Reading & Being Read: Birmingham – Review

‘People want good books, wherever those books come from’. Small Presses publish good books!

On Tuesday 27th June, readers, writers and publishers met at Birmingham’s Ikon Gallery for the final event in our Reading and Being Read series, organised by The Contemporary Small Press’s Georgina Colby, Leigh Wilson and Sally-Shakti Willow.  The evening was introduced by Georgina Colby, who opened the discussion into the role of small presses in contemporary UK publishing.  What difference does it make to a publisher to be a ‘small press’?  What does this mean, and what are the associated challenges and opportunities?  Publishers from two Birmingham-based presses took to the floor to offer an insight into their own experiences.

Alan Mahar, Publishing Director from 1997 to 2012 at the formerly-independent Tindal Street Press (now a subsidiary of Profile Books), spoke proudly of the press’s record as a regional publisher of writers and fictions based outside of publishing’s main hub, London.  With humble beginnings as a local writing group based in Birmingham’s Tindal Street, the idea for a press that would publish good books by local writers was born.  ‘Larger publishing houses in London weren’t interested in regional writers and regional stories,’ he said, but setting up a small, independent press enabled those writers to be published and reach a wider audience.  Publishing these books was never a simple vanity project for the team, Alan’s assertion that ‘people want good books, wherever those books come from’ is borne out by Tindal Street Press’s record: as a very small regional publisher publishing regional writers, the press published three Booker Prize-listed titles, long before the current recognition for smaller presses among large international writing prizes began.  In fact, Tindal Street Press can be proud of its tally of having a total of twenty out of its sixty-five published books listed for prizes in its time.

‘People want good books, wherever those books come from,’ Alan Mahar.

The Emma Press‘s founder and editor Emma Wright spoke about her initial focus on the publishing aesthetics of poetry pamphlets, a decision which has recently been rewarded with the Press winning the 2016 Michael Marks Award for Poetry Pamphlets.  Emma’s aim is to publish books which will be ‘loved, enjoyed and appreciated’, and the palm-sized poetry pamphlets were designed to make poetry beautiful and accessible.  Publishing her first poetry pamphlet, The Flower and the Plough by Rachel Pierceyenabled Emma to discover what she loves most about the books, the materials and the processes of publishing.  Emma set up The Emma Press in 2012, deliberately breaking the unspoken convention that sees so many presses named after men.  In 2013, the press first opened its doors to themed submissions for its anthology The Book of Mildly Erotic Verse.  Since those early days, The Emma Press is on track to publish its fiftieth title by the end of this year.

Both The Emma Press and Tindal Street Press are characterised by a ‘can-do’ attitude to publishing, by which their founders saw something missing from the mainstream market and set about to create it despite the obstacles.  Alan suggested that the dwindling space for literary reviews in national media is a challenge for small and independent publishers, and Emma has previously mentioned the challenges of representation and the financial difficulty of running an unfunded press.  The value of funding from external bodies such as The Arts Council has been of critical importance to both presses.  Regional Arts Council funding and Arts Council funding enabled Tindal Street Press to focus on publishing regional and BAME writers, while The Emma Press has conducted two Arts Council funded poetry tours.  The financial reward for winning the Michael Marks Prize has also enabled The Emma Press to expand its efforts in publicity and marketing.

 

Following the publishing chat, writers had their opportunity to discuss what it means to them to be published by a small press, and to read from their books.  Alan Beard and Man Booker Prize-listed novelist Gaynor Arnold, both published by Tindal Street Press read from their fiction; Racheal M Nicholas and Richard O’Brien, both Eric Gregory Award-wining poets published by The Emma Press, read from their poetry collections.

 

With Arts Council funding, The Contemporary Small Press has been bringing small press publishers and writers together with readers for networking and conversation about the work of the independent presses.  Reading and Being Read: Birmingham was the last in this series, which has also included events in London, Manchester and Newcastle.  We extend a huge, warm thank you to everyone who has taken part in these events – all the publishers, writers and readers who have made the conversations buzz.  That conversation isn’t over, so follow us on Twitter and our main website for more!

Review by Sally-Shakti Willow, Research Assistant, The Contemporary Small Press.

Poetry in Good Hands

Emma Wright from The Emma Press will be speaking at Reading & Being Read: Birmingham at the Ikon Gallery on 27 June.

Emma Wright from The Emma Press will be speaking at Reading & Being Read: Birmingham at the Ikon Gallery on 27 June.

Recent winner of the 2016 Michael Marks Award for Poetry Pamphlets, The Emma Press publishes a range of poetry anthologies, pamphlets and e-books.  Here’s Emma’s acceptance speech (reproduced with permission), and you can find out more about the Award and the thriving small press publishing scene in Birmingham on The Emma Press website here.

Emma Wright delivering her speech at the British Library (© Tony Grant)

Emma’s speech at the Michael Marks Awards

I’m Emma Wright and I started the Emma Press just over four years ago, after quitting my job at Orion Publishing Group. I never thought I would start my own company, let alone a publishing house, but then – in 2012 – I got tired.

I got tired of seeing men’s surnames in the names of the imprints I was working on, and I got tired of looking around the publishing industry and seeing women pretty much everywhere other than at the very top. And I was tired of waiting for other women of colour to rise up the ranks and show me that it was possible, and that this wasn’t exclusively a white man’s club.

I needed representation in a way that’s hard to understand when you’re already represented everywhere. I was tired of waiting, so I moved back to my parents’ house in Reading, I quit my job and I decided to try and be part of the change.

And now I’m here. I’ve published 33 poetry books, with 17 more due out next year. I’ve run two Arts Council-supported poetry tours and, though it’s always a financial struggle running an unfunded press full time, my developing sense as an entrepreneur has allowed me to keep the press – and myself – afloat in my new home city of Birmingham.

Rachel Piercey and Emma Wright, after the awards dinner

I’ve worked with my good friend and brilliant poet and editor Rachel Piercey to champion writers we believe in and produce books which appeal to readers beyond the usual poetry book-buying audiences. We work hard to develop our authors and bring them opportunities, and we’re especially proud of our three pamphlet series: the Picks, which are themed and have black and white illustrations; the Pamphlets, which include introductions from other poets as another way in for the reader; and the Art Squares, which are lavishly produced, with full-colour illustrations.

And it’s hard. Of course it’s hard. I’m running an unfunded poetry publisher, putting books out into a wider cultural conversation that is dominated by vocal, entitled white men, voicing their opinions often without a clue about the toxic state they’re contributing to. It’s dispiriting, but I’m hopeful that things are changing. Other people are tired too, and I’m seeing more movement now to tackle publishing’s lack of diversity.

So, recognition like this means a lot. It’s wonderful to be here tonight amongst other poetry-lovers, celebrating the poetry pamphlet, and I want to thank the Michael Marks Awards team for drawing attention to this small but vital part of the poetry ecosystem. Being here tonight, I’m feeling positive about the future.

* * *

 

Reading & Being Read: Birmingham

Reading & Being Read Birmingham with The Emma Press and Alan Mahar, former Publishing Director with Tindal Street Press.

Reading and Being Read heads to Birmingham for our final Arts Council funded event of 2017.

LOOKING FOR SOMETHING NEW TO READ…?

READING AND BEING READ

Emma Wright, Editor of The Emma Press 

Alan Mahar, former Editor at Tindal Street Press

IKON GALLERY

1 Oozells Square

Brindleyplace

Birmingham

B1 2HS

Tuesday 27 June, 6-9pm

Tickets £3 before 12 June / £5 after

FREE tickets for Midlands-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 local independent press The Emma Press, and former small-press editor Alan Mahar.

Join us for this informal discussion on challenges related to small press publishing. A roundtable conversation with Alan Mahar, former editor of Tindal Street Press, and Emma Wright, editor of The Emma Press will be followed by readings from authors Alan Beard, Gaynor Arnold and others published by The Emma Press and the former Tindal Street Press.

READING AND BEING READ: BIRMINGHAM

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

author-photo-valerie-laws
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