Independent London Publishing
An interview with the publishers
James Williamson, Laurence Raine, and writer Jack Sargeant
by Alexander Laurence
Creation books has been an exciting publisher of film books and extreme
fiction over the past ten years. I first met James and Laurence a while ago when
they came to stay in New York City. Since I have seen them a few times both here
and in London. I was first turned on to Creation when I read a book they did
by Pierre Guyotat. I was always interested in Guyotat's work but could find
little of it translated, even though the critic Michel Foucault has written
often about it. Later I found out about the Rapid Eye books which covered much of
the music scene and underground movements in film and art. Later I started
reading their books about John Waters, The Hammer Films, and the New York
Underground film tradition. I soon found out that Creation Books had published more
great books about snuff films, cannibalism, horror films, pornography, as well
as books by Dali, Aragon, and Artaud. I soon became friends with James
Williamson, the man behind Creation Books. I met the other employees Laurence Raine
and Miranda Filbee. I also met Jack Sargeant who had written Deathtripping, one
of my all-time favorite books. We were able to talk about what it's like
running an underground press in London. They had recently done a book of
photographs about The Sex Pistols, and their most recent book is Raw Power: Iggy and
The Stooges 1972 that was the great photographs by Mick Rock. Whether it's film,
music, erotica, or art, Creation Books was the place to discover something
intense and new.
AL: I'm here at the Grammercy Park Hotel with the guys from Creation Books.
Creation Books has a few other imprints.
James: This is it. Velvet Publications is the erotic imprint. We're on our
own. We're not associated with any other publisher.
AL: You started out publishing fiction?
James: Um, yeah. Fiction and a bit of poetry, which was suicide because it
didn't sell. So we quit doing that shit. We done every sort of book now.
AL: The first Creation book I saw was the Pierre Guyotat book. You don't see
a lot of his work translated and published.
James: Right. It's an amazing book. We did that in 1994. We started Creation
Books in 1989. There wasn't much of a plan, just a drunken idea. We fucked
about for a year or two. We did a few books by Henry Rollins that sold okay. They
were European editions of American books. We built it up from that.
AL: I think that Rollins published all these people who branched rock music
and literature. Were you influenced by what he did with 2.13.61?
James: That's boring. Didn't want to do that. We did a Lydia Lunch book. But
her book is autobiographical, and has nothing to do with music. It is about
sex and drugs.
AL: How did you start the business? Where you all present at the beginning?
James: I started a company with Alan McGee of Creation Records. He was a
friend of mine. Laurence Raine joined more recently. But I've known Laurence for
years. I've had other people working for me for years. They were all idiots and
I had to get rid of them basically. (laughter). I look for people who have
common sense. Also someone who takes a lot of drugs and drinks. You have to find
areas to work in as a publisher and don't cross over.
AL: Who drinks more?
Laurence: James does. I do all the bookkeeping and James all the creative
stuff. I do all the stuff he doesn't.
James: I'm usually down in the pub. That's where you'll find me.
AL: How would an author or an agent pitch a book idea to you?
James. It would be a waste of time really. We are booked up until the year
2000 with projects. There's not a lot of hope. How it works really is that I get
ideas for projects and get people to write them.
AL: What are some of your personal favorite books that you have published
over the years?
James: I like the Guyotat book. That's pretty amazing. I like the Lydia Lunch
book. And I like the Rapid Eye books we did. Simon Dwyer was a friend of
mine. We used to go drinking in Brighton. Simon did the first one and then I took
over and did number two and number three. That worked out pretty good. Some of
the film books are good like Jack Sargeant's book and Killing For Culture.
AL: How did you meet Jack Stevenson who wrote much of the John Waters and
Kuchar Brothers book you did?
James: He used to contribute to Rapid Eye. We used to correspond for years.
He had this magazine called Pandemonium. That's where all his articles from
John Waters came from. It made sense to reprint them at some point.
AL: What influence has other publishers had on you?
James: None. The reason I started Creation Books was I didn't see anyone
publishing the kind of books I wanted to buy.
Jack: The biggest influence of other publishing houses is like dogshit, isn't
it? If you see dogshit, you don't step into it. You see the mistakes of the
other publishing houses, and you don't do the same ones.
James: Creation Books comes from Punk Rock basically.
AL: Much of American publishing is centered in New York, then there's smaller
publishers, academic presses, non-profit presses, and independent presses.
The perception of British publishing is that it is all centralized, Oxbridge
influenced, and there's not much independent publishers at all. What is your
perception of British publishing?
James: Most of it is owned by a small number of people who all know each
other. It's very parasitical and it's very hard to break into. It's impossible and
it's a miracle we did what we did. Especially in England. America seems more
interested in what we do. I don't know of many independent presses in England.
There are a few who have copied us but they fell away. A few publishers like
Codex only come out with one book a year. They are people who come out with
books occasionally. Our sales in England are pretty shit. It's just impossible
to get the books in shops.
Jack: To get a book into a shop, you are relying on someone's personal taste.
You know that the bookbuyer has a budget, and he's more likely to get a few
of the new Stephen King book, rather than Killing For Culture or Peter Sotos.
Their budget for underground presses are very small. Maybe they can take one
book. And that's only if they are educated and clued into what's going on. It's
easier to get the books in shop in bigger cities, but smaller towns and
Scotland where it's difficult.
Laurence: Also if the people who are representing your books are into them,
it's doubling hard to place them anywhere.
AL: Creation Books has an impressive backlist that those other publishers
don't have. It's probably only rivaled by Feral House and ReSearch Books as a
publisher who is doing interesting and weird books about current culture.
James: You have to take a big financial risk to get that backlist. You have
to pay the price at the end of the day. We are trying to continue to do the
same sort of books, just better. We're taking a little break. But in the future
we might do something different. Who knows? America is where we sell the most
books so we might think of relocating here at some point.
AL: What sort of print runs do you do?
James: We keep the print runs very low because it's cheaper to sell out and
then reprint. We don't have the money to do big print runs up front. Books like
Killing For Culture we've reprinted several times. The next two years is
mostly non-fiction and film studies. Cinema studies and subcultural journals. Jack
has a new book called Suture.
AL: How is Velvet Publications different from Black Lace or Masquerade Books?
Jack: I don't think the Velvet imprint is erotic because most erotic is so
boring and tame. Velvet does books like stuff from the turn of the century, or
stuff from the 1920s like Irene's Cunt by Louis Aragon, or harsh modern stuff
by Peter Sotos or Matthew Stokoe, stuff that most people wouldn't touch. It's
going out on a limb and you can't compare it to Black Lace. That's what
Creation Books is all about. Nobody would publish Guyotat, or James Havoc, or Lydia
Lunch. Those books are better and more intense than anything around. It's
keeping with the Punk Rock aesthetic.
AL: Do you ideas about promoting a book? In the past, places like Olympia
Press benefited by having a book seized and they had a court case....
James: You need a budget. It's ideal to have a court case and get all that
free publicity. It goes against what they want which is to have the book banned.
But the attention gets readers and sells a million.
Jack: That is the one space where underground publishers are good: there is a
verbal network between Feral House and Amok and Creation where people know
each other and they know about the books. If there's any unity it's that verbal
unity. They can meet up in a bar and talk about what each of them are doing.
They can talk to their friends and promote the books. Lydia Lunch does a lot of
readings. Jack Stevenson does screenings of films, and I do screenings. So
that's the only way you can do it without a budget.
AL: As sort of a final question: what is your favorite film of all time?
James: Texas Chainsaw Massacre is my favorite.
Laurence: Performance, probably.
AL: Have you seen Peeping Tom?
Laurence: It was just on BBC TV recently.
Jack: I like The Red Shoes, by the guy who did Peeping Tom.
James: I like Japanese films.
AL: What do your parents think about your books like Deathtripping and Suture?
Jack: The love them. They do. I wouldn't encourage them to read Peter Sotos
but they know what I like.
Creation Website: www.creationbooks.com