Mapping the path to safety

To begin our Where We Find Ourselves blog tour, Arachne Press Director, Cherry Potts shares her thoughts on the theme of ‘Maps and Mapping’:

Maps are objects of pleasure and anticipation for me, promises of holidays and beautiful in their own right, but they used to be safety blankets – I went through a long period of agoraphobia and the only way I could take a ‘stroll’ in the countryside (or anywhere else, really) was if I knew exactly where I was going, what obstacles were along the way and how long it would take – getting lost was something I literally had nightmares about. I’m better at it now, but it’s always me with the map in my pocket, if no longer clutched in an anxious grip.

So when Laila Sumpton suggested ‘Maps and Mapping’ as the focus for our global majority anthology, Where We Find Ourselves, I said yes almost by reflex. As we settled into thinking about why, exactly, we thought this a good idea, there was a lot to cover. Arachne has a history with what is apparently called Psychogeography – not planned, but one of our books is on the reading list at a university, so I’m told – these were geographically rooted (routed?) books of stories set in London, and along the east London Overground. I like that sort of thing. But this was different. We didn’t want to over-dictate what our authors wrote about, and wanted to see what would come up. We were hoping  for stories of home, belonging, leaving, journeys, identity, borders, invasion, exile … not of a particular place, but any place that the author or poet felt strongly about. And we got them, especially the search for places of safety – and we got a story about getting lost on a country walk, so that was my personal nightmare ticked off too.

Somehow this map idea morphed into an almost series. Not quite enough of one to say book one of… (although if pushed I will!) but four (so far) conceptually linked books.

Next up, in November, is What Meets the Eye? The Deaf Perspective, an anthology of  poems and stories from Deaf, deaf and Hard of Hearing writers.

About twelve years ago I studied Neurolinguistic Programming (one of the things that helped overcome my agoraphobia). One of the basic tenets of NLP is that people have a linguistic preference that reveals how they experience the world, showing itself in use of words to do with one specific sense. Most people are visual or kinaesthetic (touch, motion, emotion), far fewer auditory, etc; although the transmit preference may not be the same as the receive preference. I spent some time wondering if I dare stick my hand up and say what about people who don’t have access to all those things? I never did, I found the large group intimidating, but I spent a lot of time thinking about it. When I started learning BSL, my doubts were confirmed, and confounded as well. So when I was discussing the title of a book with movement as its theme (very loose connection to maps!) with editors Lisa Kelly and Sophie Stone, I was on about the language of movement or the movement of language, and Sophie entirely disagreed and said that BSL is a language of sight. In my kinaesthetically orientated way I had been thinking about transmitting communication and Sophie was thinking about receiving it. Which is how we ended up with the title What Meets the Eye? The Deaf Perspective.

Alongside these two anthologies I had been talking to Ness Owen and Sian Northey about a bilingual Welsh-English poetry anthology for March next year. Sian came up with the brilliant idea of poems about/inspired by the iconic north-south route, the A470. Disclosure – my Welsh is limited to what can generally be found on a road sign, and saying hello and thank you, so an appropriate theme for me! Out came my maps – of course – and yes, I had driven bits of that road.

We won’t have to translate the title, Sian said. Wrong – because we’ve ended up with a subtitle, Poems for the Road/Cerrdi’r Ffordd.

Nothing screams maps more than a book about a road, and I spent a lot of time looking up places referenced in the poems, and getting to understand the topography of both road and poems. I can’t wait to drive it again, boring my wife silly as I point out places and say oh that’s in so-and-so’s poem. We have a fantasy about hiring a bus to do a book tour along the length of the road from Cardiff to Llandudno. The irony of this, in light of the next book, is not lost on me.

Before we get to the A470, we have another book – the Solstice Shorts Festival anthology, Words from the Brink out in December in time for the festival. Our initial call out had the loose concept of time is running out, and we wanted work that addressed the climate crisis.

At risk of sounding like a spare part from Dr Who, Solstice Shorts is always about time, and the festival has travelled around most of the UK, and even got to Portugal one year, so I thought we ought to be able to get a map theme into our overarching time concept. This year’s festival itself is still very much up in the air at the moment. Venues are difficult, and should we really be trying to have an in-real-life event at all?

Perhaps the link to maps is tenuous, except, actually, it isn’t. This book encompasses the whole Earth – viewed from space by acquisitive or curious aliens, in her personification as Gaia and in the microcosm of a single plant or butterfly. Our authors map their way through climate crisis to disaster, or renewal.

We are on the brink. A gnat’s wink in either direction can make the difference. Which direction do will we take?

You can follow the blog tour for Where We Find Ourselves until 30 October.

Where We Find Ourselves Blog Tour

We are really excited to announce the blog tour for Where We Find Ourselves edited by Laila Sumpton and Sandra A. Agard.

The tour will start tomorrow, Thursday 21 October, with a guest post from Arachne Press founder and publisher, Cherry Potts.

Out on 28 October, Where We Find Ourselves is an anthology of poems and short stories by nearly 40 writers of the Global Majority, from African, Asian, Middle Eastern, Carribean, South American, Chinese and Malay communities, writing about maps and mapping. In this book you will find stories and poems of finding oneself and getting lost, colonialism and diaspora, childhood exploration and adult homecoming.

Where We Find Ourselves is a book that is intended to start conversations and we can’t wait to hear what our reviewers and guest bloggers have to say.

Follow the blog tour on the schedule above to read reviews of Where We Find Ourselves, guest posts by contributing authors and exclusive extracts of stories from the collection.

You can find all the content from the blog tour here:

Day 1) “When Laila Sumpton suggested ‘Maps and Mapping’ as the focus for our global majority anthology, Where We Find Ourselves, I said yes almost by reflex.” Arachne Press publishing director, Cherry Potts, explores the Where We Find Ourselves theme of maps and mapping – and how the idea has morphed into an almost-series of linked titles.

Day 2) “This anthology is a great example of literary citizenship… It’s lovely to be part of something that’s actively trying to show the breath of experiences and writing styles across some many communities.” Read an interview with Where We Find Ourselves contributor Anita Goveas on Desi Books.

Day 3) Editor, Laila Sumpton introduces Where We Find Ourselves on the Platforma blog.

Day 4) “I found the stories and poems to be so enlightening and equally heartbreaking at the same time… Its beauty is beyond anything I have read in recent times.” @kristinas_shelves gives Where We Find Ourselves 4.5 stars in her instagram review

Day 5) “I would definitely recommend this, as I found the texts were powerful, emotional and also provided an opportunity to learn.” @reflections_of_a_reader 

Day 6) “It goes without saying that I’m extremely excited about getting my story published in Where We Find Ourselves! There’s something very special about seeing my story in print, on actual paper, in an actual book, alongside some incredible poetry and short fiction by a very talented group of writers. I’m looking forward to seeing what readers make of the anthology!” Contributing writer Dipika Mummery describes her experience of being included in Where We Find Ourselves. Plus, read an extract from Dipika’s story, ‘A Walk in the Countryside’.

Live Launch of Where We Find Ourselves Anthology Sold Out

We’re excited to announce that our live event at Keats House to launch our Where We Find Ourselves anthology is sold out!!!  However, you can still join us to celebrate publication of this fantastic collection of stories and poems of maps and mapping from UK writers of the global majority at our online launch on November 4th. 7-9pm.

Coming Soon

Be quick though – tickets are selling fast!  Tickets available here.

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.