The Redensive Epiphanies of Pouty McNavel is the second* anthology of short stories I’ve edited and published. At the moment I don’t have any specific plans for a third, but I do have several ideas so I don’t expect it to be the last. It’s immensely satisfying to be able to put together an anthology of good writing, to see it in print and hold the book in your hands. To turn the pages one by one, study them with reasoned pride, and cry aloud in ringing tones, ‘Bugger, there’s another typo.’
Every year I go on holiday with some friends. This started out several years ago as a working holiday specifically for writing. Back then having a whole week dedicated to writing was a rare and precious thing. Over the years things changed, now there’s more of a mix of people and interests, it’s almost a pop-up art commune. A lot of writing still gets done, photography, other art projects, one of us is a science journalist. There’s usually a day-trip, this year we visited one of the recently discovered Neolithic quarries used for the Stonehenge bluestones. In the evening: food, conversation, drink.
After a week hanging out with friends, working, thinking, those rambling conversations, each year we come away energised, with fresh ideas and some good work done. This year we also came away with an idea for an anthology – The Redensive Epiphanies of Pouty McNavel.
How the hell did that happen?
Well, we were drinking, and now we can’t quite remember. I’ll try and break it down.
Epiphanies: Maybe it was something to do with playing Cards Against Humanity. Maybe it was the weird whiskies we were drinking. Seriously, don’t drink Dutch whisky, one decent-sized shot made me hallucinate. Good Japanese whisky on the other hand is outstanding.
Redensive: This is where it all began, and it began in 1980. Back then my friend Melanie lived in Canada and she knew a man called Olaf. Olaf invented a word, a word that sounded like it had meaning but what exactly was that? He set a challenge – to introduce that word into the language. When we heard this story we all fell in love with the idea of exploring the meaning of the word, of seeing if we could discover its meaning, or meanings. Then Old Stupid (yours truly) said that if we wrote stories, he’ publish them. Now you know how The Redensive Epiphanies of Pouty McNavel was born. Except…
Pouty McNavel: This name really is lost in the whisky mists. Even though we were all there we all have different theories. It’s a name, we made it up. As far as I’m concerned it fell out of a conversation about a real name, a name we then distorted beyond recognition. I shall say no more.
Olaf had sadly passed away, but Melanie was still friends with his daughter Troy. As Troy was also present at the birth of the word, we asked her if she’d like to contribute a story too.
Epiphanies is an archetypal slim volume. It’s not made of genre, but it’s spiced and seasoned by it. One story is most definitely SF, others have touches of the fantastical, the horrific, the strange and weird. And there are also stories of contemporary everyday life and its hot bright redensive epiphanies. We have pictures too – the anthology is an illustrated one, with line-drawings and collodion photography, and a photo-collage front cover. All from the contributors, and including several pieces by the award-winning Gordon Fraser.
I learned a lot about layout and formatting with the first anthology. I learned even more with this one because not only was one of the stories in a twitter-feed format, there were a couple of haiku, and those photographs.
Collodion photography is proper old-school wet-plate photography dating back to 1851, with tripod-mounted box cameras and exposure times from seconds to minutes. It’s a real mix of science, art, and a seasoning of what feels like magic. In other words the photographer needs significant technical skill and artistry. The focal length of the cameras is tiny, and the chemicals react to a range of wavelengths slightly different to our own visual range. It sees things we can’t and as a result your own photograph can look like that of a relative you never knew you had.
Transferring those images from a glass plate to printed paper was a real challenge for me, and I really wanted to do justice to Gordon’s camera skills. Collodion doesn’t give you a black and white picture, it’s more of a sepia-tone. That needed conversion to black and white and then each picture needed contrast and light and shadow individually balanced. I had a lot to learn. Alas, what looks good on a computer screen, even a good-quality one, isn’t what you get on a printed page. This is the main reason I needed to print several proof versions. It was worth it, some of these pictures are magnificent. And hey, all those proofs helped me trap a few more typos.
I also learned about book format. I thought a square format would look good – and it does, the whole project was designed around that format, the layout, the balance of text and picture on the pages all work as I wanted. Then I discovered that square-format was not available for distribution through Ingrams (the business that distributes books to B&N, Amazon, Waterstones, etc).
Honestly, bugger it, I thought we lived in a modern world. I’d already planned for an e-pub version, so with the need for a more standard print format too I was going to be bringing out an illustrated anthology in two physical styles as well! Guess what? More proof editions required!
So I got there in the end. I have my art-house square-format book, full distribution for the other format, and a low cost ebook too. More importantly, there are the stories, from fantasy writer Gaie Sebold** Helen Callaghan (whose thriller Dear Amy is currently in the Sunday Times best-sellers list), Sumit Dam, Sarah Ellender (of Travelling Monsters fame), Chuck Dreyer, myself, Melanie Garrett, and (I kid you not) the one and only, the original and the best, the real Troy McClure.
Each of those stories came as little revelations to me. I soon realised it was impossible to predict what I was going to get from any one person. This idea was pushing us all out of our comfort zones. That was exciting, and it brought out some great work.
In many ways this is what it is all about – working with people who want to work with you, collaborating on something everyone is into, and making something new and original you can be proud of. A most satisfying and enjoyably redensive experience, and I hope anyone who decides to read the book thinks so too.
Standard print and ebook formats are available from the usual places. Square format is only available from Lulu, along with the other formats. No doubt we could argue the toss of why I used Lulu, but this post is long enough. Let’s lean on a bar one day and chew the fat.
* The first was Mind Seed, in memory of T Party writers group member Denni Schnapp, with all profits to charity. This was co-edited with Gary Couzens.
** Gaie’s latest book, Sparrow Falling, is out from Solaris. (July 2016).
David was born in South Africa and baptised by King Neptune at the equator. His short fiction has appeared in various magazines and anthologies, including New Scientist’s ARC, Albedo 1, and the Sensorama anthology from Eibonvale. He is a winner of the Aeon Award and been shortlisted for the James White Award. His novel, Shopocalypse, was published by Clarion (2013) and will be re-issued by NewCon Press later this year. He is also one of the judges for the 2016 Arthur C. Clarke Award. David lives in Surrey, England, with the fantasy writer Gaie Sebold and too many tree ferns. David is the current chair of Milford SF Writers