An Interview With Steve Upham

Today folks. I’m honoured to have Steve Upham, owner of the rather splendid Screaming Dreams Press, which has published books by some of the finest UK authors, such as Gary McMahon,  Paul Kane, Gary Fry and Johnny Mains.  He is also  the man behind the excellent free digital magazine Estronomicon

Hi Steve, how are things with you?

Not too bad, thanks. Life has been keeping me very busy as I’ve now made Screaming Dreams my full time job. So there have been lots of new things to deal with, including working from a new office in Cardiff Bay. It’s been quite a struggle with limited time and money for everything, but I have been enjoying the challenge!

Could you tell us a bit about yourself?

I guess the first thing you should know about me is that I have always been addicted to all things creative, so I do get quite obsessive about the projects I work on!
I graduated from Uni with a degree in 3D Design and started my own craft workshop shortly afterwards, which was my day job for about twelve years. Unfortunately a serious (and very unexpected) health issue a few years ago meant that I had to give up that job, so I started doing freelance design work part-time, during a two year period when I was in and out of hospital. Then in 2011 I made it my full time job, running Screaming Dreams as both a small press and offering the freelance artwork commissions and other design-related services.

What’s the appeal of horror for you?

I think it’s the atmosphere and the mystery. Not knowing what’s out there in the dark, watching you, waiting to pounce! I prefer to read stories that don’t give too much away to begin with, so it keeps you guessing and on the edge of your seat all the way along.
But as an artist I enjoy the more graphic side of horror, especially drawing monsters. Not because I have a dark/depressing personality or anything (quite the opposite actually), but just because it’s pure fun! You can let your imagination run wild and create things that don’t exist, which is perfect for any artist with an over-active imagination.

  What do you love and hate about the genre?

I love the pure imagination of it all. It’s entertainment at its best! I think what I hate about it is the way some people treat the genre, with it not always getting the recognition and exposure it deserves sometimes, compared to more ‘mainstream’ subjects.

What would you say are your three favourite films and books ?

That is a tough question, as I own so many books. I guess I have to mention The Lord of the Rings though, as that was a huge influence on me in my early school days. The Rats by James Herbert also had a big impact on my horror reading. But I probably enjoy anthologies most of all, so the classic old Pan Book of Horror Stories still hold a special place in my heart! I know these answers are probably a bit cliché, but they are the ones that always come to mind if someone asks me to name some of my favourites.
It’s also hard to choose just three films from all the ones I love, but Star Wars: A New  Hope has to be the film I watched most as a kid so that has to go on the list. John Carpenter’s The Thing is also a brilliant movie and it still gives me chills today. And Hellraiser really raised the bar for horror films when it was first released, so made a big impression on me. Again these are probably all popular and obvious choices, so nothing out of the ordinary.

So how did Screaming Dreams come about?

It was originally just a personal homepage where I put up some galleries of my early digital artwork. But then I started to find other artists online and introduced a small portfolio section to show some of their work too. So the site was a basic online art gallery for fantasy, sci-fi and horror themed work.
It wasn’t until I attended my first convention (Interaction, Glasgow 2005) that I even thought about the publishing side of things. But after hearing about things called ‘fanzines’ and ‘e-zines’ I decided I wanted to try that too, and Estronomicon was born.
At the time I didn’t know any authors so I thought the e-zine would just be an extension of the artist showcase pages already on the SD website. But I was soon receiving submissions of short stories and I’ve never had a shortage of them to publish ever since.
After a while I kept getting asked if I would turn the e-zine into a print edition, but I couldn’t afford it and didn’t think it was financially viable anyway. But the lure of print kept nagging at me and I decided to try publishing a collection of short stories. The rest, as they say, is publishing history.

Does the name have any significance for you?

The Screaming Dreams name was just the result of trying out many different name ideas and word combinations, when I registered the domain for my homepage all those years ago. It has no significance really, it just sounded interesting and I guess I got lucky the name stuck and people seem to like it.

You’ve got to excuse my ignorance, but what is the translation of the Latin in the websites banner?

Oh, I used an online translation tool for that so it’s not a proper Latin version! But it’s supposed to say: ‘Welcome to the dark realm. Abandon hope all ye who enter here. Beware, for here be dragons.’ I’ll be uploading a new site design soon and the Latin won’t be on that one though.

What would say is the mission statement of Screaming Dreams, and what do you think sets Screaming Dreams apart from other small presses?

The Estronomicon e-zine has been a great vehicle for SD to publish short stories by unknown or up and coming authors, then take them into the print books if and when I think they are ready. I think that’s a description of what Screaming Dreams does best really. It’s about encouraging fresh talent in particular (although established authors are always welcome too) and helping them onto the next level.
Of course I can’t afford to print everyone’s work unfortunately, but publishing things online (in the e-zine and e-books) is a cheap and effective way to get people’s work out there and available to readers.
What do I think sets SD apart? Well, I guess because I come from a design background then my strengths lie in creating products that possibly look like they were produced a bit more professionally than you might imagine from a one-man band!

I’ve loved the books that you have worked on they are very professional and of excellent quality, in fact even your business card is pretty awesome, and yet the books themselves are very reasonably priced. How do you keep the costs so low. I’ve paid a hell of a lot more money, for far inferior quality books.

I do my best to make the books as affordable as possible for readers, but of course when you do relatively small print runs the production costs involved a quite high so it’s always a struggle to keep the prices down while still making a profit. I wish I could bring prices down even more, but I have to be realistic and keep the venture viable in the long term.
I know some people complain that my prices are too high actually, but you can’t compare prices of mass market paperbacks which are produced in their hundreds of thousands, with small runs from an independent press. The costs involved are on a very different scale.

What was the first book that you published, and how did it come about?

The very first SD book was a collection of short stories by Neil Davies, called The Midnight Hour. I had already published some of Neil’s stories in Estronomicon and was impressed with his work, so when I started thinking about getting into the print side of publishing we got talking and decided to put together this collection.

You have published a lot of great authors, such as Gary McMahon, Johnny Mains, Paul Kane, and Gary Fry, how did you go about getting such a fine roster of authors? 

Although a lot of work is conducted online these days, I’m convinced that attending conventions such as FantasyCon each year has allowed me to build stronger working relationships with these people and many a deal has probably been formed over a pint or two at the bar! There’s a lot to be said for meeting people in person and not just keeping in touch via Facebook.

Excluding the likes of King etc, are there any authors out there you would love to work with?

I’m a big fan of Simon Clark’s work so would love to add him to the SD lineup in future. I would also really like to work on a book with Tim Lebbon at some point. So they are both on my ‘hit list’ at the moment. They have been warned!

Why the no poetry rule?

I’ve never been a fan of poetry myself, so I didn’t want to end up reading through hundreds of submissions, hence the rule! Although I do allow the occasional one or two in Estronomicon, if it’s suitably dark or funny. But otherwise it’s just not an area that interests me to be honest.

As well as the book publishing side of things Screaming Dreams also produces a free E-Zine , Estronomincon.  I’ve read this Ezine, why on earth do you not charge for this, even a nominal fee , the production values and the content is all first class.  In fact I’ve paid good money for magazines that don’t come anywhere near the quality of this.

Thanks for the kind words. The e-zine is a great way for me to publish people’s work at no expense to anyone (other than the time involved, of course), so I wanted to keep it a completely FREE project that everyone could enjoy. This is one reason why I didn’t want to turn it into a print magazine, as that would then exclude a lot of potential readers. By keeping it as a freely downloadable file, it keeps it open for everyone to read and I think that’s very important.

When is the next issue out, and what can we expect from it?

I was aiming to get the next issue out in January, but I have so much other work on right now it will probably slip over into Feb at this rate! That’s the one downside to running a small press by yourself, in that there’s never enough time to work on everything. So the schedule for the e-zine has always been rather erratic, as I have to fit it in between other jobs. The next issue will feature another selection of fine short stories. Keep watching the site!

You’re a one man band, how do you find time to do everything that you do?

I don’t! It’s a constant battle to juggle everything, and something always suffers. Last year I simply didn’t have time to keep on top of the Estronomicon issues, for example. But I always do my best and things do get done eventually, albeit at a slower pace than planned at times. Running your own small press isn’t an easy job, I must admit.

Publisher, artist, crafter, photographer, designer, programmer, have you ever fancied turning your hand to writing?

Wish I could but I’ve never been good with words. I have written non-fiction articles and tutorials for magazines, but writing fiction is something I’ve never had a flair for unfortunately. I’m much more at home with the visual and design side of things, so I leave the writing to the writers! We all have our own areas of expertise.

Johnny Mains, when did you first meet the man behind the legend?

The first time I met Johnny in person was at the World Horror Convention in Brighton, 2010. Although I knew of his work before that, of course, as I’m a huge fan of the old Pan books myself so had been following what Johnny had been doing. I recall seeing him lurking around the dealer’s room at WHC, touting around the ‘Back from the Dead’ anthology he’d just published. So I introduced myself and bought a copy of the book. We’ve kept in touch ever since.

And how much of the legend is true, and how much is just internet gossip?

As with any legend, I think a lot of things get blown out of all proportion sometimes. But there’s always an element of truth in these things, so some of what they say about Johnny is true, I guess! He’s definitely a unique character.

The pair of you are working on The Year Anthology, how is that going?

It’s quite an ambitious project so there’s a LOT of work to be done on it yet, but it has got off to a good start I think. We still need more submissions, so any authors reading this should look at the guidelines and send in their work for consideration. Visit The Year blog page for more information:

52 stories, this is going to be one big book, did you ever consider just doing a story for each month?

We can do a standard length anthology any time (in fact we already are working on one, The Screaming Book of Horror), but The Year is something special for us to launch at the World Fantasy Convention in 2013.
I remember Johnny phoning me up one evening and babbling on about this new book idea he had in mind. He has a knack of talking you into things. Not that I need much encouragement though as I’m always up for a challenge, so it’s like pouring petrol on a flame when someone tempts me with a new idea!
Of course I realised it was a big project for us to take on, hence it being a joint venture between both our small presses, but I shared Johnny’s interest in doing something more adventurous to launch at World Fantasy. We thought it would be worth making the extra effort to produce a bigger book specifically to launch at this event. If you always stick to the tried and tested, never taking any chances, you will never grow. So from time to time I think it’s important to push yourselves and stretch your ambitions a little. That’s how you take things to the next level.
In order to keep the book size more manageable though, we have set a word count limit on this one. Ideally, each story will be between 2000 – 3000 words, although some may be slightly longer, some a bit shorter.
The book will end up quite chunky, I estimate between five and six hundred pages. Usually I would avoid publishing something so big, just down to the costs involved, but I think it’s worth it for this one as it’s something special for us to launch at a World Convention.

Can you tell us about any of the stories that have been accepted?

It’s still early days yet in the submission process so nothing has been announced for definite. But we do have a cracking story by Andrew Hook, which both Johnny and I agreed on straight away.

When does the book come out?

We aim to launch it at the World Fantasy Convention in Brighton, October/November 2013.

So what does the future hold for you?

I want to keep pushing forward with the print books, but money is always an issue to cover the print costs. So lately I’ve been working very hard to get more paying artwork commissions from other publishers, and a lot of the money I make from that goes towards supporting the SD print titles. So I hope to continue publishing three or four new titles every year for the foreseeable future, as long as funds allow.
I also need to start targeting the Kindle audience too this year. Again this is something I haven’t got into yet purely due to lack of time, but it’s another area that I will get into eventually. I aim to continue expanding Screaming Dreams as I go along, in any way I can.
And as I mentioned earlier, I’m actively seeking more artwork commissions this year too, so I hope to be doing more of that work over the coming months as well. It’s going to be a very busy 2012 I think.

Cheers Steve, folks you can purchase  Screaming Dreams books by clicking the link below.  At the time of writing, they are currently having a sale. 



One thought on “An Interview With Steve Upham

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: