If you think it’s fine to judge a book by its cover – and typeface, paper and page layout! – this is the event for you. Come for an evening of discussion, demonstration and investigation into all that goes into making books as objects with other keen readers, practitioners and local small press publishers.
Reading and Being Read: Readers, Writers, Publishers
Friday 23 September 2016, 6-8pm – POSTPONED
Mezzanine Café, Library of Birmingham
The last few years has seen an explosion of new small presses and independent publishers around the country, publishing new and exciting fiction and poetry. If you are a keen reader and want to know more about the difference being a small press makes to how they work and what they publish, come along to hear from two local small presses, The Emma Press and Ayebia Press. They will each be presenting one of their writers, who will read from recently published work.
The Boardroom, University of Westminster, 309 Regent Street, London, WIB 2UW
Literary criticism has historically been practised using three broad models: a close attention to form; a consideration of the way that histories of ideas, identities and social forms are apparent in literary work; a more sociologically oriented consideration of practices of production and reading. From the twentieth century on, while the relations among these, and the prioritising or marginalising of each, shifted and changed, the mutual shaping of literary writing and its means of production has been consistently ignored. In contemporary literary criticism, while much literary critical work combines the first and the second, very little considers all three. Detailed consideration of the way that formal elements are shaped by and interact with the production and dissemination of writing remains almost absent from the discipline. At the same time, the limits of mainstream publishing and the growth of the small press have each been particularly visible since the economic crash of 2008, yet an investigation of the relation between this and the kinds of writing studied and interpreted has not emerged.
Literary Criticism and the Small Press: A Symposium aims to draw attention to and investigate this absence through three broad themes. The location of the small press as the site of formal innovation is clear from the end of the nineteenth century, and its role in the dissemination of modernism is well known. How has this relation changed over the last century or so, and what are the interventions or absences in the literary critical work with regard to it? From William Morris to the digital revolution, the relation of the small press to writing has made central the question of materiality. What is the relation between material and linguistic forms? The relation of the small press to the mainstream, the material forms of writing and linguistic innovation are all mediated and determined by the institutions within which they exist — publishing, bookselling, the university, government funding of the arts and universities, and so on. How do these institutions shape what is published, where and for whom?
The symposium will consist of three panels:
Materialities: Nicholas Thoburn; Sophie Seita
Institutions: Claire Squires; Lisa Otty; Nick Thurston; Matvei Yankelevich
Histories: John Wrighton; Matthew Sperling; Stephen Voyce; Richard Price
Jess spoke vibrantly about her life and experiences as a bee-keeper, read from her memoir The Elephant and The Bee, responded to questions from the audience and signed copies of the book at the event, which was ‘the perfect way’ to end the London book tour.
The book, The Elephant and The Bee, has been both written and illustrated by Jess de Boer and the book design chosen by publishers Jacaranda accentuates Jess’s fun and light-hearted approach to her story with a soft cover and rounded edges, giving the book an enjoyable tactile aesthetic which enhances the pleasure of reading.
Jess spoke on a wide range of topics during the interview. When asked about her writing process Jess revealed that she had started keeping a journal during the years of her experiences and had started drafting out chapters that she hoped ‘might be funny some day’. When she made the acquaintance of a Kenyan literary agent, she sent her the chapters which were then revised and edited. After a process of a few years the book was created and subsequently acquired by Jacaranda Books for publishing. Jess has plans to write further books based on her continued experiences as a bee-keeper and her development into the field of permaculture, which will also be published by Jacaranda. On a recent visit to the Kenyan Embassy in London where the book was officially launched, Jess was encouraged to ‘write three more books’ by next year!
One of the most vivid and memorable sections of the book describes Jess’s disastrous attempt at insect farming, in which she tries to cultivate maggots as an alternative source of protein. It does not end well. However, in sharing this experience with the audience at the event, Jess spoke knowledgeably about the need to turn to alternative and sustainable sources of protein production, saying that ‘Agriprotein and insect farming are a more efficient and necessary form of protein production’. She highlighted the cultural differences that mean that some people across the world embrace this solution while others find it difficult to stomach.
In this sense, Jess’s writing has a marvelous ability to enable us to reflect on ourselves with a degree of humorous critical distance. Like when she relates her first trip to London as a teenager and the effect of the ‘bizarre breakfast of pop tarts and pink Nesquik’ with ‘the absence of wind down windows’ as she hurtles along the M25 in her uncle’s car.
Subsequent visits to London, however, including this most recent, have given her an insight into the importance of urban food production. In response to a question about London’s rooftop bee-hives, Jess said that ‘approximately 70% of the world’s population lives in urban centres; we must begin to produce food in urban centres. Urban beehives and rooftop gardens allow us to contribute to food production from cities’.
Jess is a vibrant, informative and inspirational speaker, and it was a pleasure to welcome her to the University of Westminster on behalf of the Contemporary Small Press and the IMCC.
Contemporary Small Press reviewer Becky Danks said of the event, ‘it was an inspirational evening and Jess’s genuine enthusiasm for bee keeping and for making a difference in the world makes her a great role model and spokesperson. I’m reading her book now and I think that many people could relate to her experiences, young and old.’
On February 20th, 2016, Contemporary Small Press held the first of its Reading and Being Read events at the British Library, London. The event brought together readers, writers and small press publishers to share a day of talks, networking and workshops designed to stimulate interest in the small press and provide a forum for feedback and communication between publishers, writers and their readers. It was a huge success!
The day was sold out in advance and a full house of around 40 people enjoyed the unique experience of being part of this small press celebration.
Linen Press is now the only indie publisher of new women’s writing in the UK. Virago was founded in 1972 by Carmen Callil to publish mainly women writers – new and neglected – and with a strong feminist focus. It is now owned by Little Brown. The Women’s Press, my own role model, was established in 1978 and was hugely influential in the 80s bringing us Alice Walker, May Sarton, Janet Frame, Stevie Davies as well as minority writers. It is no longer functioning. Persephone reprints books already published.
She shared the highs and lows of being an independent publisher, including editing by the gas fire with 93-year-old Marjorie Wilson, whose memoir Childhood’s Hill was the first book that Lynn ever published. Lynn described the role of Linen Press as a publisher that takes risks to publish challenging, experimental, ‘tender and brutal’ books by women that you won’t find elsewhere.
One of the writers recently published by Linen Press is Susie Nott-Bower, whose book The Making of Her tells the story of Clara, a fifty-year-old female protagonist in contemporary society. Susie read from her novel and spoke about her experience as an older woman writer trying to get published. ‘Ageing is the new taboo,’ she said, describing how ‘older writers are encouraged just to dabble in writing as a hobby, between daytime T.V, gardening and grandchildren’. However, when Lynn read her original manuscript she saw the potential of the book and worked through the editing process with Susie to produce the finished novel, proving that, ‘it’s perfectly possible to reinvent yourself at any age’.
A key message that came out of the day was the dedication of small press publishers to developing and nurturing their writers’ potential: a process which can be challenging, but is ultimately rewarding in creating the best possible book – the best result for everyone. This kind of relationship between writer and publisher is one reason why many writers are choosing to publish their books with small presses these days.
Galley Beggar is one such press that works hard to nurture and develop its writers, and has a reputation for discovering and developing high quality new literary talent. Sam Jordison, editor and co-founder at Galley Beggar, spoke passionately about taking literary risks and publishing the books that matter, regardless of commercial popularity. He said,
As soon as we start asking what’s cool, what’s fashionable, that’s when we’ll stop. Small, independent publishers give writers the opportunity to write the book they want to write, not what the market dictates.
Sam spoke about publishing Eimer McBride’s A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing in 2013, a novel that initially needed some editorial development but which he could see had potential as writing that would be ‘moving modernism forward’. The novel won theGoldsmiths Prize and the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize in 2013, the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction, the Kerry Group Irish Fiction Award and the Desmond Elliott Prize (for debut novelists) in 2014, and was also shortlisted for the Folio Prize in 2014. It is now published by international publisher Faber & Faber and is currently being performed as a play at The Young Vic.
Writer Alex Pheby, whose ‘neuro-novel’ Playthings was published by Galley Beggar in November 2015, agreed that the process of publishing with a small press gives a writer the opportunity to ‘write your own story, whether it’s popular or not’. He also outlined various reasons why a writer might choose a small publisher over a mainstream publisher, including the politics of commercial press ownership which may be off-putting to some writers in some cases. He added, ‘processes can’t be turned into money’, and argued that small presses give writers and readers an experience of being in the world.
Five of Frania’s students then demonstrated their hand-made books and magazines in a practical workshop which really got people thinking about different forms of innovative book production that could be used to publish various literary genres. There was such a buzz as people chatted to the students about making their own books and the possibilities for publishing seemed to open that little bit wider.
Christina Reynoso Lopez
When Words Turn Back by Sandhya Kaffo
Sow, Bloom, Wilt
Rounding off the day was Tony White from Piece of Paper Press. Tony read his short story ‘The Holborn Cenotaph’ – a daring, funny, surprising and moving piece that calls on us to question our institutions. He also provided free copies of the story in Piece of Paper Press format and demonstrated how to make your own book from a single piece of paper.
Tony set up Piece of Paper Press in 1994 as a low-cost, lo-tech, sustainable method of book production to occasionally publish new writing or graphic works by writers and artists, and distribute them for free. The press produces work in short runs of 150 copies and distributes them freely at organised gatherings and events. They are ‘the perfect format for festivals’, he quips, recounting a previous experience at Glastonbury where another author’s box of hardback books was left untouched, while every copy of his work was given away. He is committed to this process and has collaborated with numerous writers and artists since the press’s beginnings.
I designed Piece of Paper Press very quickly in 1994 to suit certain conditions and constraints of the time. I needed a format that would create a space for collaboration and commissioning, but that would be cheap, sustainable and infrastructurally light. That wouldn’t need funding of any kind to continue, but also wouldn’t need to rely on sales or to break even. It needed to be deliberately punky, lo-fi, and set against ideas of ‘craft’ value, but also distinctive and catchy, and to address evolving and diverse readerships.
The final activity was a collaborative writing exercise in which the audience’s favourite quotes from the day were gathered, selected and made into mock-headlines in newspaper hoarding style. These were then reproduced onto coloured paper for everyone to take away.
The day was immensely enjoyable, and we’ve had so much positive feedback from the people who came. Below is a selection of feedback and comments on the event, and you can also read novelist/audience-member Avril Joy’s review on her blog and Tony White’s review too. For more comments and reactions on Twitter, search for the #ReadingBeingRead hashtag.
There was a very welcome message that came across loud and clear from the organisers, the audience and the other contributors at the event at the British Library. We heard not often voiced support for and acknowledgement of the fine books made with integrity and passion by small presses on a tiny budget and with minimal resources. For that we thank you! The day was varied, differently paced, always interesting. Watching the audience, they looked absorbed and engrossed. Personally I loved the students’ projects – their enthusiasm, competence and originality, especially the structural poems by Sandhya. Thank you to everyone who contributed. You created a very successful day. Lynn Michell, Linen Press
What an inspiring, stimulating and rewarding experience! What struck me most was the well organised, friendly atmosphere with just the right mix of listening and interaction. As a speaker, I was bowled over by the warmth and receptivity of the audience and it was a delight to mingle afterwards and talk about writing, reading and life. The after-echoes continue – people are reading and commenting on my novel. And on a personal note, I was so inspired by Tony White’s Piece Of Paper Press and the MA students’ presentations that I’m thinking of making a little book of my own! Thank you to all involved. Susie Nott-Bower
I thought that the event was fascinating and invigorating. It’s always great to have the opportunity to talk to people from other small presses and to share stories. It’s even better to be able to do it along with an interested and engaged audience. The event gave us both an opportunity to exchange ideas and some welcome publicity. Sam Jordison, Galley Beggar Press
‘Great introduction the work of the small press – eye opening!’
‘The speakers and writers were very insightful – a very enjoyable event’
‘Fantastic event! A thoroughly enjoyable day…. Great value for money.’
‘This was a good day all round. All the elements complemented each other.’
‘Loved the presentations and the later participative workshop feel of the afternoon sessions. Inspiring day!’
A symposium and workshop for hungry minds and creative readers, bringing together writers, readers and publishers from independent presses in the UK
Susie Nott-Bower and Lynn Michell, Linen Press and Alex Pheby and Sam Jordison, Galley Beggar talk about the experience of writing and publishing new work. In the afternoon, we’ll be joined by Tony White, Piece of Paper Press, and students from the London College of Communication to collaboratively create our own independent publication. Susie Nott-Bower has worked in theatre and television production, before writing her first novel,The Making of Her (Linen Press, 2012). Susie is currently working on her second novel, Reborn, and regularly writes on the Strictly Writing blog. Alex Pheby is the author of two books, Grace (Two Ravens Press, 2009) and Playthings (Galley Beggar, 2015). Alex is a graduate of Goldsmith’s Creative Writing MA and teaches at the University of Greenwich. Linen Press was founded by Lynn Michel to publish diverse, challenging and surprising books written by women, and with women readers particularly in mind. The press publishes work from new and emerging authors, as well as more established writers. Galley Beggar Press was established in 2012 specifically to support writers of ambition and literary merit, who nevertheless have struggled to either find or retain a publisher. Tony White is an author, whose works include Shakleton’s Man Goes South (Science Museum, 2013), and Foxy-T(Faber & Faber, 2003). He has been writer in residence for the Science Museum and the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, UCL. In 1994, he set up Piece of Paper Press as a low-tech imprint to publish new writings and visual or graphic works and distribute them for free.