There is a theory that the Western phonetic alphabets evolved in stages from a set of hieroglyphs representing both a sound and a specific idea: these heiroglyphs being themselves an intermediate stage between pictorial representations of the ideas alone and purely phonetic letters. According to this theory, the letter A ultimately derives from the proto-literate symbol for Aurochs – meaning that our written language owes a peculiar evolutionary debt to the ancient, now extinct, Bos Primagenius, the ancestor of most domestic cattle and, tangentially, also of the prehistoric cultures who came to rely on herding rather than hunting for economic survival – cultures which later on developed into the historically potent early European, near/middle Eastern and North African civilisations.
Apart from the great bull itself, we can’t know every concept that was contained in that primordial A, although plausibly we can guess at the sound ‘aaaa’ and, much more speculatively, at some notion of a beginning. Likewise, we can’t know very much of was going through the minds of the prehistoric people who painted Aurochs on the cave walls of Lascaux. But perhaps here the idea that the figures represented something to do with a beginning can be made a tiny bit less tentatively – after all, just as the letter A begins the modern Latin Alphabet, the Hall of the Bulls begins the sequence at Lascaux. Perhaps not. Why on Earth a primeval bull should in those artists’ minds have come to be associated with the idea of a ‘beginning’ of any kind is, after all, a question we cannot begin to answer.
But either way, it seems to me that we, as modern European descendants of those early peoples, owe an ancient moral debt not only to them but also to the Aurochs – over whose extinction they, and we, almost certainly presided – just as we owe a much more recent one to those domesticated cattle whose liberty and self-determination we have appropriated in order to maintain the species as a source of meat, milk, fat, and leather. As we have used the body of the bull, we have, through its continued cypher, used its idealised form as a central element of our culture and civilisation. This far less obvious debt is one that cannot, by my reckoning at least as someone who has a little more to do with the enduring Spirits of this continent than most modern people, be left unacknowledged.
So, I felt it only right that I should name this new project for the idea that by this reckoning lies at the root of all Western writing; for the Aurochs, opener of the caves, plainest sound of speech: for the letter A. I’m sure this gesture will not be enough to discharge what I owe, but it is something – a beginning, maybe. I hope the Spirits, human and non-human and those who are more than both, will understand why I cannot offer more.
There is a long tradition of the underground press a providing a platform for dissenting ideas and offering a means by which the voiceless may find an audience. Over the centuries since the invention of the printing press underground publishers have printed leaflets, pamphlets, and magazines questioning and sometimes directly opposing, the established views of Churches, Governments, legal systems, economic orthodoxies, and so on. Although, historically, underground presses have not always been left leaning (and there are still some right-wing ones about as well as others that are frankly nuts whatever political orientation they profess to hold) leaflets produced by underground presses were instrumental in the early years of anti-racism in the UK, in the early feminist and LGBT movements – especially the initial stages of the AIDS crisis – and in the development of the environmental movements. Typically, such presses have been small, grassroots projects run by dedicated groups of people for the immediate benefit of people (sometimes ‘The People’) and in service of some greater goal such as providing AIDS education or protesting police brutality. They have not tended to be run for profit.
So it seemed appropriate when I began this project to tie it to these histories of both refusing to be silenced and of aiming to bring about a positive societal impact.
What We Are Looking For
Aurochs aims to publish innovative literary and speculative fiction, poetry, and creative-non-fiction which, while it may (or not!) belong to a recognisable genre, aims to blur boundaries and challenge generic norms and expectations. We are not interested in developing a ‘stable’ of authors who write what we tell them, and we aim to extend ongoing support to new and mid-career authors whom more conventional publishers fail to understand and cannot place. That said, we do have some feelings about what kinds of work are right for us.
We are interested in writing that has an Animist, Traditional Indigenous or similar philosophical basis, and/or a strong environmental and / or psycho-sociological focus: stories whose purpose is to stir both the spirit and the Spirits; fables that seek to give voice to the land and to the more than human world as well as narratives that speak strongly to the human condition in all its beauty and ugliness. We are interested in novel length and short fiction works of literary and speculative fiction that aim to articulate responses to the looming and interlocked crises of the 21st Century: Climate change, biodiversity loss, water stress, the tragedy of human displacement and its effects and consequences. Works that do not shy away from the reality and yet seek to offer hope; stories that look forward in a way that is genuinely progressive, or perhaps hark back to older times and older values that critique, challenge or perhaps reject altogether the short-sighted modern notion that a forest has no value until it has been cut down. We are particularly interested in works by: writers who have migrated (or are refugees) from the global South; British writers of colour; Native American writers; Gypsy and Traveller writers; Queer and Trans writers; Working Class writers; neurodivergent and disabled writers; XR rebels and by water protectors; writers from the margins who care deeply about the world and want to add their voices to the swelling choruses of support and condemnation.
We are under no illusions as to the likely outcome of this coming century’s trials, for good and bad, for ourselves and for the Earth. We hold on to the hope that even in the event of massive and traumatic enforced change to our systems of living and thinking, both the human species and the more-than-human world within which humanity is inextricably embedded will somehow survive to begin another century, another world in which – we hope – the survivors will have learned a little humility, a little love for one another, and a great deal of wisdom concerning the limits of their own power when set against an overwhelming reality.
We know that writing, storytelling, is not the answer to all this. But writing is what we do, and all that we can do, and we must try to do something – so using the tools we have to hand, our words, we set about to make an impression, to paint an image on a cave wall: to seed an idea, inspire a new way of thinking, awaken a new narrative. We are strengthened by the knowledge that, hard as the task will be, we are not all alone in it.
So here goes the call out to the Visionaries, the Shamans, the Rebels, the Thinkers of New Thoughts: if you have something you want to say to us, we would love to hear from you.
Aurochs aims to negotiate all contracts within an ethical framework. We will negotiate upfront and transparently, and will maintain all contracted obligations without wriggling. All and any advances and royalties owed to published and contracted authors will be paid promptly and on time, no matter how small the figure, unless there is an exceptional reason for not doing so. Once a work has been accepted for publication its release will not be unreasonably delayed. All publications will be offered for sale on the Aurochs Underground website and through selected independent bookshops. No published work will be withdrawn from sale or arbitrarily discontinued, though we aim to avoid unnecessary printing and so there may be times when only the e-book is available. We aim to avoid selling through Amazon wherever possible but recognise that there may be cases (for example expedited sales to Europe or the US) where this may be unavoidable.
As we are a brand new independent publisher we are not currently in a position to offer advance payments to authors, and any contracted payments owed on novel length works will only apply after all production costs have been recovered. All contributors to Aurochs 1 and subsequent print editions of the journal will be entitled to a free print copy of the edition in which their work is published. No other payment will currently be made.
We aim to print as much as possible on recycled paper and to minimalise the usage and creation of pollutants during the production process. We aim to support small independent businesses and workers co-operatives and will preferentially deal with these ahead of larger corporations especially those with a poor environmental and / or social record.