The Book I Wrote Instead of Dying

For Hallowe’en, a guest blog from poet Jennifer A McGowan, whose latest collection How to be a Tarot Card (or a Teenager) we published last week. The London launch (shared with Anna Fodorova and In the Blood) is at Keats House 18:30 tomorrow, 1st November. free tickets

How to Be a Tarot Card design by Tom Charlesworth

In the 1980s, faced with a rebellious body, I stole my mother’s tarot deck and asked it about my health prognosis. Three times in a row, the outcome card was the tower, which is the second-worst card in the deck. Throughout my 20s and from then on I struggled with disability. On 16 March 2020 I contracted Covid, and I’ve had daily symptoms since then.

Twice I nearly died. I couldn’t breathe. Just standing up left me doubled over, gasping for air. I’m an expert patient and there are 6 doctors in my family, and I am no medical layperson, and I thought, at best, I had a 50/50 chance of getting through April 2020 and 2021.

I chose to write, obsessively. That and bloody-mindedness got me through. Somehow. The result is this book. I don’t really remember last April, except that I wrote over 55 poems. If I were a pop psychoanalyst I’d say that hovering on the threshold of death rendered me liminal, and made mythic themes easier to access. But I’m not.

These poems are based on the 22 major arcana in the tarot deck, an extra or trump suit, which starts with the fool:  number zero, generally portrayed as carefree, their possessions in a small bag, stepping off a cliff. They journey through the themes of the other 21 arcana. The magician, trump 1, is the occult guide, wielding four elements. In French the magician is called the juggler, Le Bateleur—I took that word and wrote about a bateleur eagle, a bird of prey that constantly adjusts its wings in flight, like a juggler.

Arcanum 2 is the high priestess. She’s on the cover of the book, twinned on a playing card with the teenager. The high priestess symbolises, among other things, maidenhood. She progresses to the empress, full womanhood or motherhood. Some decks change the hermit to the crone, the third moon phase, post-menopausal, of women. The crone shows up in this book as the lamplighter, and also as a really quite delightful, feminist snake. The high priestess has long been the card used to stand in for me in tarot readings, too. (As a teen, readers used the empress. I grew into the priestess. Yes, this is the wrong way around.)

Other poems are taken more literally from tarot pictures. Strength is often portrayed as a woman besting a lion—and I used lion as metaphor in “There May Have Been Lions” and “Life in Captivity”. “The Girl in the Raven Mask”, a Petrarchan sonnet which was published in Acumen, is ekphrasis on the temperance trump in the Hush tarot. “Broken Tower” was also inspired by that deck.

Still other poems riff on the meaning of the cards. There are three poems about hope, which is what the star connotes. Two of the hope poems were written for Turtle Mountain Animal Rescue, the only animal shelter in a 2000 square mile area so far north in North Dakota it’s nearly Canada. There is a semi-feral dog at the shelter named Hope, who runs wild in the summer, but always returns when faced with bitter northern winters. She simultaneously herself and a metaphor in “Hope”.

I’m at my best as a poet when I’m storytelling, as in “Why Snakes are Always Female” and “A Little Space” or, more mischievously, in “Devilskin”. Modern tarot decks, whether they’re standard Rider-Waite-Smith decks; something themed, like the dragon tarot; or based on pop culture, like the Disney villains tarot, are tools to tell stories, whether personal or universal.  Many of these poems, like “Hagged”, which is about my Long Covid, and “Dr. Wick”, about the struggle to get a diagnosis for my disability, are very personal for me. Of course, a deck of 78 playing cards isn’t responsible for anything in my life, apart from this book and a few medieval card games I play, but, still, the odds of the same card in the same spot three times in a row is pretty slender…

 

Happy Hallowe’en.

Jennifer A. McGowan
Oxford, October 2022

Happy Publication day Anna and Jennifer!

We’ve got a bit ahead of ourselves with launches this month, launching Jennifer A McGowan’s How to be a Tarot Card (or a Teenager) at Oxford Poetry Library last week,

and Anna Fodorova’s In the Blood at the Czech Embassy on Tuesday, with Jude Cook chairing and Lisa Rose reading the excerpts, but it is actual publication day TODAY – Congratulations both!

Thanks to Phoebe and team at the Oxford Poetry Library.

Thanks to Jude and Lisa, and the Janas at BCSA, the Czech Centre and Czech Embassy for hosting, and Lutyens and Rubinstein bookshop for handling the sales, and to Erik Weisenpacher for video and photo and audio recordings; it was a novel experience to just turn up, introduce and sit in the audience!

If you missed either or both, do not despair, as there is a joint launch 6.30 next Tuesday, 1st November, at Keats house, with readings by Carrie Cohen. You can get your free tickets from Eventbrite – there will be cake and soft drinks

 

Oxford Poetry Library with Tarot Cards

Thanks to everyone who turned out to launch How to be a Tarot Card (or a Teenager) at the Oxford Poetry Library, and thanks to Phoebe and team for hosting.

Here’s a couple of photos and recordings to give a flavour of the evening.

Introduction

How to be a Tarot Card (or a Teenager)

Jennifer is launching again in London on 1st November at Keats House with Anna Fodorova, our other October author, with her novel, In the Blood. Free, cake, soft drink etc as usual! Get your tickets

And will be taking part in an online event with our friends In Words on 29th November. To register for this one you need to contact irena(at)in-words(dot)co(dot)uk and she will send you the link in good time.

 

October/November New Books: Launches and events

We have a little flurry of books arriving in October and November, and some events to launch them, mostly in person! We’d love you to join us.

20/10/2022 7pm Launching How to be a Tarot Card (or a Teenager) by Jennifer A McGowan at The Oxford Poetry Library on 20th October 7pm.[eventbrite for free tickets]

25/10/2022  7pm Launch of In the Blood  in discussion with writer and literary critic Jude Cook, with readings by actor Lisa Rose at the Embassy of the Czech Republic. Hosted by British Czech and Slovak Association, the Czech Embassy, the Czech Centre London and Lutyens & Rubinstein bookshop. [tickets £10]
01/11/2022 6.30pm a joint event at Keats House for How to be a Tarot Card (or a Teenager) and In the Blood with readings from actor Carrie Cohen free tickets
24/11/2022 6.30pm at Keats House Launch for Routes by Rhiya Pau.
29/11/2022 7.30pm In Words are helping us celebrate our 10th Anniversary and the launch of Routes by Rhiya Pau, with an online showcase of 4 of our recent poetry books: Routes, How to be a Tarot Card (or a Teenager), A Pocketful of Chalk and Paper Crusade. This will be on Zoom. To access, contact In Words.

Launching in Waves: Paper Crusade

We have a few events planned for the launch of Michelle Penn’s book-length poem, Paper Crusade, starting on publication day…

Tuesday 21st June 2022 10:30(ish) an experimental (ie we don’t know if it will work) live zoom to our Facebook page Enchanted Island Books. Michelle will talk about which six books she would save if she was shipwrecked on her island. We will record as well, just in case.

Wednesday 22nd June 2022 19:00 online launch with readings, Q&A, chat and optional audience participation involving Shakespearean insults and Haiku, get tickets

Friday 24th June 2022 18:45 for 19:00 in person Launch at Keats House Library 10 Keats Grove NW3 2RR There will be readings, discussion and cake (very bad for you, anyone whose been to a launch before, you know, everyone else you’ve been warned.) get tickets

Poetry Road Trip – Join us on the A470

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…).

Past

  •  28th May: Cardiff Central Library Hub
    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. watch the video


  •  30th May: Storyville Books, Pontypridd
    Nicholas McGaughey, Jeremy Dixon, Stephen Payne and Sîon Aled read from A470 in an evening of poetry, with music and nibbles too! watch the videos

  • 31st May: Siop Lyfrau’r Hen Bost, Blaenau Ffestiniog
    Simon Chandler, Sara Louise Wheeler, Haf Llewelyn, Lowri Williams and Sian Northey read from A470  in Blaenau Ffestiniog. watch the videos

  • 1st June: Owain Glyndŵr’s Parliament House, Heol Maengwyn, Machynlleth, SY20 8EE
    Pulling up outside Senedd-Dy to stretch their legs and catch their breath, editors Sian Northey and Ness Owen talked with Poet Sara Louise Wheeler 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. Watch the video
  • 30 June: The National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth
    An evening of bilingual poetry readings and conversation with Ness Owen, Sian Northey, Pat Edwards, Diana Powell, Sara Louise Wheeler, Siôn Aled, Jeremy Dixon, Rhys Owain Williams, Rae Howells, Lowri Haf Williams, Sandra Evans, Gareth Writer-Davies.
  • 10th July  Gŵyl Arall Festival, Caernafon
  • Editor  Sian Northey was joined by Sion Aled, Sara Louise Wheeler, and Lowri Williams to read and talk about the book.
  • Thursday 21st July: The Hours Cafe & Bookshop, Brecon, VIDEO
    Readings and conversation with Gareth Writer-Davies, Clare E Potter, Diana Powell, Sian Northey and Stephen Payne.
  • 24th July: The Poetry Pharmacy, Bishop’s Castle,
    Nipping over the border into Shropshire for Readings from Sian Northey, Gareth Writer-Davies, Jeremy Dixon, Ness Owen, Pat Edwards and Stephen Payne at the world’s first walk-in Poetry Pharmacy.

You can track all our events on our interactive A470 map too.

If you’d like more information about any of these events, please email outreach@arachnepress.com

 

 

Live Launch of Where We Find Ourselves Anthology Sold Out

We’re excited to announce that our live event at Keats House to launch our Where We Find Ourselves anthology 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.

Coming Soon

Be quick though – tickets are selling fast!  Tickets available here.

invitation and preview for the launch of A Voice Coming From Then

Thursday 26th August 7pm

Register for free on eventbrite

JeremyDixon is joined by Nigel Pilkington, our narrator for the audiobook, to launch the print, eBook and audio versions of this poetry collection.

Here is a sample of Nigel reading from A Voice Coming From Then

[content warning: poems deal with bullying homophobia and suicide]

 

 

 

100neHundred Blog Tour

We are delighted to launch the blog tour for 100neHundred by Laura Besley.

Out on 27 May, 100neHundred is a collection of 100 stories, each of 100 words. A man carries his girlfriend in the left-hand breast pocket of his shirt. During World War II, a young soldier searches the houses and barns of the families with whom he grew up. An astronaut wonders whether she can adapt to life back on earth. This is a moving, funny, powerful collection of microfiction.

Laura said “The more micro fiction I write, the more I love it: the challenge of piecing together what I want to convey in as few words as possible and the absolute joy when it works. I’m extremely excited about the launch of 100neHundred, hoping that people will enjoy reading my tiny tales as much as I enjoyed writing them.”

Follow the blog tour on the schedule above to read reviews of 100neHundred, plus guest posts from Laura Besley, an Author Q and A and some exclusive extracts of stories from the collection. 

Find all the content from the blog tour here too (updated daily):

  1. So much of life is packed into these stories, precious moments and sad ones, humour and grief, gorgeous nuggets of hope and stinging barbs of hurt.” Read Ellie Hawkes’ beautiful review of 100neHundred here.
  2. Read ‘Lowest Ebb’ – one of the stories from 100neHundred – in an exclusive feature on Idle Ink.
  3. One of the things I love most about short fiction is the invitation to experiment.” Read Laura Besley’s guest blog post for Popshot Magazine.
  4. “Laura has created beautiful snapshots, each one alive with precision and emotion. Each story excels in its originality, each one a complete tale, each carefully crafted without a word to spare.” Read an excellent review of 100neHundred – and an exclusive story extract- on Book Bound.
  5. Read @tillylovesbooks’ instagram review of 100neHundred
  6. “The main thing that went into 100neHundred was time.” Laura Besley talked to Elizabeth M. Castillo for an author Q and A.
  7. “…like savouring a perfect little tipple at the end of a stressful day.” Zoe’s Book Nook gives 100neHundred 5 stars.
  8. “With this collection I soon lost track of how many ‘wows’ I was uttering…” Laura Besley credits Morgen Bailey’s 100 word story competition with her interest in micro-fiction. Read Morgen’s review of 100neHundred here.
  9. “This collection of micro flash fiction is possibly the perfect read for the moment, as we all grapple with the changing pace of life.” For Book’s Sake reviewed 100neHundred on Instagram.

100neHundred Blog Tour Banner Image

Zed and the Cormorants Blog Tour

Schedule showing the dates for the Zed and the Cormorants blog tour

With less than a week to go until publication, we are really excited to launch the blog and instagram tour for Zed and the Cormorants, with the first post going live tomorrow on @a_never_ending_story.

Zed and the Cormorants is a page-turning gothic mystery and contemporary coming-of-age story rolled into one. Perfect for readers aged 12-15, it is the debut novel by Clare Owen.

Zed’s family have moved from London to a village in Cornwall. Dad says they need a fresh start but nobody has asked Zed what she thinks. Maybe their new home will help with Mum’s depression and keep Amy, Zed’s sister, away from her drop-out boyfriend, but why does it have to be so remote?

Why has the boathouse at the bottom of the garden been locked up for seventy years? Why do the birds living by the estuary fill Zed with such dread? And WHAT do they want?

Follow the blog tour on the schedule above to read reviews of Zed and the Cormorants, guest posts from Clare Owen and even some Zed-inspired recipes. Plus, we will be sharing some exclusive content from the book!

Follow all the content from the blog tour here too:

  1. @a_never_ending_story gives Zed and the Cormorants 8/10
  2. Check out @bookslovereader’s beautiful Instagram review of Zed and the Cormorants
  3. Read Clare Owen’s guest post “Why I chose to write YA” on Whispering Stories blog and listen to an exclusive extract of the Zed and the Cormorants audiobook
  4. In just over 180 pages, Claire Owen has crafted a deep and haunting story which covers a range of important topics” says @magnifying_reader
  5. The gothic genre being entwined with the young adult genre made this book really interesting and enjoyable… I think it is a book every school library should stock!” Read Emma Suffield’s full review
  6. “Have you ever read a book and instantly wanted to recreate a tasty treat that was briefly mentioned?” @acupofwonderland created a Zed and the Cormorants themed #bookishbake
  7. “Let me just say that the Rebecca comparison? Spot on!” Dark Heart Books calls Zed and the Cormorants atmospheric, fun and a joy to read
  8. Zed and the Cormorants was a magical, mystical read that had me longing for more.” Read the review on Amy’s Bookish Life
  9. For our final blog tour review, Lucy Jakes give Zed and the Cormorants 4/5, loving the “simultaneously claustrophobic and magical setting” and “creepy cormorants”
Promotional image showing Zed and the Cormorants book cover and blog tour dates (24 April - 2 May)