Book review: The Only Story, by Julian Barnes

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Paul and Susan meet at a tennis tournament, at their village sports club, when they get randomly paired together. He is “only nineteen”, is not interested in British politics at all and “dislikes and distrusts adulthood”; she is blond, in her forties, has prominent front teeth and looks beautiful in her white tennis dress. They both seem to instantly know they will fall in love with each other. What they don’t seem to know, is that this love will destroy their lives.

When opening this book, leave aside all of your assumptions of what this story will be about. Embrace it without expectations. This is not a story where a boy who falls in love with a woman who could be his mother. Where she then teaches him the arts of love. Where he eventually grows up and looks back at the love affair with nostalgia. This is a book about the destructive power of relationships. Indeed, from the very first line, Barnes doesn’t hide that the characters of this book will be suffering because of love: “Would you rather love the more, and suffer the more; or love the less, and suffer the less? That is, I think, finally, the only real question.”

Perhaps you picked up this book because of its title: it’s short, it’s absolutistic – it indubitably means there’s only one story worth telling. This is a recurrent theme throughout the whole book: Susan’s story is the only story that will characterise Paul’s existence forever. “Everyone has their love story,” she explains to her young lover, “Everyone. It may have been a fiasco, it may have fizzled out, it may never even have got going, it may have been all in the mind, that doesn’t make it any less real. […] Sometimes, you see a couple […] and you can’t imagine them having anything in common, or why they’re still living together. But it’s not just habit or complacency or convention or anything like that. It’s because once, they had their love story. Everyone does.”

What is peculiar and fascinating about Barnes’ The Only Story, is the honesty of the narrator’s voice. Paul tells the story of his love for Susan exactly as he remembers it, because he thinks “there’s a different authenticity to memory, and not an inferior one. […] Memory prioritises whatever is most useful to keep the bearer of these memories going.” This way, Paul’s memory itself becomes one of the main characters – we follow the story not simply through him, but through his memory. And Paul is not afraid to admit that his memory can sometimes be faulty. He has no interest in focusing on details such as the food he ate, the clothes he wore, the name of the village he and Susan lived in, or the subject he studied at university. “I’m remembering the past,” he says, “not reconstructing it.”

At the same time, we witness some extraordinary moments of intimacy between Paul and Susan, which are described with precise and vivid details. For example, when the two move together to a small flat in London, which Susan has managed to buy, Paul’s account of their nights together is sweet, funny and exquisitely real: “The notion of lovers falling blissfully asleep in one another’s arms resolved itself into the actuality of one lover falling asleep on top of the other and the latter, after a certain amount of cramp and interrupted circulation, gently shifting out […] I also discovered that it wasn’t only men who snored.” Julian Barnes is, indeed, the master of delicate descriptions.

Unfortunately, this idyllic life that Susan has always dreamt – this life that Paul has chosen to be his forever when he’s only nineteen – will not last long, and Paul will have to choose if he’d rather love the more and suffer the more, or love the less and suffer the less.

This heart-breaking, tender novel reminds us that we all have one story worth telling, and that is the only one that matters.

About the reviewer

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Anna Maria Colivicchi was born and raised in Rome. After a BA in Italian Literature, she is now pursuing a Master’s in Writing at the University of Warwick. In her writing, she seeks the extraordinary in the ordinary, focusing on the details of everyday life.

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Will Eaves’s novel ‘Murmur’ – inspired by real-life tragedy of Alan Turing – wins £30,000 literature prize

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The novelist and poet Will Eaves has won the 2019 Wellcome book prize for his fictionalised take on the chemical castration of mathematician Alan Turing.

‘Murmur’ (read our review here), published by CB Editions, was hailed as “a future classic” by judges of the £30,000 prize. It is Eaves’s fifth novel and the third published by the independent printing press run by Charles Boyle. The book has been picking up critical acclaim since it was published – winning the Republic of Consciousness award earlier in 2019 and being shortlisted for the Goldsmith Prize and James Tait and Folio awards.

Taking its cue from the arrest and legally enforced chemical castration of the mathematician Alan Turing, Murmur is the account of a man who responds to intolerable physical and mental stress with love, honour and a rigorous, unsentimental curiosity about the ways in which we perceive ourselves and the world.

Formally audacious, daring in its intellectual inquiry and unwaveringly humane, Will Eaves’s new novel is a rare achievement that explores everything from love, society, mathematics, memory and consciousness itself.

In an interview with Nothing in the Rulebook, Eaves said of his novel:

“I was very nervous about tackling Turing. I’m not a mathematician so I had to work hard to understand the meta-mathematics of Godelian incompleteness, the Entscheidungsproblem, etc, and I hope I haven’t made too many errors. For fictional purposes, he had to be his own avatar: I couldn’t allow myself to put words into the mouth of a genius. That would have been wrong. But I think my overall wager is sound. Murmur tries to find a dramatic paraphrase for Turing’s physical, mental and political predicament. It asks: how does one fit the personal experience of trauma into a material conception of the world? The story’s scientist, Alec Pyror, discovers that the outward responses one gives to the world are not necessarily related to the inner life, which may be crying out, in great distress. At the same time, the novel resists that pain. It’s the story of a man trying to overcome desolation and self-pity by objectifying the trauma.”

The judges of the Wellcome Prize, awarded to pieces of exceptional scientific writing, were left stunned by the impact of the novel. The judges called it an “extraordinary contemplation of consciousness” and “a feverish meditation on love, state-sanctioned homophobia and knowledge, alongside an exploration of sexuality, identity and artificial intelligence”.

Chair of judges, the novelist Elif Shafak, called Murmur “hugely impressive”, adding that it “will grip you in the very first pages, break your heart halfway through, and in the end, strangely, unexpectedly, restore your faith in human beings, and their endless capacity for resilience”.

“Every sentence, each character … is well-thought, beautifully written and yet there is a quiet modesty all the way through that is impossible not to admire,” said Shafak. “Whether he intended this or not, Will Eaves has given us a future classic and for this, we are grateful to him.”

Given the subject matter, the skill of the writer and the breadth of the novel’s scope, it is perhaps no surprise that Murmur is already being hailed as a groundbreaking piece of fiction that will influence readers for years to come. As Nothing in the Rulebook‘s own Professor Wu noted: “Startlingly ambitious in its scope and form, Murmur invites us into an incredible world of philosophical mathematics and artificial intelligence, written all the while with skill, care, and attention. What’s not to love?”

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.

 

 

Book review: Slack-Tide by Elanor Dymott

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If you’ve ever wondered why you write, why you feel the need to create, why you feel everything constantly depends on what you are capable of creating, then you should read Elanor Dymott’s Slack-Tide.

Elizabeth is a novelist in her forties, who had a miscarriage that led her marriage to an end. When she’s set up on a blind date with Robert – who vaguely looks like Keanu Reeves and whose job is “designing cities” –  she feels it is the right time to start again, to be happy again.

From the very beginning of the book, we know this is a novel about an intense, even though only temporary, love story: at the end of the prologue, it is Elizabeth herself who says “by midsummer the thing between us was finished, and it was as if a storm had torn the roof from over me”.

Indeed, Sarah Moss’ quote on the back of the book anticipates this is “a compelling and beautiful account on the stories that hold us together and keep us apart”. Dymott’s hypnotic, sharp prose takes us on a journey where love and loss are indissolubly intertwined – and, despite already knowing it would finish, I couldn’t help it but keep on wishing that Elizabeth and Robert’s love story never ended.

It is Elizabeth’s clear voice that guides us: she is fierce, beautiful and tells her story as if she’s whispering it to a friend. The loss of her child haunts her. Flashbacks of a life that could have been and painful memories – her tears when the anaesthetist asks her to confirm she’s at the hospital for an abortion and the way Elizabeth screams “I’m not choosing this. I wanted my child. I wanted my baby. Do you understand?” – come back at her, neat and clear. These are constant reminders of how vulnerable she feels.

Robert is vulnerable, too. In his fifties, he has lived a life between the comforts of a wealthy family and a successful career as an architect, that brought him to travel around the globe. We get to know him when his marriage with Lea is already over, and he is torn between the social pressure of being a good father to Philippe and the need to share his daily life with a lover. “I want to be with someone,” he says, “When I come back from a trip, I want to have someone to talk about it […] About the stuff I see. I see so many things. I have so many things to say. […] Right before I met you, I was beginning to think I might burst with the things I’d seen.” As we read on, we begin to discover his acute selfishness. As a reader, you’ll find it impossible to feel indifferent to him: you’ll either love him or you’ll hate him.

Slack-tide is a book about love, about loss, about the details that make our lives unique. But what strikes most about this novel is Elizabeth’s attachment to the characters of her own books. She is loyal to them, and she’s firm in her decision of putting her writing first, come what may. When Robert tries to make her change her plans, claiming that there are other people involved, she explains “I have characters, waiting for me to tell them what to do. […] the only difference between my ‘other people’ and your ‘other people’ is that I have to make mine up. Every thought they think, every word they speak, and every single thing they do. You are lucky, Robert. You pack your case, get on a plane, and when you get off at the other end, your ‘people’ are waiting in arrivals, holding up a little sign with your name on.”

Elizabeth was not capable of giving birth. She was not able to create a new life. However, she is capable of bringing those characters to life, and she defends her work at every cost.

In this way, Slack-tide is, most of all, a book about the power of creating.

About the reviewer

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Anna Maria Colivicchi was born and raised in Rome. After a BA in Italian Literature, she is now pursuing a Master’s in Writing at the University of Warwick. In her writing, she seeks the extraordinary in the ordinary, focusing on the details of everyday life.

 

 

 

 

Consciousness collides as Will Eaves and Alex Pheby win literary prize

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The writers Will Eaves and Alex Pheby have been announced as the joint winners of the Republic of Consciousness prize, for their novels Murmur and Lucia.

Murmur, published by CB Editions, is inspired by the chemical castration of the Alan Turing – the father of Artificial Intelligence. Meanwhile, Lucia, published by Galley Beggar Press, is based on the troubled daughter of literary giant James Joyce.

Life, consciousness, and Artificial Intelligence

Taking its cue from the arrest and legally enforced chemical castration of the mathematician Alan Turing, Murmur is the account of a man who responds to intolerable physical and mental stress with love, honour and a rigorous, unsentimental curiosity about the ways in which we perceive ourselves and the world.

Formally audacious, daring in its intellectual inquiry and unwaveringly humane, Will Eaves’s new novel is a rare achievement. The opening section of Murmur was shortlisted for the 2017 BBC National Short Story Award – and it is currently also shortlisted for the £30,000 Wellcome prize for science-related writing.

In Nothing in the Rulebook’s review of Murmur, Professor Wu writes: “Life and consciousness are not logical (though they can of course be assessed and reviewed with logic). And this is one of the many things that Murmur does so well – it is, by its very nature, both an accurate representation of consciousness and human experience, as well as a thorough, logical analysis of these things. Through Alex Pryor, Eaves has developed a protagonist through which we may see these inherently complex ideas more simply.”

About the Republic of Consciousness

The Republic of Consciousness prize, which celebrates and supports small, independent presses in the UK and Ireland, specifies that works entered must have been published by presses with fewer than five full-time staff members, and which have a commitment to “hardcore literary fiction and gorgeous prose”.

Alongside Murmur and Lucia, the 2019 shortlist for the prize included the following titles:

This year’s double wins come in a year when small presses continue to outperform their larger competitors; all but two of the 13 titles longlisted for the Man Booker International prize come from independent publishers. The nature of the joint win also reflects the judge’s stance against sole winners, because “while the competitive dynamic of prizes points readers towards ‘the best books’, they also create a false hierarchy where ‘the best’ becomes a valid category”.

Creatives in profile: interview with Ben Armstrong

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Ben Armstrong is a poet from the West Midlands, UK, who specialises in surrealist, hyper-real and absurdist pieces. An alumnus of the renown Warwick University Writing Programme, his poem ‘The Year of the Apple’ was featured in The Apple Anthology (Nine Arches Press, 2013), shortlisted for Best Anthology in the Saboteur Awards. His debut collection Perennial is out now through Knives, Forks and Spoons Press, and has drawn praise from a number of right-on poets and publications, including Luke Kennard, George Ttoouli, and David Morley, as well as the magazines Eye Flash Poetry, and Here Comes Everyone (oh, and ourselves, of course).

In the large hadron collider that is Perennial, Armstrong challenges the reader to embrace unpredictability and recognise order within otherwise apparent disorder, in what is an extremely fun, engaging, witty and anarchic poetry collection. Given that we love witty anarchy as much as the next creative collective (it’s among the best kinds of anarchy if you ask us), we were thrilled to have the opportunity to interview Armstrong himself and add him to our community of creatives who have shared their stories and innermost secrets with us.

INTERVIEWER

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

ARMSTRONG

I was born in the Black Country, West Midlands, in the early 1990s and still live locally. We’re famous for our pork scratchings, ale, canals and the steel industry (amongst other things). I grew up in Stourbridge, which doesn’t have so much of an accent – people tend to find it hard to place me unless they’re familiar with the Midlands. I’ve just bought a house with my partner so my current lifestyle is mostly settling in there, working, keeping fit and writing for my next book.

INTERVIEWER

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

ARMSTRONG

Music is my biggest passion although I’m a much more perceptive listener than a musician. I was in a band for a few years recently and I spent so much time listening to our mixes, tweaking my EQ – focusing on the really minute details. I loved designing our album booklet and packaging. I guess a lot of people would find that stuff boring? For me, the beauty has always been in the detail. In this way, my love for poetry and music stem from the same place. They’re both very liberating mediums that I can really get stuck into them on a micro level, whilst still having a finished piece at the end of the process.

INTERVIEWER

Who inspires you, and why?

ARMSTRONG

On the whole, people who really dedicate themselves to their art. I find that highly commendable, especially in the modern world where money doesn’t exactly come easily for most artists. I’m inspired also by people who have a very strong artistic vision and stick to it, especially across a collection of pieces. We live in quite a quick-fire culture but I still really value full-length collections, records, etc. that tell a story or carry a vibe across a substantial body of work. You can spot these people a mile away and they tend to have long, varied and diverse careers in art.

INTERVIEWER

The structure of your poems is often experimental, while the content blurs vibrant, intricate language with both pop culture references and classical analogy. How do you see the balance or relationship between modern and classical? Are we living in a world of post-post modernism? Or have we simply run out of the terms to adequately express and describe our contemporary cultural trends and styles?

ARMSTRONG

We’re living in an age of pastiche. This is the first time that our entire existence as human beings has become self-referential. It feels like we’re finally letting go of the concept of ‘time’ – the whole thing has just become delineated. Courtesy of technology, the recent past may as well be right now. The distant past is as accessible as what I did last week. People are always creating new art, but the leading trend seems to be recontextualisation. We’re a race of curators, of remixers and remodellers. I think that my poetry and Perennial especially speaks to that. My aim is to make sense of the chaos, somehow.

INTERVIEWER

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

ARMSTRONG

Nearly always, a line or phrase will just drop into my mind. If I choose to pursue it, I can feel the tangents pulling off from the original seed and urging me to get to a computer or pick up a pen. From there, I write quickly to capture as much as possible and edit as I go. I tend not to move on until I’m happy with a line although if I end up at a dead end, I’ll consider some radical changes to the structure to jump-start the process. I favour using a computer because I can get a better ‘feel’ for the visual element of the poem.

INTERVIEWER

How do you decide when a poem is ‘finished’?

ARMSTRONG

This one is down to intuition. Mostly it’ll be when it feels right, visually. I really champion the visual aspect of the poem on the page – it really steers my decision making throughout the entire writing process. Certain ideas just need to ‘look’ a certain way. Some need to slink down, some appear to me as very horizontal and aggressive, others flutter like a burst bag of feathers. I’m not entirely sure why I feel the need to act on these but I do and it’s a big part of why I love writing poetry. I suppose I’d compare it to how a chef arranges a plate. Certain choices are dictated by things other than logic. Why does the onion need to sit just so? It just does.

INTERVIEWER

You’ve recently published your debut collection, Perennial. Can you tell us a little about the work, and the experience of putting it together? How did you first conceive of the idea, and how did it evolve?

ARMSTRONG

Perennial has been in the works for a very long time now. I started writing poems for it in around 2012 on a coach to visit my uncle in Scotland. It was never intended to be my first collection – it is actually a spin-off to a bigger, larger story – but it just so happened that I finished it first. The collection is a diary of sorts written by an unnamed character who finds himself lost on a strange island. In a narrative sense it functions as a backstory for the character, but it’s a real book within this fictional world, too. Characters from my other poems have read Perennial. The interesting part for me is that due to a complete lack of contextual information, a first-time reader is going to be pretty baffled by it. I wanted to create this underlying sense that its part of something bigger but never really state that outright. The next book will unlock a lot of the secrets in this one.

INTERVIEWER

We live in a time when language is deliberately misused and manipulated – frequently for malicious purposes – to serve and support those in power. This is a time of ‘alt-facts’, an Orwellian landscape in which language is a tool of deception and demagoguery. What role do you see poetry playing in an age of ‘fake news’ and social media trolling?

ARMSTRONG

The reliability and ‘usefulness’ of poetry is always going to be a grey area. I frequently misuse and manipulate language for different purposes. The difference, I suppose, is that I don’t have an agenda. I’m not trying to make you think or feel a certain way, politically or socially speaking. I think modern poetry will continue as it has done for a while – to inspire the few and confuse the many.

INTERVIEWER

Since Percy Bysshe Shelley was moved to pen poetic verse in protest at the Peterloo massacre, poetry has been used as a tool to provide a voice for the powerless and inspire movements and action against the powerful. What are your thoughts on the idea of ‘poetry as protest’?

ARMSTRONG

I think poetry can be used as a tool for those purposes – It’s probably one of the better mediums for it. Of course, it depends entirely on the person writing it, their motivations and the reader’s own interpretation. Performance poetry isn’t really my thing but it’s undeniably effective at bringing together communities and giving people a voice.

INTERVIEWER

Do you feel any personal responsibility as a poet?

ARMSTRONG

Not as a poet so much as a person writing poetry. We’re all personally responsible for the impact we make on the world.  I write primarily for myself and to do justice to the story I’m telling with each collection I put out. My main responsibility is to let the poems go wherever they want to. In spite of this, I do try and promote the things I think are important through my work, too.

INTERVIEWER

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

ARMSTRONG

I’d say just do it and keep doing it and keep finding ways to continue to do it. I find it easiest to keep my passions and sources of income separate, but mutually beneficial. I do a lot of writing for my day job, and this keeps me sharp for my poetry.

INTERVIEWER

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

ARMSTRONG

As I mentioned earlier, Perennial, is getting a companion collection which should be finished towards the end of Summer. I’m really proud of what I have so far for it; it’s a lot more playful and experimental than Perennial was. Euripides is the biggest influence on it as a whole. I have an incredible artist working with me on the cover design and some internal illustrations too. We’re currently just working on some initial ideas but I can’t wait to pull everything together. 

Quick fire round!

INTERVIEWER

Favourite poem?

ARMSTRONG

It would have to be The Wasteland by T.S. Eliot.

INTERVIEWER

Curl up with a book or head to the movies?

ARMSTRONG

Mood dependant! I don’t really read to relax so probably the movie more often than not.

INTERVIEWER

Critically acclaimed or cult classic?

ARMSTRONG

Cult classic

INTERVIEWER

Most underrated poet?

ARMSTRONG

David Morley. I’m biased because he was my tutor, but in my mind, David stands up against the great pastoral poets of the past. Calling him underrated might be selling him short, but he should definitely be even more known than he is.

INTERVIEWER

Most overrated poet?

ARMSTRONG

Because of how widely he’s taught, probably Shakespeare. Not all of his work has aged gracefully and I never had him down as a particularly great poet.

INTERVIEWER

Who is someone you think people should know more about?

ARMSTRONG

This is a really tough question, given that so many poets are unknown in the greater scheme of things. I’d probably say Jonty Tiplady. I love Zam Bonk Dip, his debut collection. I’m not aware of what he’s done since, but this has inspired me to revisit him! Outside of the poetry world, I recommend that people check out the ambient musician Tim Hecker. His sonic landscapes are just so expressive.

INTERVIEWER

Do you have any hidden talents?

ARMSTRONG

I’m really good at recalling the specific release years of records. I can also recite Pi up to 50 digits after me and a friend decided to see who could learn it to more decimal places. I’m not even sure why I can still remember it – that was fifteen years ago.

INTERVIEWER

Could you write us a story in 6 words?

ARMSTRONG

“Thank you”

“Thank you?”

“Thank you.”

INTERVIEWER

Could you give your top 10 tips for aspiring poets?

ARMSTRONG

Don’t be afraid to write bad poetry, just write something. It can take years to finish a poem. It can take one minute to finish a different poem. Avoid saying things that have already been said because you think you should say them. Try to write without using any similes. Put effort into your book cover. Remember to title your documents. Performing live doesn’t have to be the goal if you don’t want it to be. Revel in your rejection letters. Aim high.