CFZ Publishing Group’s “Fortean Fiction” imprint. Although only one of the books has my name on the cover, I had a small hand in the other two as well. The one on the right is Hyakumonogatari by Richard Freeman – a really excellent collection of 25 Japanese-themed horror stories, which is a kind of a fictional spin-off of his Great Yokai Encyclopaedia. The newest book, shown in the middle, is an equally excellent collection of short stories by Kate Kelly called The Scribbling Sea Serpent.
I worked for the same employer as Kate Kelly for almost 20 years, although mostly at different sites so we never really crossed paths. It was only after I went back there a couple of years ago as a part-time contractor that I discovered she is also an aspiring writer. Her first book, a young adult novel called Red Rock, was published in 2013. It’s marketed as “cli-fi” (a new sub-genre of science fiction dealing with climate change), but with a distinctly Fortean twist – the melting icecap reveals evidence of an ancient high-tech civilization that may or may not have known the secret of limitless free energy.
As I mentioned before (in The World’s Weirdest Publishing Group), it was only after CFZ brought out my own short story collection, The Museum of the Future, that I realized how short-staffed they were. I offered to help out in various ways, and one of the first jobs Jon Downes pushed my way was the reissue of Hyakumonogatari. This was originally published in 2012, but had since been re-edited.
My task here was pretty straightforward – simply insert the newly edited text into the existing page template. But for a couple of reasons I ended up redoing the page layouts completely. Partly this was in response to constructive feedback on The Museum of the Future from Brian Clegg, but also because I just didn’t get on with Jon’s choice of software – I found it easier to start from scratch with a program I was more familiar with!
When I told Kate about my work on Hyakumonogatari, she wondered if Jon would also be interested in publishing a collection of her own stories. To cut a long story short he was, and The Scribbling Sea Serpent is the result. The title comes from Kate’s blog, and the book contains a mixture of previously published stories and brand new ones – 22 in total. In terms of genre the stories are a mix of science fiction and weird fiction – all written in a reassuringly traditional style that wouldn’t have been out of place in Weird Tales or Astounding Science Fiction 60 years ago... but often with a modern twist to the subject matter (Kate has a peculiar enthusiasm for global ecological disasters). The book lives up to the “Fortean Fiction” label, too, with ancient mysteries lurking in the rural English landscape, interdimensional portals opened up by shamanic rituals, archaeologists digging up alien artifacts, restless ghosts... and, as the title suggests, sea monsters!
Because it was a new book and not a reissue, I had more to do on The Scribbling Sea Serpent than on Hyakumonogatari. As well as editing the stories for publication and fitting them into the page template, I also had to design the front and back covers (with assistance from Kate and Jon... not to mention public domain clip-art). It was a lot more work than I’d expected – I always thought producing books was easy, but I’ll know better in future! Fortunately it’s a really first-rate book, so I’m happy to have been involved with it (the same is true of Hyakumonogatari).
At this point you’re probably thinking “No matter how good The Scribbling Sea Serpent is, if Andrew May had a hand in it there’s bound to be at least a minor cock-up.” I’m not sure I completely follow your reasoning, but as it happens you’re right. There’s a small error that crept in at the very final stage of production, which is fairly obvious once it’s pointed out to you. On the other hand, I don’t believe anyone will spot the error unless it’s pointed out to them. To prove me wrong you’ll have to buy the book! Here are the links: