Favourite memories of Solstice Shorts

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.

Words from the Brink is available to pre-order from our online shop.

Buy your tickets for Solstice Shorts 2021 on Eventbrite.

 

What Meets the Eye? – The Writers’ Perspective

We talked to poets Colly Metcalfe and Emma Lee about what it means to be published in What Meets the Eye? and how both their works tackle perceptions of D/deafness and disability.

What Meets the Eye? The Deaf Perspective

– 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.

Colly Metcalfe

– 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).

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.

Emma Lee

– 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.  

What Meets the Eye? The Deaf Perspective is available now. Order your copy from our online shop.

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.

Love Audio Week: This Poem Here

To conclude our #LoveAudio blog series, here is an extract from the remarkable poetry collection, This Poem Here by Rob Walton.

Arachne Press Director, Cherry Potts, recently said of This Poem Here: “At the start of lockdown, Rob Walton was responding to the anxieties and absurdities of the Corona Virus crisis by writing poetry. He published a lot of these poems on social media, as real-time responses to the latest news. Watching and enjoying them from afar, I approached Rob to publish them as a book. We were in conversation about this project when Rob’s dad sadly died from Covid. The poems in the collection then took a radical turn, delving into rage, sorrow and grief. I can’t imagine a more appropriate collection to have published in this ‘you-couldn’t-make-it-up’ era.”

Full of tears, laughter, biting political satire and Geordie grammar, these are poems that are meant to be read aloud. Here is ‘And in Lockdown’:

You can also watch Rob Walton reading some of the collection in the video from the online launch of This Poem Here: https://youtu.be/sNijjLH4zB0  (be warned, he made many of us cry!).

#LoveAudio is the Publisher’s Association annual week-long digital celebration of audiobooks is designed to showcase the accessibility, innovation, and creativity of the format. Follow the hashtag on twitter.

Love Audio Week: Inclusive Publishing

What are you reading this weekend? Or should we say, listening to?

For our Saturday #LoveAudio post, here’s a recent article by Arachne Press Director, Cherry Potts: ‘Published, accessible, authentic: how audiobooks can be inclusive’, as well as a bonus excerpt from our very first audiobook – The Don’t Touch Garden by Kate Foley. Kate read the audiobook herself (beautifully) when we first experimented with audio production.

Read more about this process, and Arachne’s approach to audiobooks and inclusive publishing, in Cherry’s article:

https://www.bookbrunch.co.uk/page/free-article/inclusive-publishing-and-audiobooks/

#LoveAudio is the Publisher’s Association annual week-long digital celebration of audiobooks is designed to showcase the accessibility, innovation, and creativity of the format. Follow the hashtag on twitter.

Behind the Scenes at Arachne Towers: Lockdown Audiobook Production


The Corona Virus crisis meant a moment for reflection, strategising and funding applications at Arachne Press. When we got Arts Council England funding for nine audiobooks, we had to approach the challenge of creating them remotely, while we couldn’t get into the studio due to lockdown. Continuing our #LoveAudio celebrations, here’s a behind the scenes look at how we approached this. Cherry Potts talks to poet Jeremy Dixon, audiobook narrator Nigel Pilkington and Jessica Stone, audiobook producer at Listening Books.

Cherry Potts, Director

Having worked with Listening Books in the studio, I thought I had a rough idea how difficult it would be to record remotely – I knew what was possible, and what wasn’t, I knew that the pickups that were dealt with in seconds in the studio would be more complicated to deal with. I knew background noise would be a problem, and that with our anthologies, we needed the actors to be recording to the same standards. So I thought I knew what we were getting in to.

Having to be a director at one remove, though, not being on the ‘set’ as it were, was a real challenge; every problem was magnified by the repetitions that were necessary – and all those actors with neighbours who decide now is the perfect time to drill into the party wall! Jessica and I really bonded over the problems, admitting to occasionally shrieking as some slip happened again and again. But also, I found myself laughing out loud listening to actors apologising for burps or shrieking in their own frustration at some word that would.not.come.out.right; or sighing happily at the perfect rendition of a particular phrase.

I have to be honest; I wouldn’t choose to do it like this. I now know not to rely on an audition recording, and to audition over Zoom. Compared to being in the studio, remote recording is time consuming and frustrating, but needs must in lockdown, and when it goes well, it is a joy.

The absolute best experience has been recording A Voice Coming From Then by Jeremy Dixon. Because of the sensitive material, I asked Jeremy who he wanted to read. We agreed that the reader must be a queer man, and of roughly the same age as Jeremy. Shared understanding of what it was like growing up ‘then’ was really important. I put a call out to actors I knew and to the narrators we were already working with as the people most likely to know someone; and Sophie Aldred, who has narrated two novels for us, immediately suggested Nigel Pilkington. Initially I had in my mind that we were trying to replicate Jeremy’s approach, if not actual voice, as a 15 year old and as an adult, but in the course of auditioning, with Jeremy listening in, we discovered that what was needed was a voice that was, in essence, the reader, reading for the first time – which gave a very necessary steer for what the listening experience would be – this is a book wreathed in content warnings, the tone had to be exactly right.

Nigel read some of the poems  for us on the spot, and it was an emphatic yes, and the resulting files sent off to Jessica for technical approval. Short delay while Jeremy reformatted his carefully laid out and largely unpunctuated poems, so that they could be read aloud without faltering.

Nigel asked if we wanted to listen in via zoom while he recorded. I hadn’t expected that, and it was brilliant, almost like being in the studio, immediate feedback, live performance, and very moving. We just had to remember to mute when we’d finished saying how wonderful every take was! We had, of course, chosen the hottest day of the year, and Nigel was expiring in his recording cupboard, but five hours later we had a complete book.

Jeremy Dixon, Author

My first full poetry collection A VOICE COMING FROM THEN (published by Arachne Press) starts with my teenage suicide attempt and expands to encompass themes of bullying, queerphobia, acceptance and support. In one of those unplanned cosmic coincidences that you just couldn’t make up, we actually recorded the audiobook on the 42nd anniversary of that suicide attempt. So, for me, lockdown recording was very emotional before we even started and then the beautiful and varied ways in which Nige was able to read my work only added to making this one of the most memorable events of my writing career.

Usually the author would not be present in the studio during recording but one of unexpected benefits of lockdown was that it enabled me to be involved via the wonders of Zoom. My editor Cherry was also there, and we could both give small directions in pacing, emphasis, and pronunciation although Nige didn’t really need very much of this, his readings were so fantastic that I kept thinking, ‘I would love this poem if somebody else had written it’. We recorded the audiobook on what was the hottest day of the year so far and so had many breaks for water and food etc, but I was still surprised that it took nearly five hours to record everything from introduction to poems to acknowledgements.

For a writer and poet, it was an invaluable insight into the processes involved in creating an audiobook and I feel very grateful that lockdown enabled me to be a part of it.

Nigel Pilkington, Actor

Being a voice actor during lockdown?  The myth of the Hydra springs to mind! – we’ve needed to grow many more heads for the many more hats that have rained down on us.  When you record a book in an external studio, your entire focus can be on your performance.  But when recording from home, you’re also tasked with the jobs of engineer, sound editor, and sometimes director, and it’s easy to let the performance be pushed to the back of the queue.

Not so when recording A Voice Coming From Then by Jeremy Dixon, published by Arachne Press, as we took our time, allowing Jeremy’s poignant and careful words to be intoned with sensitivity.  After each poem, I’d break to label the files, and this actually afforded me a natural gear change between pieces, so that each one could be approached on its merits, rather than rattling through the entire script in one pass.

So, as much as recording in lockdown has been vexing, it did actually work to our advantage in this case… and I managed NOT to lose my head…!

Jessica Stone, Producer

I have both sympathy and admiration for voice actors who’ve been forced to transition from professional studio to recording at home. Not everyone has access to quiet, non-reverberant spaces, and it can be a steep learning curve to work well with the technical equipment and recording software. This means that the raw recordings I receive from actors can vary significantly in how much interference they need from me! In this case, however, Nigel made my job as easy as it gets, with the happy result that I was free to enjoy Jeremy’s text and Nigel’s performance as I worked. I am especially fond of ‘I’m learning to shout “Oi!”’ 

#LoveAudio is the Publisher’s Association annual week-long digital celebration of audiobooks is designed to showcase the accessibility, innovation, and creativity of the format. Follow the hashtag on twitter.

A Voice Coming from Then will be published by Arachne Press in August 2021. It is available for pre-order now, from our webshop.

Long/short list for Tymes Goe by Turnes- Solstice Shorts Festival 2020

We’ve finished reading for Solstice Shorts, Tymes Goe By Turnes, and we have a (long) shortlist, with a smattering of old hands returning, and plenty of new talent for us to choose from.

Solstice Shorts Logo copy

Adrienne Silcock
Alex Reece Abbott
Amanda Bermudez
Brendan McLoughlin
Brooke Stanicki
Chloe Hearnden
Claire Booker
David M. Alper
Edward Schmidt-Zorner
Elinor Brooks
Helen Rowlands
Isobel Roach
Jackie Taylor
Jane Aldous
Jane McLaughlin
Judy Darley
Julian Bishop
Karen Ankers
Katie Hall
Keely O’Shaughnessy
Kelly Davis
Kevan Taplin
Laila Sumpton
Linda McMullen
Lisa McLoughlin
Lynn White
Mandy Macdonald
Margaret Crompton
Marka Rifat
Neil Lawrence
Ness Owen
Patience Mackarness
Pippa Gladhill
Rebecca Askew
S. B. Merrow
Sean Carney
Sharon Lazibyrd Martin
Stephen Wade

We are at the moment assuming this will be an online festival this year, with our usual date of 21st December.

At the moment funding is fairly unlikely so being on line may be an advantage. We will be doing a crowdfund as even on line there will be costs. There is the advantage that if they want to our overseas writers can get actively involved. If magically a live event on the ground is possible, we will do that as well, we are good at moving fast when we have to, but not anticipating it currently.

We aren’t sure about the book yet either, selling off the back of an online event is tricky, but we’ll know more after the launch of No Spider Harmed on the 8th August. There will be a book, it’s just whether we need to race to get it ready for the festival or not.

Spider has left the room

This is a tiny Zebra Jumping Spider, sunning itself on our water butt. This photo is about 4 times life size. There is a leaf green micro spider that drops onto me everytime I sit under our apple tree, but it moves too fast for me to take a picture, so i havent identified it yet.

Anyway this is a roundabout way of getting to the point:

No Spider Harmed in the Making of This Book is at the printers.

Laurie Penny snuck in with a cover quote just hours before I hit send.

Here’s the full cover.

Spider-Cover A1

Now to get the eBooks set up, line up some reviewers (if that’s you, get in touch!) and plan the online launch…

 

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 Interviews: no26 Laura Potts, interviewed by Anne Macaulay

Twenty-sixth in a series of author-to-author interviews to distract them, and you, from lockdown torpor. Laura Potts (Time and Tide) interviewed by fellow poet, Anne Macaulay (The Other Side of Sleep, Vindication)

 

Laura potts

Anne family tales

Anne: Hello Laura, it’s been really enjoyable reading some of your beautiful poetry. I would like to ask you a few questions about you and your writing. The first thing that struck me when I read a little about you is how young you are, and how prolific and successful already. I must confess to a feeling of envy, as I didn’t really start writing until my late fifties and even then, it took me a while to think of myself as a poet. Can you remember when you first wrote a poem and when you first thought of yourself as a poet?

Laura:  Hello Anne!  Thank you for your kind comments.
The exact age when I started writing is unremembered, but I must have been very young. I’ve always written in one way or another. Prose could hold my attention for an afternoon, but poetry always stayed with me. I think it was the music. It was lovely on the tongue. Can I remember the first time I wrote a poem? No, I don’t think so. But I can remember writing limericks for my dad in the evenings. I must have been six or seven then. I would slip them under the door of his shed as he worked. It was my way of welcoming him home.
I’ve tended not to think myself as a poet in recent years. I write poetry, yes; but it isn’t my profession. There’s a slight distinction to my mind. My work is still wild and juvenile, and I have a lot to learn. The title is something I’m still reaching for.

Anne:  Are you from a background of literature lovers? Who or what sparked your interest in poetry and writing? Who were your early influences – family, friends, teachers?

Laura:  I was lucky enough to be born into an older household where my grandparents had a constant presence. I was their only grandchild, and it was as if they grew young again when I came along. For two octogenarians, they played and danced and threw snowballs in winter, and paper planes in summer, and made dens and spinning worlds out of living room furniture. They gave me endless time. My grandmother taught me to read. She collected dusty books and poetry. I spent many evenings by the fire, lost in the folds of her dressing gown, listening to her read in her great gravelly voice. That was where it came from. Nothing taught or learnt. Just two bright imaginations.

Anne:  Your writing is beautiful with a lyrical, musical quality. And some of your poems have the atmosphere of folk ballads. Is music a big part of your life? Do you play, listen, at all?

Laura:  Yes. It’s strange, but I’ve always heard music in terms of colour and light. A piano is usually blue; a drum is gold; pipes are silver. I don’t have the words for explaining why. It’s an emotional impulse rather than a rational thought.
I play the ukulele and the piano – both equally badly. My mother is an excellent pianist and my father a fine bagpiper, but I’ve never quite had their talent. I love to listen to the piano in the evenings though. Especially through bathwater. Have you tried that? Our piano sits in the room below the bathroom and its aqueous music is beautiful. It’s like warm running water.

Anne:  There is a real feel of flow, fluency in your work, Laura, which made me wonder about your writing method and approach. Where do you get your ideas? Do they just come as moments of inspiration?

Laura:  Difficult question! I suppose my poems aren’t born as ideas as such. They’re the responses of emotions I’m living at the time of writing. I’ll be aware, for example, that I want to write about love, or grief, or anger, and my thinking will revolve around adequately translating those emotions to the page. But I’ll never set out to write a sonnet or a haiku or a narrative poem, and it’s rare that I’ll set out to write to a particular theme. Ian Duhig once gave me some valuable advice which has stayed with me. He said that writing is a process of carrying emotion, and that you’ll never know where the poem will go until you get there. The thinking and feeling processes are just as important as the writing process. There’s some freedom in realising that, and in letting time take its course. The poems are better for thinking on.

Anne:  And do you do much editing – do you worry over a piece?

Laura:  Yes, of course. There are times when I love and loathe my work. It’s a constant fight against language. I tend to edit as I write, which makes the process long and laborious, but I’ve learnt to expect the best results that way. A poem can keep me awake at night – for both the right and the wrong reasons. It often brings pleasure and pain. But I’ve come to see that each mistake paves the way towards progress. It’s taken a long time for me to accept that. There’s a reason I keep writing. The love outweighs anything else.

Anne:  I asked at the beginning about your earliest influences and am wondering now about later influences through academic study and independent reading. I also read that you have been involved in a number of writing groups and projects.
Are there any poets or other writers who you feel inspired you to become a writer? Did any of them influence your writing style?

Laura:  Yes, many. I’ve always believed that the best writers are the best readers. It’s important to step outside the vacuum of your own thoughts and into the work of others. I’ll often find the tracings of other writers in my poems, especially those I was reading at the time of writing. I see Dylan Thomas and Sylvia Plath, E. E. Cummings and Liz Berry. In certain lights, I see memorable parts of prose and music. Most of them are only subconscious ghosts, fragments of one moment when their words chimed with mine.

Anne:  While beautiful, there is an atmosphere of melancholy and sometimes bleakness in many of your poems that I have read. Are you drawn to these subjects from an aesthetic and sensitive care for human’s viewpoint? How much of you as a person, your story, your personality slips into your words or are you able to keep at a remove?

Laura:  I think it’s fairly impossible for writers to place themselves at a remove from their work. Their language, their semantics, their structure – they all betray parts of the person who chose them. If I were trying to be objective, I would say that my poems are always concerned with the landscape of my home. Whether Yorkshire exists in them or not, I see it. And I think they’re fascinated with sadness. It’s something I’m still trying to understand. There’s a longing or a loss in there somewhere. I think there’s one in me too.

Anne:  Some of your poems have a timeless feel to them such as First Light which is in the Time and Tide anthology by Arachne Press – see your opening lines,
  It is somewhere in a sometime
That a long late night

And others feel more contemporary such as Morning on the Water where I love the visceral quality of the line,
    Poured a hot greasy laugh
Are you seeing your writing develop or change as you go along, or do you have a range of styles you work in?

Laura:  Yes, it develops from one poem to the next. The progress of my voice has been gradual, like a slow opening of thought. I’ve never set out to have a style as such, but I suppose I’m a very imagistic writer. I don’t like wasting words. With each poem, I try to hone that craft a little more.
I’m sure many readers will be familiar with the process of applying for grants or awards, and the ridiculously long application forms which go with them. Recently, I started thinking about why I dislike them so much. It isn’t the foundation or the reasoning behind them, and it isn’t the time I have to spend on them. It’s the fact that I love to work with a blank white page and play with a limited space. And I wish I didn’t have to spend five thousand words explaining that.
But since that realisation, I’ve been paying a lot more attention to the blank space of the page – to its absences and silences – in my recent work. I’ve come to see that what isn’t said is just as important as what is. That’s the development which has just begun.

Anne:  And do you have a poem that is a favourite or has a special story that you would like to pick out?

Laura:  Yes. Virginity will always be a special one. It was written after a long period of absence when I had managed to write very little. For a time I thought I would never write again. I took myself away, alone, to a secluded cottage in the Lake District. With time and solitude, I managed to write. More than that – I was pleased with the poem. It was a small triumph at the time. It still is. The experience was necessary. It taught me that the words will come back, even after a long absence. I’ve been writing ever since.

Anne:  I have really enjoyed reading some of your work in preparation for this interview and look forward to reading more in the future. Good luck, Laura.

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