Here is a spot of small press publishing history, which might be of vague interest to a few readers.
‘Twas long, long ago, in the autumn of 1986 that my pal Max Décharné and I conceived the idea of publishing an anthology of our various drivellings. A decade earlier, Max had been a great enthusiast of punk and the DIY approach to making records – he realised his ambition of releasing a single while still in his teens. Why not do the same with the printed word? Neither of us, I think, was particularly aware of the thriving small press scene then extant, but we were only too conscious that I had a job in an office with a big humming photocopier to which I had access at weekends. We assembled fifty pages each of material, typed it out on an electronic typewriter, worked out the pagination by making a little dummy booklet, and voila!, we had an anthology. All we needed now was a title and a name for our imprint. Max had a job at the time which he absolutely loathed, and entertained murderous fantasies about his boss. Thus Stab Your Employer popped into his head without too much struggle. In the course of a phone call during which we discussed what to call ourselves, I cast my eyes along the bookshelf and spotted Malice Aforethought by Francis Iles. Hence the name of the Press was born. In retrospect, this does not seem a fortuitous choice, too redolent of an imprint dedicated to crime fiction. But we were young and stupid and impulsive, I suppose.
One hefty bout of illegal weekend photocopying later, we had fifty fat but spineless one-hundred-page booklets for sale. Ah yes, sales. Who on earth we imagined might buy this work of matchless genius, other than our friends and acquaintances, I cannot recall. Some copies we sent out on spec to persons we admired, to be met, of course, with resounding indifference – except in one case. Max had developed a great liking for the works issued by Atlas Press, and popped a copy of Stab Your Employer in the post to them. I do not think we understood at the time that Atlas was a shoestring operation with resources only marginally better than our own. As far as I know, what happened next was that Alasdair Brotchie of Atlas passed the booklet on to his friend, the artist Jane Colling, and Jane in turn brought it to the attention of her friend Chris Cutler, the drummer, one-time member of Henry Cow, and onlie begetter of Recommended Records. Chris was then in the early years of producing the ReR Quarterly, a printed-magazine-with-LP. Something I had written must have appealed to him, for I was then asked to contribute a piece for the Quarterly. Chris did not ask me himself, but delegated the request to a young man acting as a sort of typist/factotum for Recommended, Ed Baxter – who is today the benevolent dictator at the head of Resonance104.4FM. Thus were connections made that in some cases last to this day.
Max and I rattled off a second anthology, Smooching With Istvan, early in 1987. (It is in this booklet that “Hooting Yard” made its very first appearance, as recalled here.) Inspired by the sheer ease of producing works – though we did start paying for photocopying – we bashed out lots of pamphlets over the next couple of years. (There is a complete list of my own stuff here.) At the same time, Ed Baxter was tirelessly bringing into being the Small Press Group, along with allies such as Atlas and, from an older generation, the legendary John Nicholson. Max and I became keen and, I hope, useful members of the group, which arranged book fairs and published three, or possibly four, paperback Small Press Yearbooks. These directories, which included how-to-do-it guides and much else, stand as a fascinating record of activity in the last years before Het Internet changed the landscape.
Though Max and I never actually collaborated again – and, in truth, both Stab Your Employer and Smooching With Istvan simply jammed our individual pieces between the same covers – we issued our own works and expanded the press to publish others. These included Ginseng Fuchsia Lefleur, a Small Press Group friend from Canada, whose North American Freestyle Playpen Zen is possibly the rarest of all Malice Aforethought Press pamphlets – consider yourself very fortunate if you own a copy. I also fell in with Ellis Sharp, latterly of Zoilus Press and a great favourite of the Grauniad’s Nicholas Lezard. Ellis lived near me and my ex-wife used to cut his hair. She introduced us, and I think we were both surprised that we liked each other’s work. General Jaruzelski’s Sunglasses was the first Ellis Sharp work we published – the first piece credited to “Ellis Sharp” ever – and several more followed. It is as rare, I suspect, as Ms Lefleur’s outpouring. Bear in mind that many of these pamphlets came in editions of twenty-five, or even fewer. (I think one of my own pamphlets was limited to a dozen copies.)
The final Malice Aforethought Press publications were “proper” paperbacks – my own Twitching And Shattered, Max’s Beat Your Relatives To A Bloody Pulp and The Prisoner Of Brenda, and a couple of one-offs. Probably the finest thing we ever published was a selection of work by the great John Bently of Liver And Lights, another Small Press Group hero. The last book, which Max alone brought into being, was a collection by a member of the beat combo Fortran Five. My memory of this last is hazy, because I was whirling ever more rapidly towards the Wilderness Years. By the time I emerged from them, Het Internet had taken over the world, which was now, at last, ready for the true emergence of Hooting Yard.
I sometimes wonder what might have happened – or not happened – had Max not sent a copy of Stab Your Employer to Atlas.