About Cherry Potts

Cherry Potts is a publisher/editor. fiction writer and teacher, event organiser, photographer, book designer, NLP master practitioner, life coach and trainer. She sings for fun. Through Arachne Press she publishes fiction and non fiction and runs spoken word events and cross-arts workshops for writers at interesting venues. Always interested in new opportunites to perform, write or explore writing.

Behind the Scenes at Arachne Towers: Book Cover Design with Kevin Threlfall

Welcome to the first in a new series of blog posts about the things that go on behind the scenes to get Arachne Press books out to bookshops and into your hands.

Artist and designer, Kevin Threlfall talks to Cherry Potts, and the two most recent recipients of his work, Lily Peters and Jackie Taylor.

We first came across Kevin when he won the competition to design the cover for Weird Lies, way back in 2013, with his tender hand-holding skeltons, and he reprised the skeletal look for Liam Hogan‘s Happy Ending NOT Guaranteed. We’ve been working with him ever since.

Cherry: Welcome Kevin! To start with, can you tell us a bit about your background as an artist?

Kevin: My journey as an artist started at a young age, I was the child that was always told off by my teachers for drawing too much! I was designing posters and drawing murals at school, and I was always known as the go-to-guy for anything creative. I studied art and design at University, and went on to join a small design company, which gave me experience working with lots of different clients on every kind of design project you can imagine.

I continued paintings and exhibiting alongside the design work but after a few years felt I needed to concentrate full time on my art. I still take on occasional design work for arts and community organisations if the projects interest me – I enjoy seeing my artwork reaching different audiences and it can take me out of my comfort zone to try new things, which I feed back into my paintings.

I received Arts Council funding last year to collaborate with a ceramicist on a collection that combined our techniques and processes, which I want to do more of.

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I’ve been lucky that I’ve had the opportunity to work professionally with lots of different people and disciplines, from film-makers to printmakers, pottery to poetry, and everything in between! In July I’ll be working with a mural artist for the first time, which I’m very excited about.

In 2016 I set up an artist-run gallery, which I’m still involved with, so I spend a lot of time curating exhibitions and working with artists and designers. Now that restrictions are easing up, there are more exhibitions and shows on the horizon, which I’ve missed being involved with – so it looks like it’s going to be a busy few months.

Cherry: What inspires your work (book covers and otherwise)?

Kevin: I’m like a magpie, I’m inspired and influenced by various artists and designers. I have a soft spot for mid-century graphic design, with its bold, playful shapes and flat colours, which you can see in the work of Saul Bass. Drifting in-between figuration and abstraction, Francis Bacon paintings had a big influence on me when I was studying art. It’s interesting that a lot of the painters I admire such as Keith Vaughan, John Piper and Ben Shahn worked in advertising or design at various times in their career.

Cherry: Interesting, those artists are quite bleak in their approach, which isn’t a word I would use to describe your work!

Cherry: A lot of your work is in quite a large scale, and in oils, how does book cover design fit in?

Kevin: I usually work on a large scale for my oil paintings, but it can vary, depending on the subject matter and if I’m working on a commission. I also do sketches and smaller studies before I start a painting, which can have their own energy and spontaneity to them. Someone once said that the difference between art and design is that art asks questions, while design answers them. For me a cover has to communicate the essence of the book to the viewer, otherwise it has failed, regardless of how nice it looks.

Cherry: You have quite a few styles up your sleeve, when you get a commission from us, if we haven’t specified, how do you go about deciding which to go for?

Kevin: There are styles that are stereotypical to a particular genre, which provide an immediate visual shorthand, but feels lazy using. So avoiding the obvious is usually my starting point!

Cherry: I love that, that’s completely where we are coming from!

Kevin: I like the challenge of coming up with something that subverts traditional conventions, and playing with different styles can help do this. I like the fact I can try something different when working with you, even if it doesn’t always work straight away! Experimenting can take the designs in unexpected directions and can lead to further ideas, which I would never have thought of at the start.

Cherry: I love collaboration. What was the process for your two most recent covers for us, Accidental Flowers and Strange Waters?

Strange Waters

Kevin: Strange Waters is such a visually strong title it gave me a lot to work with – the water theme, mythical elements and the ebb and flow of past and present lives. I wanted the design to have a lyrical quality, with an almost dream-like feel. The idea was adapted from a previous cover concept that didn’t see the light of day, so I like that the design has a history to it below the surface.

 

Cherry: Yes, I remember at the last minute you asked about balancing the text, and I said, no, I like the way the words are almost sinking. It works so well!

Kevin: Accidental Flowers did stump me at first…  I felt it needed to convey a science fiction theme while also avoiding the usual clichés. The title was also ambiguous which I felt put more pressure on the cover imagery. However, an idea came out of the blue – I was sketching and playing with making marks on paper and something appeared that could have been towers or grass/shrubs. That gave me the idea to explore the concept further – I tried to redraw something more refined, but it lost the spontaneity of the sketch, so in the end I kept those initial marks in the final design.

Cherry: I think it was the spontaneity that excited me, and the ambiguity – is that a flower or a light, is that a plant or a tower? Really effective, and I’ve had a lot of spontaneous positive feedback on the covers too!

Kevin: I was pleased with both of the final designs and the printed books look great. There’s a lot of detail and subtle colours in designs which are captured beautifully in the physical copies.

Cherry: Yes, our printers are careful to get as much of the subtlety and depth of the design as possible, that’s really important to me.

Cherry:  Which has been your favourite cover so far? And why?

Kevin: Very difficult to pick a favourite… I think In Retail was particularly effective.

Cherry: Mmm, it was what I was secretly hoping for bit didn’t quite dare ask. It looks nothing like a poetry book, but works so well for the content. And all those different colourways you gave us to choose from!

 

 

 

Kevin: Erratics had an interesting concept, and With Paper For Feet is probably the closest to being like one of my own paintings.

Cherry: I loved how you adapted Erratics to use Cathy’s own handwriting and thumbprint. And again for With Paper for Feet, I remember the first version was rather pink in hue, and Jennifer and I said, oh, it’s not a pink book, and you came straight back with three alternatives.

Kevin: I’ll plump for Accidental Flowers though, as it’s the last one I worked on and feels quite different to anything else.

Cherry: One of my favourite things about working with you is how responsive to our ideas you are, and also how we almost always pick the first design you thought of! What’s it like being on the end of our ‘yes, and can we have…’

Kevin: I like the feedback and it feels like a collaborative process, which it is. You have a better idea of what the book is about, so I put my trust in you seeing things I won’t be able to. It’s always interesting to hear from the author as well, as they will have something in their mind already. We all approach it from different directions, so the skill is juggling ideas and expectations, while coming up with something that surprises and delights everyone…. not always easy!

Jackie Taylor (Strange Waters) asks: I’m interested in how you go about encapsulating a whole book in a single image – does it start with an idea from the text, or a ‘feel’, or a colour?

Kevin: Many times the covers are created before I see the text and I have to go off what the information the publisher has provided me, which can just be a couple of lines. Even if I had read the whole book, it’s impossible to encompass every aspect of it in one image but I try to capture the essence and feel of it. The cover has to give the viewer sufficient visual clues so that they have an idea of what to expect, whilst also leaving them waiting to know more. It’s about creating intrigue and excitement about what they are about to (hopefully) read.

Jackie: Also writers are always discussing whether they use pen and paper for ideas, or write straight to screen, or mix and match for different stages of drafting. How do you work?

Kevin: Some ideas come to me as soon as I’ve heard the title, and then that idea is refined as I learn more about the book. Other times I can be more methodical, especially if the cover has to do more of the heavy lifting, for example if the book title doesn’t immediately ‘say’ what the book is about, in terms of the subject matter. There can be a lot of back and forth between myself, the publisher and author, so concepts can blend together, and new ideas get thrown into the mix. This can produce ideas I would never have thought of myself. Other times I can have light bulb moments and the design just flows, and only a few tweaks are needed before it goes off to print.

Lily Peters (Accidental Flowers) asks: I was also wondering if you read the books cover to cover or skim read for themes?

Kevin: I rarely read the whole book before I start coming up with ideas (as in many cases the book is still being edited). I put my trust in the publisher that they know the book inside and out and they can provide me with a brief summary. I always read the book after I receive a copy and inevitably, I’ll come up with new ideas, which are obviously a bit late by then!

Lily: When I saw your ideas, two were very cheerful and the one we went for was more… gloomy – do you look for different angles to the story?

Kevin: Usually I have a few ideas on the go, and as they get refined it becomes more obvious which are the stronger ones. I try to provide at least two alternative designs so the author/publisher has options, however, this can create problems if they like elements from both! I like to include a design that is more unconventional, that I personally like but is probably too off-the-wall to be used – it’s always nice when they get picked.

Cherry: Yes! Guilty of the amalgamated cover design! For Departures, there was a lot of to and fro, and as you say, amalgamating designs, so I remember all the options you sent us, whereas I can’t  remember any of the other covers ideas for Accidental Flowers, the one we chose was so obviously right for the book.

 

Thanks so much for letting us into your world, Kevin. Here’s to many more collaborations, spontaneous ideas, and continued avoiding of the obvious.

Cover reveal for May17th

17th May is International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, and to celebrate, we are revealing the cover of upcoming poetry collection, A Voice Coming from Then by Jeremy Dixon, which is published at the end of August.

cover design by Rachel Marsh Semple Press

This is Jeremy’s first full collection, after his pamphlet In Retail a couple of year’s back.

A Voice Coming from Then deals honestly and straightforwardly with homophobic bullying and a youthful suicide attempt, through the presence of Spring-Heeled Jack, a demon of Victorian urban myth. It is illustrated with Jeremy’s collages of family photographs, and also contains statistics and much needed resources.

I don’t mind admitting I cried over the manuscript.

A Voice Coming from Then will also be available as an Audiobook!

 

Here’s one of the poems as a taster.

 

Deaf Awareness Week 2021

Happy Deaf Awareness Week!

A perfect time to announce the contributors to our upcoming anthology, What Meets the Eye? The Deaf Perspective…

Alison Campbell
Ayesha Gavin
Bryony Parkes
Charlie Swinbourne
Clare English
Colly Metcalfe
David Callin
Dee Cooke
Diane Dobson
DL Williams
Elizabeth Ward
Emma Lee
Hala Hashem
Janet Hatherley
Jay Caldwell
John Kefala Kerr
John Wilson
Josephine Dickinson
Julie Boden
Khando Langri
Ksenia Balabina
Liam O’Dell
Lianne Herbert
Lisa Kelly (Editor)
Lynn Buckle
Maggie Arbeid
Marilyn Longstaff
Maryam Ebrahim
Mary-Jayne Russell de Clifford
Melanie Jayne Ashford
Raymond Antrobus (Preface)
Rodney Wood
Sahera Khan
Samantha Baines
Sarah Clarke
Sarah O Adedeji
Sophie Stone (editor)
Sophie Woolley
Terri Donovan

The book is due out in September and will be accompanied by BSL videos for every piece. All the contributors are Deaf, deaf or hard of hearing, and some of the submissions were received in BSL, so there will be translation going on in both directions.

 

New titles and open calls

We’ve just started looking at the submissions for our anthologies and have decided on titles, for books which were just anthology shaped holes in the schedule – which somehow makes them feel so much more real!

You can now look forward to:

What Meets the Eye? The Deaf Perspective (September 2021) edited by Lisa Kelly and Sophie Stone
and
Where We Find Ourselves (October 2021) edited by Laila Sumpton and Sandra A Agard
and (without looking at submissions, as the call is still open)
Words From the Brink: Stories and Poems from Solstice Shorts Festival 2021 (December 2021)

Now we can think about cover design.

I’ve just noticed how many of our titles start with W!

Daylight Savings

This video is from a few years back now, for Dusk, the Solstice Shorts Festival. It’s about the Autumn daylight saving rather than the spring one, but we are publishing a whole book of stories by it’s author, David Hartley, in May. Incorcisms is filled with dark fantasy like this, and I’m sure plenty of us would like to turn back time this year, or possibly forward, a lot faster, so it seems like an excellent time to share it again.

Incorcisms

you can preorder Incorcisms now from our Webshop.

Solstice Shorts Festival 2021 call for submissions

It’s that time of year again, the Spring equinox, (technically last week, but this got stuck in drafts!) when writers start to creep from their burrows and look hopefully for signs of regrowth and renewal; and we start the process of chosing material for Solstice Shorts.

But what if…

What if there are no signs of regrowth?

What if there are no signs of renewal?

What if we have pushed nature too far?

So our theme is time is running out, but our title is Words from the Brink.

We would like you to address the climate crisis before it becomes a climate catastrophe.

We like a time concept, because that’s the overarching theme of Solstice Shorts, but it needs to address the sense of anxiety about, and responsibility for, climate change.

Poetry and Short Fiction: Maximum 2000 words, your own work, in English, not previously published.

Songs: maximum 5 minutes, traditional or your own work, (ie NOT someone else’s copyright) in any language but please provide a translation if not in English, and you need to be available to perform* it yourself, or teach it to someone who can.

Deadline 21st June 2021 23:59 (Summer Solstice)

By the way, we want to see actual stories and poems, not thinly-disguised polemic please; and, equally, there has to be more to it than a description of nature. Are we demanding? Yes, we are!

Submit via Submittable

The Solstice Shorts Festival is recorded for posterity, and all chosen material is included in the anthology, which will be published in time for the festival. We pay royalties. Sometimes, depending on funding, we pay a performance licence for use of your work at the event as well.

*We usually hire actors to read the stories and poems so that there is no limit on where people can submit from, usually we expect songsmiths to sing their own work, but things being as they are, we are open to suggestions.

We don’t yet know where exactly the festival will be held this year, whether on the ground or online, so it’s still a bit fluid. If on the ground, we’ll definitely be somewhere in Greenwich, London – possibly elsewhere as well. We will keep you posted!

 

 

Online Launch and readings for This Poem Here

This Poem Here cover image Paul Summers

On Wednesday 24th March at 7.30pm we have the launch for Rob Walton’s debut collection This Poem Here. Rob will be joined by Will Teller.

Tickets are available free, or for £9 to include the book, plus a £1.30 transaction fee, but to make up for that, we will post the book to you for free.

The following day, Thursday 25th March at 7.30pm, (which is the official publication day) Rob is reading at One Year On, an online poetry event marking the anniversary of lockdown, alongside Rosie Johnston, Alex Josephy, Colin Pink and Jacqueline Saphra. This is a free event and the link can be got from the organiser Irena Hill.

The Audio book will be out a month after the physical and e-books. More news as we have it.

Arachne recommends books for International Women’s Day

Authors and Editors of upcoming titles choose three books  each that they would recommend for International Women’s Day

(Links mainly to our Bookshop affiliate page, except where the book is out of print, where the link will take you to abebooks, or not yet available where the link will take you to the publishers site)

Clare Owen, author of Zed and the Cormorants (April 2021)

The Good Women of China – Xinran

True – often harrowing and heartbreaking – stories of women living during the Cultural Revolution, collected by the host of a Chinese radio call-in show.

Love Among the Butterflies: The Travels and Adventures of a Victorian Lady – Margaret Fountaine (out of print)

The private diaries of a vicar’s daughter who defied her family’s expectations to travel the world collecting butterflies and lovers along the way.

What I Loved – Siri Hustvedt

A beautifully written, intense and intelligent book about art, love and loss from a writer who invariably gets less attention than her husband (novelist Paul Auster)!

Cherry Potts, Arachne Editor in Chief (who gets to choose more than three)

The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula le Guin

A powerful and wildly original Science Fiction novel that tackles gender fluidity decades before anyone else, in passionate and often witty observations of human, and alien frailty.

The White Darkness, Geraldine McCaughrean

I could have picked any of McCaughrean’s young adult novels, but this is the one I read first and adored. A tautly written adventure that doesn’t sidestep difficulties, and is truly shocking at times.

Persepolis Marjane Satrapi

A graphic novel/autobiography about growing up as a stroppy teenager in Iran. Funny, distressing and beautiful.

Second Class Citizen Buchi Emecheta

As a bright young thing in the 70’s and early 80’s, I sought out and read acres of books by black women, many of them American, and some no longer in print. This book bucked the trend, being both British and with sufficient enduring appeal to still be available. There are whole passages in this book I remember pretty much verbatim nearly 50 years later.

The Stone Age Jen Hadfield

Not actually out yet, (18th March) this is my first ‘choice’ selection from the Poetry Book Society. I’d been resisting signing up on the grounds that I like to choose my own books, and poverty, but I finally cracked and I’m really glad I did. This is one of those ‘I wish I’d published that’ books, and taps into all sorts of things that I love, in particular the standing stones of Shetland. Hadfield gives them voice in an entirely convincing way. A total delight that made me want to visit Shetland again.

Ness Owen, co-editor A470 (March 2022)

Inhale/Exile Abeer Ameer  (Seren). The poems I’ve heard so far are a fascinating mix of the personal and political, of language and place. Between Iraq and Britain, the poems move from tender family histories to shocking atrocities.

Flashbacks and Flowers Rufus Mufasa (Indigo Dreams forthcoming, can’t find any information though!) I really enjoyed the journey in this collection deeply rooted in time, place and lives lived with a wonderful interweaving of languages.

Aubade After a French Movie Zoe Brigley (Broken Sleep Books)  This pamphlet includes some of the wonderful Gwerful Mechain’s poetry, bringing it into the 21st century (including an interpretation of the infamous Ode to a C*** in a brave modern voice). The poems are a spoken celebration for what it is to be a women without shame.

Laura Besley, Author of 100nehundred (May 2021)

Mrs Narwhal’s Diary by S.J. Norbury (publisher Louise Walters Books). I heard the author read an exert of Mrs Narwhal’s Diary at an LWB event and completely fell in love with the style of the book and the main character’s unique voice.

The Thin Line Between Everything and Nothing by Hannah Storm (Reflex Press). Hannah Storm’s flash fiction is searing in its honesty, attention to detail and emotional resonance. This collection will, without a doubt, be fantastic.

The Yet Unknowing World by Fiona J. Mackintosh (Adhoc Fiction). Fiona J. Mackintosh’s writing is a sublime combination of lyrical and startling. I’m very much looking forward to reading her full collection.

Lily Peters, author of Accidental Flowers

The Hazelnut Grove, by Paula Read: [Disclosure: Paula is Lily’s mum, and we’ve published her in the past.] I might be slightly biased, so don’t just take my reviews for it. If you want to escape for a while into the European dream and in turn, discover the harsh reality of how much work it takes to make such a dream come true, this is a satisfying and comforting read.

The Bass Rock, by Evie Wyld: This is the story of three women, in some way related, across three time periods. It is set by the wild North Sea in the Scottish borders and the landscape is a character in its own right. It is unsettlingly written, and it has everything you need: scandal, spooky empty houses and a hint of witchcraft.

Weather, by Jenny Offill: The way Offill writes is gripping and quick. It is the closest thing you can get to instant gratification in literature. This book is all about the relatively unknown under-world of ‘preppers’ – those who are preparing for a potential world-ending apocalypse. Right up my ever-darkening street!

Submission call for UK Deaf Short Story Writers and Poets for ‘Movement’ anthology

BSL version of this page signed for us by Marcel Hirshman of WealdBSL

DEADLINE EXTENDED TO FRIDAY 23RD APRIL 23:59

Arachne Press is planning an anthology of fiction and poetry by Deaf and hard-of-hearing writers, which will be produced as a printed book, an eBook and a series of videos. The eBook will contain links to the videos, which will also be on the Arachne Website, and probably YouTube.

Our editors are Lisa Kelly (co-editor of Magma 69, The Deaf Issue; co-Chair of Magma Poetry, first collection A Map Towards Fluency published by Carcanet) and Sophie Stone (RADA trained Actor, Writer: Paine’s Plough, The Bunker, BBC Radio 3 and Co-founder of DH Ensemble theatre Co)

We have chosen the theme of movement, to fit with our overarching theme for this year and next, of ‘maps and mapping.’

You can interpret this however you want,  and we’ve been thinking about movement as communication and connection, mobility, and stillness, being moved emotionally, movement within and after Lockdown, freedom of movement, and being part of a political movement – so we are open to all your ideas… Except! NO Erotica, horror, gratuitous violence, sexism, racism, or homophobia.

We actively encourage submissions from underrepresented voices, including ethnically diverse writers, LGBTQ writers, writers with experience of multiple socio-economic deprivation and women writers.

You can apply in written English, or by video in BSL, SSE or whatever UK based form of sign you wish; or in writing and sign. We will pay royalties, and there will also be paid work translating/performing the BSL output from this project.

We will be translating everything that arrives signed into English, and we will also be translating everything that arrives written, into BSL. We will discuss with you in detail so that we get these translations right.

If your work is chosen and you want to do the signed version yourself, it will depend on the state of lockdown, and on your own technical skills with a camera; we will do our best, but we don’t want to put anyone at risk. If you don’t want to sign your own work, or it isn’t possible due to lockdown etc,  we will use a signing Deaf actor/translator.

For the submission just use a phone to video yourself and send us a file no bigger than 400mb. If your file is larger, let us know and we will arrange an alternative method.

You can send us one story of up to 2000 words/15 minutes of signing, and up to 3 poems around 650 words/5 minutes each which total up to 2000 words/15 minutes of signing, or 1 poem and 1 story.

We would prefer that the work be unpublished, but if you have published something that is a perfect fit, we will consider it, provided you hold the copyright.

Publication planned for 16th September 2021

All submissions via https://arachnepress.submittable.com/submit, where you can also find submission calls for Black Asian and Minority Ethnic writers,  should that apply to you.

Audio Book plans

We have taken a leap into the world of Audio Books, with nine books due for publication this year to be simultaneously released as Audio books.

Arachne Press Director, Cherry Potts, says “Thanks to a grant from Arts Council England, we are able to take a broad spread of books into the audio market – short stories, poetry, a dystopian novel and a YA novel, plus three anthologies.

“We are pleased to be partnering with Listening Books for the mastering and remote production, while our actors work from a variety of home studios, from the professional to the airing cupboard! Lockdown has meant we needed to make the most of every route to the reader, and audio books fit well with our commitment to accessibility, and working with Listening Books means we are also supporting a charity with similar aims. An added bonus with this venture is that we can support actors prevented from working on stage.”

Claire Bell, Deputy Membership and PR Manager, at Listening Books says

“I’m delighted we are working with Arachne to produce these titles. Having launched our new website this year, we know how important accessibility is and are very happy to be working with Arachne to provide their titles in the audio format. Having provided an audiobook service to children and adults since 1959, this partnership will not only support the charity through Listening Books Productions,  but will make a whole new range of titles available for the print impaired.

Cherry Potts added “We are auditioning actors now, and are thrilled to announce that our YA novel, Zed and the Cormorants by Clare Owen, will be narrated by Sophie Aldred (Dr Who, Dennis the Menace).”

https://www.listening-books.org.uk/