This spring and summer we’re taking A470: Poems for the Road / Cerddi’r Ffordd on the road! Join us at one of the bilingual events below, as we visit libraries and bookshops up and down the A470 (and surrounding areas…).
Saturday, 28th May: Cardiff Central Library Hub, 3 – 4.30pm Join us at the library for readings from Kevin Mills, Tracey Rhys, Mike Jenkins, Nicholas McGaughey, Morgan Owen, Christina Thatcher, Jeremy Dixon, Sian Northey, Sîon Aled, Lowri Williams and Des Mannay. The readings will be followed by a Q and A session. Book your free ticket now.
Monday, 30th May: Storyville Books, Pontypridd, 6pm Nicholas McGaughey, Jeremy Dixon, Stephen Payne and Sîon Aled will read from A470 in an evening of poetry, with music and nibbles too! Book your free ticket now.
Tuesday, 31st May: Siop Lyfrau’r Hen Bost, Blaenau Ffestiniog, 7pm Simon Chandler, Sara Louise Wheeler, Haf Llewelyn, Lowri Williams and Sian Northey will read from A470 – join us for poetry and conversation in Blaenau Ffestiniog. Free to attend – find the shop here.
Wednesday, 1st June: Owain Glyndŵr’s Parliament House, Heol Maengwyn, Machynlleth, SY20 8EE 6 for 6.30pm Pulling up outside Senedd-Dy to stretch their legs and catch their breath, editors Sian Northey and Ness Owen will talk about how A470 came about, the process of creating a bilingual book and the translation decisions they had to make, reading some of their favourite poems from the book on the way. Poet Sara Louise Wheeler and translator Sandra Evans will also join the conversation. Find out more and book your advance ticket.
Thursday, 30 June: The National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth, 7pm Join us at The National Library of Wales for an evening of bilingual poetry readings and conversation with several of the poets included in A470. Book your free ticket now.
Sunday, 24th July: The Poetry Pharmacy, Bishop’s Castle, 2pm (tbc) Meet some A470 poets at the world’s first walk-in Poetry Pharmacy. More details to come.
We’re pleased to announce that we will be at Lambeth Readers and Writers Festival on Tuesday 17 May with a panel event based on Where We Find Ourselves: Poems and Stories of Maps and Mapping from UK Writers of the Global Majority.
Join us at Clapham Library for readings and a Q & A discussion with:
It’s Shakespeare’s birthday! To celebrate we spoke to poet Michelle Penn about her upcoming collection, Paper Crusade and how it felt to rewrite the Bard.
Over the years, I’ve had numerous ambitions and goals, but rewriting Shakespeare was never one of them. Ever.
Yet there I was, at Sadler’s Wells in 2014, brimming over with ideas after seeing The Tempest Replica, a contemporary dance piece choreographed by Crystal Pite. I was inspired by the movements, the psychology, the white masks and costumes, the folded paper boats. The production stirred something in me that I had to express in words. Which sent me back to the original source, The Tempest — and the problem of rewriting Shakespeare.
I knew I wanted to make something that was different from both the dance piece and the original play — and it had to feel relevant to the twenty-first century. Of course, there’s plenty in The Tempest that continues to be relevant (themes of power, forgiveness, language, love, etc.), but it seemed to me that a refugee magician coming to an island, colonising it, altering its environment and terrorising those around him suggested more of a tragic approach than a comedic one.
I decided to concentrate only on a handful of characters and to add The Sea: a character contemptuous of humans and both participant and commentator. And I deliberately left most of the characters unnamed in order to really separate them from Shakespeare’s characters. I didn’t want to think about Prospero but about The Father, a man desperate for revenge, a man who has suffered losses and can’t control his anger, a man who wants to feel powerful and respected, even feared. Similarly, I wanted to create more of an interior life for The Daughter, so she couldn’t be the sweet, obedient Miranda. And I wanted C’s struggles and rebellion to be full of not just resentment but pain. The characters in Paper Crusade needed independent ‘lives’, apart from Shakespeare.
Easier said than done. While I found myself quickly and deeply inside the world of my characters, I was sometimes needled by doubt. What was I doing? Who on earth was I to rewrite Shakespeare? The idea seemed hilarious, arrogant, a recipe for failure. Shakespeare didn’t need my help or my reimagining.
But sometimes, there’s comfort in a crowd, and when I had a stab of despair, I reminded myself of others who have reimagined The Tempest: Peter Greenway’s film, Prospero’s Books or Derek Jarman’s The Tempest or Julie Taymore’s, in which Helen Mirren plays Prospera. Numerous ballets and dance pieces have been made on The Tempest, including one choreographed by Rudolf Nureyev. And of course, other writers have used Shakespeare’s play as source material: Aimé Césaire rewrote it to focus on its colonial themes. Auden riffed on it in his long poem, ‘The Sea and the Mirror’, which he considered his ars poetica. Browning wrote about Caliban, Shelley about Ariel.
Of course, there were still moments when I could almost imagine Shakespeare laughing at me from the grave. But the Bard himself was a great borrower and reinterpreter of earlier stories, so I assumed he’d understand — and maybe even appreciate the effort. After all, the play is a springboard, not a mirror, not something to imitate.
Overall, rewriting Shakespeare turned out to be great fun. I loved being inside the island world and with the characters, seeing them in my mind, hearing them speak and watching where they took the story. I didn’t know how Paper Crusade would end until I reached the final pages, and that process was exciting. The characters led me to expand my poetry and try things I’d never tried before. And although I’m a fan of several of Shakespeare’s plays, I now have a special bond with The Tempest.
Listen to Michelle Penn reading ‘The Sea, Offended’ from Paper Crusade:
Paper Crusade will be published on 21 June 2022. You can pre-order a copy from our webshop now. Details of online and in-person launch events (in-person at Keats House in London) are coming soon.
This nomination means a lot because we have had to innovate and adapt a lot over the past few years, and we have taken some bold steps in our publishing activity. From branching into audiobooks for the very first time, with a commitment to inclusive, quality, contemporary publishing for everyone – no matter how they read; to producing our first fully bilingual book; creating BSL videos to accompany What Meets the Eye: The Deaf Perspective and making our books about more than just the words within them – by continuing important conversations in events such as our recent symposium on Writing the Diaspora.
We intend to keep innovating too! This year we have plans for a menopause anthology that will particularly represent LGBT+ and global majority women (submissions are open now!), and lots of writing workshops that will help us continue to give opportunities to writers from under-represented communities, or who are living in geographically isolated locations.
That’s enough about us… if you need a reminder of how excellent 100neHundred is you can listen to an audiobook extract here, read some of the Laura Besley’s favourite reviews here or buy a copy here.
Thank you for your votes – we’ll have our fingers crossed.
The Saboteur Awards have been running since 2011, we were last nominated (and won!) in 2014 with the anthology Weird Lies.
Solstice Shorts – our annual celebration of original poetry, stories and music for the shortest day – is rapidly approaching. We asked Solstice regular, poet and writer Rob Walton to share some memories of the festival, and accompanying anthologies, from years gone by. This year’s theme is Words from the Brink – writing and music in response to the climate crisis.
Rob Walton: I count myself lucky to have been included in more than one of the Solstice Shorts books, and fortunate indeed to have had my work performed/read by others. It was a great thrill to hear ‘Words on Paper’, a story of which I’m very fond, read aloud in Carlisle. It’s a story that’s close to my heart, and I’m chuffed it was recorded for posterity and also appeared in print.
Ben Brinicombe reads Words on Paper by Rob Walton, BSL translation by Karen Edmondson
I’ve definitely enjoyed seeing some of my more, er interesting pieces reach a range of audiences – I wonder what the crowds (I’m guessing) in Lisbon and Maryport made of ‘The Dowager Duchess of Berwick-upon-Tweed May or May Be Bottling It’? I’ve written micro-fictions shorter than that title!
This year’s offering, ‘Mr King Has Decided to Pursue Other Avenues’, is inspired by a long-standing commitment to environmental change and, possibly, that time I had to leave my primary school class behind on the beach trip when I was stung by a weaver fish. These things stay lodged somewhere and appear, transformed, years later…
Read an extract from ‘Mr King Has Decided to Pursue Other Avenues’:
It was a liberal and progressive school – some would say slack and lackadaisical – and when Mr King said he wanted to stay at the beach at the end of the trip, they wished him well and happily set off without him. It was almost time for the long holiday, and when he wasn’t there to take registration the following morning they arranged temporary cover, and later replaced him with somebody younger with a similar name and the same tattooist. (Mr Prince would be pleased to get the job because Hokusai’s expertly inked The Great Wave off Kanagawa, which covered all of his back, had been very expensive. And quite painful. Also, he knew it would be a star turn on a staff night out.
– What does having your work included in What Meets the Eye mean to you?
Emma: Firstly, I’m delighted to be alongside an impressive list of names. I’ve known Josephine Dickinson’s poems for a long time and I know Liam O’Dell’s work as a journalist but haven’t encountered his poems before. Raymond Antrobus’s preface is a generous consideration of identity and bias around being D/deaf and hard of hearing. Secondly, I’m really pleased at being included. I was nervous about submitting because I wasn’t sure if I was “deaf enough” to qualify – I can pass as hearing although was deaf as a young child and am hard of hearing now – and I’m unsure of where the boundary lies. In the event, I decided to submit because if I didn’t submit, there was no chance of acceptance. I shifted the responsibility for the decision to the editors and thought it was better to submit and get a rejection than find out afterwards my poem might have been accepted…but I still left it until the deadline.
Colly: I almost didn’t submit my poem! I saw the call-out but I scrolled past, thinking it wasn’t for me. I’ve only been writing for 3 years and I had no thoughts that my work would be even a smidge good enough to be published by Arachne Press, in a proper book!
I accidentally joined a (hearing) writing circle, but that too wasn’t easy to follow, but something ignited in me. I read some of the women’s writings in the group and thought they were fabulous! I was invited to some poetry reading events, but being deaf, they were completely inaccessible, and my confidence was shaken. I had no ‘baseline’ to draw from; no peers to learn from about what works, what doesn’t and how to actually write.
I was (still am!) pretty clueless when it comes to ‘proper writing’. One of the local poets called my writing ‘childish and immature’, which could have really turned me off writing, but I’m not easily broken. Maybe that comes from being deaf – thick skin and all that. Then I took part in a fully accessible writing course for deaf, disabled and neurodivergent writers run by Spread The Word; the first time I’d been able to do something where I felt equal… and I did. I didn’t know any of the people on the course, but it was led by the marvellous Jamie Hale and had people like DL Williams and Raymond Antrobous amongst so many others. I wasn’t intimidated, because I didn’t know them, never having been in the writing arena.
I think this is the reason I pressed the ‘submit’ button. Because other people believed in me, so I thought – why not? Nothing to lose! To have my poem Coffee Shop published in this anthology with such incredible people – and edited by Sophie Stone – is just inspiring! I’m so proud that my words are in print! For a new writer who is deaf and pretty much winging it, this is a huge buzz! I mostly write for performance and I know what ‘looks good’ on a stage; I’m bold and fearless and happy to try things out, so seeing that my piece occupies a valid space in a book amongst other authors, is wonderful.
– Both of your poems address issues around the social definitions of deafness and disability. Why did you want to explore this in your work?
Colly: Because it comes easy to me. It’s my lived experience and I could spend all day – all week – telling you sob stories and horror stories about how life is inaccessible (eg the poetry events I don’t go to, or the theatre performances I miss out on), but I don’t want to feel angry and frustrated all the time. I spent years feeling like that, and hearing people stop caring after a while. Writing poetry from a personal experience with some humour, gets the point across more effectively for me. I use my voice a lot when performing live, and I inject BSL as a visual ‘accent’ and often with voice off, which really makes an audience see my point. I’m told that because I use humour, it can ‘disarm’ an audience into thinking it’s fluffy and funny – but the honest twists of experience can make hearing people think about what it means to be deaf, and with deaf audiences, the shared experience makes us nod and agree because we’ve all been there. I don’t always write about deafness, but there is often an element of ‘silence’ in my poetry, which alludes to the inability to hear. I think with Coffee Shop, the references are very relatable for lots of deaf people. I’ve written several pieces on ‘movement’, but this fit the brief and being an anthology of deaf writers, seemed appropriate.
Emma: My poem is about my journey into deafness, crossing the deaf/hard of hearing boundary and the difficulties created by having a largely invisible disability. At home alone, I don’t have to worry about how loud or quiet my voice is. I am in control of what background noise there is and my being hard of hearing doesn’t stop me doing anything that I want to do. However, in social circumstances, barriers are erected. Hearing people don’t think about background noise, someone knocking a glass on a hard floor is an annoyance rather than something that disrupts a conversation, why you might want to text rather than call, why it mattered that subtitles recently disappeared from TV channels, why it’s important that they are accurate, or why I ask how I sound after a poetry reading (and no one answers that question, except to say “you read well” or “you sounded OK” even though “well” and “OK” are not actual sounds).
I don’t want all venues to be library-quiet, but I would like people to think about how noise travels and echoes in spaces and what might be done to accommodate those who can’t or struggle to hear. During the pandemic, when events moved online, it brought accessibility to event organisers’ attention and more effort was made to accommodate those with accessibility needs. I hope that continues as festivals and events open up again. There’s one venue in Leicester that gets it so wrong. When I have to go there, I go straight to the event without stopping for a coffee first, during the interval I do not leave to get a snack or drink and afterwards, I leave and walk to a nearby cafe bar for a drink because I cannot hear a conversation in the venue’s cafe and bar areas and the frequent interruptions from their tannoy (which I only hear as a muffled noise and have no idea what the attempted communication is about) make it difficult to focus to lip-read.
When it comes to equalities monitoring forms and the question “Do you have/consider yourself to have a disability?” I tend to tick “Prefer Not to Say” or “No” if that’s not an option. Especially if it’s part of an audience survey at an event which made zero accommodations for anyone hard of hearing. I don’t want to be responsible for the organisers thinking their event was accessible because they had a tick in their ‘disabled’ box. It’s not about every event having a BSL interpreter (although, in an ideal world, that would be good), but to encourage people to think about their audience and how organisers can meet the audience half-way, instead of expecting the audience to fit a venue that isn’t as accessible as it could be.
– What do you think of each other’s approaches to these issues?
Emma: I love Colly’s humour and am jealous of people who can write humorously. I think it helps that the surly barrista is someone we’ve all met and we welcome the idea of her getting her comeuppance. A few finely-judged details not only set the scene but build characters so they’re not just cyphers. It’s a good way of holding up a mirror and asking: which character do you identify with? How would you handle the situation? Would you have intervened and forced the barrista to serve people in the queued order? Coffee Shop manages to be both light-hearted in tone and thought-provoking.
Colly: I related 100% to Emma’s piece. Her reference to the teacher saw me immediately sitting in the 1970s Maths classroom, and Mister Taylor who talked to the blackboard and threw chalk at me. I never heard anything he said, and I didn’t know I was deaf then; I thought I was stupid… Emma’s words brought all those feelings back, and I completely empathise with her experience. I, too, struggled for a very long time with the ‘border between hard of hearing and deaf’. ‘…hear in monotone’ – oh goodness yes. I read Emma’s dialogue in this conversation too, about feeling that she’s not deaf enough and again, it hit me on a very personal level. And that feeling of being in almost no-mans-land; neither hearing nor deaf. I absolutely felt that. For me, this is all in my past tense; I decided that I would not use the label ‘hard of hearing’ as I grew deafer, I became more comfortable with the word ‘deaf’. It wasn’t easy; I speak well, I too can pass (bluff?) as a hearing person so the word ‘deaf’ took a long time to associate with, but it is right for me now.
– Is there anything that you would like to say to each other, after reading one another’s work?
Colly: I like your piece, Emma. I’m glad (if that’s the right word?) that you felt deaf enough to submit your piece, because it’s certainly how younger me felt about becoming deafer. I’d forgotten how difficult it was, and how far I’ve come in confidence as a deaf person. Your piece describes it perfectly, and I wish you well on your journey. Your writing is clear and powerful and I’d really love to read more. Thank you.
Emma: Please continue to write and share your writing. I think Colly’s background in theatre and performance is a good foundation and her ability to create characters from a clutch of telling details and capture conversation in print will take her far.
– How do you think your own poem sits within the wider collection of work in What Meets the Eye?
Emma: The strength in What Meets the Eye is its diversity of experiences, it touches on the barriers D/deaf and hard of hearing people face, on politics, emotions, prejudice, navigating a hearing world, being part of a family, and it also that there is no one definitive definition of deafness. The voices are various because they belong to people who still have a desire to communicate and be more than just a label. My poem is, rightly so, just my experience.
Colly: I think Coffee Shop sits well as a ‘diary-style-funny-we’ve-all-been-here-and-felt-that-moment’ poem, amongst the incredibly personal and touching words. I write in a relatable way, and Coffee Shop reads like a good ‘lift’ amongst the beautiful, thoughtful and rich pieces. I don’t know what I expected, and I don’t know how I thought I’d feel seeing Coffee Shop with other works, but I’m very proud and happy with the placing of it in the pages, and how the very different styles gel as an anthology – because of their very diverse approaches. A huge success, I feel – and I’m very humbled to be there with these talented deaf writers.
Published on 28 October, Where We Find Ourselves is an anthology of poems and short stories by nearly 40 writers of the Global Majority, from African, Asian, Middle Eastern, Carribean, South American, Chinese and Malay communities, writing about maps and mapping. In this book you will find stories and poems of finding oneself and getting lost, colonialism and diaspora, childhood exploration and adult homecoming.
Where We Find Ourselves is a book that is intended to start conversations and we can’t wait to hear what our reviewers and guest bloggers have to say.
You can find all the content from the blog tour here:
Here it is! Our first ever listen-along audiobook challenge.
Starting on Sunday 24 October, we invited YA readers to listen to a section of the Zed and the Cormorantsaudiobook, every day for a week. Each day we release exclusive Zed-inspired creative activities – from word searches to author videos, book club questions to crafts.
Bookmark this blog post and follow @ArachnePress on social media for extra content too.
Day 1 – Sun 24 Oct: Listen to Chapters 1 – 4 (inclusive) of Zed and the Cormorants, then:
Zed loves making origami figures – to help her relax, as gifts and as decorations. An origami cormorant like the one below is quite a challenge, but you could try making some paper butterflies, usingthis simple YouTube tutorial.
Day 2 – Mon 25 Oct: Listen to Chapters 5 – 11 (inclusive) of Zed and the Cormorants. While you are listening, pay particular attention to the descriptions of the cormorants.
“Zed watched it untuck its neck and raise itself up through an ‘S’ bend to form one almost straight line from yellow beak to glossy black tail. Then, with a little shudder, its wings unfolded and started to pulse: huge black wings with three layers of feathers, the bottom ones spreading out like a fan. And it was off too, raising itself vertically before flattening out and beating its way across the river. One long black wing angled down to the water, where with every stroke it seemed to brush its grainy reflection.”
“Its body was so sleek it looked like it had been painted in jet black oil, with a sheen of metallic purple or green, depending on the way the light fell when it twisted his head. Its eye was definitely green though, a shiny emerald bead.”
Day 3 – Tues 26 Oct: Listen to Chapters 12 – 16 (inclusive) of Zed and the Cormorants, then:
Try baking a recipe from the book! Bread, buns, cakes and scones abound in Zed and the Cormorants as Zed’s dad tries to establish his own bakery. Here are some simple recipes to recreate similar treats to those mentioned in the book:
Pay attention to the conversations between Zed and Tamsin in these chapters of the book – particularly noticing how their dialogue is evolving from when they first met. Can you recall what you spoke about when you first met your best friend? Try and remember, or imagine, what the conversation might have been like and write a short dialogue scene.
Day 4 – Weds 27 Oct: Listen to Chapters 17 – 22 (inclusive) of Zed and the Cormorants, then:
Log on to Twitter this afternoon and take a look at our book club questions. Discuss them with your friends or family, think about the questions yourself or join in with the conversation by tweeting us your thoughts!
Day 5 – Thurs 28 Oct: Listen to Chapters 23 – 28 (inclusive) of Zed and the Cormorants, then:
Head over to ReadingZone to watch a video of author Clare Owen and pick up some Gothic Writing Prompts from Clare, to help you write your own scary story.
Day 6 – Fri 29 Oct: Listen to Chapters 29 – 34 (inclusive) of Zed and the Cormorants, then:
Find a jam jar and some craft supplies to make a decorative chalice like the one Amy and Zed take down to the boathouse, or colour and decorate the jar on our drawing challenge worksheet.Visit ourInstagram pageto see a chalice we made earlier!
Day 7 – Sat 30 Oct: Listen to the final Chapters of Zed and the Cormorants, then:
One thing that really struck us when we first read Accidental Flowers, Lily Peter’s novel-in-short-stories, was the descriptions of the numerous canine characters.
As this week is #LondonDogWeek AND #NationalDogWeek over in the U.S, we asked Lily to rank her favourite dogs from classic and contemporary literature. Disagree? Tweet us @ArachnePress with your favourite fictional hounds.
An Author’s Best Friend – Lily’s Greyhounds
I wrote, illustrated and bound my first book when I was eight years old. Its main character was not a plucky young girl who dreamt of becoming a bestselling author, but rather a very lazy and quite fat Dalmation named Slobdog. Although for an eight-year-old, my spelling and grammar were excellent, there are, perhaps, superior literary dogs that should be celebrated:
To begin, let us put our paws together for Toto from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum. A wise terrier, with a sensible aversion to tornadoes. He is the best friend a lost girl could have and has excellent people instincts (which I find to be true of most dogs), revealing the Wizard for the sham that he is.
Next, we have the entire cast of dogs present in Dog Boy, by Eva Hornung. The novel tells the story of abandoned, four-year-old Ramochka and his hero dog, Mamochka, who adopts him as one of her own. He grows and learns with a pack of feral hounds – becoming one himself. It is a beautiful story that celebrates the canine moral code and it has a growl of an ending that will not disappoint.
Then, of course, there is the heart-wrenching folk tale (folk-tail?) of Hound Gelert. In Welsh folklore, the story goes that Llewelyn the Great wrongly accuses his own faithful pooch of killing his infant son. As he administers a fatal blow to Gelert, he hears his son crying and discovers him safely hidden, beside the corpse of a wolf – whom Gelert had obviously slain. Realising his mistake, Llewelyn is doomed to forever hear Gelert’s indignant, dying yelp.
Serves Llewelyn right.
It is my firm belief that we humans don’t always deserve our dogs. And yet, they keep finding us and loving us with huge generosity. Many of my favourite characters share their fictional spaces with beloved creatures and nowhere is this more true than in Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. Pullman depicts a world in which every human shares their living days with an animal extension of themselves, their Daemon. When we adopted our greyhounds, Jasper and Joni, I knew I had found my very own pair: long-legged busy-bodies, with a ridiculous love of salty snacks and an inability to cope with change.
In my novel-in-short-stories, Accidental Flowers, dogs abound. Abandoned, beloved or left behind, they pad their way through the stories, sniffing out adventure and love. I can’t pick a favourite. Perhaps Juliet, a ghost of a Jack Russell who haunts the pages of her story with her vital loyalty and companionship? Or maybe Boatswain, a greying lurcher and huge fan of the beach, so long as the sea stays where it should? Can either of them compare to Argos, whose friendship and quiet, fuzzy-eyebrowed understanding helps one protagonist discover their true self as the world lurches to a stop?
How can I choose?
Best to let someone else decide for me, while I take the dogs for a walk.
Today we are celebrating 100 days of100neHundred! Laura Besley’s second collection of micro fiction, 100neHundred explores a kaleidoscope of emotions through 100 stories of exactly 100 words.
We spoke to author Laura Besley and Arachne Press Director and Editor, Cherry Potts to bring you a behind the scenes look at the commissioning and editing process of 100neHundred and the particular challenges and joys of creating a collection of flash fiction:
Laura, can you give us a brief introduction to your writing career and where yourinspiration comes from?
Over the last 12 years I’ve been writing as much as time has allowed, around work and/or childcare. My writing journey started with literal journeys: travel writing about my time living and teaching in Germany and Hong Kong. Fiction writing soon followed.
I realised early on that I had plenty of ideas, but struggled to write more than a paragraph or two. Quite by chance I discovered Calum Kerr online (Director for National Flash Fiction Day at the time). He had set himself a challenge to write a piece of flash fiction (max. 500 words) every day for a year. I did the same. In that year I learned a lot about my writing, not least that I loved short fiction.
Cherry, when did you first come across Laura’s writing and how did the idea for100neHundred come about?
Laura was one of the contributors to Story Cities, our 2019 flash fiction anthology which explores (almost) every corner of urban life in anonymous cities. Her story Slim Odds was about estranged sisters sitting opposite each other on a train. It was deliciously off-kilter, and now I’ve read more, a typical Laura story. For our eighth anniversary in 2020 I put out an invitation to people who we had already published, looking for collections and novels. Laura was one of those who responded, with her concept in place, and a lot of stories already written. My initial reaction was that it was a little gimmicky, but would make it easy to market, but once I read the stories it was an immediate and firm ‘yes’.
Laura, was the idea of a collection of a hundred stories daunting? How many did you need to write and how long did you have in which to do it?
I’d amassed the 100 stories originally submitted over many years, so in that way it didn’t feel daunting. It just occurred to me at one point that I had enough to put together a collection and 100 stories of 100 words seemed like the best format. I submitted the manuscript of 100neHundred to Cherry in March 2020 and was delighted when she said she wanted to publish it. Things were a little delayed by the pandemic, but in September 2020, after Arachne secured funding from The Arts Council, I got the go ahead. However, there were 25 stories Cherry didn’t like enough to include. Over the next three months I wrote another 35-40 stories, finally both agreeing on the final one hundred stories to include.
Cherry, were there any particular challenges (expected or unexpected!) in editing acollection of stories with such a precise word count?
The predictable one was that they weren’t all exactly 100 words to start off with! And it wasn’t as simple as adding or subtracting a word here or there. Laura had played with the grammar here and there to hit the target, so I edited as though we weren’t aiming at 100 words, and then gave them back and said, now fix the ‘100’ thing. Taking the titles into the header so it wasn’t counted in the file helped! There were some stories that ended up turned inside out in order to get there. And some that we decided to lose because the 100 limit just didn’t suit them, they needed more room to find themselves.
I was afraid that it would get tedious, every story being the same length, (and remember I read a great many more than 100 stories, and all of them multiple times!) but it wasn’t the case – a lot of stories felt a lot longer, and some seemed to whizz by so fast I could barely catch them – 100 words is actually quite a generous limit, it allows for a lot of variety.
Laura, the stories in 100neHundred are divided into four sections, each named for aseason. Can you tell us a little bit more about that decision, and how you decided whereeach story fitted within the collection?
I decided to divide the collection up into sections to make it more appealing and manageable for the reader, thinking that being faced with a bulk of 100 stories, despite them being short, might feel a little daunting. The idea of seasons seemed, to me, the most natural step to take. Once that was decided I looked for obvious markers to place them within the different sections, like the weather, or people’s clothing, but also I looked at the mood of the pieces, as well as trying to strike a balance overall making sure that pieces, in style genre and content, were evenly distributed across the collection.
Were the any moments of disagreement during the edit, or stories that you each felt strongly about in different ways?
Cherry: Oh boy – not so much an individual story, but a thread of stories. With the initial 100 stories, I started a spreadsheet with a loose themes column. This was mainly because it helps me work out how to sell a collection if I can track the writer’s preoccupations, and also to check I wasn’t imagining a particular slant to the book.
There were an awful lot of deaths, dead mother/father/brother/sister/friend/child… children, one way or another. Maybe Laura as a young mum was working out her anxieties? I think I actually gave Laura a corpse limit. It was quite amicable!
Laura: Generally, there were no big disagreements (I don’t think!), but there is one story I can recall submitting in the new batch that Cherry said: “No, just no”. And I realised there was no point trying to persuade her otherwise. That’s fine – as readers, writers and editors we all have personal tastes and preferences.
The response to 100neHundred has been incredibly positive, from readers and reviewers alike. Why do you think these stories have resonated so much with people?
Cherry: I think the brevity and apparent simplicity of a 100 word story allows the reader to project a huge amount of their own interpretation onto the characters and situations, so that they relate to the story more than they would if there was extraneous description. The surburban houses are the houses in the suburbs you live in, or travel through, the men and women in the office are the ones you work with; particularly when you are given only a he or she to play with. I wouldn’t say the stories quite achieve universality, but there’s a huge stride towards it.
Laura: I’m absolutely thrilled with the positive response 100neHundred has received. It’s impossible, for me at least, to say with any certainty why these stories have resonated with people. I’m just extremely grateful that they have. Every kind word and positive response is so uplifting.