Who Likes to Be Beside the Seaside?

The Stone Tide by Gareth E. Rees. Influx Press 2018

 ‘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.

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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

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INFLUX PRESS WINS REPUBLIC OF CONSCIOUSNESS PRIZE FOR ATTRIB. AND OTHER STORIES BY ELEY WILLIAMS 

The Hackney-based independent publisher Influx Press was last night, Tuesday 20 March, announced as the winner of the 2018 Republic of Consciousness Prize for Small Presses – for publishing Attrib. and Other Stories by 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.” 

Attrib.

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.

Join the conversation and find out more at: http://www.republicofconsciousness.com 

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Influx Press and Eley Williams: Republic of Consciousness Prize Winners 2018. L-R: Gary Budden, Sanya Semakula, Eley Williams, Kit Caless. Photograph: Sally-Shakti Willow

About Influx Press:

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 

The 2018 shortlist contained:

Attrib. and other stories by Eley Williams (Influx)

Blue Self-Portrait by Noemi Lefevbre (Les Fugitives)

Darker with the Lights On by David Haydn (Little Island Press)

Die, My Love by Ariana Harwicz (Charco Press)

Gaudy Bauble by Isabel Waidner (Dostoevsky Wannabe)

We That Are Young by Preti Taneja (Galley Beggar Press)

About Neil Griffiths 

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.

 

Neil Griffiths and Eley Williams RofC Prize 2018
Neil Griffiths and Eley Williams: Republic of Consciousness Prize 2018. Photograph: Georgina Colby

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Border Territory: Place Waste Dissent

Place Waste Dissent by Paul Hawkins, Influx Press 2015

Alice Nutter – I believe of Chumbawamba fame – asserts in the foreword to Paul Hawkins’ Place Waste Dissent that, it ‘is a book that takes the aesthetics of poetry as seriously as the occupation and protests that inspired its writing.’ The collection situates itself amongst the residents, the protesters and the housing occupiers – if these are not the same people – of the M11 link road protests of the early 1990s. In Hawkins’ work, words fight for space – and on occasion lose – against the images of police officers, residents, stilt walkers and emptied streets, which form each page’s backdrop. That is not to say Hawkins’ poetry does not ‘drive’ Place Waste Dissent, but that the poems, like those Hawkins writes of, must contest for their own space.

PWD cover

It is impossible to talk about Place Waste Dissent without reference to its striking aesthetic, and credit must be given to Influx Press’ confidence in publishing a book that marries such a cacophony of images with an experimental poetic form. Hawkin’s words are cut-out and arranged overlaying images, that both reflect and challenge the poems’ text, transforming each page into a collage that requires a reader willing to grapple with it. No space is spared, with a thick black border holding on to the work that each page contains. Unlike fiction, poetry is often said to occupy space, but here the poems ‘contend’ with space. The black border negates the space that usually surrounds a poem, almost as a stand against those outside forces intent on co-opting the space for themselves.

Nothing in this book is standardised. Hawkins’ use of a multitude of voices and fonts through the work means that the reader is often unsure where one voice, and indeed poem, starts and where it, if it did, end. This is not to its detriment. In ‘This Ain’t no Garden Party’, Hawkins’ writes that ‘the houses were emptied / onto the street / private becomes public / sculptures, masks, cartoon, collage:’. Although this poem is about tenants being evicted, it speaks to many of the issues that the book raises: how we view and are viewed; state force; the boundaries between ‘inside’ and ‘outside’; community; what it is that constitutes a poem. Hawkins’ is making his ‘private’, ‘public’, through the publication of this book and the personal images – most of which were taken by other protesters  – and the inclusion of letters and utterances of his elderly, ‘morning sherry / and 40 Lambert and Butler a day’, neighbour Dolly Watson.

The centrepiece of the collection is the longer ‘Flea’, a poem that examines Hawkins’ drug and alcohol problems and a chance meeting with a young girl who dies towards the poem’s end. Although over 40 pages long, the poem passes in an instant, and yet has an intensity that through its clipped lines forces the poem forward to its devastatingly anticipated conclusion:

 

I

can’t

go

on

like

this

 

I

get

smashed

again

and overdose

 

Without the visual of Hawkins’ work, the quotation above does not do the poem justice. ‘Flea’ manages to combine the experimentalism of the rest of the collection with an emotional impact that is occasionally marginalised by the book’s aesthetic which can overwhelm it.

This review has not spoken to a great number of poems in Place Waste Dissent, that is simply because this book, more than any I have read in a long time, is a collection. It truly works as a whole: poems bleed into one another, characters disappear and reappear later in the collection, images reflect and haunt other images. This book recreates and re-presents the culture and time which it is reflecting upon, and it is an ‘archive’ that delightfully overwhelms with sound and image. This book is important.

Review by Mike James.

Mike is a PhD student at Royal Holloway, University of London, researching trade union representation in contemporary poetry. He is also a poet, teacher and ex-comedian. He has lived and worked in South Korea, Egypt, Kazakhstan and Germany. None of these things inform his work.