Darkness, shadows, the avant-garde, and the weird and wonderful… Here, there be Dragons.
As writers of the morbid and macabre, we often find ourselves frustrated by a mainstream market–or facing limited options among indy presses. But what if I told you there was an up and coming press, both intellectual and edgy, that actively sought these liminal tales? What if I told you that they had already published an anthology of female werewolves? (Yes, Virginia. Were-woman-wolves as headliners and not sideliners!) Allow me to introduce Hic Dragones, Manchester-based press for the rest (in pieces) of us.
Hic Dragones is a Manchester-based small press and events organizer, founded in 2011 by Hannah Kate. We publish dark and unusual fiction, and our ethos is ‘intelligent… but a bit weird’. Now run by Hannah and her partner Rob Shedwick, Hic Dragones has published an anthology of dark tales of female werewolves, and the debut novel by Whitefield author Toby Stone. In 2013, we will be publishing another anthology, this time a collection of weird fiction set in ‘impossible spaces’ and featuring work by Ramsey Campbell and Simon Bestwick amongst others. We will also be publishing the debut novel by Beth Daley, a graduate of the University of Manchester’s creative writing PhD. In addition to publishing, Hic Dragones runs interdisciplinary academic conferences in Manchester. Our programme thus far has included events on adaptations of Alice in Wonderland and the Wizard of Oz, a two-day conference on monsters and an international conference on cannibals and cannibalism. In autumn 2013, Hic Dragones will be launching a range of classic and horror-themed murder mystery dinner party games, designed for the connoisseur of crime and horror fiction.
Thank you, Hannah, for joining us!
Hannah Kate is the founder of Hic Dragones. She currently runs the company with her partner, Rob Shedwick. Hannah has over a decade’s experience of working in writing development and small press publishing. She is a published poet and short story writer, and is currently seeking representation for her first novel. She also reviews books for online publications. Under the name Hannah Priest, she has a PhD in medieval literature, and is currently working as an academic researcher and lecturer. Hannah has published articles on medieval and contemporary fiction, and her current project is a cultural history of female werewolves, which is forthcoming with Manchester University Press. Hannah lives in Manchester with her partner and a very large black cat.
1. I know that you are much more than a publisher–Can you say a bit about the inception of Hic Dragones? What was the impetus of the project? How did you choose your name?
I had the idea to start Hic Dragones in 2010, just after I was awarded my PhD. I had a couple of ideas for academic conferences that I wanted to run, and an idea for a short story anthology. It seemed to make sense to come up with a business plan that allowed me to combine the two. I wanted to create a company that catered to people with similar tastes to my own, who would be interested in a combination of fiction publishing and research events. There was, of course, also a selfish aspect to this: I wanted to create my own ideal job! Being both an academic and a creative writer, I wanted to carve a niche for myself where I could enjoy the best of both worlds.
I chose the name Hic Dragones because I wanted to reflect both the academic and the creative in the name. The phrase is Latin for ‘here be dragons’ or ‘here be monsters’, and it is used to signal the edges of the map where monsters were said to live. It seemed to sum up what I was trying to achieve – the place beyond charted territory, away from where the normal folk live.
2. As an academic and a fiction writer, I really appreciate the integration of smart and edgy work in your collections. Could you tell us more about your ethos? What sort of writers and readers do you hope to attract?
The general ethos of the company is ‘intelligent, but a bit weird’, as this sums up most of the things we do. With our conferences, we try to explore subjects that are strange, dark even, but also areas that are often neglected by academic scholarship. We also encourage creative professionals to participate in the conferences alongside academic researchers, as this makes for interesting and informed dialogue. With our fiction, we look for the unusual, the surprising, and the hard-to-define. We don’t like writing that is clever for the sake of being clever, or shocking for the sake of being shocking. We much prefer good writing that takes readers somewhere they weren’t expecting to go.
The first novel we published, Aimee and the Bear by Toby Stone is a great example of this. I’m still not really sure what genre that novel is – it’s part magic realist, part dark fairy-tale, part gritty realism. But I was hooked from the first page. Stone drew me completely into his world, and I just couldn’t put the book down. By the time I was crying at the ending, I knew this was a very special book. It’s almost unbearable dark and brutal in places, but it’s one of the most compelling things I’ve read in a long time.
We don’t really have an ideal author or reader in mind when we start out with publications – and we have four more books in the pipeline for the coming year. We like good writing – stories that have the power to elicit a vocal or physical response – and we like to be surprised. I guess we’re hoping that our books will reach readers who like the same thing.
3. I notice with excitement that you are looking into mystery games–will Hic Dragones be considering mystery fiction as a possibility, too? Can you tell us a bit about what genres most interest you?
We’re going to be launching a range of murder mystery dinner party games in autumn 2013. These games are designed with the mystery fiction and horror fan in mind, so we’re focussing on complex, well-plotted mysteries with plenty of clues, red herrings and puzzles. I’ve been writing the first set of games for the last few months, and we’ve been market-testing them with a willing bunch of volunteers. It’s a lot of fun, and we hope that fans of classic mystery and horror fiction will enjoy our two ranges.
We would definitely consider mystery fiction for publication – either in one of our anthologies or when we’re open to novel submissions. In fact, one of the books we’ll be publishing in the coming year has a very noir-ish feel in places. We’re not particularly tied to any genre – we’re much more interested in tone and style. This is why we talk about our books as ‘dark fiction’, rather than using genre labels.
This focus comes from my own tastes as a reader. I am hugely eclectic in what I read. My current to-read pile has stuff spanning over a thousand years, in all sorts of genres, from many, many countries. However, I do always tend towards the dark side… I don’t care if it’s horror, fantasy, medieval romance, early modern drama, eighteenth-century novels, sci-fi… so long as it has a dark edge, I’m happy. This is reflected in the publishing ethos of Hic Dragones.
4. As a small press, how do you shepherd collections and authors through the production process? Where do you see the publishing side of Hic Dragones in the future?
We are a micropress – with aspirations of one day becoming a small press – so this does mean we’re quite a small team! At the moment, ideas for collections usually begin with a conversation between Rob and myself, and then a general call for submissions. I’m sure this will change when we’re big enough to think about taking over the world, but it works for now. It means we have a really personal investment in our anthologies, and this reflects in the relationships we build with our writers. We’ve been really lucky with our first two collections in that we’ve had submissions from established writers alongside ones from emerging talent. This means that each writer needs something different from me, as their editor. For some, it’s a case of suggesting minor tweaks and a small bit of polish here and there; for others, we have more discussion about developing the story and bringing out its full potential.
Our short-term plans are to release another couple of short story anthologies – Impossible Spaces (coming out in July 2013) and Hauntings (coming out in spring 2014) – and two (possibly three) novels – the first of these, Blood and Water by Beth Daley will be out in October 2013. For now, we’re not planning to start releasing books in a greater volume, as we would have to stretch our time and resources to the point where we couldn’t engage as much with each project. Deep down, Rob and I only want to publish books we care about, and we like having the scope to be fully involved with each project. However, in the long-term, we’re hoping to expand, to become more than a two-person operation, and to have the capacity to publish a lot more fiction and to work with other editors. So, watch this space…
5. Can you tell us (and prospective authors and readers) what else Hic Dragones has to offer in terms of workshops and classes, conferences and more?
For the last couple of years, we’ve held two international academic/creative conferences each year, and we plan to continue this. We’ll be announcing the Call for Papers for our first 2014 conference in the next couple of weeks, so all I’ll say for now is that the idea grew out of discussions at our Returning to Oz: The Afterlife of Dorothy conference in February. We’ll also be looking into potentially running some dark fiction writing workshops at some stage in the near future.
Recently, we’ve held a couple of events in collaboration with other organizations. In May, we ran an event at the Prestwich Book Festival, with Rosie Garland, Toby Stone, Simon Bestwick and some of our other anthology writers reading from their work. We also ran an event in conjunction with Twisted Tales – to coincide with our conference on Cannibals and Cannibalism – at which Conrad Williams, Stephen McGeagh and Harry Whitehead read from their recent books (published by Virgin, Salt and Penguin Canada respectively). We’re hoping to collaborate with Twisted Tales in the future, and to put more events like this.