If you’ve been following the things I write for a while, you’ll already have noticed that I’ve developed a very healthy relationship with Edinburgh based Obverse Books. it started about four years ago, when Richard Salter sent me the submission guidelines for the second Iris Wildthyme book Obverse produced (The Panda Book of Horror). Mr Salter was well aware of my long held love of all things Doctor Who, and as Iris has a complicated relationship with the worlds of Doctor Who he thought I might be interested in submitting an idea to them for the book. I was, and I did.
The story was rejected, but it was a close enough thing that editor Stuart Douglas remembered to send me the guidelines for the book that followed, and that time I was able to pitch something that better suited what he was looking for (‘The Story Eater’, which features in Iris: Abroad). My third pitch was also successful (‘The Many Lives of Zorro’*, in Wildthyme in Purple). That’s perhaps not so surprising, as having worked with Stuart once already by then, as well as having put Iris successfully through her paces, I was well armed to pitch another story for her.
Phillip Purser-Hallard (who had also been published in Obverse anthologies among others) read both of my Iris tales, and enjoyed them. When he was putting together a second volume of short stories set in his City of the Saved he dropped me a line to find out what sort of story I might offer. I gave him my Shakespearean/Chandleresque ‘The Mystery of the Rose’, and he put it in More Tales Of The City.
All this I layout, because when an author starts to work a lot with a particular publisher there’s often a suspicion that some sort of clique has been formed, a closed shop that’s exclusionary. I hope the above makes clear that I’m not part of some secret cabal. One thing has simply led to another. In fact, Obverse is sort of the opposite of a clique. Almost every book they publish has involved an open submissions call for at least one or two story slots, because head honcho Stuart Douglas understands the need to keep bringing fresh voices to the table. Some of us return when we’re offered the chance, and it’s a delight to discover that there are always new faces at the table (in fact, the latest Iris Wildthyme volume is hoping to give at least one or two previously unpublished writers their first sale – if that’s you, the submission guidelines are here).
Obverse Books, then, is a sort of expanding family of writers and editors. There are a lot of members of that family now. Some are regular faces, some are occasional guests, and still more stop by once to shoot the breeze and then move on. How often I get to return is out of my hands, and it would be foolish ever to be complacent about that, but it’s a pleasure to be there when I do.
Because of the size of the family, I’d yet to meet Matt Kimpton. I’d read his work in books I’m not in (including the Iris book where I failed to make the grade), and been very impressed (he opens a book called A Romance In Twelve Parts with an tour de force of storytelling). Away from Obverse, I’ve heard that he was an extraordinary oral storyteller, and held the post of Chief Skald of Suffolk for a time.
Matt died last year, aged thirty-five, after a long battle with Cystic Fibrosis.
Not long after, Nick Campbell found a book he’d never heard of in a secondhand bookshop. He opened it up, and turned to the page which listed other titles that were available at the time the book was published. It amused him to post it on Facebook. Several writers of his acquaintance started playing games, wondering what would happen if they were each assigned one of the novel titles and asked to write an original short story to match it. Stuart Douglas tagged me in, and suggested to all that the resulting anthology might be very obverse indeed.
He also suggested that such a book could be a splendid way to honour Matt Kimpton, whose life was full of stories.
And that’s what happened next. My own contribution, with apologies in advance to Peter Dickinson, is ‘The Devil’s Children’, and it’s about the lines you’d cross for love.
There are lots of reasons to buy the book. For a start, it’s a wonderful sampler of the sort of thing Obverse does well. It has quirk, and style, and is an odd little thing you might adore. Not enough people read Obverse Books, to be blunt. This is a wonderful single volume way to discover them (and you’ll be so much happier when you have).
It’s got some great writers in it. George Mann (offering a brand new Newbury & Hobbes short story!), Cavan Scott, Jacqueline Rayner… it’s a bit silly my picking names out, actually. You can go and see for yourself in a minute. You either know half of them, or you don’t. If you don’t, then you should, and this book will fix that.
Finally, with the above in mind, it also gives you an excuse to give a little cash to a worthy cause. The ebook costs just £1.99, and all profits go to Cystic Fibrosis charities in memory of Matt Kimpton.
I didn’t know Mr Kimpton, but he was a storyteller, and one I admired. That he died so young is a tragedy, of course. That he lived well enough that he has inspired the people who knew him to make this strange little book happen is a glorious thing.
Go and buy a copy. It costs less than your next Starbucks, and will stay with you far longer.
And if you have a moment to tweet or repost this (or better yet, the book page itself) somewhere, good karma will almost certainly befall you.
*When people ask me what my favourite of my own stories is, it’s ‘The Many Lives of Zorro’. That surprises them, but it’s true. You really should go and find out why.