Earlier this year I was in Colchester with the God of Hookland AKA David Southwell, reading at the launch of the The Migrant Waders anthology from Dunlin Press. It was about wading birds and I'd written about avocets, RSPB Minsmere and Nazis, should you be curious. I recall sitting having a pint with Simon Spanton and David and talking about how for some people ‘the war never ended’.
Fascists became relevant to my year. At the time I was becoming increasingly aware of an irritating online supertroll called Milo Yiannopolous. I have the dubious honour of having attended the same school as that sad excuse for a 21st Century 'personality'.
I had a conversation with David, slightly pissed and eating a KFC on a deserted Essex high street, that Kit and I should put out a statement decrying him and pointing out how shared roots can diverge wildly. Then I promptly forgot about it until the beginning of December when we got a little taste of alt-right trolling following a statement we put out concerning Milo speaking at our old school. It was a strange and depressing week, full of wilful misreadings of what we had written and downright insult. I didn’t even know what a cuck or a snowflake was until late 2016 – at least I got to expand my vocabulary with a whole new unwanted lexicon of hate and bigotry.
2016 wasn’t the best of years, I think we have all agreed. But there were many highlights.
I’ve had the privilege to work on a number of excellent books this year for both Unsung Stories and Influx Press. One of the most enjoyable aspects of working as an editor for small presses is bringing something you believe in, and work closely with, to a wider audience.
This year I have been working on Signal Failure: London to Birmingham, HS2 on Foot by Tom Jeffreys. The book is an exploration of the proposed HS2 route, of what cities and countryside and the landscapes of middle-England actually mean, and of the price of progress. It’s an interrogation of city and suburbia, of landscape writing itself, and the individual's own shortcomings and failings built into the book (something crucially missing from a lot of landscape writing I read, to the point where I've been having some misgivings about the genre).
I want to say a big thanks for everyone who has worked on this project this year, namely Austin Burke for the design, Dan Coxon at Momus Editorial for his copy-editing skillz, and Maxim Griffin who provided the cover art and maps for each chapter. Maxim is a fantastic artist and you should check out his work immediately. I was lucky enough to do a collaborative piece with him back early this year for Unofficial Britain called Heaven is a Marsh in Winter, which we all know to be a statement of fact. Signal Failure is out in April next year so watch this space for events and other goings on. You can pre-order it right now.
Also for Influx, I've been working with editor of Elsewhere: A Journal of Place and knower-of-everything-about-Berlin, Paul Scraton. Paul has written the excellent Ghosts on the Shore: Travels Along Germany’s Baltic Coast, an exploration of an area central to the mythology of the German nation. In October, I visited Paul in Berlin before we took a trip up to the Baltic coast to explore some of the locations in the book, arriving at Prora, the site of a half-derelict National Socialist holiday camp now being turned into luxury holiday apartments. We walked from there along a stormy Baltic coast to the tourist town of Binz, which was beset by a storm so bad it made front page news the next day. We got quite drunk in several German pubs and bars as rain lashed the windows. It was a great trip, and I can't wait for the book to appear in summer 2017. Thanks also to Paul and his wife Katrin (and Lotte of course) for giving me a tour of the old communist and socialist sites of Berlin – a side of the city perhaps many English tourists don’t see. The Soviet war memorial at Treptower Park must be seen to be believed. Words or photographs simply don’t do the place justice. I’m really looking forward to visiting Germany again next year around the time of the book’s launch.
A big highlight of 2016 was Influx publishing An Unreliable Guide to London, our faux-travel-guide collection of short fiction from our favourite London writers. I’m very proud of this book, and delighted how it was received. We tried to create something that presented a true reflection of the city we live in, and largely succeeded in that. Thanks to everyone involved in the book – you’re all brilliant. It was so much fun promoting the book at the Stoke Newington Literary Festival, Housmans, Burley Fisher and a packed-out launch at The Star of Kings. And as a Madness fan, I was particularly pleased to see the book in the London section of Foyles next to Suggs and the City.
Excitingly, Influx sold the rights to Darran Anderson’s Imaginary Cities to the United States and to France, to the University of Chicago Press and Editions Inculte respectively. Both are due out in the first half of 2017. It’s very satisfying to see a book we all worked so hard on getting out into the world; hopefully it’s a forceful validation that small presses CAN take chances on books that will be successful and find an audience. Darran’s a brilliant writer and he deserved the success. I’m proud to have played a part in that.
At Unsung I’ve worked on Metronome by Oliver Langmead, the follow up to epic-poetry-sci-fi-noir Dark Star. Metronome shows what can be done within the sometimes-limiting confines of fantasy – if you throw away the Tolkien-tropes and fully engage the creative imagination then something very special can come of it. Metronome is out in January and I heartily recommend it.
I’ve also worked on the debut collection from weird fiction writer Malcolm Devlin, You Will Grow into Them. This book is an absolute must for anyone who is a fan of the Robert Aickman tradition of short fiction. One story in this collection just blew me away and made me realise we were dealing with a real talent.
Through Unsung, I was lucky enough to meet several weird fiction writers I greatly respect including Nina Allan (author of the astounding The Race), Tim Jarvis (author of The Wanderer and a man who knows more about weird and outré fiction than anyone I’ve ever met), and Helen Marshall, author of Gifts for the One Who Comes After and an excellent drinking companion at Fantasycon in Scarborough back in September.
Fantasycon was excellent. I had a cracking time with nimble-fisted Nazia Khatun, Leila of the Post-Apocalyptic Bookclub and George Sandison, editorial overlord at Unsung. It felt very apt to be in a decaying Victorian hotel on the cold North Sea talking about horror and weird fiction. There are a lot of pasty shops in Scarborough, we noted. Horror maestro Adam Nevill even bought some Unsung books, and liked the The Beauty by Aliya Whiteley so much he put in this list of essential horror for The Quietus. Speaking of Aliya Whiteley, she’s great, her novel The Arrival of Missives that we published at Unsung back in May is amazing and you need to read her work. She’s going places. Trust.
Unsung have run a series of increasingly popular live literature events throughout 2016 at The Star of Kings in London, which has been a real pleasure to be a part of. We've had a wonderful array of readers including Catriona Ward, Irenosen Okojie, Tade Thompson, Angela Slatter, M.R. Carey and many more. Unsung Live has been really fun to be a part of so here's to it getting bigger and better in 2017.
In terms of non-Influx and Unsung activities, I was fortunate enough to take part in some interesting events this year. In April, I headed up to Liverpool with David Southwell for the Spirits of Place symposium organised by John Reppion at Calderstones Park. There were a range of fascinating talks taking in a range of overlapping subjects: archaeology, history, folklore, occultism, psychogeography, landscape and horror. Horror legend Ramsey Campbell was in attendance (read his novel Creatures of the Pool immediately), and it was great to meet Ian 'Cat' Vincent and Adam Scovell, both of who gave fascinating talks that were much better than mine. You can read a transcript of the talk I gave about landscape punk here.
Later in the year, Adam (new-ish to London) and myself took a wander from Tottenham Lock to Stratford along the Lee Navigation and the Lea, taking in Markfield Park, Springfield Park, Middlesex Filter Beds, the Wick Woods and finally the horror of the East Village. Next year we head to Leamouth.
In May I spent a memorable bank holiday with Gareth E. Rees at the Jack in the Green festival in Hastings, with the strange joy of being in a packed pub at 9:30am on a Monday morning as Morris men gather in the rain.
Caught by the River Thames in August was lots of fun. I got to hang out with good folk like Gareth E. Rees, Peter Haynes, Michael Smith and Richard Milward, watch the Super Furry Animals, and worship my God Chris Packham as he was interviewed onstage by Lauren Laverne. Tim Burrows and myself wrote it up for The Quietus.
September was the second Trespass punk gig on the Thames, organised by my friends in the Punk Ethics crew, featuring anarcho-legends Conflict and The Restarts. The gig took on the surreal and invigorating quality of a Situationist stunt mixed with a hardcore punk show. I wrote about the whole thing for The Quietus here.
I did lots of other things too, of course, but we all have to edit our lives.
Finally, thanks always to my Influx partners in crime, Kit Caless and Sanya Semakula. I never thought I’d end up in the acknowledgements in a book about Wetherspoons Carpets, which shows life can surprise you if you let it.