Vulpes Libris

A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.

Self-publishing and the oral tradition: The birth of ‘The Longest Night’

the-longest-nightShortly before Christmas, we reviewed an anthology of horror stories – The Longest Night: Five Curious Tales.

Today we’re joined by one of the five contributing authors, Tom Fletcher, who explains why they decided to take the self-publishing route, and how they set about it …


THE LONGEST NIGHT: FIVE CURIOUS TALES is a book, and a gorgeous one, but it’s also more than that; it’s a project that we hope can play a part in reviving the tradition of gathering to swap scary stories during the year’s coldest and darkest months. Indeed, the project started out as something very personal and sociable – the idea of writers Jenn Ashworth and Richard Hirst to exchange ghost stories as their presents to each other this Christmas. Though the idea grew into a fully-fledged anthology featuring other contributors – Emma Jane Unsworth, Alison Moore, and myself – the D.I.Y spirit remained. I don’t remember us at any point explicitly deciding that this was to be self-published, as opposed to traditionally published, but then I don’t think the idea of approaching a traditional publisher with this book really crossed our minds at all. We knew that we wanted to publish it in time for people to buy it as a Christmas present, and we knew we wanted its release to coincide with a series of atmospheric readings, and we knew that we wanted it to be a collaborative effort between friends whose work would fit – so we just went ahead and did it. Traditional publishing wouldn’t have given us the speed, flexibility or control that we needed in order to realise the original intention of the project.

From the very beginning, we knew that we wanted THE LONGEST NIGHT to be a remarkable physical artefact – something tactile, something special, something limited edition, something that would make a great gift. To this end, we decided early on that the book would be illustrated, and we knew who we wanted to illustrate it – the artist Beth Ward, who had previously created stunning cover images for Nightjar Press chapbooks by Alison and myself, and had worked with Jenn on the Placing Morecambe Symposium for Lancaster University. We were all familiar with Beth’s work and the shiver-inducing blend of wonder and unease that it inspires, and were thrilled when she agreed to produce a cover image, an internal cover image, and a title page illustration for each story. Beth got to work on the cover images straight away, after we’d excitedly thrown a bunch of words at her (‘winter’, ‘ghosts’, ‘stories’, ‘M.R. James’, ‘night’, ‘ghost story nights’, etc). Then, later, she read early drafts of our stories and started sketching out ideas for the illustrations – not necessarily illustrating particular scenes, but working with elements and atmospheres from the stories to create images that are not only perfect accompaniments but powerful works of art in their own right.

We divided up admin responsibilities – scheduling, proofreading, design, finance, publicity, press, events, that kind of thing – between ourselves. I think that as the project progressed, we were all secretly bracing ourselves for the ruinous consequences of some massive oversight, but – thankfully – everything has gone smoothly. There have been no disasters, and no arguments, and the book is everything we wanted it to be (and very nearly sold out, which we didn’t expect), and the attendance (and feedback) at our ghost story evenings has been much better than we dared hope.

We contributors all owe our careers to traditional publishing, and have no desire to turn our backs on it, but our feeling is that self-publishing offers opportunities to make work that does not fit easily within the delineations of traditional publishing. There has been no resistance from the audiences or the media as a consequence of this being a self-publishing project, perhaps because it is a project that aims to bring back some of the warmth, friendliness and intimacy inherent in the idea of M.R. James gathering his friends together on a cold dark night, and trying to terrify them. THE LONGEST NIGHT is not self-publishing as an alternative to mainstream publishing, but self-publishing as a continuation of the oral tradition.

All things considered, the suggestion is that perhaps Jenn and Richard and the rest of us involved in THE LONGEST NIGHT are far from alone in feeling that Christmas is a time for coming together and sharing a curious tale or two – a time for the reassurance that comes from having somebody listen to your story and respond with one of their own. A season for company, and for trying to keep the darkness at bay.


Tom Fletcher writes novels and short stories. His first novel, ‘The Leaping’, was shortlisted for a British Fantasy Society ‘Best Novel’ award.

5 comments on “Self-publishing and the oral tradition: The birth of ‘The Longest Night’

  1. Kate
    December 27, 2013

    I LOVE behind the scenes stories of why stories get into print.

  2. Periphera
    December 27, 2013

    I read about the book here and ordered it as a present for my daughter. To my amazement, it arrived in the US in time for Christmas! I’m dying to read it, but will wait until she is finished. There are really six stories here, the publication being one of them…

  3. Tim
    December 29, 2013

    The Longest Night is a good gift not just for Christmas. It’s a good story. All the best!

  4. Pingback: It’s Not Behind You: Poor Souls’ Light | Vulpes Libris

  5. Pingback: Alt-pub on Vulpes Libris – a round-up. | Vulpes Libris

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  • (The header image is from Aesop's Fables, illustrated by Francis Barlow (1666), and appears courtesy of the Digital and Multimedia Center at the Michigan State University Libraries.)
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