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Black Static


In Conversation With the Elastic Man

17th Jul, 2009

Author: Peter Tennant

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Andrew Hook launched Elastic Press in 2002 with The Virtual Menagerie, a collection of his own short stories, and since then Elastic have gone from strength to strength, publishing four single author collections and one anthology a year, and gaining a solid reputation, both for the quality of their output and the innovative approach taken to publishing, with off the wall projects and book launches as their trademark. In 2008 Andrew took the decision to end the company, with The Turing Test by Chris Beckett and the Allen Ashley edited anthology Subtle Edens as their last releases. As Elastic's crowning achievement (so far), and further proof if needed of Andrew's ability to pick good stories, The Turing Test won the prestigious Edge Hill Short Story Prize in July 2009.

Elastic Press received the British Fantasy Award for Best Small Press in 2005, while books from the company won Best Anthology in 2005, 2006 and 2007. Elastic are in contention for Best Small Press again this year, with Subtle Edens nominated as Best Anthology.

For this interview, I decided to do things differently, and posted a call for questions on the Interaction forums. What follows is the result of that:-

ST: Over the lifetime of Elastic Press, what were your biggest mistakes and your best decisions?

AH: Well, if you consider Elastic Press solely as a business venture, then the biggest mistake was to focus on unknown authors, mixed genres, and short story collections: the three things which bookstores find particularly hard to sell. But I'm not a businessman, so I also consider that plan to be one of our best decisions! We plugged a hole in the market which has proven beneficial to those authors who mostly write short fiction, and who wouldn't have had an outlet for their work. Other 'mistakes' were minor, nothing went badly wrong. Another good decision was entering The Turing Test by Chris Beckett for the Edge Hill Short Story Prize, because it added a sixth award to those we held already, and it certainly garnered the most high-profile publicity we've ever had.

PT: You've been active in the small/independent press, as both writer and publisher, for a great many years. What would you say have been the most notable changes during that time?

AH: It has to be the internet, for both publishers and writers. Not only due to the ease with which online magazines can be published, but also because the net enables writers to search easily for global markets and send submissions by email - no more buying International Reply Coupons and getting payment in foreign postage stamps! The whole marketplace is at a writer's fingertips. It's quite difficult to imagine how times were before it. And whilst online magazines have had some impact on traditional print magazines, I believe that the quality and lifespan of print magazines has improved.

The other change is that innovations in the way books are printed means that a lot more people are self-publishing. Whether that's a good thing or not might be a moot point, but the fact of the matter is that nowadays anyone who thinks they've got a novel in them can realise their dream to see it in print. In the future, the 'publisher' role might be relegated to marketing only...

PT: Small press or independent press. Which term do you prefer and why?

AH: I've always preferred 'independent press' for a couple of reasons. For starters, I equate it to independent record labels. In that sense, it's less about size and more to do with getting material out to the public which wouldn't be promoted by the majors. And the word 'small' carries connotations of inferiority for me - I know it's just semantics, but 'independent' implies an 'against-the-system' mentality, the zeal of the underground, which is the main strength of such publishing and what we should champion.

PT: How do you feel things are looking for the future of the independent press? Are you optimistic or concerned?

AH: I'm fairly optimistic. People will always want to read books and there will always be writers writing material which the majors aren't going to be interested in (for whatever reason). So on that basis, the independent press will always have material to publish. What I think is important is that all publishers need flexibility and should embrace new technology. For example, several of the Elastic Press books are also available as e-books and audio books, and it would have been foolish to ignore those possibilities. Continuing the optimistic theme, I think independent presses are less likely to be hit hard by the current financial crisis, simply because many of them are run for love rather than money. And money can't buy you love.

JS: Which author(s) (living or dead - maybe an undiscovered chest of short stories in an attic) would tempt you to restart Elastic Press?

AH: Well, Elastic was primarily about discovering new authors, so even if I found I could publish Kafka, Sartre, or Carver, I would turn down the chance to do so. In terms of new authors, a few names have popped into my head since ending the press that I would have been interested in publishing. I never approached these writers, so I'm not giving away any secrets here, but Will McIntosh, Daniel Bennett, and Daniel Kaysen are all writing exciting stuff at the moment. However, nothing is actually going to tempt me to restart!

JS: You've written a few stories in collaboration with Allen Ashley, who has edited a couple of Elastic collections, including this year's BFA nominated Subtle Edens. How do the two of you split the task?

AH: We play ping-pong with the stories. One of us gets the initial idea, writes a bit (could be anything from 300 to 1000 words), then passes it on. And it goes back and forth until it's done. I tend to stop my sections quite naturally, often when I think, 'ok, I think I know where this is heading, let's see what Allen does with it.' It's become quite an organic process, and within the stories it's often difficult to remember who wrote which bits. That might just be my failing memory, or the seamless single voice which is neither mine nor Allen's taking ownership of the story. A collection of these, titled Slow Motion Wars, is being published by Screaming Dreams in the near future.

JS: Has The Fall song, How I Wrote Elastic Man, been a big influence on your working life?

AH: How astute! I love The Fall and always liked that song. A long time ago, when the internet was new to me and I was searching for a username for message boards, Elasticman popped into my head and stayed there. And, when choosing names for the press, Elastic seemed a good idea because it isn't obviously connected to any particular genre and it also indicated flexibility (unlike, off the top of my head, Dead Flesh Press might have done). I wanted to break down genre boundaries, and Elastic Press was the perfect name to emphasise that.

JS: Most of the EP books have sold out and are now very collectable. What's been the highest price-tag sighted on an Elastic Press title so far?

AH: Amazon Marketplace tends to have the most interesting prices, although I can't fathom the reasoning behind some of them. For example, in answering this question I took a look at Andrew Humphrey's 2008 collection, Other Voices on Amazon. Through Marketplace 17 copies were available. Sixteen of those were priced between £3.09 up to £6.77. And the seventeenth copy? It was up for grabs for £1,207.51! Strangely, looking at it again the following day, that copy is no longer listed...surely no one bought it?

PT: Now that Elastic Press is winding down, how do you plan to spend the time that will have freed up? What projects are you currently involved in and what can we expect to see from you in the future?

AH: I'm returning to my own fiction again. During the final two years running the press I hardly wrote a word and the publisher/writer balance I'd had prior to that point had slipped. Since Elastic's final publication in November 2008, I've written one novella and eleven short stories. I now have enough stories to get a new collection together (a publisher is reading these as we speak), and the novella, And God Created Zombies, is being launched by NewCon Press at FantasyCon in September. So I've been very productive. But I've retained editing the New Horizons magazine for the British Fantasy Society, which I've done for about 18 months, and am happy to wear that publishing hat for a while. However, I've always been a writer rather than a publisher and it's time I reclaimed that role and started looking after number one.

Questions posed by Stephen Theaker, Peter Tennant and Jim Steel



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