Vocal, Urgent, Distinct and Slanted Views: An Interview with Unthank Books' Ashley Stokes


great weather for MEDIA is excited to join forces with Unthank Books for an evening of scintillating, super-special poets and writers at the Norwich Arts Centre, England, on Tuesday January 27th 2015. As an introduction to the event, our editor Jane Ormerod catches up with Unthank's Ashley Stokes.



JO: Welcome to great weather for MEDIA, Ashley. What is the background to Unthank Books? How and when did the company form?

AS: Unthank Books was founded by Robin Jones in 2010, initially to publish a few books on his agency list that he believed in but couldn’t place. These included my novel Touching the Starfish and David Madden's completed Mystery of Edwin Drood. Quite soon I became more involved, mainly to edit a short story series, Unthology. We soon opened up to general submissions. The emphasis has always been on finding distinct new voices and overlooked writers. One definition of the 'unthank’ is ‘unclaimed land', which is the place that most of our writers are coming from, be they KS Silkwood, Nick Sweeney, Sarah Dobbs, or Lander Hawes.

JO: As a fiction writer yourself, what insights do you bring to the editorial table?

AS: As well as writing fiction, I've been teaching all sorts of creative writing for seventeen years and have critiqued over nine hundred books for The Literary Consultancy, as well as a bit of reviewing and editing in that time. I've been exposed to a very wide range of unpublished writing, some great, some not so great, and can work out quickly what a writer does well and not so well. I suppose from writing in particular I've learned how to shape and hone a story and set an editorial agenda, if we’re talking about work in progress or a story that we like which isn’t quite realized yet.


JO: How many books has Unthank Books published and what is coming up in 2015?

AS: Unthank has published seventeen books so far: new novels, anthologies, Unthologies, and three of the Writers in Conversation series. This year could prove to be busy. We have Unthology 6 coming out in January, with 7 and 8 appearing later in the year. In February we're publishing Words and Women: Two. We're also very excited to be publishing a new novel by David Rose, Meridian, in April, which will be our first hardback book. We also have a short story collection from Chrissie Gittins in the autumn (a flavour of which you can sample in Unthology 6), and some reissues of some of our backlist. It's going to be a great year, I think.

JO: Unthology showcases fiction and nonfiction writers from across the world and is taken from open submission. What do you look for in a submission? How important is the cover letter?

AS: Again, I think this is mostly instinct. We're eclectic, esp with Unthology, but we're looking for fiction that somehow engages from the first few lines, is immediately vocal, urgent and unusual in concept. Once you start to read a submissions pile on a regular basis you get a real feel for the commonplace material, the things that everyone is writing about, and you start to filter those ones out until you have a spread of work that could be Unthology. The covering letter is slightly less important than the work, though not sending a covering note isn't great. We like to know who you are, what else you've published, and why you've chosen Unthology. It goes without saying that zany, arrogant or cranky introductions are not appreciated.

JO: What are the biggest mistakes writers make when submitting?

AS: Whether someone is submitting short fiction for Unthology or a novel for Unthank, he or she should be aware that we are a very small outfit who publish only a few books a year. As such, what we do publish does need to fit our remit. Submitting writers ought to show some knowledge of our list and what we like. In the novels we've published the writers display a distinct and slanted view on a world, be that world one of celebrity, as in Captivity by Lander Hawes, travel, in Nick Sweeney’s Laikonik Express, sex and relationships in Sarah Dobbs' Killing Daniel, or the art world in KS Silkwood's King of the Jungle. We often receive submissions from people who have simply worked their way down a list of presses until they've reached "U". What they're proposing simply isn't an Unthank book, something that they could have been predicted after a glance at our website. Also, I've noticed recently quite a lot of writers getting in touch, saying "I've just self-published my great book. No one has bought it but they will if you publish it." I don’t really think it works like this, to be honest.

JO: Unthank Books and great weather for MEDIA join forces on Tuesday January 27th at a reading at the Norwich Arts Centre. What can the audience look forward to? 

AS: We’re talking here about a veritable cavalcade of witty and stylish writers to complement great weather's high-octane poets, plus the launch of Unthology 6 and a general party to celebrate five years of Unthank. We will raise many glasses to the lost.

JO: Finally, what's next for Ashley Stokes?

AS: I am at the end of a phase, I feel, and am experiencing some fear and trepidation about where I'm heading next but I'm sure it will be exciting, dangerous and half-kill me. I've just finished a new short story collection called This is How You Disappear and I'm drafting a new novel, The North Surrey Gigantopithecus. After that's done, I’m eager to try some new approaches.


Tuesday January 27th 7:30 pm. great weather for MEDIA + Unthank Books, Norwich Arts Centre. Readers: Gordon Collins, Jane Ormerod, Martin Ouvry, Gayle Richardson, Ashley Stokes, and Tim Sykes. Full details

Be sure to check out Unthank Books' website for books, events, submissions, and more.

Submissions for great weather for MEDIA’s anthologies  open October 15  to January 15 each year.