Blog: Author Jenn Ashworth talks about the publishing collective Curious Tales

curious tales 2aCurious Tales is the name of an entirely independent author led publishing collective founded by the novelist Jenn Ashworth (me!) and the writer and artist Richard Hirst. We are joined by the artist Beth Ward and the writers Tom Fletcher and Emma Jane Unsworth and from time to time we work with other writers – including Alison Moore, M John Harrison and Johnny Mains. We publish an annual, limited print run and beautifully illustrated anthology of winter ghost stories, just in time for Christmas. We combine its publication with a tour of theatrical performance events. The anthologies are dedicated to an author who has inspired us – last year was M. R. James (we like to think of ourselves as a contemporary version of The Chit Chat club) and this year, Robert Aickman. Next year we’ll be going further afield and creating an anthology dedicated to the work of the American writer Shirley Jackson.


In addition to the anthologies we’re also developing some web-only projects. The Barrow Rapture is an ‘exploded graphic novel’ – a hypertext fiction set in Barrow. We’re collaborating with Brian Baker from the Department of English and Creative Writing at Lancaster to create a pilot version which anyone will be able to access from a web browser: this first phase was funded by Lancaster University and we’re currently waiting to see if we’ve received the British Academy funding we’ve applied for to extend the project into a fully-fledged app which uses GPS and API technology.


BSU coverOur newest project is Bus Station: Unbound which is an e-book only interactive novel. The novel is set in Preston Bus Station and explores modernist architecture, late adolescent ennui and what has been described as the North’s most ‘monstrous’ building. It’s an experiment in collaborative writing (Jenn Ashworth and Richard Hirst co-wrote the novel using Inklewriter) and in the contemporary gothic and site-specific literature. If all goes according to plan (we’re knee deep in the editing process as we speak!) Bus Station: Unbound should be available from Curious Tales as a kindle e-book early next year.




A huge part of what Curious Tales does is to experiment with ways of getting our work to our readers. We’re interested in alternative methods of publishing – so for our print anthologies, we don’t use ISBN numbers and sell most of our print run direct to our readers from our website, or at our performance events. We do our own marketing and publicity, and try to make that a creative process too – with blog interviews, book trailers, audio recordings (The Curious Tapes) and secret Easter eggs on our website – all kinds of things. We work cooperatively and have a strong relationship with a local printer – New Leaf – and an independent book shop – Ebb and Flo, in Chorley – and it’s really important to us to achieve consensus, work as a collective and do as much of the administrative and financial work ourselves. Which means sometimes things take a long time and a lot of conversation. But we like that!


poor souls light coverPeople ask us if this is a reaction to mainstream publishing – if Curious Tales is a way of sticking two fingers up at the Big Six and Amazon. And it’s not. Mainstream publishing and Amazon are, to be frank, feeding us and paying our bills. But they aren’t suitable routes to a reader for every single kind of creative endeavor. What we’re interested in is the small press movement, intimate events, knowing our readers personally, creative and financial independence, working with local partners and experimenting with alternative financial models such as crowd funding and the subscription model. It’s either incredibly modern, or incredibly old fashioned (we’ve been accused of both)! We see Curious Tales and similar outfits (Galley Beggar Press is another example – an inspiration and big sister to us) as doing something unique and special – as well as, and not in competition with, mainstream trade fiction publishing. In terms of the project’s academic standing, we’d consider our collective is a practice-based research project, but as the ‘outputs’ are technically self-published and not open-access, they probably aren’t REF-able. Which we think demonstrates the limitations of REF and not Curious Tales – it’s never anything we’ve lost much sleep over, to be honest.


We’re also open-minded about the kind of projects we take on. I think we planned to specialize in print-only, limited edition books and objects – and maybe branch into exhibitions and performances. But then a couple of us wanted to write an interactive novel that would give people the idea that their Kindle was haunted! As a collective, our own passions and interests guide us – as our name suggests, we go with whatever makes us curious. While none of us are likely to make a living from these projects (we all publish with mainstream publishers, exhibit with galleries, teach, edit and otherwise toil to pay the bills) we value the independence, the collaborative support, the freedom to experiment and the sheer fun involved in working on high-quality projects that might not necessarily have the commercial appeal to attract a mainstream publisher. Having said that, while we’re not getting rich, we’ve never lost money and each year the projects have turned enough of a profit to kick-start the next venture.


At the moment, we’re preparing for our winter tour but also thinking about the future. We want to foreground the way we collaborate with Beth Ward – she doesn’t merely illustrate our projects, but is a hugely creative collaborator – her art shapes the writing as much as the writing shapes her art. She’s developing an art-book project that involves partnership and collaboration with a new artist. We have ideas in the pipeline for a piece of theatre, a book-in-a-box, an origami set and a series of audio recordings. We’re interested in producing work for children, expanding the performance and installation aspects of our work and developing our interest in gaming  – both digital and legacy.


You can read more about us, our projects, join our mailing list and even order a book or buy a ticket for a performance here:



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