Tartarus Press is an award-winning publisher of high-quality supernatural fiction. One half of the Tartarus team, Ray Russell, spoke to Caroline Callaghan about the press.
I started Tartarus in 1990 when I was an architecture student as a means of publishing writings by and about Arthur Machen, and a few other associated writers. (Even today we have several of his books in print.) I started working on Tartarus full-time after 1995, and for many years it was subsidised by our rather more commercial Guide to First Edition Prices. My partner, Rosalie Parker, had been helping me out and in 1998 she gave up her job in archeology to work with me on Tartarus. It was then that we got into our stride…
What type of horror does Tartarus publish?
We’ve always thought of Tartarus as publishing ‘supernatural fiction’ rather than ‘horror’, although with authors like Robert Aickman we are certainly venturing into ‘psychological horror’. We prefer the unnerving and uncanny to visceral horror, although by reprinting some classic authors like de Maupassant we do occasionally move into that territory.
What attracted you to this genre specifically?
Arthur Machen, whose writings are more often mystical than horrific.
Having reprinted Machen it seemed only right to explore some of his contemporaries in the field. Machen, of course, started writing in the Victorian era, but continued to work well into the twentieth century. With Robert Louis Stevenson, Hugh Walpole, Walter de la Mare, Oliver Onions, L.P. Hartley, Sarban and other contributors there is a great lineage of twentieth-century British supernatural fiction that culminates in Robert Aickman, whose short stories we are in the process of reissuing in their original collections.
But we haven’t neglected the precursors to this tradition, however, or authors from outside England and the UK. It has been important for us to publish from the wider European tradition, E.T.A. Hoffman, Guy de Maupassant, Jean Lorrain, Marcel Schwob and Theophile Gautier, and from the US, Ralph Adams Cram, Lafcadio Hearn, Edna W. Underwood, Edith Wharton, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Washington Irving.
It is a tradition that continues, and we’re very proud to have published important books by a selection of contemporary international authors. From England we’ve published Mark Valentine, Mark Samuels, Quentin S. Crisp, Reggie Oliver, Tim Lees, and Michael Reynier. We have also published Rhys Hughes (Wales), Simon Strantzas (Canada), Angela Slatter (Australia), Jason A. Wyckoff (USA), and Eric Stener Carlson (USA).
Who do you think is the most influential horror writer of all time, and why?
We’re really not sure that there’s one particular author who deserves that accolade, as all great writers have to acknowledge the influence of those who came before them. I suppose, though, that Edgar Allan Poe stands at the head of the tradition.
We don’t like to talk about upcoming releases too far in advance, because there are inevitable delays in all publications, and we like to set a publication date and know that we can stick to it! Suffice to say that this year there will be, amongst others, more Aickman volumes, and a fantastic (in both senses of the word!) new novel from a contemporary Australian writer.
Which authors would you most like to see write for you?
Most of the authors we’ve already published!
Are you currently open for submissions?
Yes, albeit with the important caveat that authors really do need to familiarise themselves with our submission guidelines and with what we have published previously before they submit anything. We publish only two or three contemporary authors each year. Our World Fantasy Award winning anthology, Strange Tales, is on hold at the moment, so we’re not open to submissions of individual stories. Our journal dedicated to fantasy, supernatural and decadent fiction, Wormwood, edited by Mark Valentine, is now in its 18th issue, and accepts non-fiction articles only. Full details are on the Tartarus Press website.
Pragmatism. We would like to make great writing as widely available as possible, and that means offering it to people who can’t necessarily afford the deluxe, limited edition hardbacks we’re best known for, or who find it more convenient to read electronic files.
Do you feel e-books threaten or complement the print industry?
Where do you see Tartarus Press going in the future?
We thoroughly enjoy what we do, and hope to continue doing it for a lot longer, offering great classic and contemporary fiction. If there are ways of reaching a wider market we’re all for that.
Finally, what are you most proud of from your publishing career so far, and why?
Although it is very satisfying to put back into print authors like Machen and Sarban, I’m sure that, given time, other presses would have discovered them and made their work available. Quality will always come through. So it is, perhaps, our contemporary fiction that gives us the most satisfaction. Apart from anything else, it is much more enjoyable dealing with living authors!
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