Interview with Michelle Tudor, Co-Founder and Editor
How did Platypus Press start?
After I finished my degree, Peter (Barnfather) and I sat down and discussed what we could or should do next. We knew we wanted to make something tangible, something involving the writing community, but we didn’t have a clue how to go about it. So we improvised. We published our own work as an experiment, a means to learn the process.
We pretty much decided to launch the press and our journal WILDNESS at the same time. We like being stimulated, so running both projects simultaneously has enabled us to move forward more rapidly, with one feeding into the other and vice-versa. It’s all one big process and that’s exactly how we like it.
Tell us a bit about Platypus Press. What are your influences, your aesthetic, your mission?
As neither of us have what you’d call traditional writing backgrounds—we’ve never worked for other journals/presses, we haven’t published extensively, or been involved with the local writing community or events—we’re a bit of an odd-fit. It’s only within the last few months that we’ve started to move towards those circles, though we still feel like outliers. We pretty much set up shop from nothing, so it’s pretty amazing what’s happened in just over a year. That’s a long way of saying that our influences are those we’ve discovered along the way.
I think Poets & Writers summed our aesthetic up perfectly when they described WILDNESS as a journal “that embraces the mysteries of the self and the outside world.” Our tastes run along two parallel paths: the internal and external savagery and peace of the lived life. We love to experience the calm of a studied life, but also the rawness and pain of a truth expressed.
Another thing we love is that the distinction between the ephemeralness of digital works (online journals, digital chapbooks) and more traditionally published work (paperbacks, periodicals, chapbooks) is blurring. This can only be a good thing, as it enables increased expression, as well as the ability to be more ‘of the moment.’ That’s why we embrace and celebrate both digital and physical works.
As far as missions go, as I said in our opening issue, and it applies as much to the press as the journal, “really, we want to name this something only we understand.” Because we cannot express easily what it is we’re looking for, we’ll know it when we read it. As an example, last year we were reading a manuscript and at the exact same moment turned to each other and said we have to release this. We just know. Which means, unfortunately, we’re terrible at communicating what it is we are about.
Can you give us a preview of what’s current and/or forthcoming from your catalog, as well as what you’re hoping to publish in the future?
In December we curated a 24-day mini-digital-chapbook project called 2412. It was a fairly ambitious idea, but we think it worked out really well and sits in unison with our digital/physical ideals. We released our latest poetry collection, Plainspeak, WY (by Joanna Doxey) in November. It’s fundamentally a series of interconnected poetic remnants strewn across the page; loosely segmented it recounts desolation and wistfulness against the backdrop of environmental decay.
Next up is jayy dodd’s Mannish Tongues, a collection we’re extremely happy to be releasing. jayy has a gift for veering poetry between prayer and rumination, their words eschew clarification. As Robert Lashley puts it, “[jayy’s] comfortable with common speech in uncommon language, and then formal as a queen’s versifier.”
Later in the year we’ll be releasing an anthology of L.G. Corey’s work. He’s been writing for over seventy years and we’ve had the privilege of releasing three books with him over the last year or so. This collection is a means to provide a more incisive, definitive view of his oeuvre. After that we’ll be releasing the book we mentioned previously—our ‘we must publish this’ moment—a memoir that we cannot wait to get into people’s hands.
In November we are putting together a poetry anthology, A Portrait in Blues, which is currently open to submissions. Then, who knows, we can’t wait to find out though.
We used to ask, “What about small/independent press publishing is particularly exciting to you right now?” We’re still interested in the answer to that, but we’re even more interested to know what you think needs to change.
There are lots of places pushing the envelope of change, but there is still more work that needs to be done. Saying that, it is exciting to see so much work being published by previously excluded voices. We just want to help, to be a small part that ensures this growth continues.
How do you cope? There’s been a lot of conversation lately about charging reading fees, printing costs, rising book costs, who should pay for what, etc. Do you have any opinions on this, and would you be willing to share any insights about the numbers at Platypus Press?
As many have said before, we won’t ever charge reading fees for submissions, for either the press or WILDNESS. Anything we can do to remove restrictions and help people submit more easily, we’re fully behind.
With regards to financially, we cope. We decided from the beginning to pay our authors 50% royalties, as we felt that publishing should be seen as a partnership between the author and press. We’re also lucky in the fact that we’ve not had to invest too heavily—our books, whilst not selling in vast quantities, are doing well enough to enable us to continue publishing.
We believe strongly that an author should not have to pay anything to be published. They are, after all, creating the work. They should be nurtured and given adequate help to realise their writing. We’re just here to facilitate that process.
Though you’re located in England, you publish a number of writers from other English-speaking countries. Did you set out with that goal in mind? What is it like working with authors and audiences across oceans?
I think so, at least in the sense that we always knew we weren’t going to restrict our releases to just UK-based writers. There’s just too much good writing happening elsewhere. If it ever becomes possible, we’d also be interested in translated work. Really, anything that exposes us, and in turn the readers, to great writing, we’re interested in pursuing.
So far, the geographical distance hasn’t caused us any issues with regards to correspondence with the authors—though they’re likely in a better position to answer that question. The way we work, and so far, the way the authors work, has, if anything, been suited to email back-and-forths.
With regards to the more physical elements of interaction with the authors; readings, launches, etc. I’d agree this is something that does complicate things. Though, several of the authors have arranged events locally and, so far as we can tell, these went well and weren’t lacking through our absence. We’ll do anything to help or assist with these events (promotional materials, books, shout-outs, etc.) and so far I think we’ve fostered a good understanding with the authors in regards to this. And, as we grow, who knows, we’d love to be able to get out to AWP and the like and engage more closely with them.
One area we have had to consider carefully is the obvious difference in shipping prices from the UK vs domestically in the US. Without question our biggest market is the US, and so we decided early on to lower the unit cost of the books to ensure the total cost of the book + shipping was equivalent to other US-based publishing houses. I think we’ve achieved this, and hopefully circumvented any grievances or misgivings over our intentions.
In the sense of working with an international audience, I think it’s been great. As mentioned earlier, I feel we’ve been embraced warmly, both as a press and for the journal.