Friday, 22 May 2009

More Salt

I have been following with interest the many discussions and blogs about Salt Publishing's Just One Book campaign, which started (I think) yesterday on Facebook.

The announcement came from Chris Hamilton-Emery that Salt are struggling financially to stay afloat, with the current economic crisis and the end of their Arts Council funding.

Their Just One Book campaign urges people to buy one book, right now, so that Salt can survive this crisis. The news has been blogged, twittered and shared on most networking sites.

Many people have pledged support by buying book/s, spreading the news, and leaving comments about how much they value Salt as a cutting edge publisher of poetry and short stories. I read on the Bookseller website that the campaign has resulted in 400 sales in the first 24 hours of the campaign, which Chris Hamilton-Emery described as an 'astonishing and heart-warming' response.

I hope the campaign helps them navigate through their current financial crisis, although I do worry about whether a £55,000 hole in their budget can possibly be plugged by internet sales.

I have read one or two negative comments about the campaign. The main critic being writer and publisher,Susan Hill commenting on Paul Magrs facebook page. She says,"Their books sell about 12 copies each, heavily subsidised by the ACE which is absolutely ludicrous. If only 12 people want to buy their books they shouldn`t be publishing.. and they certainly should not get public subsidy."

Her comments felt a little harsh. Salt have been very open over the past year about sales. They have admitted that some books sell little, and perhaps there are a number of Salt books that have sold only 12 copies, but I also know there are others that have sold many copies. Tania Hershman's brilliant The White Road and Other Stories, is one example, currently at number 4 in the UK short story sales chart on Amazon. Their books have won awards, been shortlisted for prizes and have had excellent mainstream press.

Personally, I love Salt books and have been reading them for the past few years. I can recommend many of their short story collections:

My favourite Salt collection of poetry is Angela Readman's Strip

but there are many many others that I could recommend.

I do feel a little uncomfortable with the idea of publishers asking for us to buy books to save their presses, or to donate money. Although it is happening more and more often these days with small presses being threatened by funding cuts and the downturn in the market. I want to hear that Salt and other small presses are adapting to these changes in the market by their approaches to publishing, maybe taking a few less risks for a while so they can focus on their current titles to ensure that these sales increase, and perhaps looking for other funding streams/sources of income to subsidise their budget deficits. We all have to thrift more at the moment, and there is just not enough money for the reading public to buy as many books as they would like.

I want to see Salt succeed. They are one of the most exciting independent press in the UK right now, due to the risks they take on talented writers that might not get published in the mainstream, their commitment to poetry and the short story, and the high quality of their book production.

My request is that if you are thinking of buying a book then please consider Salt, if you've never heard of them have a browse of their site, if you have a birthday coming up, ask a friend to buy you a brilliant short story or poetry collection, or buy presents for others from their site, not just now, but also in the future.

And not just Salt, but one of the many small press publishers that work hard to produce innovative, edgy writing from new writers, and carve a small niche for themselves in poetry and short story publishing because there are so many out there at risk right now.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Word Soup #2

Word Soup is a live lit night in Preston hosted by the gorgeous and talented Jenn Ashworth. It happens every month at The New Continental.

It was the second Word Soup on Tuesday and I was lucky enough to be reading alongside some amazing writers and musicians.

I love the venue. It's in a great setting next a semi-industrial looking bridge spanning the river. It's been totally done up with gorgeous wallpaper, very spacious, with an arts room out the back that used to be a dodgy soft play area for kids and is now a gorgeous open space with art work on the walls, ambient lighting and a stage. And the night was so well organised, I thought (having been to my fair share of dodgy amateurish poetry readings).

The mix of literature and music was just right.

Music by Mr and Mrs, a quirky folk indie band with verve is how I would best describe them. Their songs are lyrically very strong, but the energy of the performance was amazing, I loved watching them. They started and ended each half of the evening, so we had songs interspersed through the event, there were a few laughs, a captivated audience and some interesting use of the microphone.

The first half there were two readers. I'm afraid I was a little distracted during the first reading by settling into the night, and focusing on what I planned to read. Sorry. Then Richard Hirst read a very amusing letter addressed to an imaginary millipede, that had us laughing out loud.

The second half, there were three readers. Me.
I read five prose poems. I tried to pick pieces that were linked to the theme of skin. I read Fairground Man and In the House of his Father (from my chapbook Winter Hands), Mr Ali and PO Box 332 (recently published on Pygmy Giant) and a very new poem called I will miss the rain. I felt nervous. Not too much. But enough to make my voice feel a little strange to me - has anyone else experienced that feeling - when you speak it sounds like someone else? I'm never sure what to read, not knowing who will be there, or what the feel of an event will be. For once I wished I'd read a short story rather then poems, as it was all short fiction apart from me. But, I enjoyed reading, the feeling as though I am full of electricity, the focus, and the trembling feeling afterwards.

After me, Andrew Michael Hurley read the first story from his collection The Unusual Death of Julie Christie. I hung onto every word, he is a strong reader, very charasmatic. His story was beautiful, capturing the early stages of a relationship, the small nuances in the dynamic between two people starting to fall in love, discover each other, but written without a single cliche. Of course, I bought a copy of this collection. And this time, I actually managed to say hi and have a brief chat with him, albeit in perhaps a bit of a weird way (Hello I'm Annie, I love your writing, chatter chatter, talking too much and being a nit nervy). I'm sure he thinks me very strange, while he comes across as such a genuinely lovely person.

Then, Emma Lannie read her story Proxy, written especially for the event. It was such a pleasure to meet Emma properly (I've read with her once before at No Point in Not Being Friends). She is so lovely and had a natter beforehand, swapped books, etc. Her story was so beautiful, nervous, slow, erotic, dreadfully lonely and sad, beautiful written. I keep remembering the car crash kiss. But there was such tension in the room, as her story developed moment by moment, small movement by movement, it was as though the heat in the room prickled against our skin. Hmm. Yes. This is her skill I think in short story writing, creating this slow building beautiful tension and these tender moments between lonely people.

I almost didn't want to come home it was such a good night. I am so glad Jenn asked me to read. Thanks Jenn! But that drive back along the M61 called me, and I had to come back to a rainy Manchester night and get ready for work the next day.

But, I so recommend Word Soup, the next one is on 23rd June, and I urge you to have a listen to Mr and Mrs, or buy a book by Andrew Michael Hurley or Emma Lannie. (or indeed me, if you wish).

Sunday, 17 May 2009

100 readers

I am one of 100 readers of Fiona Robyn's The Blue Handbag. She has sent out ten copies of her book, which will each be read by ten readers.

She is tracking the progress of these books on her site 100 readers, so we find out what parts of the world they reach, the kind of people who read them. Each of the 100 readers is interviewed by Fiona, a mix of questions about her readers, our lives and also what we thought of the novel. My answers are online now with a photo of me hugging a tree, so if you want to read the interview, clickety click here.

Such an innovative idea. I'm so interested in finding out about the other 99 people involved in the project.

Saturday, 16 May 2009

A Review: The Blue Handbag

I finished reading The Blue Handbag by Fiona Robyn today. Actually, I only started reading it yesterday, so I’ve devoured it pretty quickly.

I like her main character Leonard, he is very endearing. I felt as though I grew to know him well, cared about what happened to him. He is a gardener for the National Trust, and being one who loves National Trust gardens, I read about his work with interest. I like to imagine that all National Trust gardeners love plants and flowers in the way Leonard does, with intimate knowledge, imbuing them with character and humanity.

The story is a real intrigue. From the moment Leonard finds the blue handbag in the first chapter, I had such a drive to know more. The bag belonged to his wife, who died three years ago. It contains a train ticket, and unravels a whole set of mysteries and secrets about his wife that he discovers through the length of the book. I was hooked and couldn’t imagine how the story would develop.

I like the secondary characters very much as well. Rose, his wife, who we only see through the eyes of other characters, and who my feelings changed and shifted towards throughout the book. His daughter, Raine, who came across as very uptight and slightly annoying at first, but I grew to feel deep empathy with her when she finally opened up. Charlie, his drinking friend, who made me laugh. Pickle, his dog, made me laugh too.

It is less usual these days for a novel to be about an older person. I use this word cautiously, and what I mean is, someone who is old enough to have grandchildren, to be a widow after a forty year marriage, and to be approaching retirement. Most novels I read tend to be about twenty, thirty of forty somethings. It was a pleasure to read about someone a little

He has a wonderful character, I like the ‘buggers’ and ‘loves’ scattered through the narrative, the small inflections in his personality that give him depth and made me warm to him so.

The Blue Handbag is such a lovely read. I really recommend it.

poetry on the edge of my seat

I loved Poets and Players this afternoon. A free poetry event is such a lovely way to spend a Saturday afternoon, and as usual the upper gallery at the Whitworth was packed out for another great reading.

I was especially drawn to Helen Mort's reading from her pamphlet the shape of every box and more recent poems. I managed to buy a copy of it, a 20 poem pamphlet by Tall-Lighthouse, and it is beautiful.

I also loved poems read by Amanda Dalton and just can't wait until her next collection is published. I found myself leaning forward and sitting on the edge of my chair when she read some extracts from a long poem with two parallel narratives, one about feral children, the other about a girl who watches a dog-man and his dogs living in the wood, and she slowly turns into a dog. My description barely does it any justice. There was something guttural and compelling about it, I wanted her to read the whole sequence. But, also like the fact I am left wanting more.

Hmm. It made me hungry and excited about poetry, even more so than usual.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

An Award...!

How lovely. Tania Hershman has given me a little award for my blog. Thank you Tania.

And so, the requirement is for me to write seven things I love:

1. the way my cat crawls under the bed covers and snuggles up
2. every Tuesday night when I go to choir practice and sing gospel
3. the sound of my shoes on the gravel when I go out to water my plants
4. bluebells in the woods
5. my homemade banana bread
6. the smell of cut grass in the rain
7. kisses

and I am going to give an award to seven creative blogs that I love

1. a small stone
2. peony moon
3. Tinkering Times
4. Sarah's Writing Journal
5. Megan Taylor
6. Applehouse Poetry Workshop
7. The Illustrated World of Nicki Pinder

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Reviews: The Immortals by Amit Chaudhuri, and two poetry chapbooks

I have a number of new reviews online:

first, my review of Amit Chaudhuri's laterst novel The Immortals is on review site, Bookmunch.

It is difficult to capture a sense of The Immortals in one sentence, or even a paragraph. It is a novel about people, in particular three people living in Bombay over a period of around twenty years. It has no story as such. It meanders, perhaps, or sprawls through a fairly bourgeois world with brief glimpses of another kind of India.

Read more....

I also have two very short reviews of poetry chapbooks on the Happenstance website. Their magazine Sphinx reviews only chapbooks, which really appealed to me, so I asked them whether I could write reviews for them. Chapbooks get very little or no press and reviews so I love that Happenstance and Sphinx are promoting and supporting starting out writers and small press publications.

Please support them by reading my reviews and spreading the word a little.

My reviews are of Strands by Patrick Williamson, Palores Publications

and The half-mile-high club by Julie Deakin, Smith/Doorstep Books. I loved this book, the poetry is just wonderful, and only £4 for the chapbook...

Word Soup

I will be reading on 19th May at Word Soup, an exciting new live lit night, that will have readings, music and short film. It's the brain child of the gorgeously talented Jenn Ashworth. It's at The New Continental in Preston, and is £3 on the door, if you fancing coming.

I'm excited to be reading alongside Emma Lannie and Andrew Michael Hurley. I heard Emma read once before and was really taken with her story about a shy couple dancing together in the dark. I like it that her surname is Lannie as an old friend used to call me Annie Lannie, and I thought it was sweet. I read with Andrew not too long ago at the launch of the Flax Anthology, Unsaid Undone. I was late and a little nervous and also my family was there, so I never got the chance to speak to him, not even a hello. So, he probably thinks I'm very rude and this time, I plan to try and be much more friendly. I also want to buy his book of short fiction The Unusual Death of Julie Christie, because I've heard it's brilliant, and with any luck he will sign it for me.

There are other readers: David Hartley, Richard Hirst, and Tim Woodall who are all new to me. It all promises to be a special kind of night. The theme for the evening is SKIN, so it will be interesting to hear what kind of poetry and short fiction everyone reads.

Friday, 1 May 2009

When is a poem finished?

Another poet asked me recently, how do I decide when a poem is finished and ready to submit to a magazine? It is a hard question to answer. I’ve been pondering it for a couple of weeks now.

I’ve heard other poets say things like: when it feels finished; when it is published; a poem is never finished.

My answer to the question is complex. I write, not intending to write a poem or a short story or anything of a particular identity, I just write. At some point in the process I think, oh this is becoming a poem, or I don’t know what this is but I like it. I keep writing until I find a natural end, or I get interrupted or fed up. I put it aside (for minutes or hours or months) and then read it again and decide based on a feeling whether it is a poem, whether it is anything, whether there is a germ of an idea, whether I like it.

Very rarely, I write something ‘whole’, i.e. I write a poem or story straight out and barely alter it (the occasional word or phrase, play with the grammar, sort out the punctuation or how it looks on the page. I think wow, I just wrote a whole poem, just like that.

Sometimes, I redraft a poem, put it away again, redraft it, put it away and then one day it clicks into place or I feel happy with it and don’t want to change it anymore. I finish it when it feels right, looks right, but mostly when it sounds right when I read it aloud (and by ‘right’, I mean when it ‘fits’ my voice, sounds natural, sounds like me.)

Most times, I don’t think a poem is finished, or I decide that it isn’t a poem or a story or anything I like. I might abandon it, or totally change it, or leave it for a long, long time until I find an idea or an angle or a new way into the idea, and then I start the process again, perhaps using some of the initial words, but mainly writing it fresh.

There are times I get impatient or in the first flush of excitement about a piece of writing, I decide a poem is wonderful, complete and impossible to improve. I send it away to a magazine, it gets rejected and I read it again with wiser eyes and see where it can be strengthened, what else it might need.

Occasionally, a poem is published and I read it, wishing I’d held on to it a little longer, giving it time to settle before I committed it to print. There have been readings where I alter my printed poems and read a different version, a post-published version that I prefer.

So, I guess my answer is that I’m not always sure when a poem is finished. I use my instinct, decide whether it feels finished and at some point let go.

I'd be interested to know how other writers would answer this question...