Where We Find Ourselves Blog Tour

We are really excited to announce the blog tour for Where We Find Ourselves edited by Laila Sumpton and Sandra A. Agard.

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 9) Listen to a podcast with Arachne Director Cherry Potts, Where We Find Ourselves writer Marina Sánchez and Jessica Stone from Listening Books – our audiobook partners. 

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 Books highly recommends Where We Find Ourselves.

Guest Blog by Neil Lawrence: Shirley Jackson and I

A guest blog fromTime and Tide contributor, Neil Lawrence.

I’m a ghost story fan. Ever since The Omen soundtrack drifted into my bedroom aged nine, I’ve loved the shivers being scared out of me. By the time I was thirty I’d compiled a ‘must watch’ list. On it was a black and white 1963 British film called The Haunting directed by Robert Wise (yes, the same guy who did The Sound of Music). Despite its age, and despite all the tropes one would expect, ten minutes into the story my breath was short.  As it continued the claustrophobia of the film was unbearable.

The ending puzzled and moved me. The main character kills herself in order to join malevolent ghosts who ‘live’ in the house (if  they are in fact real and not a projection of her own psyche). She chooses death to avoid going back to an empty life with an ambivalent family. One chilling scene showed a twisted relationship with her mother and it stayed with me long after  the 114 minutes had ended.

Ten years on I bought the book, entitled The Haunting of Hill House in a sale. I had no idea who that author, Shirley Jackson, was. It was not typical trashy fare. The prose was beautifully written; in turns affecting, angry, cutting, satirical and deeply, deeply unsettling. Jackson’s observations on frail human behaviour were uncannily accurate. Even more so than the film, the storyline was an outraged polemic of how restricted roles in society affected women’s mental health. I took an enormous amount out of it.

A few years later I was taking baby steps (and clichés) into my own life as a writer. After being accepted into a prestigious local group I was feeling overwhelmed. When I was offered advice on ways, I could improve my work, I was too defensive to listen. They suggested I write short stories. But having never had the experience of an inspiring anthology or collection, I was set against it.

Then a mate of mine gave me his copy of the The Lottery to read. He had come across ‘a very interesting article in the Guardian’ (why do people always say that? Sorry… different blog…) and thought here was a short story I should read. So, I read it. Mostly to stop him mithering me.

It changed my world.

Despite being first published by the New Yorker in 1948, The Lottery is a savage, unsettling tale. Its satire is unflinching. The tone is dry, so subtly mocking that I instantly wanted to emulate it. And again it was Shirley Jackson who had written it.

I sought out the book that The Lottery came from. Turned out it was unimaginatively entitled The Lottery and Other Stories. It was page after page of powerful and macabre messages, but also savagely funny.  In particular one story called ‘The Tooth’ encapsulated everything I wanted to write.

In it, the protagonist is packed off by her husband to see the dentist. To help cope with the pain, she resorts to pain killers mixed with booze. As a result, her awareness is skewed. The journey she takes is drenched with fear and bizzare visions. Time and place dislocate. After she senses a malevolent presence whilst in the dentist chair, she begins to dissociate.

Jackson drags the reader from the surface of the storyline into the turbulent and distressing  depths of the protagonist’s life.

The story hit me at a visceral level. After finishing it, I immediately began to write short stories. And have never stopped since.

Two other Shirley Jackson novels in particular have deepened my understanding of how to write.  One, her final published book, We Have Always Lived in The Castle, is a story about the moral landscape of small-town America. A family become the target of hatred in their local community when poisoning leaves only three of the household alive. The tone of the novel is light, comic even. It could easily have become like The Addams Family. But in Jackson’s hands the bleak humour is a deconstruction of ‘family values’ and an attack on the judgemental nature of humanity. Her command of tone and language are absolute.

The other, an earlier novel, Hangsaman, is about a young woman who experiences a traumatic event in the woods and then struggles with  starting her new life at college. Self-absorbed parents are neglectful to the point of being abusive. Jackson uses blurred images and incomplete narrative to describe the shattering of this poor woman’s personality and the results are harrowing but utterly believable.

Shirley Jackson died too soon at 46. In Ruth Franklin’s biography ‘A Rather Haunted Life’ she describes a writer struggling with feelings of outsidership and having to make a series of cruel compromises. She portrays Jackson as driven despite crippling self-doubt and a number of challenges presented by those around her. Many of the incidents in her life resonate deeply with my own.

Shirley Jackson’s writing has become a constant source of motivation for my own work and ambition. I keep her short stories and novels at my deskside, refer to them constantly. She is my touchstone, my inspiration, a writer whose themes are both modern and pertinent. She’s not a pleasant read, but I love her all the more for that.

Lennart Lundh and Michelle Shine on inspirations

Michelle Shine (Lovers’ Lies) and Lennart Lundh (Weird Lies – due out Sept 2013) talk about the inspiration for their stories, Skin Deep and Antique Shopping

© Arachne Press 2013

more arachne authors on the writers who inspire and influence them

Stations and London Lies contributors tell us about the writers they admire

Wendy Gill, Michael Trimmer, Ellie Stewart, Emily Cleaver

Peter Morgan and Jacqueline Downs

Arachne Authors talk about the writers who influence and inspire them

Stations and London Lies and Lovers’ Lies contributors tell us about the writers they admire

Andrew Blackman, Bartle Sawbridge, Rosalind Stopps, Adrian Gantlope, Joan Taylor-Rowan:

Paula Read, Caroline Hardman, Anna Fodorova, Cherry Potts

© Arachne Press 2013

Monsters of Hoxton, Part 2. A Guest Blog by Caroline Hardman

Caroline Hardman reveals the process of writing her story, Bloody Marys and a Bowl of Pho for Stations.

This is where it all gets a bit murky, I’m afraid. What follows isn’t necessarily chronological, and in parts might not even be strictly accurate, but it’s as much of the process of writing the story as I can remember.  It will probably make a lot more sense if you’ve already read Bloody Marys and a Bowl of Pho.
Given the varied nature of  Hoxton Street Monster Supplies’ clientele, one of my first jobs was to work out what sort of customer my main character was.  I brainstormed various monster options, and a vampire seemed like the best choice for lots of reasons; suitably formal and old-fashioned (for maximum contrast with the cool, young  hipsters he was going to meet), and he could blend in with normal humans fairly easily.    It was never my intention to call him Norbert, incidentally.  That was supposed to be a place-holder name until I could think of something suitable but it just sort of stuck.  I can’t imagine him being called anything else now.
I thought for a bit, too, about these ‘hipsters’ I knew I wanted him to meet.  There would be a group of them, I knew, and they’d be quite young.  Perhaps they would be art students, or from a fashion college.   I knew that Suzie would be a bit different from the others, but I really didn’t know much more about her – or any of them – than that.  I read up on the history of Hoxton , including its transport links, curious to find out what it would have been like when Norbert was first visiting,  and  brushed up on my vampire knowledge. I knew  the basics – garlic, crucifixes, and so forth, but thought it might be helpful to have bit more to work with.
With the exception of the Kingsland Viaduct (the original train line servicing the area, now being used to carry the East London line), hardly any of this research made it into the final text directly.  But nearly all of it informed the story in some way.  I discovered, for instance, that Hoxton once had links with haberdashery and fabric, which is where the idea of Norbert’s mother being a seamstress sprang from.   I imagined him first visiting the shop as a young boy accompanying his mother on her annual trips to London to stock up on material and mapped out the route they would have taken  from Brighton to  London Bridge, then a short walk over the river to connect with the Viaduct at Broad Street.
I also spent quite a lot of time wandering around Hoxton.  I walked the route from the station to the shop, then onto a pub (where I stopped for a drink, purely in the name of research), and back to the station via a Vietnamese restaurant (more research, obviously – their pho was delicious.)   I know the area fairly well, but it helped to spend an afternoon  soaking everything up and trying to see it all from Norbert’s perspective.    Little details like Joel’s striped t-shirt and the magazine reviews plastering the door of the restaurant came from here;  I could have invented them, I suppose, but it was easier to describe what I had seen.
I knew that the tension in the story –  the  question I hoped would keep readers interested enough to keep reading –  was to do with whether or not Norbert’s secret  would be discovered.   Of course all of this relied on readers knowing (or at least suspecting) that he’s a vampire from the start, so I had to plant some fairly obvious clues.  I had a lot of fun doing this, and deciding what to reveal when.  Early drafts of the story included more obvious clues from the beginning – some of these disappeared altogether while others (Norbert noticing Suzie’s necklace, and crossing a road to avoid garlic) ended up in different parts of the story where they ended up serving quite different purposes.
A trip to the pub part way through the story seemed  like a good way to turn up the pressure, and also seemed like a realistic  way for  a group of twenty-somethings to spend the afternoon. Mainly, though, I just wanted to find out what happens when you get a vampire drunk.  Not surprisingly, the slightly tipsy version of Norbert was a lot of fun to write.
I played with ways Norbert might reveal himself accidentally before thinking about what might happen if one of the group did find out.  Would they be scared? Would they tell the others?  For the longest time, I thought the ending was going to be an accidental reveal by Suzie. It might happen at the restaurant, I imagined, where there was bound to be garlic in some of the dishes.  Norbert would nearly eat some, and Suzie would dive across the table to save him, or perhaps he would actually eat it and they’d have to call the paramedics……
As I kept writing, and exploring different ideas, something fell into place, and I realised what my subconscious had known all along.  That this wasn’t just a story about vampires, or Vietnamese food, or even about a shop – it was a story about acceptance, and about trying to fit in.  Once I realised that, everything else seemed to make sense, including Lucinda, who I had written  into the beginning of the story very early on, without any idea of what she was doing there or how important she’d turn out to be.  So  instead of a big, dramatic finale with Norbert choking on his garlic-laden pho, it seemed more fitting to leave him exactly where we found him – on the outside of a window, looking in.
It doesn’t surprise me in the least that this is the story I ended up writing – it’s a theme I seem to return to time and time again –  but if you had asked me before I started what the story would be about I wouldn’t  have been able to tell you.  That might sound strange but it’s how a lot of my stories evolve.  I’ll start with a place, or a single character, or vaguest of concepts then write and write and write about it  until – if I’m lucky – the pieces fall into place and I work out what it’s really a story about.  And then I write it, and by the time I’ve finished I can’t remember ever not knowing.
If you’d like to pay a visit Hoxton Street Monster Supplies  – and I can highly recommend a trip –  the shop (at 159 Hoxton Street, N1 6PJ)   is open from 1pm – 5pm, Tuesdays to Fridays, and 11am – 5pm on Saturdays.   There’s also an online store . You might also like to visit Ministry of Stories.

© Caroline Hardman 2013
caroline hardman reading at Brick lane bookshop

Monsters of Hoxton (Part 1), a guest blog from Caroline Hardman

Caroline Hardman, Our Hoxton contributor to Stations reveals the story behind the story, in a two-part guest blog:

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Probably very good for authors who have done too many readings too!

This story started with a shop.
Hoxton Street Monster Supplies really does exist;  it’s the public-facing arm of a wonderful writing charity called the Ministry of Stories which launched in November 2010.  Behind a secret door, carefully concealed in the wooden panelling on the shop’s back wall, young people from the local area take part in all sorts of writing projects supported by volunteers. These workshops are offered for free and are partly funded by the profits generated from the sales of items just like the ones I mention in the story – jars of thickest human snot (which tastes awfully like lemon curd), tins of fear, and even fang floss (“Oh!  So you’re  the place which charges a fiver for a ball of string!” I once heard a woman mutter crossly, missing the point entirely.)
It’s a model inspired by the 826 projects in the US; all over America, volunteer mentors work with young writers  in spaces hidden behind shops for time-travellers, super-heroes, pirates… even spies, who can shop at Chicago’s ‘Boring Store’ safe in the knowledge that their super-secret identities will remain intact.
The shop has its own mythology, which I borrowed from extensively.  Hoxton Street Monster Supplies, so the story goes, really did open in 1818 but closed  down for an extensive refurbishment period, during which it went largely un-noticed by the general public (which is probably why you’d never heard of it).  It re-opened  its doors in November 2010, just – by coincidence –  as the Ministry of Stories launched.   The ball of string lady would probably be deeply suspicious about this coincidence, but who wants to listen to her?

I volunteer as a writing mentor at the Ministry, and have seen first-hand how the shop fires up the imaginations of the kids who pass through its doors.  They (and we) love to play with the line between what’s make-believe and what’s real; I’ve had endless conversations about the invisible cat who sleeps in the corner, the classified advertisements pinned to the walls and the mysterious former shop-keepers whose portraits adorn the walls.  So as soon as I discovered Stations still needed  a Hoxton story, I jumped at the chance to write it.
At first I thought I’d write about the shop in its heyday –  a story about one of the original owners, perhaps, or which explored  the lives of their clientele.   I soon realised, though, that it would be more fun to play with the contrast between the shop’s old fashioned image  and  the cool, hipster types people often associate with modern day Hoxton.   A contemporary setting would also solve a problem that was starting to bother me;  it meant I could write about the shop without removing too much of the mystery surrounding its origins.   Lots of gaps have been left  – quite deliberately, I suspect – and the longer I spent thinking  about the shop’s early years the less comfortable I felt about filling those gaps  in.  And of course, a modern setting meant I could incorporate the Overground station which was, after all, sort of the point.
Suddenly that opening image came to me, of a customer arriving at the shop to find a sign in the window saying it was closed.  Something about this just felt right – if the shop had been closed for all that time, it made perfect sense that a customers might not realise and would turn up one day to find it shut.  And then what would they do?
I pitched the idea to Cherry, and was thrilled when she said yes.  And then I realised I had to go away and write it, which terrified me.

© Caroline Hardman 2013