As part of our horror-friendly coverage for the month of Halloween, we present a publisher profile by Simon Marshall-Smith, who speaks to us about the spooky predilections of his own literary house of horrors: Spectral Press, who have just released the Spectral Book of Horror Stories, edited by fellow Schlock Talker Mark Morris.
Spectral Press was born out of many influences, some immediate and others reaching back into my past. Genre literature is something I grew up with, helping to feed and nourish a fertile imagination from a very young age. Couple that with a fascination and preoccupation with the more morbid and darker streams of this thing we call life, and it’s no wonder that my path in life has led me to where I am now.
Prosaically, the idea of Spectral was born at the end of 2010, after attending my first convention, Fantasy Con 2010. I was a book reviewer then: during the course of the event several books were shoved into my hands, including two chapbooks published by Nightjar Press, run by Nicholas Royle. It didn’t take me long to realise what a perfect and compact little platform this format was for both the short story and as a showcase for authors. That epiphany then inevitably inspired other thoughts, one of which was to start my own imprint – thus was born Spectral Press.
So why add to the already considerable plethora of imprints out there, and what does Spectral offer that others don’t? I’d dabbled in publishing before, in the early nineties, when I issued a music ‘zine called Fractured, devoted to the then burgeoning and very underground industrial music scene. It lasted a mere three issues before fading away into the background due to life getting in the way, principally my return to higher education and the consequent lack of money as a result. Even so, the ‘zine achieved a level of respect during its brief lifespan, and nearly a quarter century later I occasionally get asked if I have any copies left.
The two streams, ie. having been involved in publishing and my love of genre (horror in particular) eventually collided to leave behind the entity known as Spectral Press. I set out with a specific idea of what I wanted and what I’d like to offer customers. There are many imprints out there, especially now that the age of digital publishing is upon us, whose idea of production values is non-existent, both in terms of stories, presentation, and visual aesthetics (of course, it should go without saying that there equally as many superb small press outfits, whose work rivals that of any of the big commercial publishing houses).
I wanted to produce books which wouldn’t look out of place on the shelves of any high street bookshop, books which were little objects of desire. So, I ensure that only the best artists create the covers, that the books are properly designed, and that the editing is top-notch. I suppose that coming from an arts/graphic design background helped enormously in creating an instantly recognisable brand and aesthetic.
On top of that, I possess an abiding love of the English language, of its manifold possibilities and flexibility of expression – I wanted the press’ output to reflect that. I am also a sesquipedalian – I just love words themselves.
But why horror? Some would aver, quite wrongly, that horror as a genre has nothing to offer, and is bereft of any value, literary or otherwise.
To think thusly is extremely myopic, considering that horror and the supernatural have been part and parcel of the creative endeavours of mankind from the times when tribes gathered around campfires, and bards told stories to the assembly as a means of instilling a sense of collective and shared history, and of placing the tribe’s position in the context of nature and the world they found themselves in.
Back then, we were surrounded by all manner of danger, both hidden and overt, and stories were also a useful means by which all could be warned of those perils and their consequences. Also, may would no doubt have received a thrill just listening to the hero’s death-defying exploits.
And yet, despite all the modern conveniences we have, the world is still full of dangers. Horror is a part of everyday life: wars, terrorism, murder, natural catastrophes, technological mishaps, horrific accidents. Horror literature is a way of exorcising those demons, of confronting and experiencing the unknown even if on an everyday level we hardly ever think that such negatives.
Plus we all like being scared, especially in a safe environment – and again, that’s what horror literature provides, a species of safety valve, a means by which we can insert ourselves into a precarious situation and live through it without having to leave the comfortable confines of our homes.
Spectral admittedly mostly aims towards the more literary end of the spectrum, not through any particular prejudice but simply because that’s what we like best. My own bent is towards the classic late nineteenth/early twentieth century ghost story, written by the likes of M R James, E A Poe, and E F Benson. Saying that, pulp literature also has its place – sometimes it’s just what’s needed at the end of a day of hard work, a way to unwind and relax. However, we cater for both tastes – The Spectral Book of Horror Stories sits at one end of the spectrum while at the other are The Nine Deaths of Dr. Valentine and its forthcoming sequel, The Hammer of Dr. Valentine.
The former title deals with (mostly) the serious side of horror, while the latter two are nothing more than unabashedly joyful and fun homages to the horror cinema of yesteryear. Both types have their place and their fans.