Thursday, 16 June 2011

Chômu Press

The most interesting independent fiction publisher to have arisen in the past year or two is Chômu Press. I suspect the word 'Chômu' has a specific meaning, maybe something to do with Japanese aesthetics or fin de siècle decadence, but I'll be dashed if I know what that meaning is -- and I don't dare ask the publishers because I don't want to look more ignorant than I already am. The little hat over the letter 'o' makes it more tricky than usual to keep writing the name, but it's worth it. Chômu, Chômu, Chômu... Without that hat the word might get wet when it rains.

Chômu Press have just released their tenth book. Let's have a quick look at each of these in turn. First up, we have Remember You're a One-Ball by Quentin S. Crisp. The title (I presume) is a punning reference to the old Wombles song. When I was younger I misunderstood the lyrics. "The Wombles of Wimbledon / Common are we." Because of the phrasing I thought that the Wombles were from Wimbledon (the town) and that they were common; but in fact they are from Wimbledon Common and no comment concerning their scarcity was intended. I had the pleasure of once meeting Quentin S. Crisp and I wrote about that encounter here. His writing style is superb. He does many fine things in his writing, but there's one quality especially that catches my attention. His forceful clarity. He has a skill that many writers don't have: the ability to upload almost instantly whatever it is he wants to say into the reader's brain. There may be ambiguity of effect but there's never any ambiguity of clarity with his prose style. Ballard does this very well; M.John harrison, Marguerite Duras, Boris Vian, Ernesto Sabato, a handful of others.

The second and third Chômu books were I Wonder What Human Flesh Tastes Like by Justin Isis, and The Dracula Papers, Part 1 by Reggie Oliver. I suspect that the Oliver volume is the best-selling Chômu title so far (I might be wrong about that). Quentin S. Crisp once emailed me to say that Justin Isis was one of the best living writers. That's high praise indeed from a man of Crisp's taste and discretion. As for Reggie Oliver: I am reliably informed that he's excellent. Personally I'm not a big fan of anything to do with vampires, but so what? Both books should adorn the shelves of any progressive horror fan. Are you a progessive horror fan? if so, maybe you ought to consider purchasing one or both...

Revenants by Daniel Mills has attracted considerable attention as a thoughtful and original historical novel. Here's a quote from the hugely influential Booklist: "Readers [of Revenants] are swept into the towering forests of colonial New England right along with the settlers as Mills calls up both the majesty of stately oaks and chestnuts and mist-laden scenes of terrified Native American women and children who were slaughtered where they stood. Otherworldly fiction from a promising new talent..." As for The Life of Polycrates and Other Stories for Antiquated Children by Brendan Connell, what can I say? Connell, in my view, is perhaps the best contemporary master of the weird. Only Cisco rivals him. Connell's ideas are always brilliant, his style is clear but lyrical, his story structures are immaculate. Frankly, he's a wonderchild. He really deserves to be read by everybody. That's all I plan to say about him for now...

Mark Samuels. I dislike the man personally (or rather: I dislike some of the things he says and does) but what does that have to do with his writing? Nothing! The Man Who Collected Machen is one of his best books, so I've been told. The thing about Samuels is this: somehow he has tapped into something that deeply affects people, he doesn't just get under their skin (almost anyone can do that) but under their souls, and that takes pure talent. Years ago, Samuels told me that he didn't want to be a horror celebrity and win awards in the present but that he'd much rather write one story that was still remembered one hundred years from now. One story, just one. Turns out he was being accidentally modest. It seems a safe bet to say that he has already exceeded his ambition by several orders of magnitude!

Michael Cisco: genius. I'm not alone in thinking this. Thomas Ligotti believes it to be so, Jeff VanderMeer too. Cisco = genius. Simple equation. Good that it's simple because nothing about his writing is. That doesn't mean that his work is murky or obtuse; it's not 'complex' or 'difficult' in that way. No, it's mind expanding, authentically so. I liked The Great Lover so much I wrote the Introduction for it... As for John Elliot's Dying to Read, I'll state that there's just one kind of crime fiction I'm a fan of: the offbeat kind. I like 'Death and the Compass', the novels of Friedrich Dürrenmatt, Don't Point That Thing at Me by Kyril Bonfiglioli, etc. Elliot's novel can be joyously put in amongst those works. It's very offbeat, very funny and very original...

What can I say about my own book? Link Arms With Toads! is a collection designed to be a comprehensive 'sampler' of the totality of what I do, so it runs the full spectrum of all the genres I've attempted, and is therefore probably the best entry point for readers new to my work... Most of my other books are biased to specific genres, but this one is biased only to its own syncretist aesthetic. Get your laughing gear around that! It features 18 stories, the earliest dating from 1994 and the most recent from 2010. One of the stories, 'Hell Toupée', is one of my own personal favourites, perhaps in the top 10 of all the stories I've written. Another tale, 'Discrepancy', provides the ultimate "key" to all my other fiction and in fact justifies the entire projected cycle of 1000 interlinked stories that I plan to write.

Enough of that! Let's look quickly at D.F. Lewis' Nemonymous Night. Lewis is one of the most eccentric figures in the independent writing world. Most of the time I have no idea what he's talking about. His work is non-algorithmic and non-systematic. It should be nonsense and yet... it evokes a particular kind of atmosphere, a unique ambience, that no one else can do. It shouldn't work but it does! The simple truth of the matter is that after Lewis is dead he'll get a blue plaque on his house. Most other writers won't. That says a lot, I think... I can't really say anything about Joe Simpson Walkers' Jeanette because it hasn't been published yet. Indications are, however, that it's a transgressive novel along the lines of The Story of O. Let's wait and see! A writer by the name of Joe Pulver also has a book due out from Chômu at the end of 2011, but that doesn't have a cover yet. I may talk about it when it's published.

Chômu Press deserves to flourish. But before they can flourish they deserve to survive. Please consider buying at least one of the above books from them. It's a tough economic climate at the moment for everybody and publishers are especially vulnerable to the bite of the recession. Buy a Chômu book and help keep excellence alive. Thank you!


  1. You're right, they doing some highly interesting stuff... I got into them by the Mark Samuels book (some, uh, 'interesting' comments you make about him here!) and went on from there.

    Great cover art too.

  2. Well, I praised his work -- which is what he deserves. There's not much point pretending something isn't good if it clearly is.

    I can't stand critics and reviewers who make "tactical" comments instead of just sticking to the truth. I've been on the receiving end of that kind of bullshit plenty of times but don't see why I should propagate the custom.

  3. Indeed. I've never understood readers who buy books based on their judgements of writers as *people*. As if Hemmingway or someone would have been a nice person to chat with on Twitter.