Everywhere is Somewhere

Everywhere is Somewhere, Naseem Khan: Bluemoose, November 2017

 ‘So when does an art form become ‘English’? Or when does a person become “English”?’

‘It’s a tricky thing, identity.’

‘Being British surely has to take in all the variations that I am unearthing.’

I was very glad to be asked to review this moving, timely and necessary book. Its clarity is impressive; its scope great and to tangle with such questions and statements as those above, is an essential challenge, now more than ever, I think: sometimes painful, but always necessary and, if we would only talk and properly look and listen, it could bring great joy.

I already knew of and admired its author, Naseem Khan, who died in June of this year, not long after she learned that the fine independent press Bluemoose wanted to publish her memoir. I had read her column in ‘The New Statesman’ and had seen her writing in ‘The Guardian’ and ‘The Independent (she also wrote for ‘Good Housekeeping’ magazine and had been theatre editor of ‘Time Out’ and a journalist for ‘City Limits’). I knew her writing, books, Voices of the Crossing (2000, with Ferdinand Dennis), about the impact that writers from Africa, the Caribbean and Asia have had on Britain and British culture; Asians in Britain (2004), where her text accompanied beautiful photographs by Tim Smith and I am about to read, rather overdue, Being British: The Search for Values That Bind the Nation (2009, edited by Matthew D’Ancona and Gordon Brown), to which she contributed. And I knew about her work, with its passionate but gentle emphasis on diversity in the arts, that she had struggles with the idea of the establishment, had spent much of the 1960s travelling in India and Pakistan, connecting with the Khan roots from her father’s side, that she had been arrested in Pakistan as an Indian spy and that she had been part of the black power scene in Notting Hill, from where she edited the ‘Hustler’ magazine with Darcus Howe and others. Looking at these things, I thought, ‘What a woman.’ And I knew about her work in the latter part of her life when she moved from Hampstead to Hackney and threw herself into community work, aiming — and the exploration of this is one of the most moving parts of Everywhere is Somewhere for me — to bridge a gap between those newly arrived in the East End, the so-called ‘hipsters’, the Muslim families and the old East End families; she became a vital figure on the Boundary Estate. If you had looked at social media a few weeks ago, you might have seen coverage of a wonderful thing. A community event centred upon Arnold Circus, a 19th-century bandstand at the heart of the estate which had become a ruin and which, with her persistence and loving care, has gone on to be an East End landmark. After this, she worked on the Phytology medicinal field, which lies in a corner of the Bethnal Green Nature Reserve. That went on to win a Kew Gardens innovation award and a Wellcome Trust grant.

So that is a portion of what she accomplished. She was a true cultural pioneer. In 1976 she wrote a report called ‘The Arts Britain Ignores’. At that time, the lively and growing arts scene in Britain’s ethic communities was not well know or documented. She argued — and I passionately agree with this — that with a more inclusive approach, we would live in a culturally richer place. There’s a line in the book that particularly lingers for me. It is kind; incisive: it is stunning in its essential rightness:

‘The imagination, I think. This is what can bind us. This is what can transform.’

She was, in effect, advocating a community of the imagination. If you read this memoir — and I urge to you — may you feel the same way; test on your own physiognomy the telling pulse of hope and the excitement that goes with it. There were scenes in this book which made me cry because I was so grateful to hear her words: when Naseem Khan is at a meeting discussing plans for inclusion in the arts, she describes an intense happiness in the room: ‘I can feel electricity running along my veins — really feel it, crackling and fizzing. I can hear and feel the emotion in the room. It is a sense of common discovery….I am too proud that I have had a hand in this extraordinary occurrence. Invisible no longer, I think: silent no longer.’

But there is also a righteous anger, a determination. In another meeting, a name is posited for the pioneering report that was to come: ‘We nod: “The Arts Britain Ignores” — it has a ring. We have a name. It’s done…An organisation to push the recommendations further, to make sure that we all stay visible. Keep going.’

Yes. Keep going. That — and the belief in the binding powers of the imagination and of our upholding of diversity in out communities — is what this book is all about for me. ‘The Arts Britain Ignores’ had clearly pointed up the need for greater institutional support to ensure diversity in the arts. She pushed on and later that year — it is all in the book — Naseem founded the Minority Arts Advisory Service (MAAS) and went on to become a co-director of Akademi, the London-based academy for Indian dance, worked on a huge number of local authority cultural plans and also those for museums, including the V&A, and worked on influential studies on parks and urban open space, public libraries and looking at the social impact of the arts. How they foster links between groups; nurture our well-being and the ties that bind. She went on, though with some trepidation, as her memoir shows, to become Head of Diversity at the Arts Council. This is actually the point in time at which the memoir begins, with the author on her way to the job interview. ‘I drag my feet’ she tells us: ‘I am not part of this grand tradition. An interloper’ as she traverses Parliament Square, walking towards the Arts Council of England building.

‘Half my roots are deep in icy wolf-howling Schleswig; the other half in the baked heat of central India. And right now I am on my way to one of the major portals of the Great British tradition.’

She has been persuaded into it by her friend Usha, who tells her that the issue of cultural diversity within the organisation has stalled. ‘If you want to change things…there is only one effective way — and that is through institutions.’ There is a decision to be made here, which I found fascinating and which the author faces with courage: it’s profoundly moving.

‘Memories of my father’s humiliation as he searched for the respect he craved. Resolute black theatre companies exposing racism in rickety halls. All the tenacity needed to unearth quantities of artists, writers, dancers, singers, all from different parts of the world that went into The Arts Britain Ignores…And still so little happened, so little real progress towards the equal society we envisaged.’

She goes to work at The Arts Council of course. Oh, it is painful to read that last bit about her father’s humiliation for this book has made me grapple with issues in my own family history. I hope its author would be glad to hear that. I remember my own Bengali uncle, the man I called Uncle or Kaka, starting again like a junior as the family left the clinic they ran, losing everything, in the second Indo-Pakistan war. We talked often about that, Uncle and I. Who am I to write this review? I’m a white middle class woman, who comes from clawed-up Welsh working class roots. Ah, well that’s rather the point. I need to grapple. I knew about Naseem Khan because one of my greatest influences was this beloved uncle, Dr Jamall, who taught me Urdu and cooking and about the beauty of ghazals, Indian art and also how to eat mangos — I was delighted to see this in the book: you can eat them in the bath, the young Naseem’s father tells her as I was told, and did— and he also knew about Naseem Khan. Because she was important and visible. And all that shot a sharp pain through me, because it’s not long ago we lost him, Kaka.

I have lived in India and travelled widely within it and Pakistan; I’ve been to on-off weddings as young Naseem did; my godmother is a Pakistani Muslim; I lost my parents in my teens. Sometimes I’m not sure who I am. And yet I am exactly sure: I am a hybrid. A questioning, excited hybrid, who looks at all things and tangles with others’ notions —of what the ‘canon’ is in literature or art. I’ve married a man who’s from the state of Georgia and he’s part Cherokee. My Welsh and my Faulkner and my instinctive aping of his often archaic syntax and grammar and his mother’s utter mystification at my elliptical Welsh style where I’ll muddle up pronouns and miss off the subject of a sentence. Oh, I love it. Yes, obviously there can be cultural traditions we might regard and study as we look at the tradition and history of a country, but why can we not draw new things or unacknowledged older things into that; into what we perceive as canon; as mainstream? That is Naseem’s question in the book and it is mine, too. There is room for both. Are we frightened of something? There’s a challenge in this book that is — at least it seems this way to me — particularly pressing in these Brexit days, as we swim in choppy waters and when, reflexively, the lexis of many seems to focus on doom and gloom and on exclusion rather than inclusion. But plurality gives you wings; varied ideas enliven and illuminate. What, I believe, is needed is not a battening down, but an expansion. May this memoir encourage that.

It has certainly made me reflect. On my identity; my cultural precedents.

Everywhere is Somewhere

What does it mean to be British? Testy subject, isn’t it? Painful and destructive, too. As I reflected on the content of Everywhere is Somewhere, on Naseem’s devotion to ‘shared space’, her responses to ‘major social changes as I’ve lived through them’ and to her clear ringing assertion that ‘mixing is so simple’, I put the word out to my friends and family and invited frank response, some of which I knew would nauseate me (sorry, but I speak plainly), but I promised myself that I would not yell or castigate. Because there has to be conversation with those whose views you find abhorrent; has to be, in my view. Because everyone has a story, right? Here — and I must be mindful of the topic of culture because it was as a determined, intelligent and loving defender of the arts that Naseem Khan was known — the greatest confusion remained. British culture, to those who were fearful of its dilution, often meant something terribly vague; a sort of amorphous thing which included red telephone boxes and worries about the purity of the English language being sullied, or the English language not being central enough. That in itself should be a cause for concern because, if you have any secondary education in this country, then your English teacher (I am one) should be explaining to you that the English language is a living breathing thing; that it evolves, bends and twists, borrows words and phrases verbatim. That it did not bound forth with its unsullied grammar and vocabulary from a spring in Arcadia, but is composed of a series of layers, graftings from all the immigrants (sorry; I tend too readily to sarcasm) so we’ve got Norman French and Latin, Anglo Saxon, Greek roots, whole words from Bengali and Hindi — it is in fact a linguistic jamboree. And elsewhere on culture I got ‘Shakespeare being booted off for…oh I don’t know…this PC stuff.’ I did wonder: if we could not define British culture; if we took no particular part in it, then what right had we to question its dilution? Also, is there not room? Why cannot the you and me, just be us? There is nothing that can be said to me that could dissuade me from this: that one of the truest, deepest joys we can feel is to be part of a community, with its various voices, faiths and ideas; with its varying arts: a massive, beautiful plural. And as for identity, bring it on: vast, different, sometimes clashing and dissonant but, with understanding, persistence and humour, all British. As the author of this excellent memoir states:

‘Being British surely has to take in all the variations that I am unearthing.’

I loved this book. It is written with clarity and warmth and, on several occasions, moved me to tears. As I said at the beginning, it felt necessary. I made brief contact with Amelia, Naseem Khan’s daughter on twitter, on the day of the celebrations at Arnold Hill. She had made a speech there and written jubilantly about the day on social media. I wrote to her and told her how much I had loved reading the memoir. I realised afterwards that the Bluemoose team had come from Hebden Bridge to be there, too. You know how Naseem Khan described the electricity in a room full of shared ideas; how I felt a shiver down my spine when I read that? I felt it again looking at the snippets of news that day.

Back to those words of hers: the ones which ring in my ears.

‘So when does an art form become “English”? Or when does a person become “English”‘

‘It’s a tricky thing, identity.’

‘Being British surely has to take in all the variations that I am unearthing.’

I want to say, it is its own thing and the canon can accommodate, flex and mingle; that I agree; that I agree again.

To this observation, rousing, beautiful, ‘When the teacher sweeps the big rubber across the blackboard at school, everything vanishes. There is just the blackboard. Just like that, As if we — and now more than we — were never there. It is not, I think, acceptable any longer’ I want to say, show me how. I agree. How do we carry on this work?

This is a terrific book. A memoir; not a whole life, but stories drawn from a life. If I had a criticism of this book, it was that I wanted to know more — about her being arrested as an Indian spy while in Pakistan, for example. But then, as I said, this is a memoir, not an autobiography — and I am glad for what I have learned; such criticism is hardly justifiable. I enjoyed the modesty of its narrator and that she tells us gently about her domestic situation and the dynamic between her mother and father. I found Naseem’s accounts of her father particularly compelling; of his response to his patients, community, status and discomfort at the new wave of immigrants in their area. I saw this in my own Kaka, my beloved uncle. ‘Look’ he said once as we ate dosa in Newham, me in my early teens, ‘Look at those villagers. Those junglies.’ ‘Uncle, don’t!’ I said. ‘Why not? You think only you bloody whities are allowed to say this sort of thing? You think you have the hegemony on this?’ (I had to look up hegemony later!)

Identity and what we perceive it to be and how we think others impinge on it can cause pain. As you have seen, the book caused me to reflect on aspects of my own life and loss; on tender difficulty and surprise. I felt the text’s plangency on domestic discord, parents, parenting, bereavement, starting again but above all the writer’s passionate belief in the value of the arts; that they – dance, art, poetry and a lively, questing discourse on such things – are a conduit to an understanding of one another, however inchoate that might be to begin with. It’s a book that is plain speaking, but ultimately about hope. And always, this: I want to quote it again:

‘The imagination, I think. This is what can bind us. This is what can transform.’

One more thing; very personal and like a call to action in my ear, so timely it was uncanny. A quotation of George Eliot that Naseem had on her wall for many years, regarded as she begins a fresh start in East London: ‘”It is never too late to be the person you were meant to be.” And that’s what I want.’ Yes. I said to myself, brought up short. Yes. I want that too. And everywhere is somewhere. With its tribulations and its beauty: we need to look closely. So my last words on this book are simply, thank you.

Click here to visit Bluemoose Books for Naseem Khan’s Everywhere is Somewhere.

About the Publisher:

Bluemoose Books is an independent publisher based in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire.

Review by Anna Vaught

Anna is a novelist, essayist, poet, editor, reviewer and also a secondary English teacher, tutor, mentor to young people, mental health campaigner and mum to a large litter. A great champion of the small presses, she reviews their books and writes for them: novel, Killing Hapless Ally (Patrician Press, 2016), novella, The Life of Almost (2018) and poems and essays with Patrician Press and Emma Press. Books three and four out on submission at the moment. Anna is working on her fifth novel.

An Indie Press Christmas

Writer Anna Vaught puts together a Small Press Christmas List.  Inspiring and uplifting new books that bring comfort and joy all year round…

I love Christmas and have been on a mission to denude the whole thing of anxiety in recent years. For example, no worrying about what you’re supposed to be doing; no massive present spend I cannot really afford; some slow and steady shopping so that I actually enjoy the gift-giving side of things. And I never want anything much, really, for myself. I loathe clutter and waste and basically all I do want is fudge, marzipan, the essential box of sugared almonds, fires, routine, dossing about, lots of food and no fuss, inviting anyone in who’s alone or looks sad, my annual reading to the community – candlelit house; mulled wine (please come?) – of Dylan Thomas’s A Child’s Christmas in Wales and – I’m getting there – some books. So I thought…which new or newish books have given me most pleasure over the past two years or so, when I really – arriving foolishly, negligently late to the party – discovered the independent presses of the British Isles? I started to publish with them and that was what led me there. I now write for more, buy from more for myself, have started to review indie books for assorted publications and I love to buy them as presents. Friends say, ‘Oh, I hadn’t heard of that!’ or, when I posted on social media about my favourite books of the year so far, ‘Where do you find out about these books?’ One aim of this article is to help you with that.

…TA DA! Here is something rather fabulous to do for Christmas. I’m going to:

  • tell you where to look for indie titles
  • suggest presents that also support the work of the presses
  • tell you about books, particularly anthologies, that have a philanthropic purpose; that are fund-raising. I don’t know about you, but I’ve found the last eighteen months or so really hard. I’m frustrated and jaded by the tirade of Brexit-Trump. Why not – and in so doing boost your spirits – lift your sights and see who needs you nearby?

So, readers and present-buyers, where do you look for indie titles?

First stop, if you have a good local bookshop anywhere near you, go in and ask. There is pretty much nothing that makes me feel as jolly as a joyous, bookish conversation in a great indie bookshop. And they’re not all in London. Oh no. I don’t want to name names here, so please feel free to list a shop you’ve loved below. Not sure which independent presses there are? Fancy buying direct from one near you? Here is an interactive map started by Salt Press. The presses have added to it since it was published. Why not click on your area and see what comes up? Buy locally, but think globally, see? You can click through to the list of small presses on The Contemporary Small Press website here. While I’m at it, if you are a writer as well as a reader – or rather the person for whom you’re buying presents wants to write – then the Mslexia Guide to Independent Presses is pretty exhaustive.

Where else to go? Author Neil Griffiths set up the Republic of Consciousness Prize two years ago. It’s the only UK literary prize dedicated exclusively to books published by the small presses.  A great way to get involved is by supporting the prize fund.  You’ll find great prize packages and publisher subscriptions available, with the added bonus of investing in this worthwhile literary prize.  Or why not pick from the longlist, which will be out in December in time for Christmas shopping? It will be a beautifully curated selection. Also, the Small Publishers’ Fair happens in November and if you look at this list of launches, you’ll seem some very interesting things that someone might just love. Go on; do it now.

Right then. What about presents?

What I cannot do here is tell you which books you absolutely have to go and buy. (Well I could, but I won’t – although of my top five, four are indie and you can see what I’ve said on twitter and go and follow the indie presses or ask them directly!) No. I mean something that is a substantial book gift and maybe lasts a year or more.

What about subscribing or being part of a buddy scheme? For example, if you buddy up with Galley Beggar, for £30 or £50, you get a number of rather lovely things. Books through the year, signed by the author (I’ve enjoyed this so much) free ebooks, funny postcards that make you smile, invitations to all the new book launches with pop and fun and substantial discounts of the books. Also your name is in the back of each book because, as a subscriber, your contribution to a new work of art is vital.  I’d be delighted if someone bought that for me. No-one did, so I bought it for myself. However, I have two subscriptions from And Other Stories; one for me and one for my husband for a Christmas present. I know; it’s very sweet. His ‘n’ hers. This is a daring range of literature, with a special focus on translation and, I see from himself’s latest subscription book post, authors who should have had more attention when they were alive. Again, there are levels of subscription, but what a lovely gift that keeps giving through the year.

I’d posit that it is wonderful and life-affirming just to be part of something new and innovative so why not pledge to a really exciting project from Dead Ink, who have recently acquired the backlist of the Eden Book Society: that’s a whole lot of horror and it would be a brilliant present. You can subscribe at different levels, from name in the book to books through the year. I’ve asked for the £40 level from husband and the little bookworms, so I can receive novellas through the year.

There will be more in this cornucopia. Go hunt and, indie presses, stick your suggestions in the comment box.

How about buying some book bundles or trying some book offers?

These are a good value way to experience what the small presses get up to. Bluemoose is currently doing a ‘2 for £10’ deal. (Excuse me a moment: I’m popping this on my own Christmas list with the Dead Ink pledge because there’s a couple on the Bluemoose list I’m yet to read…right: I’m back in the room.) There are eight titles to choose from. Charco Press are offering a wonderfully festive ChocLit package on all their titles – combining great Latin American literature in translation with delicious artisan chocolate in delightfully matching colour schemes.  Or, at Patrician Press, you’ll see that the publisher has Christmas in mind, with three choices of book bundle, three books in each. One is for children, the others take in a range of novel, novella, short stories and the first of the fund-raising anthologies which the press has commissioned.

And finally, linking from that, philanthropy. Good stuff. An expansion not a battening down. There are too many books to mention that enlarge our view – arguably, don’t all books? – of course, so I will focus on those books which are fund-raising. Patrician Press’s (see above) Anthology of Refugees and Peacekeepers gives profits to the charity Help Refugees. The two anthologies of Refugee Tales from Comma Press give all profits to the Gatwick Detainee Welfare Group and Kent Help for Refugees.

Recent titles at Unbound include 24 Stories (out next year and funded, but you can still pledge), edited by Kathy Burke, an anthology of stories, put together to aid PTSD related needs of survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire and Trauma Response Network. I’m pleased to say my name’s going in that book because I pledged for it, as it will be for Others, funding at the moment. This is sure to be stunning and it will raise funds for refugee and anti-hate charities. And the point is, more broadly – as I’ve said above – that it’s a wonderful thing to be contributing to an artistic endeavour; here, the double present is that you are contributing to essential debate, fostering links between people through open discussion and you are also helping to fund those most in need.

I’m not saying such bookish extravangance is what everyone wants for Christmas, but My Dear Lord, Santa, it’d make my heart beat faster.

Christmas Books

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Keep your chins up and keep reading. Anna x

 

Feature by Anna Vaught

Anna is a novelist, essayist, poet, editor, reviewer and also a secondary English teacher, tutor, mentor to young people, mental health campaigner and mum to a large litter. A great champion of the small presses, she reviews their books and writes for them: novel, Killing Hapless Ally (Patrician Press, 2016), novella, The Life of Almost (2018) and poems and essays with Patrician Press and Emma Press. Books three and four out on submission at the moment. Anna is working on her fifth novel.

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.

9781909762435

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.

 

2084: Science Fiction Anthology from Unsung Stories

2084: Science Fiction Anthology from Unsung Stories

Unsung Stories launch Kickstarter for new dystopian short story anthology: 2084 

New stories from Christopher Priest, David Hutchinson, Lavie Tidhar, James Smythe, Jeff Noon, Anne Charnock and more.

As the events of 2017 reveal an ever more complex relationship between people and their governments, classic dystopian literature is proving its relevance once again. But as readers turn to classics, like Nineteen Eighty-Four, writers are also looking to our future, and what may lie there.

Unsung Stories have gathered eleven leading science fiction writers who have looked ahead to 2084, as Orwell did in 1948, for a new anthology – writers such as David Hutchinson, Christopher Priest, Lavie Tidhar, James Smythe, Jeff Noon and Anne Charnock, who are already famous for their visions of the near future.

Speaking about the anthology, George Sandison, Managing Editor at Unsung Stories, said, “We knew when we first started work on the anthology that the idea was timely, but the start of 2017 has really hammered home how important writing like this is.

“Dystopian fiction gives us a space in which to explore today’s fears, and the nightmares of society. For many people the events of the last eighteen months have brought those dark futures much closer, so it’s inevitable that we turn to literature to help us understand why.

“The ideas at work in 2084 range from the familiar to the fantastic, but all are bound by a current and relevant sense of what we could lose, what’s at stake. As with Orwell’s work, decades from now, we will be looking back to our stories, to better understand today.”

2084 will be published by Unsung Stories in July 2017 and features leading writers, including Christopher Priest, David Hutchinson, Lavie Tidhar, James Smythe, Anne Charnock and Jeff Noon.

In 1948 Orwell saw a world in flux, at risk of losing liberty so recently won. In response he wrote Nineteen Eighty-Four, a prophetic book. Now, in 2017,the themes are still with us.

This anthology of new short stories draws together leading science fiction writers – famous for their visions of our near future – and asks them to look into our future, to the year 2084.

Put humanity on trial as the oceans rise. Slip over borders in a Balkanised Europe. Tread the bizarre streets of cities ruled by memes. See the world through the eyes of drones. Say goodbye to your body as humanity merges with technology.

Warnings or prophesies? The path to Paradise or destruction? Will we be proud of what we have achieved, in 2084?

Our future unfolds before us.

Click here to find out more and support 2084.

Full list of contributors:

Desirina Boskovich

Anne Charnock (Sleeping Embers of an Ordinary Mind and A Calculated Life)

Ian Hocking (Deja Vu)

Dave Hutchinson (The Fractured Europe Sequence)

Cassandra Khaw (Hammers on Bone)

Oliver Langmead (Dark Star and Metronome)

Jeff Noon (Vurt, Automated Alice, Pollen and more)

Christopher Priest (The Prestige, The Dream Archipelago, The Gradual and many more)

James Smythe (The Australia Trilogy, The Echo, The Explorer and more)

Lavie Tidhar (A Man Lies Dreaming, Osama and Central Station)

Aliya Whiteley (The Beauty and The Arrival Of Missives)

About the Publisher:

Unsung Stories publish literary and ambitious speculative fiction that defies expectation. Publishing stories from the varied worlds of genre fiction – science-fiction, fantasy, horror, and all the areas in-between.

Ikon Birmingham

Ikon Birmingham

If you’re in Birmingham this Friday head over to Ikon Gallery in Brindleyplace for the opening of three new exhibitions, including the literary-inspired For The Man Who Wouldn’t Get Up – Hommage to David Lodge  by Philippine Hamen.

Friday 23rd September, 6-8pm

Exhibition Opening

Celebrate the opening of three new exhibitions – Žilvinas Kempinas,Sara Barker and Philippine Hamen: For The Man Who Wouldn’t Get Up – Hommage to David Lodge 

philippine-hamen

Philippine Hamen, For The Man Who Wouldn’t Get Up – Hommage to David Lodge (2015). Laminated beech, steel, upholstered foam.

French design student Philippine Hamen presents a new hybrid piece of furniture in Ikon’s Tower Room. It is inspired by David Lodge’s short story, The Man Who Wouldn’t Get Up (first published in 1966), about a man who is tired of getting up every morning to live the same joyless life, day after day, until one morning he decides to stay where he is.

In reality, he didn’t love life anymore. The thought pierced him with a kind of thrill of despair. I no longer love life. There is nothing in life that gives me pleasure any more. Except this: lying in bed. And the pleasure of this is spoiled because I know I have to get up. Well, then, why don’t I just not get up? Because you’ve got to get up. You have a job. You have a family to support. Your wife has got up. Your children have got up. They have done their duty. You have to do yours. Yes, but it’s easy for them. They still love life. I don’t any more. I only love this: lying in bed.

The hero, or perhaps anti-hero, decides not to get up – ever. The consequences are unexpected, for himself and others. Hamen has made a “lounger desk” for Lodge’s character and in a sense for the writer whose imagination conceived him. With an appropriate ergonomic structure, including a ‘face hole’ usually found in massage tables, it enables the user to read or work lying face down and thereby questions the long-held association of verticality with the activity of work, whereas horizontality is mostly associated with idleness. Hamen’s lounger desk assuages any guilt we might feel when lying down, reconciling the work space with the domestic sphere.

Please note Ikon’s Tower Room is only accessible via a number of steps. The exhibition is supported by Fluxus Art Projects.

The Man Who Wouldn’t Get Up and Other Stories by David Lodge is published by Vintage on 15 September and will be available from Ikon Shop or online at http://www.ikon-gallery.org.

 

Event: David Lodge and Philippine Hamen in conversation

Saturday 8 October, 4.30–7pm

£8 per person, £6.40 concessions Ikon Gallery and Studio Theatre, Library of Birmingham, Centenary Square, Broad Street, Birmingham B1 2ND

Booking essential.

Designer Philippine Hamen and writer David Lodge discuss Hamen’s work For The Man Who Wouldn’t Get Up – Hommage to David Lodge at an event chaired by arts journalist Rosie Goldsmith. The event begins at 4.30pm at Ikon Gallery with a drinks reception and special viewing of the current exhibitions, followed by the talk at 6pm at the Library of Birmingham. To book visit http://www.birminghamliteraturefestival.org or call 0121 245 4455.

 

Liberature : Literature in the Form of the Book

Liberature : Literature in the Form of the Book

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Based in Krakow, Poland, Katarzyna Bazarnik and Zenon Fajfer are creating, curating, documenting and theorising a literary revolution : Liberature.  Since Fajfer coined the term in 1999 – which could be used not only to describe the kinds of works that he and Bazarnik were creating together but could also be applied retrospectively to works by writers such as James Joyce, Stephane Mallarme, William Blake and Laurence Sterne and equally applied to a range of more recent and contemporary works by writers such as B.S. Johnson and Jonathan Safran Foer – the couple have been prolific in producing, publishing and researching around this previously undocumented area of literary activity.

Katarzyna has published widely in academic contexts on Liberature, including the 2014 Incarnations of Material Textuality, and has a book forthcoming this year.  Zenon’s collected essays from 1999-2009 can be found here.  Together they edit and run the Liberature imprint at Krakow-based small publisher Korporacja Ha!art, which has published several notable works including the first publication in Poland of Raymond Queneau’s One Hundred Thousand Billion Poems, a specially-formatted version of Mallarme’s Un Coup de Des following the writer’s original directions for the text, and the first foreign translation of Nobel Prize winner Herta Muller’s Der Wächter nimmt seinen Kamm.  The Liberature imprint has also published works by B.S. Johnson, and publishes a range of liberatic works by Bazarnik and Fajfer themselves.

Liberature takes its name by replacing the Latin ‘liter’ (letter) with the Latin word for book, ‘liber’, which also means ‘free’.  

What distinguishes Liberature from literature is the focus on the form of the book as an integral element of communication within the structure of the whole.  Where generally the bound codex is rendered invisible – and in the digital age, almost obsolete – as simply the carrier of the message of the printed word, Liberature recognises and foregrounds the book’s physical materiality as a vital component of the literary work printed onto its pages.

What distinguishes Liberature from the Artist Book is that the primary focus is on the literary text in its relationship with the book object – the marriage of material form and literary content – where the Artist Book in general explores the possibilities of the book form without requiring specific literary content.

On 12th August, Joe and I met Katarzyna and Zenon at the Liberature Reading Room in Krakow where they showed us their collection and spoke about their work.  The Liberature Reading Room is a research resource housing books from their own personal collection, theoretical and scholarly publications, promotional material and press clippings, all related to contemporary and historical works that are considered to be works of liberature, or ‘liberatic’.

 

The book for which the term was coined, Oka-leczenie (2000), is formed of three interlinked codices bound together – a deliberate decision to present a physical experience of the book’s content in material form.  Spanning the stories of a death, a birth and an intermediary period between the two, the book can opened at the beginning of any of the three codices which never end but open onto one another in an intentionally endless cycle. Thus the book is no longer an invisible component, subordinate to the text in the communication of meaning, or at least intention.  In a work of Liberature, the material structure of the book is employed as an integral dimension of communication in the design of the text as a whole.  This, for those who have attempted it, is a radical act that questions some deeply held assumptions.

The focus of Western literary production and its critical reception has overwhelmingly been on the words of the text, rather than the design of the book as an object.  This echoes the cultural prejudice that has traditionally valued the intellectual over the physical.  The physicality of the book remains invisible and unquestioned, as it has largely been the intellectual work of the writer in creating the text that has been most valued.  In this way, it’s become easy to ‘lose yourself’ in a good story – the physical act of turning the pages becomes no interruption to the mental and intellectual act of reading the words and reconstructing an imaginary narrative.  But this kind of reading can neglect, or at worst negate, the body: the physical processes at work not only in the act of reading, but in the experience of being human.  To me, this replicates the age-old theological dichotomy between the body and the soul, which again demonises the former in favour of the latter.  Liberature aims at bringing the material form back into play, to foreground its relationship with the immaterial and raise questions about its role.

The codex form itself, far from being an innocuous and insignificant vehicle for the written word, developed at a culturally and spiritually significant point in time.  The first codices were Coptic – designed to encode the biblical narrative.  In the structure of the codex form, with its linear temporality and teleological focus, we can see the structure of the biblical narrative embodied in material form.  Every novel ever written and produced within this set of structures is to a greater or lesser degree reproducing the structure and story of the Bible.  Its structures and codes have dominated our narratives for so long that they are now an unconscious and unquestioned part of our lives, shaping the ways that we think, interpret and experience the world.

For these reasons and others, I believe it is the vital work of writers and artists to draw attention to and question our unconscious assumptions about the material form of the book.

In his ’emanational texts’ – the literary texts that become the content for the liberatic material forms – Fajfer goes further still in probing the relationship between the physical and the spiritual.  Each book contains both a visible text and an invisible text: the invisible text emanates from a close reading of the first letters of each word of the visible text, until only a single seed word remains.  The seed word becomes both the origin and the end point, or the birth and the death, of the visible text on the page.  In this way, both the visible and the invisible carry equal significance and weight, as each gives rise to the other.

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An exploration of the relationship between the physical form of the book and the physical form of the body, and the energising of silent spaces in relationship with the word, are integral elements in the work of our book The Unfinished Dream, which we donated to Katarzyna and Zenon for the Liberature Reading Room while we were there.  It was exciting to discuss our work in the context of Liberature: particularly being told that The Unfinished Dream is a liberatic project in their opinion.  Overspilling the boundaries of the codex, The Unfinished Dream is also a performance and a film with each element of the project designed to foreground the relationship between the physical forms of the book and the body and the interrelationship between word and silence in speech and on the page.

The physical object of the book is a central concern of The Unfinished Dream.  The project explores the ways that the materiality of the book is ignored and made invisible at the expense of the words and ideas it contains, in a similar way to the relationship between the physical human body and the concepts and ideas that are generated by the mind.  The Unfinished Dream explores writing, drawing and creative practice as embodied, physical processes – processes that take place in, of and through the body, and which may be experienced physically, viscerally and emotionally by those who come into contact with them.  The foregrounded interrelationship between word and silence is intended to raise questions about the relationships between self and other, subject and object, writer and reader: creating a non-linear multiplicity that requires the collaboration of the reader to engender meaning.

 

In Fajfer’s words, Liberature is ‘total literature’ in which every aspect of literary production is engaged and controlled by the writer as a potentially meaningful component of the work.  I find the phrase ‘total literature’ difficult to subscribe to, due to the ways that I work with energising silence to co-create a text that overspills its pages and finds its meaning and its locus somewhere in the spaces between self and other, subject and object, writer and reader – it doesn’t reside in the pages of the book, and I as the writer am not fully in control of its meanings.  I asked about this while we were there and Katarzyna explained that the term comes from the idea of ‘total theatre’ in which all elements of theatrical production are employed to generate the overall effect.  Total literature is intended to reflect this all-encompassing method of production, and not to be conflated with totalising.  This is something I understand, but still find uncomfortable in its terminology.  For me the defining phrases ‘spatio-temporal literature’ (p62), or simply ‘literature in the form of the book’ describe the work and impact of Liberature adequately, whilst avoiding the complication of unintended ideological connotations.

In the UK, the London-based small publisher Visual Editions has published a number of works that could be considered liberatic, employing the spatio-temporal aspect of literature and constituting literature in the form of the book, including Jonathan Safran Foer’s Tree of CodesKapow by Adam Thirlwell, and a redesigned contemporary edition of Tristram Shandy.  

It was incredibly inspiring and energising to meet with Katarzyna and Zenon to discuss Liberature, and we’re grateful to them for their generosity and their genuine interest in our work as well as the vibrant and animated conversations we had that sparked so many ideas.  We hope to continue the conversation for many years to come.

Sally-Shakti Willow

Sally is researching for a PhD in utopian theory and experimental writing at the University of Westminster, and works as the research assistant for the Contemporary Small Press project.  The Unfinished Dream is a collaborative project between Sally-Shakti Willow and Joe Evans.

 

Correspondence with a Writer

The Contemporary Small Press interviews writer Lara Pawson, whose book This is the Place to Be will be published by CB editions in September.

Lara, you were at the first Contemporary Small Press Symposium run by the University of Westminster in February 2015, how did that event impact on your decision to choose a small press publisher for your book?

Massively.  I went to that because I’d seen something tweeted by Tony White, the writer who also has Piece of Paper Press.  I went, very much inspired by Tony, and I went because I though I know that small presses are doing interesting things, I want to learn more about small presses.  At that point I had written my piece that has now become the book, This is the Place to Be, which was initially called Non-Correspondence, and I wrote that in 2014.  So it wasn’t that I’d gone there looking for a small publisher.  I’d gone there because of Tony White and because of the kind of work that I’m working on – I’m working on a novel at the moment – and the way that that is progressing, I feel that it probably won’t fit with a conventional ‘market’.  My hunch is it’s more likely to be taken up by a small press.  So I went with the hope of meeting like-minded people, seeing what kind of people were in that world, a bit of ‘networking’, and also that I might learn something.  And I did feel really inspired by it.

Afterwards at the book fair, I went around all the tables looking at the books, and when I got to the CB editions table Charles was standing there, I saw The Notebook by Agota Kristoff.  I had seen that performed by Forced Entertainment at Battersea Arts Centre the year before, and I said ‘Oh my God, you’re publishing Agota Kristoff’ I told him I’d seen it – incredible play.  [Then we started talking and exchanged contact details and stayed in touch] and he said to me ‘if you’ve got anything you’d be interested in publishing with me, just send it my way and let me have a look’ And I didn’t really think much more about it until a year ago when I was on my way back from Wales and I was in the car with a former performer, who had performed with Forced Entertainment, and he had asked me about my work and I was telling him about the Non-Correspondence monologue, and he said to me ‘why don’t you get it published as a book, that sounds like it’s a book’ and when I got back I thought ‘oh I should get in touch with that man Charles’.

And I think that, going to the symposium, I just felt very excited that there were a lot of people there doing very interesting, brave things.  In a world that you quite often feel is closing in on you all the time and you have to conform and you have to compete with all these people to get your product into the market, there I was amongst people who seemed to be interested in the work for what the work is and I felt very liberated and excited by that.  So when Charles said yes he’d publish it, I just felt like I’d hit the jackpot, even though I hadn’t literally hit the jackpot in terms of dollars.  I felt very lucky.  These people are doing very interesting things, and they’re sort of creating what they want to exist.

Now that I’m working with Charles and CB editions I’ve been slowly making my way through some of the books he’s published, and I’ve just been astounded by how great they are.  All these wonderful things that are being produced.  In the world of the small presses, it feels like you’re creating something and I think when you live in the over-developed world, which I like to call the northern hemisphere and especially the UK, you kind of feel that everything’s been done, and it’s closed and locked – and I think for me what that conference, the symposium did for me, and did again last week and that’s why I went again because I thought I know it will open my eyes, it’ll open my horizons, and this time I heard about Commune Editions and I thought I really want to explore all of these things.

 

What’s your experience of being published by CB editions?

I’ve only published one book before this book.  The book that’s being published by CB editions is called This is the Place to Be, my first book was called In the Name of the People and it was about Angola, a non-fiction, published with IB Tauris, so I’d already had a lovely experience of working one to one with my editor, and it was a very positive experience.  So it’s kind of, again, incredible to be working with Charles and it’s even better than that was.  Because Charles is basically a one-man-band, he does the design, he does the layout, he does everything.  So I sent him my text, he had a read, he gets back to me, we go for coffees, and it’s been a very personal microexperience.  Instead of spending so much of our lives sitting behind screens and not being in touch with people, or being in touch with people miles away.  We both live in London so we meet in town for a coffee or something and we talk about various stages of the book planning.  It just feels very close up and intimate.

CB editions tend to have uniform covers – they used to be those beautiful brown covers, but Charles has recently changed that, and I entered into that process while he was in the middle of making that change.  So in fact my book when it comes out won’t look like lots of the other CB editions books, but Charles sent me some suggestions of how it could be and was very happy for me to choose.  Then I went to his house where the books are produced and I sat in his front room with his cats and we looked at different covers on the screen and looked at fonts and it was great.  I met his wife who’s a painter and I felt like it was a really special day, and I found myself thinking ‘why can’t all books be produced like this?’ It was really good fun.  I just love the fact it’s such a personal experience.

I think the small presses are much more flexible and there’s a kind of speed and elasticity which feels in some ways much more appropriate in a way to the world that we live in where everything changes so quickly and you can produce stuff online and produce a digital book ‘like that’ [*snaps fingers*] but these small presses are producing hard books, quality paper books, in months, so I really love that.  I’m quite impatient and I’m quite spontaneous so for me that’s just great.

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Lara Pawson at Burley Fisher Books

I remember at the first symposium you were angry at the suggestion by some panellists that writers and small press publishers shouldn’t expect to make a living from it and should accept poverty as a choice in exchange for the privilege of writing non-mainstream books. What’s your opinion on that now and can you clarify your thoughts for us?

The idea that it’s noble to not be paid.  What’s noble about not being paid?  It’s important, we all have to live, we all have to get by in the world, and I think that the idea that writing and producing works of art, be it fine art or writing or poetry or theatre or whatever, that the people who produce it don’t need to earn a living from it is something I really dislike. I think it’s just a sort of fanciful idea, presumably reproduced by people who either don’t appreciate art and don’t think it has a value or by some people who have a lot of money and don’t need to be paid for the work they’re doing or what they’re creating.  So I don’t think we as writers and artists and people who are producing this stuff should encourage a culture of not earning.  I think it’s a real problem.

That said, in a way you might accuse me of hypocrisy but I also understand that here I am being published by a very small publisher.  I’m not being paid huge sums, I am being paid a sum of money for it, but a very small sum of money.  Certainly not enough to live off or pay my mortgage with.  I have an agent, who did send my book to another publisher that didn’t want it, I suppose I could’ve gone around looking for more big publishing houses with more money.  But I think with this particular book, because it was originally written as a performance, as a looping monologue that was performed at the Battersea Arts Centre as a kind of theatre-performance-sound piece I never expected it – and I was paid for that by the way, I was paid a sum of money for that piece of work and I was paid again when it went to Brussels, so I got paid for the times that that was produced.  But when it became a book – I never expected it to become a book and it’s been expanded a bit, it was initially 20,000 words and it’s now 35,000 words, so still very small, but when it became a concrete plan that it was maybe going to be published as a book, I saw that as a bonus, as a kind of surprise and so I wasn’t thinking primarily that I must get lots of money out of this.  My priority was that I wanted it to be published with a publisher that was respected for the quality of writing that they produced.

But I feel really strongly about being honest about the money side of it.  I wouldn’t be able to do this if I wasn’t a partner with someone (my husband, I’m married) who has a full time job.  If he was not earning money there would be no way that I could do this.  I’d be doing other things as well.  I do do other things to earn money but I don’t earn enough to live off without my husband’s contribution.  So I’m fortunate, I don’t think it’s a model that should be pursued.  I don’t think it’s something to be proud of.  I don’t think it’s noble not being paid.  I think I’m very privileged and fortunate and it’s not fair on people who haven’t got money or haven’t got a partner who can support them, what are they supposed to do: just sort of think it’s noble to produce a book and breathe in air?  People need to live.  And you need time to write, you can’t work full time and write.  Some people do do that, but it’s a really hard thing to do.

So I’m just very uneasy, particularly when I hear academics, who are very often on salaried jobs, talking about the idea that it’s somehow superior not to be paid.  It’s not true, we need to live.  It’s elitist, it’s exclusive.  There’s a minority of people out there with private money, but we don’t just want work to be produced by those people, we want work to be produced by everybody, so that we get a mix of voices and input.  So yeah, I really bristle at people who promote poverty, I just think it’s bullshit.

Will you be looking for a small press publisher for your third book?

The publishers that are producing books I like are often small presses, but not only.  There’s plenty of good books produced by the ‘normal publishing industry’ that I really like.  There’s lots of books that get produced by all sorts of publishers that I really like.  But the books that sort of fire me up, apart from the old classics, tend to be with the small press. So I might well [look for a small press for book 3] but I’m also quite mindful that I’m anxious to make a bit more money out of it.  People said to me once you’ve got your first book out you’ll make loads of money on your second, but that has not been the case.  And that’s not a criticism of CB editions for one minute, but it’s not as simple as that.  I’m beginning to think that maybe, given the kind of writer that I seem to be, or seem to be becoming, that I’m not sure I’ll ever be that mainstream, and I’m going to have to accept that.  But I also think that small presses are influencing the mainstream presses, so who knows.  Eimaer McBride’s book is a classic example of that, but there are plenty of other books and I think people are beginning to realise there’s quite a big desire to read those books.  So to be honest I’m not sure.

What would you like to see in the future from the small presses in general, and for your book in particular?

I hope with This is the Place to Be, that it will reach people, that it will reach readers, I’d really love it if it gets reviews by mainstream newspapers in Britain.  With my first book it had quite a big readership, especially in Portuguese.  What for me is really wonderful is writers getting in touch with you from Mozambique, or someone in Spain or someone in Canada, and they’ve read your book and it’s moved them and affected them and they write to you – you cannot beat that sort of feeling of something you’ve produced touching people.

I feel very nervous about this book, because I feel like I’ve really let it all hang out, I’ve really exposed myself, and in fact after I’d initially written a first draft, I gave it to my next door neighbour who’s a writer, and she really liked This is the Place to Be, and she said to me, ‘You’ve got to read Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts, your book’s really like that.’  I hadn’t heard of Maggie Nelson until then, so I then read her book and I then felt really nervous because I thought Maggie Nelson’s book was so good.  I though oh shit, my book’s not good enough.  But I suppose there were overlaps, and felt that if I could reach people with my own writing, I don’t know.  In some ways I just feel like I’m so amazed it’s being published.  I’m so happy it’s being published with CB editions.  I’m so happy with the few people who’ve read it and their response to it, that if it keeps going like that then frankly I’ll be dead chuffed.  The writer Joanna Walsh read it and very generously endorsed it, and I was just ecstatic for about 48 hours because she’d read it and liked it.

In terms of what I hope for the small press, I hope that they keep going, I hope they survive.  In the climate we’re in right now, not simply that we’re in this weird, ‘Are we going to Brexit or not’ moment but the fact that in the economy we’re looking at even more austerity that presumably is going to be a bit of a threat to people working on small presses.  And if we pull out of Europe is that going to affect the funding because a lot of these small presses, I don’t know who funds them, but a lot of CB editions books are written by European writers, translated by people into English.  To what extent is this whole Brexit moment going to affect the publishing houses?  And Other Stories produce lots of books written by people all around the world.  I imagine this [Brexit] is a bit of a threat to [publishers].  On the other hand, I think people quite often rise to the challenge – so it’s a threat and it’s a crisis but it might make us all fight back a bit more.  Because when you put up barriers, people create ways through it.  I’m amazed by the number of young people who are behind a lot of this stuff, and I think wow, they’re really pushing back and creating a lot of this stuff and it’s happening.

Thanks Lara!

Look out for our forthcoming review of Lara’s new book This is the Place to Be from CB editions.