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!
‘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
Recipe for Being a Woman is a playful and pithy debut collection from a poet whose awareness and grip on language allows her to create a concise and deeply ironic sense of being in the world. Hermione Cameron speaks of, to and for the modern age in 28 poems, in which she shows us the world anew, as if standing on our heads. The collection is published by Ampersand, a newly established independent literary publisher who print their own books from Seven Sisters, North London.
The edition is beautiful, made with care and attention to its contents. The decadent decay of flora on the cover reflects decaying ideals of beauty and femininity that the poems present: they offer something brave and honest.
The collection opens with the title poem, ‘Recipe for Being a Woman.’ It is a prose poem that is pithy in both senses of the word, substantial and fruitful like the pulp of an emollient peach: “Her skin should be clear and peachy, her features should be elegant and refined.” Cameron treats femininity with uncanny, at times potentially abject, consideration: “Measure the organs, skin, form and facial features into a bowl and stir together to form a dough. The dough should be firm yet pliable, once she is fully baked.” The result is a manual of tongue-in-cheek aphorisms that elbow-nudge ideas of ready-made gender moulds:
Fold the dough in half and knead it, making sure that all the beauty is contained. Beauty is a woman’s most powerful asset and must, under no circumstances, be wasted.
The language is formal and antiquated, a pastiche of domestic cookery books, which are, in terms of syntax, instructive and imperative. A woman should be edible. The ideal of beauty is upheld by a multi-billion-dollar cosmetic industry that depends on that image. Women consume industry in order to be consumable themselves. The poet’s irony insists that, rather than being told how to be a woman, we be let alone to figure out how to be own separate selves.
Cameron is playful with poetic form. ‘ID,’ for example, is a concrete poem dealing with Freudian psychoanalysis. It seems to put neuroses on the page, wherein the lines that make up the poem warp and scatter in a cerebral formation. The poem looks like a brain and may visualise chatter in the skull that we endure and struggle to silence: “all I have and all I ever really had / is something I can’t hold in my hands.” It is difficult to read the lines in any coherent order, which is representative of a chaotic mind.
She is also playful with language. Such as in ‘Cliches,’ “gone are the days / When we’d sit praying for it to rain / Cats and dogs / Barking up all the wrong trees / in the hopes we would reach our dreams,” she reissues passé habits of language to speak for a new generation in crisis. She shows that a modern or “millennial” existence is far more troubling and complex than we imagine. These poems suggest, with a subtle spirit, that the future is in the hands of a youth who struggle and strive with being born into an accelerating world:
We never run from the spider
That lures us
Into the World Wide Web
Come let’s see the sites he says
This world he weaves
Words we read
Emoticons over emotions
The collection is political, philosophical and psychological and, at the same time, accessible and relatable. Cameron handles issues of heartache, grief, and self-identification with humour and kindness; in the sense of having things in-kind and an understanding of each other. Her poems are honest and generous with real gumption.
Ampersand is an independent literary publishing house based in Seven Sisters, London. Their selection encompasses everything from innovative contemporary fiction, poetry, and criticism, to new editions and translations of literary classics. Ampersand own their own press and their books are handmade using a combination of traditional and contemporary methods.
Review by Kirsty Watling
Kirsty Watling is a writer, bookseller and recent Literature graduate specialising in twentieth century literature, visual culture and critical theory.
The language of families is often confusing. Ella is a successful British academic based in Strasbourg who, following her father’s death, takes a sabbatical to finally start writing her first book. Attempting to tell her mother’s story based on remembered snippets, she chips away at the polished version of events to uncover the harrowing reality. Her distant parents happened to reside under the same roof but rarely communicated, living separate lives within their outwardly prim London townhouse. Life stories intertwine as Ella attempts to make sense of the present by translating the past and exploring what home really means to her.
Intimacy is elusive to Ella. Her late father, Hugo, conversed like an automaton leading to constant misunderstandings. Close in blood ties but little else, she was never introduced to his parents and when she went to boarding school, his young boyfriend quietly moved in to the family home. Her mother, Margaret, is impervious to sarcasm or argument and renders Ella an intruder at the funeral by inviting her along only if she wants to come.
Ella’s alienation is further emphasized by her struggles with language. She speaks French but at emotional moments loses her fluency, revealing a vulnerable disconnect. As she begins a halting relationship with Max, the owner of a cat she is looking after, words – or the lack of them – threaten to create a gulf between them.
She felt again bizarrely self-conscious about speaking French, groping for words, seeing herself uncomfortably like a parody Englishwoman in a French film.
The novel’s backdrop is both unique and relatable and the story will particularly resonate with people who, like me, moved to another country or dream of doing so. Having lived in Rome, I found Mundler’s vivid imagery illustrative of the light and shade of European life. The sunlight that comes through Ella’s bedroom window is ‘thrown over her bed like a perfectly unruffled quilt.’ As her perceptions of both France and England become less set, so does her sense of affiliation to either place. Unsure where she belongs, she feels like a foreigner in the country of her birth. Nationality, sexuality, and identity all seem fluid and old labels are called into question in what is a richly complex and thought-provoking read.
Ella’s feeling of transience as an expat is subtly drawn out. While she has a much-coveted permanent university job, she is still perceived as somehow ‘other’ despite speaking the language and setting up home. She battles everyday misogyny and her attempts to object achieve mixed results. She is inevitably defensive during these encounters but at times is herself harshly critical of the more traditional choices made by other women. Her personal brand of feminism seems to allow for routinely dismissing women who disagree with her. Despite her frustration at being judged for choosing not to have children, for instance, she seems to look down on other women regarding everything from their lifestyle choices to their appearance.
Narrative voice changes frequently as Ella attempts to see things from the point of view of her own mother and Max’s mother. Margaret spent time in a psychiatric ward before being married off, engagement viewed as her only possible route to social acceptance. She therefore views Ella as incomplete without a husband, rather than as the successful woman she actually is. There are parallels, too, with Max’s artist mother who committed suicide, providing a compassionate insight into the impact of post-natal depression on the mother-child relationship.
There are frequent references to suicide as a sort of security blanket that has become a regular part of life. Bereavement sometimes catches Ella unawares, leaving her ‘howling on the kitchen floor,’ and she keeps enough medication in the house so that she could take an overdose at any time.
At bottom, however, it was herself she doubted most, the depth of the black holes of her own soul.
Ella’s introspections reveal her isolation as she searches for a sense of belonging. At times there are multiple inner voices whom Ella addresses directly in her head.
‘Well?’ she enquired, sharply, within. But at this the bluestocking and the soul-keeper exchanged a glance and then only lowered their separate eyes, each with the merest and most lady-like of shrugs.
These slightly cringe-worthy inner monologues jar with the overall tone of the novel. Fifty Shades of Grey did unexpectedly spring to mind! Ella’s character is brought to the surface better through her interactions with other people, subtly revealing her thoughts through her reactions. Her character is eloquently drawn and her voice is clearest when unimpeded by clumsy narrative tricks. There are laugh-out-loud funny moments, too, like when she imagines reducing her patronising manager to six inches high and ‘banging him into the ground like a tent peg.’
L’Anglaise is a profound exploration of the damage caused by parental neglect and the ensuing struggle to rebuild self-esteem. Painful snapshots capture this perfectly, like when a very young Ella is told to kiss her Daddy and ‘paralysed and powerless to perform as required’ she holds her arms up to the wrong man. But it is ultimately a hopeful story as time and experience allow the main characters to comprehend a little more about each other’s experiences and find forgiveness. As this intensely personal story unfolds, the rich prose and beautiful details ensure that the reader will be captivated from beginning to end.
Holland House is a bold, dynamic publisher of high quality literary and genre fiction. Investing time and energy into producing books by unique voices, they are not afraid of advancing new and challenging work, as well as great books written in the classic style. ‘We want to produce quality writing and to work with good people’. Imprints include Caerus Press for historical fiction and Grey Cells Press for crime fiction.
About the reviewer:
Becky Danks is an avid reader, creative writer, book reviewer, and dog lover. She recently won the City Writes competition for her short story, The Anniversary. She is currently organising a UK and Ireland-wide poetry and short story competition which will launch very soon. Follow her on Twitter: @BeckyD123 or visit her website: www.beckydanks.com
In a single instance, a transformative and indelible impression may be etched onto the mind via vision, a happening that occurs in “the blink of an eye”. There was seemingly one such moment for the author of this novel. Ali Bacon was working in Oxford’s Bodleian Library when she found a cache of famous Victorian photographs. The overwhelming surge of emotions aroused by that encounter with the first wave of photographic images sparked a life-long interest in early photographers. This, Bacon’s second novel, is the fruit of those powerful feelings and interest. It follows the life of the Scottish artist David Octavius Hill, one of those early pioneers of nineteenth century photography, as he brings to completion the first painting based on photographs, an endeavour that spanned decades. Hill brought a refined sensibility to his photographic partnership with the more technically minded Robert Adamson to establish photography as a recognised art form and the novel is very much a song of praise to this innovator.
The novel is also more than that, of course. It is both history and biography, imagination and reality, fact and fancy. The writing playfully and self-consciously alludes to its status as both truth and fiction, as prominent characters in the establishment of photography as a serious pursuit debate in its pages whether the photographic form of representation is art or artifice, the representation of things as they are or a reimagining of the world. That the issue is relevant to an understanding of the novel itself is indicated by the headings that the chapters fall under: the names of early photographic processes. Thus the novel is seemingly constructed as a photograph and presented as a photograph, one that invites philosophical reflection on its capacity to represent the world and to bear truth beyond surface appearance.
There are a number of themes which develop in the novel besides its focus on truth and
artifice. Bacon makes much of imbuing her photograph of a novel with the sensibility of
women. She draws on Hill’s relationships with women and often writes from the perspective of these women to understand the man. The novel is therefore interesting in being a “her-story”, rather than a “his-story”, and a self-consciously feminine biography. However, the great theme of the novel which struck me the most was the relationship that it constructed between truth, beauty and mourning. Death is one of the most significant characters in the novel and touches all those involved. From the first, Hill is shown as a widower and then his partner in photography dies. There are further tragedies. All the art and photography that takes place in the novel, described constantly in terms of truth and beauty, can therefore be situated in ideas of death, bereavement and mourning. As Hill’s wife remarks to him towards the close of the novel in a terse summary of the perspective of the novel, Hill’s art can be understood thus: “‘[t]he sadness gives it beauty, the beauty gives you comfort” (204-5).
Inevitably, one wonders why, in Bacon’s view, sadness gives beauty. Is it the sense of
mortality that gives what is beautiful its value and meaning, the sense of an impending
ending? Is it the fleetingness of the moment that gives both art and photography, and this
novel constructed like a photograph, their ultimate raison d’être? Or can we only understand the true artist in the Western tradition as one that suffers? That is, can Hill only be given recognition as a “proper” artist since he suffers and his suffering bears fruit? After all, one popular image of the artistic genius is “the tortured soul” who is besieged on all sides by harsh happenings, experiences which appear to give his or her art greater depth, value and meaning to the public. One thinks of how their biographical details add to the status of figures like Vincent Van Gogh and the feminist icon Frida Kahlo, who is in fact called “La Heroina del Dolor”, or “The Heroine of Pain”.
Bacon’s novel is certainly a substantial and well-wrought affair which invites the larger
questions on the part of readers. The individual chapters have been nominated for and won several awards and the novel is an engrossing read which also has a feminist dimension. It is a good second novel. It is also a good introduction to the early history of photography and the key debates that the medium first aroused, debates which follow us to the contemporary moment. In the Blink of an Eye is therefore, in my view, a richly rewarding read.
Linen Press is “a small, independent publisher run by women, for
women”. It published its first book in 2006 to much acclaim and strong sales. The Press
describes itself as the only indie women’s press in the UK. Its policy is “to encourage and
promote women writers and to give voice to a wide range of perspectives and themes that are relevant to women”. Linen Press, in its own words, aims to “publish books that are diverse, challenging, and surprising”. The collective background of the writers in the publishing house is described as “a multi-coloured patchwork of cultures, countries, ages and writing styles”.
Review by Suneel Mehmi
Suneel is currently researching the relationship between photography and law in fiction from the mid-nineteenth century to the 1920s. He is a scholar and an amateur writer, poet, singer/songwriter, musician and artist. Suneel is a member of the British Asian community and lives in East London. He holds degrees in Law and English Literature from the London School of Economics and Political Science, Brunel University and the University of Westminster.
I was entranced by Richard Georges’ poetry collection, Giant, from the very first words. I found myself understanding and appreciating his visions out to the ocean from an island home. I felt a sense of timelessness from this poetry too. Connections with creation stories (and scientific truths) from across the globe blend together with memorable imagery such as this initial sentence from Giant:
“Having lost their sight in unlighted deep, the gods of our fathers rose and strode towards falling shards of sunlight”
This collection includes such almost mythical poems as well as poems describing specific places. Georges has a sharp eye for seemingly insignificant details and his vivid portrayals of sights as everyday as the angle of plants:
“tamarind trees lean over narrow coastal roads like wiry grandmothers”
Allowing me to clearly envisage Caribbean landscapes as he does. We observe goats precariously but blithely feeding by the roadside and, later, see the grotesque image of a lamb who was less lucky with the traffic. We also learn of families blighted by alcoholism and grief.
Giant uncovers many aspects of island life that diverge from the tourist brochure promises, but I never thought that these poems lost hope. There is anger certainly, and a resentment perhaps of a colonial past that still rears its uniformed head from time to time but does not provide the basic resources to ensure that the lights stay on in the people’s homes.
Since my initial reading of Giant, I have found myself returning to the book either simply to reread those poems I particularly liked or, more frequently, because a certain concept or turn of phrase suddenly occurred to me and I saw it in a new light. I love that I can continue to interpret and understand Georges’ ideas in different ways.
Platypus Press is a boutique publisher based in England. We seek to unearth innovative contemporary poetry and prose from a broad variety of voices and experiences.
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.
The Hackney-based independent publisher Influx Presswas last night, Tuesday 20 March, announced as the winner of the 2018 Republic of Consciousness Prize for Small Presses – for publishing Attrib. and Other Storiesby Eley Williams.
Influx Press – a tiny outfit run out of east London by Kit Caless and Sanya Semakula – published Eley Williams’s debut collection last year. The book, which is centred upon the difficulties of communication, has gone on to earn widespread critical acclaim from the likes of The Guardian, The Telegraph, the New Statesman, and the London Review of Books.
Neil Griffiths, the founder of the prize, said: “ This is exactly what the Republic of Consciousness Prize was set up to reward. A small press that is so focussed on what it wants to publish it can see unusually brilliant writing more clearly – especially when it comes to short stories.
“Eley Williams is that rare thing, a deeply serious writer working on a playful level. In the middle of her story Smote, I was floored. I realised I was reading a prose poet of a very high calibre indeed, and I said to myself: this book will win. The judges agreed.”
Returning for the second year in 2018, the Republic of Consciousness Prize rewards independent publishers from the UK and Ireland that take the risk to publish brave and bold literary fiction. It is open to presses that have no more than five full-time employees.
Influx Press will receive £5,000, with £3,000 going to the publisher and £2,000 to the author. The press has won over the shortlisted publishers Les Fugitives, Little Island Press, Charco Press, Dostoevsky Wannabe, and Galley Beggar Press, all of which will receive £1,500 each.
Influx Press started life in 2012, with an anthology of stories about the rapid changes taking place in Hackney. What was supposed to be a one-off publication turned into a small press success story: Influx has published 18 books since, including Jeffrey Boakye’s Hold Tight: Black Masculinity, Millennials and the Meaning of Grime, Darran Anderson’s Imaginary Cities, and Chimene Suleyman’s Outside Looking On.
The press recently launched a Kickstarter campaign in a bid to grow its business, backed by industry figures including Nikesh Shukla and Max Porter. In November last year, it opened its submissions exclusively to women of colour to expand the range of voices and scope of work it publishes.
Influx Press publish stories from the margins of culture, specific geographical spaces and sites of resistance that remain under-explored in mainstream literature. Based in East London, they are run by Kit Caless and Sanya Semakula. www.influxpress.com
About Eley Williams:
Eley Williams lives and work in Ealing. Her writing has appeared in the journals Ambit, Night & Day, The Dial and Structo. She teaches both creative writing and children’s literature at Royal Holloway, University of London, where she was recently awarded her doctorate. www.eleywilliams.com
About the Republic of Consciousness Prize:
The Republic of Consciousness Prize for Small Presses rewards independent publishers from the UK and Ireland that take the risk to publish brave and bold literary fiction. The prize is sponsored by the TLS, the University of Westminster, and the Cornwall-based printer TJ International and was awarded a Grant for the Arts by the Arts Council England this year. www.republicofconsciousness.com
Neil Griffiths is an award-winning novelist. He is the author of Betrayal in Naples, which won the Writers’ Club first novel award, and the Costa Best Novel Award-winning Saving Caravaggio. His new novel, As God Might Be, is an epic novel which “deals uncompromisingly honestly with the human complexities of encountering and speaking about God” (Rowan Williams). It is published by the small press Dodo Ink.