'Why would anyone want to read a sordid little story from a dirty Northern town?'
We would, because we don't want to react to expression with ignorance and prejudice.
That quote is from a London publisher dismissing Leeds and the work of a fellow Leeds writer out of hand. For us, it sums up, along with many other examples, a general ignorant London media atitude towards Leeds (the national BBC being the worst) that we want to fight. The Southern media village, its publishing industry, cultural overlords and political masters are something we hate about our world and something we will change.
The roots of Armley Press go back to a friendship between two Leeds lads with an urge to write. Surprisingly, Mick McCann was disorganised, skitting and skatting between writing comedy sketches, stand-up routines, dark plays and prose spanning genres, not finishing anything and certainly not planning to do so.
John Lake was more organised, he'd completed novels and signed to a major London agent who was hawking an early version of Hot Knife around mainstream publishers. In the meantime one of Mick's more literary-minded mates (he's got around three friends now) randomly chose something from a list of his stuff and nattered him into printing it out.
The tale that intrigued her was a comic scene, teenage memory from the late '70s of trying not to get picked (or beaten) up by 40 year-old blokes on the bus into Leeds because his feminine appearance challenged their sexuality. Here were the early pages of Coming Out as a Bowie Fan in Leeds, Yorkshire, England. It made her laugh, she loved it and wanted more. Fuelled by her energy, Mick wrote more to feed her enthusiasm.
Cut to Mick, John and mates partying in Mick's back garden on a
barmy Summer's evening.
'Ey John, 'ow's the agent gettin' on wi' y' book?'
'Really well, most of the publishers absolutely love it but...' *
It was the 'but' that really wound Mick up. He'd read John's book and absolutely loved it but no matter what the strengths or literary merits, John was a relative unknown and a risk the majors weren't willing to think about.
'How's that thing you've been writing going on?'
'Alright, almost finished it'
'When y' gonna start sending it out? Do you want me to pass a copy to mi agent?'
'Nah, if yours in't getting a bite mine has no chance...Fuck it, I'll publish it myself.'
Mick had a cause and something to rant about. He decided the mainstream London publishers followed a dull, risk-averse business model, laced with prejudice, 'so formulaic that it makes painting by numbers look like a finely honed craft.' Churning out established writers, wittering celebs with their lovely tales, dull cliche-infected sportspeople or tales of childhood abuse, grief porn and cookbooks. Ghost-written life stories of kids who hadn't even lived but had been randomly chosen for the TV - usually due to a quirk of genetics, their looks - hastily cut and pasted together before the public lost interest.
'Other than their dull, second-hand, rehashed adventures of football hooligans, the novels they do put out are so fucking middle-class. Any representations of the working-class or ordinary people are prejudiced, cardboard cliches... Cunts.'
Armley Press was born
Mick had got his mad up and did publish his first book, Coming Out as a Bowie Fan and Armley Press was born. Seeing similarities with the late 1970s independent music scene he labelled what he was doing Punk Publishing.
"Punk publishing for me sums up what Armley Press is all about - it's independent, DIY, championing unorthodox voices. A 'fuck it and get out and do it' attitude, as opposed to asking for someone else's permission."
Mick ignored what he saw as the dead business model of printing thousands of books and instead opted for the new Print On Demand with its control and lack of financial risk. John pointed out (via James Brown) that with Mick's online guerrilla marketing and offline blagging, Coming Out outsold five out of six of that years Man Booker Prize shortlist. Months after the competition, with all its attached, blanket publicity, Coming Out had still outsold four of the six books, one of them by over three times.
The second Armley Press publication was always going to be John Lake's steaming Hot Knife and so it was. An option for the film rights to Hot Knife have recently been sold and the process is well under way (though believe it when you see it).
After a further four books by Mick and John, Armley Press now wants to increase our output and we're interested in what you have to say. Be daring - any meaningful expression is laced with risk. In life you haven't to be scared of looking a twat, don't let the possibility that people might think you're a dick hold you back. We want you to push it, we want edge, originality, offence and discomfort. Fuck 'em, if you feel it, say it.
Let us Know
Amongst other things, we'll produce opinionated, campaigning films and blogs. If you have something to say or blog, especially something that pisses you off, let us know. We'll do our best to mess things up - things we think need messing with - and say things we think need saying. We're not for some pussy liberal consensus. Sometimes we might even get a little cross or giddy...don't be scared. ;-)
We don't want Armley Press to be just about book publishing, we want it to be about the communication of ideas and vibes in different formats. So if you have any ideas, get in touch. Armley Press is also interested in working with established writers.
We want to support things that increase diverse and unorthodox voices, put out authors that mainstream publishers may appreciate but wouldn't publish. Although we'll consider anything, we have a Leeds bias and want to nurture and be part of a cultural power base (countering London and Manchester) called Leeds. We also want to stand with anyone to fight the safe London cultural hegemony.
If you like what we're doing and have an uncontrollable urge to support us, you can donate here.
* 'I think that Lake writes with real verve...He's got such originality as a stylist...The dialogue is especially wonderful, and I think many publishers would sell their own grandmother to be able to write such natural, effortlessly believable lines. Unfortunately, it's not what we're looking for right now..'