Creatives in profile: interview with Katie Arnstein

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Katie Arnstein is an actor, writer and musician from the Midlands. Her two solo shows have both won Show of the Week at VAULT Festival, with her most recent show, Sexy Lamp winning The Pick of Pleasance Award.

Sexy Lamp is a show inspired by Kelly Sue DeConnick’s ‘Sexy Lamp Test’, which determines if a female character is relevant to the plot of an artistic work or merely decoration. If a female role could be replaced by an item of otherwise alluring lighting without changing the story, it has failed the Sexy Lamp Test. In the era of the #MeToo movement, it is in many way a defining show of our times (and, as such, we – along with many others – have been raving about it in our reviews).

Ahead of a summer touring Sexy Lamp, which includes a run through the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, it was a genuine pleasure to catch-up with Arnstein and talk about her show and everything else besides (including her constant fear of frogs).

 INTERVIEWER

Tell us about yourself, your background and ethos.

ARNSTEIN

My name is Katie Arnstein, I am a 28 year old actor, writer and musician originally from the Midlands. I am the daughter of  two now-retired teachers, Jane and Tim, and I have two sisters, Grace and Lil. I’m a vegan but am fun in other ways.

INTERVIEWER

In your latest play, Sexy Lamp, you speak about how your love of acting can be traced back to watching Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz. Has acting always been your first love, and what have been some of the defining moments that have brought you on your journey so far?

ARNSTEIN

I am told that when I was very young I wanted to be a face painter but after seeing the Wizard of Oz I wanted to be Dorothy. I loved acting but didn’t know how to do it as a job until I met the careers advisor at school who said “You can train to be an actor, you know?” and I was like “AWESOME. How?”. I got in to a regional drama school and moved to London in 2012 to begin my glittering career*

*career decidedly not glittery.

INTERVIEWER

Apart from acting, what else are you particularly passionate about?

ARNSTEIN

Equal rights, large cups of tea and Bruce Springsteen.

INTERVIEWER

Who inspires you?

ARNSTEIN

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Jess Phillips, Morgan Lloyd-Malcolm, my sisters and my oldest friend Laura Higgs.

 INTERVIEWER

What are some of the key challenges facing aspiring artists and actors today?

ARNSTEIN

How hard it is financially. How hard it is getting your foot in the door. The lack of diversity within the arts.

INTERVIEWER

Could you tell us a little about your journey in putting together your show, Sexy Lamp? Why do you feel it’s been important to put this show on now, and could you have put it on to the same effect when you first arrived in London, in 2012?

ARNSTEIN

Sexy Lamp is the second solo show I have written. It follows Bicycles and Fish, which I have been touring on and off since 2017. I wrote Sexy Lamp in December, 2018 up until the day of the first show on the 6th of February 2019. I had surgery at the start of December so spent the month sitting down and trying to write. I wrote the opening song and a number of real life accounts of my experiences and then tried to piece them together. It was like a nightmare jigsaw puzzle.

There is absolutely no way I could have put the show on in 2012, I didn’t believe I could write until 2016. In 2012 I was waiting for the call from the National Theatre or Spielberg. Reader, that call never came.

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The ‘Sexy Lamp Test’: if a female character could be replaced by an item of otherwise alluring lighting without changing the story, it has failed the Sexy Lamp Test. Photography by Simon Jefferis.

INTERVIEWER

In the 1980s, there seemed to be a move within the acting industry towards putting strong, female characters front and centre of stories – think Thelma and Louise, or Alien, for instance. So it’s not unsurprising when many people voice incredulity, really, that we still haven’t moved on much from then, in many ways – and there are still far too many films and theatre productions that don’t pass either the Bechtel Test or the Sexy Lamp test. Why is that, do you think? And what can be done about it?

ARNSTEIN

We need more female voices in every area of the industry; but particularly when it comes to making the decisions of what gets made. We also need to vote with our time and money. We need to seek out and support female and non-binary work. It has been a boys club for the whole time. Thelma and Louise and Alien are exceptions, not the rule, when it comes to films. I hope to see a change and have every film or show pass these incredibly simple tests addressing gender balance.

INTERVIEWER

Writers often speak of having certain habits or processes they follow strictly when writing their first, second and subsequent drafts. Are there any strict rules or rituals you stick to when crafting your shows?

ARNSTEIN

I try and do youtube Yoga with Adriene in the morning. I always start the day with a big cup of tea and breakfast. When the show is coming up I sleep with the script under my pillow and I always have a notebook and pen with me. My friend Dan Goldman will hear the script throughout its many drafts and note it for me. Also, for Sexy Lamp, the wonderful Ellen Havard directed and was key in creating the show as it is now. I always buy a Big Issue on the day of the show. My process also includes huge panic and crying. I am trying to work on this…

INTERVIEWER

Your shows blend performance and almost memoir-like driven narrative with music and song. How do you see the relationship between the various different artistic aspects of your show? Do you prefer writing song lyrics to a script, or vice versa?

ARNSTEIN

I began writing songs when I was 21 and only thought about writing dialog when I entered a scratch night at Redbridge drama centre at the end of 2016. It takes me a while to get a song I like the sound of; but once I get there I can write a song in about an hour, it is just a bit hit and miss until then. The script took longer but I am trying to keep practicing.

INTERVIEWER

Why the ukulele, and what are your biggest musical influences?

ARNSTEIN

My Dad bought me my use for my 21st birthday. I was leaving drama school and wanted to start writing songs and can’t play the piano well enough so the ukulele was a brilliant gift. It’s portable and easy to get started on.

Influences wise, I have my dad’s taste in music. I am particularly interested in great lyricists, Joni Mitchell, Tom Waits, etc. The Kinks are a very important band to me as they make the everyday appear magic.

INTERVIEWER

Do you have a specific audience in mind when you write or act?

ARNSTEIN

I imagine I’m talking to friends which might sound cringe but I hope not. I try to write in a conversational, accessible and gentle way. I want it to feel like you have sat down with a pal you haven’t seen in a while and you’re just catching up. I also try a write a couple of jokes that my parents will like and a couple that my friends will like, then build it up from there.

INTERVIEWER

Do you feel any ethical responsibility as an actor and writer?

ARNSTEIN

I feel I have a responsibility to be truthful and raise awareness of issues surrounding sexism and the everyday struggles that women are faced with. I hope I contribute to the conversation.

INTERVIEWER

What, in your opinion, is the sexiest type of lamp or lighting?

ARNSTEIN

Since showing Sexy Lamp at VAULT festival I have had many images of sexy lamps and lighting sent to me. It is an unexpected perk and it has OPENED MY EYES I can tell you.

INTERVIEWER

What’s next for you and your creative projects?

ARNSTEIN

I have a few more shows of Sexy Lamp and my first show Bicycles and Fish before taking Sexy Lamp to the Pleasance this summer for the Edinburgh Festival. I will start writing a third show I think, although every time I begin it is such a scary feeling I am putting it off. I am also looking to collaborate with other people and theatre companies to keep learning and developing.

INTERVIEWER

Could you give your top 5 – 10 tips for aspiring writers and actors?

ARNSTEIN

  1. Write a to do list everyday with clear achievable goals.
  2. Be brave.
  3. Believe you can do it.
  4. Get a small and brilliant team around you to help you.
  5. Keep a notebook with you at all times.
  6. Find your individuality and that will be your strength.
  7. See as much as you can.
  8. Be kind. (It is not necessary but it helps)

Quick fire round!

 INTERVIEWER

Favourite book/author?

ARNSTEIN

I have just had my mind blown by Normal People and Conversations With Friends, both by Sally Rooney.

INTERVIEWER

Critically acclaimed or cult classic?

ARNSTEIN

I suppose critically acclaimed? But then I’ve seen The Room about 20 times.. so I don’t know.

INTERVIEWER

Most underrated artist?

ARNSTEIN

I have followed a woman called Karima Francis for over 13 years and I think she is wonderful.

INTERVIEWER

Most overrated artist?

ARNSTEIN

 I think R Kelly is still being played and we need to shut that right down.

INTERVIEWER

Who is someone you think more people should know about?

ARNSTEIN

Anna Seward, she was a writer, poet, botanist and feminist from my home town of Lichfield and even though we have many statues of men there is nothing that celebrates her.

INTERVIEWER

If the acting industry didn’t exist – what would you do?

ARNSTEIN

I would like to enter pub quizzes for money and see if it could sustain me.

INTERVIEWER

Do you have any hidden talents?

ARNSTEIN

Me and my brilliant pal Simon just did American Boy at karaoke and it was wicked. I don’t know if that counts.

INTERVIEWER

Most embarrassing moment?

ARNSTEIN

When I was at primary school I had my dress tucked into my pants when I was taking the register out to the office and my teacher got the whole class to tell me in unison. It was a harsh move from them.

INTERVIEWER

What’s something you’re particularly proud of?

ARNSTEIN

Sexy Lamp won the Pleasance Pick of Vault Festival and that is remarkable. I am proud of my sisters, Grace and Lil everyday.

INTERVIEWER

One piece of advice for your younger self?

ARNSTEIN

Don’t worry so much, please. AND DON’T WEAR STILETTOS FOR SCHOOL WHAT ARE YOU THINKING?!

INTERVIEWER

Could you write us a story in 6 words?

ARNSTEIN

She dreamt it then did it.

Check out Sexy Lamp for yourselves

Follow Katie Arnstein on Twitter @KatieArnstein and on Instagram (also @KatieArnstein). Ahead of her run at the Pleasance Baby Grand Theatre in Edinburgh for the whole of the Fringe Festival, you can catch her at one of her upcoming shows (information on which is available through Arnstein’s website).

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Books for the future: Man Booker prize winning novelist Han Kang donates manuscript to the ‘Future Library’ project

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The Nordmanka forest, outside Oslo, where the trees of the Future Library are growing. Photo by  Kristin von Hirsch

In a forest just outside Oslo, one thousand trees have been planted to supply paper for a special anthology of books to be printed in 100 years time. Between now and then, one writer every year will contribute a text, with the writings held in trust, unpublished, until 2114.

This is part of the ground-breaking Future Library project – and each year, everyone is welcome to join in and participate in a handover ceremony with that year’s author.

The Man Booker International prize winning South Korean novelist Han Kang is the author contributing a manuscript for the Future Library project in 2019. She will hand over her writing on Saturday, 25th May in an intimate ceremony within the Nordmarka Forest, Oslo. Visitors can join Han Kang walking through the trees to a clearing filled with one thousand four-year-old spruce saplings: the Future Library forest.

Future Library is a public artwork by Scottish artist Katie Paterson that will unfold over a century in the city of Oslo, Norway. Han Kang is the fifth writer to participate in Future Library. The Canadian author Margaret Atwood was the first author to contribute, followed by British novelist David Mitchell, Icelandic poet, novelist and lyricist Sjón, and Turkish author Elif Shafak.

An unknown future

Tending the forest and ensuring its preservation for the 100-year duration of the artwork finds a conceptual counterpoint in the invitation extended to each writer: to conceive and produce a work in the hope of finding a receptive reader in an unknown future.

Following the forest ceremony, Han Kang will give a public talk at the Deichmanske Library, Oslo. Speaking ahead of the ceremony, Kang said:

“I can’t survive one hundred years from now, of course. No-one who I love can survive, either. This relentless fact has made me reflect on the essential part of my life. Ultimately Future Library deals with the fate of paper books. I would like to pray for the fates of both humans and books. May they survive and embrace each other, in and after one hundred years, even though they couldn’t reach eternity…”

No more “fast food thinking”

Anne Beate Hovind, the curator of the Future Library project, spoke to Nothing in the Rulebook about the ethos behind the artwork:

“Projects like this are so important for our time. Just a couple of generations back, people were thinking this way all the time. You know, you build something or plant a forest, you don’t do it for your sake – you do it for future generations.

We kind of have this fast food thinking and now we have to prepare something for the next generation. I think more people realise the world is a little lost and we need to get back on track.”

Safe storage

All one hundred manuscripts will be held in a specially designed room in the new Oslo Public Library opening in 2020. Intended to be a space of contemplation, this room – designed by the Katie Paterson alongside a team of architects – will be lined with wood from the Nordmarka forest. The authors’ names and titles of their works will be on display, but none of the manuscripts will be available for reading until their publication in one century’s time. No adult living now will ever know what is inside the boxes, other than that they are texts of some kind that will withstand the ravages of time and be  available in the year 2114.

“Gripping and thoughtful”, new UK movie, ‘Sink’ set for DVD release

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Sink “gives a vibrant voice to protagonists who have otherwise lost their language and their power” (read our review of Sink here on Nothing in the Rulebook). 

Sink, the debut feature-length film from writer, director and actor Mark Gillis will be released on May 27th, following a cinema run that drew critical acclaim from The Guardian, The Independent, Empire and (of course) Nothing in the Rulebook, among others.

The movie tells the story of Micky Mason, a working class man living in East London who must contend with a multitude of different crises of our modern world.

Battling the disruption and instability of working Zero Hours contracts, Micky is ultimately driven to do something completely out of character to try and keep his family together. What thereafter follows, thanks in no small part to the incredible performances of the cast, particularly Martin Herdman in the lead role, is a gripping and thoughtful story that stays with you long after the credits roll – providing a stirring critique of the world we live in.

Having been compared by reviewers with the Oscar-winning film I, Daniel Blake, it is perhaps unsurprising that there is a political aspect to this film. Indeed, in a a recent original, in-depth interview with Nothing in the Rulebook, director Gillis said:

“There is a political angle and that kicked off my wanting to tell the story. I live in the area where the film is set and there are pockets of people leading very challenged lives. There are also the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf, looming up seemingly at the end of the road.  So you have people whose lives have been changed beyond recognition living in the shadow of the institutions directly responsible. They committed crimes on an industrial scale, yet nobody has been prosecuted. It made me question where we are with that; if people who benefitted so hugely from the system can do that with impunity, can we condemn somebody for doing whatever’s necessary to stay afloat?”

Having shown at film festivals across the UK, as well as in New York, the DVD release of Sink has been hotly anticipated.

To whet your appetites even further, check out the trailer below:

Creatives in profile: interview with Mark Gillis

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Mark Gillis has been combining writing, performing and directing since his university days (where he studied Biochemistry). As an actor, he has worked extensively in the theatre, most recently playing Agrippa in Antony & Cleopatra with Kim Cattrall and Michael Pennington (Chichester). As a member of the RSC he performed in As You Like It, Macbeth and Troilus and Cressida during seasons at Stratford and The Barbican. He played Mark in the Irish premiere of Mark Ravenhill’s play Shopping and F***ing. He co-founded and was artistic director of the touring production company LPC, with whom he produced and directed several European tours of modern classic plays such as Waiting for Godot, The Caretaker, The Importance of Being Ernest and GB Shaw’s The White Lady. And he has appeared in several television and film roles including: Silent Witness, The Bill, Emmerdale, Grange Hill, Eastenders, Holby, The Brittas Empire, Absolute Hell, Prick, Jean Moulin, Either/Or, Going Home and An Ideal Husband. Most recently he plays Mr. Hogg Diggins in the Channel 4 comedy Lee & Dean.

There’s a lot of creative stuff to talk about here, but we’re here today to talk primarily about his debut movie, Sink, which tells the story of Micky Mason, a working class man living in East London who must contend with a multitude of different crises of our modern world.

Produced by Oscar-winner Mark Rylance (who says you will find yourselves “immersed” in it), Sink has received glowing reviews (including one from us, of course), following its screenings at cinemas across the UK.

But what does it take to produce a movie independently, particularly in a current climate that so clearly favours the established corporate behemoths over individual creatives? It was a pleasure to catch up with Gillis to find out.

INTERVIEWER

Tell me about yourself, where you live and your background/lifestyle

GILLIS

I live in Brockley, South East London (the film was shot here and in nearby New Cross/Deptford). I’m an actor who has been writing seriously for about 10 years. I have also directed in the theatre and have made short films. Sink is my first feature as writer/director.

INTERVIEWER

Is film making your first love, or do you have another passion?

GILLIS

I suppose most of my work has been as an actor in the theatre so that would be an equal passion.

INTERVIEWER

Who inspires you?

GILLIS

Donald Glover

INTERVIEWER

Can you talk us through how the process of taking your debut movie, Sink, from spec-script to fully-fledged film reality?

GILLIS

It was never really a spec-script in that sense. I’d had the typical experience of scripts being developed (unpaid) and getting very close to being made, then failing because the money didn’t match the cast (in both directions). When I was writing Sink, I realised we could make it very cheaply; I knew exactly who I wanted to cast (I’ve worked as an actor with all of them), I knew who’s flat we could borrow, etc., etc.. So I decided we’d just go ahead and make it ourselves. We did a crowd-funder and various small investors came in. We made it for £35K, which is nothing for a feature; BUT that was only possible with EVERYONE working for deferred fees and profit share. Everybody on the film from investor to runner was party to the same financial framework.

Of course, it’s all very well making your film, but at the end of the process you’re back at the brick wall; the first thing distributors ask is “who’s your lead actor.” Without a star name the vast majority won’t watch the film. So it’s very tough. We got lucky – a well known producer saw the film and badgered her distributor to watch it. They picked us up for a limited theatrical release which meant we could get Press reviews (virtually impossible if you haven’t got a distributor who is part of the Film Distributors Association who run the week of release screenings). So although all films are a collaborative process, this one REALLY was, in effect everyone working on the film was an investor in it, literally; they will only get paid once the film shows a profit. That’s a very humbling fact for me.

INTERVIEWER

In Sink, we follow the lives of those who have been dispossessed by the processes of modern capitalism. There’s a clear political angle to the film; yet for all that, it’s also intensely human, and character-driven. As a screenwriter and director, how do you tread the line between potentially competing focuses; the political and the human?

GILLIS

There is a political angle and that kicked off my wanting to tell the story. I live in the area where the film is set and there are pockets of people leading very challenged lives. There are also the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf, looming up seemingly at the end of the road.  So you have people whose lives have been changed beyond recognition living in the shadow of the institutions directly responsible. They committed crimes on an industrial scale, yet nobody has been prosecuted. It made me question where we are with that; if people who benefitted so hugely from the system can do that with impunity, can we condemn somebody for doing whatever’s necessary to stay afloat? It also made me angry enough to want to write something! But if that’s all there is, there’s no point writing a screenplay. Write an essay or an article. There has to be a story and for that there must be characters.

At the start I was intrigued by these three generations of men; Micky, his father and his son.  Principally it was the way the relationship to work had changed over those three generations; Micky was once a skilled worker who can now find only menial, zero hours jobs; his father has only ever known skilled manual work and his son has never really had a relationship to work. That’s a massive change in working class men’s lives and a theme I was eager to explore. Then it’s a question of whittling away until you find the core story and that was Micky’s.

If scenes are trying to force in a particular political idea, they will immediately stick out (and ultimately be cut out during the edit). Every scene must move the story forward in some way, while planting enough of the politics that the guiding themes are catered for.

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Three generations of men: Micky (left, played by Martin Herdman, leads his father and son through their local neighbourhood)

INTERVIEWER

What is your personal take on the current political climate, and how does it affect the stories we tell?

GILLIS

I really hope we are not in as bad a state as I think we might be in. I think the current ease with which the fundamental structures of democracy are being dismantled is terrifying. I am trying to have some sense of hope but the precedents for these early warning signs are so clear, I feel we’re sleepwalking into autocracy. It seems all the requirements are in place. If we don’t want that to happen, I guess it’s down to us to speak up.

INTERVIEWER

How do you feel the characters in Sink would react to the unfurling narrative around the Brexit process?

GILLIS

It’s so weird for me, because Sink was written and shot before the referendum was even tabled. SO much has changed. I’m a remainer.  I’m slightly glad I didn’t have to decide whether to make Micky a leaver or not. I’m still not sure how he would have voted. It would have been up to me to decide whether I make the character I created reach the decision I want him to, or whether I would be entirely true to what HE would have done. And I’m still not sure which way round that would have been. I do know that an awful lot of people who have felt entirely left behind after 30 odd years of neo-liberalism voted Brexit. Perhaps Micky was one of them. But that makes me a bit upset.

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A Brexit voter? Sink was written and shot before the EU referendum in the UK, so we’ll perhaps never know which way Micky would have voted.

INTERVIEWER

Looking around at current trends in film making, what are your thoughts and feelings on the movie industry. And how would you advise aspiring film makers to break out onto the scene?

GILLIS

Obviously we live in the age of the huge franchise. There’s nothing wrong with that, some of them are great movies. What we might be losing is the middle ground; it’s either massive budgets that only the studios can bring together, or the tiny (in film terms) budgets that are somehow drawn together by financial jiggery pokery based around tax credits. Or people making films themselves on no budgets. It seems to me this isn’t a sustainable business model.

Outside the public funding bodies (and even with their involvement) each film has to start afresh to raise its finance. Add to that the current surge in high end TV which has lead to crew shortages and therefore higher rates, it’s difficult to see where the film industry can be heading. And yet, films still get made. I don’t know an answer. I’m still trying to figure it out myself.

As to what advice to give, I think the most important thing is spending time getting the script right. However you get the film together, it will be the script that brings people on board or makes them pass. It’s getting the right people in to the project that will get the film made. It all starts and ends with the script.

INTERVIEWER

Do you feel any ethical responsibility as a film maker?

GILLIS

I think there is an ethical responsibility not to create work that simply reinforces a negative. By the same token (in an equal and opposite way) there is an ethical responsibility to create work that examines the negative – that pulls it apart and provides a new viewpoint on it.

But it’s not for the film maker to dictate how that work must be received. There has to be room for the “wrong” view to be taken – otherwise you haven’t created something truthful.

INTERVIEWER

In terms of screenwriting, what do you think is most important to keep in mind when writing your initial drafts?

GILLIS

What happens next.

INTERVIEWER

Do you have a specific audience in mind when you write and direct?

GILLIS

I really try not to.

INTERVIEWER

How would you define creativity?

GILLIS

The focussing and entrapment of energy

INTERVIEWER

What does the term ‘director’ mean to you?

GILLIS

Depends which director you’re talking about.

INTERVIEWER

James Joyce argued poetry was “always a revolt against artifice, a revolt, in a sense, against actuality.” In the modern world, ‘actuality’ is increasingly hard to define – we live in a culture of ‘fake news’. What role do you think movies have to play in a world of ‘alternative facts’?

GILLIS

It’s strange isn’t it, that we head more and more towards finding truth in stories; in made up events. And yet, that is where truth is found. I’m very interested in the effect that Reality TV has had on our psychology. Even the title is a lie. It isn’t reality, everybody knows what they’re doing because there’s a camera there and they know they can watch it later. So we’ve spent 20 odd years saying that a fabricated reality is the truth. It’s kind of delicious (if it wasn’t so disgusting) that a “star” of the genre becomes the most powerful man in the world. Trump has spent his life lying – his whole ego is based on a lie that he was responsible for creating the financial success he’s had (multi-million dollar bankruptcies notwithstanding), instead of being gifted it on birth.

Can movies be a bulwark against lies? Absolutely. They can tell the truth because they are set free from the constraints of the market place (hang on, weren’t we just saying that the film industry can’t work because it’s not a sustainable business model?). They can show what humanity can be at a time when real life is coughing up its dregs. There’s an enormous role for movies (for ALL storytelling), I think now more than at any point in my lifetime.  Stories could pull us back from the brink. Will anyone listen though?

INTERVIEWER

Could you tell us a little about some of the future projects you’re working on?

GILLIS

I have two other screenplays, one about a man discovering how his own acceptance of being gay has been affected by events from a previous generation and a story about a charity that goes rogue to be able to carry out its real work. I’m also working on a couple of TV ideas because that’s all anyone wants to hear about.

INTERVIEWER

Could you write us a story in 6 words?

GILLIS

He made his own way back.

INTERVIEWER

Could you give your top 5 – 10 tips for screenwriters?

GILLIS

I know it’s a hoary old cliché but just keep writing. And then keep re-writing. Find readers you trust, listen to them and be willing to really start again if necessary. There are all sorts of gut wrenching machinations that come from giving up what you’ve sweated blood over. But sometimes it can be an amazing release.

  • Watch the trailer for Sink here below: 

The research is clear: we need to put down our phones and pick up our pens (and our books)

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With 66% of us claiming we don’t have time to read because we’re distracted by our phones, why not put them down and find distractions in the world of books?

“What has come over our age is an alienation from Nature unexampled in human history. It has cost us our sense of reality and all but cost us our humanity,” so opined Henry Beston in what is a timeless meditation on the relationship between humanity and technology.

Beston was writing in the late 1940s; but his remarks about our relationship with technology – and the potential pitfalls between our ever-closer relationship with it – are perhaps more pertinent today than ever before, especially as new research is published showing the vast majority of us claim to be distracted by near-constant, often idle, scrolling on our Smartphone devices.

This isn’t to advocate the luddites, but simply to draw attention to a remarkable trend that has been emerging in recent years as the use of mobile technology has proliferated among our society. Indeed, since 2012, when for the first time over half of all US citizens owned a smartphone, there has been a rapid change in not only our technological usage, but even in our characteristics as individuals and as a society. A new generational divide has even been seen to open up, as Jean Twenge points out in their work, iGen, which sees the generation born after millennials as being increasingly dependent upon their smartphones – using them to derive pleasure, to communicate with one another, form and maintain relationships, even while use of these devices is linked to poorer mental health and increased feelings of loneliness and decreased productivity.

Few, perhaps, will be surprised by findings that suggest our reliance on smartphone technology has come at a cost. As Rebecca Solnit notes in this wonderful analysis, “Previous technologies have expanded communication. But the last round may be contracting it. The eloquence of letters has turned into the nuanced spareness of texts; the intimacy of phone conversations has turned into the missed signals of mobile phone chat.”

Indeed, to build upon this, and to explore why increases in smartphone usage seem to be linked to feelings of loneliness and poor mental health, Soren Kierkegaard – perhaps the world’s first existentialist – explained that “the unhappy man is always absent from himself, never present to himself.” In this, he hints at what lies behind our decisions to constantly reach for the smartphone; for the device that distracts us. It is an unconscious desire to be “absent” from ourselves and from the world: an insidious form of escapism.

The impact of smartphones on creativity

So what does all this mean for aspiring and established creatives out there? Well, apart from ensuring we all do what we can to support ourselves and one another – looking out for signs of depression and doing what we can to protect our mental health and wellbeing (creative types, after all, may be more likely to experience mental health problems).

But it also means making a conscious effort to switch off our phones and minimise the distractions we face from them. Some of this has a simple reason behind it: with 66% of people saying they would read more if they weren’t distracted by their phones, and 31% of people saying they would read more if they weren’t distracted by streaming services like Netflix (source), and since we know that reading more and widely helps to improve our writing and creative abilities, switching off our phones and picking up a book would likely spur the creative juices needed to produce original pieces of work.

Indeed, this in part is just common sense. As the comedy writer Graham Linehan has said, in an interview for the Guardian: “I have to use all these programs that cut off the internet, force me to be bored, because being bored is an essential part of writing, and the internet has made it very hard to be bored.”

In fact, cutting ourselves off completely may be the only way to truly minimise the impact of modern technology. As a study by the University of Texas at Austin published recently in the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research found, a smartphone can sap attention even when it’s not being used, even if the phone is on silent — or even when powered off and tucked away in a purse, briefcase or backpack. Putting these distracting devices out of sight does not necessarily put them out of mind, in other words.

But perhaps there’s also something more here. A battle not between ourselves and our urges to distract ourselves from reality (perhaps an understandable impulse given our reality is currently catastrophic climate breakdown amid a geopolitical maelstrom of inaction and the rise of the far right); but rather a battle between society and the Tech billionaires like Mark Zuckerberg who make billions of dollars precisely from our distraction; and in turn a battle between us and the politicians whose interests it’s in to keep us distracted, to keep us disengaged with reality, because they know (and fear) the potential impact a suddenly creatively energised society could have upon the world.

The art of waiting

What this all ultimately comes down to, perhaps, is patience. The patience needed to work with feelings of boredom and frustration, rather than against them. The patience needed between conversations and meetings with friends to appreciate them all the more (and so much more than you can ever appreciate a simple snapchat streak). The patience needed to properly read a book and appreciate it, rather than simply scanning the pages as one might a smartphone webpage or app. As the brilliant novelist Tim Leach has written, “The art of the novelist is the art of waiting. Patience. Stillness. Not the lightning flash of inspiration, but in the waiting for the lightning.”

Perhaps if we are able to put down our phones, the wait for the lightning that changes the system will be shorter than we think.

 

 

 

So alternative: 50 independent and alternative publishers to support, buy books from, and submit your work to

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We live in an era where the biggest publishing companies and media organisations are only concerned with stabilising profits for shareholders – and are prioritising making money over supporting originality and new creative ideas. This is strangling our modern culture – limiting us to a devastating cycle of reboots, sequels, prequels and franchises; where the only novels we read are copies of novels that are themselves copies of commercially successful novels. This risk-averse and profit-focussed approach in turn risks homogenising our culture; and limiting our exposure to new ways of thinking.

At a time when we need new ideas and voices to counter the prevailing cultural winds, which tell us creativity is only of value if it sells, we need independent publishers to continue their fine work. We need diversity and originality in our publishing; not ceaseless imitation and repetition in pursuit of a fast buck. We need books that experiment and take risks; not those that seem afraid to be different. We need independent publishers; not corporate monopolies.

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Looking to add to your ‘To Be Read’ pile of books? Or looking to get your own work published and added to somebody else’s reading list? The following list of independent publishers should help!

But independent publishers need us, as readers and writers, too. They need us to buy their books and support their projects; and they need writers to keep submitting books and poetry collections to them, so that they can keep discovering and publishing new, unique, and inspiring new voices and stories.

It’s a reciprocal relationship, then, and one that we hope we can help support ourselves by bringing you the following list of independent and alternative publishing houses where you can find inspiration and submit your own work to.

Put together alongside our other writing resources, including our list of literary magazines that are always open to unsolicited submissions, the list below provides all the handy details readers and writers alike might need. But of course, we are fortunate to live in a world abounding with creative entrepreneurs, so, if there’s a great indie publisher that we’ve missed, or if you own or run an independent publishing house yourself and you’d like to see if listed here, please get in touch and let us know.

Happy reading, comrades!

404 Ink

About 404 Ink: 404 Ink is the award-winning alternative, independent publisher of books and literary magazines.

Books: A wonderful collection of books available from their online store, including ‘The Goldblum Variations: The Adventures of Jeff Goldblum”.

Submissions: 404 Ink regularly accept unsolicited submissions during their submissions windows. Check online for more information.

The 87 Press

About The 87 Press: The 87 is a small press, publishing collective, events organiser, and platform for discussion, committed to publishing the very best of bold, innovative and experimental writing from emerging and established writers.

87 Press Books: Check out their online store featuring books by Caspar Heinemann, Callie Gardener and others.

Submissions: The 87 Press accept unsolicited submissions during defined submissions periods. Check online for more information.

Biteback Publishing

Described as ‘Britain’s leading political publisher’ by Charles Moore, Biteback Publishing is one of Britain’s leading independent publishers of political and current affairs titles. They also publish espionage, general non fiction and sport.

Submissions: Always up for considering new writing proposals, you can find out more about Biteback’s submissions guidelines here.

Birlinn Ltd

About Birlinn Ltd: Described as “passionately independent”, Birlinn Ltd is made up of a number of imprints, including Origin, Polygon, BC Books, and Arena Sports. Polygon is known for publishing literary fiction and poetry, including by acclaimed authors like James Kelman and Liz Lochhead. With so many imprints, their catalogue provides an opportunity to lose yourself browsing the digital bookshelves. Worth checking out!

Submissions: If you have a work of fiction, non-fiction or poetry that you strongly believe would suit their list, Berlinn want to hear from you. You should post a synopsis and three sample chapters, or half a dozen poems, with some biographical information about yourself (including contact details), a stamped addressed envelope (should you wish the material returned) and a brief explanation of why you have chosen to submit your work. More information via their contact page.

Boiler House Press

 About Boiler House Press: BHP is a new publisher of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and everything in-between. Based out of the University of East Anglia, they accept unsolicited writing submissions.

Boldwood Books

About Boldwood Books: A new global publisher founded in 2019 in London, UK. Promises to be innovative and fearless.

Boldwood Submissions: Actively seeking unsolicited manuscripts (praise the day!) Check out their website above or Twitter @BoldwoodBooks for more info, then send manuscript directly to submissions@boldwoodbooks.com

Burning Chair Publishing

About Burning Chair Publishing: From first class editing to cutting edge marketing and promotion, Burning Chair are an exciting new independent publishers that look to provide authors with the support they need to make sure their book fulfils its potential. Check out some of their books published so far via their store.

Burning Chair Submissions: This indie publishers is open for submissions and accepting unsolicited manuscripts from a variety of different genres. Information about what they’re looking for, and how to submit, is available online.

Burning Eye Books

 “Poetry for the people, not just professors.” Burning Eye Books are all about putting Slam/Stand Up/Performance & Spoken Word Poetry on the page. Something that arguably hasn’t been done enough. They have a bookstore where you can purchase their titles, but perhaps of more interest are the free (yes, FREE) book samples you can read right now through their website.

These guys do open every now and then for submissions, but they also charge a small £5 fee (which goes to charity). Check their website for information about when to submit, as well as submission guidelines.

Carcanet Press

Described as “the most courageous publisher” by Charles Tomlinson, Carcanet has been publishing poetry, inventive fiction and literary criticism for decades. They’re a massive name in the world of independent publishing and have a dizzying array of excellent and unique books to choose from, including work from Will Eaves (read our interview with Eaves here), who won the Republic of Consciousness Prize this year.

Carcanet Press Submissions: considering the reputation of this publisher, it’s a sign of their core values that they’re still keen to accept unsolicited manuscript submissions. Carcanet considers submissions and book proposals sent electronically as emailed attachments – and does have strict reading periods for when these submissions can be sent in. Check their website for more information.

Copy Press

Copy Press is an independent publishing company, dedicated to extending ideas of writing, pictures and readability. They have a number of publishing products and welcome proposals of new writing to fit within these.

Cranachan Publishing

Cranachan Publishing we focus on sourcing the finest, freshest writing so that we can produce books that our readers will want to devour in one sitting.

Submitting to Cranachan Publishing: These guys are always open to new proposals but they receive loads of submissions so you need to send a query email first. More information online.

Dahlia Books

About Dahlia Books: A small press publisher, championing regional and diverse voices in literature. They publish a range of different genres and styles of literature (all of it good), and are open to unsolicited submissions twice a year, in March and September.

Damaged Goods Press

Damaged Goods is a queer & trans owned press specializing in poetry & creative nonfiction by queer & trans writers. They’re actively seeking new writing so get submitting!

Dancing Bear Books

Dancing Bear Books have a clear mission and they chose to embark on it because of the lack of diversity in fantasy and fairytale literature within commercial fiction. They are a publisher of Folklore, Fairytales and Fantasy and specifically are after tales that feature BAME, LGBT and disabled protagonists. They have bases in both Newcastle and London, UK, and perhaps more importantly, they are very keen to hear your stories.

Submitting to Dancing Bear Books: With their focus on diversity in literature (and the stories we read), they have some specific rules that manuscripts must meet in order to be considered for publication. Information about this is all online. Importantly, they accept both agented and non-agented submissions and you should feel free to submit your manuscripts directly to them!

Daunt Books Publishing

Founded in 2010, the Daunt Books imprint is dedicated to publishing brilliant works by talented authors from around the world. Whether reissuing beautiful new editions of lost classics or publishing debut works by fresh voices, our titles are inspired by the Daunt Books shops themselves and the exciting atmosphere of discovery to be found in a good bookshop.

Submitting to Daunt Books: DB welcome unsolicited submissions via email or post.

With their roots as a travel bookshop, the titles they publish are inspired by the Daunt shops themselves. They’re interested in writing that evokes a strong sense of place — literary fiction (novels and short stories) and narrative non-fiction with a lingering atmosphere, a thrilling story, and a distinctive style. Further submissions information is available online.

Elsewhen Press

Ahoy there, speculative fiction fans! Elsewhen Press seeks to publish new exciting titles in the Speculative Fiction genre, especially (but not exclusively) from previously unpublished authors. We are looking for high quality manuscripts that tell a compelling story, ideally developed around a strong underlying theme which adds something significant and novel to the genre. Manuscripts must be of book-length, can be an individual story or (first in) a series of stories. More info online!

Epoque Press

About Epoque Press: époque press is an independent publisher based between Brighton and Dublin established to promote and represent the very best in new literary talent. Through a combination of their main publishing imprint and their online ezine, they aim to bring inspirational and thought provoking work to a wider audience.

Submit to Epoque Press: Open to submissions from new and established writers. More information online.

Eyrie Press

About Eyrie Press: A small indie publisher focused on peculative & historical fiction. Especially keen on featuring underrepresented groups, and supporting regional writers from UK. Info about what they’re looking for in submissions – as well as when they will open their inbox to unsolicited submissions, is all online.

Fairlight Books

Fairlight publish literary fiction and books that promote quality writing. For readers, they have an interesting shop where you can buy bundles of their books together (check it out). For writers, these fabulous folk are accepting submissions of literary fiction (short story collections, novellas and novels). Guidelines here.

Fly on the Wall Press

A really lovely indie publishing press with a commitment to discovering (and, importantly, printing) new writing. Have a great collection of books available through their online store, which readers can peruse at their leisure. Meanwhile, writers interested in submitting their work to the press can find out more online.

Four Corners Books

Four Corners make art books that have a story to tell, with a special focus on art outside traditional gallery contexts. In their ‘Familiars’ series – in which they invite artists to reimagine classic works of literature – or their new series, the Irregulars – about fascinating pockets of British visual culture – they try to find art in the most intriguing and unusual places.

Submitting to Four Corners Books: These fine literary folks are always happy to hear from artists and writers with proposals for books, but ideally they should fit within their current remit: art history, with an emphasis on art made outside the traditional gallery system, and especially on culture in Britain after 1945. Email with a brief enquiry in the first instance.

Galley Beggar Press

Galley Beggar Press is an independent publisher from the UK – they publish innovative writing and all all-round fine folk. Importantly, despite their esteemed reputation, they also accept unsolicited manuscripts once a year (in 2019, this period is July). More information about their submissions processes is available online.

Guppy Books

About Guppy Books: New independent publisher of fabulous fiction for children of all ages, tweeting as @guppybooks. Various new children’s books available online.

Submitting to Guppy Books: Guppy Books welcomes fiction submissions from agents and previously published authors. They remain open as a publisher, and twice a year they will be accepting unsolicited manuscript submissions from unpublished writers over a specific period of time. They will put up these dates on the Guppy quarterly newsletter and via Twitter and social media.

Handheld Press

Based in the lovely, limestone-clad city of Bath in the UK, Handheld Press sells stories, handpicked tales from the past and the present, because they are remarkable and wonderful. They publish books to be books; creating beautiful objects that are designed and laid out with care. They were the regional finalist for The Bookseller Small Press Award in 2018. Importantly, they accept not only manuscript submissions from new and established authors, but also simply ideas for new fiction. So drop them a line and pitch them your story (what are you waiting for? Check out their submissions page for more info).

Head of Zeus

Winner of the 2017 Independent Publisher of the Year award, Head of Zeus are an acclaimed indie publisher dedicated to beautiful books and great storytelling.

Head of Zeus books: A host of excellent titles are available through their online store, including novels by the equally excellent Tim Leach (who we’ve interviewed on our site).

Submitting to Head of Zeus: These guys are immensely popular and, as such, receive an overwhelming number of submissions. That said, they do try to open their submissions portal to unsolicited manuscript submissions whenever possible, so keep up to date with them online.

Henningham Family Press

HFP are a book publisher with a difference, creating award-winning and critically acclaimed books that are in themselves works of art, created through fine art print making and book binding. Their books are each unique and worthy of entire webpages in themselves, so suffice to say we’d urge you all to spend some time checking out their online store and picking up a couple of copies for your friends and family (as well as yourself, of course).

Submitting to Henningham Family Press: HFP, in their own words currently “have enough manuscripts written by white males to keep [them] occupied for ten years”. So their focus is on considering unsolicited material from women and BAME authors. Further information about what they’re looking for and how to submit is available online.

Hera Books

About Hera Books: An independent digital publisher bringing readers the very best in commercial fiction.

Submitting to Hera Books: Actively seeking submissions of new writing, the team behind Hera Books also offer hands-on editorial services, so check them out and get submitting!

HopeRoad Publishing

HopeRoad promotes inclusive literature with a focus on Africa, Asia and the Caribbean. They vigorously support often neglected voices and many of their YA titles (featured in their lovely bookstore) focus on issues dealing with identity, cultural stereotyping and disability. It’s unclear whether they accept submissions but they encourage people interested in the press to get in touch with any enquiries.

Inkandescent

Apart from being a wonderful pun, Inkandescent is also a new publishing venture committed to promoting ideas, subjects and voices underrepresented by mainstream publishing. They hope to discover and celebrate original, diverse and transgressive literature and art, to challenge the status quo.

Lilliput Press

The Lilliput Press is one of Ireland’s smallest and most prestigious publishing houses. They publish a wide variety of Irish interest books and represent authors such as James Joyce, John Moriarty, J.P. Donleavy and many others.

Submissions policy: The Lilliput Press still accept unsolicited manuscript submissions; but only by post (email submissions will not be considered). They offer a range of guidelines and processes for submitting, including what to submit alongside your manuscript.

Linen Press

Linen Press is a small, independent publisher run by women, for women. They are now the only indie women’s press in the UK.

They have dozens and dozens of exceptional books available to readers through their lovely online bookshop.

And, good news, sports fans, Linen Press are looking for submissions. Specifically, they are after ‘beautifully written manuscripts which are relevant to women’s lives and which surprise us with their style and content.’ This can be literary fiction, top-end contemporary fiction and memoir. Check out submissions guidelines online.

Maytree Press

Maytree Press are a new, budding indie press from the UK. They have a small but cool catalogue which they’re currently building and adding to (which means readers can pick up one of their books they’ve already published from their shop, and writers seeking to get published themselves can submit their work for consideration).

New Island Books

About New Island Books: New Island Books are an independent Irish publisher, printing groundbreaking writing from both established and emerging writers. Featuring beautiful writing (often with stunning illustrations on the cover, as with Antony Cronin’s No Laughing Matter), their bookshop is well worth a browse.

Submissions: these guys are all about reading and discovering new writing and new voices. They regularly open their inboxes to unsolicited manuscripts, so check online for information about their submission windows and how and what to submit.

Nine Arches Press

About Nine Arches Press: Founded in 2008, this lovely publishing house based in the midlands, UK, are about more than just printing (award-winning) literature. They are all about the wider literary and social community and help organise events, readings, workshops and open mic nights.

Nine Arches Books: They’ve published over 70 collections, which is pretty great going. Two of their pamphlets. Mark Goodwin’s book Shod stands out after it won the 2011 East Midlands Book Award. All My Mad Mothers by Jacqueline Saphra is also a great read and was shortlisted for the TS Eliot Poetry Prize, while David Clarke’s debut poems, Arc, was longlisted for the Polari Prize.

Submitting to Nine Arches Press: They have a couple of steps that interested writers should familiarise themselves with before submitting, but the important thing to remember is that these guys are very open to publishing new writing (it’s sort of what they do), so, if you have a cracking collection of poems burning a hole in your pocket, do consider submitting a sample of poems during one of their regular open submission windows.

No Alibis Press

About No Alibis: Based in a small corner of Belfast, No Alibis Press is a small publishing company with a big shouty attitude. As an independent press they’re relatively new on the scene, but for some time now they’ve been quietly incubating among the shelves of No Alibis bookstore where David Torrans and his team have been selling books for more than twenty years. One of their first books – December Stories I by Ian Samson – has already received praise from critics (including ourselves).

Submitting to No Alibis Press: These lovely folk are real champions of new and exciting writing and welcome submissions from authors (unsolicited or otherwise) at different times during the year. Check their website for information about how and when to submit.

Obliterati Press

Obliterati Press is a publisher for writers set up by writers keen to use the experience they have gained to unveil great new voices.

Obliterati Press Submissions: This indie press is particularly keen to receive submissions from new and emerging writers – so keep an eye on their various channels for news about their reading periods.

Onwe Press

About Onwe Press: UK publishers committed to discovering unforgettable stories and highlighting diverse voices. They’re a new publishing house, so drop them an email for information about their books and submissions via info@onwepress.com.

Panther Publishing

About Panther Publishing: Publisher of crime, mystery, thriller, paranormal and horror novels, based in Wales.

Panther Publishing submissions: These guys are OPEN for unsolicited manuscripts and are looking forward to reading your work. More info online.

Peepal Tree Press

About Peepal Tree Press: Leeds-based Peepal Tree Press is home to some of the finest Caribbean and Black British fiction, poetry, literary criticism, memoirs and historical studies. Discover some of their stunning and unique reads through their online catalogue featuring dozens of excellent writers.

Peepal Tree Press submissions: despite receiving a high volume of submissions, Peepal Tree Press are still open to unsolicited manuscript submissions year-round, and promise to respond to 90% of submissions within 12 weeks. Submit via submittable.

Peninsula Press

This quirky publishing house launched following a successful Kickstarter campaign (oh the things you can do with CrowdFunding!). As they build a following they are keen to receive submissions from new writers, so check out their website for information about how, when and what to submit.

Pool Publishing

A publishing house based out of Vienna, Austria. They primarily focus on illustration, graphic design and photography, working with creatives (being a creative collective ourselves, this is something we strongly endorse) from around the world, they look to create new and interesting publications. They are open to new ideas and submissions so you should check out their website and drop them a line to introduce yourself.

Red Squirrel Press

Red Squirrel Press is a self-funded independent press based in Scotland. It was founded in April 2006 and has published over 190 titles to date.  It publishes poetry pamphlets and full collections.

While they have a full production plan in place until 2021, you can still submit your work by following the press submissions guidelines online.

Salt publishing

About Salt: Salt is one of UK’s foremost independent publishers, committed to the discovery and publication of contemporary British literature. Advocates for writers at all stages of their careers, the company help ensure that diverse voices can be heard in an abundant, global marketplace.

Salt books – huge number of books available at reasonable prices directly from their online store. Two of their books, by Eleanor Anstruther and Samuel Fisher, have been longlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize 2019.

Salt Submissions – information about Salt’s submissions processes, including when they are open and closed for manuscript submissions, is available online.

Seren Books

About Seren Books: Wales’ leading independent book publisher, specialising in English-language writing from Wales. With a list spanning poetry, fiction and non-fiction, many of their books are shortlisted for – and win – major literary prizes across the UK and America. You can check out some of their great book titles online via their store – and you can usually nab yourself some nifty discount by registering with their website and newsletter.

Submitting your work to Seren Books: Seren Books are keen to publish new and exciting writing – so don’t be afraid to submit. They have a clear set of submissions guidelines you should read through first, though, so head to their website for information on how to submit your manuscript.

Serpentine Books

Serpentine Books set themselves our as genuinely seeking new, alternative fiction that doesn’t simply “follow trends” (as the majority of the publishing industry seems to try and do). They’re building their first list of books, which will no doubt build the anticipation among readers; while also providing an opportunity for writers with a new story to tell to get published. Check out their submissions guidelines if you’re interested in submitting your manuscript.

Silvertail Books

Publishing fiction and non-fiction, based in the UK. Open for submissions, importantly.

Stewed Rhubarb Press

About Stewed Rhubarb Press: SRP are an independent publisher specialising in spoken-word poetry. Its mission is to treat spoken-word poetry and novellas with the enthusiasm and respect they deserve. They advertise opportunities for submitting unsolicited manuscripts online, via Twitter and through their mailing list.

Swan River Press

Ireland’s only publishing house dedicated to literature of the gothic, fantastic, strange and supernatural. They have a range of beautiful books that are all worth checking out, popping in your shopping baskets and purchasing. Check out their list of titles via their online store.

Tangent Books

Deliberately and resolutely independent, Tangent Books maintains close relationships with the authors, designers and printers they work with to ensure that everyone involved in the production of one of their volumes gets a fair deal, as well as supporting local, independent business. A fine ethos to be celebrated, championed and supported – which you can do so by purchasing one of their wonderful books from their digital shop.

Ugly Duckling Presse

UDP is a nonprofit publisher based in Brooklyn, NYC, focusing on new poetry, translation, lost works, and books by artists. They have a swanky website featuring a host of equally swanky-looking book titles; and, what’s more, they’re open to new ideas and submissions at different points in time (for instance, they’re open to unsolicited submissions of new writing during May 2019).

Unthank Books

Unthank Books is an independent publisher founded in 2010. Historically, the Unthank is the unclaimed land at the edge of town, and that’s where this printing press resides, nurturing distinct and vibrant literature, both in the novel and short form.

Submitting to Unthank Books: To submit, in the first instance, you need to check online or via social media whether they are currently open for unsolicited submissions. If they are, and you have a piece of work no more than 80,000 words long, you should email the first 50 pages and a synopsis and covering letter to ashley.stokes@unthankbooks.com.

Verve Books

About Verve Books: A dynamic digital publisher, inspired by a love of great, original, page-turning fiction led by a team of passionate book lovers.

Verve Books Submissions: these fine folk accept new book submissions from new and established authors. Check out their guidance.

 

And a special shout out to a truly groundbreaking alternative publishing house…

Unbound Books

Innovative and unique in the publishing world, Unbound have a core mission to disrupt the publishing industry with fresh ideas that don’t fit the traditional mould. They combine Crowdfunding with traditional publishing expertise and processes (they have a team of editors, designers, and marketers, as well as a distribution team to ensure the books they publish reach new readers as well as those who back their projects). The end result is a publishing firm that genuinely creates radical and often unique books that readers and writers enjoy and benefit from.

Check out their list of published books via their online store; or go one better and pledge to support a couple of the fantastic projects they’re currently raising funds for. There are some really incredible ones out there, from poetic rhyming dictionaries for battle rappers, to books about Brexit, hills, feminism, deepwater diving and more – including this wonderful illustrated book, ‘Philosophers’ Dogs’, based on the idea that all human philosophers stole their ideas from their dogs.

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‘Who really is a good dog?’; ‘What even are tennis balls?’ ‘How can anyone ever be sure who ate the chocolate cake you left on the table?’ All these questions – and more – answered in ‘Philosophers’ Dogs’, just one of countless fantastic crowdfunding projects currently raising funds through innovative, award-winning publishing company, Unbound.

And, if you have an idea for a book yourself, they’re always keen to hear it. Information about how to submit your idea is available online.

 

 

Creatives in profile: interview with Sean Leahy

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Named as one of the ’50 Funniest People on Twitter’, Sean Leahy has built quite the following on the Twittershphere as @thepunningman. Appearing on Buzzfeed, Comedy Central, The Poke, Huffington Post, Funny or Die and TimeOut (among others), he has recently published his debut children’s book, The Monster Cafe via award-winning publishers Unbound. 

Illustrated by Hungarian artist Mihály Orodán, The Monster Café is a humourous tale that deals with pre-conceptions, pre-school excitement and pre-tty big monsters.

INTERVIEWER

Tell us about yourself, where you live and your background/lifestyle

LEAHY

I’m 36, and I live just outside the gates of Hampton Court Palace with my wife and two children. I earn a crust as a Graphic Designer, and have done for the past 15 years.

INTERVIEWER

Beyond writing and comedy, what are you passionate about?

LEAHY

Football, punk rock and Guinness. The order is dictated by Tottenham Hotspur.

INTERVIEWER

Who inspires you, and why?

LEAHY

Shepard Fairey (the mind behind Obey Giant), for taking something as raw as street art (despite my disliking that term) and punk and making a phenomenon out of it. And Jerry Seinfeld for doing the same with comedy.

INTERVIEWER

Was it always your intention to wind up writing jokes for a living?

LEAHY

Well, it’s not a living yet. I had a real interest in jokes, wordplay and the structure of comedy from a young age, and I had a real interest in ‘making’, be it art, design, writing, film, whatever, in order to get through the working day, rather than doing something I had no interest in.

INTERVIEWER

You’ve published The Monster Café, through Unbound books. Can you tell us a little about where the idea for the book first sprang, and how it evolved?

LEAHY

Having two children means I’ve sat through several kids books, and while there are loads of utterly brilliant and beautiful ones, there are SO MANY that are just complete and utter dog eggs.

It’s trite to say “Christ, I could do better than that”, but I think I have, and hopefully the kids agree.

INTERVIEWER

What’s your experience of publishing with Unbound been like?

LEAHY

The’ve been amazing. The book simply wouldn’t exist had they not afforded me the opportunity. They’re really interesting, in that they crowdfund all of their books, which allows the authors total creative freedom.

As designers, both Mihaly (the illustrator) and I wanted to be able to lay the book out ourselves, and we were able to do that and make all the decisions about how it should look. Once the money was raised we delivered the finished book to them and they made sure it was just as we envisioned it.

It’s taken a while, but we’re really pleased with it.

INTERVIEWER

It seems old hat to say it in some ways, but generally speaking the ‘mainstream’ publishing industry has been somewhat risk averse when it comes to championing and publishing new books that aren’t in someway “copies of novels that are themselves copies of previously successful novels”, as Julian Barnes once noted. What opportunities do you think Crowdfunding offers to aspiring writers with new, unique or otherwise quirky ideas?

LEAHY

It’s meant a lot. You just need to take a glance at a some of the books Unbound have published to see there’s a wealth of topics you don’t see on the shelves in Waterstones. Obviously they’re not only way to go about crowdfunding your book, but the fact they’re a publisher (and a respected one at that), means the buyers take them seriously too. They’re not just putting out any old rubbish, they consider each and every project that is submitted to them, but really champion those who don’t usually get given a voice in this industry.

INTERVIEWER

What makes a good crowdfunding project, in your opinion? And what should authors considering following this route themselves consider before starting their own campaign?

LEAHY

Make it stand out. You only need to scroll the length of one screen these days before you’re bashed over the head by someone asking for your money. Give them a valid reason to part with theirs, and make it colourful.

INTERVIEWER

Your creative partner in The Monster Café is Mihaly Orodan – could you tell us about your artistic partnership; how did you know Mihaly’s illustration style would complement your writing?

LEAHY

Mike (to his pals, and some enemies) and I worked together at a tiny creative agency just outside London. His main task was creating infographics and icons for super dry financial companies. But he also drew caricatures for all the birthdays and leaving cards. Once I saw what he was really capable of, I basically twisted his arm until he agreed to illustrate the book. He’s now has an agent and is working on his fourth book since mine.

His work is really incredible. To be able to put your full faith in someone to just ‘get’ what you want is quite rare, but that’s what I was able to do. I basically laid out the entire book with blank pages and small notes on what should be on each spread. I think I had three amends from the first draft he sent me. It was astonishing.

INTERVIEWER

You’re extremely active on Twitter – what role does social media have to play in the professional lives of artistic and established creatives? Is it an inevitable part of our world with which we must participate?

LEAHY

Twitter is the reason the book is here, make no mistake about it. I’ve been lucky enough to gain a decent following on there from writing jokes and little “micro-sketches”, and that audience has meant I had someone to sell the book to. Obviously friends and family make up a big part of who fund a project, but the fact there was an active group of people who enjoy my writing enough to subscribe to it meant I had more eyes to put the project in front of.

Quick fire round!

INTERVIEWER

How do you tell a good joke?

LEAHY

Start with the punchline and work backwards

INTERVIEWER

Curl up with a book or head to the movies?

LEAHY

I never get to go to the cinema any more, so definitely that.

INTERVIEWER

Critically acclaimed or cult classic?

LEAHY

Both have value, but I’ll go cult.

INTERVIEWER

Most underrated book/film?

LEAHY

The Red Dwarf novels

INTERVIEWER

Most overrated book/film?

LEAHY

On The Road – It’s SO short and I still couldn’t finish it.

INTERVIEWER

Who is someone you think people should know more about?

LEAHY

Jon Klassen. His children’s books, particularly I Want My Hat Back, are brilliantly dark and hilarious.

INTERVIEWER

Do you have any hidden talents?

LEAHY

I can clap one handed.

INTERVIEWER

A bad film review can sink a new director, whereas a good one can catapult someone from obscurity into stardom. Do you personally feel any ethical responsibility as a reviewer?

LEAHY

I am a very enthusiastic recommender. I will bore the ears off anyone that will listen about anything I love. There is value in criticism though, as long as it’s valid.

INTERVIEWER

Could you write us a story in 6 words?

LEAHY

She opened the door.
SURPRISE!
Goose.

INTERVIEWER

Could you give your top 10 tips for writers?

LEAHY

Write all the time.
Write again.
Read it back, twice.
You’re never finished.
Write again.
Tea and biscuits.
Consume everything, even the bad stuff.
Invite criticism.
Listen to criticism.
Write again.

Navigating Ulysses: a literary map from Nabokov

“The Joyce industry has elevated a diseased and querulous pedantry into an artform […] It is literature at its most debased.” So wrote Kevin Myers in The Telegraph in late 2001.

Few books have the effect of producing a such a strong reaction upon hearing its name that Joyce’s Ulysses.  Yet the impact of Joyce’s work on modern literature is beyond doubt. Inspiring to some and retch-inducing to others, it is a work surely every writer or creative thinker has encountered at some point or another in some form or another.

But no matter where you stand on the book, the fact is that Ulysses is, if nothing else, a prime example of the important connection between walking and creative thought.

Nabokov – a man of strong opinions that could cause no shortage of strong reactions himself – said “Instead of perpetuating the pretentious nonsense of Homeric, chromatic, and visceral chapter headings, instructors should prepare maps of Dublin with Bloom’s and Stephen’s intertwining itineraries clearly traced.”

You can see his own hand-drawn version here below.

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A handy visual guide to a challenging literary tome? Or indecipherable scribble based on an equally obtuse book? We’ll let you decide! And while you’re doing so, why not send us your own book maps and literary navigation aids? 

Watching your gait: how walking helps your writing

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In 2014, researchers at Stanford university found that walking boosts creative inspiration. They examined creativity levels of people while they walked versus while
they sat. A person’s creative output increased by an average of 60 percent when
walking.

This research builds on studies conducted by other academic institutions, including
the University of Michigan and Illinois that confirmed what many Neuroscientists had
previously identified: that the non-thinking ‘default state‘ of consciousness is key to
creative thinking. Exercise allows your conscious mind to access fresh ideas that are
buried in the subconscious.

Probably the perfect potion for positive peripatetic philosophy

The implications of this research upon writers and other creatives is clear (we should
all be walking more to spur the creativity needed to overcome things like writer’s
block and conjure unique ideas). Yet this perhaps shouldn’t be all that surprising.
After all, writers, artists and other creative thinkers have been extolling the virtues of
physical exercise – and walking in particular – for years.

Indeed, the founding fathers of philosophy – Socrates, Plato, Aristotle – were all said
to use walking as a means of conjuring creative thought (Aristotle’s habit of walking back and forth as he taught earned the Lyceum the name of the Peripatetic School [from the Greek word for walking around, peripatetikos]). Meanwhile, Darwin walked what he called his “thinking path” twice daily while Dickens walked all over London, three or four hours at a time.

And, to make a pop-cultural reference, Lin-Manuel Miranda has said he wrote lyrics
to his acclaimed musical Hamilton during Sunday walks with his dog.

Walking and writing: enriching your soul

Soren Kierkegaard, meanwhile, has said of his habitual perambulations that “I have
walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it. But by sitting still, the more one sits still, the closer one comes to feeling ill. Thus if one just keeps on walking, everything will be all right.”

Walt Whitman said walking left him “enrich’d of soul”; while William Wordsworth (to stick with the poets with alliterative, w-led names), said that walking was “indivisible” from writing poetry. Note here a curious calculation by Thomas DeQuincey that Wordsworth walked as many as a hundred and eighty thousand miles in his lifetime
(between 6 and 7 miles a day, every day).

There is a clear suggestion here that to write well, one must also be willing to get up from the writing desk. This is something American writer Henry Miller, fervently believed in, saying: “most writing is done away from the typewriter, away from the desk. I’d say it occurs in the quiet, silent moments, while you’re walking or shaving or playing a game or whatever”.

How it all works

The reason for this link between writing and walking is perhaps not dissimilar from
that between writing and long-distant running or other solitary physical activity
(check out our article on this right here at Nothing in the Rulebook on this very
topic). Walking – and other solo activities like it – provides just enough diversion to
occupy the conscious mind, but sets our subconscious free to roam. Trivial thoughts
mingle with important ones, memories sharpen, ideas and insights drift to the
surface.

There is also a clear link between the physical experience of walking and the rhythm and beats of our writing, our poetry and our music. This is the rhythm of our bodies, our steps, and our mental state that we cannot experience as easily when we’re jogging at the gym, steering a car, biking, or during any other kind of locomotion. When we stroll, the pace of our feet naturally vacillates with our moods and the cadence of our inner speech and our attention is free to wander—to overlay the world before us with a parade of images from the mind’s theatre.

A life less dangerous: why walk and write?

But the value of walking also extends beyond improvements to our writing and creative abilities. It also helps us, as individuals, escape from a world of distractions – of music pumped into waiting rooms and public spaces, of a life plugged into phones and tablets, where we are constantly on-call, working increasingly longer hours and forced to keep up the appearances of our social media profiles. As Norwegian writer and publisher Erling Kagge, author of ‘Walking: one step at a time’ notes: “Today, you can live a life in a car and behind a screen, and never see the people who live around you. It’s dangerous.”

Creatives in profile: interview with Paul Scraton

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Paul Scraton is a writer and editor who grew up in Lancashire in the north of England and now lives in Berlin, Germany. Among various projects, Paul is the Editor in Chief of Elsewhere: A Journal of Place and also contributes to Slow Travel BerlinCaught by the River. The author of Ghosts on the Shore: Travels Along Germany’s Baltic Coast, his fiction debut is  Built on Sand (published by Influx Press), which paints a picture of Berlin through a series of interconnected short stories; and in this, we discover a city three decades on from the fall of the wall, and in many ways still coming to terms with that history.

INTERVIEWER

Tell us about yourself, where you live and your background/lifestyle

SCRATON

I am a British-born writer based in Berlin. I have been living in the German capital since 2002. I feel at home both in the north of England and in Germany, and I feel an outsider in both at the same time. As a writer, I don’t think it’s a bad place to be.

INTERVIEWER

Is writing your first love, or do you have another passion?

SCRATON

I have wanted to be a writer since I was about seventeen or eighteen, and although I have lots of interests, mainly involving getting outdoors, books and literature remain very important to me.

INTERVIEWER

Who inspires you, and why?

SCRATON

Family and friends, of course, and each of them in their own unique way. When it comes to writing, it changes frequently, depending on what I am reading! At the moment I am thinking a lot about how history shapes the present, and how the stories of the past, and our knowledge of them, are particularly important in the current political climate. In this I have been thinking a lot recently about the writings of Joseph Roth and Daša Drndić. When it comes to writing on place, a long-term inspiration is Jan Morris. Her writing combines an interest in others with sharp observation, two of the most important components, I think, in any successful literature of place.

INTERVIEWER

How has your time as editor of the Elsewhere: A Journal of Place, influenced the way you view the relationship between place and imagination? And how important a role does setting play in your own creative writing?

SCRATON

I think the fact that I was already interested in place and how the stories of a landscape and people can shape our understanding not only of that specific location but elsewhere is one of the main reasons that I founded the journal with Julia Stone. When it comes to my own writing, whether fiction, nonfiction or something in between, my main themes are history, memory and identity, and as such place is at the core of nearly everything I commit to paper.

INTERVIEWER

It has been said that events like the Brexit vote in the UK have brought to light the differences between so-called ‘anywhere’s’ and ‘somewhere’s – i.e. people who essentially view themselves as citizens of the world, with no particular attachment to their home town or country of origin, and those who view the world directly through the prism of their geographic origins. Do you subscribe to this as an accurate view? Or is this polarity too simplistic a view to take?

SCRATON

I think there is something going on here that needs to be understood, but I imagine it is more complex than a simple divide between citizens of ‘somewhere’ and Theresa May’s ‘citizens of nowhere.’ I think there is a certain sense of dislocation feeding dissatisfaction for many people, not only in the UK but elsewhere. There is a difference in the populist movements that can be observed in the US, the UK, Germany, Sweden, Hungary, Italy, Poland… but one common thread is a kind of nostalgia for a rooted sense of belonging that communities supposedly had in the past. And that globalisation and all that comes with it have broken the ties that bound a community together.

This is the danger of nostalgia, that it in turn creates a sense of ‘belonging’ and identity that is exclusive rather than inclusive. That it idealises a non-existent golden era that could be returned to. People call these movements new, but there is very little in them that we haven’t seen before. What is new is the role of the internet and the media, and how it allows dangerous ideas to spread and take hold. And whenever people are split, into somewhere and nowhere, us and them, it is always important to ask: in whose interest are we being divided? It is very rarely the people themselves.

On a personal level, I would like to think of myself as both a ‘citizen of everywhere’ and, as someone born in a different country to the one where I’ve made my home, a person committed to being a ‘citizen of somewhere’ in that I want to be part of my community and understand the stories and the history that brought us to where we are in Berlin and Germany today. I have no doubt that it is possible to be both, to be both internationalist and local in outlook.

INTERVIEWER

When writing, can you tell us a little about your creative process? How do you go from blank page to fully fledged story or novel?

SCRATON

I make a lot of notes. I think a lot. I go for a walk or a run. I spend a lot of time looking and feeling like I am not doing very much at all. But I have always been someone who likes to have a plan, have it fixed – whether in my head or on paper – what it is I am going to do. So it can take a while to get to the blank page (or computer screen) but then when I get there I tend to write quite quickly as I have worked most of the problems out already.

INTERVIEWER

How do you decide when a piece of writing is ‘finished’?

SCRATON

I think I have to get to a draft I am not totally unhappy with. That is usually after two or three goes at it. Then I give it to my partner Katrin, who is always my first reader and who has an excellent bullshit and pretension detector, and whose judgement I trust more than any other. Basically when she gives the green light I feel comfortable to send it off, to the editor or to post it on my blog or whatever. If she tells me its not working, I’ll probably argue with her for a bit, go quiet, and then return to my desk because deep down I know she was right after all.

INTERVIEWER

Your fiction debut Built on Sand will be published in April this year. What has the experience of firstly writing the book, and then seeing it published, been like?

SCRATON

This is the second book I have written for my publishers Influx Press, and so I knew how the practicalities would work. My editor, Gary Budden, is someone who I greatly respect both as a publisher but also as a writer. We share many common interests and outlook on the world and in particular how we write about it (although our styles are different). So when I came up with the idea of a collection of stories set in Berlin and the landscapes around, I felt that it would be a project he would be interested in and would be able to help me realise. What changed during the writing and the editing process was the realisation that what I had – what we had – was actually a novel, that although each story could stand alone, together they told a wider story.

The second time around (and the book is not out at the time of writing) it is interesting to see how much easier it has been to get people to notice the book. I don’t know if it is because it is the second book, if it is because it is a novel (and set in Berlin, which must surely help), or if it is because the publishers are a more established name themselves… most likely it is a combination of all of the above.

INTERVIEWER

What are your hopes for the book?

SCRATON

All the main hopes were in the writing and bringing it to publication, and they’ve been fulfilled. Of course, I hope people discover it and like what I have written. And I hope that some of the themes in the book will resonate, and will make people think about their own relationships to place, and how history and memory, both collective and personal, shape our understanding of the world around us.

INTERVIEWER

Do you feel any personal responsibility as a writer?

SCRATON

Only in that I am still trying to find the best way to say what it is I want to say, so my responsibility is to keep working on it.

INTERVIEWER

In an age of ‘abject’ incomes for authors and poets, how can aspiring creatives pursue their passions while also making ends meet?

SCRATON

I think we all have to accept that – with the exception of the very few – most of us will need to do other work to pay the bills. I do copywriting and other bits and pieces for travel companies and content agencies. I do walking tours on the streets of Berlin (which has certainly been good for honing the storytelling skills).  I don’t really have an answer because I still know that I am one of the lucky ones. I have time to write. I can make time to travel. I have a supportive partner. There are people with much more difficult circumstances than mine who create amazing things, and I am in awe of them. The deeper question is, why do we as society not value art and music and literature in a way that means that artists, musicians and writers can live from their work? Because the danger is that the majority of voices we will hear will increasingly come from a privileged minority, those who can afford, one way or the other, to “pursue their passions”. This will have the knock-on effect of only increasing the idea that the arts are for the few and not for the many.

INTERVIEWER

What’s next for you and your writing? Are there any exciting projects we should be looking out for?

SCRATON

I have started the next novel and have some loose ideas for nonfiction books, one set in the north of England and the other in the hills of Germany. All three books will no doubt continue to explore ideas of history, memory, identity and place. As I answered earlier: I am still trying to work out the best way to say what it is I want to say.