I want my M.A.

One in a series of guest blogs by Arachne Authors in Lockdown,  in the run up to our Eighth anniversary.

joan observer spoof (3)

Joan Taylor-Rowan

This one is by Joan Taylor-Rowan.
We published Joan in our very first book: London Lies with Renewal.
Joan followed that up with Birdland in  Stations, and she was one of five women authors to feature with five stories in Five by Five.
Joan also organised the sold-out Hastings leg of last year’s Solstice Shorts Festival, Time and Tide.

Joan’s brand new website

Over to Joan

 

 

I want my M.A.

I was the first in my girl-guide troupe to get ten badges.  The next goal was to swim half a mile – and get a badge for my cozzy – even though I could only swim backstroke – very slowly. I think they gave me that one so we could all get in the coach and go home.  So yes, I am a little addicted to certificates and awards, maybe that is one of the reasons I decided to do an M.A. in Creative Writing.

I’ve always written and have had success with short stories, and even self-published a novel but my literature qualifications end at a GCSE in English. When I moved to Hastings part-time, a few years ago, I set up an informal group teaching creative writing for beginners (that’s for another blog post), and really loved it. Perhaps, I thought, I could approach the local independent school sector and offer my services, and expand my teaching opportunities and my income?  But would my publishing history of short stories impress the demanding parents of Cassandra and Bilious?

I had a couple of options: I could work with a writing mentor for a year and hope to come out at the end with a lucrative book deal (any book deal), or I could do an M.A. and brandish my certificate as confirmation of my literary abilities. In the process of doing the M.A., I might write a novel and get a lucrative book deal, but if I didn’t, I’d still have the M.A.  Besides I enjoyed studying, and the possibility of discussion with other writing nerds appealed to me.

I chose Chichester, because they ran a part-time course with a good reputation, and I thought at the time it would be a manageable journey. It wasn’t.  Southern trains were into social distancing long before Corona virus made it essential.

The course consists of a weekly three hour session divided into seminars and workshops. Some of the seminars were thrilling and inspirational, introducing me to writers I’d never heard of and ideas I’d never considered. I was obliged to discuss what I’d read and to write pieces inspired by themes such as art, or structure or time.  I left tired and elated, full of words and sensations and empty pockets – M.A.s do not come cheap, and the five hour return trip plus three hours in seminars was fuelled by coffee and snacks.

The weekly workshopping of each other’s writing took some time to get used to.  Feedback groups are only as good as the effort that is put into them; lazy students or careless ones do not necessarily give good feedback, but in my experience, most students were diligent and hard-working – juggling jobs, families and travelling.  Sometimes students with the least impressive writing were fantastic at dissecting the work of others. They were also the bravest, giving in raw work and using the feedback to really develop. Getting and giving feedback is an art in itself: too harsh and you break someone’s spirit, too soft and you might as well be someone’s nan telling them, it’s lovely dear. No-one pays £6000 for that.  It’s hard to hear it too: you’ve got to chop one of those adjectives. I can’t, you weep, like Sophie choosing between her children. The work will be all the better for it, but that’s hard to believe as you press delete.

Tutor input is craved and inevitably treasured. Their thoughts are the pearls and rubies. And of course you never get enough.  I found it to be valuable not only for what it taught me about my own work, but for what it taught me about reading the work of others – to go deeper, to be thorough. Give to them what you would want them to give to you.

I didn’t realise how much I’d come to depend on this workshopping system until forced into The Great Isolation. I’m nearly at the end of my course and suddenly I am adrift, no face to study, no tone of voice to inspect.  Is that really a compliment, or is their body language saying something else? Where is the shit in this delicious-sounding sandwich? Also I’m not able to see someone’s spirits lift if I give them a heartfelt compliment, or get a supportive hug in the artistic struggle. An emoji just doesn’t cut it.

Listening to someone explain their character’s motivation can be nearly as boring as listening to someone’s dreams (so my partner tells me). Even though we all know this, we still think that our ideas are thrilling. The great thing about a group of people in the same situation is that you can reciprocate – I’ll nod and look interested if you’ll do the same. It works and we’re both happy. Online and text, it just isn’t the same, even with the Dr Who weirdness that is the webcam. Listening to a floating head with a patchy convex face discussing the finer points of your character’s mental  and spiritual breakdown, while a naked toddler scampers past chasing a dog, leaves the muse weeping in the corner, wailing I could have been a contender.

So I cannot wait for the sunshine or a vaccine to send Covid 19 packing, so that I can get back with my writer pals in person.  And I promise, I will not moan, or complain, or bitch or be judgmental ever again… Ok, so I had my fingers crossed there.

Lockdown Interviews: no1 – Jane Aldous interviews Sarah James

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

Jane aldous

Jane Aldous (Let Out the Djinn, Noon, An Outbreak of Peace, Time and Tide, Dusk)

Sarah James

interviews Sarah James (Vindication, Shortest Day Longest Night, Five by Five) aka S.A.Leavesey

Jane:      I’d love to know about your first piece of published writing.

Sarah:   Ooh, that’s a tough one because I don’t actually know what or when it was! Primary school age, I used to make my own newspapers – handwriting out actual existing articles. So, no proper copyright training in place, lol, but also only ever one copy! My mum was a great encourager and, age 6 or 7, I had a poem commended, or something like that, in a children’s poetry competition. I don’t remember much about the poem except that it was about a flea in a dressing gown, with rhymes on hopping and shopping! Of course, I realise now that all entries would have been commended… My first published pieces were probably in the school magazine, and I also had work in the national Early Times (I think that’s what it was called) children’s newspaper and a local newspaper that had a section for young writers. My mum did hand me a pile of clippings a few years ago, but I’ve not been brave enough to look at them, the likely cringe factor is too high!

Jane:      How do you write? Do you always write in the same place and the same time of day, or does it happen more spontaneously?

 Sarah:   I write wherever I am when I want to or have to write. If I can, I prefer to write poetry on paper first, and only type this up after a few redrafts. With fiction or articles, I tend to jot notes on paper but then go straight to my laptop to put them together. I’ve no set routines. I like some structure, particularly commissions and themed or dead-lined opportunities. When I don’t have an externally imposed/suggested framework, then I create my own by looking for prompts, themed submissions etc. In terms of totally spontaneous inspiration, I tend to need to be in a head-space that allows procrastination, a certain level of relaxation in which something will arise either to beat boredom or meet the inner impulse to create that is a very strong motivator for me.

Jane:      Is the coronavirus crisis having an impact on your writing or other creative work?

Sarah:   Like most writers, I’ve been hit financially by lost work. I’m busier with communication with other writers at the moment, and also sorting photo-poem combinations for some stunning Arachne poets’ work for the journal LitWorld2 that I run. I’ve been working too on poetryfilms to promote already published work, like Model Child for Arachne Press, and in collaboration with a film student. I had to write a new poetry narrative script for the latter, and I’ve really enjoyed doing this, but that’s about my only new work. I live with low level anxiety most of the time, but my anxiety levels, like many writers’ right now, are much higher than usual, which makes it harder to concentrate or find the right headspace to create. The worry, sorrow and grief aren’t things I’ve ever experienced on this scale before. Keeping busy is a healthy distraction though, which is why I’ve been busy working on/with things already written. The community spirit, help and hope being expressed worldwide are also incredibly uplifting, so I have a lot of gratitude too. I think this is increased even more by working in collaboration, as shared projects are always great fun and energy-giving!

Jane:      What writing or other creative project would you like to fulfil long term?

Sarah:   Gosh, another hard one. I have various manuscripts – several poetry collections, a flash novella and a memoir – that I’d like to see published eventually. But I’d prefer to let each have full time, attention and space individually to breathe, so I’ve no firm goals of what when, so to speak. Although I do find structure and focus extremely useful in writing, I also believe in leaving room for spontaneity and serendipity. The poetry-play version of my Forward Prize highly commended collection The Magnetic Diaries, wasn’t something that I’d set out to do in advance. It was an opportunity that came up, I went for it and it was really amazing! I’d have missed out on that completely if I’d had too rigid a framework of other goals set, because I wouldn’t have had room to be open to new possibilities.

Jane:      What person or object would you like to collaborate with?

 Sarah:    This isn’t something I’ve ever thought of! What a wonderful question, thank you. The possibilities are endless… I’m not really a ‘big celebrities’ kind of person. I guess I’d really love to meet the Dalai Lama, but can’t imagine that in terms of an artistic collaboration. I think one of the beautiful things about collaboration is the unexpected, the spontaneity, the resulting combination that none of those involved could ever have conceived of beforehand. So, for me, dream collaborations would probably be about working with people who are very open to what happens along the process, where I get to learn about and experience new art-forms, and where we share similar ideas and expectations in terms of commitment to the project and what to do with resulting collaboration once it is finished.

You can buy all the (Arachne) books mentioned from our webshop, we will post them out to you.

If you would prefer eBooks,  Shortest Day Longest Night, Noon, An Outbreak of Peace, Time and Tide, Dusk, Five by Five) are available from your usual retailer.

Vindication, Let Out the Djinn, are being converted and should be available by 24th April.

Beyond spiders: how stories start

The first in a series of guest blogs by Arachne Authors in Lockdown,  in the run up to our Eighth anniversary.

This one is by David Mathews, who we first published in Solstice Shorts: Sixteen Stories about Time, with Wednesday Afternoon, for which he was one of the 5 winners of the competition.
Since then David has graced the pages of
Liberty Tales – Border Country
Shortest Day, Longest NightIn the Gloaming, and Mouse
 Dusk – Flickerin’ Shadows
 Story CitiesBackwater
David has two stories in our forthcoming anniversary anthology, No Spider Harmed in the Making of This Book .We are still consulting on the title of one, but the other is Stowaway, which took up my challenge of writing about spiders in space!

Over to David.

Beyond spiders: how stories start
On the 24th, I went to post a letter, and was a child again. ‘Going to the post’ was one of my earliest errands, and I loved it. Into the tall, glowing pillar box went letters, postcards, small packages. I knew that in next to no time – for local letters, later the same day in a wondrous second post – they would drop on the doormat of Auntie Vi or Mr Jones the grocer.

So as I trotted down a street as empty as those of my childhood to send a friend a birthday card, I looked for Bingo, a dog who furiously chased cars, but who would run happily alongside a pedestrian for no greater reward than kind words.

Before my brief outing I had sent out to friends and others a rousing email invitation to order No Spiders Harmed. ‘It’s nothing too dystopic,’ I had written, ‘perfect reading for the times.’ At lunchtime I found a couple of quick positive responses and a reply from my chum Jorge.

My epistle, which had asked people to go easy on the spring-cleaning, had ended with, ‘Spiders. Forever in your debt.’ I had pushed my luck.

‘Can’t, brother,’ Jorge had written, ‘I was in hospital four days with a red leg due to a bite from one of the precious ones … hate them with force … sorry, not this time. Keep writing.’

Jorge, an artist who works in leather – no, don’t be silly, you know what I mean – is regularly encouraging of my scribbles. But this time, clearly, I had gone too far. Howard Jacobson says that writers should always go too far, but I don’t think he meant to aggravate people’s well-founded phobias.

(Jorge owes me 1.40€, by the way. A bet, from several years ago, about whether Brexit would happen. In the café by the market, after buying a coffee, 1.40€ was all Jorge had left to lay on the chance that we might not leave. Not a bet I wanted to win.)

‘Not so much eight legs good, then, as nine legs bad, Jorge. Sorry. I could do you a beetle story. How are you with those little tinkers?’

‘Stories on hares, birds, squirrels, tigers, lions, or pumas please.’

Not Cyril the Squirrel again, I thought. Jorge has already seen ‘Mouse’ from Shortest Day Longest Night, and, coming from Argentina, he knows more about pumas than I could hope to glean in a short time.

My friend was, let’s say, amenable. ‘Okay, avoid squirrels. Replace them with ducks, the current nuisance at present.’

Jorge lives in the Tarn, south west France. A good few ducks are eaten there, and by and large they go to their fate philosophically – far too much so, many people think. Now it seems that Jorge’s neighbouring fowl have become noisy and forward. With human’s ‘social life’ closed down, maybe the ducks have a stay of execution, and are making merry with it.

Jorge wants a story.  The ducks are getting uppity. What might that mean for a particular duck? Might she and Jorge meet? And eggs. We were due to be with Jorge and his wife for their Easter Day egg hunt, but now of course …

Black Duck and her Eggs. How does that sound?

Easter Saturday. The duck had sat on her eggs, fourteen of them, for four days now. The nest, well back from the footpath and the rowdy children, was overhung with …

‘Keep writing,’ said Jorge.

to be continued…

Litworld2

Aside

Watch out for Arachne Press poets being featured on LitWorld2  over the next few weeks, Tuesdays and Fridays. And I don’t know who! So I will be glued to the web, like a spider’s midday snack…

Thanks to Sarah James for hosting!

2019-10-03 11.55.40

P is for poetry!

Tymes Goe by Turns – Call Out for Solstice Shorts 2020

Before I ran Arachne Press, I did many things, including, for quite a while, a job I hated. While in that job, I had as my screensaver/lock/background the words

Tymes Goe By Turns, and Chances Chang by Course

I felt better every time I saw them.

Looking back, it’s pretty obvious I should have left the job, rather than comfort myself with the fact that something else would cause a change.  It’s also pretty obvious I had depression, which is why I couldn’t make the change for myself, and partly why I hated the job, to be entirely fair to my then employer.

The lines are from Robert Southwell (c. 1561 – 21 February 1595), who had plenty to be worried and unhappy about. Look him up if you want to feel better about your current situation by comparison, if that’s not the sort of comfort that moves you, (me neither) read the poem, which is at the end of this post; it’ll work better, promise. (There is a bit of God in it, I don’t subscribe but RS did, and it doesn’t spoil the poem for me).

WHY am I sharing this poem with you?

Because I really should be planning this year’s Solstice Shorts Festival, but I don’t know if it will go ahead.

Because Covid-19 might still be preventing us (hope not, it is the end of December!). Because Arts Council is in emergency funding mode and may not want to know about funding it.

Because if either of these, where and how can we be true to the basic live-ness of Solstice Shorts?

Anyway, I am a planner by nature, so I will plan the bits I can, and wait to see what chances change by which courses.

We always have a time theme, so here it is.

WRITERS/MUSICIANS I keep seeing on Facer and Twitbook that in the absence of paid work, you are knuckling down to projects and upping your rejection rates, so here’s another one for you.

Write a story or poem or song that responds or reacts or is inspired by the poem Tymes goe by Turns, or some concept in it. (also open to musical settings of the actual poem – I think there is at least one already.

We want enormous change, finding balance, release… just leave God out of it, ok? Solstice Shorts has a pagan undertow because of the day we hold it, and personally I’m a heathen, so any overtly godly piece will be automatically excluded. (21st December, shortest day of the year, winter solstice.)

If the worst happens and we can’t hold the festival this year (though we are incredibly ingenious) we will just put it off to 2021, and have the book ready to launch at the festival. It’ll be fine. We’ll work it out, but please be prepared for the possibility of a twelve month delay.

I haven’t QUITE set this all up on Submittable, but when I do, it will be at https://arachnepress.submittable.com/submit

Deadline 21st June 2020.

Here’s the poem.

THE lopped tree in time may grow again,
Most naked plants renew both fruit and flower;
The sorest wight may find release of pain,
The driest soil suck in some moist’ning shower;
Times go by turns and chances change by course,
From foul to fair, from better hap to worse.

The sea of Fortune doth not ever flow,
She draws her favours to the lowest ebb;
Her tides hath equal times to come and go,
Her loom doth weave the fine and coarsest web;
No joy so great but runneth to an end,
No hap so hard but may in fine amend.

Not always fall of leaf nor ever spring,
No endless night yet not eternal day;
The saddest birds a season find to sing,
The roughest storm a calm may soon allay:
Thus with succeeding turns God tempereth all,
That man may hope to rise, yet fear to fall.

A chance may win that by mischance was lost;
The net that holds no great, takes little fish;
In some things all, in all things none are crost,
Few all they need, but none have all they wish;
Unmeddled joys here to no man befall:
Who least, hath some; who most, hath never all.

Film Poem – Sarah James – Model Child

We are experimenting with ways to keep YOU entertained and US in business.

Here is a contribution from the brilliant Sarah James, who seems to be able to turn her hand to just about anything! Model Child is from Vindication which has several other poems from Sarah in it, plus handsful of poems from Sarah Lawson, Jill Sharp, Elinor Brooks and Adrienne Silcock. You can buy Vindication direct from our webshop, and we’ll stick it straight in the post!

We’re still here and have plans to entertain you

There’s been some bad news in the book world, Gardners, the major wholesaler who supplies most independant booksellers has shut up shop for the forseeable. (Yes, this is C-19 related.)

This means it will be even harder to get books out to the public. We are however in the fortunate position of having the estimable NBNi as our distributor, which means bookshops can get books direct from them, if they have an account. All the big shops and quite a few of the smaller ones do. Phew!

WE ALSO HAVE BOOKS HERE.

Not in massive quantities, but enough to see us through of most titles. Yo can order direct and we will post them out to you, so long as they will fit through the post box slot, and so long as you have a large enough letter box. A couple of books might not suit – Outcome is probably ok, The Dowry Blade probably not.

Head over to our shop…

If for any reason our stocks dry up, or the royal mail goes into meltdown, we have ebooks available from your usual supplier, some reduced to 99p for the duration of the lockdown, and we are converting the poetry, which wasn’t converted before for format reasons, the first of these titles will be available 10th April with more on 17th and the last lot, the ones I think will be most difficult to work with electronically, on the 24th.

In the meantime we are working out ways to keep you happy.

We are organising some guest blogs from our writers, and some of them have offered to video readings. We are also getting them to interview each other. Some of these interviews will be video links (when I work out how) and some will be text based, but if you’ve always wanted to ask onr of our writers a question, we invite you to send some in! If there’s a particular author or poet you want to answer the question, let us know, and we’ll do our best. You can comment on this post to ask your question.

 

#Arachne99p a little comfort in time of trouble

We are trying not to be downhearted that we had to take the launch of Time and Tide online, (check out our Facebook page for videos, we’ll be editing them and adding them to the website soon), everyone did a fabulous job and the videos are getting quite a few hits, but  with minimal sales as a result. We are also very disappointed that we are having to put publication of Zed and the Cormorants back 12 months.

The good news is, we are continuing to translate some of the Time and Tide stories into BSL with the help of Marcel Hirshman, and some funding from ACE. We will be launching these videos fairly soon.

AND…with all eight legs crossed, we are going ahead with No Spider Harmed..., Tiny Spidery Cheer… We aren’t anticipating an in-person launch, and we have to be very careful about how many copies we print, as a result, we are asking people to pre-order, so we don’t end up with stock we can’t sell through trade or events.

Spider-Cover A1

More good news for readers!

We’ve reduced the price of some of our ebooks. If people like this idea and buy them, we will reduce all ebooks to £0.99 for the duration of the misery.

Let us know when you buy one via usual social channels: #Arachne99p, as it takes a while for the news to seep through our sales reports, and we want to be nimble in responding.

London Lies, Weird Lies, Lovers’ Lies, Stations and Mosaic of Air are all now £0.99

Obviously, while the postal service is still functioning we will send out actual books which you can  buy from our webshop.

With many bookshops closing, we are in an increasingly precarious position, and we really rely on our direct sales – normally we do 60% or more of our sales at events, and that’s impossible right now.

People seem to be reaching for poetry, so we are getting all our poetry titles converted as fast as we can. We’ll let you know when they are available. They may not be perfectly formatted on an e-reader but we will do our best.

And finally, to try and keep our books in the light, you might consider nominating us in the Saboteur Awards?

 

 

 

IWD video Cherry Potts

 

On 8th March we held an International Women’s Day of readings from female authors and poets, surrounded by the  Tatty Divine exhibition at the Stephen Lawrence Gallery. Many thanks to Greenwich University Gallleries for hosting.

Here is Cherry Potts reading her short story from Departures, Cloud Island.

 

Emma Lee IWD video The Significance of a Dress

On International Women’s Day we launched Emma Lee‘s new collection, The Significance of a Dress, at Stephen Lawrence Gallery. Many thanks to Greenwich University Galleries for hosting!

This is The Significance of a Dress. We have one more poem to post… in the hope of enticing you to buy this lovely, hair-raising collection!