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Q&A: Kit Caless on Influx Press and the History of London Hidden in Spoons Carpets

Kit Caless is a writer, broadcaster and co-founder and editor of independent publisher, Influx Press. He created the cult blog Wetherspoons Carpets, a photographic record of the carpets unique to Spoons pubs up and down the country, which has been turned into a book. He is also fiction editor at Minor Literatures.

Eli Goldstone: Hello Kit. Is there a secret history of London hidden in Wetherspoons carpets?

Kit Caless: Hi! I’m fairly sure if you did a DNA test on the Spoons carpets of London you would be able to trace back anything interesting that’s happened in this town to Spoonish origins. Crossrail being renamed the Elizabeth Line was a decision made in The Shakespeare’s Head in Holborn. The invention of the Brixton Pound occurred at the Beehive. When Mohammed al Fayed bought Harrod’s, he thought he was buying the Plough and Harrow in Hammersmith. Aside from these factual digestions, Spoons carpets in London more or less tell the story of the pub building or the local area – apart from the Wibbas Down in Wimbledon which I was very disappointed to discover wasn’t a threaded mural of Tim Henman’s face.   

Eli: My favourite Spoons in London are the Coronet on Holloway Road and the Capitol in Forest Hill, but I don’t know what their carpets look like! Can you describe your favourites?

Kit: The Coronet is certainly up there for me. Particularly on match days, as it’s rammed before Arsenal games and the atmosphere is peak. Plus the beers are at least half the price of the ones inside the Emirates. My favourite is my local, Baxter’s Court on Mare Street in Hackney. It’s got everyone from everywhere in it, all ages too. The VIP lounge (or the ‘upstairs bar’ as the pub like to call it) is my special place – there’s a bar, space, a smoking balcony and only the real locals go up there. In terms of carpets, the best London Spoons carpet was the Ice Wharf in Camden which had the molecular structure of ice as its design, but sadly they laid a new carpet that wasn’t as good. I’d always shout out the Tally Ho in Finchely too, it’s a floral masterpiece.

Eli: You’re involved in a Spoons book prize. What are the best pub-based novels?

Kit: There’s quite a few but there should be more written, I think. Though it is hard to make pub-based novels remain interesting all the way through without resorting to clichés. Classics include: Hangover Square by Patrick Hamilton, Ablutions by Patrick deWitt, Last Orders by Graeme Swift and The Antipope by Robert Rankin.  

Eli: Influx press is currently raising funds on Kickstarter and you rightly have some bright and brilliant people rallying around you – what are your ambitions for the press?

Kit: Running an independent publishing house is a tricky thing. The usual problems of a small business apply, cash flow difficulties, invoices getting paid on time, distribution hassles, unfair competition from a marketing perspective et cetera. But it’s joyful at the same time. We publish more or less four books a year and each one we totally believe in. We also run this thing in our spare/part time. Naturally that means in order to expand we need to put more time into it, but… more time equals more money, and we can only generate more money if we publish more books, which takes more time.  It’s a viscous, vicious circle. We have had amazing support from the industry and our books are often critically acclaimed, that doesn’t always translate to big sales though. We’d love to push things on a bit and develop our marketing and publicity, so the Kickstarter is partly to help with that. Ideally, Influx would be producing eight books a year and we’d be able to pay for a boozy lunch every now and then. That’s the basic ambition!

Eli: Do you think the publishing world suffers from a lack of diverse representation?

Kit: Short answer: yes.

Long answer: I prefer the word ‘normal’ to diverse. When I look out of my window I see people from every walk of life, which is normal. When you look at the publishing industry it’s pretty monocultural. This is abnormal. Diversity has been debated to death in the industry already and the big joke is that diversity panels are only there to give a festival a diversity of speakers. The basics, as far as I see it, are that the industry doesn’t employ enough working class and people of colour, let alone publish them. At a commissioning level publishing needs normality forced into it. At the moment there’s some efforts being made by big publishers to address this, but it’s not really enough. It’s good the discussions have been had, but action is imperative. Like Angel Haze says, “Don’t talk bitch, do”.

Eli: I’ve just finished Attrib. by Eley Williams and it is a very special and idiosyncratic book by someone who loves language. Which other writers are you currently excited about?

Kit: Eley is an incredible writer! Her use of language is like nothing else I’ve read. I’m excited to publish Jeffrey Boakye’s book on Grime called Hold Tight in July. It’s possibly the first book putting the history of black British music and Grime into real social context. It’s also a love letter to the genre, and Jeffrey’s writing is fantastic, and very funny.

For non-Influx stuff, I’m really excited about Nikesh Shukla’s next novel, The One Who Wrote Destiny and I can’t wait to read whatever Jarett Kobek is writing next – I Hate The Internet was my favourite book last year. I’m always excited about anything Irenosen Okojie writes, her imagination is remarkable. Ben Myers is one of the most underrated writers in the country, his Northen gothic style is breathtaking, I’m excited to read his next novel. My publishing partner Gary has a book out in October with Dead Ink books, Hollow Shore, so I have to say I’ll enjoy that, haha. Currently I’m reading Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing and also Sabrina Mahfouz’s anthology of British Muslim writers, The Things I Would Tell You. Also, if ZZ Packer ever writes another book, I’ll sell kidney to read it.

Eli: You run the collaborative literary project Loss Lit. What was the last important thing you lost?

Kit: I had to put my cat down last year and it was devastating. She was 19 years old and struggling, but to bring her into the vet without her knowing what was going to happen cut my up in a way I wasn’t expecting. I cried like a newborn, it was a bit of a shock. I have known friends and close family to pass away, and obviously that grief is consuming, but there was something about the innocence of my cat as she stood on the vet’s table looking at me before the injection went in that tore me apart.

I also lost a £50 note I was going to give a plumber for doing some work in my flat. That really hurt. I never carry that sort of big money around so I never have the opportunity to lose it. Fifty quid! That’s like 25 pints in a Spoons…

 

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