Dark Show

Today’s blog is the first of a series of interviews. Today it is with Peter Coleborn, who is the driving force behind Alchemy Press, a small publisher of fantasy genre books. After reading this I would urge you to go on line and buy them!

Hello Peter, I am very pleased you have given your time to answer some questions. We meet every week at Renegades Writers Group but I have never asked how you got into writing and especially publishing? Does your science background affect your writing?

I don’t think so.  I enjoy reading or watching programmes about science I’ve never been that keen on reading “hard” science fiction. At one time the type of SF I read was labelled “science fantasy” but you seem not to hear that term used nowadays.

How would you describe the publishing policy of Alchemy Press?

I want to publish stories (mainly short stories) that I like to read and perhaps wish I had written.  The Alchemy Press has published short story collections and anthologies since the late 1990s (after a break of several years we’re back again). The Press published the award-winning collection Where the Bodies are Buried by Kim Newman, and Rumours of the Marvellous by Peter Atkins was short-listed for the Best Collection Award last year.

I am sure you are inundated with writers wanting to be published. What excites you when you read a script enough to publish it?

To coin an old phrase, I want to have that “sense of wonder” when I finish a story – the I-wish-I-had-written-that-story buzz. I want tales with a strong narrative, realistic characters and dialogue, and half-decent grammar (or better; we work with writers if the story is good enough). For every story that fits the bill we probably receive dozens that don’t.

How has the development of online publishing effected the Press, do you see a time when you will publish no paper based books?

I suppose I’m a bit of a Luddite: I much prefer printed books. I love the feeling I get when I hold a real book and flick to and fro through its pages. However, I am persuaded that eBooks are a vital addition to our repertoire and thus The Alchemy Press is now issuing printed and eBook editions. I hope to always offer the choice of buying the book in printed format.

As a publisher and editor what are you looking for?

At the moment The Press has three anthology markets open:  Pulp Heroes 2, Urban Mythic and Astrologica. Each book has a different editor (not me), and each editor has their own tastes.

Pulp Heroes 2 is a follow-up volume to last year’s Pulp Heroes, stories that feature heroic (and anti-heroic) characters found in the pulp fiction of the first half of the 20th century. Urban Mythic is looking for stories that re-interpret urban legends and myths (but no cute vampires!). And Astrologica wants stories based on the twelve signs of the Zodiac. Details can be found on www.alchemypress.co.uk and clicking on the tabs at the top of the page.

As you can tell from all this, The Alchemy Press is mainly a publisher of fantasy fiction.  Bear in mind, we consider that “fantasy” has a very wide definition. It includes everything from horror fiction to supernatural and ghost stories, to heroic fantasy, to science fiction, by way of sub-genres that touch on these areas. However, The Alchemy Press has published one mainstream novel, Sex, Lies and Family Ties, simply because it has a brilliant, well-told narrative; a compelling story.

For years I have found attending a writers group vital towards the development of my work. How important is it to you?

Attending writing groups confirm my suspicion that writing fiction well is very, very difficult. They are very useful in my role as editor/publisher. Very educational.

Who do you see as the main audience for the books you publish and how much time do you spend on marketing to develop that audience?

People who want to read well-written fantasy short stories. Personally, I think that not enough anthologies are generally available in the UK – hence the small press, of which The Alchemy Press is one. There is a vibrant small press scene worldwide, especially in the horror field.

Marketing: this is a difficult area to get right. Over the years I’ve sent many review copies of our books to mainstream publishers with very little in return. I’ve paid for ads in newsstand magazines – and received no boost in sales. This was, I admit, mainly pre-Internet.

Now, the Internet allows us to spread the word further and faster. There are many websites and blogs that cover the genre, and if they take eBooks there is little cost to the Press. Word of mouth and reviews on Amazon and Goodreads all help.

For some years you have been actively involved in a number of writer’s organisations. What do you feel is the value for writers to attend conferences and so forth?

Jan, my wife, has attended several writing conferences and has found them useful, especially when it comes to making contacts with agents and mainstream publishers. I haven’t been persuaded to spend that sort of money – conferences can be very expensive.  But I have attended writing workshops and some of these have been worthwhile. “You pays your money…”

If you write fantasy (including horror and SF) you’ll find that the calendar is peppered with conventions, such as Eastercon and Fantasycon. These tend to be informal gatherings (when compared with conferences) at which readers, writers, editors, agents and publishers all mingle (there is no Green Room mentality) – a fantastic way to make face-to-face contacts. Crime writers also have their own events. I’m not sure about other genres.

I know how much music and other media mean to you, so to finish off, have you any recommendations in recent books, music, films?

I don’t go to the cinema nearly enough as I perhaps should, so my film-viewing experience is a few months out of date.  Despite my affection for the genre, I am often disappointed by fantasy or horror or SF films. They are usually all glitz and no substance.  I did see Avatar in the cinema and came away bored. Pretty pictures, that’s all. A film I watched and enjoyed recently, on DVD, was something made for the BBC several decades ago: Cold Comfort Farm. I loved it. Great characters and a story that held everything together.

Not a movie but close: I recently saw a play at the Rep, Holmes versus The Ripper, written by Brian Clemens; he wrote The Avengers (the Steed and Emma Peel version, not the Marvel comics one) plus many other iconic programmes. (Returning to conventions: I met Brian at Fantasycon a few years ago – I sat with him at dinner – and he was a charming gentleman. Fancy meeting someone of that calibre?)

Music: thanks to you, Mr Tim Diggles I discovered the Girls CD recently – great variety including swirly sounds, which I like. Other recent CDs (not MP3 files, note) I’ve bought and recommend are those by Alt-J, Jake Bugg and dEUS. On order are the new CDs by Richard Thompson (going to see him next month) and Nick Cave.

Books: one of the last novels I loved was Some Kind of Fairy Story by Graham Joyce. Graham has written many find novels, fiction that flip-flops over the boundaries between genres.  Joe R Lansdale’s All the Earth, Thrown to the Sky is a wonderfully evocative YA novel set in Depression Era in the USA.

I’m currently reading Zombie Apocalypse: Fightback. This is a portmanteau novel, created by Stephen Jones – one of the UK’s finest horror anthologists. I tend to avoid zombies (like the plague!) but this is an intelligent look at the zombie mythos, reminding me very much of The Andromeda Strain.

Otherwise I read short stories at random from the several anthologies and collections I have on the go. I particularly enjoy the short stories by Robert Shearman and Peter Atkins. But of course there are many other fine writers.

You didn’t ask about graphic novels, so I hope you don’t mind me mentioning several series published by Vertigo: Fables, The Unwritten, Hellblazer, House of Mystery, Sandman and Lucifer. If you want to tackle these – exemplary examples of the artform – in each case you must start at volume one (OK, you can probably get away with dipping into Hellblazer books at random).

Is there anything else you would like say?

If you want to write you must write often and you must read lots. But to get to a publishable level you need to receive honest feedback – and joining a group like Renegade Writers is just the ticket. Practice makes better. There is no need to pay for critiques if you join a local group. And never pay to be published – try to find a publisher that likes your work enough to invest in you. If you wish to self-publish consider the eBook route. But I still hope you get your worked edited beforehand – unless you are one of the few gifted writers who can see and correct any and all the errors in your manuscript. Happy writing!

Thank you very much Peter for giving your time.

Future interviews will be with editors, poets, performers, writers, musicians and artists, (some rather famous!) so please continue to look out for my blogs.

Today’s photograph is taken outside The Sneyd Arms in Tunstall (where my friend Barry has found many images!), taken after a brief snowfall in high wind, very cold at 11am. I have called it Dark Show in honour of The Alchemy Press.

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