Thursday, November 10, 2005


I am working my way toward a con report. In the meantime...

At World Fantasy, I was thrilled to be able to present the acceptance speeches for A Serious Life by David Mitchell, in the International Horror Guild Award's nonfiction category.

The book, which I've previously blogged about, is a history of Savoy Books--which means it is also a history of alternative culture through the 1970s and 1980s. It is for this reason that both the author and Michael Butterworth provided me with speeches to read should the book win.

Savoy, as I've said before, publish some of the edgiest and fascinating books on the planet--in some of the most attractive packages I've ever seen. A Serious Life is no exception, with an amazing layout and design by John Coulthart. You owe it to yourself to pick up a copy before they're gone.


A Serious Life by DM Mitchell
(Acceptance speech by Michael Butterworth on behalf of Savoy Books)

These last thirty years have been a rough tough ride. Were we sane we would have repeatedly questioned what we were doing and perhaps, on one of those occasions, given up. But fortunately, or—depending on your viewpoint— unfortunately, evidently we aren’t sane, as this book proves.

It is a record of those years of fantasy, surrealism, science fiction, rock’n’roll and horror madness all melded into one that no rational person would have attempted. I don’t know if it is “horror” in the strict sense of the word. That might possibly have been decided here tonight. The book Dave Mitchell has written is as much an account of his own thinking as it is about Savoy Books. He draws original insights about a certain kind of horror fantasy literature, set in the context of a very personal Celtic vision of how he sees the world. As much as it is about us, as publishers of the strange and wonderful, we felt it was deserving of print.
Although we’re regarded by some as outsiders and misunderstood, in terms of our enthusiasms we’ve always considered ourselves as part of the great fantasy tradition – Lovecraft, Lindsay, Hodgson, Moorcock, etc. In this sense we’re not outsiders looking in. We’re coming from inside the genre, and Dave has articulated this.

We didn’t think we would make it this far. We certainly didn’t think we would survive long enough to begin the process of becoming veterans, which is what this award may be signaling. Dave helped start this process, and, very fortunately, there have been other people around—our representative who is reading this acceptance speech, Cheryl Morgan, Douglas Winter, Paul de Fillipo, the judges here at this award ceremony and otherswho have been very public in their appreciation of this book, who have proved us wrong, and to whom on behalf of Savoy Books I extend a big and heartfelt thank you. It is a great honour to have our work acknowledged—it has not been easy, but it has definitely been worth it. Our insanity is still intact. We’d do it all over again.

A Serious Life by DM Mitchell
(Acceptance Speech by the author)

Firstly I’d like to thank everyone involved for giving us this award. I say ‘us’ because this book was in reality a joint project. Mike Butterworth and David Britton gave up so much of their time to giving interviews, providing insights, revising texts and correcting them whenever I missed the mark and giving encouragement. And of course John Coulthart’s design and artwork constituted a crucial element, dignifying the project and unifying it in a way I’d never conceived.

I am hoping that this book receiving the award will bring some attention to Savoy’s labours over the decades and help to get them taken seriously by a broader readership.

There is no need to justify the merits of horror fiction (nor by extension of SF or fantasy) to anybody here – it is a genre whose contributors more frequently than not transcend the marketplace limits of the genre. But for the sake of making a point I’ll pretend that you can split horror fiction into two camps defined more by the reactions and attitudes of its readership than by the work itself.

One kind – which constitutes the larger camp – serves ultimately to reassure us. It is a sort of roller-coaster ride. It reminds us of death and darkness but ultimately returns us to a place of safety. This kind of work is cathartic and purging. It returns to us parts of our primal experience lost to the daily routine of what we call life. But the ultimate message is one of reassurance.

The other, smaller, camp reminds us equally of death and darkness but offers us no reassuring message. Their work disturbs, shocks (in a profound rather than prurient way) and pushes us to think about things that we had taken for granted. Some of them disturb subtly by analogy and allegory – Robert Aickman, Thomas Ligotti – some of them tear into us mercilessly – William Burroughs, Thomas M Disch. They feel that after unleashing their horrors, to turn around and tell us that ‘everything is really ok’ would be somehow dishonest. Bad Faith.

Savoy have always been members of the latter camp. They would probably acknowledge that both types of fiction are of value, but would claim that the first sort is somewhat over-represented. They have instead elected themselves the champions of the neglected – those forgotten in the rush to the cash registers. William Hope Hodgson, Henry Treece, Jack Trevor Story, David Lindsay – and others.

More recently their books centred on the character Lord Horror have attracted them much adverse attention. I believe that this cycle of books and comics is one of the most important works of the twentieth/twenty-first century, alongside Naked Lunch, Ulysses, Miracle of the Rose and others. My hope is that intelligent readers and writers will, in time, approach these books objectively and see them for what they are – a milestone in the development of modern literature and thinking.
So thank you to the IHG and thank you to Savoy for having lived a very very serious life.


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