Lockdown Interview no 30 An email conversation between Pippa Gladhill and Kirsty Fox

26th May. 12.25

Pippa Gladhill

Hi Kirsty,

Your story ‘They said there were Pirates,’ it’s compressed, shifting, allusive atmosphere has stayed with me long after I finished reading it.

I was hooked by the opening lines, it’s spare lyricism. I was hooked in fact by the absolute quality of your writing throughout.

“I’d been part of the water for so long now, it no longer felt like I was moving…. as though it were the planet that swayed to and fro. To and fro.”

By this power of repetition, like an incantation, by the meanings that work in layers, and open up by what you purposefully omit,

“You’re my only treasure’, she said, ‘I have nothing left to lose,” such an understatement of the depth of this woman’s loss.  

One of the ways it’s so effective in conveying the quality of dreamlike uncertainty is the way you mix the past, present and future throughout, by your use of verb tenses. Was this a technique you discovered as you wrote your story? Can you tell me more about it?

Pippa

26th May. 17.27

Hi Pippa,

Thank you for your kind words and astute reflections!

I think my habit of playing with tenses is related to my thoughts on how we perceive and experience time as a dynamic thing. Our experience of the present is always informed by our memories and past experiences and what we expect to happen. I think this is something I’m always trying to represent, often subconsciously. 

I wrote this piece (which I see as both flash fiction and prose poetry in a way) as a stream-of-consciousness and when I write in that way tenses often shift around. It’s only through the editing process that I really examine this and figure out how it adapts and reflects meaning and movement in the narrative. 

I originally wrote it without the first paragraph, but then I had a discussion with my friend who is the father of a small boy, and we felt the poetic reflections in the piece felt like an adult looking back to their childhood thoughts, rather than a child’s thoughts as they happen.

Exploring the perception of youngsters leads me nicely into your story which neighbours mine in the Dusk anthology. ‘In-between Dog’ has a protagonist Alice, who is herself in between — a preteen just starting secondary school and facing the transition into her teenage years. 

The point-of-view here uses the apparently naive worldview of a preteen as a tool to carry us through the narrative, revealing aspects of the setting and characters as we go. The subtlety of this was very effective in helping the reader build a picture of this family’s life through sparse information. It reminded me of something the writer and critic Jenn Ashworth said about how a good short story is like ‘a sliver of light between a pair of half-drawn curtains’. It reveals precisely what it needs to.

In this way, you hint at the magic realist element ‘the in-between’ while still holding something back, the way youngsters always hold something back from adults. The dog Loopy is brought into the family by one of her fathers, but its elemental nature seems to belong to her. 

What inspired this otherworldly aspect to the story and the relationship between Alice and the dog? 

Best wishes,

Kirsty

29th May. 16.55

Hi Kirsty,

And thank you, too, for your thoughts and nice question.

What inspired the other worldly aspect to my story is the French expression, quoted by Alice, about dusk being between dog and wolf.

This gift of an expression conveys, with vivid economy, the uncertainty of twilight when things are slipping and changing, and no longer what they appear during daylight hours. Imperceptible alteration, uncertainty, ambiguity – brilliant places for a story to start. And a wolf!  Who doesn’t love a wolf as the embodiment of ‘other’, a wilder, exhilarating, dangerous element. (As a side note, ‘wolf’ in French is le loup, and  ‘Loops’ became the English version) So I wanted to include this aspect of ‘wolfness’ in the story and also to leave it shadowy and understated in the same way the original expression conveys the meaning of not one thing nor the other. 

As you say, Alice is also in that in-between stage of life, neither child nor teen. She’s childlike in her strategy of magical thinking, that is, a belief that if you want something, then all you have to do is think it, for it to take place. And also older than her years in trying to protect her Dad and partner from the bully boys.  She came over as socially isolated so it felt like she would naturally develop a strong bond with Loops as her close friend and companion. And it felt right she had that yearning for things being wilder, playing alone in the park with Loops as it grows dark, connecting with something other, raw and alive, that exists just beneath the humdrum surface. 

Moving on to your story. Your opening lines, that place the piece, in the first instance, in the here and now before we find ourselves moving back and forth within memory and ambiguities of the dream like state. I want to ask you about the coin. The coin here – intimations of death, of betrayal, of treasure, poignant link with the memory of her brother.  The way to pay or buy their journey. So much is conveyed by this simple coin. Can you say more about it, and how the coin came to you as a way to contain these meanings.

All the best

Pippa

9th June. 17.28

Hi Pippa,

It’s funny, but the River Styx analogy didn’t consciously occur to me until you asked this question! And yet there it is. I think my starting point for the coin was the pirates. I dreamed many years ago that I was on a boat and pirates were coming. It was during a period where real-life Somali pirates were in the news a lot, robbing boats off the coast of Africa. And then more recently I was set a task to write on a political theme during the height of the most recent refugees-in-boats crisis. So I paired these two things together and the coin seemed like the perfect simple object for the child to be carrying (in realistic and symbolic terms). My focus when writing was the timelessness of the refugee flight, how this dance has been played out many times over, and the fragility of life in these circumstances ⁠— the bartering with the gods (metaphorical or literal) for a safe passage. 

I think what’s really interesting here is how the history of literature and storytelling can seep into what we’re writing without us knowing. So the coin gathers its own meaning and moves beyond the intentions of the author ⁠— so meaning in literature isn’t just what we put in but what the reader takes out.

There are certain stories, and ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ is a great example, which are ingrained into our psyche. Whenever I see someone falling down a hole in a movie, I think of Alice, whether it’s an intentional reference or not. I love these repeated patterns (or leitmotivs) and I think the wolf is another one which has so many layers of meaning attached to it. 

I’m curious, what other things do you write? Are you mainly focused on short fiction? What themes from ‘In-between’ connect this story to your other work?

Best wishes,

Kirsty 

20th June. 17.49

Hi Kirsty,

Finally!  Finally I get to think about what I most want to think about but which gets shoved to the back of the queue on a daily basis, partly because it needs time and I don’t want to dash off some unthinking quick response. 

Also … because I tend to allow what’s really important to me, to be overridden by other apparently more pressing demands. Which is what happens also with my writing. Which is a whole other topic that could be unpacked. ‘The most common problem writers have is not writing ‘(Mohsin Hamid). Anyway, I’m sorry for the delay and hope it doesn’t interrupt our flow too much. 

In answer to your question about what other things I write – I also write stage plays. Having written quite a bit of short fiction, I wanted to not exactly ‘move on’ but to develop and extend my writing skills.  

When I started script writing it was deeply weird. How is it possible to set up context? What about interiority? How can you tell a whole story with sub text, only through dialogue and physical action?  What about past and future how do you covey that?   The whole writing process is always a ongoing puzzle for me, but I do think the rudimentary script writing skills I’ve learnt have fed back and improved my short fiction writing as well. Refreshed it and enabled me to write more succinctly. Keeping to the point. Keeping it fresh and alive. 

As for themes. Someone (and I’m rubbish about remembering who says these things, I think it was a guy) he said about his own writing that although he’d been writing stories all his life  – in essence they were all part of his one big story. I find that liberating. I kind of know what he means. It’s as if we return to the same undercurrents all of the time. To answer the other part of your question about ‘In between’ and how it connects to other writing themes of mine, I’ve not often written from a young person’s point of view.  But there was something about the Dusk brief that I found compelling and the fact I could bring in a wolf of course, and maybe the element of the unknown wildness theme is part of a general theme I allude to without being deliberately conscious of doing so. 

The other thing about In Between is I wrote it rapidly and relatively easily. Most of the time it doesn’t happen like this. Normally a lot of stalling and not knowing how to make my writing work. Hours, days, in changes, repetitive, obsessive rewrites, and tweaks. It’s never, ever perfect, it could always be better. 

I also think I only ever learn how to write the particular story or play I’m on. Each new project is like starting from scratch with no idea how to do it.

Which leads me on to wanting to ask you a three-part question.  Firstly, have you too written in other genres and if so what led you into this? Also, what led you into writing in the first place?  And lastly, more of an impossible question really, can you tell me more about the process of your writing, what is your process, how do you locate what your story is actually about, how do you bring it to any sort of completion? 

All the best

Pippa


5th July. 17.33

Hi Pippa,

I really identify with what you said about prioritsing our writing and also the type of writing we’re doing. I’m currently finishing a part-time Creative Writing MA. I decided to do the MA in order to prioritise my writing more in my life as, as you say, more ‘pressing matters’ tend to take over—things which have actual deadlines or family crises or a great big fat pandemic, you know, the usual.

This worked in some respects because it gave me deadlines and classmates to bounce ideas off and a set amount of time to really develop my writing. However, it dragged me away from writing my novel. It put other ‘parts’ of my creativity on the backburner by making other writing more pressing. So it did radically change my priorities but didn’t exactly fix the problem. I’ve found having a mentor and writing buddies or groups the best way to help prioritise my writing by creating accountability. In fact, I actually planned out a workshop I would deliver a year or so ago on helping writers to find the space in their life for their writing but it didn’t happen for various reasons. 

In terms of form and genre, I now have 3-4 areas of writing I work in depending on how you categorise and delineate. For short work I tend to write either prose poetry or short fiction or some hybrid of the two. Then I write novels – I have self-published one climate-fiction novel about 7-8 years ago, have my first draft of my second full novel and two other half-worked ones waiting in the wings. These are largely speculative fiction of the Margaret-Atwood-type variety, often set in the near future with themes around the environment, identity and society. Lastly, my MA has introduced me to the lyric essay and other hybrid forms which combine elements of poetry, fiction, memoir and essay with various experiments slipped in through the cracks between form and genre. I’ve fallen a bit in love with these and my dissertation (which I’ve just started in the last few weeks) is in that hybrid style.

To the question of what led to what. I have always written stories since I was little. I was one of those precocious children who started their first ‘novel’ at age 8 (about a family of foxes and very much a rip off of Colin Dann). I didn’t find an idea for a novel I could actually stick with to the bitter end until my mid-twenties and wrote a lot of short stories and half novels instead. I also started writing these stream-of-conscious pieces which I really couldn’t categorise until I finally realised they were prose poetry. I was always terrible at traditional poetry so I think I was in denial that that’s what they were but I’ve embraced this now, though I still have imposter syndrome when I speak to ‘real’ poets.

In terms of process, most things I write which are concept-based tend to start with a dream. Much of my dreams are nonsense but now and then my subconscious throws out some brilliant lump of clay for me to shape into a real thing. The less concept-based stuff comes from free-writing and stream-of-consciousness. I just write and see what comes out and sometimes it’s good enough to form into something else. I do write more than one thing at once and jump around a lot and I guess the ones I go back to and actually finish are the ones which still spark my interest over time. My editing process is first me and then other writers. I’ve been in various critiques groups and worked with an editor on my first novel which all helped me develop my craft and ability to self-edit. Now I have two close friends who write in a similar oeuvre and the three of us share work around. I find feedback really essential to my process now.

In terms of planning things out, I’m the ‘gardener’ not the ‘architect’ writer type (if you’ve heard that analogy). I plant things and nurture them and see how they grow in the world rather than planning everything out to the nth degree before writing it. With novels, I don’t write everything in chapter order, so I do have to organise and create a framework as I go so as not to get completely lost. 

In terms of ‘finding what the story is really about’ I think putting something aside and coming back to it is key. Sometimes for a week, sometimes longer. The novel I am writing now started as a short story based on a dream many years ago. I lost my way with it and put it aside. About four years ago a life-event suddenly chimed very deeply with the themes in this story and I saw it more clearly and realised it was too complex for a short thing, so I began developing it into a novel. I like what you said/quoted about everything we write being our story in a way. I think I write because it helps me understand the world and the life I’m living and the people I’m living it with, even if I’m writing about a place I’ve never been or a thing I’ve never directly experienced, it all still relates back. 

I’m interested in what you say about differences with playwriting and how the differences feed back into your handle on short stories. I’m a writer who really enjoys writing dialogue (I know many who don’t). I feel that’s where my characters change from some half-formed idea into a person that takes on a life of their own. How do you find writing dialogue? What have you learned from plays about the art of subtext which has informed your story writing? Also how do you feel about directors taking a script you’ve written as a basis and doing something different with it? Are you comfortable with giving up some creative control?

Best wishes,

Kirsty

14th July, 21.34

Hi Kirsty,

It’s interesting to hear you decided to do the MA to help you prioritise your writing in your life, and yet it also takes you away from other areas of your writing work that you feel are equally essential. 

Yes, it often feels like this to me –  no matter what writing I’m on, there’s always other work languishing in the background that needs attention, and completion, and just getting round to actually SENDING out! 

And intriguing to hear about the hybrid genre, that sounds so fresh and creative, in addition to your prose poems and longer form fiction. Sounds like such rich and fertile ways to work. 

Other writers who critique your work and whose insights you trust, are true gold.

I think you must finish that story about the family of foxes btw!

Re your climate crisis novel, I’ve found much of my recent work has involved floods, or trees, without intending for the work to go that way.

To your question about dialogue writing and if I find it easy, what’s weird is that in a play script I can find it deceptively easy, but not so much so, in short fiction. I say ‘deceptive’ as it’s very easy to allow irrelevant dialogue to meander along and really snag up the action, when, like in any form actually, every single word has to have its purpose and momentum.

The useful things I’m learning from script writing, that hopefully do feed back into short stories, pretty basic really, is succinctness, creating an ‘atmosphere’ between characters from what they do, rather than what they say, to have characters say one thing but mean something else. I love the immediacy of theatre, its here and now ness. 

Did you, by any chance, catch ‘LUNGS’ by Duncan Macmillan that was performed live on stage to an empty auditorium and streamed from the Old Vic just a week ago or so?  It’s one of the most extraordinary pieces of theatre writing I’ve seen. So beautifully and intelligently crafted. An absolute class act in how much to leave out and allow the audience/reader to understand. One of my lockdown high points. They sold ’seats’ as if it was a live performance to an audience, so it was limited each night to the capacity of the theatre.

To answer your question about what it’s like to hand work over to directors and giving up creative control. I think of my script as the starting point for the performance and the director and actors bring their range of skills to make of it what they will, and that’s fine as long as they’re true to the intentions of the piece and the writing.  Writers aren’t massively welcome in the rehearsal room normally, but whenever I’ve been allowed in, I’m fascinated by the process. By the serious playfulness of it, or maybe it’s the playful seriousness.

All the best

Pippa

Pippa Gladhill has been published by us in Solstice Shorts: Sixteen Stories about Time, Dusk and Noon, and forthcoming in Tymes Goe by Turnes.

Kirsty Fox has been published by us in Dusk.

You can buy all these books from our webshop – take a look at special offers too – we have a bulk buy offer for Solstice Shorts books

Launching No Spider Harmed in the Making of This Book

Yes, we are launching the book!

Join us at 8pm on the 8th of August, to celebrate the launch of our 8th anniversary anthology, No Spider Harmed in the Making of This Book.

Being eight is significant for us as we are named for a spider, so we are making a big deal of this!

Our writers have given the nod to Anansi, Robert the Bruce, Miss Muffet, and of course, Arachne herself, as well as discovering whole new worlds of spider influence and metaphor, with many stories dipping into Fantasy and Science Fiction.
A joy for any arachnid fancier, and anyone who can’t stand small lives being trampled, in prejudice or phobia.

Download the recipe for our ‘curds and whey’ cake in advance, so you can sample it at the right moment.

Watch readings from authors, interruptions from celebrities of the spider world, and BSL translations from Marcel Hirshman.

Readings of Poems from
Emma Lee
Hugh Findlay
Jennifer Rood (BSL only)
Joanne L M Williams
Kate Foley
Natalie Rowe (BSL only)
Seth Crook (+BSL)
Stella Wulf

Readings of Stories from
A. Katherine Black
Carolyn Robertson
Daniel Olivieri
David Mathews
Elizabeth Hopkinson
Jackie Taylor
KT Wagner
Phoebe Demeger (+BSL)

We aren’t going to let a global pandemic stop us celebrating our spidery anniversary.

Pull up a web and join us on our website, our YouTube Channel or our Facebook Page

Lockdown Frock-up Friday with Joan Taylor-Rowan, part 4

Instead of ‘dress-down’ Friday, in lockdown people are crawling out of their PJs and smartening up their act (Frocking-Up) on a Friday.

Never one to do things by halves, Arachne author Joan Taylor-Rowan, (Five by Five Stations, London Lies) has been channelling her inner heroine, and pushed out the boat. Here are some more of her creations, doyennes of modern dance.

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Isadora

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Martha

 

Lockdown Frock-up Friday with Joan Taylor-Rowan, part 3

Instead of ‘dress-down’ Friday, in lockdown people are crawling out of their PJs and smartening up their act (Frocking-Up) on a Friday.

Never one to do things by halves, Arachne author Joan Taylor-Rowan, (Five by Five Stations, London Lies) has been channelling her inner heroine, and pushed out the boat. Here are some more of her creations, a group of trailblazers.

Joanieartemisia

Artemesia

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Frida

florence

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Valentina

Lockdown Frock-up Friday with Joan Taylor-Rowan, part 2

Apparently instead of ‘dress-down’ Friday, in lockdown people are crawling out of their PJs and smartening up their act (Frocking-Up) on a Friday.

Never one to do things by halves, Arachne author Joan Taylor-Rowan, (Five by Five Stations, London Lies) has been channelling her inner heroine, and pushed out the boat. Here are some more of her creations, a group of Hollywood icons, although Ingrid Bergman is here for the person she is portraying, Joan of Arc.

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Judy

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Marilyn

Joan by pete2

Ingrid Bergman as Saint Joan

Lockdown Interviews: no29 Karen Boissonneault-Gauthier interviewed by David Mathews

Twenty-ninth  in a series of author-to-author interviews to distract them, and you, from lockdown torpor.

David Mathews interviews Karen Boissonneault-Gauthier (Noon, No Spider Harmed in the Making of this Book) about her writing, photography and book design work, which includes the cover for No Spider Harmed…

Preorder No Spider Harmed… – out 8th August for our eighth anniversary, when we will be launching online at 8pm BST, with readings from authors, including David.

See more of Karen’s photography and designs  on her website  and follow @KBG_Tweets

Lockdown readings VG Lee reads an extract from Alpaca Moonlight

Reading from Story Sessions Anthology, Departures, VG Lee reads an extract from her story Alpaca Moonlight.

You can buy Departures and all other Arachne books  from our webshop, we will post them out to you.

Preorder No Spider Harmed… – out 8th August for our eighth anniversary!

If you would prefer eBooks, all our books are available from your usual retailer, now VAT free! We recommend Hive for ePub.

Lockdown Interviews: No 28 Joanne L.M. Williams interviewed by Laura Besley

Twenty-eighth in a series of author-to-author interviews to distract them, and you, from lockdown torpor.

Joanne L M Williams

Joanne LM Williams

Joanne L.M. Williams (No Spider Harmed in the Making of this Book, We/She) interviewed by Laura Besley (Story Cities).

Laura:   You write a mixture of short stories, flash fiction and poetry. Do you set out to write in a particular form, or do you let the piece develop organically?  

Joanne:    When I start writing I might not always know exactly how the idea or plot is going to play out, or what the ‘ending’ is going to be, but I do know what form it’s going take, because the processes by which I write a poem, or a short story, or a flash fiction are very different. So, yes, for each piece I suppose I do set out to write in a particular form. Or rather the initial idea I have is for a piece of writing in a specific form.

I can only think of one exception to this: Before I had really heard of flash fiction I had an idea for a short story that I could never quite get to work out. It turned out that idea was supposed to be a flash fiction – and once I was introduced to drabbles, that story idea became a 100 word piece called One Hundred Years.

Laura:   Your poem ‘Gifted’ has been selected for the upcoming Arachne Press anthology, No Spider Harmed in the Making of this Book, and focuses on the mythological Arachne. Did you draw from your background in History for inspiration?

Joanne:    Not especially – I have a history degree, but it didn’t cover the classical world. My degree is in what Oxford, slightly archaically calls ‘Modern History’, by which they mean everything from around 500 AD onwards. Ancient History is a separate department.
However I’ve been fascinated by all kinds of mythology, and especially Greek mythology, since I was quite a young child. I’ve played around with a lot of the myths in my writing before, but I’ve never written about Arachne, and this seemed a good opportunity. I really enjoyed getting under the skin of a version of the character that I imagined.

Laura:   In We/She (short stories by women from Liars’ League, Arachne Press, 2018) your story Cages is written from the point of view of a dragon. Do you enjoy the challenge of writing from unusual perspectives?

Joanne:    Very much so – although it’s perhaps less of a challenge and more of a desire to give those characters a voice. As a young reader I was usually much more interested in the secondary characters, the sidekicks and the ‘baddies’ in a story, than I was in heroes and heroines, so as a writer I often like to explore where those characters are coming from, and what their own stories are.
It’s also a device which allows me to explore the experience of being othered in various ways: Most of my central characters are marginalised, and many of them are queer.

Laura:   As well as Cages you have had several other stories performed at Liars’ League in London and Hong Kong. Do you enjoy listening to your stories being read aloud by others?

Joanne:    Usually, yes! It’s certainly an interesting experience. I tend to think of any piece of writing as a living thing, or a conversation, that’s interpreted by its readers, listeners or performers anyway, but that’s made particularly obvious when someone else is reading it to an audience in front of you. Sometimes an actor will bring out elements in something that I hadn’t even fully realized were there – often humorous moments, or poignant ones.
When I first heard Cages read out, by the wonderful Susan Moisan, she drew laughs and responses from the audience in a few places I wasn’t necessarily expecting, which was very gratifying! It was such a pleasing delivery that I have to admit, when I later read out that story myself, I borrowed heavily from her performance in places.
Still, there can be some anxiety in handing over something you care about so much. A bit of me doesn’t like giving up creative control, but that’s something it’s good for me to learn to do. I’ve only ever had one bad experience, with one group, where I wasn’t really happy with the end result – but that was a situation where I wasn’t able to speak directly either to the actor performing my piece, or to the person advising/directing. Liars League are great because they generally give an opportunity for the writer and actor to discuss the reading in advance.

Laura:   One area in which you enjoy performing is competitive dance. Do you find that movement unlocks creativity?

Joanne:    Dance definitely helps me to unlock my feelings – it’s common for me to go into a dance practice and find myself working through a mood I hadn’t even realised I was in. It’s incredibly helpful in that respect.
I do also find dancing in a style that has a formal structure and technique can drive creativity in the same way that writing in a fixed form can. I love ballroom dancing for the same reason I love metric poetry: Something about the juxtaposition between the intense emotions being expressed and having a tight form to work within has creative power. I have a very long-standing project I’m playing with at the moment, writing poems based on dances where the metre of the poem matches the rhythm of the dance, as I want to explore that similarity.

Laura:   Like many writers, you also have a day job, in your case working in theatres in an organisational role. Do you find that a job which requires a completely different skill set allows more, or less, space for creativity in your free time? 

Joanne:    I’ve always written, and as a child had ambitions of being solely a writer, but I realised whilst I was still in my early twenties that it wasn’t something I could do full-time. I’m an extrovert and like being around and working with people too much – if I spend much time alone it affects both my mood and my productivity very negatively.
Theatre working hours can be long and anti-social, which can make fitting in time for writing, as well as dancing and studying, tricky. But at the same time, it’s absolutely necessary for me to work around people in a job I love for me to then have the emotional energy and ability to write. And even though I don’t write specifically for the stage, getting to see so much creative content as part of my job is beneficial too. Just as reading as much as possible is useful to a writer, so is watching a lot of theatre.

Laura:   When you read something that you think is perfection, how does it make you feel? Does it spur you on, or intimidate you?

Joanne:    Oh it inspires me, hugely. That’s why I want to write ultimately – the sheer excitement when you read something wonderful. I want to be able to create that sort of magic with words too.

Laura:   As writers, we have to deal a lot with rejection. Do you have a ‘tried and tested’ method, or does it depend on the mood you’re in or the piece that you submitted?

Joanne:    I don’t really have a method per se. The majority of the time rejections don’t bother me too much – I know what the statistics are like for almost all writers in terms of rejections per accepted piece.
Of course, there’ll sometimes be a ‘no’ that stings more than I was expecting it to – perhaps if I’ve grown especially fond of a piece of work, or conversely, if it was especially difficult to complete but I thought I’d cracked it.
At the end of the day though, I can always move on fairly quickly. In a way I know I’m lucky, because writing is my ‘side-hustle’ so to speak, and my income doesn’t depend on it.

Laura:   Do you have particular writing goals for the next year, or years? Do you, for example, want to write a novel or a play? Do you see writing as part of your career, or more of a hobby?

Joanne:    I’m aiming to finish the collection of poems based on dances mentioned above, and I’m also looking to write some stories in styles that are new to me. I have the beginnings of some ghost stories brewing for example, and I’d like to write more comedy.
I’ve no immediate plans to write a novel again. I attempted one years ago, completed it, got feedback and put it through several edits. I then never submitted it anywhere because by the time it was finished I no longer believed in it, either artistically or emotionally. I find I enjoy the process of writing short stories and poems much more. As for a play, the problem I have is that the thing I find hardest of all to write is realistic-sounding present-day dialogue! Of course, not all theatre takes the same form, so never say never, but it’s not among my short-term plans.
To answer the last part of the question, even though writing isn’t my primary job, and it doesn’t make me money, I do see it as part of my career, yes. I’ve always been interested in doing lots of different things or jobs; some of them pay me and some of them don’t, but they’re all important and part of my ‘portfolio career’.

Laura:   How have you been managing in lockdown? Have you been able to use this time to write more, or are you – like many others – struggling to put pen to paper? If you are managing to write, what are you working on?

Joanne:    It’s been similar to before in terms of productivity if I’m honest. There’s lots of extra time, but my ability to write fluctuates – some days I’m inspired and write in a burst, and other days are just not writing days. I’m afraid my writing habits have never been especially consistent, and that hasn’t changed. One thing I am finding useful though, is an online writing group that a friend is running for a few hours each evening – I don’t join every night, but when I do it’s a good motivator.
I’m working on two pieces – one short story and one poem – for two upcoming deadlines at the moment. They’re both inspired by, or are responses to, famous pieces of literature (respectively the novel Little Women, and a Robert Southwell poem for Arachne’s Solstice Shorts call out).
However, that’s about all my two projects have in common – they’re very different in tone as well as form. I’m also busy redrafting some existing stories, including a couple of modern fairytales, and a dramatic monologue from the point of view first Mrs Rochester.

Who or What is WooA?

WooA… a recent member of this writing group asked me how the name came about:

WooA = Writers of OUR age. Apparently, when founding members were on an MA together, amongst much younger writers, they found themselves saying this on a regular basis and it stuck, sometimes the ‘our’ is not emphasised, and we refer to ourselves like this with muted irony.

WooA logo

WooA is where the second Arachne Press title, Stations originated – we used to meet in the Broca cafe just opposite Brockley Station, (I wrote such a lot of food-themed stories then!)

The Overground runs at the bottom of my garden. Before there was the Overground, there was only Southern, but trains went to London Bridge, Victoria and Charing Cross. With the advent of the Overground, the Charing Cross trains were lost, and with them, the possibility of an easy last train home from many favourite central London venues. There was lamenting, there were protests, there was a coffin carried on the very last train. It was epic.
Then there was the disruption: the endless sleepless nights while the track was relaid and the station lengthened and the trees on either side of the cutting massacred. (More protests).
There were the huffy, what use is it? conversations on rush-hour platforms, the disbelieving sneer when told the value of my home would increase, followed by the overcrowding, the noise
…and then there was the eating of words.
Because the Overground is wonderful. It cut ten minutes off my journey to work, it halved the time to get to all sorts of North London places I had given up going to: the King’s Head, the Union Chapel and the Estorick Collection. It made getting to the Geffrye Museum simple. It expanded my horizons. (I’m missing my horizons at the moment!)
I ate my words.

Mentioning this in passing at WooA as we settled for a twenty minute writing exercise, Rosalind said: we should write about the Overground. So we did.
From that twenty minutes blossomed the idea for an entire book, with a story for every station on our section of the line: Highbury & Islington to New Cross, Crystal Palace and West Croydon. So: thank you, Overground, and thank you, WooA.

Over the years, Arachne has published quite a few, although not all, of the shifting membership of WooA. And I continue to go to as many meetings as I can. At the moment these are online, and more frequent than normal, for the comfort of talking  – as much about not writing, at the moment, as anything anything else.

We have a few traditions, one of which is to hold a live lit event as part of Brockley Max, our local festival. Of course, that’s gone pfft, like a lot else, but a week ago(?) we got an email saying are you doing anything online that could be part of a virtual Brockley Max?

We weren’t – but – we don’t have a website/Facebook page, anything – well, we could – couldn’t we?
So we are.

open mind WooA

At the time and on the date that we would have been doing this live at the Talbot, Arachne Press is hosting WooA (including Arachne Authors, Bartle Sawbridge, Cherry Potts, Joan Taylor-Rowan, Carolyn Robertson and Neil Lawrence; plus Ruth Bradshaw and Innes Stanley) for Open Mind – an evening of  stories and poems.
So Friday 5th June at 7pm BST, join us on Facebook: Event / Actual video
or Youtube for Love, Loss, Lockdown, Protest, Playdates, Dancing and DINOSAURS.
*TRIGGER WARNING* reported violence between children about half way through (Neil Lawrence’s story).
Video will be available for a week thereafter on both platforms.

Lockdown reading: The Cormorant by Clare Owen

Collateral damage from Covid-19 has been having to delay the publication of Zed and the Cormorants, by Clare Owen. It was a tough decision but, it turns out, the right one; and next year we will be able to put together a really strong campaign to support the book.

In the meantime, here is Clare reading her short story from An Outbreak of Peace, The Cormorant which was very much a calling card for Zed, sharing, as it does, a location and character names, although not characters, unless you count the cormorant!