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.
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.
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.
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.
To begin our Where We Find Ourselves blog tour, Arachne Press Director, Cherry Potts shares her thoughts on the theme of ‘Maps and Mapping’:
Maps are objects of pleasure and anticipation for me, promises of holidays and beautiful in their own right, but they used to be safety blankets – I went through a long period of agoraphobia and the only way I could take a ‘stroll’ in the countryside (or anywhere else, really) was if I knew exactly where I was going, what obstacles were along the way and how long it would take – getting lost was something I literally had nightmares about. I’m better at it now, but it’s always me with the map in my pocket, if no longer clutched in an anxious grip.
So when Laila Sumpton suggested ‘Maps and Mapping’ as the focus for our global majority anthology, Where We Find Ourselves, I said yes almost by reflex. As we settled into thinking about why, exactly, we thought this a good idea, there was a lot to cover. Arachne has a history with what is apparently called Psychogeography – not planned, but one of our books is on the reading list at a university, so I’m told – these were geographically rooted (routed?) books of stories set in London, and along the east London Overground. I like that sort of thing. But this was different. We didn’t want to over-dictate what our authors wrote about, and wanted to see what would come up. We were hoping for stories of home, belonging, leaving, journeys, identity, borders, invasion, exile … not of a particular place, but any place that the author or poet felt strongly about. And we got them, especially the search for places of safety – and we got a story about getting lost on a country walk, so that was my personal nightmare ticked off too.
Somehow this map idea morphed into an almost series. Not quite enough of one to say book one of… (although if pushed I will!) but four (so far) conceptually linked books.
About twelve years ago I studied Neurolinguistic Programming (one of the things that helped overcome my agoraphobia). One of the basic tenets of NLP is that people have a linguistic preference that reveals how they experience the world, showing itself in use of words to do with one specific sense. Most people are visual or kinaesthetic (touch, motion, emotion), far fewer auditory, etc; although the transmit preference may not be the same as the receive preference. I spent some time wondering if I dare stick my hand up and say what about people who don’t have access to all those things? I never did, I found the large group intimidating, but I spent a lot of time thinking about it. When I started learning BSL, my doubts were confirmed, and confounded as well. So when I was discussing the title of a book with movement as its theme (very loose connection to maps!) with editors Lisa Kelly and Sophie Stone, I was on about the language of movement or the movement of language, and Sophie entirely disagreed and said that BSL is a language of sight. In my kinaesthetically orientated way I had been thinking about transmitting communication and Sophie was thinking about receiving it. Which is how we ended up with the title What Meets the Eye? The Deaf Perspective.
Alongside these two anthologies I had been talking to Ness Owen and Sian Northey about a bilingual Welsh-English poetry anthology for March next year. Sian came up with the brilliant idea of poems about/inspired by the iconic north-south route, the A470. Disclosure – my Welsh is limited to what can generally be found on a road sign, and saying hello and thank you, so an appropriate theme for me! Out came my maps – of course – and yes, I had driven bits of that road.
We won’t have to translate the title, Sian said. Wrong – because we’ve ended up with a subtitle, Poems for the Road/Cerrdi’r Ffordd.
Nothing screams maps more than a book about a road, and I spent a lot of time looking up places referenced in the poems, and getting to understand the topography of both road and poems. I can’t wait to drive it again, boring my wife silly as I point out places and say oh that’s in so-and-so’s poem. We have a fantasy about hiring a bus to do a book tour along the length of the road from Cardiff to Llandudno. The irony of this, in light of the next book, is not lost on me.
Before we get to the A470, we have another book – the Solstice Shorts Festival anthology, Words from the Brink out in December in time for the festival. Our initial call out had the loose concept of time is running out, and we wanted work that addressed the climate crisis.
At risk of sounding like a spare part from Dr Who, Solstice Shorts is always about time, and the festival has travelled around most of the UK, and even got to Portugal one year, so I thought we ought to be able to get a map theme into our overarching time concept. This year’s festival itself is still very much up in the air at the moment. Venues are difficult, and should we really be trying to have an in-real-life event at all?
Perhaps the link to maps is tenuous, except, actually, it isn’t. This book encompasses the whole Earth – viewed from space by acquisitive or curious aliens, in her personification as Gaia and in the microcosm of a single plant or butterfly. Our authors map their way through climate crisis to disaster, or renewal.
We are on the brink. A gnat’s wink in either direction can make the difference. Which direction do will we take?
You can follow the blog tour for Where We Find Ourselves until 30 October.
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:
We’re excited to announce that our live event at Keats House to launch our Where We Find Ourselvesanthology is sold out!!! However, you can still join us to celebrate publication of this fantastic collection of stories and poems of maps and mapping from UK writers of the global majority at our online launch on November 4th. 7-9pm.
Be quick though – tickets are selling fast! Tickets available 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.