collections of short stories, you’ve got one by Adrian Tchaikovsky and one by Gareth L Powell. You’ve also published collections by Paul Cornell, Stan Nicholls, Tanith Lee, and Storm Constantine, amongst many others. Is there anything that draws you particularly to short fiction as an editor and publisher? If anybody has yet to read any of Adrian’s Shadows of the Apt novels, would you recommend that they dip into his Kinden-themed collections as tasters?
NewCon Press was originally founded to champion the short story. It’s a format I’ve always enjoyed both reading and writing – to date I have nearly 70 shorts published in a variety of venues – and when I first established NewCon there was a lot of talk about ‘the death of the short story’. Major publishers shied away from anthologies and were only interested in collections from stellar names. The traditional genre magazines had seen their circulation plummet.
In all honesty, I’m not convinced the short’s plight was ever that serious, because as traditional markets suffered more and more venues for short fiction arose online and elsewhere. However, it did occur to me that while major publishing houses might struggle to make anthologies work economically, a smaller more proactive operation with lower overheads could make a go of it. In our first three years, NewCon released five titles, all anthologies. Since then, the climate has changed markedly: an increasing number of small and medium sized publishers are producing anthologies on a regular basis, and NewCon has branched out into other areas, though anthologies and collections remain at the heart of what we do.
The Tales of the Apt series is intended to complement the ten Shadows of the Apt novels. The stories in the first volume, Spoils of War, take place for the most part shortly before the events of the first novel, setting the scene in many ways, while those in the second, A Time for Grief, occur immediately before or at around the same time as the first two novels. A number of familiar characters crop up in both volumes, and the collections provide an alternative view of the world and the events that have shaped its history. As Adrian himself has said more than once, they’re an ideal introduction to the realm of the kinden for anyone who is curious but daunted by the prospect of a ten book series, while providing new insight and adding texture to the kinden world for established readers.
NewCon has begun to publish a line of novellas – your catalogue includes Alastair Reynolds, Anne Charnock and Simon Morden, and the new release by Neil Williamson too. Do you think that the novella is an under-appreciated format? Do you see more authors turning to novellas?
I think for a long time the novella has been a neglected form. Before I ever dreamed of founding NewCon, PS Publishing’s early line of novellas introduced me to a number of new writers when they first appeared – Michael Marshall Smith, Eric Brown, James Lovegrove, and Adam Roberts among them – and I’ve a novella myself due out from PS, most likely in 2018. The novella is a convenient and satisfying length of tale that I’ve always enjoyed, and which I know many authors find comfortable to write. More recently, the format seems to have enjoyed something of a renaissance, due in part to the work Lee Harris has done over at Tor.
For the past several years I’ve run a series called Imaginings – single author collections containing previously uncollected stories with one or more originals among them. I’m very proud of the series, which includes volumes by Tanith Lee, Stephen Baxter, Lisa Tuttle, Adam Roberts, Adrian Tchaikovsky and more, but it drew to a fairly natural end after 12 volumes. Imaginings was available by subscription, and I wanted something to replace this. A run of novellas seemed a perfect fit. After the first set you mention, I’ve a dark thriller/horror quartet in the works (Sarah Lotz, Simon Clark, Jay Caselberg and Alison Littlewood), a Martian quartet to follow (Jaine Fenn, Liz Williams, Eric Brown, and Una McCormack), and more after that, with new stories from the likes of Adam Roberts, Edward Cox, Hal Duncan and others in the mix.
To bring an extra dimension to the series, each quartet features one piece of cover art which is divided among the four books. Chris Moore provided the first, Vincent Sammy is working on the second, and Jim Burns is primed for the Martian Quartet. I’ve no idea how long I’ll run this for, but at present, I’m having fun with it.
We have to talk about the Dark Angels series too, of course. Pelquin’s Comet is a great blast of high adventuring space opera for anybody who hasn’t read it yet, and The Ion Raider looks like being just as much fun. Do you have any specific influences in this series?
Thank you. I’m glad you enjoyed Pelquin’s Comet. I have to say that I always quail when anyone asks me about influences. I’ve read avidly from an early age and my reading has always been genre-centric. I don’t doubt that along the way influences from a host of authors have seeped in – how can you devour hundreds or thousands of books without being influenced? – but I’ve never consciously tried to mimic or draw upon anyone. I suspect that for the City of 100 Rows trilogy (urban fantasy with SF trappings and underpinning), I subconsciously drew on very different influences from those I might have called upon for the Noise books (space opera), which in turn differed to a degree from those I’m probably drawing on for the Dark Angels books, but I didn’t refer to any of these consciously.
One thing I am aware of is that in the first book of the current series, Pelquin’s Comet, I was seeking to riff on a Firefly-esque theme. I’ve always been fascinated by the dynamic of a group of people being forced to live in each other’s pockets within the confines of a small ship. How does the introduction of a stranger, forced upon them, affect that dynamic? Stir into the mix a hazardous mission, hidden pasts, scheming, skullduggery and multi-layered plots and sub-plots, and how can you fail to have fun?
The Ion Raider continues in similar vein but develops the over-reaching story arc a lot more, that of a band of near-legendary ‘heroes’ who disbanded a decade ago but are now being hunted down and murdered by sinister forces. In this one the real villains show their hand and the ante is ratcheted upward by several degrees. What I set out to do with the series is take a long established genre trope – that of humanity boot-strapping our way to the stars courtesy of abandoned alien technology – and turn it on its head. This is the volume that does that, setting up book three for the grand finale.
What’s next for NewCon this year? Will we be seeing you at any conventions? Where can we find your books?
Yes, I’ll definitely be at Eastercon, Fantasycon, and Celsius 232 in Aviles, Spain (where my first ever collection in Spanish is being launched), and will almost certainly attend a few other cons as well (Nine Worlds, Novacon, and Bristolcon are all on the radar at present). As for 2017 releases, there are the two further novella sets already mentioned, and three reprint anthologies: Best of British Science Fiction 2016 (edited by Donna Scott), Visionary Tongue (Storm Constantine) and Elasticity: the Best of Elastic Press (Andrew Hook). I’m hoping to have the third of Adrian’s Tales of the Apt series, A Love of Distant Shores, ready for release at Fantasycon in September, and I’m working on a new anthology in collaboration with the Arthur C. Clarke Award, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Sir Arthur’s birth: 2001, an Odyssey in Words. There are a couple of other things bubbling under, but I reckon that ought to be enough to keep me busy.
The slightly silly question: it’s a ‘fantasy’ Fantasy Anthology! You’ve got free reign to create the perfect fantasy anthology, with eleven open slots, just like fantasy football… so, which eleven authors, past or present, are on your team?
Good Lord, here’s a recipe for offending authors I’ve worked with by forgetting to include them… Okay, I’m going to exclude those authors I’ve already published (which includes the likes of Neil Gaiman, Joe Abercrombie, Mark Lawrence, Gwyneth Jones, and a host of others), and concentrate on those I haven’t worked with. I’ll make one exception: Tanith Lee. Because, well…Tanith Lee.
1. David Gemmell
2. Fritz Leiber (I’d plead for a new Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser story)
3. Tanith Lee
4. Jack Vance
5. Hope Mirrlees (Anyone who hasn’t read Lud-in-the-Mist should. Now.)
6. Megan Lindholm/Robin Hobb
7. Robert Holdstock
8. Rudyard Kipling
9. Ursula K. Le Guin
10. George R.R. Martin
11. J.R.R. Tolkien (How could I not?)
If I could go for the round dozen, first reserve would be Terry Pratchett, with Scott Lynch, Tad Williams, Andre Norton (my gateway into so much SF and fantasy), L. Sprague de Camp, and Lord Dunsany also in the mix; so, to continue your football analogy, they’d be on the subs bench.
Ian Whates is the founder of NewCon Press. NewCon’s books are all available on their website or from Amazon and the usual outlets. Those new releases, in full, are:
The Ion Raider by Ian Whates (May 1, 2017)
A Time for Grief by Adrian Tchaikovsky (April 24, 2017)
Entropic Angel by Gareth L Powell (April 24, 2017)
All Good Things (The Last SFX Visions) by David Langford
The Memoirist by Neil Williamson