International Mermaid Day

We all need a bit of cheering up. I should be doing cash flows, so instead I’m posting about mermaids.

Just a short post, mind.

If you are in to Mermaid-kind you might like The Real McCoy

Cherry Potts’ story in We/She

I’ll tell you what though; you weren’t really expecting me, a genuine mermaid, were you? You thought I’d be some girlie in a clamshell bikini and yardage of slinky blue skirt with
unconvincing fins. So why are you disappointed that you got the real thing? That makes no sense at all! You should be in awe, really…
Very few of us survive without the sea. Take us away from it and we pine, dead in a fortnight mostly. Fortunately I’m tough, and I can see the positive side of a career.

And if you’ll stretch to a Selkie, then Jackie Taylor’s Pelt in Strange Waters might be just the thing.

Her scalp itched; her thick, grey-black hair fought against the tyranny of the new perm. She was uncomfortably hot and clammy in her new outer skin of trench coat (belted, beige), silk scarf, beret, tan leather gloves. Samuel had said when he met her at the station, ‘You scrub up well!’ And she’d winced at the thought of the skinning knives used to clean down pelts.
She wanted to take the trench coat off and carry it, but there was drizzle, and it was the wetting kind, and if her skin got wet, she would smell of the sea. She was never sure if anyone else could smell it, but the thought of it made her burn with shame.

Strange Waters is also available as an audiobook read by Sophie Aldred

Happy Mermaid Day!

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.

And now for some GOOD News

We could all do with some cheer in the bleak days of January, especially this year, so courtesy of Arts Council England, we are here to do just that.

We are the proud and happy recipients of a £45,000 grant from Arts Council England

This will pay for our next ten books, and (drum roll) audio books! Which means we can smack Covid on the nose by providing another way to enjoy our books without leaving home, and provide some work to actors who aren’t allowed into a theatre just now. I’m anticipating it will also be huge fun. Putting the plans together now with our audiobook partner Listening Books

Thanks to everyone who gave us their thoughts on whether this was the right way to go. It’s one of the fastest growing sectors in literature, but it’s tough to get right, and harder still to market, so the funding will also pay for …

A part-time marketing person, and a (separate) part-time admin person for a few months, so that I can concentrate on finding and supporting new writers and guest editors. We will be advertising these posts very soon. They will be remote working, so if you think that could be you, start polishing your CV, but don’t send anything until you see the advertisment please!

The Books

The books that are being supported by the ACE grant are:

This Poem Here – Poetry collection by Rob Walton (Just the audio book, as we’ve already done the rest)

Zed and the Cormorants -YA Novel by Clare Owen, illustrated by Sally Atkins. We are talking to Sophie Aldred about reading the audio book)

100neHundred -100 x 100 word stories by Laura Besley

Incorcisms -short, strange tales by David Hartley

Accidental Flowers -Novel in short stories by Lily Peters

Strange Waters -Short Story Collection by Jackie Taylor

Jackie

A Voice Coming from Then – Poetry collection (illustrated with collages) by Jeremy Dixon

An Anthology of poems and short fiction from UK based Deaf writers (no title yet) edited by Lisa Kelly and A N Other

Lisa

An Anthology of poems and short stories from UK based Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Writers (no title yet) edited by Laila Sumpton and Sandra A. Agard

Solstice Shorts 2021 Anthology (provisional theme: time is running out but we’ll come up with a better title!)

Jackie Taylor: Rewilding

Author Jackie Taylor introduces her story Rewilding written especially for Solstice Shorts Festival, Tymes goe by Turnes.The festival is online this year, 21st December 2020 8pm BST Tickets are on sale now (donation: suggestion £5) on eventbrite

you can pre-order the book direct from our webshop and get a free ticket, or ticket holders paying at least £5, get the book half price if ordered by 8am the morning after the festival.

Its the actual Eighth Anniversary PARTY (Book Launch) for No Spider Harmed in the Making of this Book (Part One)

It’s here – weeks of planning, recording, editing, uploading (and a bit of cursing) and finally we have an online book launch for No Spider Harmed in The Making of This Book.

(You may not be able to hear it but thousands of spiders are twanging their webs and stamping their feet in celebration.)

You can buy the book from our website, (or a bookshop, but we see more of the money if you buy direct, and if I’m feeling generous, you might get a random badge too)
We are also having a sale (this book not included) Add ARACHNEVERSARY at checkout to get your discount and check out the special offers button too.
If you want an ebook your usual supplier will have it, We recommend Hive for ePub.

The file for the launch ended up being so HUGE I had to split it, so there is a brief interval and the other half is at 9.02pm* BST. Just time for a comfort break or to refill your glass.

*on here it’s 2 minutes later than on YouTube to give the file a chance to go live for the premiere, they have this really annoying countdown!)

First half features

introduction by head Arachnid, Cherry Potts with BSL translation by Marcel Hirshman.

Kate FoleySpin
A. Katherine BlackEven People who’d been Accidentally Turned into Giant Murderous Mutant Spiders (extract)
Greg Page as Incy Wincy
Daniel Olivieri Revenge One JSTOR article at a time
Jackie TaylorGoodbye Spider
Carrie Cohen as Ms Muffet
KT WagnerAcross the Void
Marcel Hirshman performing Jennifer Rood‘s Spider Queen, in BSL
cover design Karen Boissonneault-Gauthier used repeatedly! Dancing spider gif created from photo by Martha Nance

Get ready for Book Launch for No Spider Harmed in the Making of this Book

It’s nearly here – weeks of planning, recording, editing, uploading … You may not be able to hear it but thousands of spiders are twanging their webs and stamping their feet in celebration. Join us on this Saturday, 8/8/2020 8pm….

You can buy the book from our website, (or a bookshop, but we see more of the money if you buy direct, and if I’m feeling generous, you might get a random badge too)
We are also having a sale (this book not included).
Add ARACHNEVERSARY at checkout to get your discount and check out the special offers button too.
If you want an ebook your usual supplier will have it, We recommend Hive for ePub.

The file for the launch ended up being so HUGE I had to split it, so there is a brief interval and the other half is at 9.02pm* BST. Just time for a comfort break or to refill your glass.

Where and when to find Part 1

You Tube https://youtu.be/40BHRD1GID0 (8pm)

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/ArachnePress/videos/983508885447541/ (8pm)

Website https://wp.me/p2dpP2-5vK (8.02 to give YouTube a chance to get going – the files are too big to load directly)

Introduction by Cherry with BSL translation by Marcel Hirshman.

Kate Foley- Spin (Poem)
A. Katherine Black – Even People who’d been Accidentally Turned into Giant Murderous Mutant Spiders (story extract)
Greg Page as Incy Wincy (Monologue)
Daniel Olivieri Revenge. One JSTOR article at a time (Story)
Jackie Taylor – Goodbye Spider (Story)
Carrie Cohen as Ms Muffet (monologue)
KT Wagner – Across the Void (story)
Marcel Hirshman performing Jennifer Rood’s Spider Queen, in BSL (poem)

Where and When to find Part 2:

You Tube https://youtu.be/9uV5wjgY5SE (9pm)

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/ArachnePress/videos/303396004197939/ (8.50)

Website https://wp.me/p2dpP2-5vV (9.02)

Emma Lee – Moonlight is Web Coloured (Poem)
Carolyn Robertson – Sicarius (story)
Stella Wulf – Femmes Fatales (poem)
David Mathews – Stowaway (Story)
Joanne LM Williams – Gifted (poem)
Marcel Hirshman performing Natalie Rowe’s ‘If You Kill a Spider the Rain Will Come’, in BSL (Poem)
Math Jones as Robert the Bruce (Monologue)
Phoebe Demeger – Clearing Out the Shed (Story, followed by BSL translation by Marcel Hirshman
Chukwudi Onwere as Anansi (monologue)
Seth Crook – The Matter of the Metta (Poem followed by BSL Translation by Marcel Hirshman)
Hugh Findlay – Spider Haiku (poem)
Elizabeth Hopkinson – Web of Life (story)

cover design by Karen Boissonneault-Gauthier used repeatedly! Dancing spider gif created from photo by Martha Nance

 

Launching No Spider Harmed in the Making of This Book

Yes, we are launching the book!

Join us at 8pm on the 8th of August, to celebrate the launch of our 8th anniversary anthology, No Spider Harmed in the Making of This Book.

Being eight is significant for us as we are named for a spider, so we are making a big deal of this!

Our writers have given the nod to Anansi, Robert the Bruce, Miss Muffet, and of course, Arachne herself, as well as discovering whole new worlds of spider influence and metaphor, with many stories dipping into Fantasy and Science Fiction.
A joy for any arachnid fancier, and anyone who can’t stand small lives being trampled, in prejudice or phobia.

Download the recipe for our ‘curds and whey’ cake in advance, so you can sample it at the right moment.

Watch readings from authors, interruptions from celebrities of the spider world, and BSL translations from Marcel Hirshman.

Readings of Poems from
Emma Lee
Hugh Findlay
Jennifer Rood (BSL only)
Joanne L M Williams
Kate Foley
Natalie Rowe (BSL only)
Seth Crook (+BSL)
Stella Wulf

Readings of Stories from
A. Katherine Black
Carolyn Robertson
Daniel Olivieri
David Mathews
Elizabeth Hopkinson
Jackie Taylor
KT Wagner
Phoebe Demeger (+BSL)

We aren’t going to let a global pandemic stop us celebrating our spidery anniversary.

Pull up a web and join us on our website, our YouTube Channel or our Facebook Page

Dusk: Video- Warkleigh – Cape Cornwall

Lisa Sneidau and Katy Lee read Jackie Taylor‘s short story for Dusk, Cape Cornwall at Courage Copse, Warkleigh, Devon

BSL interpreted by David Wolfenden

This story and all the other unpublished poems and stories are in the forthcoming anthology Dusk.

You can preorder the print version, and buy the ebook, now!

Dusk Author: Jackie Taylor

Jackie Taylor is originally from London but has  lived and worked in rural Cornwall for the past 20 years. She has several jobs  and writes when she can, mainly short stories and poetry. Her short stories have appeared in various publications, most recently in Mslexia and the Stories For Homes 2 anthology.

Jackie’s story for Dusk, Cape Cornwall, will be performed at Warkleigh at Dusk on the 21st December 2017 and published in the Dusk anthology on 21st June 2018