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Interview with Michael Curran, Founder
How did Tangerine Press start?
Well, to go way back, it all began with a book mail order company I ran between 1996 and 98. This was called Tangerine Books, which I ran from a small office on an industrial estate in Battersea, south London. I ended up living there too. I championed small press publications, primarily from the USA. It was my full-time occupation, though I needed a second job to get by—cleaning aeroplanes at Heathrow, telephone surveys in Elephant & Castle, kitchen porter in seedy west London hotels. Tangerine Books did not work out so in the summer of 1998 I threw 500 unused catalogues and a sluggish pc into a skip and entered the construction industry.
The years rolled by and the itch was still there. I wanted to go further this time and actually start publishing writers I admired, make the press stand out from the others by presenting the books in the best way possible. And what was the best way? Bind the books myself. Tangerine Press was founded in 2006. For the first seven years I was binding books in the evenings and at weekends. I went full-time with the press in 2013 after a work-related injury meant I had to knock carpentry on the head.
Tell us a bit about Tangerine Press. What are your influences, your aesthetic, your mission?
American poet William Wantling (1933-74) was the initial inspiration to start publishing. I am eternally grateful to a man I shall never meet. He was an ex-Marine, ex-junkie who spent 5 years in San Quentin. On his release in 1963 he took a BA and MA in English and was a university lecturer when he died of heart failure in 1974, at the age of forty. I’m in touch with his widow and been to visit her a couple of times. Wantling’s best poems are on a par with—and in my opinion often superior to—his contemporary Charles Bukowski, with whom he had an unusual and ultimately destructive friendship.
Other influences come from the visionary publishers of the 1960s and 70s: Jon and Lou Webb, Barney Rosset, Peter Owen, John Calder, John Martin, Marion Boyars, Morris Cox, Len Fulton, David Haselwood, Maurice Girodias. That gang did it all.
Tangerine’s mission is very simple: to search out authentic voices and publish them, be they dead or alive, new or lost and forgotten. Talent is everywhere it seems, there’s no shortage of that. But original work is the key, a certain way of seeing things. We’re not after book-shaped mirrors.
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?
the late season, a debut collection of short stories by Canadian author Stephen Hines, came out in September. It’s available as a signed limited edition with original artwork, as well as the more readily available paperbacks. The stories have a unique ambience and I really believe Mr Hines is Canada’s most overlooked writer. Those of us active in the indie press scene—readers, writers and publishers—have been aware of this for a good few years.
Mick Guffan’s Inner London Buddha, a definitive poetry collection, was released last month. Mr Guffan (1953-2006) was born in An Sciobairín, Cork, Ireland, the youngest of five brothers. He came to England at the age of 18, working variously as a taxi driver, airplane cleaner and finally as a carpenter. He died at St. George’s Hospital, Tooting, London on 14th June 2006, his body set about by nervous exhaustion following a gunshot wound. A fascinating character and a great talent.
There are many more titles I’d love to tell you about, but we’re still negotiating rights, finding owners of copyright, etc. Watch this space!
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.
The founder of a well known press talked recently about the current wave of indie publishing as a ‘silver age’ and I think he’s right. It certainly feels like the start of something. There are many indie publishers out there, perhaps too many. All competing for the same readers, essentially. The golden age is yet to come. Let’s look again in 5 or 10 years’ time and see who’s around.
There’s been much talk about the Net Book Agreement and how we should be lamenting its demise, in terms of publishers supporting more literary works that tend to be ‘slow sellers.’ Yes, in hindsight it wasn’t the best move, but the NBA won’t be coming back. Instead, we need to look elsewhere, in particular Amazon’s dominance in bookselling and how to tackle it as a matter of priority. It’s the job of all of us: publishers, retailers and readers, to dismantle their sphere of influence.
But this is all part of publishing! And that’s what makes it all the more interesting and exciting.
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 Tangerine Press?
Publishing can be very expensive and the margins for publishers, writers, indie bookshops are very tight. There is a large initial outlay with a first run and it’s all a gamble, especially if it’s a new writer. I think one of the great thrills of publishing is taking a chance on a writer and doing whatever you can to grab the prospective readers’ attention.
I don’t think you should charge reading fees—that’s part of the job of publishing and whilst it is incredibly time consuming, it’s a little rich to ask for payment from writers, as that’s where it all starts.
If I told you how much each Tangerine publication costs—I’m talking not just paperbacks but the limited editions as well – you’d think I was crazy.