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.

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: 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.

Independent Bookshop Week: Clare Owen

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 Clare Owen, author of Cornish Gothic, Zed and the Cormorants, on how local bookshops have supported the release of her first novel:

I live on a river estuary in Cornwall and right from the start my debut novel, Zed and the Cormorants, was set here – in a particular wood, close to my home – so the Cornish landscape is a big part of the novel. Luckily for me, Cornish bookshops have also become a huge part of promoting my book and helping me to reach readers.

We are spoilt for choice in Cornwall, with several fantastic independent shops like The Falmouth Bookseller, The Bookshop, Liskeard and The Edge of the World Bookshop across the region, but the shop that is closest to my heart is Shrew Books, Fowey.

Shrew Books is the place where I signed my first book and where I first saw Zed and the Cormorants in a shop window. The manager, Kate, has been enormously supportive of me as a local author and it is especially pleasing to see Zed in a shop on the main street of Fowey, as lots of the action in the story takes place on that very street!

I’m really delighted to be holding an event with Shrew Books to celebrate Independent Bookshop Week on Saturday 26 June, at North Street Kitchen in Fowey. If you are local, or thinking of visiting Cornwall for the weekend, then please do come and join us. Details are available here: https://www.fowey.co.uk/whats-on/local-author-clare-owen-in-conversation-with-illustrator-sally-atkins-p2970993

Clare Owen

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

It’s Independent Bookshop Week from Saturday 19 June – Saturday 26 June! To celebrate, we asked Arachne Press authors and editors to tell us about an independent bookshop that’s close to their hearts. We’ll share their stories on our blog and social media throughout the week, but as we never ask our authors to do something that we wouldn’t do too, we’re kicking off with a contribution from Arachne Press Publisher and Director, Cherry Potts:

In the light of Independent Bookshop Week I’ve been trying to remember the first one I visited. Unless it was Foyles, where my mum once worked, or Hatchards, possibly; it would probably have been in Blackheath, I would have been under reading age… and it isn’t there anymore.

My first full time job was in a bookshop, Christopher Foss, in Baker Street, London – also no longer with us. It was there I learnt of the existence of Gay’s the Word, when my colleague Amanda left to work there.

My first book was not launched at GTW, but very shortly after I was doing a reading there, shaking rather badly as I recall! I have read from both my subsequent books there, and the staff are, without exception, delightful (and always have been), the audiences friendly and engaging, and the stock eclectic and important.

I have many, many other favourite independent bookshops, all around the country – shops that have been welcoming to our authors, and open to our books; but my personal affection for Gay’s the Word goes deep.

And, thinking of Christopher Foss and that bookshop in Blackheath having gone, a message: USE your local bookshop, if you want it to still be there when you need it. Independent bookshops are where real thinking is nurtured, and a bookshop is for life not just Independent Bookshop Week!
Cherry Potts.

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.

Arachne recommends books for International Women’s Day

Authors and Editors of upcoming titles choose three books  each that they would recommend for International Women’s Day

(Links mainly to our Bookshop affiliate page, except where the book is out of print, where the link will take you to abebooks, or not yet available where the link will take you to the publishers site)

Clare Owen, author of Zed and the Cormorants (April 2021)

The Good Women of China – Xinran

True – often harrowing and heartbreaking – stories of women living during the Cultural Revolution, collected by the host of a Chinese radio call-in show.

Love Among the Butterflies: The Travels and Adventures of a Victorian Lady – Margaret Fountaine (out of print)

The private diaries of a vicar’s daughter who defied her family’s expectations to travel the world collecting butterflies and lovers along the way.

What I Loved – Siri Hustvedt

A beautifully written, intense and intelligent book about art, love and loss from a writer who invariably gets less attention than her husband (novelist Paul Auster)!

Cherry Potts, Arachne Editor in Chief (who gets to choose more than three)

The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula le Guin

A powerful and wildly original Science Fiction novel that tackles gender fluidity decades before anyone else, in passionate and often witty observations of human, and alien frailty.

The White Darkness, Geraldine McCaughrean

I could have picked any of McCaughrean’s young adult novels, but this is the one I read first and adored. A tautly written adventure that doesn’t sidestep difficulties, and is truly shocking at times.

Persepolis Marjane Satrapi

A graphic novel/autobiography about growing up as a stroppy teenager in Iran. Funny, distressing and beautiful.

Second Class Citizen Buchi Emecheta

As a bright young thing in the 70’s and early 80’s, I sought out and read acres of books by black women, many of them American, and some no longer in print. This book bucked the trend, being both British and with sufficient enduring appeal to still be available. There are whole passages in this book I remember pretty much verbatim nearly 50 years later.

The Stone Age Jen Hadfield

Not actually out yet, (18th March) this is my first ‘choice’ selection from the Poetry Book Society. I’d been resisting signing up on the grounds that I like to choose my own books, and poverty, but I finally cracked and I’m really glad I did. This is one of those ‘I wish I’d published that’ books, and taps into all sorts of things that I love, in particular the standing stones of Shetland. Hadfield gives them voice in an entirely convincing way. A total delight that made me want to visit Shetland again.

Ness Owen, co-editor A470 (March 2022)

Inhale/Exile Abeer Ameer  (Seren). The poems I’ve heard so far are a fascinating mix of the personal and political, of language and place. Between Iraq and Britain, the poems move from tender family histories to shocking atrocities.

Flashbacks and Flowers Rufus Mufasa (Indigo Dreams forthcoming, can’t find any information though!) I really enjoyed the journey in this collection deeply rooted in time, place and lives lived with a wonderful interweaving of languages.

Aubade After a French Movie Zoe Brigley (Broken Sleep Books)  This pamphlet includes some of the wonderful Gwerful Mechain’s poetry, bringing it into the 21st century (including an interpretation of the infamous Ode to a C*** in a brave modern voice). The poems are a spoken celebration for what it is to be a women without shame.

Laura Besley, Author of 100nehundred (May 2021)

Mrs Narwhal’s Diary by S.J. Norbury (publisher Louise Walters Books). I heard the author read an exert of Mrs Narwhal’s Diary at an LWB event and completely fell in love with the style of the book and the main character’s unique voice.

The Thin Line Between Everything and Nothing by Hannah Storm (Reflex Press). Hannah Storm’s flash fiction is searing in its honesty, attention to detail and emotional resonance. This collection will, without a doubt, be fantastic.

The Yet Unknowing World by Fiona J. Mackintosh (Adhoc Fiction). Fiona J. Mackintosh’s writing is a sublime combination of lyrical and startling. I’m very much looking forward to reading her full collection.

Lily Peters, author of Accidental Flowers

The Hazelnut Grove, by Paula Read: [Disclosure: Paula is Lily’s mum, and we’ve published her in the past.] I might be slightly biased, so don’t just take my reviews for it. If you want to escape for a while into the European dream and in turn, discover the harsh reality of how much work it takes to make such a dream come true, this is a satisfying and comforting read.

The Bass Rock, by Evie Wyld: This is the story of three women, in some way related, across three time periods. It is set by the wild North Sea in the Scottish borders and the landscape is a character in its own right. It is unsettlingly written, and it has everything you need: scandal, spooky empty houses and a hint of witchcraft.

Weather, by Jenny Offill: The way Offill writes is gripping and quick. It is the closest thing you can get to instant gratification in literature. This book is all about the relatively unknown under-world of ‘preppers’ – those who are preparing for a potential world-ending apocalypse. Right up my ever-darkening street!

Arachneversary – The Dowry Blade – Cherry Potts

Author Cherry Potts talks about and reads from her lesbian fantasy epic, The Dowry Blade.

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Throughout August, this book is discounted with code ARACHNEVERSARY.