Arachneversary – Five by Five

Our penultimate video for the Arachneversary. This is quite long, as all five writers contributed both thoughts and/or readings. We enjoyed it so much we’re thinking of doing it regularly. Featuring Joan Taylor-Rowan, Cassandra Passarelli, Katy Darby, Helen Morris and Sarah James.

Five by Five was one of our books celebrating the centenary of some women in the UK finally getting the vote. There’s nothing about voting in it, just women going about their (extr)ordinary lives.

You can buy a copy from our webshop

If you are quick you can still use our August discount code, ARACHNEVERSARY – it EXPIRES 31st AUGUST!



Lockdown Frock-up Friday with Joan Taylor-Rowan, part 4

Instead of ‘dress-down’ Friday, in lockdown people are crawling out of their PJs and smartening up their act (Frocking-Up) on a Friday.

Never one to do things by halves, Arachne author Joan Taylor-Rowan, (Five by Five Stations, London Lies) has been channelling her inner heroine, and pushed out the boat. Here are some more of her creations, doyennes of modern dance.






Lockdown Frock-up Friday with Joan Taylor-Rowan, part 3

Instead of ‘dress-down’ Friday, in lockdown people are crawling out of their PJs and smartening up their act (Frocking-Up) on a Friday.

Never one to do things by halves, Arachne author Joan Taylor-Rowan, (Five by Five Stations, London Lies) has been channelling her inner heroine, and pushed out the boat. Here are some more of her creations, a group of trailblazers.








Lockdown Frock-up Friday with Joan Taylor-Rowan, part 2

Apparently instead of ‘dress-down’ Friday, in lockdown people are crawling out of their PJs and smartening up their act (Frocking-Up) on a Friday.

Never one to do things by halves, Arachne author Joan Taylor-Rowan, (Five by Five Stations, London Lies) has been channelling her inner heroine, and pushed out the boat. Here are some more of her creations, a group of Hollywood icons, although Ingrid Bergman is here for the person she is portraying, Joan of Arc.





Joan by pete2

Ingrid Bergman as Saint Joan

Who or What is WooA?

WooA… a recent member of this writing group asked me how the name came about:

WooA = Writers of OUR age. Apparently, when founding members were on an MA together, amongst much younger writers, they found themselves saying this on a regular basis and it stuck, sometimes the ‘our’ is not emphasised, and we refer to ourselves like this with muted irony.

WooA logo

WooA is where the second Arachne Press title, Stations originated – we used to meet in the Broca cafe just opposite Brockley Station, (I wrote such a lot of food-themed stories then!)

The Overground runs at the bottom of my garden. Before there was the Overground, there was only Southern, but trains went to London Bridge, Victoria and Charing Cross. With the advent of the Overground, the Charing Cross trains were lost, and with them, the possibility of an easy last train home from many favourite central London venues. There was lamenting, there were protests, there was a coffin carried on the very last train. It was epic.
Then there was the disruption: the endless sleepless nights while the track was relaid and the station lengthened and the trees on either side of the cutting massacred. (More protests).
There were the huffy, what use is it? conversations on rush-hour platforms, the disbelieving sneer when told the value of my home would increase, followed by the overcrowding, the noise
…and then there was the eating of words.
Because the Overground is wonderful. It cut ten minutes off my journey to work, it halved the time to get to all sorts of North London places I had given up going to: the King’s Head, the Union Chapel and the Estorick Collection. It made getting to the Geffrye Museum simple. It expanded my horizons. (I’m missing my horizons at the moment!)
I ate my words.

Mentioning this in passing at WooA as we settled for a twenty minute writing exercise, Rosalind said: we should write about the Overground. So we did.
From that twenty minutes blossomed the idea for an entire book, with a story for every station on our section of the line: Highbury & Islington to New Cross, Crystal Palace and West Croydon. So: thank you, Overground, and thank you, WooA.

Over the years, Arachne has published quite a few, although not all, of the shifting membership of WooA. And I continue to go to as many meetings as I can. At the moment these are online, and more frequent than normal, for the comfort of talking  – as much about not writing, at the moment, as anything anything else.

We have a few traditions, one of which is to hold a live lit event as part of Brockley Max, our local festival. Of course, that’s gone pfft, like a lot else, but a week ago(?) we got an email saying are you doing anything online that could be part of a virtual Brockley Max?

We weren’t – but – we don’t have a website/Facebook page, anything – well, we could – couldn’t we?
So we are.

open mind WooA

At the time and on the date that we would have been doing this live at the Talbot, Arachne Press is hosting WooA (including Arachne Authors, Bartle Sawbridge, Cherry Potts, Joan Taylor-Rowan, Carolyn Robertson and Neil Lawrence; plus Ruth Bradshaw and Innes Stanley) for Open Mind – an evening of  stories and poems.
So Friday 5th June at 7pm BST, join us on Facebook: Event / Actual video
or Youtube for Love, Loss, Lockdown, Protest, Playdates, Dancing and DINOSAURS.
*TRIGGER WARNING* reported violence between children about half way through (Neil Lawrence’s story).
Video will be available for a week thereafter on both platforms.

Lockdown Frock-Up Friday, with Joan Taylor-Rowan

I had no idea this was a thing. Apparently instead of ‘dress-down’ Friday, in lockdown people are crawling out of their PJs and smartening up their act (Frocking-Up) on a Friday.

Never one to do things by halves, Arachne author Joan Taylor-Rowan, (Five by Five Stations, London Lies) has been channelling her inner heroine, and pushed out the boat. Here are some of the greatest hits so far. Can’t wait to see what she comes up with today…

Amy Johnson



Marlene Deitrich

Lockdown Interviews: No12 Helen Morris interviewed by Joan Taylor-Rowan

Helen Morris (Solstice Shorts: Sixteen Stories about Time, Liberty Tales, Departures, Five by Five, No Spider Harmed in the Making of this Book) interviewed by Joan Taylor-Rowan (London Lies, Five by Five, Stations)

Joan:          I love the specific details in your stories, the visual metaphors are so strong. What do you do to capture the visual detail in your stories – do you keep notebooks, diaries?

Helen:      I am no way that organised!  I do have a very strong visual memory to the point where I can recreate a scene and wind it backwards and forwards in my mind.  I am naturally quirky so see things aslant and if you send me a photo I’m always the person zooming in on the background detail not the thing you’re trying to show me.  I like the less trod path.  I do love metaphors!  They are the tangy brown sauce on the sausage of a story.

Joan:        In two of your stories , Simon le Bon Will Save Us and Telling the Bees, you write in the voices of young people – in the first a pair of wild teenagers, and in the second a much younger child. In both the voices are very strong and authentic. How do you manage this?

Helen:      Goodness me.  The wild teenagers were easy because I can remember those times so clearly.  Bunking off school to smoke Marlboro in the park.  Being insanely in love.  Obsessing over the Top 40.  So I just had to transport myself back and there it all was at my finger tips.  Molly the young girl (she’s not named in the story, but that’s her name) was much harder.  I didn’t want her to sound twee.  Or like an adult trying to put on a child’s voice.  She was based on my sons who lost a karate friend of theirs very young to leukaemia.  Watching them grieve was very powerful.  The ‘people should die in age order’ logic was a direct quote from my middle son who was eight.  And the youngest one who was six wouldn’t go to sleep because ‘Josh had died in his sleep’. But they still retained a very powerful connection with Josh and often talked about him as if he was still here.  I drew on that to bring that authentic voice to Molly.

Joan:        You are particularly strong on conveying emotions.  I am particularly thinking of the heartbreaking Telling the Bees. You convey grief and numbness, in a range of sensory ways, but unusual ways too. How do you achieve this?

Helen:      When I was growing up my family were respite foster carers for children with disabilities.  I got to meet some great people.  But many of them died very, very young.  And some of them having never experienced eating or sexual love or many of the things we take for granted.  I used to share a bedroom with them when they stayed and it had a profound effect.  I very much carry them all with me.  I am also MASSIVELY emotional myself as anyone who knows me will tell you.  A right proper drama queen.  I laugh very loudly and snortingly.  I do big snotty crying at the drop of a hat.  I am very passionate.  And I put the warrior in social justice warrior. I am also neurodiverse so I see and experience the world quite differently to neurotypical people.  So I think I often write in a way that is distant but parallel to real life but touches it enough for us to recognise the experiences and see them afresh.  So I lend you my brain for a bit.

Joan:        Classic question: what inspired these stories? They are all so different, a fantastical  LOL, a fable in Troll, a recollection of childhood in Simon Le Bon will Save Us ( a great title by the way). What were the sparks for these stories?

Helen:      Pretty much all of my stories start with me thinking ‘what if’.  What if a Twitter troll was a real troll?  What if I tried to write about a very short time period in real time (Memories).  Simon Le Bon was written for an 80s New Year’s Eve Party! So it was soundtracked as it was read which was glorious. It’s dedicated to my sisters who were massive Duran Duran fans.  The other stories again are ‘what ifs’.  What if the menopause was a trigger for something unexpected?  What if the internet developed into something we hadn’t foreseen?  They’re often quite twisted – just like me!

Joan:         Describe your writing process, are you what my college tutor refers to a s a “pantser” or a “planner”. Do you plan everything in advance or set off, and wing it… work by the seat of your pants?

Helen:      I am the biggest panster in the world!  I never plan anything.  Winging it all the way!  I squeeze my writing in between work, a family and a lot of swimming so if I tried to plan it would never happen.  Some stories I start and then stop and then have to come back to.  Some I write all in one go.  LOL I wrote without the sub plot and then I remembered Blake’s 7 always had two plots going on (one on the Liberator and one on whichever planet they were on) so I added a second!  I love Blake’s 7.  It was the first programme I really became obsessed with as a child.  The complexity of the themes were fantastic.  And not at all heroic and saccharine.  Dark and morally ambiguous.  Delicious.

Joan:        Which authors do you like to read. Which was the last book, or collection that knocked your socks off?

Helen:      I always come back to Louis Sachar’s Holes as the book that totally astonished me.  It is just like nothing I’ve ever read.  It’s got a beautiful symmetry and is hugely original.  It also has a grand redemption arc and the baddies get their come uppance (yeay!).  It’s very funny and hugely sad and air punchingly satisfying. I was also totally blown away by Watchmen by Moore, Gibbons and Higgins.  Again it’s a work of spectacular originality and the graphics are wonderful.  I am quite eclectic in what I read.  I do love Frankenstein and Moby Dick and I also love His Dark Materials.  A bit of a magpie.

Joan:         Now we’ve all been thrown into this sci-fi novel which is covid 19, do you think it will feed into your work, are you already imagining your post-covid stories? In fact are you able to write much at the moment? How do you find it is affecting your creative life?

Helen:      I’m not writing at the moment.  I used to try and write weighty and meaningful stories but I think what I actually enjoy most is funny stories where the world ends up as it should do.  There is always a lot of humour in times like this and that’s one of the ways we pull through, but it’s still too close to write anything and there is too much tragedy.
Joan:         Can we expect a novel, or are you in love with the short form. What is it about the short story that attracts you?

Helen:      I don’t think I have the attention span for a novel!  Also as a pantser I think novels are much harder work in many ways and you have to do research and serious writerly things and I’m just never going to do that!  Short stories are the perfect length for me.  You can cover the ground you need to but it’s never a huge chore or epic voyage.  I’m much more into the quick win! So I guess what attracts me is they’re low effort and high reward and that will frankly do for me!

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

Preorder No Spider Harmed… – out 8th August for our eighth anniversary!

If you would prefer eBooks, all these books are available from your usual retailer. we recommend Hive for ePub.

I want my M.A.

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

joan observer spoof (3)

Joan Taylor-Rowan

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

Joan’s brand new website

Over to Joan



I want my M.A.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time and Tide Videos: The Fisherman’s Wife, Greenwich and Hastings


Uploading the videos from Solstice Shorts 2019, Time & Tide continues.

Here is The Fisherman’s Wife by Linda McMullen read at Greenwich by Carrie Cohen, with BSL interpretation by Paul Michaels; and (audio only) at Hastings read by Joan Taylor-Rowan

Many of the stories and poems were read at more than one of the venues, so there will be an opportunity to compare and contrast!

Limited edition illustrated book of the material available now only from our webshop or from our events .

We are aiming to get BSL translations of some of the material, and this will also be on the website in about March, to coincide with the launch of the bookshop version of the book.


Videos from Departures launch part 1

Videos from the first half of the Departures launch at Brockley Brewery on 21st November 2019

Oscar Windsor-Smith reads This England

Carolyn Eden reads My Daddy

Joan Taylor-Rowan reads from Three Sisters on the Edge

more tomorrow…