Tymes goe by Turnes Crowd fund reward: Writing Critique

Cherry

Support the Solstice Shorts Festival 2020, Tymes Goe By Turnes

Fiction Critique from Arachne Press Editor Cherry Potts

pledge £50 for an email critique of up to 500 words of fiction from Arachne Editor Cherry Potts.

If you want a longer piece critiqued, pledge appropriately. This will take a while to deliver as we will be working full tilt on the festival until it has happened.

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Lockdown Interviews no25: Joan Taylor-Rowan interviewed by Alex Penland

Author Joan Taylor-Rowan (Five by Five, Stations, London Lies)

interviewed by Alex Penland (Story Cities)

 

 

Alex:    How did publishing The Birdskin Shoes change your writing process? How did it alter your view of publishing?

Joan:    Firstly a bit of background. The novel was a finalist in a SpreadtheWord novel pitch competition. Buoyed by the response, I completed it and sent it to an agent. The first email from an agent was the kind you dream about – I have it pinned above my computer – but she said it needed work. I duly rewrote it, but despite the changes she decided not to take me on. I had an editor look at it, to give me insights into necessary changes before trying again. The editor loved it and suggested another agent who did take me on. At the time I wasn’t sure that she was the right agent for me, but bruised by my first encounter, it didn’t really occur to me to turn her down. She sent the book out to seven publishers but while they all liked it, no-one said yes.

I decided back in 2012, that if I really believed in the novel I should self-publish. Again I am not a techie so this was a huge learning curve and I was very proud of it. But what I hadn’t really thought out was the amount of work required in promoting it, and you really do have to be doing this full-time. There were a number of things I learned about the publishing process from this:

  • choose the agent who is right for your work, don’t just accept the person who takes it
  • just because that agent does not get a publisher don’t assume it’s not publishable. I found out later that agents do not approach everyone, only those publishers with whom they have built up a relationship
  •  once it was self-published, even with good reviews, no agent would then take it on, however that has changed now, but you have to show that it is successful
  • you can write a book that people love but you still might not get a publisher for all sorts of reasons, only one of which is the quality of the writing
  • at least by self-publishing the book it is not in a drawer under my bed, gathering dust
  • getting an agent seems like a miracle but even that is just the very beginning of a long and perilous journey

It did make me much more aware of the commercial side of writing – not that I think anyone should write with that in mind, but if publishing your work is your aim, you have to know and be aware of where your book fits in and what else is out there. It’s harder if you write literary fiction than genre fiction. I learned just how hard it is to write a novel, what a long process it is. It did make me much less judgmental about other writers. Just to complete a novel is a huge achievement. I prefer the intensity of the short story in terms of writing, but I read more novels than short story collections, because I enjoy the immersive quality of a novel.

 

Alex:   The stories in Five by Five are quite different from each other, one set in the 1970’s and one in the Mexican revolution. How did you come to write Bittersweet Like Pomegranates, and The Bet?

Joan:   I’ve always been fascinated by Manet’s painting  of The Execution of the Emperor Maximilian, which is in The National Gallery. It’s very large to start with, and the firing squad are life size. In the painting they are standing very close to the emperor and have already fired the shots so you are there  before he dies but after the bullets have left the guns. It made me wonder what it would feel like to have to stand and kill someone who was unarmed. The men are soldiers and are used to combat but this would be very different. I’ve spent a lot of time in Mexico and so I decided to read up about this emperor and what had lead to the execution. To a large extent he was a pawn and in fact was not bad as emperors go. He encouraged land reform for example.
I began to think about the moral dilemma a soldier might face, especially if he had a child. How might such an event affect him? How would he look his child in the eye? So that is how the story, Bitter Sweet Like Pomegranates evolved.
The Bet, a story set against the background of the conflict in Northern Ireland in the 1970’s,  is a little more grounded in my own experience. My mother was a Catholic from Northern Ireland, and my Irish cousin did send my tomboy sister a rubber bullet.  I can still remember the shock of seeing this enormous hard object when I was expecting something the size of a conventional bullet. It transformed my understanding of the news. When rubber bullets were fired, or people were hit with rubber bullets, I knew what that meant.  It represented a coming of age – a step into adulthood where suddenly something that seemed the world of a child – a squidgy bullet, is suddenly  revealed for what it truly is, a potentially lethal weapon. Luckily my grandpa was not killed with one, that’s where the fiction comes in. However we did all watch the Eurovision song contest, and I wanted to use that as a way of bringing in my mother’s mixed allegiance – she was both British and Irish and that caused her difficulties at times.

 

Alex:    Do you have a literary philosophy–something that you try to include in all your work?

Joan:    Hmm..that’s an interesting question. I really believe in the redemptive, life-saving qualities of art and literature, and a love of words and the imaginative life often feature in my stories, even though I don’t plan it that way.  I also like to learn something I didn’t know through reading, whether it’s about a different community or some area of knowledge and if I can I’ll try and get an interesting fact in.

 

Alex:    What are your different approaches to poetry and prose? Does one come more easily than the other?

Joan:    I rarely write poetry, although I used to in my twenties. In many ways I wish I did. I like performing my work, and having an audience. That’s much more likely with poetry. There are fewer opportunities for short story writers to have their work heard. However I have written lyrics for a musical based on one of my short stories (with a post-graduate composer who heard one of my stories at an event and approached me to collaborate.) I’ve also written lyrics for a pantomime for a friend who teachers A level drama. I enjoy writing lyrics as they are part of a narrative.

 

Alex:    Do you have any strange or funny writing stories? 

Joan:    After I self-published my novel, I had postcards printed which I left in various shops, galleries etc in London. As it was set in Mexico, I left some in a Mexican gift shop in the Columbia Road flower market in London. A year or so later I signed up for a digital textile class at The City Lit in London. I woman arrived late and breathless and the only seat left was next to me. We both opened our computers to display the images we had brought in to inspire our textiles – hers were of Mexican streets. I commented on them, as mine too were of Mexico. I was there a few years ago, I said, in fact I loved it so much I wrote a novel set there – The Birdskin Shoes. Her jaw dropped. I’ve read that she said. I picked up the card in a gift shop in Columbia Road flower market. I loved it! It was a real Twilight Zone moment.

 

 

Alex:    What do you have coming down the pipeline? What’s next?

Joan:    I’m completing an M.A. in Creative Writing at Chichester University at the moment, and I am working on a novel for that. I’ve also been sending a lot of stories out to competitions although they are a long shot but it makes me revisit and hone my work. I set up a creative writing course in Hastings – and I’ve really enjoyed teaching that and I’m hoping to do more once lockdown is over. I’m also working on a couple of children’s picture books with my sister who is a greeting card designer. Those will be in rhyme, so maybe I have not quite left the poetry behind after all.

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, now VAT free! We recommend Hive for ePub.

watch Joan read The Bet at Hither Green Festival last year – we would have been there this week, were it not for the cursed covid.

Guest Blog: Stories about stories by Margaret Crompton

Margaret Crompton (No Spider Harmed in the Making of This Book) responds to a comment in Sarah Lawson‘s Lockdown Interview.

Sarah Lawson’s reflection that ‘Somehow poems don’t seem to be coming,’ (Lockdown Interview: No 3, 8th April 2020) has given me much to think about. Like her, I ‘d imagined this time-out-of-time would provide opportunity for writing.  As Script in Hand rehearsals and performance had been cancelled, I would seek consolation in writing a new play (Guest Blog, 15th April 2020).  First, however, I would tidy my study. I attacked a desk drawer and evicted my collection of dried-out felt tips. Since then, the study has become even untidier.

Like Sarah, we already spent most of our time at home, each in her/his own study, with a pattern which we intended to maintain. But time and energy were immediately directed to setting up new systems, daily emails with family and friends, and (reluctantly) registering for our estate Community Group Facebook. I identified preparation, transition and settling, (I’d been a social worker), and entered ‘Fortress Crompton’ – which was, I quickly understood, exactly wrong: we should become open, available – not enclosed.

As members of the ‘high risk’ cohort, I sought ways to be contributors as well as receivers, thinking sadly, ‘We have only words.’ Only words? A few years ago, we’d turned from ‘professional’ writing (Communicating with children; English literature) to exploring short stories, poetry. We had accumulated an archive which, we realised, we could freely share with family, friends, and neighbours. We compiled a catalogue from which pieces can be chosen for me to email. This provides stimulus for conversations which don’t focus on C-19, and one piece often leads to others in intriguing sequences.

With a Polish friend/neighbour, I’m translating a folk story to make a book for his daughter.  And a young friend is writing an email serial story with me; she responded to my opening ‘Once upon a time…’ with a challenge which took me days to follow.

I’d been attempting my first novella. I’m most comfortable with short form, and have recently been revelling in flash fiction compression. The novella minimum 25,000 words was daunting, (although my ‘professional’ texts had achieved double and treble that count). Moving from transition to settling, I became obsessed with completing the novella, then realised that I needed only 10,000 words plus synopsis. I pushed myself half-way through the final chapter, then one evening worked too late completing the submission, pressed SEND, felt relieved. Expected to proceed to some fresh challenge. And became ill for over a week with a sub-migraine. I’d been trying too hard, compelled by some self-induced pressure, to complete a task, to be tidy. Another common symptom, I think.

A week later, I responded to Cherry’s call for guest blog writers. ‘I can do that,’ I thought, wanting, as ever, to be helpful. But as a novice blogger, I abandoned Draft 1 (burgeoning three volume novel) and 2 (laconic summary) for Draft 3. I struggled to complete what I hoped would be ‘just right,’ which I blush to admit, cost two minor revisions and much of Cherry’s kind patience.

So back to Sarah’s interview. I learn from friends and others that many creative impulses are being stifled by lethargy, exhaustion, even paralysis. Is it partly that we’re living so intensely in the present, or the sometimes painfully vivid past, that it’s difficult to enter the worlds of imagination? Is it hard to plan for a universally uncertain future? I feel safe and happy, except for some moments on waking, and others when laying down Priestley or Pym before lying down myself. My anxiety is about having to go out again into that dangerous world. After two heart attacks over twenty years ago, I know about a future abruptly revealed as always uncertain, and am familiar with the inevitability of my own death. This is different. As pollution recedes, emotional miasma pervades the environment. Creative energy is invisibly concentrated on fuelling being fully alive, in this present which is all we ever have.

……………

         I began writing this a few weeks ago. Then came VE Day. We weren’t interested in celebrating here, now. We had, after all, been there, then. But John wrote a poem about his memory of winning third prize in a fancy dress competition in 1945. I remember being taken to the bonfire near my home. I posted John’s poem on the Community Group Facebook, where it attracted numerous Likes and several Loves.  Later, we were unexpectedly serenaded by a mouth organ played enthusiastically by the young son of a neighbour singing ‘Happy VE Day to you…’ and presenting us with A4 posters and flags made by school children, and neat paper-and-string parcels containing scones, cream and jam. (We’ve saved the string). Obediently, at 4 pm we set up a table in our front garden, with embroidered cloth and pretty plates, for afternoon tea.

But this is a story about stories. For by now I was so involved that, not only had I tied my hair up in a 1940s ‘turban’ (red, complementing white and blue skirt and shirt), but obsessively rooted-out old photograph albums from the most daunting corner of my study. There I found pictures of my father – not in India, as I’d so confidently informed the estate, but at home with my mother and me. How could I ever face the neighbours? Shame forced me to open a box of papers I’ve kept since my mother’s death nearly 20 years ago. And there was my father’s 1945 diary. To my relief, he had been in India on VE Day – he noted the gin party – and the photographs were from home leave later. I took diary and pictures across the road to neighbours and (appropriately distanced) told my story. Soon John joined us and shared his own story. Now we know a great deal more of our own and our parents’ stories. And at last I feel free to read the contents of that box.

But, more, through these old stories, we’ve met our neighbours in a new way – and shared not only our stories, but also theirs. This is a new estate, and the first social ‘event’ of the Community. I’ve heard from friends experiencing similar unexpected opportunities for neighbourly story sharing. Not written. Spontaneously narrated and received with interest and respect.

For the first time, on Friday afternoon I looked forward to ‘the future,’ To new stories.

……………….

This morning it’s raining. The estate children won’t be following a ‘creature trail’ or playing on the field. I posted a poem (Alexander Astronaut) with ideas for drawing, writing poems/stories.  Although I’ve earned only four Likes, a neighbour I haven’t yet met would like to share this story outside the Group.

Those poems and stories which ‘Somehow don’t seem to be coming’ will come, when they, and we, are ready. Bringing our words out of the Fortress. Although, I’d be grateful if my idea for Tymes Goe by Turnes would stop flitting around and settle into a coherent form. Meanwhile, I should tidy my study.

With thanks to Arachne.

Margaret Crompton

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

Lesbian Visibility Week

Phew, a bit late in the week, but let’s fly the flag here, before I go back to the emergecy fund application to ACE, refreshed with reminding myself why I do this.

We publish everyone. (Except people who aren’t writers, obviously).

But my first publications as a writer were with a lesbian press, and while we aren’t a lesbian press we are a lesbian-owned press, and we can still use that visibility.

So in celebration, here are our lesbian authors and poets, together with the books they are in, all of which are available from us direct, and from intrepid bookshops, and as ebooks from your usual supplier. There are probably more, but if they don’t tell me, I can’t celebrate them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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: no6 Joy Howard interviewed by Cassandra Passarelli

joy-howard-photoJoy Howard(Foraging, Time and Tide, Dusk) )  interviewed by Cassandra Passarelli (Five by Five, Liberty Tales)

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Cassandra:    What defines a poem?

Joy:     For me, it’s a thought, observation or even a story, in a condensed form. Rhythm, rhyme, imagery, sound associations, line breaks: all play their part in giving the ideas or observations impact and energy. The choice form (or lack of it) can be important too

Cassandra:    Why do you write poetry (not plays, stories or shopping lists)?

Joy:     Well I do write shopping lists! and indeed a ‘found’ poem can actually be a shopping list!
I have written a few short stories, (humorous) and even begun a couple of novels (light). I have never been drawn to playwriting. I can do characterization but am not good at plot, which is why the novels never progressed beyond setting the scene.

Cassandra:    What role does/should poetry play in contemporary life? (How will the current crisis affect that?)

Joy:     No different from other ages, I think. To add thoughtfulness and beauty. Always needed.

Cassandra:    What is creative thinking? Do you see parallels between creativity and mindfulness?

Joy:     It has to be a ‘dunno’ to this one! Except I suppose that mindfulness is linked to concentration on the moment – especially important when writing from seeing/observation

Cassandra:    Do you have any contemplative practices aside from writing?

Joy:     No, once I start feeling contemplative, I tend to drift off into sleep….

Cassandra:    How important is ‘the everyday’ to you in your work?

Joy:     I tend to bump into poems – I write a lot about things I see, things that are happening.

Cassandra:    In which ways can poetry be a way to insight?

Joy:     It’s a great clarifier and orderer of thought, and also produces things you hadn’t thought of…

Cassandra:    How much of the author dwells in poetry? How is what you write affected by your gender, sexuality, age, location etc?

Joy:     Very much, I think. We are informed by who and where we are in life.  I see a special perspective, for example, in older women’s poetry. In addition. I have written plenty about being a mother, and also about being lesbian. Location comes into the ‘bumping into’ category for me as I have lived a somewhat nomadic existence, but I know for many poets it’s rootedness in where they live and feel a sense of belonging that informs much of their work.

Cassandra:    I’m fascinated by the relationship between the author, a text and the reader… what do you think about that triangle?

Joy:     Poets write I think primarily for themselves, but then comes the wish to share. However, all texts, once they’ve left the writer, become the domain of the reader so are subject to multiple interpretation.

Cassandra:    If life is illusory, in what ways is poetry particularly suited to mediate this illusion?

Joy:     I don’t see life as illusory – the quotidian is what interest me most.

Cassandra:    You are also the poetry editor of Grey Hen Press. What do you look for in a poem?

Joy:     A number of things come to mind – precise use of language, beauty, originality, humour, ambiguity, perspective – I could go on, but in the end it’s that elusive something that stops you in your tracks…

Cassandra:    Is there a question I haven’t asked you that I should have? If so… please include it.

Joy:     This has been thought provoking and enjoyable – thanks for picking me to interview!

You can buy all the Arachne Press 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.

 

Lockdown Interviews No2 Sarah James interviews Jane Aldous

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

Sarah James

Sarah James

Sarah James (Vindication, Shortest Day Longest Night) aka S.A.Leavesey interviews fellow poet, Jane Aldous (Let Out the Djinn, Noon, An Outbreak of Peace, Time and Tide, Dusk)

Jane aldous

Jane Aldous

Sarah:   What are the main motivations and influences for your writing?

Jane:     Like you, I started writing very early in life, having been influenced and inspired by diverse writers such as Shakespeare, Brecht, Patten, Keats. I write because it feels like the best form of play I can think of. No-one tells me to do it, it’s just down to me. But writing is also the hardest thing I choose to do, and it gives me huge pleasure and pain!
My influences these days are many and varied and include many poets and writers whose books are crammed onto my bookshelves including Kathleen Jamie, Jacob Polley, Elizabeth Bishop, Robin Robertson, Tomas Transtromer and Tove Jansson. But I’m also influenced by nature, artists, musicians, architecture and archaeology in very eclectic and spontaneous ways.

Sarah:   What is your own favourite poem in your collection Let Out the Djinn and why?

Jane:     I think it has to be Doggerland.  Doggerland fascinates me hugely, and when I first read about this ancient land beneath the North Sea, my imagination became fired up and I knew I wanted to attempt a poem from the perspective of a hunter-gatherer, that tried to do justice to the immensity of the place and its eventual fate. There’s still more I’d like to write about Doggerland, its story is not just ancient history, there are many modern resonances too, such as climate change and mass extinctions.

Sarah:   You also have work in Time and Tide. Are water and time big themes in your poetry generally? If so, how and why do they fascinate you? If not, how did you find a way into the theme?

Jane:     I messed about in boats as a kid and when I moved up to Scotland over 30 years ago, I said I wanted to live beside the sea. Well in a way I do. Although we live in the suburbs of Edinburgh, the Firth of Forth is never far away and under normal circumstances, we go to the East Lothian coast and the NW Highlands very regularly. Water does feature in some of my poems such as Dave off in Five, With Meme on Mellon Udrigle Beach and Eel Ghazal, and whether it’s a river or loch, waterfall or incoming tide, I’m always drawn to watch. But I’m also aware of the theme of time in my poetry. Many of my poems are set in the past and are concerned with loss, love, death and memory. However, I think I made heavy weather about writing my Time and Tide poem. In fact I wrote two poems. The first based on a Clearance clachan or hamlet beside the sea in West Ardnamurchan was rejected. The second was based on a fictional character, a female ghost, who had once lived in 18th Century Leith, Edinburgh’s main port. I wrote it to accompany an embarrassingly bad film poem (quite rightly rejected). Thankfully the poem In the Shadows, on the Shore, Leith made it into the anthology.

 Sarah:  If you could change something, or learn one new thing in terms of how you work, or what you write about, what would it be and why?

Jane:     I’d love to be able to write and present a film poem. I think my best poems are the ones that began as a strong visual experience and I’d love to be able to learn about the process of making a poem come alive in a visual sense as well as on the page and in the mind.

Sarah:   What are your favourite reading, writing and performance spots?

Jane:  I love writing on our kitchen table. Although our kitchen is quite a busy space, with cooking and washing happening plus our cat bouncing around, I love it. I can look out onto the garden, listen to the radio and I’m happy!
I love reading in the kitchen too, but I also have a very comfortable chair in the lounge which is perfect for settling down with a good book.
In the summer the garden bench is a brilliant place to muse or read or write surrounded by birdsong and bumblebees.
In my very limited experience of performance, I’d say that The Lighthouse Bookshop, Edinburgh where I launched my debut collection Let out the Djinn and read at an open mic is a lovely welcoming space.

You can buy all the 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.

 

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.

Beyond spiders: how stories start

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

This one is by David Mathews, who we first published in Solstice Shorts: Sixteen Stories about Time, with Wednesday Afternoon, for which he was one of the 5 winners of the competition.
Since then David has graced the pages of
Liberty Tales – Border Country
Shortest Day, Longest NightIn the Gloaming, and Mouse
 Dusk – Flickerin’ Shadows
 Story CitiesBackwater
David has two stories in our forthcoming anniversary anthology, No Spider Harmed in the Making of This Book .We are still consulting on the title of one, but the other is Stowaway, which took up my challenge of writing about spiders in space!

Over to David.

Beyond spiders: how stories start
On the 24th, I went to post a letter, and was a child again. ‘Going to the post’ was one of my earliest errands, and I loved it. Into the tall, glowing pillar box went letters, postcards, small packages. I knew that in next to no time – for local letters, later the same day in a wondrous second post – they would drop on the doormat of Auntie Vi or Mr Jones the grocer.

So as I trotted down a street as empty as those of my childhood to send a friend a birthday card, I looked for Bingo, a dog who furiously chased cars, but who would run happily alongside a pedestrian for no greater reward than kind words.

Before my brief outing I had sent out to friends and others a rousing email invitation to order No Spiders Harmed. ‘It’s nothing too dystopic,’ I had written, ‘perfect reading for the times.’ At lunchtime I found a couple of quick positive responses and a reply from my chum Jorge.

My epistle, which had asked people to go easy on the spring-cleaning, had ended with, ‘Spiders. Forever in your debt.’ I had pushed my luck.

‘Can’t, brother,’ Jorge had written, ‘I was in hospital four days with a red leg due to a bite from one of the precious ones … hate them with force … sorry, not this time. Keep writing.’

Jorge, an artist who works in leather – no, don’t be silly, you know what I mean – is regularly encouraging of my scribbles. But this time, clearly, I had gone too far. Howard Jacobson says that writers should always go too far, but I don’t think he meant to aggravate people’s well-founded phobias.

(Jorge owes me 1.40€, by the way. A bet, from several years ago, about whether Brexit would happen. In the café by the market, after buying a coffee, 1.40€ was all Jorge had left to lay on the chance that we might not leave. Not a bet I wanted to win.)

‘Not so much eight legs good, then, as nine legs bad, Jorge. Sorry. I could do you a beetle story. How are you with those little tinkers?’

‘Stories on hares, birds, squirrels, tigers, lions, or pumas please.’

Not Cyril the Squirrel again, I thought. Jorge has already seen ‘Mouse’ from Shortest Day Longest Night, and, coming from Argentina, he knows more about pumas than I could hope to glean in a short time.

My friend was, let’s say, amenable. ‘Okay, avoid squirrels. Replace them with ducks, the current nuisance at present.’

Jorge lives in the Tarn, south west France. A good few ducks are eaten there, and by and large they go to their fate philosophically – far too much so, many people think. Now it seems that Jorge’s neighbouring fowl have become noisy and forward. With human’s ‘social life’ closed down, maybe the ducks have a stay of execution, and are making merry with it.

Jorge wants a story.  The ducks are getting uppity. What might that mean for a particular duck? Might she and Jorge meet? And eggs. We were due to be with Jorge and his wife for their Easter Day egg hunt, but now of course …

Black Duck and her Eggs. How does that sound?

Easter Saturday. The duck had sat on her eggs, fourteen of them, for four days now. The nest, well back from the footpath and the rowdy children, was overhung with …

‘Keep writing,’ said Jorge.

to be continued…

#Arachne5 The Hazlenut Grove Paula Read

As part of our Arachne 5th Anniversary celebrations, we’ve asked all of our authors to come up with a blog, that might have something to do with writing or anniversaries. Some of them responded! This one is from Paula Read whose work we published in Stations

 

The publication by Arachne Press of my two stories in Stations back in 2012 was a significant moment for me. I’ve made my living as a journalist and teacher, so writing has always been essential to those roles. I continued to squeeze imaginative writing into this life and, like most aspiring writers, had folders full of half-finished novels and abandoned stories.

Publication by Arachne, however, changed everything. It signalled that I could write a story that someone else would want to read. It signalled that I should be serious about writing for publication. It signalled potential.

But I realized I needed help – and deadlines. I signed up for a creative writing MA, with a non-fiction book in mind, and with time to devote to it. I am about to start my second year, with many thousands of words still to write – and I am having the time of my life.

A huge thank-you, therefore, to Arachne for the part it has played. Without Arachne’s founder Cherry Potts and her decision to publish my stories, I should not now be able to say the following: I expect to finish my book, the story of my cousin’s eventful move to a mountain top in Italy, by the end of 2018. Look out for The Hazelnut Grove by Paula Read.

Come to the 5th anniversary Party! free, but ticketed