Work-in-Progress

The Practical Senior Teacher, Finella and Philip Davenport (Curated by Tony Trehy)  Knives Forks and Spoons Press, 2016

‘bbbbut…’

Finella and Philip Davenport’s The Practical Senior Teacher is a book in the loosest possible sense of the word, and yet also in multiple senses of the word, too. First the loose associations: This is a collaged work spanning over thirty years begun by sister and brother Finella and Philip Davenport (collaborating as The Gingerbread Tree) in 1984 and continuing to evolve as a work in progress to this day. The pages collected, printed and bound as the 2016 KFS edition bearing the title represent a fraction of the 300-plus page work that exists and has been exhibited in loose-leaf form at the Text Festival in Bury and the Storey Gallery in Lancaster.

Beyond the codex are the physically collaged pages incorporating layer upon layer of magazine cut-ups, adverts, government health warnings, comics, paint, lipstick, scribbled notes and empty painkiller packets. The book is just one possible iteration of the project of The Practical Senior Teacher, and readers can accompany their reading with the YouTube playlist The Margaret Thatcher Museum for an additional, aural, layer to the collage. Further videos by The Gingerbread Tree feature collaged pages from the book thrown into alternative contexts.   This is a restless and relentless project, a perpetual work-in-progress that has been continually worked and re-worked since its inception. The ‘book’ is just a part of it.

Yet this project also fulfils the definition of book from multiple perspectives. The title, The Practical Senior Teacher references the original textbook that forms the substrate for the composition of the collaged pages. This book started life as a textbook for school teachers in the Thatcher era, and the subsequent collage-work provides its own document (Old English boc, book) of those times through its incorporated layers. This is both a personal and a cultural document of those years, creating a history from the detritus of a throw-away culture interwoven with the debris of personal crisis and development. Pages documenting Finella’s experience of the life-threatening post-natal condition HELLP are left unchanged by Philip, yet the condition is represented, like everything in the book, by its waste products.

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Throughout the book, various excerpts and iterations of Finella’s poem Bee Scandal are woven with the collaged pages, giving a kind of loose metaphorical narrative of a society disintegrating and self-destructive – the same society attested to by the decades-long collage project.

The days

we hid in a      basement

beneath the incessant buzz

didn’t know which side was winning

took turns to take

guard

(ear to the radio:

the well-bred

            the dead

 

will take

the Queen

The poem carries echoes of a bunkered and broken society as well as a colony of bees in a hive. As the poem becomes more fractured and fragmented the bees themselves begin to pile up ‘like abandoned rubbish … trash stings scattered needles’ – again interweaving the twin narratives of the bees and the society they echo. The bees piling up like abandoned rubbish, their stings scattered like the needles of a drug user. Society itself broken and addicted. Each reduced to its own destruction. Through collage, however, the abandoned rubbish becomes the material of recreation, the constant reconstruction as work-in-progress with whatever materials happen to be at hand.

Other fragments of text from the layers of collage appear and disappear through the worked pages – whose most recent form of reworking includes digitisation. This has allowed pages to be duplicated, mirrored and adapted digitally; distinguishing the collected pages from their material counterparts and enabling effects such as reversal and repetition that further distort the reading and disorient the reader.

When the work was displayed in Lancaster it was as part of Understanding the Ritual, an exhibition of art-shamanism, and it’s this that interests me the most about The Practical Senior Teacher: the ritual process at play in the project. The restlessness of the ritualistic acts that have compelled Finella and Philip Davenport to keep creating, destroying and recreating this work for over three decades, and the alchemical transformation of that act physically, mentally, emotionally and perhaps even spiritually. One of the most intriguing text-fragments for me is set onto a page painted almost entirely red and includes the following mythically-resonant phrases:

‘Heart of Dionysus

 

heart of hare

not eaten lest it make the eater timid

heart of lion or le[op]ard eat           heart of wolf

& of bear

eat to acquire courage

 

SCREWS YOU UP’

The final phrase is taken from the 80’s Government health warning ‘Heroin Screws You Up’, and there’s so much going on here. Is the eater of the wolf’s heart the mythical equivalent to a junkie? Does the juxtaposition suggest equivalence or contradiction, or something less exact? The association with heroin brings to mind a play on wasted / waste / wasteful that resonates with the theme of detritus throughout the book and finds another expression in the empty pill packet representing a moment of serious threat to Finella’s life.

Like the making of this ‘book’, the reading is a work-in-progress, an unsettled and unsettling process of excavating and creating connections within, between and beyond the pages. No two readings are ever the same and there’s no fixed ‘meaning’ to discover. Reading this book is a physical process that can, if the reader chooses, engage multiple senses and experiences. For me, its magic is in its perpetual openness to recreation, coming alive at its multiple points of connection, writing and creating not only the lives it contains but also the lives it touches.

Click here to buy The Practical Senior Teacher direct from Knives, Forks and Spoons Press.

About the Publisher:

Knives Forks and Spoons Press is a prolific publisher of avant-garde poetry by internationally acclaimed poets and emerging young writers. ‘KFS is a forum for an extraordinary range of diversity and risk-taking artistic experiment.’

Review by Sally-Shakti Willow

Sally-Shakti Willow researches and writes utopian poetics at the University of Westminster.  She is Research Assistant for the Contemporary Small Press.

 

Republic of Consciousness Prize 2017

The Republic of Consciousness Prize for Small Presses was founded last year by award-winning author Neil Griffiths to reward small presses supporting ‘hard-core literary fiction and gorgeous prose’.  Last year’s inaugural winner was Fitzcarraldo Editions for Counternarratives by John Keene.

Today it has been confirmed that The Times Literary Supplement has become the prize’s official media partner. Neil Griffiths says, ‘The partnership with the TLS takes the prize from the artisan fringe into the heart of literary life in UK and beyond. I’ve subscribed to the TLS for 20 odd years and cannot be more excited.’  Toby Lichtig, the TLS Fiction Editor says: ‘Hard-core literary fiction and gorgeous prose is what the TLS is all about, and as such we couldn’t think of a better prize for us to support. Small presses are currently publishing some of the most innovative and daring fiction in the UK, and by partnering with The Republic of Consciousness we hope to help to draw attention to important books that might otherwise be overlooked.’

‘Hard-core literary fiction and gorgeous prose is what the TLS is all about, and as such we couldn’t think of a better prize for us to support. Small presses are currently publishing some of the most innovative and daring fiction in the UK, and by partnering with The Republic of Consciousness we hope to help to draw attention to important books that might otherwise be overlooked.’

The Prize has recently been awarded Grant for the Arts funding from The Arts Council. This essential financial backing means, quite simply, another year is possible, and with increased spend on mainstream and digital marketing, and events beyond the capital we will reach more media, bookshops and readers.

The 2017 long list will be announced on the TLS website in late November; the short list will be discussed on the TLS podcast in February; and the winner will be excerpted in the TLS itself.

All short listed presses will all receive one thousand pounds and the winner will win a minimum of £5,000, to be announced at a ceremony in Central London in Spring 2018.

This year’s judges include booksellers from independent bookshops; Foyles, Birmingham; Waterstones, Manchester; plus a bloggers’ bloc, and a representative from the Contemporary Small Press Project from the University of Westminster (that’s us!).

Submissions close 31th October 2017. Novels, translated fiction, short stories are all eligible – the only requirement for submission is that the press is from the UK or ROI, and has no more than 5 full time staff.

Secrets Remain Untold

Swimming with Fishes by Rasheda Ashanti Malcolm: Jacaranda Books, 2017

Having never read a Caribbean novel, I was intrigued by Rasheda Ashanti Malcolm’s
Swimming with Fishes, especially after researching the author and the publisher, Jacaranda Books. In a ‘Question and Answer’ piece published on Jacaranda’s website, Malcolm claims that the inspiration to write her debut novel came from ‘listening to women across generations talking about the lack of genuine love’.  From this, the novel falls straight into the romance genre, however, it takes on interesting and realistic twists along the way.

The protagonists, Kat and Ben, fall passionately in love while Ben is on a business trip to Kat’s native home, Jamaica. Though Kat and Ben’s island love appears to fill Malcolm’s void of ‘genuine love’, as in true life, love is not that simple and their affair grows beyond either of their expectations. Malcolm’s development of realistic character is admirable as the novel unveils the significant secrets that Kat and Ben hide from each other, including Kat’s struggles with sickle cell anaemia and the fact that Ben is married. The character’s secrets may be complicated, but the plot is simple to follow and I like to think that the large number of chapters flipping back and forth from Ben’s life in London to the Meadows in Jamaica mirror Ben’s heart, confused and split between two women and two countries.

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Malcolm presents the reader with an interesting female perspective in Ben’s wife, Claire. By giving her such a large role in the novel, Claire’s character is well established and it is
impossible to ignore her position as the ‘right’ woman for Ben, no matter how much the
reader would like to route for Kat and Ben’s impulsive island love. Malcolm’s creative descriptions of the Meadows, including the sand, sea, the smell of flowers and even Jamaican foods, allows the reader to be pulled along with Kat and Ben’s island romance, even with the reality of London edging closer within the next chapter. This irresistible nature of love is put up for questioning multiple times throughout the novel and through characters such as Kat’s mother, Miss Ruthie and her relationship with Old Man Jaguar, and even the village gossip, Nellie Potato.

Overall, Malcolm’s debut novel is an enjoyable read, focusing on relatable and relevant issues within modern day romance.

Click here to buy Swimming with Fishes by Rasheda Ashanti Malcolm direct from Jacaranda Books.

Jacaranda Books Art Music is a new independent publishing house based in London
publishing adult fiction and non-fiction, which cross linguistic, racial, gender and cultural boundaries, with an aim to represent the cultural and ethnic diversity and heritage that can be found in London, and a particular interest in works related to Africa, the Caribbean, and the experiences of those peoples in the Diaspora.

Review by Kelly Blewitt

Kelly is a recent graduate of English Literature from the University of Westminster and is
currently pursuing an MA. She loves literary fiction of most genres but prefers crime,
mystery, and romance fictions.

 

 

Women, Writing and Freedom

Linen Press in collaboration with The Contemporary Small Press 
Keynote talk by Maureen Freely, President of English PEN.

‘A word after a word after a word is power.’ Margaret Atwood

In a masculine centred literary tradition that values male over female voices, women refuse to be silenced and continue to tell the truth about their personal and political lives. Join us in exploring the politics of silence and in honouring the voices of women writers everywhere who, despite repression and invisibility, risk all to give voice to the need for liberation and freedom.

Thursday 19th October
17.30 – 19.30
University of Westminster
309 Regent Street
London
W1B 2HW
Freedom

Speakers:

Keynote speaker Maureen Freely on the crucial work done by English PEN and like-minded partners, with particular reference to women writers.

Hema Macherla on the plight of Indian women – fallen women, broken women and women shunned by society.

Avril Joy on working for over twenty-five years with women writers in HMP Low Newton.

Lynn Michell on publishing women writers. She is here to celebrate ten years of Linen Press and to launch The Red Beach Hut.

This event is hosted by Linen Press – a small, independent press run by women for women – and the Contemporary Small Press, which aims to promote, explore and facilitate the work of small press publishers of fiction and poetry.

Divided We Fall

The Cut by Anthony Cartwright: Peirene Press, 2017

‘He spoke of the weight of the past on the present, a sense of betrayal, of something undone, of retribution on some grand, futile scale.’

Just over a year ago, the UK awoke to the cataclysmic news that by a very narrow margin, the nation had voted to leave the EU. Released on the first anniversary of the Brexit referendum, The Cut by Anthony Cartwright was specially commissioned to tackle the deep divisions at the heart of British society today.

The town of Dudley in the Black Country forms the backdrop of the story. A former powerhouse of the industrial revolution, it is painted bleakly, with a depressing sense of lost identity amidst relentless modernisation. The ruins of a castle and engine house are the only reminders of its proud history, when people worked for the steel and coal industries with a sense of purpose that has gradually been eroded.

Documentary maker Grace Trevithick, an academic’s daughter from Hampstead, visits Dudley shortly before the referendum. She wants to interview ordinary people, ‘conscious of saying ordinary people and all that might mean,’ to find out why they are considering voting Leave. The reality, she discovers, is complex. She tries to be open-minded but her innate condescension proves difficult to shake off.

‘She saw them as a bobbing, swaggering whole. She was struck by the state of their work clothes, ragged and dirty like something from an engraving of Victorian squalor.’

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Grace’s confidence and sense of entitlement sharply contrast with local man Cairo Jukes, an ageing boxer struggling to make ends meet. He works clearing old industrial sites to be replaced by new entertainment complexes, facing financial uncertainty on a zero-hours contract. Cairo is a deep thinker who doesn’t easily fit into any convenient box. Grace is surprised by his eloquence and the two attempt to communicate without prejudice, forming an unexpected romantic bond.

The Cut highlights the different experiences of British citizens, offering an insight into alienated communities. There is a claustrophobic sense of being in the thick of the action, a tense immediacy heightened by the close third person narrative. A key scene involving UKIP members having a fight in a curry house certainly grabs the attention. The focus shifts frequently between different points of view, providing a glimpse inside the minds of the main characters.

Although they have things in common, the relationship between Cairo and Grace feels a little contrived. Brexit is too complex an issue to condense into a love story between two white English people on opposite sides. The referendum created a distorted sense of polarisation but how people voted was not simply dependent on privilege.

However, as a comment on the British class system, it is an insightful and revealing short novel, exposing prejudice so ingrained it is rarely confronted or discussed. Class is the elephant in the room in the UK. People are casually judged based on their accent or the way they dress. Carefully laid out definitions aiming to protect people from discrimination do not extend to class. Victims are effectively silenced and powerless to defend themselves without the necessary vocabulary.

‘All you people want to say is that it’s about immigration. That we’m all racist. That we’m all stupid. You doh wanna hear that it’s more complicated than that. It lets all of you lot off the hook. Never considered the problem might be you.’

Cairo is a particularly well drawn character, his intelligence and sensitivity proving attractive to Grace. He is deeply insulted when his interview on the news is subtitled, translating his accent into his own language, as if he is somehow ‘foreign’ in the country of his birth. Cairo fears that despite his keen insight, his opinion somehow doesn’t really matter. He and his family are looked down upon, but worse is the sense that they may simply be ignored. ‘If they talked about them at all’ is a phrase that appears frequently in this story.

‘And this is how it began, she supposed, prejudice on a scale of a whole country.’    

At this year’s National Writers’ Conference, poet and academic Andrew McMillan of Liverpool John Moores University emphasised the need to focus more positively on the underrepresented in society. He believes that ‘there must be an urgency, now, to help disenfranchised communities of all different types express their identity, to celebrate their history, to see themselves as belonging to part of a bigger picture, and this must include a refocusing on the working classes.’

The narrative of The Cut is sympathetic without being patronising. It is a book advocating dialogue with a message to look beyond the stereotypes and actually listen to people. This is a timely, challenging story exploring not just how Brexit came about but the social gulf it represents. Like the canal system referred to in the title that links Dudley to the rest of the UK, ‘we are all connected’, a theme of hope on which to build. This compelling and thought-provoking novel is essential reading for anyone wishing to better understand modern Britain.

Click here to buy The Cut by Anthony Cartwright directly from Peirene Press.

About the Publisher

Peirene Press is an award-winning boutique publishing house based in London,  specialising in contemporary European novellas and short novels in English translation.  The Peirene Now! series enables the press to work closely with writers and commission new British fiction on current political topics.

Review by Becky Danks

Becky Danks is a creative writer, poet, book reviewer and dog lover. She recently won the City Writes competition for her short story The Anniversary. She is a judge of flash fiction for the Hysteria Writing Competition. She voted Remain. Follow her on Twitter: @BeckyD123. Website: www.beckydanks.com

 

 

Murder in Montego Bay

Murder in Montego Bay, Paula Lennon: Jacaranda Books

I was pleased to receive a copy of Murder In Montego Bay via The Contemporary Small Press because of its Jamaican authorship and setting. I have only previously read one Jamaican novel, A Brief History Of Seven Killings, and although this book also revolves around murder, it provides a very different perspective on island life. Lennon sets her tale within the grossly underfunded Jamaican police service. I appreciated that her team of detectives really are portrayed as a team. Their leader, Preddy, does have shades of the dysfunctional-older-detective-against-the-world crime fiction cliché, but at least he isn’t an alcoholic who never eats! There’s no random love interest forced into the plot either which made a refreshing change! Instead Lennon’s detectives realistically banter, support and rile each other in a patois dialogue. Their camaraderie reminded me of Sjowall and Wahloo’s Martin Beck series and I think fans of those books might also enjoy this tropical mystery.

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Lennon’s great strength I thought was in her evocation of Jamaican culture and people. She presents the poverty of the island alongside the vast wealth of some of its inhabitants, and shows how tourists are generally fenced into their own secure beach enclaves away from sights that might discourage them from visiting again. Details of police station disrepair are shocking. I liked that the lack of available high tech gadgets gave a classic crime fiction feel in keeping with the investigation’s style. This novel is certainly more of a character-driven mystery than an all-action thriller. The plot narrative isn’t particularly convoluted, but Lennon kept my interest throughout and I actually found myself being drawn deeper into her created world as the book progressed. I wasn’t immediately gripped by the early chapters, but struggled to lay the book aside by the end as I wanted to know how everything would turn out! Murder In Montego Bay is a nicely satisfying read and has the potential to continue into a strong series.

Click here to find Murder in Montego Bay at Jacaranda Books.

About the Publisher:

Jacaranda Books Art Music is an independent publishing house based in London publishing adult fiction and non-fiction, including illustrated books, which cross linguistic, racial, gender and cultural boundaries, with a particular interest in works related to Africa, the Caribbean, and the experiences of those peoples in the Diaspora.

Review by Stephanie Jane

Stephanie is a travelling blogger usually to be found in her caravan somewhere in Western Europe. She loves long country walks, theatre trips, second-hand shops, coffee and cake, and, of course, reading. She makes a point to read diverse authors from around the world as this allows her to experience countries and cultures that she may not get to visit in person. Literary fiction is her favourite genre, but she is happy to try niche reads across the board and enjoys supporting small publishing houses and indie authors.

Director Mark Tonderai buys film rights for The Book of Harlan

Small Press News – Jacaranda Books

Mark Tonderai and his production company Shona Films have acquired movie rights for historical novel The Book of Harlan by Bernice L. McFadden. The novel, published last year (2016) by Jacaranda Books in the UK and Akashic Books in the US, follows the life of Harlan, a travelling musician from Georgia during the heart of the Harlem Renaissance, who is taken hostage in Paris when the city comes under Nazi occupation during the Second World War.

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Tonderai is the director of psychological thriller Hush (2008) and House at the End of the Street (2012) which starred Hollywood’s Jennifer Lawrence. He is adapting The Book of Harlan, and will direct the movie himself, with McFadden assisting in production.

The Book of Harlan has received several accolades since publication, winning the NAACP Award earlier this year, and the American Book Award. It’s powerful prose, evocative of time and place, and its success in highlighting a poorly documented group of victims of the Nazi regime, has already garnered it outstanding praise. McFadden says of the novel “I realized that while much had been written about the Jewish victims, the fate of Africans and African Americans at the hands of the Nazis was less well documented. I was fascinated by this discovery and set about writing a story that would illuminate this hidden verity.

Click here to buy The Book of Harlan directly from Jacaranda Books.