Independent Bookshop Week 2021

For this year’s Independent Bookshop Week we spoke to Arachne Press authors, editors and friends and asked them to tell us about an independent bookshop that’s close to their hearts. To conclude our blog series, Arachne Publisher and Director, Cherry Potts, takes an opportunity to shout about some of the many bookshops who have supported our publishing over the years:

We started last week with a warning to use your local bookshops, or lose them, and my devotion to Gay’s the Word, but it would be remiss of me to not also mention the bookshops who have got behind our books, held events, put up posters for Solstice Shorts and generally been lovely. Bookshops are full of lovely people. When you can, I recommend going and talking to them.

They are, in roughly alphabetical order:

Bookseller Crow, Crystal Palace (Supported the launch of Stations, and just the best bookshop name – Hello Jonathan & Co!) https://booksellercrow.co.uk/

Brick Lane Bookshop (Stations) https://bricklanebookshop.org/

Beckenham Bookshop (The Dowry Blade) https://www.beckenhambooks.com/

Browser Bookshop, Porthmadog (supporting Mamiaith) https://browsersbook.shop/

Chener Books, East Dulwich (Ditto) https://www.chenerbooks.com/

Clapham Books (several events, always very welcoming! Hi Roy & Co!) https://www.claphambooks.com/

Housmans, Kings Cross (big support for Liberty Tales and An Outbreak of Peace, Hello Cristina & co!) https://housmans.com/

Lighthouse, Edinburgh (launching Let out the Djinn and inviting Jeremy Dixon to take In Retail to Book Fringe – hello Mairi and Co!) https://www.lighthousebookshop.com/

London Review Bookshop (our first ever book launch, London Lies) https://www.londonreviewbookshop.co.uk/

Lost in Books, Lostwithiel (supporting Zed and the Cormorants) https://lost-in-books.co.uk/

Oldfield Park Books, Bath (supporting Solstice Shorts with an event – there wasn’t enough room for everyone who came!) https://www.theoldfieldparkbookshop.co.uk/

Penrallt Gallery Bookshop (supporting Mamiaith) https://www.penralltgallerybookshop.co.uk/

Review Bookshop, Peckham (hosting a liars’ league fuelled evening) http://www.reviewbookshop.co.uk/

Rye Books, East Dulwich (always good for a chat or a poster) https://ryebooks.co.uk/

Toppings, Edinburgh (supporting Let out the Djinnhttps://www.toppingbooks.co.uk/

Shrew books, Fowey (supporting Zed and the Cormorants) https://www.shrewbooks.co.uk/

Independent Bookshop Week is an annual Books Are My Bag campaign, run by the Booksellers Association. It seeks to celebrate independent bookshops in the UK and Ireland. Look at #IndieBookshopWeek to keep up with the campaign and follow @ArachnePress to see all our content from Independent Bookshop Week 2021.

Independent Bookshop Week: Emma Lee

To celebrate Independent Bookshop Week, Arachne Press authors and editors are sharing their stories about the bookshops that are closest to their hearts. Emma Lee spoke to us about Five Leaves Bookshop in the heart of Nottingham’s City Centre.

Two poems from my book, The Significance of a Dress, were featured in Five Leaves Bookshop’s “Over Land Over Sea, poems for those seeking refuge” which I co-edited and helped launch. The bookshop was packed and, despite Ross Bradshaw’s grumpy exterior, the atmosphere friendly. There’s a standing joke that the anthology was Five Leaves’ quickest earning book, but the press didn’t see a penny (profits went to refugee charities).

The two poems I read that night, expanded to a collection of eight submitted to Arachne Press for an anthology and form the heart of The Significance of a Dress, which Five Leaves now stocks.

Five Leaves bookshop won the national final for the British Book Awards Independent Bookshop of the Year. It also won a Nottingham Rainbow Heritage Award for its support for LGBT+ communities in the city in 2019. A radical bookshop, it’s hosted Feminist Book Fortnight and other writers’ events. Five Leaves have also supported Lowdham Book Festival and States of Independence in conjunction with De Montfort University in Leicester.

Emma Lee

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.

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.

Independent Bookshop Week: Lily Peters

To celebrate Independent Bookshop Week, Arachne Press authors and editors are sharing their stories about the bookshops that are closest to their hearts. With Accidental Flowers publishing tomorrow, we caught up with author, Lily Peters: 

As part of my language studies at university, I worked in Asturias, as a foreign language assistant in a secondary school. Every Friday, I would spend an hour teaching English to interested colleagues in the café across the road. Over un café solo, they would question me about life in England:

‘Why do pubs allow dogs and not children?’
‘Does everyone live in a cottage?’
‘Does everyone drink beer by the pint?’

The head-teacher, who was well travelled and wanted us all to know it, would frequently answer for me. I will never forget her description of England: ‘In every town and village, you can always find two things. A pub, of course. And a bookshop.’

Now, as a language teacher, I worry often about the reputation of England in Europe and I clutch on to her description. I think about Kirkdale Bookshop in Sydenham, a stalwart of second-hand books when I was growing up. I remember my first date with my husband, at Barter Books in Alnwick. I transport myself to the award-winning Forum Books, in Corbridge.

Lily Peters

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.

Independent Bookshop Week: Lisa Kelly

To celebrate Independent Bookshop Week, Arachne Press authors and editors are sharing their stories about the bookshops that are closest to their hearts. We are delighted to welcome Lisa Kelly to the blog today. Lisa is currently co-editing a new Arachne anthology by Deaf and Hard of Hearing writers called What Meets the Eye.

What Meets the Eye’ is out in the autumn – an anthology of poems and short fiction by Deaf and Hard of Hearing writers based in the UK. Sophie Stone and I are busy working on editing the collection and it is incredibly exciting seeing it come together with inspiring work from established writers such as Raymond Antrobus and Sophie Woolley, as well as poems and fiction from writers we have been excited to discover on our journey.

A big thrill for me would be to see the anthology in the London Review Bookshop. It has a fabulous poetry section downstairs, and it also hosts memorable literary events. It was here that Ray and I launched the Deaf issue of Magma Poetry which we co-edited in 2017. 

The LRB was packed that November night – the audience excited to witness work by Deaf and Hard of Hearing poets, with live captioning and BSL interpreters for an accessible experience. Having ‘What Meets the Eye’ on LRB shelves would feel like completing a beautiful circle.

Lisa Kelly

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.

Independent Bookshop Week: Laura Besley

To celebrate Independent Bookshop Week, Arachne Press authors and editors are sharing their stories about the bookshops that are closest to their hearts. Today, Laura Besley, author of 100neHundred tells us about the best bookshop she’s never been to.

My favourite independent bookshop is Five Leaves Bookshop in Nottingham, but I’ve never once been there. Why not and why is it my favourite? There are a few very good reasons.

Despite having lived in Leicester for four years, I still consider myself fairly new to the area. I have, over time, slowly become involved in the local writing community and have heard many people talk about Nottingham’s independent bookshop.

I’d wanted to visit for a long time, but unfortunately, it hadn’t happened yet, when Ross, the owner, made a dream come true and agreed to stock my first collection of flash fiction The Almost Mothers (Dahlia Press, 2020). I was definitely going. And then lockdown happened.

I’ve not yet seen my book on their shelves, but I have bought books from Five Leaves during lockdown.

Nearly 18 months later and Five Leaves Bookshop now has copies of not one but two of my books, the second being my collection of micro fiction published by Arachne Press: 100neHundred.

As soon as I can, I’ll be heading up the A46 or hopping on a train, not just to hopefully see copies of my books on a shelf, but to buy some other great ones too.

Laura Besley

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.

Independent Bookshop Week: Clare Owen

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 Clare Owen, author of Cornish Gothic, Zed and the Cormorants, on how local bookshops have supported the release of her first novel:

I live on a river estuary in Cornwall and right from the start my debut novel, Zed and the Cormorants, was set here – in a particular wood, close to my home – so the Cornish landscape is a big part of the novel. Luckily for me, Cornish bookshops have also become a huge part of promoting my book and helping me to reach readers.

We are spoilt for choice in Cornwall, with several fantastic independent shops like The Falmouth Bookseller, The Bookshop, Liskeard and The Edge of the World Bookshop across the region, but the shop that is closest to my heart is Shrew Books, Fowey.

Shrew Books is the place where I signed my first book and where I first saw Zed and the Cormorants in a shop window. The manager, Kate, has been enormously supportive of me as a local author and it is especially pleasing to see Zed in a shop on the main street of Fowey, as lots of the action in the story takes place on that very street!

I’m really delighted to be holding an event with Shrew Books to celebrate Independent Bookshop Week on Saturday 26 June, at North Street Kitchen in Fowey. If you are local, or thinking of visiting Cornwall for the weekend, then please do come and join us. Details are available here: https://www.fowey.co.uk/whats-on/local-author-clare-owen-in-conversation-with-illustrator-sally-atkins-p2970993

Clare Owen

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.

Independent Bookshop Week

It’s Independent Bookshop Week from Saturday 19 June – Saturday 26 June! To celebrate, we asked Arachne Press authors and editors to tell us about an independent bookshop that’s close to their hearts. We’ll share their stories on our blog and social media throughout the week, but as we never ask our authors to do something that we wouldn’t do too, we’re kicking off with a contribution from Arachne Press Publisher and Director, Cherry Potts:

In the light of Independent Bookshop Week I’ve been trying to remember the first one I visited. Unless it was Foyles, where my mum once worked, or Hatchards, possibly; it would probably have been in Blackheath, I would have been under reading age… and it isn’t there anymore.

My first full time job was in a bookshop, Christopher Foss, in Baker Street, London – also no longer with us. It was there I learnt of the existence of Gay’s the Word, when my colleague Amanda left to work there.

My first book was not launched at GTW, but very shortly after I was doing a reading there, shaking rather badly as I recall! I have read from both my subsequent books there, and the staff are, without exception, delightful (and always have been), the audiences friendly and engaging, and the stock eclectic and important.

I have many, many other favourite independent bookshops, all around the country – shops that have been welcoming to our authors, and open to our books; but my personal affection for Gay’s the Word goes deep.

And, thinking of Christopher Foss and that bookshop in Blackheath having gone, a message: USE your local bookshop, if you want it to still be there when you need it. Independent bookshops are where real thinking is nurtured, and a bookshop is for life not just Independent Bookshop Week!
Cherry Potts.

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.

Lockdown Interview no 30 An email conversation between Pippa Gladhill and Kirsty Fox

26th May. 12.25

Pippa Gladhill

Hi Kirsty,

Your story ‘They said there were Pirates,’ it’s compressed, shifting, allusive atmosphere has stayed with me long after I finished reading it.

I was hooked by the opening lines, it’s spare lyricism. I was hooked in fact by the absolute quality of your writing throughout.

“I’d been part of the water for so long now, it no longer felt like I was moving…. as though it were the planet that swayed to and fro. To and fro.”

By this power of repetition, like an incantation, by the meanings that work in layers, and open up by what you purposefully omit,

“You’re my only treasure’, she said, ‘I have nothing left to lose,” such an understatement of the depth of this woman’s loss.  

One of the ways it’s so effective in conveying the quality of dreamlike uncertainty is the way you mix the past, present and future throughout, by your use of verb tenses. Was this a technique you discovered as you wrote your story? Can you tell me more about it?

Pippa

26th May. 17.27

Hi Pippa,

Thank you for your kind words and astute reflections!

I think my habit of playing with tenses is related to my thoughts on how we perceive and experience time as a dynamic thing. Our experience of the present is always informed by our memories and past experiences and what we expect to happen. I think this is something I’m always trying to represent, often subconsciously. 

I wrote this piece (which I see as both flash fiction and prose poetry in a way) as a stream-of-consciousness and when I write in that way tenses often shift around. It’s only through the editing process that I really examine this and figure out how it adapts and reflects meaning and movement in the narrative. 

I originally wrote it without the first paragraph, but then I had a discussion with my friend who is the father of a small boy, and we felt the poetic reflections in the piece felt like an adult looking back to their childhood thoughts, rather than a child’s thoughts as they happen.

Exploring the perception of youngsters leads me nicely into your story which neighbours mine in the Dusk anthology. ‘In-between Dog’ has a protagonist Alice, who is herself in between — a preteen just starting secondary school and facing the transition into her teenage years. 

The point-of-view here uses the apparently naive worldview of a preteen as a tool to carry us through the narrative, revealing aspects of the setting and characters as we go. The subtlety of this was very effective in helping the reader build a picture of this family’s life through sparse information. It reminded me of something the writer and critic Jenn Ashworth said about how a good short story is like ‘a sliver of light between a pair of half-drawn curtains’. It reveals precisely what it needs to.

In this way, you hint at the magic realist element ‘the in-between’ while still holding something back, the way youngsters always hold something back from adults. The dog Loopy is brought into the family by one of her fathers, but its elemental nature seems to belong to her. 

What inspired this otherworldly aspect to the story and the relationship between Alice and the dog? 

Best wishes,

Kirsty

29th May. 16.55

Hi Kirsty,

And thank you, too, for your thoughts and nice question.

What inspired the other worldly aspect to my story is the French expression, quoted by Alice, about dusk being between dog and wolf.

This gift of an expression conveys, with vivid economy, the uncertainty of twilight when things are slipping and changing, and no longer what they appear during daylight hours. Imperceptible alteration, uncertainty, ambiguity – brilliant places for a story to start. And a wolf!  Who doesn’t love a wolf as the embodiment of ‘other’, a wilder, exhilarating, dangerous element. (As a side note, ‘wolf’ in French is le loup, and  ‘Loops’ became the English version) So I wanted to include this aspect of ‘wolfness’ in the story and also to leave it shadowy and understated in the same way the original expression conveys the meaning of not one thing nor the other. 

As you say, Alice is also in that in-between stage of life, neither child nor teen. She’s childlike in her strategy of magical thinking, that is, a belief that if you want something, then all you have to do is think it, for it to take place. And also older than her years in trying to protect her Dad and partner from the bully boys.  She came over as socially isolated so it felt like she would naturally develop a strong bond with Loops as her close friend and companion. And it felt right she had that yearning for things being wilder, playing alone in the park with Loops as it grows dark, connecting with something other, raw and alive, that exists just beneath the humdrum surface. 

Moving on to your story. Your opening lines, that place the piece, in the first instance, in the here and now before we find ourselves moving back and forth within memory and ambiguities of the dream like state. I want to ask you about the coin. The coin here – intimations of death, of betrayal, of treasure, poignant link with the memory of her brother.  The way to pay or buy their journey. So much is conveyed by this simple coin. Can you say more about it, and how the coin came to you as a way to contain these meanings.

All the best

Pippa

9th June. 17.28

Hi Pippa,

It’s funny, but the River Styx analogy didn’t consciously occur to me until you asked this question! And yet there it is. I think my starting point for the coin was the pirates. I dreamed many years ago that I was on a boat and pirates were coming. It was during a period where real-life Somali pirates were in the news a lot, robbing boats off the coast of Africa. And then more recently I was set a task to write on a political theme during the height of the most recent refugees-in-boats crisis. So I paired these two things together and the coin seemed like the perfect simple object for the child to be carrying (in realistic and symbolic terms). My focus when writing was the timelessness of the refugee flight, how this dance has been played out many times over, and the fragility of life in these circumstances ⁠— the bartering with the gods (metaphorical or literal) for a safe passage. 

I think what’s really interesting here is how the history of literature and storytelling can seep into what we’re writing without us knowing. So the coin gathers its own meaning and moves beyond the intentions of the author ⁠— so meaning in literature isn’t just what we put in but what the reader takes out.

There are certain stories, and ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ is a great example, which are ingrained into our psyche. Whenever I see someone falling down a hole in a movie, I think of Alice, whether it’s an intentional reference or not. I love these repeated patterns (or leitmotivs) and I think the wolf is another one which has so many layers of meaning attached to it. 

I’m curious, what other things do you write? Are you mainly focused on short fiction? What themes from ‘In-between’ connect this story to your other work?

Best wishes,

Kirsty 

20th June. 17.49

Hi Kirsty,

Finally!  Finally I get to think about what I most want to think about but which gets shoved to the back of the queue on a daily basis, partly because it needs time and I don’t want to dash off some unthinking quick response. 

Also … because I tend to allow what’s really important to me, to be overridden by other apparently more pressing demands. Which is what happens also with my writing. Which is a whole other topic that could be unpacked. ‘The most common problem writers have is not writing ‘(Mohsin Hamid). Anyway, I’m sorry for the delay and hope it doesn’t interrupt our flow too much. 

In answer to your question about what other things I write – I also write stage plays. Having written quite a bit of short fiction, I wanted to not exactly ‘move on’ but to develop and extend my writing skills.  

When I started script writing it was deeply weird. How is it possible to set up context? What about interiority? How can you tell a whole story with sub text, only through dialogue and physical action?  What about past and future how do you covey that?   The whole writing process is always a ongoing puzzle for me, but I do think the rudimentary script writing skills I’ve learnt have fed back and improved my short fiction writing as well. Refreshed it and enabled me to write more succinctly. Keeping to the point. Keeping it fresh and alive. 

As for themes. Someone (and I’m rubbish about remembering who says these things, I think it was a guy) he said about his own writing that although he’d been writing stories all his life  – in essence they were all part of his one big story. I find that liberating. I kind of know what he means. It’s as if we return to the same undercurrents all of the time. To answer the other part of your question about ‘In between’ and how it connects to other writing themes of mine, I’ve not often written from a young person’s point of view.  But there was something about the Dusk brief that I found compelling and the fact I could bring in a wolf of course, and maybe the element of the unknown wildness theme is part of a general theme I allude to without being deliberately conscious of doing so. 

The other thing about In Between is I wrote it rapidly and relatively easily. Most of the time it doesn’t happen like this. Normally a lot of stalling and not knowing how to make my writing work. Hours, days, in changes, repetitive, obsessive rewrites, and tweaks. It’s never, ever perfect, it could always be better. 

I also think I only ever learn how to write the particular story or play I’m on. Each new project is like starting from scratch with no idea how to do it.

Which leads me on to wanting to ask you a three-part question.  Firstly, have you too written in other genres and if so what led you into this? Also, what led you into writing in the first place?  And lastly, more of an impossible question really, can you tell me more about the process of your writing, what is your process, how do you locate what your story is actually about, how do you bring it to any sort of completion? 

All the best

Pippa


5th July. 17.33

Hi Pippa,

I really identify with what you said about prioritsing our writing and also the type of writing we’re doing. I’m currently finishing a part-time Creative Writing MA. I decided to do the MA in order to prioritise my writing more in my life as, as you say, more ‘pressing matters’ tend to take over—things which have actual deadlines or family crises or a great big fat pandemic, you know, the usual.

This worked in some respects because it gave me deadlines and classmates to bounce ideas off and a set amount of time to really develop my writing. However, it dragged me away from writing my novel. It put other ‘parts’ of my creativity on the backburner by making other writing more pressing. So it did radically change my priorities but didn’t exactly fix the problem. I’ve found having a mentor and writing buddies or groups the best way to help prioritise my writing by creating accountability. In fact, I actually planned out a workshop I would deliver a year or so ago on helping writers to find the space in their life for their writing but it didn’t happen for various reasons. 

In terms of form and genre, I now have 3-4 areas of writing I work in depending on how you categorise and delineate. For short work I tend to write either prose poetry or short fiction or some hybrid of the two. Then I write novels – I have self-published one climate-fiction novel about 7-8 years ago, have my first draft of my second full novel and two other half-worked ones waiting in the wings. These are largely speculative fiction of the Margaret-Atwood-type variety, often set in the near future with themes around the environment, identity and society. Lastly, my MA has introduced me to the lyric essay and other hybrid forms which combine elements of poetry, fiction, memoir and essay with various experiments slipped in through the cracks between form and genre. I’ve fallen a bit in love with these and my dissertation (which I’ve just started in the last few weeks) is in that hybrid style.

To the question of what led to what. I have always written stories since I was little. I was one of those precocious children who started their first ‘novel’ at age 8 (about a family of foxes and very much a rip off of Colin Dann). I didn’t find an idea for a novel I could actually stick with to the bitter end until my mid-twenties and wrote a lot of short stories and half novels instead. I also started writing these stream-of-conscious pieces which I really couldn’t categorise until I finally realised they were prose poetry. I was always terrible at traditional poetry so I think I was in denial that that’s what they were but I’ve embraced this now, though I still have imposter syndrome when I speak to ‘real’ poets.

In terms of process, most things I write which are concept-based tend to start with a dream. Much of my dreams are nonsense but now and then my subconscious throws out some brilliant lump of clay for me to shape into a real thing. The less concept-based stuff comes from free-writing and stream-of-consciousness. I just write and see what comes out and sometimes it’s good enough to form into something else. I do write more than one thing at once and jump around a lot and I guess the ones I go back to and actually finish are the ones which still spark my interest over time. My editing process is first me and then other writers. I’ve been in various critiques groups and worked with an editor on my first novel which all helped me develop my craft and ability to self-edit. Now I have two close friends who write in a similar oeuvre and the three of us share work around. I find feedback really essential to my process now.

In terms of planning things out, I’m the ‘gardener’ not the ‘architect’ writer type (if you’ve heard that analogy). I plant things and nurture them and see how they grow in the world rather than planning everything out to the nth degree before writing it. With novels, I don’t write everything in chapter order, so I do have to organise and create a framework as I go so as not to get completely lost. 

In terms of ‘finding what the story is really about’ I think putting something aside and coming back to it is key. Sometimes for a week, sometimes longer. The novel I am writing now started as a short story based on a dream many years ago. I lost my way with it and put it aside. About four years ago a life-event suddenly chimed very deeply with the themes in this story and I saw it more clearly and realised it was too complex for a short thing, so I began developing it into a novel. I like what you said/quoted about everything we write being our story in a way. I think I write because it helps me understand the world and the life I’m living and the people I’m living it with, even if I’m writing about a place I’ve never been or a thing I’ve never directly experienced, it all still relates back. 

I’m interested in what you say about differences with playwriting and how the differences feed back into your handle on short stories. I’m a writer who really enjoys writing dialogue (I know many who don’t). I feel that’s where my characters change from some half-formed idea into a person that takes on a life of their own. How do you find writing dialogue? What have you learned from plays about the art of subtext which has informed your story writing? Also how do you feel about directors taking a script you’ve written as a basis and doing something different with it? Are you comfortable with giving up some creative control?

Best wishes,

Kirsty

14th July, 21.34

Hi Kirsty,

It’s interesting to hear you decided to do the MA to help you prioritise your writing in your life, and yet it also takes you away from other areas of your writing work that you feel are equally essential. 

Yes, it often feels like this to me –  no matter what writing I’m on, there’s always other work languishing in the background that needs attention, and completion, and just getting round to actually SENDING out! 

And intriguing to hear about the hybrid genre, that sounds so fresh and creative, in addition to your prose poems and longer form fiction. Sounds like such rich and fertile ways to work. 

Other writers who critique your work and whose insights you trust, are true gold.

I think you must finish that story about the family of foxes btw!

Re your climate crisis novel, I’ve found much of my recent work has involved floods, or trees, without intending for the work to go that way.

To your question about dialogue writing and if I find it easy, what’s weird is that in a play script I can find it deceptively easy, but not so much so, in short fiction. I say ‘deceptive’ as it’s very easy to allow irrelevant dialogue to meander along and really snag up the action, when, like in any form actually, every single word has to have its purpose and momentum.

The useful things I’m learning from script writing, that hopefully do feed back into short stories, pretty basic really, is succinctness, creating an ‘atmosphere’ between characters from what they do, rather than what they say, to have characters say one thing but mean something else. I love the immediacy of theatre, its here and now ness. 

Did you, by any chance, catch ‘LUNGS’ by Duncan Macmillan that was performed live on stage to an empty auditorium and streamed from the Old Vic just a week ago or so?  It’s one of the most extraordinary pieces of theatre writing I’ve seen. So beautifully and intelligently crafted. An absolute class act in how much to leave out and allow the audience/reader to understand. One of my lockdown high points. They sold ’seats’ as if it was a live performance to an audience, so it was limited each night to the capacity of the theatre.

To answer your question about what it’s like to hand work over to directors and giving up creative control. I think of my script as the starting point for the performance and the director and actors bring their range of skills to make of it what they will, and that’s fine as long as they’re true to the intentions of the piece and the writing.  Writers aren’t massively welcome in the rehearsal room normally, but whenever I’ve been allowed in, I’m fascinated by the process. By the serious playfulness of it, or maybe it’s the playful seriousness.

All the best

Pippa

Pippa Gladhill has been published by us in Solstice Shorts: Sixteen Stories about Time, Dusk and Noon, and forthcoming in Tymes Goe by Turnes.

Kirsty Fox has been published by us in Dusk.

You can buy all these books from our webshop – take a look at special offers too – we have a bulk buy offer for Solstice Shorts books

Lockdown Intervews: no27 Laura Besley interviewed by Joanne L. M. Williams

Twenty-seventh in a series of author-to-author interviews to distract them, and you, from lockdown torpor.

SC_Typography_COVER_v9.indd

Laura Besley (Story Cities) interviewed by Joanne L. M. Williams (No Spider Harmed in the Making of this Book, We/She)

Joanne L M Williams

Joanne LM Williams

Joanne:        You have several flash fictions published, including your collection The Almost Mothers, and a piece in Arachne’s Story Cities. What is it about shorter fiction that you especially enjoy? Do you also write using other forms, or is flash fiction always your preference?

Laura:    When I first started writing I had no intention of becoming a short fiction writer. I’ve always read a lot, but novels, and had initially seen that as my only path. However, when I first started writing, I had lots of ideas, but struggled to get past a few cohesive sentences, or paragraphs.
I stumbled across Calum Kerr online and his challenge to write a piece of flash fiction every day for a year. I decided to do the same and started in May 2012. Some of the pieces were fine, some were terrible, some were never finished, but I learned a lot about myself as a writer in that time, the most important being that I had fallen in love with short fiction and the precision needed to tell a story.
I don’t feel ready to take the leap into longer fiction yet, but I’m fairly sure I will one day.

Joanne:        When did you start writing fiction? Have you done so since you were young?

Laura:    I remember writing a story about a fairground when I was about nine or ten, but that’s the extent of my childhood writing experience. I started writing again when I was in my late twenties, while I was living in Germany. Initially I was writing non-fiction, about my travels and experiences there. Once I’d moved to Hong Kong, I started writing fiction.

Joanne:        Do you have a daily or weekly schedule or pattern for writing? How does this fit in with the rest of your life?

Laura:    I have two young children (six and two) and have to fit my writing in around them. Before lockdown, I used to write while my eldest was at school and my youngest was napping. Now, I’m lucky that my husband is working from home and I write every morning from 7:30-9:00 before he needs the office, and I need to take over the childcare.  I’m a morning person, so this works well for me. Once the children are in bed, I’m usually too tired to write new things, but do other writing-related things for an hour or so like editing or submitting.

Joanne:        Where do you write? Do you have a particular place you always sit to work for example, or any associated rituals, or can you write anywhere?

Laura:    I can write anywhere, in a supermarket queue or while my son is having a swimming lesson, but my preference is in cafés. I like the cacophony; the snippets of overheard conversations, people watching, the small interactions you have with strangers, the coffee. Obviously at the moment that’s not possible, so I’m either in our office or at the kitchen table.

Joanne:        How has your experience of living in different countries and cultures influenced your writing?

Laura:    Directly, not a lot. I’ve only written a few stories set in other countries (I’ve lived in the Netherlands, Germany and Hong Kong), but everything you see and experience gets filed away. I hope one day to write about these places that have played a big part in my life.

Joanne:        What are your literary influences and who are some of your favourite writers?

Laura:    Always a tough question because there are too many to mention. My current favourite authors are Elizabeth Strout, most famous for her novel-in-stories: Olive Kitteridge; Kate Atkinson, I think her companion novels Life After Life and A God in Ruins are perfection; and Maggie O’Farrell whose books I love, but it was also after reading an article by her wherein she stated that if you wanted to write, you should “take yourself seriously”. I think that advice completely changed my attitude towards writing.

Joanne:        Do you ever write specifically in response to prompts, or call-outs for work on a particular theme, and do you find this useful? Or does your inspiration mainly come from other sources?

Laura:    I often write to prompts or call-outs for particular themes, but not exclusively. If I have an idea about something, I’ll jot it down and maybe it won’t be used for months, or years, but I never throw anything away.

Joanne:        Flash fiction is less well known, and perhaps less easy to find, than other fiction forms. Are there any online sources of shorter fiction, or printed collections, that you would recommend?

Laura:    There are so many online journals for flash fiction, too many to mention here, but I’ll list a few of my favourites: Adhoc Fiction, Ellipsis Zine, Fictive Dream, Fifty Word Stories, Lunate, Reflex Fiction, Smokelong Quarterly, Spelk.
Something relatively new, but gaining popularity fast, is the novella-in-flash: a novella, but each chapter is a piece of standalone flash fiction. I’ve read a few recently and really enjoyed them: An Inheritance by Diane Simmons (Adhoc), Dinosaur by Adam Lock (Ellipsis), Three Sisters of Stone by Stephanie Hutton (Ellipsis), The Neverlands by Damhnait Monaghan (VPress), Tethered by Ross Jeffery.

Joanne:        What is your own favourite piece (or pieces) that you’ve written and why?

Laura:           I’ve chosen three pieces that are very special to me.

  • ‘Near and Far’ (Spelk, 2018) holds a few threads of my mother’s childhood, she was born and spent the first few years of her childhood in Indonesia;
  • ‘That Apple’ (Fictive Dream, 2018) was my first ever journal publication. It’s written in 2nd person point of view and I know popular opinion generally doesn’t favour this, but personally I love it and use it whenever I can.
  • ‘The Motherhood Contract’ (Ellipsis, 2018) is about a mother who is struggling and there is a lot of my early motherhood emotions in this piece.

Joanne:        Finally, what are you working on at the moment?

Laura:    As well as individual pieces, I’m also working on a novella-in-flash. It’s been several years in the making, but am hoping that this is the year I finish it. I’ve also found myself writing about the current situation a lot, either my own experiences or fictional ones. If there are enough good pieces, hopefully I’ll be able to bundle them together.