Summer Solstice

The Summer Solstice is tonight at 22:43 BST (well, that’s when it is in London, anyway).

I’m not going to stay up! but I might tune in for the sunset and sunrise at Stone Henge.

In the meantime, writers, musicians, you have until 23:59 BST tomorrow to submit your offering for the Solstice Shorts Festival. So maybe you will be staying up to see the Solstice in?

See you on the other side.

Lockdown readings: We Dig the Pig

Poet Angel Warwick reads his poem from Time and Tide, ‘We Dig the Pig’

You can buy Time and Tide, and other Arachne books, from our webshop, we will post them out to you.

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

Lockdown interviews: no18 Claire Booker interviewed by Laura Potts

Claire BookerClaire Booker interviewed by fellow Time and Tide Poet, Laura Potts

Laura potts

Laura:  Hello Claire! It’s lovely to virtually meet you. Let’s start with an easy one. Why do you write?

Claire: Ah, that’s a good one, Laura. I rarely stop and ask myself why? Too busy trying to actually do it. I think it’s because writing offers me quiet, introspection, where I can explore the things that feel deepest, and yet are hardest to reach. It can be frustrating, coming close (but not quite close enough) to something meaningful. But when words do come together in unexpected and revealing ways, then there’s real satisfaction. I also enjoy being part of the wider family of writers. It feels like a journey we share together, as readers and writers of each other’s work.

Laura:  As a poet, who haunts you? Are there any writers you return to time after time?

Claire: I was madly in love with Wilfred Owen when I was at school. I even carried a little framed photo of him around with me! I love Edward Thomas too – even more so now I’m older. His niece was my father’s first girlfriend, and his great niece was my Aunt’s god-daughter, so there’s that additional connection. Other poets who inspire me include Dylan Thomas, W B Yeats and Seamus Heaney. I may have a bit of a Celtic thing going on here. But Gerald Manley Hopkins is also awe-inspiring, and Plath is vital reading too. I enjoy contemporary poets too, including Alison Brackenbury, Pascal Petit and Mona Arshi.

Laura:  Tell us your favourite line of poetry.

Claire: Help, that’s quite a Sophie’s choice you’re offering me there. Perhaps Dylan Thomas

And alone in the night’s curving act/ They yearn with tongues of curlews for the unconceived/And immemorial sons of the cudgelling, hacked/Hill.

Or Sappho

Moon and the Pleiades go down. / Midnight and tryst pass by. I, though, lie/ Alone.

Am I allowed a third one? Plath

 Love set you going like a fat, gold watch.

Positively the last! Sam Beckett

Birth. It was the death of him.

 

Laura:  As a Brighton-based writer, do you feel that place and time are important to your work? Can you separate your personal writing from your personal geography?

Claire: I moved to a village just outside Brighton three years ago, after decades in south London. The sea and Downs are definitely beginning to loom large in my work. My poems are often about people, relationships, conflicts, memories and dreams. But I’m finding nature increasingly represented, either symbolically, or as the primary character of the poem.  Fisherman’s Daughter (In Time and Tide) came about through a visit to the excellent Fishing Museum on Brighton beach. We can forget how livelihood was once a very physical and dangerous reality, involving whole families.  I’m a dreadful sailor (three sea legs required for any kind of sea journey) but I love living vicariously through the vocabulary and mythology of the sea.

Laura:  Here’s a fun one. If you were throwing a fantasy dinner party for poets and playwrights, who would you invite?

Claire: Great idea. I wonder how they’d all get along? I’d have to invite Shakespeare, so I could pump him about the Dark Lady (might s/he come too?). Emily Dickenson, but would she turn up? Probably not.  Maria Tsvetaeva (I’d have to brush up my Russian), Lorca and Neruda (help, no Spanish), Oscar Wilde (for his wit), Maya Angelou, Sharon Olds and Jackie Kay to keep the men in check. Plus of course everyone from my Stanza Group.

Laura:  You had the chance to travel to Bangladesh last year as a guest poet for the Dhaka Book Fair. What was that like?

Claire: Totally amazing. It all came about through Loose Muse Writer’s Night, which has met in London for 15 years and is run by the wonderful Agnes Meadows. A key Bangladeshi poet Aminur Rahman came to perform (unusually, because Loose Muse is a platform for female writers) and we exchanged books. A year later he invited me as one of seven guest poets from around the world. We performed at three universities, the Dhaka Book Festival, on countless TV programmes, Poetry clubs and even in a prison. It was my first time in Asia and the warmth of the welcome and the sheer enthusiasm everyone showed for poetry was inspiring, and very humbling.

Laura:  Do you have any advice for young readers who feel called to write?

Claire: I’d say play with ideas and words, experiment, and don’t feel you have to write in a certain way. Perhaps consider one of the many creative degree courses, but equally, remember to respect and enjoy your own voice (and the finding of it). There isn’t a right way to write poetry. Meet up with other writers, support each other and give and receive feedback. You have something unique to share.

Laura:  Finally, tell us a little bit about your future projects. Where can we find you?

Claire: I’m working on a full collection based on my experiences of living here on the South Downs. My first pamphlet Later There Will be Postcards is out with Green Bottle Press, and my second pamphlet The Bone That Sang is forthcoming from Indigo Dreams later this year. I blog at www.bookerplays.co.uk  where you can read excerpts of my stage plays and a selection of poetry.

You can buy all  Arachne books, including Time and Tide  from our webshop, we will post them out to you.

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

Lockdown Interviews: no15 Jenny Mitchell, Interviewed by Emma Lee

pic for distribution Jenny Mitchell

Poet Jenny Mitchell (Time and Tide) interviewed by Emma Lee, (The Significance of a Dress, The Other Side of Sleep, Story Cities, Time and Tide, No Spider Harmed in the Making of this Book)

25 Emma Lee

Emma:         How did you start writing and what drew you to poetry?

Jenny:          I’ve been writing since I was a child, drawn to telling as many stories as I could in as short an amount of time as possible. Luckily, the English teachers at my secondary school were extremely encouraging when they saw how much I liked to read. The deputy head, Ann Taylor, was an outstanding teacher who allowed me to show her my poems whenever I liked. It was really encouraging and wonderful.
Another teacher, Gaynor Macdonald, was also very good. Her husband, George Hartley, published The Less Deceived by Philip Larkin (this will be my only name drop – promise!). Gaynor and George helped me to develop my love of writing.

Emma:         At the Time and Tide festival in Greenwich, your poem, Church Mary Sounds the Sea, was read by Grace Cookey-Gam. How did it feel to hear your poem read by someone else?

Jenny:          I found Grace’s reading extremely moving, and I’d love to work with more actors to bring my poems alive.
I was also really moved when Grace asked me if Church Mary was based on a real person. I love that the poem seemed so alive to her, and it inspired me to write another poem which includes a grave for Church Mary. Despite this, I continue to write about her because she seems like a powerful character with a lot of wisdom.

Emma:         Your poem, Church Mary Sounds the Sea in the ‘Time and Tide’ anthology explores how important it is to bear witness. How important is it to keep the memory of slavery and injustices alive? Do you think the history of slavery should be part of the National Curriculum?

Jenny:          I don’t know whether it is or not. There was a lot of work being done to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade in 2007. However, I think the history, as told in museums etc, often creates a picture of poor, downtrodden black people who were freed by noble white men like Wilberforce. This distortion denies the agency and power of black people and their/our role in fighting for freedom.
I felt so starved of nuanced information about the history that I spent five years doing my own research, reading lots of books and examining archives. One of the most influential books for me was Natural Rebels by Sir Hilary Beckles.
Once I’d done this research, my main aim as a writer became to transform the history and ‘give voice’ to those who were silenced but not destroyed.

Emma:         Towards the end of Church Mary Sounds the Sea, you use the image of ‘real strength lies beneath our surface’, implying that, despite the attempts of ‘slave owners’ to dehumanise the enslaved, the image suggests they have not lost their humanity. Do you think it’s important to re-humanise those who were made slaves?

Jenny:          I don’t think enslaved people were ever not human. I think white ‘slave owners’ attempted to take away their humanity using unspeakable violence and oppression. This attempt to dehumanise is at the heart of any narrative that suggests white abolitionists were the ones who freed black people. It denies agency and the natural desire to be free.
It might also be the foundation on which racism is built, the idea that white people are the human beings with power and everyone else is somehow ‘other’, powerless and beneath them.
I’d like to reiterate that in writing about what I perceive to be the legacies of British transatlantic enslavement, I’m not just talking about black people. I think the entire structure of white ‘patriarchy’ is a legacy, including its continued economic, physical and psychic violence towards black people.

Emma:         Your poem Her Lost Language begins: “English mouths are made of cloth/ stitched, pulled apart with every word”. How important is the imagery of clothes to your work?

Jenny:          I seem to use clothes as a way to talk about identity, history and emotions. I think that for women, and black women in particular, clothes were and are used to signify so much – status, worth etc.

Emma:         The metaphors in Eve’s Lost Daughter suggest the damage of a woman’s clothes is a reflection of her alleged madness, but the advice at the end of the poem is for her to take her damaged clothes and escape. You’ve mentioned elsewhere the intergenerational traumas that arise for descendants of slaves, and a reading of Eve’s Lost Daughter could be that she takes her inherited damage with her even as she escapes captivity. Is this an important theme in your work?

Jenny:          Thank you for your interpretation. Firstly, to clarify, I think intergenerational trauma regarding enslavement is something that impacts white people as much as it does black people, for obvious reasons but in very different ways.
I’m sure you know that sometimes you just write ‘instinctively’ without going into deep thought about what it means to you or to others. But your interpretations of my poems definitely get to the heart of my beliefs. Yes, I think we carry all of our past within us until we do the work to heal/transform it. I believe that poetry or any creative endeavour can be a form of personal alchemy.

Emma:         In Song for a Former Slave you use the metaphor, ‘her dress is made of music’ and in this poem the subject’s clothes represent freedom, yet women’s clothes are more usually described in terms of their restrictions. What inspired you to subvert this norm or surprise readers in going against convention?

Jenny:          Perhaps clothes mean different things to us depending on our histories/cultures. Also, I think poems should subvert and surprise, if only because that reminds us of how restrictive the norms can be.

Emma:         These poems are in direct contrast to Black Men Should Wear Colour which has a distinctly celebratory note throughout in a list of flamboyance. How free do you think people should be to choose their own clothes, or it is too easy for people to go with a default suit for work, jeans/sweats for casual wear and not really think about what they are wearing?

Jenny:          I wonder if being really free to choose the way we dress would lead to more freedom and a surer sense of identity?
In the case of Black Men Should Wear Colour, I wrote it after looking out of my window and seeing a black man in really bright clothes. It reminded me of my short time living in Senegal where I saw men in the most amazing colours. They looked so alive, in contrast to the way so many black men dress in the UK. I believe it might be a sort of camouflage, not wanting to stand out in a country where there might be hostility/envy from so many quarters.
In Samuel Selvon’s seminal book, ‘The Lonely Londoners’, he describes black men in the ‘50s who are dressed in bright colours as being not quite ‘respectable’. I’ve also heard that this was one of the things that was said to denigrate people coming from the Caribbean after the 2nd World War. They were mocked for dressing in banana-coloured clothes etc. It’s obviously meant to be a racist slur but I think it’s interesting that (the vibrancy of) clothes should be singled out.

Emma:         What projects are you working on right now?

Jenny:          I’m drafting my second collection called Map of a Plantation. The poems are challenging because of the subject matter, not necessarily the form. But it feels like something I have to do.
Later in the year, I’ll be working with Floe Press as Guest Editor of their poetry blog.

Emma:         What are you currently reading?

Jenny:          I tend to read lots of individual poems during the day, but I think of it as part of my ‘education’.
In order to relax I’ve started reading massive biographies again, currently Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh by John Lahr, about Tennessee Williams.

Emma:         Are there any writing advice or tips you’d like to pass on?

Jenny:          Perhaps if you’re a member of a writing group practise writing down any feedback about your poems instead of answering it verbally. I find this is a helpful way not to get trapped into justifying or defending work. It also means I can go away and look at what’s been said and winkle out anything that might be useful.

Emma:         What question would you have liked to answer?

Jenny:           think I’d have liked to be asked: when are you next performing in Rome? And for me to be able to give you a concrete date. Soon, I hope…

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

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

Preorder No Spider Harmed… – out 8th August 2020 for our eighth anniversary!

Virtual Launch, Time and Tide: Laura Potts reads her poem, First Light

 

Laura Potts, reading from her home at the rapidly put together online launch of Time and Tide. We had a week’s notice that we had to move the launch on-line. Our authors pulled out all  the stops, learnt new skills and we launched on 21st March on our Facebook Page with Live recordings. We didn’t really have time to promote, so we barely sold any books… We’d love you to buy a copy of this EXCELLENT book, available in 2 editions!

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.

 

 

 

Lockdown Interviews: No10 David Mathews, interviewed by Jeremy Dixon

David MathewsDavid Mathews has stories in Solstice Shorts: Sixteen Stories about Time (Wednesday Afternoon was one of the judges’ five favourites),  Liberty Tales, Shortest Day, Longest Night, DUSK and Story Cities.

Jeremy Dixon

David is interviewed by Jeremy Dixon,  author of In Retail Jeremy also has poems in The Other Side of Sleep, Liberty Tales, Dusk.

 

 

 

JEREMY:       You have a couple of stories in the forthcoming Arachne Press book No Spider Harmed in the Making of this Book. Could you tell us about them, what was the inspiration (apart from spiders!) and how did you develop the idea into a story? And how did you know when it was finished?

DAVID:          I already had a spider story, set in space, outer space. I’d made a couple of kind of newsletters – ‘Stories of sorts, all short’, I’d called them – and one had a spider in a heroic role, if you like. I know next to nothing about spiders, but I like how hugely varied they are in appearance and, especially, how they work, as it were. So after I’d written my new spider story for Cherry, I risked sending her this old bit of nonsense too.
As for the one I wrote specially, I was keen to avoid anthropomorphising spiders. I don’t know how a spider thinks. What’s their consciousness? No idea. But how might a spider behave in a situation where things could go well or badly? Get the reader to wonder. Spider doesn’t. Spider just does her thing. I did learn how spiders are adapted to detecting vibration, and that ability gave me some real spideriness in the story. The thread, you might say. Sorry.
And you asked when it was finished? When all the changes I was making were reversions to earlier words or phrases. That and Cherry’s deadline, of course.

JEREMY:       What influence, if any, does your personal history have in writing a short story?

DAVID:          No big single way, but in lots of small ways, I suppose. For example, I was a work psychologist, and part of the job was to describe people’s work in very exact and concise ways. The habit of choosing words for that exercise is bound to come through in making short stories. Maybe it was a good training. Trouble is, it also makes me rather intolerant of novels. Most of them seem to me to need a damn good edit, though I’ve read some brilliant exceptions recently.
And then, where I come from matters. I grew up in Barry, not far from where you now live, Jeremy, and many of my stories are set in Wales. Can I put my finger on the precise difference that that makes? Not just like that, but I do feel that the English suffer from a kind of imperial condescension towards Ireland, Wales and Scotland. I’m also in many ways quite shy, which is not a problem for writing as such, but it’s there. So, for example, how much does, for example, my sympathy for my characters stem from Welshness, or from having been a psychologist – or is it just me?

JEREMY:       Has the lockdown had an effect on your writing or your writing routine?

DAVID:          Not too much. And in any case, ‘routine’ is rather a strong word for what I do. ‘Habit’ would be a better word. I do miss being in cafés, and miss walking whenever and wherever I like, for the relaxation and time away from the keyboard. And casual conversations. And overhearing people talk.

JEREMY:       Can you share any details of what you’re working on currently?

DAVID:          Two stories. One about a search for perfection. A woman trying to make the perfect pot. Then there’s Mrs Cadwallader, landlady in the Vale of Glamorgan, and fierce opponent of three boys, becoming young men, who feature in several stories. There’s one in Liberty Tales. Via the boys I’ve been pretty hard on Mrs C, and I feel I should make it up to her. Her dead husband was a sailor. In May and June 1966 there was a seaman’s strike, and that becomes her moment. Working title, ‘Mrs Cadwallader rides again’.
And something that will probably end up as a chapbook. Thomas à Becket was killed in Canterbury Cathedral 850 years ago come December. I’ve drummed up a few friends to write some ‘Beckets’, stories between 1118 and 1170 words long, inspired by the drama, the man and all that followed, like pilgrimage and Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Working title ‘Thomas à Becket’s Cat’, so you can see it’s not meant to be pious or devotional. I’m wondering whether the cat should be called Julian.*

JEREMY:       What advice do you have for any new and aspiring writers who may be reading this?

DAVID: I should be asking you that, on account of your booklet on writing tips, Allow Your Pen to Lead the Way? I can’t imagine that anything I could say would be of any use to anybody. But – and this is dodging the question of course – show me a story, and I would certainly have something to say. I am wary of generalisations, because we learn more from specifics. When I was in my first job, back in the dark ages, my boss called me in about the first significant report I had put in. On her coffee table was my document, covered in red ink. Seeing my face, she laughed. Don’t worry, she said, if it was no good, I wouldn’t have done that. Perhaps that’s advice in a way.

JEREMY:       You have a history of working with Arachne Press as a publisher, are your experiences with them different to other publishers you have worked with?

DAVID:          Two stories in particular would not have been what they are if Cherry had not got her hands on them. ‘Mouse’, my Longest Night story was decent, but Cherry’s guidance made it sharp. I wouldn’t have got there on my own. I’ll tell you a secret, if you want to know where stories come from. Read Julia Donaldson’s The Gruffalo, then read ‘Mouse’.
And then there was the first story of mine that Arachne published, Wednesday Afternoon (in Solstice Shorts, Sixteen Stories about Time). I’d got the story sorted. It’s based, very, very loosely, on a real, long-term liaison. But I had told the story from my perspective, reporting what someone else told me. Cherry cut straight through that. She made my informant the narrator, and introduced a device to give credibility to her knowledge of the intimate details of the two lovers – the narrator and the woman of the couple routinely sharing a glass of Muscat. I did the rest, of course, but what a difference that made.
And then Cherry asked Carrie Cohen to read it. I’d never heard anyone read a story of mine in public before, so on the day I was pretty anxious. It was a thrill. And it was hilarious. And she’d found in the story nuance that I had barely recognised myself.

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.

Watch Carrie Cohen read ‘Wednesday Afternoon’ at Solstice Shorts 2014 on YouTube

www.davidmathewsstories.com

*Is this a reference to Julian, the Arachne Press chief editor? [ed]

Lockdown Interviews: no9 Elizabeth Hopkinson answers questions sent by Rob Walton

Elizabeth Hopkinson (We/She, Time and Tide) answers questions sent by fellow author Rob Walton (An Outbreak of Peace,  Stations , Time and Tide, Dusk)

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

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

Virtual Launch, Time and Tide: Ness Owen reads Sea Lessons

Ness Owen reading from her home on the island of Ynys Môn, at the rapidly put together online launch of Time and Tide. We had a week’s notice that we had to move the launch on-line. Our authors pulled out all  the stops, learnt new skills and we launched on 21st March on our Facebook Page with Live recordings. We didn’t really have time to promote, so we barely sold any books… We’d love you to buy a copy of this EXCELLENT book, available in 2 editions!

Claire Booker reads at virtual launch of Time and Tide

Here is Claire Booker’s launch video tidied up a bit.