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Reading and Being Read Newcastle: Review

On 18th February 2017, Newcastle City Library hosted the latest Reading and Being Read event from the Contemporary Small Press.

On 18th February 2017, Newcastle City Library hosted the latest Reading and Being Read event from the Contemporary Small Press.  The day included talks from two local publishers Red Squirrel Press and Myrmidon Books, readings from two local writers Ellen Phethean and Valerie Laws, and an afternoon workshop on the material aspects of book design with Frania Hall from London College of Communication’s MA Publishing course.

The Contemporary Small Press’s Leigh Wilson welcomed guests to the event, commenting that it’s often been the case for poetry to be published by small presses, but there has been a recent rise in small publishers of fiction which the day’s event was designed to explore.  Sheila Wakefield from Red Squirrel Press and Ed from Myrmidon Books gave fascinating and insightful talks about the workings of a small press, what they’re looking for from their writers, how to make a successful submission, and more.

Both Sheila and Ed suggested that sales and marketing are vital for keeping small presses in business; while Sheila suggested that her writers play an important role in that process and Ed spoke about the role of bookshops and online retailers, it was clear that small presses’ survival is dependent on the small profit margins involved with book sales.  Ed admitted, ‘on every ten books you publish, you’ll lose money on seven, maybe break even on two, and hope that one makes enough to cover that cost’.  However, both Myrmidon and Red Squirrel are thriving examples of small press publishers based in the North East, with Sheila publishing her 180th title next month.

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Ed from Myrmidon Books, Dr. Leigh Wilson from The Contemporary Small Press, Sheila Wakefield from Red Squirrel Press

Reading submissions is an enjoyable part of the work for both Ed and Sheila, although it can get overwhelming – when Sheila first opened up Red Squirrel Press for submissions her postman had to get a bigger van to deliver all the manuscripts she was sent!  Ed reflects that he feels like ‘the Grim Reaper, destroying people’s dreams’ when he has to turn down a submitted manuscript, while Sheila shared the extraordinary and unsettling lengths that some writers will go to when desperate to submit, saying that ‘publishers can get stalked by writers’ – which probably doesn’t increase the chances of clinching that book deal.

‘it’s all about the writing, craft, skill. The whole production of book, paper, fonts. I’m a book geek.’ Sheila Wakefield

When making a decision on whether or not to publish a book, Ed needs to know if it’s going to sell and if it’s going to make it onto the table at Waterstones.  He says, ‘if we like it, if it turns us on, it’s probably going to turn other people on too.’  For Sheila, ‘it’s all about the writing, craft, skill. The whole production of book, paper, fonts. I’m a book geek’.  Ed remarked that ‘by taking open submissions, [Myrmidon is] doing what the big publishers can no longer do’, highlighting one of the key differences that being a small press makes to the way that they are able to engage with new writers.  Sheila’s ringing advice for anyone wishing to submit to a small press publisher was to get as much feedback from supportive peers and groups as possible before making your final submission, and most importantly reading the submission guidelines for your chosen press.

Two writers, both successfully published by Red Squirrel Press, Ellen Phethean and Valerie Laws, spoke about their experiences of writing and publishing with small presses and gave readings from their books.  Ellen commented that great small presses will develop a personal one-to-one relationship between the editor/publisher and the writer, enabling the writer to publish the book they want to write.  Valerie praised small presses for giving writers the freedom to write differently every time, thus experimenting with new styles, forms and genres.  Both highlighted the importance for a writer of having a complete manuscript to send to publishers, rather than just a ‘book idea’.  Ellen said, ‘a writer is somebody who finishes.  Getting to the end of the book, redrafting, submitting, publishing.  Once upon a time publishers might be interested in the “idea” of a book or the first three chapters. Now it has to be the finished manuscript.’

‘a writer is somebody who finishes.  Getting to the end of the book, redrafting, submitting, publishing.  Once upon a time publishers might be interested in the “idea” of a book or the first three chapters. Now it has to be the finished manuscript.’  Ellen Phethean

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Ellen Phethean, reading from Ren and the Blue Hands

The afternoon session was a hands-on workshop with Frania Hall from LCC’s MA Publishing, who spoke about the material aspects of book design and production, and got everyone involved with creating new book cover designs for the eight titles on the Republic of Consciousness Prize short list.

Look out for our next Reading and Being Read event coming to a UK city near you soon.

Reading and Being Read events are supported using public funding by the Arts Council England.

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Sheep & Skulls: Valerie Laws

Valerie Laws and Sheila Wakefield from Red Squirrel Press will be speaking at Reading & Being Read Newcastle on Saturday 18 February, 11-4pm.

Valerie Laws and Sheila Wakefield from Red Squirrel Press will be speaking at Reading & Being Read Newcastle on Saturday 18 February, 11-4pm.

Valerie Laws is a Northumbrian poet, crime novelist, science-poetry installation artist, playwright and mathematician/physicist. Her thirteen published books represent several genres and publishers.

From Red Squirrel Press, they include two crime novels The Rotting Spot (‘a darkly intriguing debut’ Val McDermid) and The Operator (‘gripping from the very first scene’ Ann Cleeves) set in the north east and two of her four full-length poetry collections: The Facebook of the Dead, and All That Lives, which arose from funded residencies with pathologists, neuroscientists and anatomists researching the science of dying and the ageing brain.

Valerie devises new poetic forms for installations and commissions including the infamous Arts Council–funded Quantum Sheep, in which haiku were spray-painted onto live sheep. She featured in BBC2’s Why Poetry Matters with Griff Rhys Jones and performs worldwide live and in the media. She has had twelve plays commissioned for stage and BBC radio. She has won numerous prizes and awards, including a Wellcome Trust Arts Award and two Northern Writers’ Awards.

To find out more visit valerielaws.com

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Valerie Laws

 

Red Squirrel Press is an independent publisher based in Northumberland, founded by poet and Editor Sheila Wakefield in April 2006, has published over 160 titles to date which includes poetry, crime fiction, literary fiction and non-fiction. Red Squirrel Press has never had Arts Council England or any other funding and was shortlisted for the Callum Macdonald Memorial Award in 2010 and 2015. Postbox Press, the literary fiction imprint of Red Squirrel Press was introduced in 2015.
Red Squirrel Press publications for sale will include
Breath, Portrait of the Quince as an Older Woman (poetry) and Ren and the Blue Hands (Young Adult novel) by Ellen Phethean.
The Tyne & Wear Poems by Ian Davidson.
The Operator (crime fiction) by Valerie Laws.
My Wild Northumbria (non-fiction) by Mike Pratt.

 

For tickets and more information please click below:

 

READING AND BEING READ

NEWCASTLE CITY LIBRARY

33 New Bridge Street West

Newcastle upon Tyne

NE1 8AX

11am to 4pm, Saturday 18 February 2017

Tickets £5 / NE Students register for FREE

Twitter hashtag: #ReadingBeingRead

Ren and the Blue Hands

With prescient relevance to the current state of international politics and its personal and emotional impact on individual lives, this novel would make an apt read for young adult readers at this time.

Ren and the Blue Hands by Ellen Phethean: Postbox Press (Red Squirrel Press) 2016

This YA historical fantasy novel is set in an alternative sixteenth century, based on the real-life conflict of the European dying industry’s resistance to imported Indian indigo.  The plot offers intrigue and romance set amidst the conflict of global markets and politics – following the life of young Ren, a Lady’s maid who gets tangled up in the crisis against her will.  The novel is well-researched and then transformed into its own unique fictional world through Ellen Phethean‘s strong imagination.

ren-and-the-blue-hands

Should a country protect itself with walls and rules, and live in isolation from the rest of the world, never changing?  Or is it better to share knowledge and goods, increasing wealth and trade?

With prescient relevance to the current state of international politics and its personal and emotional impact on individual lives, this novel would make an apt read for young adult readers at this time – encouraging an awareness of the complexities of global relations and an understanding of the variety of responses available to us.  Seeing the world, as we do in this novel, through the particular eyes of Ren gives us a perspective on the details of living at a time of unprecedented political upheaval.  Ren’s perspective can open up the possibilities of a life on the cusp of uncertainty in ways which will speak to YA readers.  Her humanity and the novel’s central love story will particularly appeal to early-teenage girls with a sense for a good mix of personal morality and daring adventure.

Ellen Phethean will be at Reading and Being Read Newcastle on Saturday 18th February, 11am-4pm at Newcastle Library.  Tickets are still available at £5 each, and Newcastle-based students can register for free.  Click here for more details.

Ellen Phethean & Red Squirrel Press

Ellen Phethean and Sheila Wakefield from Red Squirrel Press will be speaking at Reading & Being Read Newcastle on Saturday 18 February, 11-4pm

Ellen Phethean and Sheila Wakefield from Red Squirrel Press will be speaking at Reading & Being Read Newcastle on Saturday 18 February, 11-4pm.
Ellen Phethean is a novelist, poet, playwright, editor and co-founder of Diamond Twig Press. Her first full poetry collection, Breath, published by Flambard in 2009 and reissued by Red Squirrel Press in 2014, was shortlisted for the London New Poetry Award in 2010. Portrait of the Quince as an Older Woman (Red Squirrel Press, 2014), her second poetry collection, was a New Writing North ‘Read Regional’ selection in 2015. Ellen’s Young Adult novel, Ren and the Blue Hands (Postbox Press, literary fiction imprint of Red Squirrel Press) was published in November 2016, an early draft was longlisted for the Times/Chicken House Children’s Fiction Competition is 2012. She also teaches creative writing and runs workshops.
author-photo-ellen-phethean
Ellen Phethean
Red Squirrel Press is an independent publisher based in Northumberland, founded by poet and Editor Sheila Wakefield in April 2006, has published over 160 titles to date which includes poetry, crime fiction, literary fiction and non-fiction. Red Squirrel Press has never had Arts Council England or any other funding and was shortlisted for the Callum Macdonald Memorial Award in 2010 and 2015. Postbox Press, the literary fiction imprint of Red Squirrel Press was introduced in 2015.
Red Squirrel Press publications for sale will include
Breath, Portrait of the Quince as an Older Woman (poetry) and Ren and the Blue Hands (Young Adult novel) by Ellen Phethean.
The Tyne & Wear Poems by Ian Davidson.
The Operator (crime fiction) by Valerie Laws.
My Wild Northumbria (non-fiction) by Mike Pratt.

 

For tickets and more information please click below:

 

READING AND BEING READ

NEWCASTLE CITY LIBRARY

33 New Bridge Street West

Newcastle upon Tyne

NE1 8AX

11am to 4pm, Saturday 18 February 2017

Tickets £3 before 4 February / £5 after

Twitter hashtag: #ReadingBeingRead

Reading & Being Read : Newcastle

Our Reading and Being Read event is on the road again in 2017. Next stop, Newcastle City Library 18 February.

Our Reading and Being Read event is on the road again in 2017.  Next stop, Newcastle City Library 18 February.

LOOKING FOR SOMETHING NEW TO READ…?

READING AND BEING READ

with Ellen Phethean, Valerie LawsRed Squirrel Press, Myrmidon Books

NEWCASTLE CITY LIBRARY

33 New Bridge Street West

Newcastle upon Tyne

NE1 8AX

11am to 4pm, Saturday 18 February 2017

Tickets £3 before 4 February / £5 after

FREE tickets for Newcastle-based MA and PhD students – Register here

Twitter hashtag: #ReadingBeingRead

The last few years has seen an explosion of new small presses and independent publishers around the country, publishing new and exciting fiction and poetry. If you are a keen reader and want to know more about the difference being a small press makes to how they work and what they publish, come along to hear from two local independent presses, Myrmidon Books and Red Squirrel Press, and writers Ellen Phethean and Valerie Laws.

Small presses are often able to give much more attention to the physical characteristics of the book, and the day will include discussion of this. If you think it’s fine to judge a book by its cover – and typeface, paper and page layout! – this is the event for you.

READING AND BEING READ: NEWCASTLE

Reading & Being Read Manchester

Reading & Being Read Manchester welcomed writers, readers, publishers, students, academics and interested members of the public to a full day programme of talks, readings and workshops on aspects of small press publishing.

The Contemporary Small Press’s latest event, Reading & Being Read Manchester, was held at Manchester Central Library on Saturday 12 November 2016.  Organised by Dr. Leigh Wilson and Dr. Georgina Colby, Institute of Modern and Contemporary Culture, University of Westminster, and supported using public funding from Arts Council England, the event welcomed writers, readers, publishers, students, academics and interested members of the public to a full day programme of talks, readings and workshops on aspects of small press publishing.

Leigh Wilson introduced the event, contextualising the themes of the day and saying that ‘small presses are producing some of the most exciting work in contemporary literary publishing’.

Short fiction is a genre still largely overlooked by mainstream commercial publishing, yet Manchester-based small publisher Comma Press is passionate about the development and publication of the short story form.  ‘Something happens in good short stories that’s quite unique to them as a form; the imaginary worlds they create are coloured slightly differently to those of the novel.  Their protagonists are more independent and intriguing.  The realities they depict [are] more arbitrary, accidental and amoral.  Comma believes British publishing is missing out on something in its neglect of the short story, and to make up for it we are currently the most prolific hard copy publisher of short stories in the country.’

Ra Page, founding editor of Comma Press, spoke about the vitality and anarchic potential inherent to literary short fiction:  ‘Literature is about providing alternative narratives to what we’ve been told.  The purpose of literature is to increase sales resistance.’  As a less-commercially-profitable product than the long-form novel, the short story has the potential to both provide an alternative narrative and to offer resistance to the commercial sales imperative of the bestseller.  In this way, and in the sense that the short story is ‘a very smuggle-able form’ in its ability to cross national borders undetected, Page suggests that ‘publishing short fiction can be an act of resistance.’  In recognition that the ‘history of the short story is not confined to one place or country’, Comma Press publishes a wide range of international short fiction in translation – crossing international borders and suggesting alternatives to dominant national narratives.

Writer Michelle Green, whose short story collection Jebel Marra focusing on the ongoing conflict in Darfur was published by Comma Press in 2015, agreed that ‘the space of the short story to do things that are not in service of commercialism feels really urgent right now.’  She also makes the case for short fiction providing alternative narratives, structures, perspectives – a form that resonates with the fractured lives of war and conflict, and with the daily struggle of life with a disability: ‘short fiction as a form is a great place for experiment and shift, and it does not assume resolution.  It does not tend towards the triumph over struggle, the big budget achievements.  It takes life in pieces, and in the world of the story, that one piece is all.  This, to me, feels familiar.  I recognise it.’  She summarises the difference between long-form and short-form fiction by saying, ‘short stories are not tiny novels that are waiting for water.’  Michelle read her tender and beautiful story Winter Song from Jebel Marra – the first live reading of this story that she has given.

comma-press-edit
Ra Page & Michelle Green

Perhaps even less commercially profitable than the short story, contemporary poetry is also being passionately published by the small presses rather than the big publishing houses.  Manchester-based poetry press If P Then Q publishes contemporary experimental poetry that’s designed to be friendly, welcoming, and encourage people to read.  James Davies, founding editor of If P Then Q, showed a collection of early matchbox poems he had made with the intention of being affordable, accessible and experimental.  Davies acknowledges that small poetry presses like If P Then Q publish books that wouldn’t otherwise have been published, bringing the work of new and experimental writers to a wider reading public through their reading networks and live-performance events.

The relationship between live performance and the written word on the page is a productive one for If P Then Q.  Poet Holly Pester was initially spotted by James at a performance and he subsequently published her first book, Hoofs, with the press.  For Pester, this relationship ‘opened up new opportunities for publishing poetry as live performance scores, which maintained the trace of the live utterance.  Maintaining the playfulness of live performance was an important part of publishing my first book with If P Then Q.’  Holly says, ‘the shape of the poem on the page and aural shape of the poem in my voice relate to each other in a not necessarily harmonious or analogous way, but they have to set each other off, nervously.’  James notes that ‘editing is an important part of the collaborative process between writers and publishers,’ recalling how Hoofs was shaped collaboratively to include elements of the live performance that they both wanted to ensure were included in the book, even though they weren’t part of the original manuscript.

Holly read extracts from Hoofs, a work she completed six years ago, remarking on its ‘uncannily resonant, playful approach to apocalyptic thinking.’

zimZalla’s Tom Jenks broadened the discussion after lunch to introduce ‘avant-objects’ which move poetry ‘beyond the book’.  zimZalla publishes a range of poetry objects that deviate in a variety of ways from the standard book form – from Sue Birchenough’s Takeaway Britain in a burger box to Stephen Emmerson’s aleatory text board game, A never ending poem read with dice that goes on to explore the possibilities of human intervention within the context & illusion of chance.  Jenks says he is interested in ‘reclaiming the physical: the handmade, tactile, imperfect objects; limited in number, locally produced.’  He says, ‘there is a sensuous quality to physical objects that you don’t get digitally, just the pleasure of picking something up and handling it.  zimZalla publications are designed to surprise and delight.’

Tom led an afternoon workshop in collaborative experimental poetry creation.  Working in groups, with improvised phrases and cut-up paper, an experiment in Mobius strip poetry was conducted – the results placed into test-tubes to become unique avant-poetry-objects for everyone to take away.  All leftover phrases were collected into a glass jar and labelled with the zimZalla seal of approval as a collective poetry object.  The experience of live-poetry-object-making was a lively and enjoyable part of the day, getting everyone involved with this tactile and collaborative process of writing poetry.

After the workshop, Sally-Shakti Willow read from The Unfinished Dream published by Sad PressThe Unfinished Dream experiments with a creative writing style drawn from Ernst Bloch’s utopian function of art and literature, predicated on an experience of non-alienation between writer and reader/artist and audience – an experimental form with cross over points between text and image, book and performance.  Publishing with a small poetry press enabled the book to be created to specific dimensions as an A4 chapbook, allowing space for the text and images to be re-presented in their original size – all parts of the book are recombined from a series of handmade originals in A4 exercise books, the aesthetic deliberately evoking the scribbled and doodled pages of a school exercise book to reflect the unfinished nature of the utopian project.

chapbooks-from-sad-press
The Unfinished Dream

The next Reading & Being Read event will be held at Newcastle Library on 18 February 2017.  Details and full line-up will be announced soon!

Reading and Being Read events are supported using public funding by the Arts Council England.

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Dream Performance

The Unfinished Dream is an experimental writing collection, an artist book, a short film and a performance. It began as an experiment in applying Ernst Bloch’s utopian theory to creative writing practice, inspired by the text works of Theresa Hak Kyung Cha.

On Saturday 12 November, The Contemporary Small Press will be at Manchester Central Library for our next Reading & Being Read event.  Writer Sally-Shakti Willow will be performing extracts from The Unfinished Dream, published by Sad Press.  

The Unfinished Dream is an experimental writing collection, an artist book, a short film and a performance.  It began as an experiment in applying Ernst Bloch’s utopian theory to creative writing practice, inspired by the text works of Theresa Hak Kyung Cha.  Both Bloch and Cha explore the relationship between subject and object (self and other).  Bloch suggests that the experience of non-alienation, where the subject (the individual) experiences itself as not-separate from the object (the world/the other) is the essence of the utopian.

Cha embodied this desire to create an experience of non-alienation between the subject and the object in all of her major text, film, and performance works.  The Unfinished Dream experiments with these ideas and has developed into a collaborative project that keeps growing and shifting – an unfinished and unfolding creative process.

All elements of the project take as a starting point the following quotation from Cha’s 1982 book Dictee: ‘May I write words more naked than flesh, stronger than bone, more resilient than sinew, sensitive than nerve’.

film-still

Sally is a PhD student at the University of Westminster and Research Assistant for the Contemporary Small Press project.  She will be performing extracts from The Unfinished Dream and discussing her experience with small presses at Reading & Being Read, Manchester Central Library on Saturday 12 November, 11am-4pm.  Tickets are £5.  Manchester-based MA and PhD students can register for FREE.  Click here for more details.