Snapshot 2014: Sue Wright (Tiny Owl Workshop)

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The Lane of Unusual Traders artwork by Simon Cottee

Tiny Owl Workshop is a very small publisher based in Brisbane. Sue Wright is the Tiny Owl go to person. She has too many teapots, too many books, and a mild obsession with pop surrealist art and doodling.

1. Tiny Owl Workshop is a fairly new operation. What made you decide to start your own publishing house?

I’d been thinking about it for a while. I’ve always loved stories, comics and books, they’ve been such a positive in my life, so when the circumstances were right I just plunged in. It’s been such a great creative release, bringing projects to life and curating collections of stories, and I hope to keep going.

2. The newest project for Tiny Owl is The Lane of Unusual Traders, an online shared world environment. Where did the idea for The Lane come from, and where do you hope to take it?

The idea for LoUTs was prompted a while back when Terry Pratchett invited his readers to name some of the places that might be found in The Shades, a particularly sinister part of Ankh-Morpork: the main city in his Discworld series. It was a short leap from there to the idea of a lane and a world slowly brought to life by many writers rather than one (though quite a fabulous one). We hope to take LoUTS as far as possible, but how far it goes really depends on the stories submitted, how well we can weave stories together and how writers, artists and readers engage with the idea and help it grow.

Publishing wise it means books (physical as well as digital), small comics (starting with one pagers), maybe inviting others to curate a small collection of stories related to a Story Lot or event, and games, toys and whatever else may emerge in time. Tiny Owl has also kept LoUTs Story Lot 1 to play with. We’ve made it an inn (recently named The Jolly Strangler by twitterer @Greybeard3). We’ll develop the story of The Jolly Strangler and hope to invite artists to hold exhibitions there, maybe have a writer in residence there. Recently, we’ve been chatting to Matt Hsu, from Brisbane band The Mouldy Lovers, to see if the Mouldies would be interested in being the first band to play at The Jolly Strangler. I don’t know how that will work yet, but it will. While the LoUTs prologue lends itself easily to fantasy-based stories we’re also hoping that a bunch of ‘real world’ stories emerge. It’d be interesting to see The Lane of Unusual Traders split into two parallel worlds that bump up against each other every now. The Lane has seen its first fan-fiction piece and the writer really gets how this could happen.

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The Lane of Unusual Traders artwork by Lauren Carney

3. Could you tell us about some of the other projects you have coming up?

Krampus Crackers is the next project. It’s a flash fiction project being led by Kahli Scott, a young writer who we published as part of the Pillow Fight project in 2013. Kahli’s pretty great, she won the State Library of Queensland Young Writers Award in 2013 and was recently shortlisted for Hotkey Books Young Writers Prize AND is a submission reader for Aurealis Magazine, on top of working full time and living life. The project opens on 25 July and Kahli will be seeking 12 flash fiction stories inspired by Krampus—a fairly demonic character who was BFFLs with jolly St Nick once upon a time. There’ll be fabulous art too, from Simon Cottee, Seana Seeto, Terry Whidborne and more.

Noveltinis will be happening in 2015. Writer Patrick Ness was tweeting about nothing in particular one day—he sometimes just tweets about stuff he’s watching on TV—and he made up the word noveltini. I asked if Tiny Owl could use it, he said yes if we mentioned him, so Noveltini’s will be the name for the novellas we’re planning to publish next year. Artist and writer Kathleen Jennings is also working on a series of fairytale inspired illustrations for a small book that’ll come together in 2015—it may contain hounds. Of course LoUTs will still be happening and we’ll be launching the Unfettered collection and our children’s picture book ‘Will You Be My Sweetheart’ in November this year. We’re also still working with Terry Whidborne on a Fallen Art project and talking to local lovelies the Binky Collective about another found art project happening in 2015.

4. What Australian works have you loved recently?
I’m reading more ‘literary’ journals to check out emerging writers and immerse myself a little more in Australian writing. My older brother, Stephen, also writes for Overland Journal, so I always read Overland. Book-wise I’ve loved reading Robert Hoge’s Ugly, it’s such a warm, personal, real tale. Favel Parrett’s Past the Shallows is just beautifully written and I’m looking forward to picking up a copy of When the Night Comes which comes out in August. Shaun Tan’s Rules of Summer is stunning, visually beautiful and he uses words so sparingly. Tan is a favourite, and Eric is one of those books I carry around with me from time-to-time just for inspiration. Catherine Jinks’ City of Orphans books worked their way to the top of the ‘unread book tower’ recently, so I’ve also just finished reading the enjoyable boggart infested A Very Unusual Pursuit and A Very Peculiar Plague. Boggart catcher Alfred Bunce is a character Dickens would love.

5. Have recent changes in the publishing industry influenced the way you work? What do you think you will be publishing in five years from now?

Being so new, yes, definitely. Because we are so small (barely 1.5 people) and don’t quite have media- mogul-sized resources behind us, we have to work differently. It’s no bad thing though. The aim is to build community as we go, keep ourselves open to the opportunities technologies offer, keep connecting local writers and artists to global audiences, and make sure we bring writing, craft and art together to create unique work. What we’ll be publishing 5 years from now depends how the industry develops, what opportunities open up, and whether we’ve earned any money to plough back into other projects. I’ll shimmy out onto this here whippet thin limb and say that in five years the Amazon centralised model will be challenged by the massive growth of initiatives like maker centres and a rebirth of localised manufacturing helped along by changes in printing technology. 3D printing will help transform physical books into amazing tactile works that can be made to order locally and immersive technologies will bring books, games and movies even closer together. So I guess Tiny Owl will be producing amazing tactile books, and, in our magic-happy-dreamland, Weta Workshop will be building the film set for The Lane of Unusual Traders. SnaphotLogo2014

This interview was conducted as part of the 2014 Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction. We’ll be blogging interviews from 28 July to 10 August and archiving them at SF Signal. You can read interviews at:


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