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.

Diane Williams Reading and In Conversation with Toby Litt

Diane Williams, author of Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine from CB editions will be reading and in conversation with Toby Litt at the University of Westminster on Monday 11th December, 6.30-8.30pm.

Tickets are FREE but registration is essential.  Click here for more details: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/diane-williams-reading-and-in-conversation-with-toby-litt-tickets-39826440957

Diane Williams Flier 2

 

Bellowing at the Moon

Blue Self-Portrait, Noémi Lefebvre (Translated by Sophie Lewis): Les Fugitives

This short novel in translation from Les Fugitives Press is as unputdownable as it is unforgettable. Mid-flight between Berlin and Paris, our female narrator constructs a narrative of herself that weaves between memory, assumption, speculation, and (in rare and brief moments) the details of the flight she’s actually sitting on. Equally between locations as between languages, she must spend the flight time switching back to French from German, as her thoughts veer between the two modes and the two countries. In a space never fully occupied by itself, this novel explores the flights of imagination that keep a restless mind ever-elsewhere.

Blue Self-Portrait

‘If I’d allowed my inner goings-on to show you’d have taken me for a cow bellowing at the moon’

This metaphor is returned to throughout, suggesting the narrator’s inner stream of consciousness – in which we, the reader, are immersed unrestrainedly – is the equivalent to a howl of inarticulable, bestial noise. This is deftly juxtaposed, however, with the exquisite and virtuosic sweeping prose of the novel. Rhythmic, cyclical, polyphonic. Sentences can carry for the length of a paragraph (or more) which, in turn might run to several pages. Within a single sentence conflicting ideas, contradictory thoughts, randomly associated memories will be brought into a kind of rhythm with one another that is utterly compelling. Dwelling particularly on the subjects of painting and music (Schoenberg and his blue Self-Portrait), the novel effectively accomplishes its own inner musicality, while presenting the spectre of a self-portrait lived between memory, association and speculation.

The novel retains its high intensity throughout a narrative that could be read in a single, uninterrupted and fervent sitting. Within these pages are both the remembering and the forgetting of the horrors of the world, the personal and intensely lived experience of being, and an ardent resistance to all notions of collective happiness in its variety of forms.

Beautifully pitched and compellingly virtuosic, Blue Self-Portrait is translated from Lefebvre’s original French novella by Sophie Lewis and published by Les Fugitives Press which specialises in publishing only short novels by award-winning francophone women writers. Despite its brevity, Blue Self-Portrait has an epic feel to it, and the precision of Lefebvre’s language demands an exacting translation by Lewis. Les Fugitives is dedicated to bringing such novels as this to an English-reading public, and we are the richer for it.

Click here to buy Blue Self-Portrait directly from Les Fugitives.

About the Publisher: 

Les Fugitives is an award-winning independent press dedicated to short, new writing by francophone female authors previously unavailable in English.

Review by Sally-Shakti Willow

Sally-Shakti Willow researches and writes utopian poetics at the University of Westminster.  She is Research Assistant for the Contemporary Small Press.

Work-in-Progress

The Practical Senior Teacher, Finella and Philip Davenport (Curated by Tony Trehy)  Knives Forks and Spoons Press, 2016

‘bbbbut…’

Finella and Philip Davenport’s The Practical Senior Teacher is a book in the loosest possible sense of the word, and yet also in multiple senses of the word, too. First the loose associations: This is a collaged work spanning over thirty years begun by sister and brother Finella and Philip Davenport (collaborating as The Gingerbread Tree) in 1984 and continuing to evolve as a work in progress to this day. The pages collected, printed and bound as the 2016 KFS edition bearing the title represent a fraction of the 300-plus page work that exists and has been exhibited in loose-leaf form at the Text Festival in Bury and the Storey Gallery in Lancaster.

Beyond the codex are the physically collaged pages incorporating layer upon layer of magazine cut-ups, adverts, government health warnings, comics, paint, lipstick, scribbled notes and empty painkiller packets. The book is just one possible iteration of the project of The Practical Senior Teacher, and readers can accompany their reading with the YouTube playlist The Margaret Thatcher Museum for an additional, aural, layer to the collage. Further videos by The Gingerbread Tree feature collaged pages from the book thrown into alternative contexts.   This is a restless and relentless project, a perpetual work-in-progress that has been continually worked and re-worked since its inception. The ‘book’ is just a part of it.

Yet this project also fulfils the definition of book from multiple perspectives. The title, The Practical Senior Teacher references the original textbook that forms the substrate for the composition of the collaged pages. This book started life as a textbook for school teachers in the Thatcher era, and the subsequent collage-work provides its own document (Old English boc, book) of those times through its incorporated layers. This is both a personal and a cultural document of those years, creating a history from the detritus of a throw-away culture interwoven with the debris of personal crisis and development. Pages documenting Finella’s experience of the life-threatening post-natal condition HELLP are left unchanged by Philip, yet the condition is represented, like everything in the book, by its waste products.

the practical senior teacher

Throughout the book, various excerpts and iterations of Finella’s poem Bee Scandal are woven with the collaged pages, giving a kind of loose metaphorical narrative of a society disintegrating and self-destructive – the same society attested to by the decades-long collage project.

The days

we hid in a      basement

beneath the incessant buzz

didn’t know which side was winning

took turns to take

guard

(ear to the radio:

the well-bred

            the dead

 

will take

the Queen

The poem carries echoes of a bunkered and broken society as well as a colony of bees in a hive. As the poem becomes more fractured and fragmented the bees themselves begin to pile up ‘like abandoned rubbish … trash stings scattered needles’ – again interweaving the twin narratives of the bees and the society they echo. The bees piling up like abandoned rubbish, their stings scattered like the needles of a drug user. Society itself broken and addicted. Each reduced to its own destruction. Through collage, however, the abandoned rubbish becomes the material of recreation, the constant reconstruction as work-in-progress with whatever materials happen to be at hand.

Other fragments of text from the layers of collage appear and disappear through the worked pages – whose most recent form of reworking includes digitisation. This has allowed pages to be duplicated, mirrored and adapted digitally; distinguishing the collected pages from their material counterparts and enabling effects such as reversal and repetition that further distort the reading and disorient the reader.

When the work was displayed in Lancaster it was as part of Understanding the Ritual, an exhibition of art-shamanism, and it’s this that interests me the most about The Practical Senior Teacher: the ritual process at play in the project. The restlessness of the ritualistic acts that have compelled Finella and Philip Davenport to keep creating, destroying and recreating this work for over three decades, and the alchemical transformation of that act physically, mentally, emotionally and perhaps even spiritually. One of the most intriguing text-fragments for me is set onto a page painted almost entirely red and includes the following mythically-resonant phrases:

‘Heart of Dionysus

 

heart of hare

not eaten lest it make the eater timid

heart of lion or le[op]ard eat           heart of wolf

& of bear

eat to acquire courage

 

SCREWS YOU UP’

The final phrase is taken from the 80’s Government health warning ‘Heroin Screws You Up’, and there’s so much going on here. Is the eater of the wolf’s heart the mythical equivalent to a junkie? Does the juxtaposition suggest equivalence or contradiction, or something less exact? The association with heroin brings to mind a play on wasted / waste / wasteful that resonates with the theme of detritus throughout the book and finds another expression in the empty pill packet representing a moment of serious threat to Finella’s life.

Like the making of this ‘book’, the reading is a work-in-progress, an unsettled and unsettling process of excavating and creating connections within, between and beyond the pages. No two readings are ever the same and there’s no fixed ‘meaning’ to discover. Reading this book is a physical process that can, if the reader chooses, engage multiple senses and experiences. For me, its magic is in its perpetual openness to recreation, coming alive at its multiple points of connection, writing and creating not only the lives it contains but also the lives it touches.

Click here to buy The Practical Senior Teacher direct from Knives, Forks and Spoons Press.

About the Publisher:

Knives Forks and Spoons Press is a prolific publisher of avant-garde poetry by internationally acclaimed poets and emerging young writers. ‘KFS is a forum for an extraordinary range of diversity and risk-taking artistic experiment.’

Review by Sally-Shakti Willow

Sally-Shakti Willow researches and writes utopian poetics at the University of Westminster.  She is Research Assistant for the Contemporary Small Press.

 

Secrets Remain Untold

Swimming with Fishes by Rasheda Ashanti Malcolm: Jacaranda Books, 2017

Having never read a Caribbean novel, I was intrigued by Rasheda Ashanti Malcolm’s
Swimming with Fishes, especially after researching the author and the publisher, Jacaranda Books. In a ‘Question and Answer’ piece published on Jacaranda’s website, Malcolm claims that the inspiration to write her debut novel came from ‘listening to women across generations talking about the lack of genuine love’.  From this, the novel falls straight into the romance genre, however, it takes on interesting and realistic twists along the way.

The protagonists, Kat and Ben, fall passionately in love while Ben is on a business trip to Kat’s native home, Jamaica. Though Kat and Ben’s island love appears to fill Malcolm’s void of ‘genuine love’, as in true life, love is not that simple and their affair grows beyond either of their expectations. Malcolm’s development of realistic character is admirable as the novel unveils the significant secrets that Kat and Ben hide from each other, including Kat’s struggles with sickle cell anaemia and the fact that Ben is married. The character’s secrets may be complicated, but the plot is simple to follow and I like to think that the large number of chapters flipping back and forth from Ben’s life in London to the Meadows in Jamaica mirror Ben’s heart, confused and split between two women and two countries.

swimming-with-fishes-mech_final_cvr-wpcf_234x360

Malcolm presents the reader with an interesting female perspective in Ben’s wife, Claire. By giving her such a large role in the novel, Claire’s character is well established and it is
impossible to ignore her position as the ‘right’ woman for Ben, no matter how much the
reader would like to route for Kat and Ben’s impulsive island love. Malcolm’s creative descriptions of the Meadows, including the sand, sea, the smell of flowers and even Jamaican foods, allows the reader to be pulled along with Kat and Ben’s island romance, even with the reality of London edging closer within the next chapter. This irresistible nature of love is put up for questioning multiple times throughout the novel and through characters such as Kat’s mother, Miss Ruthie and her relationship with Old Man Jaguar, and even the village gossip, Nellie Potato.

Overall, Malcolm’s debut novel is an enjoyable read, focusing on relatable and relevant issues within modern day romance.

Click here to buy Swimming with Fishes by Rasheda Ashanti Malcolm direct from Jacaranda Books.

Jacaranda Books Art Music is a new independent publishing house based in London
publishing adult fiction and non-fiction, which cross linguistic, racial, gender and cultural boundaries, with an aim to represent the cultural and ethnic diversity and heritage that can be found in London, and a particular interest in works related to Africa, the Caribbean, and the experiences of those peoples in the Diaspora.

Review by Kelly Blewitt

Kelly is a recent graduate of English Literature from the University of Westminster and is
currently pursuing an MA. She loves literary fiction of most genres but prefers crime,
mystery, and romance fictions.

 

 

Women, Writing and Freedom

Linen Press in collaboration with The Contemporary Small Press 
Keynote talk by Maureen Freely, President of English PEN.

‘A word after a word after a word is power.’ Margaret Atwood

In a masculine centred literary tradition that values male over female voices, women refuse to be silenced and continue to tell the truth about their personal and political lives. Join us in exploring the politics of silence and in honouring the voices of women writers everywhere who, despite repression and invisibility, risk all to give voice to the need for liberation and freedom.

Thursday 19th October
17.30 – 19.30
University of Westminster
309 Regent Street
London
W1B 2HW
Freedom

Speakers:

Keynote speaker Maureen Freely on the crucial work done by English PEN and like-minded partners, with particular reference to women writers.

Hema Macherla on the plight of Indian women – fallen women, broken women and women shunned by society.

Avril Joy on working for over twenty-five years with women writers in HMP Low Newton.

Lynn Michell on publishing women writers. She is here to celebrate ten years of Linen Press and to launch The Red Beach Hut.

This event is hosted by Linen Press – a small, independent press run by women for women – and the Contemporary Small Press, which aims to promote, explore and facilitate the work of small press publishers of fiction and poetry.

Who Killed Emil Kreisler?

A malevolent gorilla in a zoological gardens is witness to the flaws and foibles of the keepers who care for him. A busload of limbless children are driven to school in a warzone, where they are taught about the innocent delights of ‘animals and flowers.’ A cherished collection of refined Japanese erotica conceals a far darker secret. These are just some of the vivid scenarios in Who Killed Emil Kreisler?; twenty stories that are eclectic, intriguing and often discomfiting. Nigel Jarrett reaches across continents and cultures; blending fact with fiction and challenging his readers’ belief in identity, memory and legacy.
‘You know when you take pictures off the wall after many years and they leave a ghost of where they’d been hanging?’

Jarrett’s most successful stories, and the ones that burrow deepest under the skin, are those concerned with the ghostly traces we leave behind after we’re gone, like fingerprints on a windowpane. In Wish You Were Here, a haunting tale about mysterious messages from an unknown sender, the narrator shares this belief in spectral outlines; ‘You know when you take pictures off the wall after many years and they leave a ghost of where they’d been hanging?’ Since the death of his elderly neighbour, he has been the recipient of blank postcards, which follow him from place to place and always contain the ‘start of a written message, abandoned before it had got under way.’ Jarrett is deliberately ambiguous about the suggestion of anything supernatural, and even when he spots a woman with the same face as his dead neighbour staring at him on a train, the narrator is dismissive of his own instinctive fear (‘Having said that, I acknowledge how the mind plays tricks’). However, there is something undeniably eerie about the premise, especially as some of the postcards contain pictures of ‘unbearable desolation’. The creep of enveloping, elemental nature is palpable, with the figures in the pictures reduced to pixels in an indifferent landscape; ‘they are composed of dots, just like the surroundings that overwhelm them…the elements triumph; there is no-one to be found.’

In Images from the Floating World, there is a similar sense of gradual disintegration; ‘Grandmother’s Polaroid shot of the missing piece, now faded almost to a white-out, seems the paradigm of slippery truth. The original is lost forever, the facsimile of the original is going the same way’. This story is typical of Jarrett’s style; seemingly about a charmingly eccentric butler-cum-valet and a set of wealthy grandparents who collect rare and valuable pornography, the dark heart of the narrative is only revealed in unsettling snapshots. The suggestion of abuse is always implied rather than explicit but this makes the confessional letter sent by the narrator’s sister before her death (‘At the end of the letter was an intriguing sentence: And then there were three – Diggory, Grandma and Lewis’) all the more disturbing for its suggestion of middle-class complicity. The narrator strains to understand the enormity of what befell his sister in the darkened corridors of their childhood home but finds the full picture of what happened is always ‘being spirited secretly out of reach’, although whether by delusion or deception is unclear.

Nigel_Jarret-9780956892119-Perfect.indd

Although the scope of his stories is ambitious and free-wheeling, Jarrett is the master of understatement. He depicts momentous, and occasionally horrific, events with a journalist’s wry eye for detail and a detached curiosity. In Christ, Ronnie, Christ, a pensive tale of trauma, failing memory and disconnect, a disturbing act of accidental voyeurism is told with such minimal embellishment that it is bordering on indifference. The first sentence of the story is stark in its simplicity; ‘Merrett once saw a woman leap to her death from a high cliff.’ He goes on to describe the apparent calmness before the moment of impact; ‘she strode smartly like a high-diver, leant forward at an impossible angle and plunged towards the river head first, bouncing off some protruding rocks and falling into the water with a brief, visible commotion, but no sound.’ This act of self-destruction is seen from a distance, with no context other than that dreamlike high dive, but I found that the image of the falling woman was seared into my consciousness despite its superficial tranquility and bloodlessness.

‘Grandmother’s Polaroid shot of the missing piece, now faded almost to a white-out, seems the paradigm of slippery truth. The original is lost forever, the facsimile of the original is going the same way’

There are many other stories in the collection which convey Jarrett’s lightness of touch and ability to transcend genres; the lingering sense of cultural dislocation in El Cid, the gentle pathos of Ziggurat, or the utter immersion in a specific time and place that comes as a result of reading Rhapsodie, an epistolary saga which spans decades and continents. However it’s A Weissman Girl that contains the description of a style of writing uncannily reminiscent of Jarrett’s own. This evocative tale of a writer and his disturbed wife living in rural isolation, like Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald without the urban glamour, includes a passage where the narrator describes the reclusive writer’s particular style of storytelling: ‘its imaginative kite flight reigned in and let out by almost deadpan reportage, at turns strolling and hurrying.’ This is such an accurate description of Jarrett’s own understated style of writing that it almost feels deliberate. The fictional writer profiled in A Weissman Girl ‘tells the tale yet…deepens what’s told’; perhaps a reminder that subtlety and suggestion, Jarrett’s modus operandi in this collection, is sometimes more powerful than shock value.

If there is an image which Jarrett’s stories bring to mind, it would be a faded photograph; muted, shadowy and slightly blurred around the edges but all the more enticing for it. Although some of his stories are overstuffed and rather dense, (Miss Mercedes Gleitze comes to mind) and his narratives tend to meander frustratingly towards anti-climatic conclusions, Jarrett’s devastating subtlety in Wish You Were Here, Christ, Ronnie, Christ and A Weissman Girl will haunt you long after the final page has been turned. One of his narrators asserts that ‘So much dies of us when we die’, but many of the characters in these stories leave indelible traces which reach out to warp and stain the lives of others, like watermarks on a page.

Click here to find Who Killed Emil Kreisler? on the Cultured Llama website

About the Publisher:

Cultured Llama, which was originally established by Maria McCarthy and her husband Bob Carling in a converted stable, publishes poetry, short fiction and cultural non-fiction or, as the website intriguingly describes it, ‘curious things.’

Review by Katie Witcombe

Katie Witcombe is a book-fiend and (very) occasional poet. She will quite happily read anything, including the backs of cereal boxes. Also a recent convert to long-distance running.