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.
“The mind is a slope and the words run off like water and who knows where they go?” (from ‘Memory House‘)
Darker with the Lights On is a collection of 20 short stories by David Hayden, a prolific writer of short fiction, published by Little Island Press.
With an abundance of imagination through surreal and unbounded worlds beyond and beneath the world we inhabit, Darker with the Lights On is like taking a train in the dark, the carriage so brightly lit that you struggle to see a world you know is there, beyond the pane of glass. You cup your hands around your eyes and press your nose against the window, trying to see into the darkness, only to be confronted by your own reflection. You cannot see past the ghost of yourself. If only they’d turn the lights off, so you might see clearly the world outside. It is this strange juxtaposition of sense, sensation and rationalising that Hayden captures so brilliantly in this collection.
“The dark was outside, thick and blue, while in the dining room light glinted off silk and silver becoming general glitter that, if seen from the night, would have signified a happy party.” (from ‘The Bread that was Broken’)
Hayden inhabits nowhere places and nothings as intrinsic parts of life. He asks what it means to call somewhere a place and what it means, in fact, to say or do anything at all.
“The train travelled through quiet places with unused piles of gravel, abandoned cars, hard patch farms […] Michael paid close attention to the gradual aggregation of the city, trying to discover the point at which nowhere became somewhere.” (from ‘Last Call for the Hated’)
The stories are works of metafiction that assert the idea that the most radical, surreal, illusory imaginings can be brought to the page:
“Words are just mute smudges until you know what they mean, and when you put them together they can tell all manner of things. There’s plenty you can’t say with words. You can fall through words down into a seething belly world of billions of objects and notions, all shrieking and hiding.” (from ‘How to Read a Picture Book’)
Hayden constructs pockets of hyper-reality that are nonsensical and radiant: “When you die – when you die – you revive in the world of the last book you were reading before your… demise” (from ‘Reading’). It is writing that reaches for the depths of our minds’ possibility. It asks: what can be imagined? Beyond sense, rationality, logic. On reading, I admit, I became confrontational, annoyed, indifferent, dozing off. How dare you, Hayden, try to test the limits of my mind! But I caught glimpses, symbolic moments of meaning, which pulled me in, and continue to do so. Mine was the response of a reader tired, rushed, distracted, shut off, but I fought the shadow of myself to find ways into the text that Hayden offers wholeheartedly.
“I grow calmer and darker, waiting for the world to fall away not knowing whether it will fall up or down.” (from ‘Memory House’)
Much lies dormant beneath the juddering page inflicted with Hayden’s prose, poised to ambush the reader with its brilliance. This is writing that it is a pleasure to write about – to think about with as much vigour as if it were your own. That is what it asks of you: to be curious, clenched and to grapple with consciousness in the act of reading.
“Books let you circle around time, find the root of time, lose time, recover time.” (from ‘How to Read a Picture Book’)
Often returning to the first line in the last, each story picks words out of themselves, repeating and filtering down its own language. Time is a curious factor throughout, how it passes and how it is experienced. Each story balances philosophical, psychological and physiological elements, and contributes to the balance of the collection as a whole. Not a balance serene and unwavering, but a struggling and unstable attempt at equilibrium that is inexplicably human.
Little Island Press is an independent publisher of fiction, poetry and essays. Founded in 2016, it publishes innovative, intellectually ambitious writing in elegant editions designed by the award-winning design studio typographic research unit.
Review by Kirsty Watling
Kirsty Watling is a writer, bookseller and recent Literature graduate specialising in twentieth century literature, visual culture and critical theory.
I lay back in the grass among fallen trees and the sun on my palm felt like a knife I could use to bleed myself dry with one swift cut to the jugular.
From its opening line, Ariana Harwicz’s Die, My Love is both intense and stultifying: a suffocating pulse that rises to burst the skin’s surface without ever spilling over into a flood of freedom. The knife that could be used, but instead the one who wields it lays back in the grass. Prone and passive. Yet the protagonist of this shattering short novel is anything but passive. Moving through the thick sludge of her own desperate depression, she feels cut off from those around her in the outside world, and numb to her own experience. But her actions and her inactions affect the lives of everyone in her life in increasingly violent and destructive ways, as she searches for the freedom she both desires and despises.
I take long swings from the bottle, breathing through my nose and wishing, quite simply, that I were dead.
The novel’s unnamed narrator is a young wife and mother at odds with the circumstances of her own life and increasingly distant from her own sense of herself. In a novel that narrates exceptionally effectively an experience of extreme depression, it is the unbridgeable gulf between the narrator’s inner and outer worlds that is brought into focus through the novel’s language. From the ways in which the words ‘my love’ are weaponised in the relationship between the narrator and her husband, to the fragmentation of sentences, to the suggestion that ‘understanding one another is too violent’, this novel places language at the extremes of what it is possible for communication to do. Language is both the barrier and the bridge between people and it is frequently shown to be inadequate as either. The use of first-person, present-tense narration, however, gives the novel an urgency and immediacy that diverges entirely from the experience of the one who is narrating it. This places the reader into the immediacy of the novel’s present, creating the paradoxical experience of being both immersed within and distant from the narrator’s experience. It is this paradoxical feature of language – to both include and occlude simultaneously – that makes the narration of this novel so effective. Always both distant and present, the reader is placed into the position of the narrator through language’s play.
The novel alludes toward Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway as a novel about ‘the interconnectivity of human experience’ – an interconnectivity which is accomplished here by the narrative style and perspectives, but which is also the primary experience lacking from the narrator’s life, who is perhaps more akin to Mrs Dalloway‘s Septimus. Die, My Love does not present neat allegories or trite comparisons, however. It is the complexity of emotional trauma and its narration through the act of writing that drive this novel.
Increasingly intense and immersive, Die, My Love explores the violence of human relationships that include sex, marriage, motherhood and filial responsibility. Within these sharp confines, however, there is ample room for the imagination to wander freely, and there are moments of wild magic that provide vivid contrasts and contrapuntal poignancy to the deadening isolation of the narrator’s daily life. There’s a vital energy that pulses through the pages of Die, My Love, carrying its protagonist onward through each and every pivotal moment to finally become the narrator of her own destiny.
Charco Presspublishes award-winning short fiction from Latin American writers translated into English for the first time. Charco Press selects authors whose work feeds the imagination, challenges perspective and sparks debate. ‘We aim to change the current literary scene and make room for a kind of literature that has been overlooked. We want to be that bridge between a world of talented contemporary writers and yourself. Authors you perhaps have never heard of. Because none of them have been published in English. Until now.’
Review by Sally-Shakti Willow
Sally-Shakti Willow researches and writes utopian poetics at the University of Westminster, where she is also a visiting lecturer in English Literature and Creative Writing. Her writing has been published by Adjacent Pineapple, Eyewear, The Projectionist’s Playground and Zarf. The Unfinished Dream, a collaborative chapbook with visual artist Joe Evans, was published by Sad Press in 2016. She is the research assistant for The Contemporary Small Press project, and is on the judging panel for the Republic of Consciousness Prize. @Spaewitch
If you’d like to read the books on the Republic of Consciousness shortlist, we recommend buying direct from the publishers. The more people reading these books, the better. Independent publishers are usually very small operations, and the more control they can take over their distribution and sales, and the bigger the slice of the pie they get, the better for them.
So, follow the links above to get your hands on the RofC shortlisted books!
Congratulations to all the writers, translators and publishers!
The Republic of Consciousness shortlist will be announced at Waterstones Manchester on the February 15, 2018. For more information, follow on twitter at @prizerofc or join the mailing list here: http://eepurl.com/c9HGnr
Today it has been confirmed that The Times Literary Supplement has become the prize’s official media partner. Neil Griffiths says, ‘The partnership with the TLS takes the prize from the artisan fringe into the heart of literary life in UK and beyond. I’ve subscribed to the TLS for 20 odd years and cannot be more excited.’ Toby Lichtig, the TLS Fiction Editor says: ‘Hard-core literary fiction and gorgeous prose is what the TLS is all about, and as such we couldn’t think of a better prize for us to support. Small presses are currently publishing some of the most innovative and daring fiction in the UK, and by partnering with The Republic of Consciousness we hope to help to draw attention to important books that might otherwise be overlooked.’
‘Hard-core literary fiction and gorgeous prose is what the TLS is all about, and as such we couldn’t think of a better prize for us to support. Small presses are currently publishing some of the most innovative and daring fiction in the UK, and by partnering with The Republic of Consciousness we hope to help to draw attention to important books that might otherwise be overlooked.’
The Prize has recently been awarded Grant for the Arts funding from The Arts Council. This essential financial backing means, quite simply, another year is possible, and with increased spend on mainstream and digital marketing, and events beyond the capital we will reach more media, bookshops and readers.
The 2017 long list will be announced on the TLS website in late November; the short list will be discussed on the TLS podcast in February; and the winner will be excerpted in the TLS itself.
All short listed presses will all receive one thousand pounds and the winner will win a minimum of £5,000, to be announced at a ceremony in Central London in Spring 2018.
This year’s judges include booksellers from independent bookshops; Foyles, Birmingham; Waterstones, Manchester; plus a bloggers’ bloc, and a representative from the Contemporary Small Press Project from the University of Westminster (that’s us!).
Submissions close 31th October 2017. Novels, translated fiction, short stories are all eligible – the only requirement for submission is that the press is from the UK or ROI, and has no more than 5 full time staff.