Ginger Nuts of Horror
Hello folks, and welcome to the second of what I hope will be a regular feature of this blog, the Publisher Spotlight. The aim of this feature is to spotlight the work of some of the best Small Press publishers working in the genre today. Today Peter Coleborn's Alchemy Press is under the spotlight.
The history of The Alchemy Press comes in two parts. Part the first:
I had long been associated with the British Fantasy Society (secretary, treasurer, chair, convention organiser, editor) and by the late 1990s I decided it was time to branch out a little, do something outside the society. The BFS had taken up so much of my “fantasy time” that I needed to do something for myself. Thus, with the aid of a National Lottery grant (see, your pounds do – or did – go to some good causes) I created The Alchemy Press. I wanted to take things slowly at first so I persuaded Mike Chinn to supply a handful of Damian Paladin short stories – and The Paladin Mandates was launched in 1998. Bob Covington supplied both the cover and interior artwork – I have some of it hanging on my walls as I type. The Paladin Mandates was described as having “generous dollops of The Scorpion, The Shadow and Dominic Fortune ... old airplanes ... [and] a taste for '30s detective fiction.” And a decade or more later, Mike Chinn’s taste for pulp noir resurfaced with The Alchemy Press Book of Pulp Heroes.
One of my chief aims when setting up The Alchemy Press was to publish affordable anthologies and collections rather than expensive collectors’ editions (much as I love those limited books). But it didn’t quite work out to plan. Despite much praise The Paladin Mandates I ended up with boxes of unsold books. But then a print run of 500 was, in retrospect, overdoing it. Over the years copies of The Paladin Mandates were distributed at FantasyCons, so I suspect everyone reading this has at least one copy. Despite one or two design issues, I was – and am – very proud of that book.
So why did I then invest in a signed, limited edition for my next publication? The answer is: because I felt that it had to be a special book! Later in 1998 The Alchemy Press in association with Stephen Jones and David Sutton’s Airgedlámh Publications published Shadows of Light and Dark, a poetry collection by Jo Fletcher. Les Edwards painted the front cover, Seamus Ryan provided the back cover photo, Neil Gaiman wrote the introduction, and Michael Marshall Smith designed the book. It was signed by all these good people and, as far as I recall, launched at that year’s FantasyCon. Fewer copies were printed and the book is OOP (however, I have recently discovered half-a-dozen copies, should anyone be interested).
In 2000 The Alchemy Press and Airgedlámh Publications joined forces again, to produce Where the Bodies Are Buried by Kim Newman. Peter Atkins supplied the introduction, the cover art was by Sylvia Starshine and Randy Broecker did the frontispiece. And again we went the limited route, with copies signed by all the contributors. This book received much acclaim and went on to win the British Fantasy Award for Best Collection. So obviously we were doing something right.
Also in 2000 The Alchemy Press teamed up with Mike Chinn’s Saladoth Productions to publish Swords Against the Millennium. Why? First of all, everyone was going bananas over the millennium, especially the so-called Millennium Bug, and we wanted to do something, umm, different.
Secondly: for some reason more and more fantasy was appearing in novel length – or trilogies or series – and in the UK, at least, anthologies were rare beasts. It was as if readers had forgotten all about Robert E Howard, Michael Moorcock, Jack Vance, Fritz Leiber, et al, all of whom wrote heroic fantasy shorts. And thirdly, we wanted a place where new writers could showcase their work.
Swords Against the Millennium contained eleven stories and was published in two formats: paperback and a limited edition, signed by all contributors, writers and artists. Full details of the contents can be found at www.alchemypress.com – just follow the tabs. And again, this was a book that received much praise over the years. Amusingly (or not – it simply goes to confirm my belief that all imaginative fiction is fantasy), one of the stories, “The Hunger of Leaves” by Joel Lane was selected for a best of horror anthology in 2001.
Beneath the Ground, edited by Joel Lane, appeared in 2003. This anthology included thirteen horror stories by the likes of Ramsey Campbell, Tim Lebbon, Nicholas Royle and others. The brilliant cover is by Jim Pitts – whom, I’m told, is at long last back at the drawing table. Beneath the Ground was published in paperback format only and is now officially OOP (although, just like Shadows, a handful of copies have turned up in my shed).
At the Brighton World Horror Con I donated unsold copies of Beneath the Ground to the convention. I didn’t see a single one dumped on the unwanted books table so it looked as if it was a desirable item.
And then The Alchemy Press went in to hibernation. Boring stuff, like family and work, got in the way. That, and helping out with the BFS again. But there was a change in the IT environment. Computers were more affordable, as were DTP programmes, and printing methods were revolutionised. Thus in 2011 The Alchemy Press emerged from the snow (or wherever it had hid itself) and once more joined forces with Airgedlámh Publications.
Part the second: the first title in the new era was Peter Atkins’ Rumours of the Marvellous. We wanted to make this a special publication so we produced a limited edition, signed by Peter Atkins, plus Glen Hirshberg (introduction) and Les Edwards (cover painting). I’ve always loved the writer’s oblique take on horror, with his touches of humour and wry observation. I obtained many quotes from his fellow scribes, and their words offer a hint of his brilliance as a writer. Peter Atkins’ is a fine fellow, too, a wonderful conversationalist.
Here’s what Peter Tennant said of it in Black Static: “Rumours is a beautifully produced book … and will no doubt reach out to the collector demographic, but for those of us who worship content … its core appeal lies in the author’s undoubted ability to tell a story and to tell it well.”
Now the press was on a roll and so it was time to move on. In 2012 we published our first and only novel, Sex, Lies and Family Ties by Sarah J Graham. This isn’t fantasy or horror, although the heroine experiences some horrific episodes in her life. Two more titles appeared in 2012, both anthologies that returned the press to my original concept – a place where people can obtain inexpensive books brimming with exciting, well-told short stories.
Taking inspiration from “The Observer Book of...” tag, we launched The Alchemy Press Book of Ancient Wonders, edited by Jan Edwards and Jenny Barber, and The Alchemy Press Book of Pulp Heroes, edited by Mike Chinn (see, I said that Mike would return to his love of pulp noir). Taking advantage of the excellent POD services now available, these books are readily available from Amazon and other online services. They are also produced in eBook format – for those who prefer to read electronically.
Both titles have been favourably reviewed, including this by Jim Mcleod: “The Alchemy Press Book of Pulp Heroes is a spectacularly brilliant read. Mike Chinn has brought together some great writers in this anthology. He has also shown that the Pulp genre can be as diverse, satisfying and just as well written as any other genre out there”
And now? Three new anthologies are scheduled for launch at this year’s World Fantasy Convention: The Alchemy Press Book of Urban Mythic, The Alchemy Press book of Pulp Heroes 2 and Astrologica: Stories of the Zodiac (we decided that “The Alchemy Press Book of Astrologica: Stories of the Zodiac” was too much of a mouthful). These are all anthologies, edited by Jan Edwards & Jenny Barber, Mike Chinn and Allen Ashley, respectively. The ToC have been announced for the first two titles and they are, I must say, impressive (check the website for details). Astrologica’s final contents are still at the decision stage.
In addition, there are a few other projects on the go, including the first in our eNovella series (by Cate Gardner) and a collection of essays by Mike Barrett. But I hate to jinx anything so I tend to keep mum about plans. Call me paranoid, I don’t mind; I’m used to it. Keep an eye on our website and Facebook page for news.
What does the above say about our tastes in fiction? It’s eclectic, that’s for sure. And kept within the themes of the books, almost anything will fit the bill – as long as it’s well written. The anthologies we have planned for 2014 (nothing definite yet, so no hints here) will, I’m sure, follow the quality people have come to expect from The Alchemy Press. That’s what I hope for, and work towards.
Any other lessons? Publishing is an expensive business, and it’s not straightforward. Sure, people can and do self publish eBooks and POD titles, and some are undoubtedly excellent publications. But to do the job properly you need to spend a lot of time and some money to get things right. It is vital to ensure that the book is designed smartly, so it doesn’t look like someone has simply collated a number of manuscript pages and sent those to the printer (I’ve seen a few of those). It is vital to have one’s work read and corrected by a dispassionate editor – not just to correct grammar but to also keep an eye on inconsistencies and howlers. The Alchemy Press has set high standards and I like to think that we do our best to reach for them all the time.
And if we’re lucky, if Alchemy Press titles sell well enough, the writers will receive their due royalties and future advances will be increased. Surely that’s something we all want.