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Spotlight III: Influx Press

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The London Magazine has long been a champion of emerging writers and independent publishers, stretching back to the 1950s and 60s, when young writers like Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes found a home in the pages of the then newly re-launched volumes of the magazine.

We want this tradition to continue, and given the renaissance of new independent publishers, we started a spotlight feature on our website to promote the best of innovative contemporary writing across the UK and beyond, and to celebrate the hard work of the individuals that publish this work.

Our first feature was on the brilliant series of pamphlets by Rough Trade Books, while our second was on the ridiculously prolific Manchester radicals Dostoyevsky Wannabe. This, our third edition, focuses on Influx Press, who while having been publishing collections and putting on events since 2012, have built a strong reputation in the last four or five years for publishing consistently excellent, zeitgeist-capturing books.

Who are they?

Influx Press is the brainchild of the North East London-based writers and editors Kit Caless and Gary Budden, who have now been joined by the editor and short story writer Sanya Semakula (LossLit) as Assistant Editor. Kit writes regular features for The Quietus and Vice, and is the author of Spoon’s Carpets: An Appreciation (Vintage/Square Peg 2016), while Gary is the author of the collection Hollow Shores (Dead Ink), and the novella Judderman (Eden Book Society). Together they have been publishing some of the most reliably excellent books of this weird and turbulent decade.

What are they publishing, and why are they different?

Many of the books that I first came across through Influx — Imaginary Cities by Darran Anderson, Marshland by Gareth E. Rees — were what you could roughly describe as books concerned with place, geography, the experience of cities, and their peripheries. But these were books about cities that were unlike any others I had read before.

Marshland: Dreams and Nightmares on the Edge of London veers between folklore, memoir and weird fiction, doing for the history of Hackney Downs what David Seabrook did for the seaside towns of Kent. This is turned on its head however with illustrated modern gothic autofiction that weaves its way through the narrative, allowing the book to add a new dimension to psychogeographical writing.

Imaginary Cities meanwhile took Italo Calvino’s mythical exploration of Venice in his classic Invisible Cities as a philosophical starting point to look at the symbiotic relationship between fiction and reality within the construction of cities, from the 13th century writings of Marco Polo, to the comic series Judge Dredd, via the ideas of the Situationist International. Encyclopedic, yet anecdotal, and vigorously engaging, Imaginary Cities changed the way I think about more than just cities, and is a truly phenomenal book.

But while writing about place and cities still remains at the core of the books that Influx Press publish, in recent years they have taken their appreciation of cutting-edge ideas into other literary suburbs, where they have really started to excel and impress. Perhaps most notable so far has been Eley Williams’ sublime short story collection Attrib. and Other Stories (2017), which won both the Republic of Consciousness Award and the James Tait Black Prize for fiction last year. Comprised of 17 micro-dramas that play with language and sound in a completely unique way while also being at turns hilarious, absurd and emotionally affecting, it is an absolute must-read for anyone remotely interested in the contemporary short story.

Also standing out among the more recent books are Clare Fisher’s short story collection How The Lights Get In, and Jeffrey Boakye’s Hold Tight: Black Masculinity, Millennials, And The Meaning of Grime.

What sets Influx Press out in my mind however, is that regardless of the type of book in question, the quality of the writing in the publications of Influx Press publish is so consistently high. The passion that Influx’s small team have for fresh perspectives and great books is evident in everything that they produce. They are one of the presses that I instinctively trust, and whose books I always look out for.

Best picks?

Of the books already mentioned I would recommend Eley Williams’ Attrib. and Other Stories for fiction, and Darran Anderson’s Imaginary Cities, which is something of a masterpiece of creative non-fiction, and has breathed new life into ideas originally explored by the Situationist International in the 1950s.

Outside of that, the 2016 collection A Guide to Unreliable London is also great — comprising 23 stories that explore the parts of London rarely written about, from Brentford to Clapham — while Paul Scraton’s Ghosts On The Shore: Travels Across Germany’s Baltic Coast serves as a fascinating exploration of the folklore, identity, politics and at times tragic history of Germany’s northern coast.

What’s up next?

Just released last week was the much-anticipated Bindlestiff by Wayne Holloway, a dystopian novel set in a Hollywood of 2036, which has been described by Krishnan Guru-Murthy as “A devastating vision of what America is becoming, wrapped up in a compelling and compassionate fable of what it is today.” Which sounds a good to us. Coming up soon are the novel Mothlight by Adam Scovell, an exploration of Berlin titled Built on Sand by Paul Scraton, and Plastic Emotions by Shiromi Pinto, a novel based on the life of Minnette de Silva, forgotten feminist icon and the first female Sri Lankan architect.

They have also started a really great Patreon page where you can support them from as little as £1 per month, which gives you access to a bunch of exclusive content, with incredibly good value book subscription packages available the more that you pay.

Buy as many of their books as you can, you can’t really go wrong. 

Words by Robert Greer.

For more information on Influx Press, visit https://www.influxpress.com/books/.


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Essay | The Wild Side of Town by Alexis Self

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Urban pastoral: The borderlands of Wormwood Scrubs. Photo: Alexis Self

There are millions of miles of Montessori walls filled with quotations about the virtues of sharing. But you don’t want to get to your favourite restaurant and find you have to wait for a table. In the stifling urban environment it’s only natural to crave a no man’s land. This is how I feel about Wormwood Scrubs. I’ll extol its life giving benefits to all I meet, but I hope they won’t be so inspired when I go for a Sunday morning stroll. Luckily for me, a large part of the Scrubs’ charm derives from its unconventional beauty — like an obstreperous puppy, it has to earn your affection. Those unwilling to look beyond skin-deep might find its two hundred acres of rough, uneven ground too bleak for a picnic; while the lack of any retail opportunity probably renders it pointless to visitors from afar.

The 1879 Wormwood Scrubs Act legislated for its “perpetual use… by the inhabitants of the metropolis for exercise and recreation.” But that temple to consumerism Westfield, just down the road, is where more Londoners go for such things. On weekend mornings, the Scrubs is a panoply of wholesome endeavour: football, rugby and hurling in the winter; softball, kite and model aeroplane flying in the summer. At all other times it is near-deserted, save for scattered formations of dog-walkers, who dutifully patrol its perimeter year-round. Its utilitarian pretensions seem apt, since the Scrubs was originally intended as a military exercise ground close to the city. The army’s green jackets have long since been replaced by those of parakeets, which conduct intricate twilight manoeuvres during summertime.

The name attests to its agrestal nature: “worm” comes from the Old English for “snake”. Ominous things still happen here. In 2013, while out walking his dog, fleece and corduroy empresario Johnnie Boden found a dead body in the woods. The southwestern edge was the site of the Massacre of Braybrook Street in 1966, when the brutal murder of three policemen led to nationwide calls for the revocation of the recently abolished death penalty. This verdant strip is rarely used as a thoroughfare, especially at night, and not just because of its lack of electrical lighting. In the evenings less savoury pursuits leave bins filled with empty Red Bull cans and kamagra packets.

Strangely enough, this urban wilderness is ringed by bureaucratic institutions. There is, of course, the eponymous prison, built between 1874 and 1890 by convict labour and dismissed by Pevsner as an “array of suitably forbidding buildings,” it was once the largest in the country. Nick Papadamitrou, a former inmate, describes it as “this vast vat of compressed and frozen evil saturated in prisoner-years spent gazing out over the adjacent lands.” Today its Romanesque towers look decidedly kitsch next to the faceless modernity of Hammersmith Hospital to its east. Both stare dolefully through the gloom towards the huge Old Oak railway depot, which stretches north to Willesden. Stopping at this desolate junction on your way into London gives you cause to reflect on whether you really are entering a bustling metropolis after all.

Photo: Alexis Self

 

On the Scrubs’ southeastern corner, dozens of identikit Portakabins stand testament to more recent local tragedy. Last year they housed students from Kensington Alridge Academy, displaced by the Grenfell Tower fire, whose solemn tented figure you can see in the distance. If you add to this line-up the neat redbrick rows of the interwar Old Oak Estate and the crumbling edifice of the Linford Christie Stadium (named for a local boy done good, then bad), you have a school, prison, hospital, housing estate, sports stadium and railway depot: a veritable inventory of so-called civilisation.

The city seeps into every nook of available space, this is why the Scrubs feels so anachronistic — a neighbourhood-shaped and sized slab of England untrammeled since a time of snakes and convict labour. Attempts to tame it have increased as proximate post-industrial spaces become more coveted. In the late 80s, Great Western Rail petitioned for permission to expand its depot along the Scrubs’ northern perimeter, home to its most unruly woodland. Resistance to the plans inspired a musical, The Wild Side of Town, written by environmentalist and broadcaster Chris Baines. When it comes to opponents of change it is the redoubtable Friends of Wormwood Scrubs, a vocal local minority, which leads the call to arms. Its most cherished acreage is kept completely untended so as to encourage biodiversity: the ubiquitous squirrels, foxes, starlings and parakeets; but also bats, lizards, owls and butterflies. Not to mention the sort of flora long since purged from the rest of the city: blackberries, elderberries, thistles and gorse.

The parliamentary act means its status as a space for recreation is protected in perpetuity. A 2005 reaffirmation of this ensures that any new efforts to alter the landscape must be minimal — the installation of more benches, or picnic areas — and are, therefore, mostly intended to make it accessible and attractive to the wider public. This is, undoubtedly, a noble endeavour. But most friends of the Scrubs, formal and informal, would argue that its true integrity derives from the vast emptiness it affords its coterie of fans. Therein lies the conundrum: as a member of said group, am I happy for this space to go largely underappreciated in order to preserve it for myself? Yes, probably.

Words by Alexis Self.


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Essay | Fighting Against Productivity by Anna Aguilar

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Psychogeography: the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment […] on the emotions and behaviour of individuals”

Guy Debord, Introduction to a Critique of Urban Geography, 1955

Despite the academic jargon that is so intricately connected with the term “psychogeography”, its study is not only universally approachable, but necessary in our contemporary reality. London, the nightmarish hive we have created, continues to grow vertically and horizontally while its inhabitants remain oblivious to the intricacies of their environment.

Our lack of proximity to nature in the city requires constant effort to consciously read our surroundings. Despite our understanding of the artificial construction of the city, the inner workings of buildings, cars, computers or anything else around us is illegible to natural beings. We don’t really understand how everything around us functions beyond the superficial. Hence, we associate nature with peacefulness and contrastingly feel the necessity to ‘escape’ from the city towards something less overwhelming.

We often forget, or disassociate, from the fact that London is built on top of the same thing as its green outskirts. The city doesn’t exist in a vacuum, but rather follows the landscape of its surroundings. When we walk from Piccadilly to Oxford Circus we don’t recognise that we are walking up a hill in the same way as we do walking in the countryside. Concrete skews our perception of topography.

I recently spent a week in an unremarkable town in South West England. Throughout the day, which I spent alone, I found myself feeling trapped and anxious. There was nothing to do because the town centre had no consumer goods that interested me. My life in London had triggered a craving for a constant input of artificial information. I craved being surrounded by intense movement and by people equally hungry for goods; innovation, technology, fashion.


On the last day I decided to leave the house and walk. I found a blackberry bush and had a feast, and continued to wander around the town and its outskirts thinking about how some spaces held similarities to home. I did not do this with any particularly revolutionary intent, but in hindsight realised I had undertaken a dérive; an aimless wander aimed at studying the effect of the environment on the psyche.

The dérive is a far more challenging activity now than it was at the time of its conception. While walking was a common activity in 1950s Paris, it has become an increasingly obsolete form of transportation. London’s immensity and fast-paced movement encourages the use of the quickest form of transport available, walking to a destination that is more than an hour away is seen as an oddity.

As Will Self famously explores through his unlikely walks to airports through barren deserts or busy motorways, walking to certain destinations is becoming increasingly complicated. Entire routes are designed exclusively for motor vehicles, assuming nobody will ever need to walk from one point to the other.

The wide availability of GPS navigation has consolidated the strife for purpose-fuelled movement. Alternative route possibilities are completely disregarded in name of the most efficient one. Our journeys are being increasingly transferred from reality into the virtual world; you are, for the duration of the journey, suspended from your immediate reality. This disassociation is similar to jumping on a plane, where you sit and distract yourself from the fact that you are moving through space, and then arrive at your destination.

Every aspect from our lives is being directed towards this idea of purposefulness. The concept of indoor gyms, for example, is designed to maximise the benefits of physical exercise in a shorter, albeit less enjoyable, period of time. Locking yourself in a room and lifting heavy pieces of metal before commuting to your office job is framed into the idyllic contemporary healthy life-style. Coincidentally, anxiety and depression are steadily on the rise.

It would be unreasonable to suggest that the dérive is the solution to mental health issues, but so much of what causes anxiety in our contemporary society can be eased through movement. Olga Tokarczuk states in her fragmentary novel Flights, “a thing in motion will always be better than a thing at rest; that change will always be a nobler thing than permanence; that that which is static will degenerate and decay, turn to ash, while that which is in motion is able to last for all eternity”. I expand this idea by stating that mechanical motion, commuting, won’t suffice— you must be deliberate in your actions.

“I can only meditate when I am walking. When I stop, I cease to think; my mind only works with my legs”.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Confessions, 1782

Bruce Chatwin’s novel Songlines beautifully explores the Australian Aboriginal mythology, which lyrically maps the continent’s topography, creating a mythic map that connects culture with place. By singing the song which maps a specific route, one is able to traverse vast distances.  On the opposite side of the globe, Inuit’s remarkable geographic knowledge allows them to navigate lands with equal lack of topographical features. Travel orientation is prioritised as one of the most important means to survival.

The correlation seems clear; the easier something becomes, the worst we get at it. The need for orientation is becoming increasingly null, and with it our capabilities. We can find ourselves completely lost in the city we live, only a few streets down from the path we usually take. Perhaps we should hark back to our origins to realise how important our connection with the physical world is and remind ourselves that we are, after all, animals.

The dérive, in whichever way you decide to undertake it, can be a source of all this introspective knowledge that is currently camouflaged by our capitalist reality. The purposelessness of the act shifts our understanding of our environment, which is otherwise concealed behind the lens of commodity fetishism. Consumption is not only the root of our hyper-productive mentality but itself is a form of productivity. Refusing to consume means refusing to participate in society and is as equally ostracised as refusing to work.

Some critics such as Dawn Foster have made contemporary psychogeography a particularly female action by arguing that women suffer from the social obligation of efficiency more so than men. Furthermore, wandering the streets has distinct implications for women and non-cis individuals who to this day suffer from routine verbal harassment and constant fear of physical violence. Some women may feel empowered by the act of taking up physical space or transgressing their role as the ‘supermother’. The effect of the dérive can vary for different groups of society, making it an intensely personal experiment, but is by no means exclusive.

Despite the rise automation and artificiality, we remain human beings intensely affected by our physical environment. Without understanding how our surroundings affect our behaviour, we become increasingly disconnected from ourselves and from everybody around us, mindlessly buying into what is being sold to us as progress. Through the continued assessment of how our surroundings affect our psyche and instil our awareness of the city, psychogeography can be a key factor in the transformation of social and personal consciousness.

Words by Anna Aguilar.

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