For Danny Hogan’s Pulp Press, our heroes in an uncertain economic era should definitely have an altogether more up-and-at-’em attitude.
“People are having a hard time, working people, they need escapism from the pressures of life,” he says. “They don’t want sad or miserable stories; they want to read about the little guy getting one over on his detractors. The whole point of Pulp Press is to make people seek out literature as a form of entertainment again. It’s really beneficial – it interacts with your imagination in a way that film, TV or even music can’t. I think people got turned off reading because it got too intellectual and clever. If you can make it nice and simple like a good TV episode, with a bit of bite, people are going to be more attracted to reading.”??
We wonder if attention spans in the 21st century are a problem?
“Absolutely,” he nods, “that’s why we make the books short. They’re like TV episodes rather than films – people can easily read them and move on like they did with pulp fiction in the 50s. The standard length of 23,000 words (as opposed to 80,000-odd for a novel) does come from the paper extent, to make it saleable and keep the price down. But we’re starting to make them a bit longer within the novella format – my new book ‘Jailbait Justice’ is 55,000 words and that’s the absolute outside maximum.”??
As well as being easily palatable for the reader, the novella format is a challenge for the writer, a discipline that’s worth learning.
“It has to be punchier and chronological,” stresses Danny, “there’s no room to mess about. You need to be heavily plot-lined with strong characters and great dialogue to keep the story moving. It’s a great exercise for anyone into writing, to resist the tendency to wander off. It’s a nice way to learn to be concise.”??
As well as ‘Jailbait Justice’, Hogan has himself written two other books for Pulp Press, ‘Killer Tease’ and ‘The Windowlicker Maker’. With the help of his MD at Independent Press in Brighton, where he’s still marketing manager, he was able to put them out within a distinct imprint rather than just self-publishing.
“I wanted to change the face of publishing, or at least have a go. It was a spur of the moment thing; I just pitched the idea at the London Book Fair in 2008, and she was all for it.”
With seven titles already published in a growing catalogue, Pulp Press books firmly celebrate the underdog. It’s a literary tradition that goes back to original pulp fiction icon Lester Dent, who wrote 159 novels in 16 years.
“He produced two A4 pieces of paper on how to write pulp fiction. It’s all about the protagonist. You heap loads of trouble onto them, you keep heaping trouble onto them and in the end they turn round and get their own way. It’s very appealing to people, it’s reacting against the times. Even in the movies, someone like Liam Neeson is reinventing himself with films like Taken and Unknown. People are lapping this up. It’s what people want – the little guy coming out winning – because they’re not feeling that themselves.”??
Hogan’s publishing ethic is also a definite reaction against the mainstream industry.
“The bestseller lists are full of celebrities, it’s a big bugbear of mine. The way the mainstream operates is wrong, even with fiction. It’s so conservative, there’s such a limited choice available. I want to encourage people to start DIY publishing, to create a community like with zines, with a punk attitude. I don’t see it as competition at all – I’d be happy to advertise them as much as my own stuff. I’ve learned many things in publishing over the years, which I’m happy to impart to anyone wanting to start out.”
The pulp fiction genre began in the 50s, with authors like Lester Dent and Hal Ellson, who wrote about the emerging rockabilly scene. But as Hogan sits opposite, towering above us with close-cropped hair, Harrington and Ben Sherman, we guess he was also into the genre’s 70s resurgence via Richard Allen’s ‘Skinhead’ books.
“Yes, I read a lot of Richard Allen. At first people thought pulp was all about noir and crime, but there’s a lot of anti-authority in those youth cults, and it’s good to demonstrate to people that it was about more than just clothes, it was more of a culture.”??
With Pulp Press, Hogan’s expanding the genre even further. The acquisition of Charles Jackson’s pulp westerns catalogue from the 50s should chime in well with today’s audience, he suggests.
“The way things are at the moment, people will be attracted to old school westerns. They’re harking back to a simple, more straightforward way of life than in this day and age. But ‘Jailbait Justice’, the book I’ve just brought out, is post-apocalyptic science fiction, that’s another genre I reckon’s going to be very popular. You have to look at what’s happening in society, and Pulp Press has come along at the tight time to be producing these kind of books.”
But while there’s a retro edge to the storytelling and the distinctive dog-eared aesthetic of the book jackets, there’s nothing backward looking about Pulp Press’s business of books. Are they embracing the emerging e-reader technology?
“Absolutely, for strange reasons actually. Amazon of all people make it really easy to make a book into a Kindle. A standard e-book is a bit more difficult, but Amazon have really opened up the playing field, like iTunes for musicians has. They’re big business but they’re really encouraging the DIY ethic – you set a price, upload the cover and text; they don’t care who you are. The mainstream absolutely hates it…”
Looking back for inspiration and forward for remuneration, Pulp Press is an all-round accessible force in modern publishing, but perhaps more importantly it’s a couple of hours of escapism in which the little guy actually comes out on top for once.
BOOK: ‘Jailbait Justice’ out now
WORDS BY NICK COQUET
PHOTO BY KENNY MC CRACKEN ASSISTED BY ANDY NELSON & MO BATSEL SHOT AT GARAGE STUDIOS