Independent publisher Book Ex Machina will release the fourth edition of its Matchbook Stories, featuring narratives by Ali Smith and Etgar Keret, in February.
Book Ex Machina is based in Nicosia, Cyprus, and run by author Thodoris Tzalavras and editor Ioanna Mavrou. Tzalavras’ first book, Nicosia in Dark and White, was its first publication back in 2010. It self-distributes and is stocked in the UK by Foyles, Blackwell’s and several independent bookshops. It hopes to use a distributor for the fifth issue.
Mavrou said: “Our philosophy from the start was to publish projects that we are highly invested in and love; to create beautiful books; and to put them out in the world and add our voices to the conversation. Cyprus is a tiny place and we are a tiny publisher, but today it’s easier to reach out and find your audience.”
The idea for the Matchbook Stories, which Book Ex Machina calls “the Tiniest Literary Magazine in the World” (9cm x 11cm “matchboxes” containing tiny stories), came about while Mavrou was studying for a Creative Writing MFA at Oxford University in 2011. Mavrou said: “People will probably continue to argue until the end of time about how valuable creative writing courses are to writers, but in my experience that provided the space and conditions that allowed for many of my creative projects to begin. Once you start working on one creative thing, really working on it and committing all your time to the creative process, it opens you up to do many more creative things.”
The collections are limited editions. Issue 1 had a print run of 100 copies as it was handmade by Mavrou and Tzalavras. After researching how other publishers undertook specialist publishing and exploring prototypes, Mavrou and Tzalavras found a printer, Tien Wah Press in Singapore, for subsequent issues. The print run from Issue 2 onwards has been 2,000 copies.
Mavrou said: “Any time you make a specialised item that is different from the traditional book format it is bound to cost more. It’s always something we have to consider but in the end it’s important to us to make our books as beautiful as we can as objects, so extra cost is always part of it. Since we are still starting out, everything takes a long time, but I think we are getting there.”
The contributors are a mix of established and emerging writers: “I can’t tell you how excited we’ve been and how incredibly lucky we are to have some of our favourite writers in the world send us stories, most of them written specifically for us. The love we get from established writers is incredible, they’re incredibly supportive and kind. And at the same time we get to publish writers we love that people might not know yet.”
Issue 4, which is being released in February and is priced at £12.99, features stories by Baileys Prize-winner Ali Smith (about a couple meeting in a bookshop), Israeli short story and graphic novel writer Etgar Keret (a comic story about making connections) and American novelist Marti Leimbach (about a couple’s trip to Belgium), among others.
The theme of the fourth issue is “matches” but this came about serendipitously: “We don’t give directions to writers other than the word count and so far in every issue the stories have fitted and themes emerged with little editorial nudging. We like stories that have a sense of place or of relationships, stories that say something about the human condition, so maybe those end up fitting well with each other—like people attracted to other people who have similar ideas and tastes.”