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 Press: 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.

Love Audio Week: Accidental Flowers

“A fascinating and imaginative vision of the future, built on the foundations of our current climate crisis. You get to follow the overall story from multiple view points which allows multiple other issues to be delicately explored through a variety of characters.

A really pleasant surprise from a book I hadn’t heard of! I would recommend it to anyone wanting an interesting, entertaining and thought provoking read.” Audible Review

Our #LoveAudio post today is an extract from the audiobook of Accidental Flowers, a novel in short stories by Lily Peters.

This title was another multi-voiced audiobook. The clip above is narrated by Beth Frieden and we also got to work with several other fantastic voice actors and narrators, including Tigger Blaize. Tigger said:

I loved playing Robin [in Accidental Flowers]! With each role like this, we get closer to having a trans cannon of stories and characters. It’s a brilliant book with a real mix of voices.”

#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: 100neHundred

One of the most interesting things about publishing our titles as audio books is when we are working with anthologies and collections that need a multi-voice approach. This creates the challenge of finding authentic, representative voices for each story or poem within the collection – without having to recruit a cast of thousands! 

Today for #LoveAudio week we are sharing an audio excerpt from one of the most multifariously voiced books we have ever published: 100neHundred by Laura Besley is a collection of 100 stories, each of exactly 100 words. We’re delighted to share two stories from this brilliant book, one read by Cornelia Colman and one by Shubhita Chaturvedi:

The book gives the reader the feeling of voyeurism as if we are taking a glimpse behind the curtain of lives unraveling, of decisions being made behind closed doors, of peeking at the most intimate of moments. It’s melancholic, heartrending, hard hitting and joyous all in one!” Ross Jeffrey

#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: Incorcisms

For #LoveAudio week today we have an unsettling tale by short story writer David Hartley, read brilliantly by Margaret Ashley.

Margaret is an actress and multi-nominated voice actor – she is currently nominated for the Best Radio Drama Performance in the 2021 OneVoice Awards – and we are delighted to have had the opportunity to work with her on several of our recent audio books.

This is ‘Mothering’, from Incorcisms:

 

 

”David Hartley’s tiny fictions are elusive and teasing and true. They’re like the fading echoes of dreams you struggle to remember when you wake up in the morning – the bits that you know didn’t quite make sense, and made you feel strange and a little unnerved, but you knew were important, so important, if only you could hold on to them forever.” – Robert Shearman

#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: Strange Waters

This week is #LoveAudio week, an annual celebration of audiobooks. As audio is still quite new to us, this is the first year we’ve joined in with the campaign. To celebrate, we are excited to share excerpts from several marvellous Arachne Press audiobooks, almost all of which are 2021 releases, created thanks to a grant from Arts Council England and in partnership with Listening Books.

To kick off, here is the opening story from Jackie Taylor’s upcoming Strange Waters, a collection of short stories set in Cornwall, that take in modern life, ancient mythology and our future in the face of coastal erosion.

This is fresh from the edit so has never been heard before!

 

 

We are delighted to have actress Sophie Aldred narrating Strange Waters. Sophie has had plenty of practice with her Cornish accent, as she also narrated Clare Owen’s Cornish Gothic YA, Zed and the Cormorants, for us earlier this year. You can hear a first chapter extract of this audiobook here.

If you enjoyed this extract, then please join us, Jackie Taylor, Sophie Aldred and other guests on the evening of Thursday 29 July, for an online launch with readings from Strange Waters. Tickets are free, or £10 (+ a small postage fee) to include a copy of the book, and you can register here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/book-launch-strange-waters-by-jackie-taylor-tickets-161905442537

#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: Book Cover Design with Kevin Threlfall

Welcome to the first in a new series of blog posts about the things that go on behind the scenes to get Arachne Press books out to bookshops and into your hands.

Artist and designer, Kevin Threlfall talks to Cherry Potts, and the two most recent recipients of his work, Lily Peters and Jackie Taylor.

We first came across Kevin when he won the competition to design the cover for Weird Lies, way back in 2013, with his tender hand-holding skeltons, and he reprised the skeletal look for Liam Hogan‘s Happy Ending NOT Guaranteed. We’ve been working with him ever since.

Cherry: Welcome Kevin! To start with, can you tell us a bit about your background as an artist?

Kevin: My journey as an artist started at a young age, I was the child that was always told off by my teachers for drawing too much! I was designing posters and drawing murals at school, and I was always known as the go-to-guy for anything creative. I studied art and design at University, and went on to join a small design company, which gave me experience working with lots of different clients on every kind of design project you can imagine.

I continued paintings and exhibiting alongside the design work but after a few years felt I needed to concentrate full time on my art. I still take on occasional design work for arts and community organisations if the projects interest me – I enjoy seeing my artwork reaching different audiences and it can take me out of my comfort zone to try new things, which I feed back into my paintings.

I received Arts Council funding last year to collaborate with a ceramicist on a collection that combined our techniques and processes, which I want to do more of.

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I’ve been lucky that I’ve had the opportunity to work professionally with lots of different people and disciplines, from film-makers to printmakers, pottery to poetry, and everything in between! In July I’ll be working with a mural artist for the first time, which I’m very excited about.

In 2016 I set up an artist-run gallery, which I’m still involved with, so I spend a lot of time curating exhibitions and working with artists and designers. Now that restrictions are easing up, there are more exhibitions and shows on the horizon, which I’ve missed being involved with – so it looks like it’s going to be a busy few months.

Cherry: What inspires your work (book covers and otherwise)?

Kevin: I’m like a magpie, I’m inspired and influenced by various artists and designers. I have a soft spot for mid-century graphic design, with its bold, playful shapes and flat colours, which you can see in the work of Saul Bass. Drifting in-between figuration and abstraction, Francis Bacon paintings had a big influence on me when I was studying art. It’s interesting that a lot of the painters I admire such as Keith Vaughan, John Piper and Ben Shahn worked in advertising or design at various times in their career.

Cherry: Interesting, those artists are quite bleak in their approach, which isn’t a word I would use to describe your work!

Cherry: A lot of your work is in quite a large scale, and in oils, how does book cover design fit in?

Kevin: I usually work on a large scale for my oil paintings, but it can vary, depending on the subject matter and if I’m working on a commission. I also do sketches and smaller studies before I start a painting, which can have their own energy and spontaneity to them. Someone once said that the difference between art and design is that art asks questions, while design answers them. For me a cover has to communicate the essence of the book to the viewer, otherwise it has failed, regardless of how nice it looks.

Cherry: You have quite a few styles up your sleeve, when you get a commission from us, if we haven’t specified, how do you go about deciding which to go for?

Kevin: There are styles that are stereotypical to a particular genre, which provide an immediate visual shorthand, but feels lazy using. So avoiding the obvious is usually my starting point!

Cherry: I love that, that’s completely where we are coming from!

Kevin: I like the challenge of coming up with something that subverts traditional conventions, and playing with different styles can help do this. I like the fact I can try something different when working with you, even if it doesn’t always work straight away! Experimenting can take the designs in unexpected directions and can lead to further ideas, which I would never have thought of at the start.

Cherry: I love collaboration. What was the process for your two most recent covers for us, Accidental Flowers and Strange Waters?

Strange Waters

Kevin: Strange Waters is such a visually strong title it gave me a lot to work with – the water theme, mythical elements and the ebb and flow of past and present lives. I wanted the design to have a lyrical quality, with an almost dream-like feel. The idea was adapted from a previous cover concept that didn’t see the light of day, so I like that the design has a history to it below the surface.

 

Cherry: Yes, I remember at the last minute you asked about balancing the text, and I said, no, I like the way the words are almost sinking. It works so well!

Kevin: Accidental Flowers did stump me at first…  I felt it needed to convey a science fiction theme while also avoiding the usual clichés. The title was also ambiguous which I felt put more pressure on the cover imagery. However, an idea came out of the blue – I was sketching and playing with making marks on paper and something appeared that could have been towers or grass/shrubs. That gave me the idea to explore the concept further – I tried to redraw something more refined, but it lost the spontaneity of the sketch, so in the end I kept those initial marks in the final design.

Cherry: I think it was the spontaneity that excited me, and the ambiguity – is that a flower or a light, is that a plant or a tower? Really effective, and I’ve had a lot of spontaneous positive feedback on the covers too!

Kevin: I was pleased with both of the final designs and the printed books look great. There’s a lot of detail and subtle colours in designs which are captured beautifully in the physical copies.

Cherry: Yes, our printers are careful to get as much of the subtlety and depth of the design as possible, that’s really important to me.

Cherry:  Which has been your favourite cover so far? And why?

Kevin: Very difficult to pick a favourite… I think In Retail was particularly effective.

Cherry: Mmm, it was what I was secretly hoping for bit didn’t quite dare ask. It looks nothing like a poetry book, but works so well for the content. And all those different colourways you gave us to choose from!

 

 

 

Kevin: Erratics had an interesting concept, and With Paper For Feet is probably the closest to being like one of my own paintings.

Cherry: I loved how you adapted Erratics to use Cathy’s own handwriting and thumbprint. And again for With Paper for Feet, I remember the first version was rather pink in hue, and Jennifer and I said, oh, it’s not a pink book, and you came straight back with three alternatives.

Kevin: I’ll plump for Accidental Flowers though, as it’s the last one I worked on and feels quite different to anything else.

Cherry: One of my favourite things about working with you is how responsive to our ideas you are, and also how we almost always pick the first design you thought of! What’s it like being on the end of our ‘yes, and can we have…’

Kevin: I like the feedback and it feels like a collaborative process, which it is. You have a better idea of what the book is about, so I put my trust in you seeing things I won’t be able to. It’s always interesting to hear from the author as well, as they will have something in their mind already. We all approach it from different directions, so the skill is juggling ideas and expectations, while coming up with something that surprises and delights everyone…. not always easy!

Jackie Taylor (Strange Waters) asks: I’m interested in how you go about encapsulating a whole book in a single image – does it start with an idea from the text, or a ‘feel’, or a colour?

Kevin: Many times the covers are created before I see the text and I have to go off what the information the publisher has provided me, which can just be a couple of lines. Even if I had read the whole book, it’s impossible to encompass every aspect of it in one image but I try to capture the essence and feel of it. The cover has to give the viewer sufficient visual clues so that they have an idea of what to expect, whilst also leaving them waiting to know more. It’s about creating intrigue and excitement about what they are about to (hopefully) read.

Jackie: Also writers are always discussing whether they use pen and paper for ideas, or write straight to screen, or mix and match for different stages of drafting. How do you work?

Kevin: Some ideas come to me as soon as I’ve heard the title, and then that idea is refined as I learn more about the book. Other times I can be more methodical, especially if the cover has to do more of the heavy lifting, for example if the book title doesn’t immediately ‘say’ what the book is about, in terms of the subject matter. There can be a lot of back and forth between myself, the publisher and author, so concepts can blend together, and new ideas get thrown into the mix. This can produce ideas I would never have thought of myself. Other times I can have light bulb moments and the design just flows, and only a few tweaks are needed before it goes off to print.

Lily Peters (Accidental Flowers) asks: I was also wondering if you read the books cover to cover or skim read for themes?

Kevin: I rarely read the whole book before I start coming up with ideas (as in many cases the book is still being edited). I put my trust in the publisher that they know the book inside and out and they can provide me with a brief summary. I always read the book after I receive a copy and inevitably, I’ll come up with new ideas, which are obviously a bit late by then!

Lily: When I saw your ideas, two were very cheerful and the one we went for was more… gloomy – do you look for different angles to the story?

Kevin: Usually I have a few ideas on the go, and as they get refined it becomes more obvious which are the stronger ones. I try to provide at least two alternative designs so the author/publisher has options, however, this can create problems if they like elements from both! I like to include a design that is more unconventional, that I personally like but is probably too off-the-wall to be used – it’s always nice when they get picked.

Cherry: Yes! Guilty of the amalgamated cover design! For Departures, there was a lot of to and fro, and as you say, amalgamating designs, so I remember all the options you sent us, whereas I can’t  remember any of the other covers ideas for Accidental Flowers, the one we chose was so obviously right for the book.

 

Thanks so much for letting us into your world, Kevin. Here’s to many more collaborations, spontaneous ideas, and continued avoiding of the obvious.

Arachne Press at the Causley Festival (Online) – 25th July 2021

Do join us online at the Causley Festival on Sunday 25th July at 12:45pm, when Arachne authors Clare Owen (Zed and the Cormorants) and Jackie Taylor (Strange Waters) will be reading from their books and chatting to Cherry Potts, Director of Arachne Press about independent publishing, and Arachne’s approach to inclusivity, including supporting writers from geographically dispersed areas.  Jackie and Clare are both Cornwall-based.  Both Zed and the Cormorants, a Young Adult novel published earlier this year, and Strange Waters, a collection of linked short stories shortly forthcoming from Arachne Press, are also set in Cornwall.

Tickets for this event at the Causley Festival are free and can be booked here.

If you’d like to buy Clare or Jackie’s books, please visit our webshop.

Independent Bookshop Week 2021

For this year’s Independent Bookshop Week we spoke to Arachne Press authors, editors and friends and asked them to tell us about an independent bookshop that’s close to their hearts. To conclude our blog series, Arachne Publisher and Director, Cherry Potts, takes an opportunity to shout about some of the many bookshops who have supported our publishing over the years:

We started last week with a warning to use your local bookshops, or lose them, and my devotion to Gay’s the Word, but it would be remiss of me to not also mention the bookshops who have got behind our books, held events, put up posters for Solstice Shorts and generally been lovely. Bookshops are full of lovely people. When you can, I recommend going and talking to them.

They are, in roughly alphabetical order:

Bookseller Crow, Crystal Palace (Supported the launch of Stations, and just the best bookshop name – Hello Jonathan & Co!) https://booksellercrow.co.uk/

Brick Lane Bookshop (Stations) https://bricklanebookshop.org/

Beckenham Bookshop (The Dowry Blade) https://www.beckenhambooks.com/

Browser Bookshop, Porthmadog (supporting Mamiaith) https://browsersbook.shop/

Chener Books, East Dulwich (Ditto) https://www.chenerbooks.com/

Clapham Books (several events, always very welcoming! Hi Roy & Co!) https://www.claphambooks.com/

Housmans, Kings Cross (big support for Liberty Tales and An Outbreak of Peace, Hello Cristina & co!) https://housmans.com/

Lighthouse, Edinburgh (launching Let out the Djinn and inviting Jeremy Dixon to take In Retail to Book Fringe – hello Mairi and Co!) https://www.lighthousebookshop.com/

London Review Bookshop (our first ever book launch, London Lies) https://www.londonreviewbookshop.co.uk/

Lost in Books, Lostwithiel (supporting Zed and the Cormorants) https://lost-in-books.co.uk/

Oldfield Park Books, Bath (supporting Solstice Shorts with an event – there wasn’t enough room for everyone who came!) https://www.theoldfieldparkbookshop.co.uk/

Penrallt Gallery Bookshop (supporting Mamiaith) https://www.penralltgallerybookshop.co.uk/

Review Bookshop, Peckham (hosting a liars’ league fuelled evening) http://www.reviewbookshop.co.uk/

Rye Books, East Dulwich (always good for a chat or a poster) https://ryebooks.co.uk/

Toppings, Edinburgh (supporting Let out the Djinnhttps://www.toppingbooks.co.uk/

Shrew books, Fowey (supporting Zed and the Cormorants) https://www.shrewbooks.co.uk/

Independent Bookshop Week is an annual Books Are My Bag campaign, run by the Booksellers Association. It seeks to celebrate independent bookshops in the UK and Ireland. Look at #IndieBookshopWeek to keep up with the campaign and follow @ArachnePress to see all our content from Independent Bookshop Week 2021.