I’m delighted to talk to Anthony Self (Executive Director, Head of Film) about the project in an EXCLUSIVE Kendall Reviews Interview.
KR: How did you come up with the idea for the Shallow Creek short story competition – as it is quite unlike any other short story competition out there?
Anthony Self: I’ve always been a fan of Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone and in particular the way Mr. Serling would introduce each episode in a dapper and gentlemanly fashion. We wanted to create an anthology quite akin to the dystopian EXIT EARTH collection we published last year, but with a horror vibe. I wanted to create a character that would pay homage to The Twilight Zone, but also make it unique in its own grounding – the STORGY team are also fans of ethereal settings, so we thought it would be a great idea to have a town to play in, where authors who entered the competition would be given a certain location – so taking a standard, typical horror trope set piece: the derelict hospital, the spooky asylum, the dark empty caverns of an abandoned mine – the creepy house in town that everyone avoids…we had them all, and told everyone that entered to go crazy. I liked the name Mallum Colt, and setting up this debonair gentleman with a refined taste for wine and the occult came about pretty naturally. He’s even got his own Twitter account (@ColtMallum) and in a way is a guide for the writers – if they have any questions they can fire them off to him, but don’t be surprised if you get a cantankerous reply.
KR: How long has STORGY been prepping Shallow Creek prior to the announcement?
AS: I believe we started with the initial idea in March of this year, and then we asked the talented artist HarlotVonCharlotte to illustrate a map and the ‘face’ of Mallum – then we set about creating interesting specific characters for the town – Tomek put together character profiles that we could then send out to writers once they’d entered (selected randomly) So I think we launched the competition around June. Any writer that would enter the competition would be given a ‘welcome pack,’ so to speak. They’d have a random character, location and item that they would have to include in their story. So one writer may have received the character of Gertrude Saggery, an aged herbalist that lives by Devil’s Gorge, and then given the location of the abandoned mines, and an integral item in their narrative could have been a snow globe, for example. We’ve had great feedback from writers that created macabre tales for the book – stating that it was very rewarding. With some anthologies, there’s a sense of loneliness; you write the story alone, submit it alone, celebrate the success with a small few, yet with this publication we hope our writers have common ground with everyone else involved, and I can feel the celebration stretching far and wide.
KR: I’ve been asked several times about there being a fee to take part. Could please you explain the reasoning behind this and to put any restless ghosts to bed.
AS: The simple fact is that the three main guys working at STORGY (Tomek, Ross and myself) all work 9-5 jobs. The online magazine is run by us in our spare time, and we want to get serious about the craft. We want to become independent publishers and we’re getting the wheels in motion for funding, but everything that is donated, paid for by competition entries, or merchandise from the store goes straight into the STORGY machine. Any profit that we make goes into the next competition, or the next campaign/anthology/book. We want to give the best product to our readers, and in order to do that the artists, developers, editors, typesetters, proofreaders all need to be paid. We don’t take a cut from the proceedings because we love what we do. That may sound like a clichéd martyrdom type ramble, and I understand that paying for a competition has its own risk/reward element, but to that I’d say if your story didn’t make it into the anthology then the competition would have been a great exercise to test the writer in ways they may not have been tested before. Ultimately, the competition hopefully would have given them the skills to prepare for any future contests with similar conditions. We did also open the competition for lo/no income writers so that they would have the chance to explore the town of Shallow Creek and enter.
KR: Shallow Creek by design is an open sandbox for writers (old and new) to play around in. Who can we thank at Storgy for setting the foundations for this town?
AS: I guess I came up with the original concept, but it’s been a joint effort with the rest of the STORGY team in the way that we’ve announced what’s happening, how it’s happening and refinement to that original idea. We all have our strengths and weaknesses, and that’s the great thing about working alongside Ross and Tomek – we can pick each other up when we’re flailing. Team work makes the dream work.
KR: The artwork for the Shallow Creek campaign has been superb! I for one can’t wait to have the physical copy of the book in my hands, it’s going to be gorgeous. Who do we credit as the artist(s)?
AS: HarlotVonCharlotte (Instagram: HarlotVonCharlotte) and Michael To (Instagram: TOArt0) have been the fantastic illustrators on this project – in particular Michael has been busy behind the curtains creating (x20) gorgeous ornamentation pieces before each story. It’ll be a real joy to see the physical copy once it goes to print. Amie Dearlove (Instagram: AmieDearloveTattoo) has also created another series of bespoke bookmarks for us, and will be available shortly in the STORGY shop!
KR: How much fun did you have in creating the world of Shallow Creek and the people who lived within its borders?
AS: Endless fun – if given half the chance we would have been able to create more content, but we didn’t want to overwhelm writers with the background material – like any good horror story it should disturb your thoughts and lurk in the background – that’s what we wanted to create with the town…we wanted to inspire people to actually think that this place could exist in the world. And now it does. A few characters seemed to have been favorites from our writers, so you’ll see a couple of them interweaving within each other’s stories. I think all the tales in the anthology are brilliant and I can’t wait for people to read them.
KR: Did you take any inspiration from the project from other sources?
AS: Primarily, The Twilight Zone, Twin Peaks, Tales of The Unexpected and Creepshow all inspired me with the concept design, but as a horror fan the concept of a town that primarily inhabits evil tendencies came from Stephen King. We started the process of Shallow Creek before Castle Rock was on TV, but I think it’s evolved/mutated into its own. Like Frankenstein’s monster, it really has become alive.
KR: Why offer this anthology now and what are you hopes/expectations for it?
AS: Originally, Shallow Creek was just going to be the competition and an e-book – due to the experimental nature of the stories and design, we may have had several different variations of one particular character, so it may not have worked. We were delighted when the stories started coming through however, as this initial trepidation was cast away by the immeasurable talent of the authors – the feedback we received was so powerful and humbling that we felt we would be doing the writers a disservice if we didn’t try to get this anthology on book shelves. As far as expectations go, I can’t really say – once your baby’s all grown up you need to let it fly the coop and see if it stands on its own two legs. If it sells fifty copies I’d be happy 😉
KR: Mallum Colt, the competitions guide is one creepy fellow, who has been such a delight to follow on social media have you had fun in bringing him to life? I heard his account even got blocked by people thinking he was just some creepy ass dude stalking them on social media – is that right?
AS: Yeah, he’s been extremely fun to play with. Originally, the idea was that Mallum would try to rile up people whilst also mentioning insights for a deeper understanding of the town. He has a pretty dark sense of humour, so obviously people are going to either enjoy that or dislike it – in any form of social media there’s going to be arguments or debates when someone says something profound, but to have people actually believing in Mallum as a real person is something quite extraordinary. I actually think he was quite mellow throughout the whole competition…but who knows, maybe if he returns things will get a lot darker…Mainly though, Mallum was an opportunity for writers to ask any questions they felt they needed for their story, whilst also setting up this individual character to be a mascot, if you will, for the town. I think the majority of people got what he was about, though.
KR: Did you find that any of the story contributions reflected Mallum Colts somewhat leftfield sense of humour?
AS: Oh yes, definitely. But I can’t tell you what stories. You’re going to have to read the anthology to find out…
KR: It’s interesting you specifically stated you’re weren’t necessarily looking for gore or violence. In fact you almost banish any form of genre definition in Mallum’s opening mission statement. So what’s surprised you most about the contributions in terms of genre?
AS: I think the best ghost stories are the ones where you don’t actually see the ghost. From the outset, we wanted Shallow Creek to unnerve the reader…to disturb your thoughts. We wanted to read stories that would unsettle and provoke emotions that we normally don’t get by reading from the page. I think we’ve been quite fortunate with the stories in the anthology. Personally, I think we’ve become so desensitized to things in our world that gore or violence need to be written in such a way that sneak up on you – and don’t get me wrong, there are stories in the anthology that I think will have people squirming, but hopefully we’ve got the balance just right of unnerving tension and the thought of violence erupting at any moment.
KR: Your social media campaign has been really comprehensive and many secrets about the town and townsfolk have been revealed via this way, with newspaper articles, flyers and videos etc. you even did a night with Mallum at Jack’s Tavern (Q&A on Twitter) – all of these have helped to build a fully immersive writing experience – has Shallow Creek lived up to what you hoped it would be?
AS: Even more so – the flyers, videos and everything involved was great fun, but was also a way of letting the writers and people’s imaginations run away with them. We hope we’ve created a town that people will believe actually exists, so in that respect the fact that we’ve received such praise and acknowledgment for this idea has blown us away in terms of expectations.
KR: When you kicked off the competition you received a lot of great press around engaging working class writers and those on low or no income – what was the driving force behind this decision?
AS: Well, we think everyone should have the opportunity to enter their story – regardless of their class and financial situation. Quite a few of the entrants had medical reasons for not being able to pay the entry fee, but Mallum was at hand to listen and respond. He’s a good egg, really.
KR: I understand that the competition was very competitive and that you received a great amount of authors submitting their work, including Adrian J Walker (The End of The World Running Club, The Last Dog on Earth) how difficult was it for you to come to your longlist, shortlist and winners?
AS: The double edged sword of reading so many stories for a competition is that you quickly pick up a sense of what stories grip you from page one, and what stories needed work. We had so many great story ideas, but the technical prowess required fine tuning, if not a complete overhaul. In the end, we have to decide on the merits of what the writer has sent through to us as a final piece – after all, it’s a competition and there’s a fine line between accepting something because it has a good idea, but it may not be the most technically brilliant story, as opposed to reading a story that is consistently great throughout and knowing that we may only need to touch up a few lines after we’ve accepted it. When we get to the long-list stage, this is usually where the arguments happen. For me, I need the story to be memorable so that days later I can look back on it and say, ‘oh yeah – that was really good. It’s kind of like tonguing the gap where a tooth used to be – it needs to stick with you for a while.
KR: All of the social media I have seen around the project from writers, authors and publishers has been very complimentary – how do you feel the project has been accepted by the writing community – it was brilliant seeing writers who didn’t get into the longlist still yearning to read the anthology…and the question on everybody’s lips is will you be returning to Shallow Creek in the future?
AS: It’s definitely opened the doors of communication between writers, I think – and this is an important part for the community of writers involved. I know it must suck for a writer to discover that their story didn’t make it through to the shortlist, but I also think that the reward will also be in seeing how that story may reflect upon another story in the anthology. The Kickstarter for getting Shallow Creek to print starts on Friday (2nd November) so that’s going to be a tumultuous time for us STORGY folk – I’d love to return to the Creek in the future, but we’d need an idea to set us apart from other competitions or anthologies out there in the literary wilderness at the moment.
KR: Your judge for the competition was Naomi Booth – how has she been as a judge and also what were your reasons for choosing her to judge this year’s Shallow Creek competition?
AS: Naomi’s been great – she had something personal to say to each of the shortlisted entries and has been phenomenal with supporting this project from the outset. The reason why we approached her is because we read ‘Sealed,’ and thought she’d be a good fit for what we were looking for. If you haven’t read it, I’d highly recommend it. Her novel was also short listed for the Not The Booker Prize, too.
So what now? Naomi Booth has judged the competition and Brian Wilson has emerged victorious with his short story ‘Distraction’ – everyone is chomping at the bit to know how they can get their hands on these tales of the macabre?
um, i appear to have won the @morestorgy #ShallowCreek short story competition. i can’t believe it. huge congratulations to all the other winners, shortlisters and finalists for contributing to this brilliant experience. & thank you to @NaomiBooth for judging!
— Brian Wilson (@bwilson4815) October 19, 2018
Now it’s time for the Kickstarter campaign to launch! We’re currently talking with a distributor so if we can get the funds together then it should all work out nicely and the physical copy will be ready for release early in the New Year…
KR: Can you shed more light on what it was about Brian Wilson’s ‘Distraction’ that made it stand out as the winning submission?
AS: Naomi commented that ‘there was a strong sense of building menace as the story progressed, and the first-person narrator became more and more unnerved. By the end, this story reminded (Naomi) of some of my favourite works of short fiction, in that it held back as much as it revealed. This is really well-paced writing, and is genuinely uncanny and memorable.’ I’d have to agree.
KR: So you will be running a Kickstarter, that is fabulous news – can we expect the same quality publication as we did with your last printed anthology Exit Earth in content and also illustrations?
AS: Of course! We’ve been really fortunate to work with some talented illustrators for past works, and Shallow Creek is no different. Michael To has really been busy with his ink and easel and has been using black and white imagery to create minimalist yet disturbing pictures that will haunt you well before you start reading any of the stories on offer.
KR: With Exit Earth you had some phenomenal stretch goal writers – including M.R. Carey, James Miller, Toby Litt, Courttia Newland and David James Poissant, do you have a similar roster lined up for Shallow Creek?
AS: We do have three fantastic authors lined up as stretch goals. We’ve literally been blown away with these authors agreeing to be stretch goal targets, and can’t wait to see their stories in print – but more on those guys when we hit our goals…so get pledging people, you don’t want to miss these stories.
KR: Who would enjoy Shallow Creek and when do you anticipate its release?
AS: Anyone who is a fan of speculative fiction and the macabre. We’re hoping for a late Jan/early Feb release date. Old Uncle Mallum will be keeping people posted.
KR: Thank you very much.
To help fund the Shallow Creek Anthology please visit the Kickstarter page www.kickstarter.com/ShallowCreek/
Please visit the Shallow Creek site via www.storgy.com/shallowcreek/
You can follow Mallum Colt on Twitter @ColtMallum
You can find out more about STORGY by visiting their website www.storgy.com
Follow STORGY on Twitter @morestorgy