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.

Myths and Selkies – a writers guide?

Author Jackie Taylor and author-editor Cherry Potts talk about a shared love of mythology, and writing about selkies.

Strange Waters

Jackie’s novel in short stories, Strange Waters, features selkies, and Cherry recently re-published Fish-fish, a selkie story in the brilliant magazine Mermaids Monthly. Fish-fish was first performed at Liars’ League (read by Math Jones – watch the perfomance here)

copyright Jackie Taylor

Cherry:

What was your first introduction to the selkie myths, Jackie?

Jackie: A couple of years ago, I was standing on a cliff overlooking Porthcurno beach in West Cornwall with some friends on a beautiful September day. There were lots of people in the sea below us – kids messing around in the surf and belly boarding, and some serious surfers, and dogs running in and out of the water. Lots of screaming and laughing.  The sea was crystal clear and looking down, we could see, amongst all this activity, a pair of seals weaving around the people in the water – so graceful, and so powerful. And no-one down on the beach was aware of this – they couldn’t see what we could see from our perch above them.  It was an extraordinary thing to witness. One of my friends started to sing a selkie lament, a song full of beauty and yearning. The seals didn’t stop and look up! – nothing like that – but it was one of those moments.

Cherry: Ah… now I’ve done actual on the ground (strand?) research into this. Seals don’t like seas songs, (bored by them I suspect). My wife Alix and I spent a blissful fortnight in Shetland staying on a clifftop farm, and trundled down to the edge every evening. One time there was a seal sitting out on a flat rock which we nicknamed ‘the cake stand’, and we tried singing to this seal. No response to sea shanties, no response to yearning songs of the sea (no idea what our hosts thought about all  this, I’m sure they could hear – their prize bull definitely could!). So then we tried songs from the shows, and The Street Where You Live garnered attention, so we carried on, after half an hour of barking and flipper waving, and the seal sticking its head into the water, we had Sixteen seals, some hauled out on the rocks, some just bobbing like corks, gawping at us – and I am convinced, laughing their heads off – as we worked through the whole of Guys and Dolls!

Jackie: That’s fabulous. What a great image. I’m definitely going to try out a few show tunes next time I see a seal – I’ll let you know is Cornish seals react the same way!

Jackie: I live near the sea and I’m lucky enough to see seals regularly. I was swimming on my own last year, at first light. No-one else was around and suddenly a seal surfaced just a few yards in front of me. We looked at each other for what seemed like an eternity but was probably, well, thirty seconds. There’s something about a seal’s eyes – so expressive, so sad, so old. It’s very easy to imagine how there might be a connection between us.

Cherry: What a magical experience. I’ve never got close to a seal, but I can’t help imagining they have a sense of humour – dangerous anthropomorphism!

Jackie: Indeed! So seals are part of my world, but selkies didn’t appear in my short stories until I was bringing Strange Waters together. There was a strong thread through the stories of women wanting to be somewhere else, living a different sort of life. Living in Cornwall sounds like a perfect existence, but it’s not all Poldark and cream teas! There are a lot of people who live here but long to get away, for all sorts of reasons, so I was interested in exploring that. Tension between domesticity and family, and the call of freedom and the wild sea, are at the heart of selkie stories, and this was perfect for Strange Waters.

copyright Jackie Taylor (you’ll have to imagine the show tunes)

Jackie: So- I LOVED your story Cherry!

Cherry: Thank you! It’s a favourite of mine

Jackie: How did you come to selkies?

Cherry: I honestly can’t remember – I was an obsessive adolescent reader of folk tales, (of anywhere, my local library had an excellent collection) and while I can’t abide the vampire/ werewolf side of things, the water spirits draw me in. There’s a Welsh folk tale about a woman from a lake (the source of the Ystwyth, if memory serves – I’ve been there and it is a very strange place, very …quiet, in a not altogether happy way) she marries a farmer on the proviso that if he strikes her three times the game is up. Of course he does, and she goes back to the water. That one stayed with me, not strictly selkie-lore but connected. I’ve read loads or retellings of selkie myths, but no direct source material that I can remember, although I must have done.

Cherry: Your selkies are clearly Cornish, and I wonder if you think there are regional differences (you don’t have to answer this one, but I am genuinely interested!)

Jackie: I’m no expert, but one thing that struck me when I started reading around the subject was how many different selkie stories there are, and how widespread, which I think says something about how the nature of these tales resonate so strongly – romance, tragedy, longing and love, all mixed in with the symbolism of the sea. This is fertile ground for story-telling and lends itself to reinterpretations and reimaginings.

I’m not sure how ‘authentic’ a Cornish selkie is. Our native merman is the Bucca Dhu, not a friendly soul, I’m afraid!

Cherry: And the Mermaid of Zennor of course!

Cherry: You could have written this book as entirely near future climate fiction, but the selkies really add something, without being front and centre – what was the decision making for this?

Jackie: The intention was always to have contemporary issues sitting right at the heart of the collection. The selkie-ness wasn’t an add-on, but a linking thread between some of the stories, not centre stage, but present, adding another layer. I wanted the mythology to be part of the background, another element of contemporary life in Cornwall. We live in the midst of stone circles and fogous. King Arthur lived just over the road (allegedly). People come to visit Cornwall because we are ‘steeped’ in myth and legend, and it’s easy for that richness to overtake and swamp all our other stories. It’s become a bit of a mantra, but I’m interested in what’s behind the postcard.

Cherry: I spent my adolescence reading about King Arthur thanks William Mayne Earthfasts, and the spectacularly good Merlin books by Mary Stewart, but despite visiting Cornwall several times I’ve never been to Tintagel! A dawdle round Glastonbury was enough to put me off the tourist sites for life. Fogous and stone circles, on the other hand, fascinate me. And ‘cup and ring’ marked stones. If there’s an ancient monument on a map I will detour to check it out.

upright stone part of a stone circle on a hillside more hills behind

Castlerigg. copyright Cherry Potts

Cherry: I loved Pelt, the story in the collection which most closely examines the Selkie concept, with Marissa yearning, not for the sea, but the hinterland as far from shore as she can get; but there are constant links through her daughter and great granddaughter as the strain gets weaker, but keeps surfacing, how did you decide which elements to keep for the later generations, and how much do you think Gilly, for example, realises that this is what is going on?

Jackie: I’m glad you liked this story. It was a classic ‘what if?’…what if I turned this on its head, and my selkie was desperate to settle down with a human partner and embrace a life of land-based domesticity, and didn’t want to escape back to her wild life?

Cherry: Although its not the fisherman/farmer’s wife life she’s after is it? the bright lights of the city are what she’s after, just like Chloe and Grace and Gilly…

Jackie: I like the idea of a residual tug of the sea on the heart, rolling down the generations, surfacing in different ways. I think Gilly is aware of her heritage, but in a background way. This is just one of many of Gilly’s stories, something she’s aware of but, actually, she has other, more pressing things to think about.

I do think it’s something we see in ourselves – a pull towards a particular type of landscape or environment. The sea is definitely my element. ( And did I mention that I have slight webbing between my fingers? )

Jackie: Fish-Fish has a strong tang of salty sea air around it; the descriptions of sea and weed and pelt are gorgeous. Is the sea your element? How do landscapes/seascapes influence your writing?

Cherry: If I could, I would live by water, but it would have to be the sea or a river, lakes make me uneasy – I like moving water… and salt marshes! Landscapes are very important to me, some places have a very special atmosphere and I take strong likings and antipathies to places, including ones that have been severely manipulated for good or ill by humankind. Some mountains take my breath away, some scare me. Wast Water made me shudder, I had to be dragged away from a particular wood in Wales… I have a hatred of London City Airport seen from the air – so bleak – a recent garden visit had me planning how I could live there!

copyright Cherry Potts

Writing wise, it varies, I’ll never not know where a story is set, at least in broad terms, but some stories require and lean on a setting. Sometimes I have to research to rationalise the landscape in my mind and pin it somewhere real, sometimes it can stay implausibly mythic.

When Fish-fish was being performed at Liars’ League, Katy Darby who was directing, asked where it was set, so that Math could settle on an accent, and I realised that when I started writing it had been the US eastern seaboard (somewhere I’ve never been!) because the painter was American; and that because it was the 20s,  I’d said it was a ‘dry’ town, but that it had morphed, through the character of Joel’s wife, into  Western Scotland – plenty of selkie myths there, and dry towns too. I love that about writing, the way the introduction of a character can swing the whole shape and heft of a story in another direction.

Fish-fish actually came from a painting, Mr. and Mrs. Chester Dale Dining Out by Guy Pene du Bois (1924). In it, a very rounded and sleek couple are sitting uncomfortably at a restaurant table being observed by a waiter. I was struck by the hands, fingers together and rather podgy, and wondered why this otherwise well-executed painting focussed so much attention on these poorly drawn hands, and the idea dropped into my head – of course, they are selkies! I looked again at the waiter, they were ALL selkies.

Jackie: You’ve taken a selkie story and given it a different twist; Joel is a male selkie who marries a woman and settles on land. Although there are male selkie tales, I suspect it is much more usual to have a selkie woman centre stage. Was that decision about gender something that drove the story from the outset, or was it something that came out in the writing?

Cherry: There was such an ambiguous look on the waiter’s face, a mingling of longing and dislike and jealousy, and Joel was born fully-formed. I didn’t know quite what his tragedy was as I started writing, but it quickly took shape. It was a fast write, that one. Unusually for me, I didn’t go back and check the ‘rules’ for selkie folk. The absolutely key scene for me in turning it on its head, was when Joel offers his wife his pelt and she turns him down in horror at the idea of controlling him. Selkie mythology is all about men stealing a woman’s means of escape; coercive control in a nutshell, and I knew she would never do that, even when offered the opportunity.

Jackie: A question about craft: I often struggle with the endings of short stories, writing numerous versions, trying to get the right balance between offering the reader enough information for a satisfying conclusion, and not tying everything up in too neat a package. Fish-Fish has a perfect ending. Did this fall easily onto the page or did you have to search for this ending?

Cherry: I didn’t know the end when I started, but it was easy to find. As soon as Joel witnesses the couple under the pier I knew they were somehow connected, that they were there for him, but that it had to be his decision. It was thrilling to write, the idea and the solution rolled out in front of me as I wrote it, with almost no revision. I try to know what the end is early on, but some stories won’t be told where to go and take their own path, so that isn’t particularly usual, and I have a hard drive full of stories for which I can’t get a satisfactory ending.

Jackie: Thinking about the recycling of myths into contemporary pieces of writing, what mythologies are you drawn to in your writing, apart from selkies? Is this something you’ve explored before? Do you have any favourite modern retellings?

Cherry: Dragons! Mermaids! Gorgons! Sirens! Giants! Dryads, Naiads, Sphinxes, Norns (I might have made them up – very scary). Valkyries, Graeae, Fates and Furies! Elementals of all shapes and sizes… I wouldn’t swear to it, but it’s likely Joel is one of only a handful of male protagonists I’ve let into my mythological universe, there have been a couple of inept knights but apart from that, mainly women, or at any rate female creatures. I have a fondness for Jane Yolen’s trolls, and Tanith Lee’s various monsters, and Adele Geras has a way with a Greek myth or fairy tale that I enjoy. You’ll notice this list includes childrens books (and many are out of print!). Sometimes writers for older children do a much better job than those writing for adults. Among those writing for adults, Neil Gaiman is good at a mythologically inspired story – I wouldn’t call them retellings though. I’ve moved further and further away from that retelling thing myself, it’s more about picking an element from the smorgasbord of tales so good they’ve survived orally for millennia, and roughing it up a bit, giving an old story a firm shake by the scruff and seeing what falls out; and it’s usually the women, especially the voiceless, overlooked or denigrated.

The fact that I spend so much of my writing brain-space on it does mean that I am hypercritical of other people’s retellings – have they read closely enough, pushed far enough, twisted wildly enough? I can be a bit impatient with yet another… whichever myth is flavour of the month.

I’m hard to please, so your selkies had a tough audition, and passed with honours.

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.

An Author’s Best Friend: Lily Peters’ Top Dogs in Fiction

One thing that really struck us when we first read Accidental Flowers, Lily Peter’s novel-in-short-stories, was the descriptions of the numerous canine characters.

As this week is #LondonDogWeek AND #NationalDogWeek over in the U.S, we asked Lily to rank her favourite dogs from classic and contemporary literature. Disagree? Tweet us @ArachnePress with your favourite fictional hounds.

 

An Author’s Best Friend – Lily’s Greyhounds

 

I wrote, illustrated and bound my first book when I was eight years old. Its main character was not a plucky young girl who dreamt of becoming a bestselling author, but rather a very lazy and quite fat Dalmation named Slobdog. Although for an eight-year-old, my spelling and grammar were excellent, there are, perhaps, superior literary dogs that should be celebrated:

To begin, let us put our paws together for Toto from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum. A wise terrier, with a sensible aversion to tornadoes. He is the best friend a lost girl could have and has excellent people instincts (which I find to be true of most dogs), revealing the Wizard for the sham that he is.

Next, we have the entire cast of dogs present in Dog Boy, by Eva Hornung. The novel tells the story of abandoned, four-year-old Ramochka and his hero dog, Mamochka, who adopts him as one of her own. He grows and learns with a pack of feral hounds – becoming one himself. It is a beautiful story that celebrates the canine moral code and it has a growl of an ending that will not disappoint.

Then, of course, there is the heart-wrenching folk tale (folk-tail?) of Hound Gelert. In Welsh folklore, the story goes that Llewelyn the Great wrongly accuses his own faithful pooch of killing his infant son. As he administers a fatal blow to Gelert, he hears his son crying and discovers him safely hidden, beside the corpse of a wolf – whom Gelert had obviously slain. Realising his mistake, Llewelyn is doomed to forever hear Gelert’s indignant, dying yelp.

Serves Llewelyn right.

It is my firm belief that we humans don’t always deserve our dogs. And yet, they keep finding us and loving us with huge generosity. Many of my favourite characters share their fictional spaces with beloved creatures and nowhere is this more true than in Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. Pullman depicts a world in which every human shares their living days with an animal extension of themselves, their Daemon. When we adopted our greyhounds, Jasper and Joni, I knew I had found my very own pair: long-legged busy-bodies, with a ridiculous love of salty snacks and an inability to cope with change.

In my novel-in-short-stories, Accidental Flowers, dogs abound. Abandoned, beloved or left behind, they pad their way through the stories, sniffing out adventure and love. I can’t pick a favourite. Perhaps Juliet, a ghost of a Jack Russell who haunts the pages of her story with her vital loyalty and companionship? Or maybe Boatswain, a greying lurcher and huge fan of the beach, so long as the sea stays where it should? Can either of them compare to Argos, whose friendship and quiet, fuzzy-eyebrowed understanding helps one protagonist discover their true self as the world lurches to a stop?

How can I choose?

Best to let someone else decide for me, while I take the dogs for a walk.

Accidental Flowers by Lily Peters is available now. Buy a paperback copy from our webshop or why not get the audiobook?

You can find Lily Peters on twitter as @SenoritaPeters.

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.

Independent Bookshop Week: Emma Lee

To celebrate Independent Bookshop Week, Arachne Press authors and editors are sharing their stories about the bookshops that are closest to their hearts. Emma Lee spoke to us about Five Leaves Bookshop in the heart of Nottingham’s City Centre.

Two poems from my book, The Significance of a Dress, were featured in Five Leaves Bookshop’s “Over Land Over Sea, poems for those seeking refuge” which I co-edited and helped launch. The bookshop was packed and, despite Ross Bradshaw’s grumpy exterior, the atmosphere friendly. There’s a standing joke that the anthology was Five Leaves’ quickest earning book, but the press didn’t see a penny (profits went to refugee charities).

The two poems I read that night, expanded to a collection of eight submitted to Arachne Press for an anthology and form the heart of The Significance of a Dress, which Five Leaves now stocks.

Five Leaves bookshop won the national final for the British Book Awards Independent Bookshop of the Year. It also won a Nottingham Rainbow Heritage Award for its support for LGBT+ communities in the city in 2019. A radical bookshop, it’s hosted Feminist Book Fortnight and other writers’ events. Five Leaves have also supported Lowdham Book Festival and States of Independence in conjunction with De Montfort University in Leicester.

Emma Lee

Independent Bookshop Week is part of the Books Are My Bag campaign and run by the Booksellers Association. It seeks to celebrate independent bookshops in the UK and Ireland. Your local bookshop will have their own way of celebrating this week, and we enthusiastically encourage you to visit, celebrate with them and buy a book! Look at #IndieBookshopWeek to keep up with the campaign and follow @ArachnePress to see all our content throughout the week.

Independent Bookshop Week: Sandra A Agard

To celebrate Independent Bookshop Week, Arachne Press authors and editors are sharing their stories about the bookshops that are closest to their hearts. Today we hear from Sandra A Agard, who is one of the guest editors for our October 2021 anthology, Where We Find Ourselves. Sandra recalls memories of two brilliant bookshops – one still standing, another now sadly closed.

New Beacon Books in Stroud Green Road will always hold a special place for me.

First taken to this bookshop along with Hugh Boatswain by our English teacher, Miss Cowell. We were two young poets and were
very excited to be there.

At this time the bookshop was in the front room of John La Rose’s and Sarah White’s house. I had never seen so many books that
reflected Black Culture. I had never met a Black Bookseller – I was in awe.

I remembered being so shy and John being so kind and engaging. He encouraged us to browse, ask questions and just chill. It was a wonderful experience – one I will always treasure.

Future trips to New Beacon Books followed to purchase books and attend readings. I remember seeing the Jamaican Poet, Lorna Goodison for the first time as well as the Jamaican academic, Dr Carolyn Cooper.

Hugh and I were invited by John to participate in the first International Book Fair of Radical Black and Third World Books in 1982.

New Beacon Books is still going strong I am happy to say providing books of Black Culture and Creativity. Offering so much like an old, trusted friend.

Centreprise in Hackney was more than a bookshop. It was also a literature development hub that offered the community the opportunity to publish their own writings. Autobiographies, poetry, novels and non-fiction were abundant.

It was here I discovered my professional writing voice with the publication of Talking Blues – an anthology by young people.

It was at Centreprise I first saw writers and poets like Kamau Brathwaite, Merle Collins, Rosa Guy, Linton Kwesi Johnson, June Jordan, Andrea Levy, Joan Riley and Ngugi wa Thiong’o.

These readings were exciting, intimate and inspiring. For us young writers and readers it was a brilliant learning curve.

Sadly closed now but what memories those of us who were lucky to pass through its doors will always cherish.

Sandra A Agard

Independent Bookshop Week is part of the Books Are My Bag campaign and run by the Booksellers Association. It seeks to celebrate independent bookshops in the UK and Ireland. Your local bookshop will have their own way of celebrating this week, and we enthusiastically encourage you to visit, celebrate with them and buy a book! Look at #IndieBookshopWeek to keep up with the campaign and follow @ArachnePress to see all our content throughout the week.

Independent Bookshop Week: Lily Peters

To celebrate Independent Bookshop Week, Arachne Press authors and editors are sharing their stories about the bookshops that are closest to their hearts. With Accidental Flowers publishing tomorrow, we caught up with author, Lily Peters: 

As part of my language studies at university, I worked in Asturias, as a foreign language assistant in a secondary school. Every Friday, I would spend an hour teaching English to interested colleagues in the café across the road. Over un café solo, they would question me about life in England:

‘Why do pubs allow dogs and not children?’
‘Does everyone live in a cottage?’
‘Does everyone drink beer by the pint?’

The head-teacher, who was well travelled and wanted us all to know it, would frequently answer for me. I will never forget her description of England: ‘In every town and village, you can always find two things. A pub, of course. And a bookshop.’

Now, as a language teacher, I worry often about the reputation of England in Europe and I clutch on to her description. I think about Kirkdale Bookshop in Sydenham, a stalwart of second-hand books when I was growing up. I remember my first date with my husband, at Barter Books in Alnwick. I transport myself to the award-winning Forum Books, in Corbridge.

Lily Peters

Independent Bookshop Week is part of the Books Are My Bag campaign and run by the Booksellers Association. It seeks to celebrate independent bookshops in the UK and Ireland. Your local bookshop will have their own way of celebrating this week, and we enthusiastically encourage you to visit, celebrate with them and buy a book! Look at #IndieBookshopWeek to keep up with the campaign and follow @ArachnePress to see all our content throughout the week.

Independent Bookshop Week: Lisa Kelly

To celebrate Independent Bookshop Week, Arachne Press authors and editors are sharing their stories about the bookshops that are closest to their hearts. We are delighted to welcome Lisa Kelly to the blog today. Lisa is currently co-editing a new Arachne anthology by Deaf and Hard of Hearing writers called What Meets the Eye.

What Meets the Eye’ is out in the autumn – an anthology of poems and short fiction by Deaf and Hard of Hearing writers based in the UK. Sophie Stone and I are busy working on editing the collection and it is incredibly exciting seeing it come together with inspiring work from established writers such as Raymond Antrobus and Sophie Woolley, as well as poems and fiction from writers we have been excited to discover on our journey.

A big thrill for me would be to see the anthology in the London Review Bookshop. It has a fabulous poetry section downstairs, and it also hosts memorable literary events. It was here that Ray and I launched the Deaf issue of Magma Poetry which we co-edited in 2017. 

The LRB was packed that November night – the audience excited to witness work by Deaf and Hard of Hearing poets, with live captioning and BSL interpreters for an accessible experience. Having ‘What Meets the Eye’ on LRB shelves would feel like completing a beautiful circle.

Lisa Kelly

Independent Bookshop Week is part of the Books Are My Bag campaign and run by the Booksellers Association. It seeks to celebrate independent bookshops in the UK and Ireland. Your local bookshop will have their own way of celebrating this week, and we enthusiastically encourage you to visit, celebrate with them and buy a book! Look at #IndieBookshopWeek to keep up with the campaign and follow @ArachnePress to see all our content throughout the week.

Independent Bookshop Week: Laura Besley

To celebrate Independent Bookshop Week, Arachne Press authors and editors are sharing their stories about the bookshops that are closest to their hearts. Today, Laura Besley, author of 100neHundred tells us about the best bookshop she’s never been to.

My favourite independent bookshop is Five Leaves Bookshop in Nottingham, but I’ve never once been there. Why not and why is it my favourite? There are a few very good reasons.

Despite having lived in Leicester for four years, I still consider myself fairly new to the area. I have, over time, slowly become involved in the local writing community and have heard many people talk about Nottingham’s independent bookshop.

I’d wanted to visit for a long time, but unfortunately, it hadn’t happened yet, when Ross, the owner, made a dream come true and agreed to stock my first collection of flash fiction The Almost Mothers (Dahlia Press, 2020). I was definitely going. And then lockdown happened.

I’ve not yet seen my book on their shelves, but I have bought books from Five Leaves during lockdown.

Nearly 18 months later and Five Leaves Bookshop now has copies of not one but two of my books, the second being my collection of micro fiction published by Arachne Press: 100neHundred.

As soon as I can, I’ll be heading up the A46 or hopping on a train, not just to hopefully see copies of my books on a shelf, but to buy some other great ones too.

Laura Besley

Independent Bookshop Week is part of the Books Are My Bag campaign and run by the Booksellers Association. It seeks to celebrate independent bookshops in the UK and Ireland. Your local bookshop will have their own way of celebrating this week, and we enthusiastically encourage you to visit, celebrate with them and buy a book! Look at #IndieBookshopWeek to keep up with the campaign and follow @ArachnePress to see all our content throughout the week.