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Meet the Publisher: Duncan Felton, Grapple Publishing

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When and how were you established?

After many years of semi-organised pondering and planning, Grapple Publishing started late in 2013, making itself known to the world with a call-out for submissions to The Grapple Annual No. 1. At that point it was just me sitting at my computer with some ideas, some savings and a lot of hope. I foolishly thought I’d be able to handle every aspect of publishing, including design. I was mostly worried that people wouldn’t be interested. Thankfully, Finbah Neill came along and showed that he could do infinitely better design work than me, and some amazing contributors got on board, with a solid portion of magnificent work just for us, for this unknown calendar-based anthology. To put it ridiculously simply (it took over a year), we then made a book! We hope to have many similar achievements in the years to come.

What were your aims when you first started?

I think the first initial aim was just to make an anthology. That seemed a lofty enough goal. Beyond that, although things continue to take longer than I planned, the other initial aims remain true. We want to make an Annual every year, more or less. Each piece in The Grapple Annual relates to a date in some way. With around 40 dates covered in each Annual so far, we aim/hope to make around 10 Annuals over the next 10 years, covering all 366 days on the calendar.

But we always aimed to make more than the Annual, once we found our feet. Starting in 2016, we aim to also be seeking or working on one other book at a time, alongside each Annual. We don’t know what even the first of these books will be (watch out for that call-out), and each one will probably take more than a year, but we’re excited for that next step.

Beyond that, there are lots of aims still there from the start. Keep breaking even (at least). Keep seeking the best possible platform and payment for our contributors. Cultivate a community of Grapplers (even if it’s just 366 dedicated readers). Have fun experimenting and challenging ourselves (and others). Make Grapple do good things for the world, however small and whatever they may be. And generally, keep grappling with publishing, try to make books that hook and hold, and see where it all takes us.

Can you tell us a little bit about the culture of your publishing house?

For the time being, we can only envisage publishing two books a year max, so slow and steady is definitely part of our culture. Both Fin and I work full-time at the moment, so Grapple Publishing has to fit in the gaps between our day jobs and the rest of life. He lives in Newcastle, I live in Canberra. At the moment, there’s also Rachael Nielsen, Editorial Assistant extraordinaire, who lives in Canberra, so I can meet up more often with her to discuss commas, clichés and existential crises. Other than that, a lot of Grapple’s day-to-day culture is mediated by technology, except for the few times a year we can meet up. We’re not seeing each other in an office every day, but I know Grapple’s always on my mind. This means we’re powered by a near-constant enthusiasm, along with a spirit of fun and a general passion for what we read, think about, edit, design and publish. Maybe our culture is still coalescing. It all works in the end though. But I love meeting our contributors, and need to find more ways to get us all together, to build that community of Grapplers, and our culture. Still, there’s always the launches!

What advice would you have for writers looking to get published and for potential publishers looking to get into the industry?

For writers, I think the main thing is to build a good habit and to keep writing in as daily a fashion as possible. Challenge yourself, and read a lot too. Meanwhile, keep an eye out for opportunities for your development and for publication. When the time arises for potential publication for what you’ve created, or for you to start targeting a publisher, always follow any guidelines closely, get to know a publication by buying and reading what they publish and, if they’re somewhere you’re keen on, submit! Maybe even send a tight but friendly pitch/enquiry before the actual submission. Be civil and patient. Know that if your work is worth publishing, then it’s worth fair payment, especially if the publisher has money. And persevere. I think those are the essential basic basics?

For potential publishers, all I can say is get into it because you can’t resist it, plan to be in it for the long haul, and don’t expect to make any money any time soon. Look at the other benefits. But still, plan well and try to find a unique way of doings things or a niche you’re interested in that isn’t being given the attention you think it deserves. Find a way to pay your contributors. Unless you really know how to do everything, find people to help you. A modest team will probably lead to better ideas and better work and more fun. Finally, plan to publish the stuff you believe in and genuinely want the world to read. That’s what keep things going in this mad business.

What are you reading at the moment?

I started out the year with good intentions of only reading one book at a time, but now I have several unfinished to wrap up before trying it all again next year. Current bedtime reading is Haruki Murakami’s latest, Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, which is decent, but I’m feeling a bubbling Murakami backlash within me.

At lunchtimes I’m savouring the last of Another Roadside Attraction by Tom Robbins, because it’s just so fun and full of wild ideas and playful language, like most of his that I’ve read.

I’ve started dipping into fellow MUBA shortlister Justin Heazlewood’s Funemployed, and I’m already inspired by every other page. It’s also surprisingly touching and, again, wonderfully wordplayful.

Finally, I’m catching up on some old half-read issues of The Lifted Brow and bit-by-bit enjoying the wonderful Knack, by Canberra’s own rip publishing. It’s the first book I’ve both read and listened to off a USB, and it feels retro-futuristic and it’s flippin’ excellent.

What was the last great reading, writing, publishing event you went to?

Well, there was the evening of the MUBAs at the Wheeler Centre, which had a wonderful vibe and is kind of unbeatable! Besides that, I recently went along to a panel called ‘The Art of Memoir’ at Ainslie and Gorman Arts Centre, organised by the ACT Writers Centre. I think the reason it was so great was the diverse, Canberran, all-women panel, reading their work and discussing all things memoir in great depth. It’s not a genre I’ve normally focused on, but it got me mega-intrigued.

What have been some projects you’ve really enjoyed working on?

I just really love editing, so working on The Grapple Annual No. 1 has to be near the top of my list now that it’s done. That’s not to mention the response and the MUBA it received! Besides that, working with a team of producers for the inaugural Noted Festival was great fun and thoroughly satisfying, albeit overwhelming at times. And just about everything I’ve done with Scissors Paper Pen has been amazing, from making zines to coordinating evenings, and the times where I’ve seen these projects have a tangible benefit for young writers made it worth it 1000 times.

What are you currently working on?

The Grapple Annual No. 2! And an enewsletter. And plans for 2016 and beyond.

What is the next release you have planned? When is it coming out? How can I get a copy of it?

Again, that’d be The Grapple Annual No. 2. I can tell you now, it’s full of good stuff, including heaps of excellent comics and visual art, not to mention all the other amazing stories and poems and other date-based wonders.

A switch to full-time work and other life matters means it has happened slower than I’d hoped, so it won’t be out in 2015, but we should have it out before Chinese New Year. Early 2016! Still Annual, I swear! We hope to have orders via our website soon, and we’ll get it out to some good indie bookshops ASAP also.

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