100 Days of 100neHundred: Behind the Scenes

Today we are celebrating 100 days of 100neHundred!  Laura Besley’s second collection of micro fiction, 100neHundred explores a kaleidoscope of emotions through 100 stories of exactly 100 words.

We spoke to author Laura Besley and Arachne Press Director and Editor, Cherry Potts to bring you a behind the scenes look at the commissioning and editing process of 100neHundred and the particular challenges and joys of creating a collection of flash fiction:

Laura, can you give us a brief introduction to your writing career and where your inspiration comes from?

Over the last 12 years I’ve been writing as much as time has allowed, around work and/or childcare. My writing journey started with literal journeys: travel writing about my time living and teaching in Germany and Hong Kong. Fiction writing soon followed.
I realised early on that I had plenty of ideas, but struggled to write more than a paragraph or two. Quite by chance I discovered Calum Kerr online (Director for National Flash Fiction Day at the time). He had set himself a challenge to write a piece of flash fiction (max. 500 words) every day for a year. I did the same. In that year I learned a lot about my writing, not least that I loved short fiction.

Cherry, when did you first come across Laura’s writing and how did the idea for 100neHundred come about?

Laura was one of the contributors to Story Cities, our 2019 flash fiction anthology which explores (almost) every corner of urban life in anonymous cities. Her story Slim Odds was about estranged sisters sitting opposite each other on a train. It was deliciously off-kilter, and now I’ve read more, a typical Laura story. For our eighth anniversary in 2020 I put out an invitation to people who we had already published, looking for collections and novels. Laura was one of those who responded, with her concept in place, and a lot of stories already written. My initial reaction was that it was a little gimmicky, but would make it easy to market, but once I read the stories it was an immediate and firm ‘yes’.

Laura, was the idea of a collection of a hundred stories daunting? How many did you need to write and how long did you have in which to do it?

I’d amassed the 100 stories originally submitted over many years, so in that way it didn’t feel daunting. It just occurred to me at one point that I had enough to put together a collection and 100 stories of 100 words seemed like the best format. I submitted the manuscript of 100neHundred to Cherry in March 2020 and was delighted when she said she wanted to publish it. Things were a little delayed by the pandemic, but in September 2020, after Arachne secured funding from The Arts Council, I got the go ahead. However, there were 25 stories Cherry didn’t like enough to include. Over the next three months I wrote another 35-40 stories, finally both agreeing on the final one hundred stories to include.

Cherry, were there any particular challenges (expected or unexpected!) in editing a collection of stories with such a precise word count?

The predictable one was that they weren’t all exactly 100 words to start off with! And it wasn’t as simple as adding or subtracting a word here or there. Laura had played with the grammar here and there to hit the target, so I edited as though we weren’t aiming at 100 words, and then gave them back and said, now fix the ‘100’ thing. Taking the titles into the header so it wasn’t counted in the file helped! There were some stories that ended up turned inside out in order to get there. And some that we decided to lose because the 100 limit just didn’t suit them, they needed more room to find themselves.
I was afraid that it would get tedious, every story being the same length, (and remember I read a great many more than 100 stories, and all of them multiple times!) but it wasn’t the case – a lot of stories felt a lot longer, and some seemed to whizz by so fast I could barely catch them – 100 words is actually quite a generous limit, it allows for a lot of variety.

Laura, the stories in 100neHundred are divided into four sections, each named for a season. Can you tell us a little bit more about that decision, and how you decided where each story fitted within the collection?

I decided to divide the collection up into sections to make it more appealing and manageable for the reader, thinking that being faced with a bulk of 100 stories, despite them being short, might feel a little daunting. The idea of seasons seemed, to me, the most natural step to take. Once that was decided I looked for obvious markers to place them within the different sections, like the weather, or people’s clothing, but also I looked at the mood of the pieces, as well as trying to strike a balance overall making sure that pieces, in style genre and content, were evenly distributed across the collection.

Were the any moments of disagreement during the edit, or stories that you each
felt strongly about in different ways?

Oh boy – not so much an individual story, but a thread of stories. With the initial 100 stories, I started a spreadsheet with a loose themes column. This was mainly because it helps me work out how to sell a collection if I can track the writer’s preoccupations, and also to check I wasn’t imagining a particular slant to the book.
There were an awful lot of deaths, dead mother/father/brother/sister/friend/child… children, one way or another. Maybe Laura as a young mum was working out her anxieties? I think I actually gave Laura a corpse limit. It was quite amicable!

Laura: Generally, there were no big disagreements (I don’t think!), but there is one story I can recall submitting in the new batch that Cherry said: “No, just no”. And I realised there was no point trying to persuade her otherwise. That’s fine – as readers, writers and editors we all have personal tastes and preferences.

The response to 100neHundred has been incredibly positive, from readers and reviewers alike. Why do you think these stories have resonated so much with people?

Cherry: I think the brevity and apparent simplicity of a 100 word story allows the reader to project a huge amount of their own interpretation onto the characters and situations, so that they relate to the story more than they would if there was extraneous description. The surburban houses are the houses in the suburbs you live in, or travel through, the men and women in the office are the ones you work with; particularly when you are given only a he or she to play with. I wouldn’t say the stories quite achieve universality, but there’s a huge stride towards it.

Laura: I’m absolutely thrilled with the positive response 100neHundred has received. It’s impossible, for me at least, to say with any certainty why these stories have resonated with people. I’m just extremely grateful that they have. Every kind word and positive response is so uplifting.

100neHundred by Laura Besley is available now. Buy a paperback copy from our webshop or get the audiobook.

Behind the Scenes at Arachne Towers: Lockdown Audiobook Production

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

Cherry Potts, Director

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jeremy Dixon, Author

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

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

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

Nigel Pilkington, Actor

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

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

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

Jessica Stone, Producer

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

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

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

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.