Thursday, 28 July 2011

Interview with Peter Coleborn


Peter Coleborn is a biomedical scientist, photographer, writer, and the editor of Dark Horizons, the journal of the British Fantasy Society. Peter has published several books; and with his wife Jan, he has set up Renegade Writers, a group dedicated to honing the skills of writers that dare to be different.

  1. Tell us about your work for ‘Dark Horizons’, The British Fantasy Society, and other creative exploits with regards to the fantasy genre.
In case your readers aren’t aware, the British Fantasy Society began in 1971, a place where fans of fantasy and horror could share their passion. Over the years, the BFS grew to become an organisation that includes many professional writers, artists and editors in its ranks.  Check out www.britishfantasysociety.org for further information on its history and publications.

The first publication I produced for the Society, in 1984, was Masters of Fantasy 2: August Derleth – written by John Howard with illustrations by Allen Koszowski. Over the long years I also edited/produced the Newsletter (now Prism), Fantasy Bookshelf and Long Memories (a biography of Frank Belknap Long by Peter Cannon).

In 1987 I started a new chapbook for the BFS, Winter Chills (later just Chills), mostly because the Society’s journal, Dark Horizons, was going through a dry patch. It lasted ten years and ten issues. With issue 5 Simon MacCulloch became co-editor. The first issue included stories by Ramsey Campbell, R Chetwynd-Hayes and Brian Lumley. Over the next nine, contributors included Clive Barker, Neil Gaiman, Stephen Gallagher, Lisa Tuttle, Tia Travis, Michael Marshall Smith and Ian Watson and many others.

In 1997/8 the BFS needed new editors for Dark Horizons and so Mike Chinn, Phil Williams and I took over with issue 37. Unfortunately, real life finally got in the way of all the fun-filled activities and I had to step down after just two issues. And yet – miraculously – I still found time to take up various BFS committee posts, including Chair and FantasyCon organiser. I must have had a lot of energy in those days! Even so, I finally did stand down from the BFS and looked forward to a lazy ‘retirement’.

Then in 2007 I was asked to edit Dark Horizons again. So, Jan Edwards and I took up the reins with issue 50. But after issue 52 I was appointed to produce the FantasyCon Souvenir Book, which meant, once more, my leaving DH. After FantasyCon 2010 Jan and I were reappointed editors of Dark Horizons (which now had been combined with New Horizons and Prism into the BFS Journal). And that’s where I am today.

  1. Could you tell us how your interest in fantasy developed?
When I was a young kid I spent much of my free time outside in the fresh air, going for long walks and cycle rides, playing around on river banks, etc. And not an adult in sight – unlike the tethered childhood of today. At school, I became a pupil librarian and discovered adventure stories and tales of the Norse gods, HG Wells, John Wyndham, Edgar Allen Poe, Conan Doyle, the Pan Book of Horror and the Fontana Book of Ghost Stories. All great fun. But academic life interfered and mostly I read Oz and International Times

Later on, a friend gave me Michael Moorcock’s Behold the Man. I was hooked and read everything by that man – so blame Moorcock for reigniting my passion! From there I worked my way backwards: Robert E Howard, L Sprague de Camp, Fletcher Pratt, Jack Vance, Lord Dunsany, William Morris, Clark Aston Smith, CL Moore, HP Lovecraft, Mervyn Peake, and, of course, J. R. R. Tolkien – many discovered via Ballantine’s Adult Fantasy series edited by Lin Carter. And, naturally, I read vast amounts of fantasy and horror as it was newly published: Stephen King, Ramsey Campbell, Robert Holdstock, Tanith Lee, Lisa Tuttle…


  1. You are a biomedical scientist. Has this influenced your interest in fantasy, and if so, how?
Short answer: No. Slightly longer answer: I doubt it.

  1. What are the hallmarks of good British fantasy?
You mean modern fantasy? I’m not sure I know. I enjoy the work of Jonathan Carroll (an American living in Austria), Peter Atkins (a Brit living in the USA), Terence Green (a Canadian), Lisa Tuttle (an American living in Scotland), Dennis Etchison (an American living in the USA) and Robert Shearman (a Brit living in Britain). There are others! Is there a pattern?

  1. How is editing fantasy publications different from editing other genres?
I’ve no idea, since I’ve only edited fantasy and horror. Oh wait. I have attended writing workshops where we were supposed to comment, editorially, on colleagues’ work. This was difficult because I wasn’t interested in some of the genres they wrote in (and, probably more significantly, they were poorly written).


  1. What do you find most rewarding as an editor, and how do you overcome that which you find challenging?
Challenging? Maybe it’s not having enough time. And the number of poorly presented and poorly written submissions I see. Rewarding: three things. Firstly, discovering a gem amongst the submissions. Secondly, it’s helping a writer improve his/her work – especially enjoyable when they are receptive (you can always tell the serious writer by their willingness to accept advice). Thirdly, it’s seeing the finished publication, smartly designed, cleanly printed.

  1. What have you done to promote your work within the fantasy genre, and what advice would you give to those interested in a career in fantasy?
I like to think that my abilities speak for themselves – but that’s probably not quite enough and I ought to blow more trumpets. As for a new writer: keep on writing and submitting. Submit to the small presses and build up a CV. Have a website or blog (not just Facebook) to publicise your work. Agents and editors (I’m talking about professionals, here) do look at these things, to see if you have the ability and the commitment to be a writer. It is very difficult for the new writer to obtain an agent or secure a publishing deal, so every little, as they say, helps.

  1. How do you feel about the Internet, social networking, and the rise of independent publishing?
Facebook is a tremendous … time waster. It certainly has merits, and is a useful tool for keeping in contact and spreading information. But I hesitate to open accounts with other social networking sites: not enough hours in the day. And having watched the movie The Social Network, I almost left Facebook!

  1. Tell us a little about a good fantasy book you’ve read recently.
Cheating a bit here: it’s Rumours of the Marvellous by Peter Atkins. This collection of Pete’s stories highlights his fast-paced, hard-edged, yet surreal and weird fantasies. It will be launched at FantasyCon 2011 – and that’s why I’m cheating: RofM is co-published by The Alchemy Press and Airgedlámh Publications. And I am The Alchemy Press (you see, a toot on a trumpet here!). Details can be found here: http://alchemypress.blogspot.com

  1. Do you have a favourite author? Please explain why you like their work.
Nowadays my reading veers towards supernatural horror, surreal/suggestive fantasies, weird or quirky fiction – and mainly in the short form. I can no longer read fantasy epics spread over several volumes, horror that simply goes for the gross out and/or agonising angst. I enjoy many writers; I don’t have ‘favourites’, as such.

  1. The British Fantasy Awards are very prestigious. What advice would you give to new or independent authors hoping to have their work considered for the awards?
See my answer to question 7. Writers have to write well and, nowadays, self-promote. Or get their mates to do it on their behalf.

  1. What are you doing now?
Back in 1998, I started a small/independent press: The Alchemy Press. It’s been in hibernation for a while, but now I aim to revive it – I mentioned Rumours of the Marvellous earlier. Then I hope to start other projects – no details yet. Previous AP titles are The Paladin Mandates by Mike Chinn, Shadows of Light and Dark by Jo Fletcher and Where the Bodies are Buried by Kim Newman (both these two co-published by Airgedlámh), Swords Against the Millennium edited by Mike Chinn (co-published by Saladoth Productions) and Beneath the Ground edited by Joel Lane.

I don’t write a lot of fiction – I spend most of the time editing other people’s work for Dark Horizons and the like. I also take a lot of photos at FantasyCon and other conventions – some have appeared in Locus and other publications. Other activities? Yes, there are other things I get involved with…

  1. Where can we find you and your work?
I’m somewhat tardy at keeping my blogs up to date (not following my own advice), but these are a good place to start: http://petercoleborn.blogspot.com and http://piperatthegatesoffantasy.blogspot.com.

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