JUSTIN DAVID, a writer, photographer and a publisher, lives in East London. His first novella, The Pharmacist, was published by Salt as part of their Modern Dreams series. His short fiction has appeared in many print and online anthologies and his full length work ‘He’s Done Ever So Well for Himself’ was published in April 2018.
Justin’s photography has been widely published in magazines and on the covers of many books. His photography/poetry collaboration with Nathan Evans, Threads, was long-listed for the Polari First Book Prize. He is also a contributor to Paul Burston’s literary salon, Polari, at Royal Festival Hall, and is a founder member of Leather Lane Writers.
With an aim to discover and celebrate original, diverse and transgressive literature and art, Justin along with his partner Nathan Evans formed Inkandescent, a new publishing venture in the United Kingdom. The publishing house is committed to progressive ideas, subjects and voices underrepresented by mainstream publishing.
SangitaSwechcha from SahityaPost talked to him about his literary journey and book publishing experience in the UK.

SangitaSwechcha (SS): Tell us about your background in writing. How did you come into this publishing journey?
Justin David (JD): It feels like I’ve always been making art, taking photographs and writing stories, right from a very young age.There is so much of my early work stored in the loft of the West Midlands semi-detached home where I grew up. My dad keeps telling me, ‘Justin, come and collect all the stuff before the roof bursts open.’ I’m not sure there was ever a specific time when I decided that I wanted to be an author. It was always just there. I was writing stories all through school, art school and university. Most of that was done alone but I knew if I really wanted to progress, I’d have to surround myself with other writers, other lovers of books.
While I was at art school I became obsessed with the books, plays and films of Philip Ridley. I got the chance to interview him during the last year at my university. He became a close friend and mentor. I’d have to cite him as the single most important influence upon my work, during what was, for me, a very formative time as an artist.
After that, I joined writing classes. I completed an MA in Creative and Life Writing at Goldsmiths. And eventually I helped to set up Leather Lane Writers with the other incredibly talented founder members, Kit de Waal, Annie Murray, Joshua Davies and Bartholomew Bennett.

SS: The title of your novella ‘Kissing the Lizard’ is interesting! Tell us more about the book.
JD: My new novella is part creepy coming-of-age story, part black-comedy, set partly in buzzing 1990s London and partly in barren New Mexico wildlands. I call it a desert-gothic. It’s a prequel to The Pharmacist, my first book and features some of the same characters—Jamie and Billy. When Jamie meets Matthew in London’s Soho, he’s drawn to his new-age charms. But when he follows his new friend across the planet to a remote earth-ship in Taos, bizarre incidents begin unfolding and Matthew’s real nature reveals itself: he’s a manipulative monster at the centre of a strange cult. Jamie finds himself at the centre a disturbing psychological nightmare as they seize the opportunity to recruit a new member. No spoilers. Though just to say this is part of a sequence of books. There are two, possibly three more books in the series to be released. Watch this space.

SS: Please tell us about your new novella ‘The Pharmacist’. What is it all about?
JD: It’s a love story, bildungsroman, written from the point of view of a young painter in his early twenties called Billy, living in Shoreditch in the East End of London, near to the famous Columbia Road Flower Market. It’s set around the turn of the century, pre-gentrification: the area was beginning to have one of its heydays; it was full of artists and traders and at that time it was still, just about, possible for ordinary people to sustain a creative life. It is here where, by chance meeting, he begins an unconventional friendship with an older, eccentric man, Albert, who is in his seventies. And it’s about how the two of them, Billy–in in his formative years and Albert–in his third act, navigate the complex dynamics of nurture and destruction.

SS: As a publisher at Inkandescent, tell us your experience of publishing books for voices underrepresented by mainstream publishing.
JD: It wasn’t something we planned. It just happened organically. My partner, Nathan, is a director of film and theatre, and poet. I’m a writer of fiction and a photographer. We’d grown disillusioned about the art and publishing worlds. The bookshops were full of classics, celebrity biographies, prize-winners and commercial paperbacks. Publishers just didn’t seem to be taking risks on anything that might not appeal to a very wide audience.
We just didn’t make the kind of work that publishers and producers could make mega-bucks from. We were too queer, too working-class, not working-class enough. It seemed that you had to be both an Oxbridge graduate and the daughter or son of somebody before you could get over the drawbridge.
To be fair, there are some amazing independent publishers in this country who are really giving talented diverse writers a chance. Of the big corporates, Penguin are making all the right steps with their initiative to find underrepresented voices. I’m thrilled to see things changing.
In 2015 we’d decided that we just wanted to make one piece of work which didn’t require the permission of a gatekeeper. Call it a vanity project if you like, but we won an Arts Council grant to produce and publish a book of our own – Threads.
We didn’t want all that knowledge to go to waste. We decided to publish more books and build a platform to champion the underrepresented ideas, subjects and voices of others. Inkandescent was born. When an independent report about the dearth of inclusion called RETHINKING ‘DIVERSITY’ IN PUBLISHING was published we felt galvanised. We knew we were doing the right thing in developing our forthcoming book, MAINSTREAM, an anthology of stories from the edges. This book celebrates the work of writers from three underrepresented groups in the UK—those are writers of colour, writers who identify as LGBTQ+ and finally the working class and the financially disadvantaged. We’re currently crowdfunding this project via our fundraising partner, Unbound. https://unbound.com/books/mainstream/
SS: Do you also accept submissions for books and anthologies outside of the UK?
JD: Yes we do. We currently have a very busy publishing slate. We’re only very small and we have to manage our time carefully. However, we’re always interested in seeing exceptional writing, in the English language.

SS: Any other future projects you would like to share with us today?
JD: Inkandescent will publish Address Book by queer pioneer, Neil Bartlett, a collection of seven interconnecting stories spanning three centuries. From a new millennium civil partnership celebration to profane love in a Victorian tenement, from a council-flat bedroom at the height of the AIDS crisis to a doctor’s living-room in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic, these stories lead us through decades of change to discover hope in the strangest of places.
Editor Nathan Evans says, ‘I’ve loved Neil’s writing ever since finding his first book in the university library, so to be publishing his latest is something of a dream for me. Inkandescent are proud to be printing such an important queer writer with so much to say about where we are and how we got here.’
Neil says, ‘Every place that I’ve ever slept in, I’ve always wondered about what went on at that address before I moved in. To write this book, I went back to some significant places in my own life and let the walls talk to me. The result of that listening is this new set of stories.’
Address Book will be published October 2021 in paperback and kindle.