In the final instalment of our video interviews with poet A.J Akoto, A.J tells us more about the animal symbolism which appears in Unmothered, her powerful debut collection – out now!
Have you got a copy of Unmothered? Some of the poems in the collection consider the body, and particularly a woman’s relationship to her physicality. Poet A.J Akoto spoke to us about why she wanted to explore the shrinking that women so often go through:
You do not have to be a delicacy.
You do not have to be tasty.
You do not have to submit
your body into feminine frailty.
You do not have to ruin your digestion
in an attempt to be digestible.
Your mind can be full
of ice-white rage;
you do not have to be kind.
You do not have to yield
to the pressure to forgive.
Forgiveness does not make you good
and goodness does not require it.
You do not have to exhibit grace,
not in anything.
You do not have to make yourself
not for anyone.
or come to the next event: Thursday 20th July 7.30 at Afrori Books in Brighton. Tickets via Afrori
Unmothered by A.J Akoto publishes this Thursday 13 July! Ahead of release, Cherry Potts spoke to A.J about the editing process. Watch the video below for a behind-the-scenes look at what it took to complete this intimate, unflinching and powerful work.
To celebrate forthcoming publication of Unmothered by A.J Akoto, we caught up with A.J to talk about every aspect of her debut collection, from the inspiration behind it, to her use of myth, and the complexities and challenges of writing about your own life.
“I don’t think it’s speaking to anything that’s destructive to the self, or to the reader, to consider the things that are in these poems”.
In this video, A.J speaks about the process of creating Unmothered, and the impact of its cover and content, with editor and Arachne Director, Cherry Potts.In this video, A.J speaks about the process of creating Unmothered, and the impact of its cover and content, with editor and Arachne Director, Cherry Potts.
See the full cover for Unmothered below, and find out more about artist Kevin Threlfall on Instagram.
Pre-order your copy of Unmothered now or book to join us at an event:
- 11/07/2023: Poetry Book launch at Housmans Bookshop, Caledonian Road, London
- 13/07/2023: Online book launch
We are really pleased to be nominated for Most Innovative Publisher in the 2022 Saboteur Awards and to have Laura Besley’s brilliant 100neHundred nominated for Best Short Story Collection.
Thank you so much to everyone who voted to get us this far. The second round of voting is now open until the 7th May and we need you to help us win!
Please vote for Arachne Press and 100neHundred in their respective categories. We highly recommend a vote for Arachne author, Emma Lee who is nominated for Best Reviewer of Literature too.
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.
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.
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:
Day 1) “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.” Arachne Press publishing director, Cherry Potts, explores the Where We Find Ourselves theme of maps and mapping – and how the idea has morphed into an almost-series of linked titles.
Day 2) “This anthology is a great example of literary citizenship… It’s lovely to be part of something that’s actively trying to show the breath of experiences and writing styles across some many communities.” Read an interview with Where We Find Ourselves contributor Anita Goveas on Desi Books.
Day 3) Editor, Laila Sumpton introduces Where We Find Ourselves on the Platforma blog.
Day 4) “I found the stories and poems to be so enlightening and equally heartbreaking at the same time… Its beauty is beyond anything I have read in recent times.” @kristinas_shelves gives Where We Find Ourselves 4.5 stars in her instagram review.
Day 5) “I would definitely recommend this, as I found the texts were powerful, emotional and also provided an opportunity to learn.” @reflections_of_a_reader
Day 6) “It goes without saying that I’m extremely excited about getting my story published in Where We Find Ourselves! There’s something very special about seeing my story in print, on actual paper, in an actual book, alongside some incredible poetry and short fiction by a very talented group of writers. I’m looking forward to seeing what readers make of the anthology!” Contributing writer Dipika Mummery describes her experience of being included in Where We Find Ourselves. Plus, read an extract from Dipika’s story, ‘A Walk in the Countryside’.
Day 7) Read an exclusive extract from Where We Find Ourselves: ‘Cocoon Lucky’ – a short story by Kavita A. Jindal.
Day 8) “This is a beautifully diverse collection by a host of talented writers” – bookstagrammer @LibraryLooter highlights some of the new authors she discovered in Where We Find Ourselves.
Day 10) “Where We Find Ourselves is a diverse and innovative collection that showcases the wealth of talent that we have in our desi and wider communities when it comes to telling our own stories.” Desi Reads highly recommends Where We Find Ourselves.
Today we are celebrating 100 days of 100neHundred! 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 your inspiration 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 for 100neHundred 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 a collection 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 a season. Can you tell us a little bit more about that decision, and how you decided where each 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 there 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.
Moving into March already.
3rd March, 7pm
42 High Street
(near Beckenham Junction)
24th March 7pm
66 Marchmont Street
(Between Kings Cross and Russell Square Tube stations)
A joint reading with Kate Foley, poetry and fantasy, what a heady mix!
Readings from The Dowry Blade and The Don’t Touch Garden
£3 on the door, but there’s alcohol.
Join us at
26 The Pavement, Clapham Common, SW4 0JA
7:30 – 9pm on Thursday 25th February
for reading, signed copies of the book and discussion,
The Dowry Blade is a lesbian epic fantasy of the strength and limitations of love and loyalty in a time of war and danger: between friends, lovers, kin, strangers– and enemies.