My Europe Anthology Launch – Review

MY EUROPE ANTHOLOGY BOOK LAUNCH HOSTED BY CONTEMPORARY SMALL PRESS AT THE UNIVERSITY OF WESTMINSTER ON THURSDAY 8TH MARCH 2018

Patricia Borlenghi, publisher at Patrician Press, gave a short introduction about how the MY EUROPE anthology came into being. She is a passionate European and wanted to publish a collection on what Europe, the EU and Brexit meant to poets, writers, politicians and lawyers she was able to contact to contribute to the anthology.

Andrew Graham, director of Europaeum, an educational charity, to which Patrician Press will be donating from proceeds of book sales, gave a short talk about the charity.

The contributors to the anthology who then read were as follows:

Suzy Adderley reading her Neither Black nor White, an analysis of the complexities of the Brexit situation.

Wersha Bharadwa reading Living History. This is set in a re-enactment section of a museum and underlies the paradox that influential Indians had suffered being in the British Empire, but that the British felt that they were being colonised by Europe.

Catherine Coldstream read three poems: The Conjuring, the one she contributed to My Europe; one from our first anthology, Refugees and Peacekeepers; and a new one about her mother, who died recently.

There was a short interval, then George Szirtes who came to England after the Hungarian Revolution in 1956, read his poignant poem, Je Suis Européen.

He was followed by Giacinto Palmieri, a stand-up comedian with a PhD in bilingual comedy who read his Because I Could (or What the EU Did for Me).

Last but not least was Petra McQueen reading her story, Fall Out, about a couple whose relationship disintegrates when they find themselves on opposing sides of the Brexit debate.

Anna Johnson, the editor of the anthology was present as were Mark Brayley, Cecilia Hall, Ken Smith and Stephen Timms MP who all contributed to the anthology.

Many, many thanks to the Contemporary Small Press for hosting the event, especially Leigh, Georgina and Sally.

Patricia Borlenghi.

Images by Georgina Colby and Sally-Shakti Willow.

Click here to order the My Europe Anthology from Patrician Press.

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Darkly Funny and Courageous: Killing Hapless Ally

Darkly Funny and Courageous: Killing Hapless Ally

Killing Hapless Ally by Anna Vaught: Patrician Press, 2016

A darkly funny account of a woman’s courageous battle to regain her sense of identity following a lifetime of self-doubt.

Behind the chintz curtains, it was hell.

Alison has always had plenty of friends. Unfortunately, they are all in her head. With a conspiratorial smile, she invites the reader into her world as a confidante, providing an occasionally harrowing, often hilarious but always vivid insight into life in the grip of mental illness.

Killing Hapless Ally

We join Alison on a journey through her lonely childhood, schooldays and early romances; horrible Christmases, disastrous holidays, unhappy birthdays and ‘many angry cooked breakfasts’. She shares her wedding day (‘not the happiest day of Alison’s life but at least it was undeniably funny’), honeymoon (featuring a visit to a relative in a psychiatric unit) and the births of her children; events interspersed with her own treatment at various NHS mental health centres.

Alison’s hugely popular mother enjoys nothing more than destroying her daughter’s confidence through emotional and physical abuse behind closed doors. Her father, a widely respected headmaster, advises parents to ‘never crush a child’s spirit’ whilst doing exactly that to Alison on a daily basis. Her dad also being a ‘caravan-fancier’ while her mother hates caravans means her parents are ill-matched but united in loathing their daughter. ‘My parents? Well, they are pillars of the community, we are a middle class family and that…is how they get away with it’.

Trapped in an unhappy home, Alison invents a buffoonish alter ego called Hapless Ally in an attempt to hide her ostensibly unworthy true self. Hapless Ally fills the hole where self-esteem should be, providing a protective layer ‘as an alternative to feeling skin-off vulnerable’. However, as Alison starts to lose control, her alter-ego threatens to take over.

This bold, unique novel is a first-rate example of the innovative and original approach exemplifying the contemporary small press scene. Anna Vaught challenges and inspires the reader with many references to scholarly greats including Sartre and Camus alongside more accessible and familiar creative artists from the literary and music worlds. Alison’s eclectic mix of imaginary friends includes Sylvia Plath, John Keats and Dolly Parton. They pop up on a regular basis to cheer her on, providing words of comfort during difficult times. ‘A little hand with long shiny nails was placed firmly on her arm. It was small, but mighty, and Alison knew that Dolly was the big sister she had always wanted’.

Alison’s troubled past haunts and occasionally sabotages the present as ‘tentacular memories’ ensnare her. One such memory involves a 5-year-old Alison playing with another child who falls and hits her head accidentally. Alison’s parents blame her and when the girl later dies as a teenager, they imply it was down to this earlier head injury and that Alison is, therefore, a murderer. Unfortunate events are described in darkly funny anecdotes, such as the time her distant, inscrutable father accidentally severs his own toe in a freak lawn-mowing accident and the young Alison agonizes over whether frozen blackberries are an appropriate substitute for peas to keep it chilled on the way to hospital.

Attempting to define herself, Alison exclaims: ‘I’m potentially bipolar, a depressive, with several anxiety conditions… psychoses… possibly obsessive compulsive and definitely with an attachment disorder’. Society’s misperceptions of ‘madness and badness’ are further highlighted as Alison seeks a label to help her tidy up the ‘strange, amorphous shape’ of her internal mind but naturally does not fit into a narrow definition. What finally helps her is the acknowledgment that there could be a solution that works; that things can change, including her thought patterns and, subsequently, her feelings. That realisation, and the special team of NHS superheroes who come to her aid as members of the Mental Health Recovery Squad, enable her to bravely set out to regain control over her life, seizing back autonomy from Hapless Ally.

This is a novel with an important message of hope: that mental health problems are nothing to be ashamed of and may be worked through and overcome in whatever way works best for the individual. ‘For Alison, it took a couple of particularly sequinned imaginary friends, because she didn’t know how to make…conventional friendships’. It challenges the stigma associated with mental illness and demonstrates that it is OK to be different. It is a testament to Alison’s own strength and an inspiration to others that she emerges from a history of self-harm and suicide attempts with a survivor’s determination to face up to and surpass her traumatic past.

 

About the publisher:

Patrician Press started in 2012 and promotes writers of fiction and poetry. They represent unique literary voices and believe it is ‘imperative to uphold and maintain the quality of contemporary literature in today’s challenging, competitive and ever changing technological world’.

Click here to buy a copy of Killing Hapless Ally by Anna Vaught from Patrician Press.

Click here to read Anna Vaught’s article A Small Press State of Mind.

Review by Becky Danks

Becky Danks is an avid reader, creative writer, dog lover, poet and reviewer of books. A huge Dolly Parton fan, she dreams of one day going to Dollywood. Follow her on Twitter: @BeckyD123

 

A Small Press State of Mind

I have just written a cheery book about misery called Killing Hapless Ally. It started life as a memoir, but, partly because I am not remotely famous (and was thus advised by both an agent and a literary consultancy that I had zero chance of selling my book because who would want to know?) and then partly so Shirley Bassey wouldn’t come after me, what was a memoir became fiction, but drawing on many real episodes in my own life. And I knew it was a peculiar book; one which didn’t sit neatly in the all-important genre. Its narrative hopped about, in a switch-back sort of fashion, its protagonist had an alter ego who took on a life of her own, it had much colourful cursing and much literary reference threaded through it—from Dante’s The Divine Comedy to Francis Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden and moreover its narrative entertained a gallery of imaginary friends, from John Keats to Albert Camus (not to mention some very satisfying trysts with Shirley Bassey and Dolly Parton).

The book offered families who were grisly and, perhaps, hard to believe (except they were real, quick, or not) and it was, above all, the story of how a little girl conceived some really direful ideas, in a balefully confusing world, about who and what she was. And that girl, that ‘weird kid’ and ‘eldritch child’,  went on to have many years of mental health problems and crises and illness and got mopped up by the NHS, a shed load of drugs and, frankly, Albert Camus. Well, I thought it was a comedy. It was, more-or-less, my life; all I had known: I had survived it, just about.

But I thought, ‘Who on earth would publish my strange little book?’ I wrote to five agents, two of whom replied with the form no; the other three didn’t reply at all. I found that hard. I mean, I juggle a day job with three young kids, two campaigns, writing a book and articles and so on. Chuck a big and complicated extended family into the mix, too, and the fact that I have to be especially careful that I don’t overdo it because, for me, that way madness lies—which is a bit scary. So not replying at all to submissions because you are so busy seems a bit rude to me; a bit like not marking someone’s essay because I had the rest of the class to do and a bit of lesson planning. (Is immediately blacklisted...)

It’s discouraging.

I wasn’t sure I was up for it. Not the rejection, because I knew that had to happen; was in fact essential. The not replying bit. I pondered. And then I was reading ‘Mslexia’ and something caught my eye. A small press with an interesting sounding person at the helm; someone with many years of publishing and writing experience. That person was Patricia Borlenghi and the press was Patrician.

I wrote to Patricia; she was intrigued by what I told her of the text—and very keen to have a book about mental health. This was a revelation and a relief, because in that year I had heard agents bemoaning ‘misery memoirs’ and, although I had now tweaked to fiction, I had still felt I would fall foul of the process. Too much misery!  And there was the all important notion of genre again. I had just been to a literary festival event where an agent spoke of agents being ‘salespeople, at the end of the day’ and of how a prospective author had to be able to go into a bookshop and see exactly which shelf  their book would sit on. But Patrician took my book on almost straight away and we were off.

Patricia herself was a very firm hand. Out went the last chapter. ‘You don’t need it.’ Out went anything she felt frivolous, or repetitive or over-blown. In came THE BEST THINGS, like an extended series of correspondences with Catherine Camus, daughter of Albert, about what they (his twin daughters) would feel acceptable as a portrayal of their father in the book. It wasn’t that they sought to censor, but I invited dialogue because I was such a fan and mindful of the shabby press he has often received.  Because when I was a sad and separate teenage girl, it was Albert Camus I talked to. He was one of my most abiding imaginary friends. So I wrote that into life in my book.

There were chats with a patent attorney about whether it was okay to have famous people in my book and the answer was, yes because there’s a hefty disclaimer and anyway, they are all drawn as imaginary friends (I don’t think the attorney had met quite this question before) and besides, the fearless Patricia Borlenghi said, ‘Publish and be damned’ and also, ‘Plus if we do get into trouble, the publicity might well be to our advantage with “Mad mother of three and deaf pensioner in courtroom drama” headline.’ Do bigger publishing houses say things like that? I actually don’t know. I just found it all so exciting. (Even while I was wondering if I’d have to leave town.)

I wrote the first word of the book on the 15th of June (I know that because it was after the A level English Literature exam, for which I had been teaching, and I thought, ‘Oh—now I’ve got a few minutes…’), it had a publisher on the 1st of May the first of the following year and was in print by the following March: twenty months from first word to book launch and I am already a third of the way through book two.

Because here’s the thing.

Patrician took my book because it was thought to be high quality fiction, whether or not it was an unusual text. It has a massive bibliography at the back, for example, which is not standard for a work telling you it’s fiction. It’s literary fiction…yet…could also sit with self-help, for example. Its readers are responding to it in very different ways, accordingly, and it is a fascinating and rewarding process. An adventurous press enabled me to published a risky sort of text, I think. There is much in the book that is, perhaps, unsettling or even upsetting: self harm; hospital visits; therapy; the darkest of epically horrible relatives, a frightening environment for a child and a fear that never went away as an adult. It is—and this is, perhaps, my greatest hope for it—a book about fear told fearlessly. It is supposed to be a black comedy. I lived much of it and learned to thrive because I learned how to make sad or dark into anecdote.

Terrible caravans, and loud biblical samplers on the wall and terrifying but lively dead, alive and undead aunts and mothers; and nasty piano teachers and hateful little girls who turned on the wonky little girl who couldn’t and a sibling who left her behind a tree in a dark and shadowy wood to be eaten by the wolves when darkness fell and murdering people with a pickled egg. (You’ll just have to read it to see how this one works out!)

And this twenty months I have had have been life changing. Because publishing with a small press allowed me to write the book I wanted to write and gave me a renewed sense of life and direction —which goes way beyond writing the book—into the bargain. I have had over thirty years of mental health problems and I am now largely free of these. It’s not that telling the story in the book was therapeutic exactly (I had the NHS and my incarnation of Albert Camus for that), but releasing it into the world was empowering and healing. I wanted to entertain; I hoped I would pull off something laugh out loud funny about startlingly horrible things and that the humour would provide relief and imaginative counterweight to a tale of how mental health is compromised and damaged and what that means for an individual. Because I knew how and what that meant for me. And that’s the other thing about the small press—and really about Patricia: they did, too.

So, as the book begins, ‘Shall we start at the end? Friend; sympathiser; co-conspirator: read on’. I hope that you will—and that you will enjoy more from the impressive Patrician Press catalogue, too.

By Anna Vaught

Anna’s first novel, Killing Hapless Ally, was published last month, later this year, she will be included in The Emma Press Anthology of the Sea and is working away on a second novel (called, tentatively, A Life of Almost), a poetry pamphlet and assorted articles. Anna’s recent pieces have been with AXA PPP (film and text), Writers and Artists and she likes to blog – at the moment for www.selfishmother.com. She is an English teacher and tutor, mother of three young boys and a passionate campaigner.

anna's press photo

Killing Hapless Ally was published by Patrician Press on March the third, 2016 – Click here to buy a copy direct from the press.

ISBN: 978-099323-886-4

Paperback and kindle

www.patricianpress.com

www.annavaughtwrites.com