Episode 2 of the Podcast for Small Presses is here! Featuring Jonathan McAloon and Catherine Taylor on Anna Burns’ Booker-winning Milkman, Eley Williams on Nicholas John Turner’s Hang Him When He Is Not There published by Splice, and Jonathan McAloon’s Small Press Book of the Month.
Leigh Wilson of the Contemporary Small Press was very pleased to be involved in Strong Language, a series of events curated by Tim Etchells as part of the Sheffield’s Off the Shelf Literary Festival. She chaired a panel, ‘Small is Beautiful’, consisting of four fantastic small press publishers — Victoria Brown from Dostoyevsky Wannabe, Stefan Tobler from And Other Stories, and Brian Lewis from Longbarrow Press — all testament to the many different ways that small can be beautiful. For a great summary of the event and some excellent photos by Chris Saunders, see Tony White’s account.
The Contemporary Small Press is very pleased to be supporting this podcast series for Small Presses.
This month’s podcast can be found at SoundCloud, with special features on The Brixton Review of Books and The Goldsmiths Prize.
The podcast will be appearing monthly. Worth listening out for.
The Missing List: A Memoir by Clare Best, Linen Press, 2018
I am one of the lucky ones. I made it through. There are too many who do not – our prisons, hospitals and cemeteries are full of them. And so I give you my story, hoping it may help to break down myths and misunderstandings around abuse and its aftermath.
Clare Best finely weaves together a tapestry of memories, delicately stitching the fragments of a life both lived and lost through the experiences of childhood sexual abuse. Best pieces together a collage of “offcuts”, tackling the struggles of a split self who has fought to navigate the rocky terrain of taboo, shame, guilt, anger, anxiety, fear, love and resilience whilst acknowledging and attempting to accept, process and survive the abuse and “fallout” of her early childhood years. She experiments with written form, refreshingly negating the “conventions” of memoirs that often attempt to “fit” the author’s biography into the narrative arc of a novel. She interchanges between film scripts, transcripts, lists, and medical diagnoses, whilst merging or interlinking past and present events, which arguably creates a greater authenticity to the narrative by truly emphasising the experiences of memory in the throes of dealing with trauma.
Best approaches her experiences with both bravery and sensitivity. She is careful to keep control of her narrative, making sure that it remains her story. There is always a fine line between saying what is comfortable to voice and saying too much, where the story no longer remains the author’s to tell, yet Best treads this line carefully, never detailing the abuse too explicitly and ensuring that what she tells the reader is what she has chosen to share. It is hers, and she is finally the one who can own it after all these years. The result is a carefully written piece, and whilst it may act as a trigger for some readers, it may also give comfort to others in realising that they are not alone in what they are feeling or experiencing.
The narrative intertwines childhood memories with those of her present moments of being a carer to her ailing father. By interweaving the past and present, Best highlights the ongoing effects of her abuse and how difficult it is to overcome, particularly when the parent/abuser is still ever present in her life. Whilst the physical effects of abuse can often be grasped in more concrete terms and perhaps, in some ways, overcome more quickly, the psychological trauma of abuse can be far more long-lasting as remnants remain as internal scars for an individual. It is far harder to truly articulate and understand the psychological impact such manipulation and control can have on a person, in which love is conditional and based on what a child will do, as the child learns early on how to play particular roles. Yet, Best deftly brings this to the forefront of the narrative and effectively communicates this manipulative dynamic and fraught relationship to the reader.
His love, such love as he can show, has always been conditional. Do this and I will love you. Be like this and I will love you. Be my mother, sister, wife, daughter – and perfect at each – and I may love you in every way and none. When I see you in this role you become the role. When I’m finished with you in this role, you will revert to another role. This is how it’s been.
Best brings to light the psychological impact of abuse in a brave and eye-opening way to the reader, not only detailing memories of events, but equally articulating her thoughts and feelings as an important part of her narrative. She tackles the difference between the lived experiences and the medical diagnosis of symptoms by expressing the way in which abuse splits identity and how one may embody themselves as multiple, rather than whole.
One, the home-child, is emotionally volatile, swinging between fury and contrition; she adores and needs to be adored by her mother. The other, the school-child, is careful, measured, self-sufficient, almost obsessively tidy; she works harder and harder at her lessons, with better and better results, despite the unexplained school absences. And then there’s a third presence, discernible as a space that both separates and holds together the two girls. This space is like the central image of Rubin’s Vase – the black-and-white optical illusion where you can see either a vase or two heads in silhouette, but you can’t hold both at once.
Although it is a common symptom of child sexual abuse to dissociate from oneself, it is often difficult to grasp what this entails. Best explores this with great self-awareness of how her sense of embodiment was altered into three aspects of herself, the “home-child”, the “school-child” and a third presence, a haunting of a self that flitted between the other two that she beautiful portrays as the Rubin’s Vase. This splitting can often be a way of coping with the psychological trauma inflicted; therefore, Best assists in bringing to light what is so often the hardest to explain or articulate to others. It is one thing to understand what dissociating means as a term and diagnosis, but it is another thing to be able to eloquently and coherently communicate the lived experiences of such states.
Yes, I’m resilient. Resilience is the other side of shame. I’ve come through loss and pain, and made many adjustments. I must continue, will continue.
Best questions what it means to survive, and although she is not the biggest fan of this word, it is one of the few that places hope into the narrative, rather than labelling someone forever a victim. Her narrative gives hope through highlighting how one can be resilient. She shows strength and perseverance, and whilst the outcome may not have been the one she wished for or felt she needed, she eventually found her ending. Rather than her father having the last word, waiting for his apology, his acknowledgement or his time to talk about it, she took control of her narrative and chose to be the one to end it. This act seems far braver in many respects, as it takes courage to step away and be the one to break the cycle, to finally say “no”.
About the publisher:
Linen Press is the only independent women’s press in the UK.
About the reviewer:
Isabelle Coy-Dibley is a PhD student at the University of Westminster, where her research predominantly considers inscriptions of the female body within women’s experimental writing.
Sam Jordison of Galley Beggar has known that Preti’s work was special from first reading it. He says that ‘ever since Andrew Macdonald from Gatehouse Press called on us with a copy of Kumkum Malhotra and a chapter from We That Are Young, we have loved this book, believed in Preti and known we had something wonderful on our hands.’
Praise for her work comes too from the chair of this year’s judging panel, Sarah Perry, who says that after reading the novel the panel ‘were left shaking their heads, saying “If this is her first novel, what extraordinary work will come next?”‘
Many congratulations to Preti and to Galley Beggar!
If you would like to buy the novel, please go to https://www.galleybeggar.co.uk/shop-1/ehisxs910lbr9bpmdvl044yhkaofz7
‘Whatever that thing was, I didn’t want to deal with it. I would not die in my pants.’
Have you ever been laughed at by a duck in the middle of the night for pondering the end of civilisation as we know it? Gareth Rees has. Join him as he moves to Hastings and discovers a town on the edge, both literally and figuratively. This ‘rebel without a clue’ is a writer who, with his fortieth birthday looming, sets up home in a dilapidated Victorian townhouse. With his wife, two daughters and pet cocker spaniel in tow, he soon realises that this is no ordinary residence.
A mysterious white orb appears in the garden at night. He hears girls giggling in the bedroom but when he checks on his daughters they’re fast asleep. His wife Emily makes the grisly discovery of a mummified heart in the attic. Even the décor is sinister, as beneath the 1970s wallpaper lies a room ‘the colour of dried blood.’ Absence hangs heavy but apparently there are no ghosts, only subsidence.
Feathered creatures are not Gareth’s friends. Upon venturing into his neglected back garden, he endures filthy looks from a malevolent seagull whom he suspects to be the house’s eccentric architect reincarnated. Stubbornly reluctant to live and let live, he ends up embroiled in a pointless oven glove-clad battle whilst dodging ancient animal sculptures hidden among the weeds.
On his regular wanderings outside of this madhouse, Gareth notices that Hastings seems to emit a strange magnetic pull, attracting ‘magicians, addicts and dreamers.’ With a creeping sense of dread, he worries about being swallowed up whole by a sinkhole, suspecting that he may be destined to join the surprising number of other visionaries who ended their days in the area. Apocalyptic weather adds to the vague sense of unfolding doom, although it’s hard to tell whether his fears are real or a result of the ‘hot dog and candy floss fumes’ of the seaside going to his head.
‘Sooty, Soo and Sweep were trapped in a glass box, playing synth-pop cover versions for a pound a go to feed their crack habits.’
Gareth is in danger of losing his grip on both his health and home life. He frets about ageing and losing his sense of adventure, reluctant to allow the mundanities of daily life to erode his curiosity. The past catches him unawares at the local beach where among the detritus washed up on shore are his long-buried memories and aspirations.
Hastings emerges as the unlikely star of the story. A former suicide blackspot framed in gothic faded grandeur, this was the place where John Logie Baird drew inspiration for the experiment that would eventually develop into television. There’s even a Wetherspoon’s named after him. Rees deftly parallels the historical story of the dawn of television with the modern communications age and the current unsettling sense of epoch shifting times. Baird stands accused of unwittingly enslaving people and allowing the huge positive potential of his idea go to waste, with TV instead becoming a modern-day opium of the masses.
‘Other people’s lives were so compelling when framed in a well-lit window.’
Multiple narratives flip in and out of the past as events are expertly transformed from the ordinary to the surreal. Bizarre stories are told about little-known historical figures of dubious moral character, such as notorious fraudster Charles Dawson. An enthusiastic amateur palaeontologist, he falsified fossils to sell to museums, setting up whole scenes in caves around Hastings’ coast. Big names like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle are casually thrown in as co-conspirators until eventually it’s difficult to tell what’s made up from what really happened. Rees parodies the unreliable nature of historical narrative by presenting outrageous liars in an almost heroic light. Even Gareth’s late best friend Mike is posthumously praised for his ability to exaggerate to make events sound more entertaining. Whilst searingly relevant, this constant blurring of the lines between fact and fiction does get a little exhausting, a constant reminder of the post-truth world in which we’re living.
‘When I once told (my children) that the moon’s gravity caused the ocean’s tides they found the concept bizarre and far less believable than the myth of Father Christmas and his army of elf slaves. They had not yet erected a barrier between perceived reality and fantasy, if there were such a thing at all.’
The moment you turn the first page to find a contents list with chapter titles like ‘The Eel with a Head the Size of an Armchair,’ you know this is going to be no ordinary reading experience. The eclectic format features photos as well as text and even a full-length comic strip. There are frequent laugh-out-loud funny moments and Rees’ genius lies very much in his comedic details and observations. I’m not sure what a ‘smoke dried Tudor cat’ even is but found the image of a pair on display in a pub highly amusing. The author isn’t afraid to tackle the big questions about death, parallel universes and how the choices we make impact other lives and the world around us. Men with metal detectors, disappearing lollipop ladies, and Rod Hull and Emu are amongst the many unexpected characters to make an appearance in this exhilarating, truly original and highly entertaining alternative history of Hastings.
‘It’s all coming to the surface.’
About the Publisher
Influx Press are an innovative independent publisher dedicated to taking risks and producing radical, exciting books. They ‘publish stories from the margins of culture, specific geographical spaces and sites of resistance that remain under explored in mainstream literature.’
About the Reviewer
Becky Danks is an avid reader, creative writer, book reviewer, and dog lover. She is currently organising a UK and Ireland-wide poetry and short story competition for adults and children for a London charity. Follow her on Twitter: @BeckyD123 or visit her website: www.beckydanks.com
June 2nd 2018
11.00 am -5.00 pm
G Live, Guildford, London Road, GU1 2AA
Now in its eighth year, the annual Surrey University Poetry festival is curated by this year’s Poet in Residence James Davies. A day long wonder blast of innovative poetry from the following takes place in Guildford, a stone’s throw away from London. Featuring rare readings by American legends Tina Darragh and P. Inman.
Programme for Poetry Festival
In the Foyer
11 (until 1.30): Peter Jaeger durational performance
All below in Comedy Room
11.10: Introduction to festival
11.20-12.00: Surrey students & Scott Thurston
12.10-12.50: Rob Holloway & Rebecca Cremin
1.40-2.20: Sharon Kivland/Clémentine Bedos & Tina Darragh
2.30-3.10: Lila Matsumoto & P. Inman
3.30-4.10: Amy Cutler & Philip Terry
4.20-5.00: Emma Cocker & Emma Bennett
from 7 in Glass Room
Tom Jenks performs in the evening soiree – exact time TBA
Clémentine Bedos is a multidisciplinary artist whose recent shows include a solo exhibition at the Constance Howard Gallery, London ‘Contagious Hystories’. Currently exploring themes of identity, binaries and the Other. https://www.clementinebedos.com/
Emma Bennett’s recent performances include durational piano pieces, an exploration of pining for soft things, and interpreting the words of birdsong. https://emmabennettperformance.wordpress.com/
Emma Cocker is a writer-artist whose work explores the slippage between writing on page, to performance in time, between still and moving image, between individual and collective action. http://not-yet-there.blogspot.co.uk/
Rebecca Cremin draws on traditions of live art, Fluxus, performance writing and site-specific work using language as an object to expose, to investigate, to locate. http://www.veerbooks.com/Rebecca-Cremin-LAY-D
Amy Cutler is a multi-disciplinary practitioner with a special interest in geohumanities – the engagement between geography and arts/humanities. https://amycutler.net/
Rob Holloway is currently exploring sonnets and prose poems, and has been a DJ on Resonance FM. https://vimeo.com/93835233
P. Inman is associated with language and minimalist poetry. His work has been described as ‘thick with meanings that never quite complete themselves; full of social ironies and a sly and biting humor’ http://writing.upenn.edu/epc/authors/inman/
Peter Jaeger will perform a durational version of his latest book Midamble, on the lawn at G Live. The book concerns his recently completed walk on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jG1EUZusDTY
Sharon Kivland is an artist who has recently been called a poet, five times, to her surprise. Her work considers what is put at stake by art, poliics, and psychoanalysis. http://www.sharonkivland.com/
Lila Matsumoto’s poetry explores dailyness through allegory and literalness. http://www.shearsman.com/browse-poetry-books-by-author-Lila-Matsumoto
Tom Jenks is often verbivocovisual and always hilarious. https://www.zshboo.org/
Philip Terry uses Oulipian methods and translation to examine the crimes of bureaucracy and management. http://www.carcanet.co.uk/cgi-bin/indexer?product=9781847772206
Scott Thurston’s current work responds to ongoing encounters with various dance and movement practices including Five Rhythms, Movement Medicine and Open Floor work. http://writing.upenn.edu/pennsound/x/Thurston.php
Students from The University of Surrey have been exploring a range of poetic strategies during the workshop series Making Things Happen including the use of diaries, minimalism, Oulipo and collaboration.