From an outside perspective, Swan River Press has probably looked very quiet this year, reduced to a trickle. Though we didn’t publish as much within these last twelve months as I had planned, the year was still a significant one behind the scenes, hopefully positioning us for a more (outwardly) eventful 2023.
In fact, I’d been lamenting how few new titles we had published this year, which is probably why stepping back to take stock in this annual post remains a useful exercise. Because we did accomplish more than I’d initially considered.
So with the year now drawing to a close, let’s have a look at what we did achieve . . .
There was only one hardback this year, but it was a good one: The Lure of the Unknown: Essays on the Strange by Algernon Blackwood. I’d been talking about doing a Blackwood volume with Mike Ashley for quite some time because, when it comes to Blackwood, Mike Ashley is always the first port of call.
Given that Blackwood had only just come out of copyright this year, we didn’t want to contribute to the myriad reprints of “The Willows” that readers were sure to be inundated with. We wanted something fresh and exciting, something a little less expected, something that would hold real insight for admirers of Blackwood and his work. So Mike pitched two ideas, both of which featured writings that had either never been reprinted or were rarely seen.
The Lure of the Unknown is a collection of Algernon Blackwood’s essays, talks, reviews and anecdotes exploring encounters with the strange and unusual or, in Blackwood’s preferred word, the “odd”. They include his first attempts to investigate alleged haunted houses, his association with such luminaries as W. B. Yeats, “A.E.”, and Gurdjieff; his thoughts on telepathy, reincarnation, elemental spirits, other dimensions, and his beliefs in what lies beyond our normal perceptions. These writings reveal not only Blackwood’s diverse experiences, but his depth of reading and analysis of the unexplained. Few of these essays have been reprinted beyond their first publication or their broadcast on radio and television. They provide another dimension to an understanding of one of the great writers of the supernatural.
Reception for the volume was well beyond what I expected, and the limited hardback sold out within six months. Michael Dirda said in the Washington Post that Lure of the Unknown was “an essential book for any Blackwood fan”, while David Longhorn in Supernatural Tales wrote that the volume was, “an excellent collection of occasional writings by one of the most gifted and charming authors of supernatural fiction.” I’ve heard that the Fortean Times will weigh in after the New Year.
Comment on this title would not be complete without mentioning the phenomenal portrait of Blackwood that appears on the boards of this volume. It was by Chloe Cumming, whose work I’ve admired for some time. Thank you, Chloe! (Check out Chloe’s website here.)
While the hardback is now out of print, the paperback edition should be available shortly. You’ll want to keep an eye on our website. And if you’re wondering what that second collection was that Mike had pitched, don’t worry—we’ll be publishing that too before long.
Miraculously, we also managed to publish both issues of The Green Book this year, and in a timely manner (hey, we’ve not always hit the mark!).
The idea for The Green Book 19 had been gestating for a while. I noticed sometime late last year that I’d amassed a number of essays and articles in my Green Book folder focused on Dublin’s Theosophical movement. Once I’d recognised the affinities between these pieces, disparately collected, I set about learning more. What else I could dig up? . . . and the result was Issue 19.
“Probably there has never been in any country,” wrote John Eglinton in his Memoir of A.E. (1937), “a period of literary activity which has not been preceded or accompanied by some stimulation of the religious interest. Anyone in search of this in Ireland at this time may find it if he looks for it, though he certainly will not find it in either the Catholic or the various Protestant religious bodies: he will find it, unless he disdains to look in that direction, in the ferment caused in the minds of a group of young men by the early activities of the Theosophical Movement in Dublin.”
Ireland of the late nineteenth century was awash in reawakened interest in Irish legends and folklore, craft and custom, language and art; the men and women whose works would come to define the ensuing Celtic Literary Revival often concerned themselves with a belief in the authoritative wisdom of ancient traditions and mythology, and with these fervent beliefs, they propelled Ireland toward nationhood. That a new spiritual movement could hold such sway over young minds in late nineteenth-century Ireland comes as no surprise.
Issue 19 launched at Gallery X in April in support of Dolorosa de la Cruz’s Cabinet of Curiosities exhibition (not far from the old Theosophical Lodge on Ely Place). The issue is essentially a portrait in essays, articles, and memoirs of those involved in the Theosophical movement, it’s most notable exponent, the poet A.E., and movement’s profound impact on Irish arts and literature. The issue features writing by Katharine Tynan, Ella Young, W. B. Yeats, Dorothy Macardle, and James Stephens.
For The Green Book 20, which coincided with the journal’s tenth anniversary, we featured another ten entries from our (still tentatively titled) Guide to Irish Gothic and Supernatural Fiction Writers project, including profiles of James Clarence Mangan, Charlotte Riddell, Bram Stoker, Herminie Templeton Kavanagh, Althea Gyles, F. Frankfort Moore, and more. This on-going project, serialised in The Green Book for a number of years now, continues to be a revelation as, with my co-editor Jim Rockhill, we continue to explore the constellation of Irish writers of supernatural fiction. Eventually these entries will see the light of day as a standalone publication; in my head, it’s a lavish affair, a heavy volume and fully illustrated. We’ve still a few entries to chase before that though.
We continued this year with our paperback reprints as well, adding ten new (well, actually old) titles to the roster, bringing the total number of paperback titles to twenty-nine. This year’s additions include Longsword by Thomas Leland, The Sea Change by Helen Grant, Reminiscences of a Bachelor by J. S. Le Fanu, November Night Tales by Henry C. Mercer, The Pale Brown Thing by Fritz Leiber, and the Selected Poems of A.E. The last batch of four titles—The Silver Voices by John Howard, A Flutter of Wings by Mervyn Wall, The Dummy by Nicholas Royle, and The Lure of the Unknown by Algernon Blackwood—will be available just as soon as we can approve the proofs.
I’ve had a few queries about reissuing in paperback some of our anthologies that feature contemporary writers—sorry, but we won’t be doing that for a number of reasons. So do be sure to pick them up in hardback if you’re interested. Once they’re gone, they’re truly gone.
For a full list of the paperbacks we have available, have a look at our website and use the filters on the Titles page and select “In Print – Paperback” in the availability field. Which brings me to our next notable accomplishment this year . . .
During the summer we unveiled our new website, something I’d been meaning to do for a number of years. With the help of Simon Appleby at Bookswarm, we came up with something that I think it a vast improvement on my decades of html hammering. It’s cleaner, smoother, and certainly more easy for me to update. The most handy feature from a reader point of view, I think, are the filters on the Titles and Author pages. Play around with them and see what you think.
The website took a good few months of work as well (just in case I wonder where some of the year’s time went). As with most things like this, it’s not entirely “finished” either. If you see anything amiss, please let me know.
Now, if anyone is interested in the annual figures: we published 3 new titles this year, totalling 424 pages, 900 copies, and 111,050 words. This is actually the fewest number of titles we’ve published since we started doing hardbacks in 2010/11. We normally seem to average maybe six or seven new titles per year (including The Green Book, but not any of the paperbacks).
Perhaps our most exciting news, as many of you already know, is that Swan River Press moved house in October. After almost twenty years in Rathmines, we’ve moved to Æon House, a small cottage that, near as anyone can tell, is in the general vicinity of Dolphin’s Barn, on the city side of the canal. It’s a lovely house, a welcoming neighbourhood, and a fresh beginning. Unfortunately, some work is being done on the house still—likely to continue for some months—so we’re not quite settled yet. But with the move now over, I can get back to work on new titles. Still, please bear with us as we figure out our new surroundings.
Just because I haven’t published more this year, doesn’t meant we’ve not been hard at work. I’m not a fan of pre-announcing, but I suppose it’s the holiday season, and I can let slip, just between us, the first title of 2023: a new collection from Lynda E. Rucker called Now It’s Dark. We’ve an introduction by Rob Shearman, a cover by John Coulthart, and the book is currently with the printer, so hopefully we’ll see it before the end of January. (There are just a few hardback copies left of Lynda’s previous Swan River collection, You’ll Know When You Get There.) If you want to be the first to know when Now It’s Dark is available to pre-order, join our mailing list.
I can also divulge that Uncertainties 6 is slowly nearing completion. As with volume 5, I’m editing this one as well. However, unlike previous volumes, this installment is slow to come together for a number of reasons. While I don’t have a release date just yet, I’m appreciative of all the contributors—you know who you are!—who have been bearing with me during this lengthy process. I promise it will be worth the wait and I look forward to announcing the details in due course. I’m very excited about it.
As usual, I would like to express my continued gratitude to the Swan River team: our designer Meggan Kehrli, typesetter Steve J. Shaw, and editors Jim Rockhill and Timothy J. Jarvis. I don’t think one could assemble a better or more talented team. Thank you again to everyone who showed their support during this long and often difficult year.
If you’d like to keep in touch, do join our mailing list, find us on Facebook, follow on Twitter and Instagram. Until next time, please be well, and take care of each other and your communities. From the wintry hearth of Æon House, I wish you all a restful holiday season full of peace and belonging, and hope to hear from you in the New Year!
Brian J. Showers
28 December 2022