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Liquorice Fish Books: a future in an uncertain world?

Liquorice Fish Books logoThe result of the EU referendum has left many people frightened, bewildered, and deeply confused as to what is going to happen to them, their families and livelihoods, this country, and Europe as a whole. The Artuo Ui-meets-Père Ubu rise of Trump as US presidential candidate only mirrors the Absurdist figures of England's Farage and Johnson and creates an inescapable sense that the world, once again, has gone insane. In the face of these uncertainties and threats, can one, small imprint respond? Can, and should, Liquorice Fish Books, even attempt to continue, or should it bow to the scale of these changes, admit its irrelevance, and disappear?

Liquorice Fish Books was originally intended as a pamphlet-only imprint, championing writing that was overtly literary or experimental/innovative in some way. Very quickly, the scale of the projects it took on out-stripped the original restriction of size, and LF/B has subsequently published full-length works, such as Omar Sabbagh's dazzling short novel, Via Negativa, and Patricia Debney's forceful and moving collection of poetry, Baby. To the surprise of its editor, there seemed to be an audience for this kind of writing, a hunger amongst a small but nevertheless significant section of the reading population for work that did not fit easily into marketing categories, did not read like it was a pastiche of last month's best seller, and which granted its readers the courtesy of assuming they could actually think.

The imprint remains small: a tentative operation that has yet to fully define itself and which functions on a shoe string — LF/B receives no state support and funds itself through fees from competitions and sales, particularly the support of its authors, whose commitment both to their own work and the imprint is expressed not only verbally but in the shape of advance orders of their books. A precarious, marginal, provisional kind of existence. Given this, and the enormity of the changes that are facing Europe and the world beyond, is the thought that LF/B might make any sort of difference simply hubristic, or to put it another way and quote the Rev. Johnson in Blazing Saddles, is all this "just jerking off?"

To answer this myself is, surely, to court those accusations of hubris and jerking off but, until some other arbiter comes along, there seems no choice. And, likewise, there seems little choice but to continue: in a world where madness and unreason, sameness and timidity have come to dominate the mainstream modes of discourse, then, no matter how small and insignificant it is, a dissenting voice must be raised. Like Cinnamon Press itself, but in a more acute and feisty form, Liquorice Fish Books must offer alternatives and counters to the accepting, placid, compliant atmosphere of so much of the media we are presented with today: if Cinnamon promotes the considered, the crafted, the literate and the independent of mind, then LF/B must foster and encourage the individual and idiosyncratic, the intelligent and the non-conformist; it must form a bridge between disenfranchised reader and marginalised writer; it must and should offer writing that transcends boundaries, that would struggle to find a home, that refuses to be told what and how to write, that understands the past and tradition, understands the forms and conventions of writing up to this point, and is willing to move beyond them all towards forms and approaches that build, transcend, or refute that past and those conventions, but which, most of all, communicates, provokes, and stimulates — thought, debate, reflection. The very act of saying this, of attempting and — hopefully (!) — succeeding on whatever scale, is, it seems, more and more, an act of opposition to the dominant culture and political trends, both in England, Great Britain, and further afield. But, not only should this be a conscious act of refusal — to succumb, to dumb down, to play the game by rules imposed by those who accept the existence of no rules — it should, it must, also be an inclusive act: Liquorice Fish Books fails if it gives the impression that only an elite should be reading its output. One of the things I discovered very quickly with my first novel, Vitus Dreams, was that if people are given a chance to experience "experimental" writing they very often find delight in it: in its freshness, its unexpected twists, its lack of similarity to anything they've experienced before. Thinking is for everyone. This writing is for everyone. Disappearing up some "class-hole" that claims we should provide a certain form of writing for the "ordinary" or "real" person is insulting, belittling, vile and will do nothing but perpetuate stereotype and social and intellectual ghettoisation. Innovative writing must not only innovate and refuse to conform but also proselytise for the rights of everyone to think, to join a wider discourse on equal terms and not be browbeaten, patronised, or fed lies and be made to act out of fear instead of understanding.

Whether Liquorice Fish Books can continue to do this in the form it has now, whether it will become a series of photocopied, samizdat pamphlets, passed from hand to hand, only time will tell. But, while there's someone out there willing to listen and think, it will continue.

Adam Craig is the editor of Liquorice Fish Books, co-director of Cinnamon Press, and author of Vitus Dreams, Year W, and the forthcoming novel In Dreams, the Minotaur Appears Last.

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Thursday, 09 July 2020

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