Author Guest Blog: Emma Lee – Significant Dresses

The title poem from my Arachne Press collection, The Significance of a Dress, is set in a wedding hire shop in a refugee camp in Iraq. People can be left in limbo, unable to return to the country they’ve left, and not yet able to integrate into the country they’ve applied for asylum in. Processing applications is rarely a priority and people can find themselves in camps for years, decades even. The camps’ residents are mostly young men. One reason is that they don’t have caring responsibilities so it’s easier for them to travel alone and they’re often sent on ahead, with other relatives planning to join them once they’ve settled. Another reason is that they are at risk of being conscripted either into the armed forces or into rebel militia. While girls don’t generally have that concern, girls do have to find ways of coping with sexual harassment and finding protection. In the camps, refugees are still expected to pay for food and utilities. Women can find themselves thrust into finding ways of becoming a family’s main breadwinner. No doubt some marriages are love matches, but others are about buying protection or settling dowries. Whatever the motivation behind the marriage, “a bride still wants to feel special, at least for one day.” When “The future is tomorrow. Next year is a question./ A wedding is a party, a sign of hope.”

In most cultures, a bride-to-be is made to feel that a wedding dress is the most significant choice she has. It may be an heirloom dress, worn by a mother or grandmother. It may be a dress of her choosing that incorporates memories of family members who can no longer attend the wedding, whether a sash in a late relative’s favourite colour, a borrowed pair of shoes, or a favourite flower in the bride’s bouquet. Some women have been planning their dress long before there was a groom. Whether the bride is looking for an extravagant ballgown or a slinky sheath for a beach wedding, or a trouser suit, it’s also likely to be the most expensive dress she’ll buy. Most brides will plan to shop with close friends or relatives, with the expectation of being put centre stage with a wide choice to try on. Where do you find a wedding dress if you’re stuck in a camp, possibly with restrictions on where you can travel and shop, and still under cultural pressure to make your day significant?

In one camp a woman, who’d worked in the fashion industry, set up a wedding hire shop to earn for her family. The title poem is based on an interview with her. The dresses were original brought in via her former fashion industry contacts, but she also uses seamstresses based in the camp to repair and alter gowns. A team of beauticians offer hair and make-up styling that won’t melt in the desert heat and will stay in place in the humid evenings so that the bride can have her big day. There is a risk some of the brides are underage, and the staff in the shop never ask the bride-to-be how old she is. A small group of women can’t police a camp, and they understand the desperation of a family.

My poem Casting a Daughter Adrift (from Time and Tide), looks at a wedding from a mother’s viewpoint. This mother has turned to needlework to earn money to feed the family, but it aware she can’t offer much protection against the harassment in the camps, “This man I have agreed to/ in her father’s absence/ I hope will protect her.” The journey from what was hope to the camp has aged her, “The shop’s cracked, foxed mirror/ tells me I’m decades older than my bones.” Neither of them can go back, “The house she was born in is rubble”. Yet she still wants this day to be special for her daughter, “The final payment is the last of my savings/ but I have one less mouth to feed.” Despite her desperation, she is proud of her daughter, “I’m going to let her go,/ my desert flower will bloom.”

Whatever your feelings on marriage, whether you want to get married or not, it’s hard to resist the idea of a wedding as a celebration and a note of hope amongst people whose lives have been devastated by war.

Emma Lee is a regular contributor to our anthologies, and her collection The Significance of a Dress, really fell foul of the Corona virus, with multiple events cancelled, and one of the launches delayed and venue moved. Instead of moping (which must have been tempting) Emma has been very generous with her time, writing this blog and contributing interviews to the website.

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

Preorder No Spider Harmed…  (Another anthology with a poem by Emma in it) out 8th August for our eighth anniversary.

If you would prefer eBooks, all these books are available from your usual retailer, now VAT free! We recommend Hive for ePub.

 

Guest Blog by Neil Lawrence: Shirley Jackson and I

A guest blog fromTime and Tide contributor, Neil Lawrence.

I’m a ghost story fan. Ever since The Omen soundtrack drifted into my bedroom aged nine, I’ve loved the shivers being scared out of me. By the time I was thirty I’d compiled a ‘must watch’ list. On it was a black and white 1963 British film called The Haunting directed by Robert Wise (yes, the same guy who did The Sound of Music). Despite its age, and despite all the tropes one would expect, ten minutes into the story my breath was short.  As it continued the claustrophobia of the film was unbearable.

The ending puzzled and moved me. The main character kills herself in order to join malevolent ghosts who ‘live’ in the house (if  they are in fact real and not a projection of her own psyche). She chooses death to avoid going back to an empty life with an ambivalent family. One chilling scene showed a twisted relationship with her mother and it stayed with me long after  the 114 minutes had ended.

Ten years on I bought the book, entitled The Haunting of Hill House in a sale. I had no idea who that author, Shirley Jackson, was. It was not typical trashy fare. The prose was beautifully written; in turns affecting, angry, cutting, satirical and deeply, deeply unsettling. Jackson’s observations on frail human behaviour were uncannily accurate. Even more so than the film, the storyline was an outraged polemic of how restricted roles in society affected women’s mental health. I took an enormous amount out of it.

A few years later I was taking baby steps (and clichés) into my own life as a writer. After being accepted into a prestigious local group I was feeling overwhelmed. When I was offered advice on ways, I could improve my work, I was too defensive to listen. They suggested I write short stories. But having never had the experience of an inspiring anthology or collection, I was set against it.

Then a mate of mine gave me his copy of the The Lottery to read. He had come across ‘a very interesting article in the Guardian’ (why do people always say that? Sorry… different blog…) and thought here was a short story I should read. So, I read it. Mostly to stop him mithering me.

It changed my world.

Despite being first published by the New Yorker in 1948, The Lottery is a savage, unsettling tale. Its satire is unflinching. The tone is dry, so subtly mocking that I instantly wanted to emulate it. And again it was Shirley Jackson who had written it.

I sought out the book that The Lottery came from. Turned out it was unimaginatively entitled The Lottery and Other Stories. It was page after page of powerful and macabre messages, but also savagely funny.  In particular one story called ‘The Tooth’ encapsulated everything I wanted to write.

In it, the protagonist is packed off by her husband to see the dentist. To help cope with the pain, she resorts to pain killers mixed with booze. As a result, her awareness is skewed. The journey she takes is drenched with fear and bizzare visions. Time and place dislocate. After she senses a malevolent presence whilst in the dentist chair, she begins to dissociate.

Jackson drags the reader from the surface of the storyline into the turbulent and distressing  depths of the protagonist’s life.

The story hit me at a visceral level. After finishing it, I immediately began to write short stories. And have never stopped since.

Two other Shirley Jackson novels in particular have deepened my understanding of how to write.  One, her final published book, We Have Always Lived in The Castle, is a story about the moral landscape of small-town America. A family become the target of hatred in their local community when poisoning leaves only three of the household alive. The tone of the novel is light, comic even. It could easily have become like The Addams Family. But in Jackson’s hands the bleak humour is a deconstruction of ‘family values’ and an attack on the judgemental nature of humanity. Her command of tone and language are absolute.

The other, an earlier novel, Hangsaman, is about a young woman who experiences a traumatic event in the woods and then struggles with  starting her new life at college. Self-absorbed parents are neglectful to the point of being abusive. Jackson uses blurred images and incomplete narrative to describe the shattering of this poor woman’s personality and the results are harrowing but utterly believable.

Shirley Jackson died too soon at 46. In Ruth Franklin’s biography ‘A Rather Haunted Life’ she describes a writer struggling with feelings of outsidership and having to make a series of cruel compromises. She portrays Jackson as driven despite crippling self-doubt and a number of challenges presented by those around her. Many of the incidents in her life resonate deeply with my own.

Shirley Jackson’s writing has become a constant source of motivation for my own work and ambition. I keep her short stories and novels at my deskside, refer to them constantly. She is my touchstone, my inspiration, a writer whose themes are both modern and pertinent. She’s not a pleasant read, but I love her all the more for that.

Audio File: Tymes goe by Turnes read by Math Jones

Math Jones has very kindly recorded for us the poem Tymes Goe by Turnes by Robert Southwell, which is the starting point for this year’s Solstice Shorts Festival.

Math Jones - Geoff Robinson, photographer

Lovely, isn’t it!

Find out more about this call for submissions, and please tell your musician and writer friends.

 

 

 

Tymes Goe by Turnes – 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 Turnes, and Chaunces 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.

https://arachnepress.submittable.com/submit

Deadline 21st June 2020.

Here’s the poem, and audio of the lovely Math Jones reading it for us as a special favour

The lopped tree in tyme may grow agayne;
Most naked plants renew both frute and floure;
The soriest wight may find release of payne,
The dryest soyle suck in some moystning shoure;
Tymes go by turnes and chaunces chang by course,
From foule to fayre, from better happ to worse.

The sea of Fortune doth not ever floe,
She drawes her favours to the lowest ebb;
Her tyde hath equall tymes to come and goe,
Her loom doth weave the fine and coarsest webb;
No joy so great but runneth to an ende,
No happ so harde but may in fine amende.

Not allwayes fall of leafe nor ever spring,
No endless night yet not eternall daye;
The saddest birdes a season find to singe,
The roughest storme a calm may soone alaye;
Thus with succeding turnes God tempereth all,
That man may hope to rise yet feare to fall.

A chaunce may wynne that by mischance was lost;
The nett that houldes no greate, takes little fish;
In some thinges all, in all thinges none are croste,
Fewe all they neede, but none have all they wishe;
Unmedled joyes here no man befall,
Who least hath some, who most hath never all.

Get your Christmas gifts here!

I just picked up the last posting dates leaflet at the post office which led me to think you might want to get ordering our lovely books as christmas presents (or Solstice presents if you are quick!) Books make great presents – easy to wrap, light to post (mostly!) and infinite variety, so you can find just the right thing, even for those difficult to buy for folk. Visit our shop or read on for a bit of inspiration.

The just pre-teen niece or nephewDevilskeinfront final for bus cardHow about our Carnegie Medal nominated fantasy novel, Devilskein & Dearlove, by Alex Smith? Talking Crickets, Demons, and Doorways to Other Worlds are all up for grabs in a Cape Town apartment, but can Erin open the door to her past?

 

shortest-day-longest-night-front-cover-copy

Solstice shortsFRONT cover draft copy

The pagan or atheist. A tough one, should you get anything? if you do, do you put Happy Christmas on it? Give them one of our Solstice Shorts anthologies, celebrating the winter solstice with a wide variety of stories (and poems) you can choose from Solstice Shorts: Sixteen Stories about Time, or Shortest Day, Longest Night our new anthology of stories and poems about midwinter, long nights and short days. Or Both! Special offer up til 21st December (the Solstice) buy Shortest Day, Longest Night and get Solstice Shorts: Sixteen Stories about Time half price.

Cotton Augustus II.106The politically minded? What about Liberty Tales, Stories and Poems inspired by Magna Carta? Everything from the right to vote to fish weirs.

 

 

 

lies special offer

The Secret Santa recipient:

Drawn someone you know nothing about from the office christmas hat?

Stations Cover. Image copyright Gail Brodholt

Don’t panic! Anthologies have something for everyone.

One of our Liars’ League collaborations should go down well with almost anyone. Choose from London Lies (London!), Lovers’ Lies (Relationships!) or Weird Lies (Sci Fi/Fantasy). You can get all three for a special reduced price

Or, if all you know about them is that they get to work by train, how about Stations?
A rich collection of stories inspired by journeys, places and lives lived beside the lines.

 

9781909208261 Your Best LGBT friend.

Now this one is a must. Everyone should have a copy.  Outcome: LGBT Portraits by Tom Dingley. If you haven’t got it already, get it NOW. Photographic portraits of LGBT people holding a photo of themselves as a child. Brief biographies for most, although not all. Moving and inspiring.

The Poetry enthusiast.

Pick from our long narrative poems anthology, The Other Side of Sleep, or our collection by Kate Foley, The Don’t Touch Garden.

dont touch garden FRONT cover final image copy

Final Cover Design for The Other Side of Sleep. Copyright Zoe Lee

The Dowry Blade FRONT Cover finalThe fantasy enthusiast Want a doorstop of a book to keep that voracious fantasy reader happy? How about The Dowry Blade by Cherry Potts? War, famine, grief, a sword that might not be magic after all, and a witch who can sing you to death…

 

 

The Writer… Oh, so tricky. They’ve either got it already or don’t think it cuts the mustard. Buying for writers is really hard!

Here’s an idea – you’ll have to give it to them early, but why not buy them a ticket to our Write through the Night event? 21st December 10-midnight.

arachne-friendwhite-on-whiteStill nothing you are sure they’ll love, but know your friend or relation loves books? What about an Arachne FRIENDship? Choose from annual, life, and patron, and get a variety of special offers plus the coveted Arachne friend badge, and support us at the same time!

 

SO: If you’d like us to send to your gift direct to the recipient, we send world-wide, and mostly books go at the standard deliveries so you have a bit of leeway – but you are too late for World Zone 2 to go affordably now. For most of Europe your deadline is 13th Dec, Northern America 14th Dec, Spain France & Ireland 16th December; and of course, within the UK, 19th December. ( this gives us 24 hours to parcel up and send). The sooner the better, obviously. The Arachne Friend and the Write through the Night Ticket are delivered electronically (apart from the friend Badge, obviously)

 

 

Peter Morgan and Caroline Hardman talk about their stories for STATIONS

Two more Stations Authors give us the low down on their stories.

Stations Authors Jacqueline Downs & Michael Trimmer talk about inspirations

Cherry Potts & Emily Cleaver talk about London Lies inspirations

Wendy Gill and Ellie Stewart on Stations Inspirations