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Small Press, Big Stories: 2018 in Review

Humans need fantasy to be human. To be the place where the falling angel meets the rising ape. So, said the great Sir Terry Pratchett, and in the last year we needed fantasy more than ever to keep ourselves from falling backwards. Fortunately, there was a hell of a lot of good fantasy about and, because a fair amount came via small and independent publishers who remain committed to producing high quality, thoughtful, and diverse work, we’re very aware that you might have missed it along the way.

Which means it’s time for the annual #smallpressBIGstories round-up!

Unsung Stories

The stand-out moments for London-based Unsung Stories seemed to come all at once, around the time of this year’s FantasyCon in Chester. Not content with launching the Kickstarted anthology THIS DREAMING ISLE, which featured stories by Jeannette Ng, Ramsey Campbell, Robert Shearman, and Alison Littlewood, amongst many others, Unsung also published THE WILLOW BY YOUR SIDE by Peter Haynes, which Dave Hutchinson called, “A book of great beauty with the darkest of hearts,” and THE LOOSENING SKIN by Aliya Whiteley, a weird genre-blending thriller that had reviewers all breathless. Meanwhile, Unsung Stories walked away from FantasyCon as proud and deserving winners of Best Independent Press.

Unsung Stories (2018 banner)

Grimbold Books

Last year’s winners of that award, Grimbold Books, had a quieter year, but still published a trio of SF-oriented anthologies: TERRA NULLIUS, HOLDING ON BY OUR FINGERTIPS, and INFINITE DYSMORPHIA, all co-edited by the indefatigable Kate Coe—as well as Jack Teng’s space opera PROMISE OF A BATTERED MOON and Pete Sutton’s terse Crusader revenge thriller SEVEN DEADLY SWORDS. There are another three anthologies planned for 2019, this time based around fantasy tropes, and sequel releases for both Jessica Rydill and Gillian O’Rourke.

Wizard’s Tower Press

Up in the den of Wizard’s Tower Press, Cheryl Morgan is massively proud of the critical and commercial success of THE GREEN MAN’S HEIR, a fantasy set in the English countryside, from the pen of one of my own favourite authors, Juliet E McKenna. Since first being released in March 2018, THE GREEN MAN’S HEIR has sold over 8000 copies across all formats, and that number just keeps going up. Skiffy and Fanty called McKenna’s writing, “Infectious…an excellently crafted and executed cycle and circle of gears of action and plot”. The British Fantasy Society said, “it’s a slow careful drive through dark and sinister countryside, but one where you can’t tear your eyes away from the scenery or get over the idea that something unpleasant is lurking just around the next bend.”

Fox Spirit Books

From lurking to skulking, it’s been a fairly quiet year for Fox Spirit Books. Much of their planned 2018 output has been pegged back to 2019 for various reasons. But the latest in the …Monsters series of anthologies, AMERICAN MONSTERS, was released late in December, as was a free sampler showcasing the strength and breadth of Fox Spirit’s short stories, FEARLESS GENRE WARRIORS. Shona Kinsella’s novella PETRA MCDONALD & THE QUEEN OF THE FAE got an 8/10 review right here on Fantasy-Faction, and Danie Ware’s CHILDREN OF ARTIFICE was highly recommended by The Eloquent Page.

World Weaver Press

For Sarena Ulibarri of World Weaver Press, one of the greatest highlights of the year was the Kickstarted translation into English of the Brazilian solarpunk anthology SOLARPUNK: ECOLOGICAL AND FANTASTICAL STORIES IN SUSTAINABLE WORLDS. It is the first science fiction book to be translated from Brazilian Portuguese into English in almost forty years, Sarena points out. On top of that, she says, “THE CONTINUUM by Wendy Nikel was a new 2018 release that skyrocketed this summer and became our third bestselling book ever. We’ll be releasing the third in Nikel’s time travel series in 2019.” Look out for that, along with an open submission window for stories for WWP’s next anthology project, GLASS AND GARDENS: SOLARPUNK WINTERS—you’ll find details on their website.

Elsewhen Press

Elsewhen Press’s Peter Buck remembers that THE DEEP AND SHINING DARK by Juliet Kemp was one of his company’s stand-out releases in the last year. A review on risingshadow.net called it, “one of the most positive reading experiences this year.” But Peter was also overjoyed by the successes enjoyed by others, especially the folks at the Shoreline Of Infinity magazine, who won the Best Magazine award at FantasyCon, and Luna Press, who took home the Best Non-Fiction Award for GENDER IDENTITY AND SEXUALITY IN SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY.

Luna Press

Luna’s non-fiction imprint Academia Lunare has gone from strength to strength. 2017’s Call For Papers resulted in THE EVOLUTION OF AFRICAN FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION, and 2018’s Call For Papers will be published in 2019 as EVIL IN FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION. Luna remains open to other non-fiction proposals too—this year they’ll also be publishing ON WRITING by Gareth L Powell.

Mother’s Milk Books

Before we ride off into the rest of January, there’s a mention for Mother’s Milk Books, with the latest in their anthology series, THE FORGOTTEN AND THE FANTASTICAL 4, delving deep into dark fairy tales. Teika Bellamy is reading submissions for the fifth volume in the series and is looking forward to revealing the authors and contents.

PS Publishing

PS Publishing completes our roundup with an omnibus edition of all three of Stephen Volk’s Dark Masters novellas—LEYTONSTONE, WHITSTABLE, and NETHERWOOD—part biography, part tribute, part terror, Volk’s stories are wonderfully served by the lavish packaging and the care that PS put into all of their releases.

Final Thoughts

A lot of small and independent publishers are looking into 2019 with caution—Brexit may have a marked effect on their abilities to market and sell outside the UK. For that reason, and so that they can continue to bring the genre such excellent and award-worthy books and projects as those featured above, we say that everybody should make room for the smaller presses on their shelves. There’s a reason we call it #smallpressBIGstories.

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