The web page of the Albion Beatnik Bookstore in Oxford, now closed (as usual) for business: muses and misspills on books, jazz, poetry, stuff like false flags and smoke screen: was randomly decrepit and proven to be more than neo-bankrupt: it was so analogue it was anal and now deceased.
In stock is the tiniest literary magazine in the world: Matchbox Stories from Book Ex Machina, an original publishing initiative from a writer and photographer in Cyprus. Each issue is a box, and within is collected four tiny stories, each its own matchbook. Each matchbook story is by a brilliant writer. The current issue (£12.99) contains stories by Ali Smith, Etgar Keret, Marti Leimbach and Frances Gapper.
I have known Ioanna for years (she did her Masters in Creative Writing here at Oxford) and have admired greatly her passion for what she does, which is natty and different always. I asked her some questions about Book Ex Machina…
Why did you set up the Matchbox series, and what was its inspiration?
I always liked the idea of putting literature, stories, everywhere; like a “look at this cute thing” and then you open it and read the stories and find out that they are actually great stories, and it’s a very nice surprise. And all of the issues so far have that, some amazing tiny stories that pack a punch. Also someone who might not usually pick up a book of short stories or a literary magazine might pick up Matchbook Stories because of the cuteness factor. And for those who already love stories, it’s a little literary dessert, a “charming amuse-bouche” is what the nice people at Blackwell’s called it. It’s something that’s for everyone.
What plans do you have for it?
Big plans! Seriously though, the series has already gone to so many places around the world! I know this might not be that big a deal to a big publisher, but for a tiny one like us, to think that someone in Oxford or New York City or L.A. or Hong Kong is walking into a bookshop to buy something that we created and put out there in the world, that’s huge! Or that some of our favourite writers like it. The people whose stories we’ve been reading for years! It’s an incredible feeling. Now obviously we’d like to get it into more hands, sell more copies so that we can pay our bills and make more issues. (We have two great writers for the next issue already lined up.) So thank you for helping us get the word out and always having us in the shop.
Why do you call it a magazine and will you seek to develop this idea further?
Because it is a periodical publication of selected stories. And, yes, I’d love to see where it goes. Maybe we’ll add new elements. Maybe there’ll be music. But no idea is set in stone, we’ll just see where it goes, and while we work on other books too. We have just finished working on a more traditional anthology, of the literary magazine The Letters Page, although we gave it our own twist, we took it from digital item to a boxed set that contains in addition to a book of the anthology a selection of loose-leaf letter reproductions. It’s very pretty. We even made typographic portraits of the writers from their own words. That’s coming out soon, and we’re working on more photography books. So we’ll see, everything we do informs the next thing and the thing after that…
Have there been problems in its production, and has the finished product met your blueprint, and has it developed much during its journey thus far?
The hardest was Issue 1. This issue we made ourselves by hand: it took forever and even though it looked amazing, the time it took us to make each one was, well… we’d never do anything else if we continued to make them that way. After that we were lucky enough to find a printer who specialized in one-off, unique book projects. So we could have a wider edition, which we did for Issues 2, 3, and 4. But we still design every cover, every matchbook ourselves. We give it a lot of thought and time because we love the stories and want them to have a good home.
Will there be a large print edition?