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.

Penrhos poem on Radio 4

Aside

Just heard from Ness Owen, author of Mamiaith, and co-editor of A470, that her Penrhos poem is featured in United Kingdoms on Radio 4 Monday 31st January at 2.15. There’s not much info on their website yet, but set your alarms or catch it later on Sounds!

 

Time and Tide- Clydebank- audio

In the tidying up of the website, it has come to our attention that some of the Time and Tide material from Solstice Shorts 2019 performances never got uploaded – I blame lockdown! Starting to edit the video from this year reminded me to search it out. Result!

Here are the Clydebank performances, in audio. Still looking for where I hid the Maryport recordings.

You can still buy the book (please do, it spent lock down in closed bookshops, and we sold almost none.)

Performers

Beth Frieden
Stefana Margarint
Seonaid Stevenson
Carla Woodburn
Jane Aldous

Arrival by Valerie Bence

Casting A Daughter Adrift by Emma Lee

Church Mary Sounds the Sea by Jenny Mitchell

Clearance by Christine Ritchie

Crossing the Black Water by Reshma Ruia

False Light by John Richardson

Fisherman’s Daughter by Claire Booker

Half A Dozen Oranges by Mandy Macdonald

How Women Came to Tristan Da Cunha by Claire Booker

Points of Interest by Olivia Dawson

Sea Lessons by Ness Owen

The Arctic Diaries Bird Wife by Melissa Davies

The Arctic Diaries Halibut by Melissa Davies

The Watchers by Elizabeth Parker

We dig the pig by Angel Warwick

Stories

The Fisherman’s Wife by Linda McMullen

Listen, Noah’s Wife by Roppotucha Greenberg

A Feast for Solstice

Our Solstice Shorts Festival is TOMORROW (21st Dec, 6.30PM GMT, Tickets via Eventbrite)

The festival spans the entire time any person might want to eat their evening meal, so we invite you to eat along with us. In reality I will be too busy to eat properly and will be picking at an excellent cheese board and pickles.

However, if I weren’t running a festival, I would be feasting, because that’s what you are meant to do at Solstice, alongside the lighting of fires (tick – in our house anyway!) and telling of stories (tick). The tradition is the feast before the famine of the coldest part of winter. In our Words From The Brink mode, it is  the feast before we run out of things to eat because we’ve killed all the bees and nothing will grow… but in the mean time eat drink and be merry.

I always think a mead hall would complete the midwinter feast, smoky, dark, full of song – but that always makes me think of Beowulf and the monster at the door. I made mead once (beer made with honey, rather than that sickly liquor that passes for mead), it was a success!

This year’s climate crisis theme has also had me thinking about the cost to the planet of my feast. If what follows sound confused, it is. I’m a concerned amateur, not a food miles specialist.

I’m never going to voluntarily become a vegan, but I’ve been a vegetarian for 42 years (18th birthday, ostentatious prawn cocktail, 30 dead things…) and I’ve had pretty much the same festive winter meal since around then.

So I thought I’d share the recipes (or ingredients list at least), and the how okay with the planet is this worries, because that’s the monster at the door, isn’t it – or, possibly, inside with us.

Starters

I don’t bother with starters except in restaurants where generally the veggie option are more fun than the mains.

But if it’s going to be a feast, doesn’t it have to have more than two courses? (Why?) So no, no starter.

Cost to the planet Nil!

Mains:

Nut roast. This is my older sister’s recipe, and my mum’s recipe for stuffing, so a family tradition.

The main ingredient is hazelnut. I have a pair of hazel trees in the garden which, if the squirrels ever left any, would mean this was pretty much the self-sufficiency gold star. But in principle, I could grow the ingredients myself.

I run two versions of this, one relies heavily on stale bread (tick, except it uses so much that you have to buy extra bread to let it go stale). The other uses chestnut puree and/or tofu (smoked) to replace the breadcrumb, and depending on the consistency can do away with the egg otherwise needed. Chestnuts can grow in this country, but in reality, are imported from France. Tofu, very bad on the air miles and the processing, but delicious in this recipe. Herbs actually picked from the garden (tick). Those eggs could be homegrown too, a neighbour keeps rescued battery hens. Our garden isn’t quite big enough to let them be free range, and the local foxes would be lined up with their napkins on, so no, no hens.

The Stuffing is lemon and celery, and makes the meal, in my opinion. More stale bread, celery, onions, lots of butter, lemon rind and juice. More garden herbs. In theory I could grow lemons and celery in the garden. In practice the lemon comes from Spain, the celery is local. Butter is the very devil though, isn’t it, and spoils the virtue of the meal singlehandedly. Oil doesn’t quite work, and I loathe all things coconut, so butter it is.

Sides: roasted veg Potatoes, parsnips, carrots -all seasonal and could be (and in some cases have been) grown in our garden. These can be cooked at the same time as the roast, which only takes an hour so doesn’t use too much power. Different recipes for each, involve parboiling, coating in olive oil and roasting at a high heat, but the carrots have a splash of wine and brown sugar and a handful of dried fruit added – a Persian recipe, and delicious, as well as being, unfortunately, a bit bad for the planet in terms of airmiles.

Red cabbage – either pickled, or Normandie style, cooked with apple and caraway seeds in a light tossing of oil. All could be homegrown; I have successfully grown a red cabbage (success rate was 1 in 5, mind you) we even have a couple of apple trees, though we’ve usually eaten them all long before solstice.

Pickled walnuts. One day I will try pickling my own, this is the food of the gods. No feast is complete without them. Walnuts can be grown in this country – but it’s a long wait from planting tree to first harvest!

Dessert:

We always have chocolate yule log, Delia Smith’s recipe, with some personal finessing. Of course, this is a gluten free recipe, so I make it alongside the Solstice Cake when we do the festival live. Essentially, 6 eggs, 6 oz of sugar, 1 oz cocoa (showing my age with my measurements). Yolks and sugar mixed til creamy, cocoa sifted and mixed ingradually, followed by beaten egg whites folded in very carefully. Bake on a big shallow baking tray, 20mins, roll up while still warm, then unroll, spread with chestnut puree sweetened to taste (icing sugar is best for this), and a spoonful or so of cream to get it to spreading consistency. Spread with whipped double cream, roll up, dust with icing sugar. Sugar processing not good for planet, although if beat sugar, can be grown locally. Cocoa airmiles, cream cruel to cows.

This is a light, flavoursome pudding-cake that you can face eating after stuffing yourself on mains. Otherwise skip dessert and have cake later.

We’d love you to share your favourite feasting recipes, and reflect on whether the planet can take you eating it.

Tomorrow: Solstice Cake.

 

 

 

 

Words From the Brink publication day!

Today is publication day for Words from the Brink our Climate Fiction and Poetry collection for Solstice Shorts 2021. We’ve been sending books out early to make sure they arrive in time for Christmas, and there is still time to do that, so feel free to place an order!

We will be launching the book at the (online) festival on 21st December at 6.30 with readings from actors of the whole book, plus original music, a quick hello for Komal Madar, the artist whose painting we used for our cover, and a couple of open mic sessions too.  Get your Tickets (there are some free ones…)

If you would like to take part in the open mic please contact us and let us know, you can do that from the ticket site.

Solstice Shorts Festival is Time-themed, and with its origins in the importance of marking the turn of the year, the shortest day.

In ancient times, this was a moment for holding of breath as the sun paused and seemed to wobble in the sky – will it ever get light again? What must we do to convince it to do so? And from this came the tradition of burning the yule log, and bringing evergreens into the house.

To get you in the mood, here is a piece of music, May the Long-Time Sun, from poet Robert René Galván, who gives a new meaning to the word multi-talented with this three part performance. Robert René recorded this for last Solstice, so very appropriate!

And there was also the question, What can we do while we wait? 

Tell stories! Make music! Recite poetry! Make art!

We will have been doing that for eight years come this Solstice; and when we meet in real life we do the other essential Solstice thing – we feast.

Solstice Cake

Of course we can’t quite manage that online. So we thought we’d make serving suggestions and let you create your own feast to eat while you watch and listen! (you can get the recipe for Solstice Cake as part of your ticket if you want.)

Watch out on social media for recipe suggestions and imaginary cookery book titles. Follow #SolsticeFeast, and join in with your own favourites.

Of course, this year we have our minds on the brink – the danger our planet is in. There is a bit of me thinking that feasting is a wildly inappropriate bit of fiddling while Rome burns. But that is another thing about the Solstice Feast – we acknowledge the hard times coming; it is the feast before the famine, the last blow out before the tightening of the belt (how many more clichés can I get into this paragraph??) So we will feast, but we will also mark the cost with our stories and poems.

 

 

Update 4: Funding for BSL Project 14-12-21 Half Way!

What Meets the Eye? The Deaf Perspective is selling steadily. If you want a copy before Christmas, please order by Friday for absolute certainty.

This has been an exciting project and we had planned to make the entire book available as BSL videos for free.

We have been uploading videos of BSL versions of the poems and stories daily, here, some are already captioned, some will have to wait for more funds, but we thought better to have them without captions for now, than not share them at all.

We will pause shortly to concentrate on our latest book, Words From the Brink, and the Solstice Shorts Festival, coming back to sharing the BSL in the new year.

What Meets the Eye?

It has proved FAR more complicated and expensive than we first thought, and our budget of £4k [provided by ACE] has proved hopelessly inadequate, despite being based on actual costs for other BSL translation work. We are doing our best to achieve what we set out to do, but it’s a hand to mouth existance, being a small independant publisher – we don’t have assets or savings or a head office to bail us out. We need help.

We told our mailing list about the problem and have been tweeting regularly, and posting here – With book sales added to to the total we have now raised £1323, just over half of what we need – there is still a LONG way to go.

[Thank you to the 42 people who have contributed donations, and everyone who has bought books direct recently, you are all stars.]

How can you help?

Buy the book buy any of our books, actually, we don’t ringfence the income from them.

Or … (and?) donate! We will do as much BSL as we get money to cover.


 And tell anyone you know who you think would support this. Retweet, share on Facebook or wherever. This started out as an important, exciting, inventive project, and we’d really like to be able to recreate the buzz that the original idea came with.

Arachne Press Nominations for the Pushcart Prize

Nominations for the Pushcart Prize, from Arachne Press.

We could only nominate 6, so some tough choices!

Poems:

Khando Langri, First as Body then as Metaphor, from What Meets the Eye?

Rob Walton, And In Lockdown, from This Poem Here

Mandy Macdonald, After Before, from Words from the Brink

 

Jeremy Dixon, Dear Jack, from A Voice Coming from Then

stories:

Lily Peters, Sailing to Crouch End, from Accidental Flowers

Anita Goveas, Baseline Measurements, fromWhere We Find Ourselves

Publication day! and Update 3: Funding for BSL Project 19-11-21

Publication day for our Deaf, deaf and Hard of Hearing writers anthology, What Meets the Eye? The Deaf Perspective is here!

Congratulations to all our authors and poets.

Books should be available in bookshops from now. Our distributor has plenty and any bookshop that doesn’t have it in stock should be able to get it within 24-48 hours. Though, obviously, we’d much prefer you to buy direct.

This is an exciting project and we had planned to make the entire book available as BSL videos for free.

What Meets the Eye?

It has proved FAR more complicated and expensive than we first thought, and our budget of £4k [provided by ACE] has proved hopelessly inadequate, despite being based on actual costs for other BSL translation work. We are doing our best to achieve what we set out to do, but it’s a hand to mouth existance, being a small independant publisher – we don’t have assets or savings or a head office to bail us out. We need help urgently.

We told our mailing list about the problem last month, and have been tweeting regularly, and posting here – With book sales added to to the total we have now raised £1193.

[Thank you to the 41 people who have contributed donations, and everyone who has bought books direct recently, you are all stars.]

However we need £2,500 to get close to the ever increasing costs, so this is about half what we need.

 

 

 

 

We have started posting the videos we already have here, some are already captioned, some will have to wait for more funds, but we thought better to have them without captions for now, than not share them at all.

How can you help?

Buy the book buy any of our books, actually, we don’t ringfence the income from them.

Or … (and?) donate! We will do as much BSL as we get money to cover.


 And tell anyone you know who you think would support this. Retweet, share on Facebook or wherever. This started out as an important, exciting, inventive project, and we’d really like to be able to recreate the buzz that the original idea came with.

Jolabokaflod: a book for you, a book for a friend

Our Jolabokaflod 2021 offering:  buy a second (roughly) half-price copy of the same book. Applies to any book with a cover price of £9.99 or less, until 17th December, last 2nd class posting day for Christmas.

Buy early, buy two!

The Icelandic tradition of giving books on Christmas Eve and staying up all nights reading (with optional vat of hot chocolate) is known as Jolabokaflod – literally, Yule Book Flood.

We’d like to encourage this tradition, so this year, we are offering a discount on second copies of the same book. When you order, ask for 1 copy, and add the Jolabokaflod ‘product’ for £5, and we’ll send you 2 copies. This can be used once for each full-price title you order.

For example: you order a copy of What Meets the Eye? and a copy of Words from the Brink, and you want 2 copies of each, you order 2 Jolabokaflod

Or: you buy 2 full price copies of Where We Find Ourselves, [BACK IN STOCK!] and order 2 Jolabokaflod, and we send you 4 copies.

If you would like us to send your second copy direct to its recipient, perhaps with a message, let us know.

There are undoubtedly simpler ways of doing this, but they require an upgrade of our systems and we haven’t the time or money for it.

Tickets available for Solstice Shorts Festival

This year’s Solstice Shorts theme is Words from the Brink – stories and poems and music in response to the climate crisis.

We decided (reluctantly) that an in-person event would take us too close to ‘the brink’ this year, so we are online again, but with an interactive celebration of everything the planet has to offer, and everything we threaten her with.

Almost everything will be performed live – we have a musician in the wrong time zone – with real live actors reading to you, including Solstice Shorts stalwarts, Sophie Aldred and Grace Cookey-Gam.

More info as we finalise the event.

You can join in – there will be a post-interval open mic session, ON THE THEME of climate change…possibly two, we are still fine tuning.

TICKETS AND SUPPORTERS

Tickets available on Eventbrite
In a break from tradition we are having to charge for the event, as we haven’t been able to crowd fund as a result of fund raising for our very expensive BSL project. Remember you only need one ticket per device, not per person, so if you want to throw a watch party on your sofa, that’s incredible value.

We need to sell every ticket to break even, so we have squeezed a lot of what would have been in the crowd fund into the ‘add on’ merchandise bit of Eventbrite, so if you would like a T-shirt, Badge, Book or recipe, grab them there.

WE ARE ALSO running a pay-it-forward scheme so people can buy a ticket for a stranger – we will release these free/ half price tickets weekly, as they are donated, so if £8 would be a stretch for you, keep checking on Eventbrite…

Solstice is a time for feeding up against the long cold winter, lighting fires, telling tall tales, and promising the sun that we want it back, and the planet that we will try much, much harder.
The book and festival deal with serious issues but with hope at the core, and we intend to have fun.

we are making this a Feast of a Festival – you can get the original recipe for our stunning Solstice Cake and bake your own to eat along with us, but we’d also like you to share your favourite solstice or climate change themed recipes – or fake recipe books – and pictures of them! We had a quick session this morning to figure out what we mean by this – so preserves and pickles for the long haul is one suggestion, or low impact treats for the planet. if these can be presented as poems all to the good.

We plan to share serving suggestions for every section of the event when we publish the full programme, so if you want to, you can make this a real-life celebration too.

BOOKS should arrive sometime next week so place you pre-order now! Official publication is 16th December.
And don’t forget there’s an audiobook coming – voiced by Sophie Aldred and  Cal-I Jonel – we are just putting the finishing touches to it.

Myths and Selkies – a writers guide?

Author Jackie Taylor and author-editor Cherry Potts talk about a shared love of mythology, and writing about selkies.

Strange Waters

Jackie’s novel in short stories, Strange Waters, features selkies, and Cherry recently re-published Fish-fish, a selkie story in the brilliant magazine Mermaids Monthly. Fish-fish was first performed at Liars’ League (read by Math Jones – watch the perfomance here)

copyright Jackie Taylor

Cherry:

What was your first introduction to the selkie myths, Jackie?

Jackie: A couple of years ago, I was standing on a cliff overlooking Porthcurno beach in West Cornwall with some friends on a beautiful September day. There were lots of people in the sea below us – kids messing around in the surf and belly boarding, and some serious surfers, and dogs running in and out of the water. Lots of screaming and laughing.  The sea was crystal clear and looking down, we could see, amongst all this activity, a pair of seals weaving around the people in the water – so graceful, and so powerful. And no-one down on the beach was aware of this – they couldn’t see what we could see from our perch above them.  It was an extraordinary thing to witness. One of my friends started to sing a selkie lament, a song full of beauty and yearning. The seals didn’t stop and look up! – nothing like that – but it was one of those moments.

Cherry: Ah… now I’ve done actual on the ground (strand?) research into this. Seals don’t like seas songs, (bored by them I suspect). My wife Alix and I spent a blissful fortnight in Shetland staying on a clifftop farm, and trundled down to the edge every evening. One time there was a seal sitting out on a flat rock which we nicknamed ‘the cake stand’, and we tried singing to this seal. No response to sea shanties, no response to yearning songs of the sea (no idea what our hosts thought about all  this, I’m sure they could hear – their prize bull definitely could!). So then we tried songs from the shows, and The Street Where You Live garnered attention, so we carried on, after half an hour of barking and flipper waving, and the seal sticking its head into the water, we had Sixteen seals, some hauled out on the rocks, some just bobbing like corks, gawping at us – and I am convinced, laughing their heads off – as we worked through the whole of Guys and Dolls!

Jackie: That’s fabulous. What a great image. I’m definitely going to try out a few show tunes next time I see a seal – I’ll let you know is Cornish seals react the same way!

Jackie: I live near the sea and I’m lucky enough to see seals regularly. I was swimming on my own last year, at first light. No-one else was around and suddenly a seal surfaced just a few yards in front of me. We looked at each other for what seemed like an eternity but was probably, well, thirty seconds. There’s something about a seal’s eyes – so expressive, so sad, so old. It’s very easy to imagine how there might be a connection between us.

Cherry: What a magical experience. I’ve never got close to a seal, but I can’t help imagining they have a sense of humour – dangerous anthropomorphism!

Jackie: Indeed! So seals are part of my world, but selkies didn’t appear in my short stories until I was bringing Strange Waters together. There was a strong thread through the stories of women wanting to be somewhere else, living a different sort of life. Living in Cornwall sounds like a perfect existence, but it’s not all Poldark and cream teas! There are a lot of people who live here but long to get away, for all sorts of reasons, so I was interested in exploring that. Tension between domesticity and family, and the call of freedom and the wild sea, are at the heart of selkie stories, and this was perfect for Strange Waters.

copyright Jackie Taylor (you’ll have to imagine the show tunes)

Jackie: So- I LOVED your story Cherry!

Cherry: Thank you! It’s a favourite of mine

Jackie: How did you come to selkies?

Cherry: I honestly can’t remember – I was an obsessive adolescent reader of folk tales, (of anywhere, my local library had an excellent collection) and while I can’t abide the vampire/ werewolf side of things, the water spirits draw me in. There’s a Welsh folk tale about a woman from a lake (the source of the Ystwyth, if memory serves – I’ve been there and it is a very strange place, very …quiet, in a not altogether happy way) she marries a farmer on the proviso that if he strikes her three times the game is up. Of course he does, and she goes back to the water. That one stayed with me, not strictly selkie-lore but connected. I’ve read loads or retellings of selkie myths, but no direct source material that I can remember, although I must have done.

Cherry: Your selkies are clearly Cornish, and I wonder if you think there are regional differences (you don’t have to answer this one, but I am genuinely interested!)

Jackie: I’m no expert, but one thing that struck me when I started reading around the subject was how many different selkie stories there are, and how widespread, which I think says something about how the nature of these tales resonate so strongly – romance, tragedy, longing and love, all mixed in with the symbolism of the sea. This is fertile ground for story-telling and lends itself to reinterpretations and reimaginings.

I’m not sure how ‘authentic’ a Cornish selkie is. Our native merman is the Bucca Dhu, not a friendly soul, I’m afraid!

Cherry: And the Mermaid of Zennor of course!

Cherry: You could have written this book as entirely near future climate fiction, but the selkies really add something, without being front and centre – what was the decision making for this?

Jackie: The intention was always to have contemporary issues sitting right at the heart of the collection. The selkie-ness wasn’t an add-on, but a linking thread between some of the stories, not centre stage, but present, adding another layer. I wanted the mythology to be part of the background, another element of contemporary life in Cornwall. We live in the midst of stone circles and fogous. King Arthur lived just over the road (allegedly). People come to visit Cornwall because we are ‘steeped’ in myth and legend, and it’s easy for that richness to overtake and swamp all our other stories. It’s become a bit of a mantra, but I’m interested in what’s behind the postcard.

Cherry: I spent my adolescence reading about King Arthur thanks William Mayne Earthfasts, and the spectacularly good Merlin books by Mary Stewart, but despite visiting Cornwall several times I’ve never been to Tintagel! A dawdle round Glastonbury was enough to put me off the tourist sites for life. Fogous and stone circles, on the other hand, fascinate me. And ‘cup and ring’ marked stones. If there’s an ancient monument on a map I will detour to check it out.

upright stone part of a stone circle on a hillside more hills behind

Castlerigg. copyright Cherry Potts

Cherry: I loved Pelt, the story in the collection which most closely examines the Selkie concept, with Marissa yearning, not for the sea, but the hinterland as far from shore as she can get; but there are constant links through her daughter and great granddaughter as the strain gets weaker, but keeps surfacing, how did you decide which elements to keep for the later generations, and how much do you think Gilly, for example, realises that this is what is going on?

Jackie: I’m glad you liked this story. It was a classic ‘what if?’…what if I turned this on its head, and my selkie was desperate to settle down with a human partner and embrace a life of land-based domesticity, and didn’t want to escape back to her wild life?

Cherry: Although its not the fisherman/farmer’s wife life she’s after is it? the bright lights of the city are what she’s after, just like Chloe and Grace and Gilly…

Jackie: I like the idea of a residual tug of the sea on the heart, rolling down the generations, surfacing in different ways. I think Gilly is aware of her heritage, but in a background way. This is just one of many of Gilly’s stories, something she’s aware of but, actually, she has other, more pressing things to think about.

I do think it’s something we see in ourselves – a pull towards a particular type of landscape or environment. The sea is definitely my element. ( And did I mention that I have slight webbing between my fingers? )

Jackie: Fish-Fish has a strong tang of salty sea air around it; the descriptions of sea and weed and pelt are gorgeous. Is the sea your element? How do landscapes/seascapes influence your writing?

Cherry: If I could, I would live by water, but it would have to be the sea or a river, lakes make me uneasy – I like moving water… and salt marshes! Landscapes are very important to me, some places have a very special atmosphere and I take strong likings and antipathies to places, including ones that have been severely manipulated for good or ill by humankind. Some mountains take my breath away, some scare me. Wast Water made me shudder, I had to be dragged away from a particular wood in Wales… I have a hatred of London City Airport seen from the air – so bleak – a recent garden visit had me planning how I could live there!

copyright Cherry Potts

Writing wise, it varies, I’ll never not know where a story is set, at least in broad terms, but some stories require and lean on a setting. Sometimes I have to research to rationalise the landscape in my mind and pin it somewhere real, sometimes it can stay implausibly mythic.

When Fish-fish was being performed at Liars’ League, Katy Darby who was directing, asked where it was set, so that Math could settle on an accent, and I realised that when I started writing it had been the US eastern seaboard (somewhere I’ve never been!) because the painter was American; and that because it was the 20s,  I’d said it was a ‘dry’ town, but that it had morphed, through the character of Joel’s wife, into  Western Scotland – plenty of selkie myths there, and dry towns too. I love that about writing, the way the introduction of a character can swing the whole shape and heft of a story in another direction.

Fish-fish actually came from a painting, Mr. and Mrs. Chester Dale Dining Out by Guy Pene du Bois (1924). In it, a very rounded and sleek couple are sitting uncomfortably at a restaurant table being observed by a waiter. I was struck by the hands, fingers together and rather podgy, and wondered why this otherwise well-executed painting focussed so much attention on these poorly drawn hands, and the idea dropped into my head – of course, they are selkies! I looked again at the waiter, they were ALL selkies.

Jackie: You’ve taken a selkie story and given it a different twist; Joel is a male selkie who marries a woman and settles on land. Although there are male selkie tales, I suspect it is much more usual to have a selkie woman centre stage. Was that decision about gender something that drove the story from the outset, or was it something that came out in the writing?

Cherry: There was such an ambiguous look on the waiter’s face, a mingling of longing and dislike and jealousy, and Joel was born fully-formed. I didn’t know quite what his tragedy was as I started writing, but it quickly took shape. It was a fast write, that one. Unusually for me, I didn’t go back and check the ‘rules’ for selkie folk. The absolutely key scene for me in turning it on its head, was when Joel offers his wife his pelt and she turns him down in horror at the idea of controlling him. Selkie mythology is all about men stealing a woman’s means of escape; coercive control in a nutshell, and I knew she would never do that, even when offered the opportunity.

Jackie: A question about craft: I often struggle with the endings of short stories, writing numerous versions, trying to get the right balance between offering the reader enough information for a satisfying conclusion, and not tying everything up in too neat a package. Fish-Fish has a perfect ending. Did this fall easily onto the page or did you have to search for this ending?

Cherry: I didn’t know the end when I started, but it was easy to find. As soon as Joel witnesses the couple under the pier I knew they were somehow connected, that they were there for him, but that it had to be his decision. It was thrilling to write, the idea and the solution rolled out in front of me as I wrote it, with almost no revision. I try to know what the end is early on, but some stories won’t be told where to go and take their own path, so that isn’t particularly usual, and I have a hard drive full of stories for which I can’t get a satisfactory ending.

Jackie: Thinking about the recycling of myths into contemporary pieces of writing, what mythologies are you drawn to in your writing, apart from selkies? Is this something you’ve explored before? Do you have any favourite modern retellings?

Cherry: Dragons! Mermaids! Gorgons! Sirens! Giants! Dryads, Naiads, Sphinxes, Norns (I might have made them up – very scary). Valkyries, Graeae, Fates and Furies! Elementals of all shapes and sizes… I wouldn’t swear to it, but it’s likely Joel is one of only a handful of male protagonists I’ve let into my mythological universe, there have been a couple of inept knights but apart from that, mainly women, or at any rate female creatures. I have a fondness for Jane Yolen’s trolls, and Tanith Lee’s various monsters, and Adele Geras has a way with a Greek myth or fairy tale that I enjoy. You’ll notice this list includes childrens books (and many are out of print!). Sometimes writers for older children do a much better job than those writing for adults. Among those writing for adults, Neil Gaiman is good at a mythologically inspired story – I wouldn’t call them retellings though. I’ve moved further and further away from that retelling thing myself, it’s more about picking an element from the smorgasbord of tales so good they’ve survived orally for millennia, and roughing it up a bit, giving an old story a firm shake by the scruff and seeing what falls out; and it’s usually the women, especially the voiceless, overlooked or denigrated.

The fact that I spend so much of my writing brain-space on it does mean that I am hypercritical of other people’s retellings – have they read closely enough, pushed far enough, twisted wildly enough? I can be a bit impatient with yet another… whichever myth is flavour of the month.

I’m hard to please, so your selkies had a tough audition, and passed with honours.