In Conversation: Stone Table Books

Stone Table Books is an imprint of the independent Morningstar Publications. Based in Melbourne with contacts in Adelaide, it is primarily a speculative fiction imprint with a focus on fantasy for all ages. This focus on fantasy goes right to their name, which was inspired by C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, The Witch and The WardrobeTulpa Magazine’s Cameron Lowe spoke with Mark Worthing, one of the founders of Stone Table Books, to find out what it’s like being a small-time publisher in Australia.

Stone Table Books began in 2016, after Mark Worthing was contacted by Morningstar Publications.

“Ben Morton (fellow co-founder) and myself are long-time fantasy and sci-fans,” says Worthing. “We co-taught a course on fantasy and science-fiction literature some years back and also have both published fiction pieces in these genres.”

Right from its inception, Stone Table Books has had an Australian focus. They have primarily remained Australian-focused, to give voice to local indie authors. Beginning from next year, they will begin publishing international authors, particularly from the United States. This is now possible after they recently entered a partnership with an American-based publisher. Despite this overseas expansion, Worthing said, “We will continue to be an Australian-based imprint, seek out Australian talent, and publish our Australian authors using Australian standard spelling and grammar.”

 

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Mark Worthing (left) and Ben Morton (right) at Adelaide Supanova, 2018

 

Beginning a small press in Australia is not easy. Finding and maintaining high-quality authors and cover artists on a tight budget is challenging to say the least. Worthing call their survival in this industry one of their greatest achievements. There are a lot of challenges in this industry, one being that there is little room for error. Cover art, for example, must not contain any errors as it can increase expenses. Another challenge they have faced is being able to get their books stocked in major book stores. This is due to them having to compete with larger publishers, who can print more books and offer lower Recommended Retail Price (RRP).

Even with their challenges, Stone Table Books has continued to attract new readers and authors since its launch. Their position as a small press has allowed them to take risks on many exciting, quirky and risky projects. One of these is Wendy Noble’s Young Adult Beast-Speaker trilogy, which deals with children becoming soldiers. Worthing said that this is a theme some large publishers did not want to touch, but Stone Table Books was eager to take on. He said it was a risky theme, one which is what he looks for in stories.

When asked for advice to give to potential writers to submit their work, Worthing said, “Writers should make sure that what they submit is well-written and well-edited before they send it in, and they should make sure that the story engages the reader from the start.” He says a writer only gets one chance with each publisher and they must do what they can to catch the editor’s attention early on. Not following this or the guidelines, he says, “equates to a missed opportunity.”


For those interested in Stone Table Books, check out the link to their website here. Follow them on Facebook for updates and their latest releases. You can also check out a review of Playing God by Morton Benning here.

Words by Cameron Lowe

Header image: Steampunk Festival 2017

Shadowalker

Shadowalker

Catch Tilly

Stone Table Books 2017


Shadowalker is an engrossing fantasy you’ll want to read in a single sitting—I know I did.

After waking in Meldin with only a hazy memory and in world-altering pain, Uriel, daughter of the Death Lord, is in one of the most dangerous situations of her life. With her previous life lost, she is a victim to heraldic knowledge she can hardly handle. Abandoned on her uncle’s doorstep, she discovers half her family and most of Meldin want her father dead. It is imperative her identity is hidden from the Lord of the World – but how will that play out when the only one who can heal her is the Lord of the World’s son, Zanar? With Zanar’s help, Uriel escapes to Quislayn, one of the independent houses where she is a fosterling with her cousin Caraid.

In the process of healing Uriel, Zanar and Uriel’s closeness becomes a point of contention among the fosterlings. Caraid’s jealousy grows as she is forced to share her boyfriend with a cousin she doesn’t know or like.

Throughout the novel Uriel’s ignorance is the reader’s ignorance, together we discover this new world and how to navigate it. Meldin society often seems similar to being at court in medieval times, in particular among the fosterlings who squabble over social standing. Taking from Caraid’s lead, the fosterlings are suspicious of Uriel, not least because of her strange fits.

Shadowalker follows Uriel’s character as she uncovers more about her past, her father, and Meldin’s bloody history through the trauma of her peers. We see her grow up, taking the world of Meldin in her stride while forming bonds with her fellow fosterlings – bonds which may keep her safe.

Tilly has crafted the novel well, anticipating and the reader’s questions and allowing Uriel to find the answers. The book is well written and complimented by dragons, shape-shifters and death-magic – everything my younger self would have cherished. This book is perfect for fantasy lovers aged twelve and up.

 

3.5/5 stars


Words by Kayla Gaskell

Playing God

Playing God
Morton Benning
Stone Table Books, 2017


With a wry humour reminiscent of Terry Pratchett, Morton Benning treats the reader to a quest fit for any lover of role-playing fantasy games. Playing God explores the fallacy of making yourself a god – something ‘God Avatar’ Jeff created the entire digital world of Utopia to do. When the A.I. of Jeff’s game world malfunctions and turns on him, he finds himself trapped in Utopia. His quest to get back to the real world forces him into a party of rag-tag travellers including a cleric-in-training, an elf, a loveable little cat-creature, fairies of an aquatic variety and a surly goblin. Through a series of misadventures, Jeff is forced to unlearn his selfish ways and see the importance of helping others and working as part of a team.

This is a book that will certainly appeal to a teenage audience. It is easy to read and the story feels a lot like a madcap Dungeons & Dragons campaign. That being said, while the plot is plentiful in encounters with monsters and the odd flesh-eating tree, it doesn’t delve much into character. Jeff is easily the most developed character, but at times when he isn’t present the story feels a little more stagnant with other key characters such as Keenley, Turnshoe, and Miyako coming off as a touch shallow. This is a little disappointing given that Keenley is, arguably, the main character – not Jeff.

There is also a bit of ensemble-cast-syndrome going on as sometimes it feels a little like there are too many people in the party, to the point where none of them truly get to shine – something not uncommon in D&D style fantasies in which a big party is common.. The pacing can also be slow in parts, particularly when the characters are travelling, but this is made up for by the action-packed sequences peppered in-between.

The concept behind Playing God is a compelling one. What is it like to be one of the NPCs inhabiting a game world? It’s the kind of angle rarely examined – the exceptions being the likes of Viva La Dirt League’s Epic NPC Man series on YouTube. With a similar turn towards humour, Benning takes the NPC experience a step forward by looking at how the characters in Utopia react to their creator, Jeff, whose decidedly 21st century quips and analogies leave Keenley and co baffled.

Overall, this is a playful and enjoyable debut.

Playing God is available to purchase through Stone Table Books.

3/5 stars


Words by Lisandra Linde