What’s a Word?

What’s a Word?

Attrib. and other stories by Eley Williams: Influx Press, 2017

‘what’s a sentence, really, if not time spent alone – ’

Eley Williams’ debut short story collection delights in the deliciousness of words – their taste on the tongue, their vertiginous proliferation of meaning, their resonant archaic hum.  Attrib. artfully weaves narrative textuality with metanarrative construction processes – the writer’s process of discovering and attributing layers of meaning to interesting and unusual words, or even mundane ones, becomes part of the narrative texture of these stories.  The reader is taken on a kaleidoscopic journey through language as these uncanny stories and bizarre situations shine a colourful spotlight onto a refracted mirror of contemporary life.

The title story, Attrib., focuses on the work of a Foley artist providing incidental sound details for an audio guide to accompany a major new display of the life and work of Michelangelo.  Following her through her ideas for sound effects to accompany the Creation of Eve, which include the use of a ‘day-old, tooth-stripped #34 Char Siu takeaway rib’, we are prompted to consider the word ‘rib’ as it sits within the larger body of ‘attribute’.  Then we might consider the proliferations of meaning depending on whether we take ‘attribute’ to be a verb or a noun – is Eve to be ‘ascribed to’ Adam, or he to her?  Or should we consider Adam to be the ‘cause’ of Eve?  Each of these meanings is suggested within Dr. Johnson’s Dictionary definition of ‘To Attribute’ as the book’s epigraph.  But what if we take attribute as a noun: a quality, feature or inherent part?  Does this make Eve a quality or feature of Adam?  Williams also casually drops a reference to ‘tributary’ – with all its constituent parts that bind it to the words ‘attribute’ and ‘rib’ – so we might question whether Eve is to be seen as a ‘tributary’ of Adam, either a minor part to Adam’s major, or the one who pays him tribute.  Consistent within this narrative is the repeated noun/verb ‘BAFFLES’, suggestive of the narrator’s response to the unequal treatment of Adam and Eve by the gallery commissioners, Michelangelo, God…

Attrib.

The stories in this collection draw inspiration from a wide range of characters and situations that are both singularly unique and intimately recognisable.  The catalogue and spotter’s guide to Rosette Manufacture, the synaesthete looking for a date or the rat trained to detect landmines would seem absurd but for Williams’ deeply human insight into her characters’ worlds into which she draws us through the weft and warp of her words.  The narrator of Smote begins, ‘To kiss you should not involve such fear of imprecision’ and continues to detail the nervous uncertainty around the giving of a kiss in a public place in front of Bridget Riley’s Movement in Squares – an image which perhaps informs the bold and striking cover design of the book – cascading into a breathless six-page stream without a single full stop.  The final denoument of this story contains the arresting phrases ‘and you stark me / and I am strobe-hearted’.

‘and you stark me / and I am strobe-hearted’

These are stories that are so repeatedly re-readable – for their humour, their humanity and their sheer revelry in the textual matter of the language from which they are made: the physical, pleasurable, palpable, enigmatic and unguent words and all they carry with them.  Eley Williams’ Attrib. is a book that I recommend to writers, readers, and anyone with a love of words and an affectionate soft-spot for the humans that are bound up with them.

Click here to buy Eley Williams’ Attrib. and other stories directly from Influx Press.

About the Publisher

Influx Press is an independent publisher committed to publishing innovative and challenging fiction, poetry and non-fiction from across the UK and beyond.

Review by Sally-Shakti Willow

Sally-Shakti Willow, research assistant for the Contemporary Small Press, is a doctoral researcher in utopian poetics and experimental writing at the University of Westminster where she also teaches on the ‘Other Worlds’ module.   The Unfinished Dream, an experimental collection of words and images by Sally-Shakti Willow and Joe Evans was published by Sad Press in October 2016.  @willowwriting

2084: Science Fiction Anthology from Unsung Stories

2084: Science Fiction Anthology from Unsung Stories

Unsung Stories launch Kickstarter for new dystopian short story anthology: 2084 

New stories from Christopher Priest, David Hutchinson, Lavie Tidhar, James Smythe, Jeff Noon, Anne Charnock and more.

As the events of 2017 reveal an ever more complex relationship between people and their governments, classic dystopian literature is proving its relevance once again. But as readers turn to classics, like Nineteen Eighty-Four, writers are also looking to our future, and what may lie there.

Unsung Stories have gathered eleven leading science fiction writers who have looked ahead to 2084, as Orwell did in 1948, for a new anthology – writers such as David Hutchinson, Christopher Priest, Lavie Tidhar, James Smythe, Jeff Noon and Anne Charnock, who are already famous for their visions of the near future.

Speaking about the anthology, George Sandison, Managing Editor at Unsung Stories, said, “We knew when we first started work on the anthology that the idea was timely, but the start of 2017 has really hammered home how important writing like this is.

“Dystopian fiction gives us a space in which to explore today’s fears, and the nightmares of society. For many people the events of the last eighteen months have brought those dark futures much closer, so it’s inevitable that we turn to literature to help us understand why.

“The ideas at work in 2084 range from the familiar to the fantastic, but all are bound by a current and relevant sense of what we could lose, what’s at stake. As with Orwell’s work, decades from now, we will be looking back to our stories, to better understand today.”

2084 will be published by Unsung Stories in July 2017 and features leading writers, including Christopher Priest, David Hutchinson, Lavie Tidhar, James Smythe, Anne Charnock and Jeff Noon.

In 1948 Orwell saw a world in flux, at risk of losing liberty so recently won. In response he wrote Nineteen Eighty-Four, a prophetic book. Now, in 2017,the themes are still with us.

This anthology of new short stories draws together leading science fiction writers – famous for their visions of our near future – and asks them to look into our future, to the year 2084.

Put humanity on trial as the oceans rise. Slip over borders in a Balkanised Europe. Tread the bizarre streets of cities ruled by memes. See the world through the eyes of drones. Say goodbye to your body as humanity merges with technology.

Warnings or prophesies? The path to Paradise or destruction? Will we be proud of what we have achieved, in 2084?

Our future unfolds before us.

Click here to find out more and support 2084.

Full list of contributors:

Desirina Boskovich

Anne Charnock (Sleeping Embers of an Ordinary Mind and A Calculated Life)

Ian Hocking (Deja Vu)

Dave Hutchinson (The Fractured Europe Sequence)

Cassandra Khaw (Hammers on Bone)

Oliver Langmead (Dark Star and Metronome)

Jeff Noon (Vurt, Automated Alice, Pollen and more)

Christopher Priest (The Prestige, The Dream Archipelago, The Gradual and many more)

James Smythe (The Australia Trilogy, The Echo, The Explorer and more)

Lavie Tidhar (A Man Lies Dreaming, Osama and Central Station)

Aliya Whiteley (The Beauty and The Arrival Of Missives)

About the Publisher:

Unsung Stories publish literary and ambitious speculative fiction that defies expectation. Publishing stories from the varied worlds of genre fiction – science-fiction, fantasy, horror, and all the areas in-between.

Speak Gigantular: Hidden Cities and Lost Worlds

Speak Gigantular: Hidden Cities and Lost Worlds

Speak Gigantular by Irenosen Okojie: Jacaranda Books – Jhalak Prize Shortlist; Edge Hill University Short Story Prize Long List

If there is one thing which defines Irenosen Okijie’s treasure trove of short stories, at times both frustrating and intoxicating, it’s the madcap variety of her first lines. From the sublime (‘Sun-soaked yawns hover in Sal Island, Cape Verde’) to the ridiculous (‘She wanted her feet fucked’), they never fail to be intriguing. Like a box of exotic chocolates, some are sweet, some are sour and many contain a bitter darkness which permeates the narrative and cuts through the deceptive whimsy of Okojie’s prose. The dedication at the beginning of the book, ‘To all the misfits that dare to tilt worlds’, epitomises Okojie’s dextrous and occasionally disorientating use of language to challenge the status quo and keep her readers on their toes.

In stories such as Animal Parts and Nadine, Okojie’s prose is stunningly evocative. In this dark universe, innocence breeds violence and virginity inflames the animal sexuality of men. A woman’s mouth is ‘plump like ripe fruit and all the secrets it took with it into the crevices of winter’. A girl is hunted by men with smiles like ‘one white trap’. The same girl, traumatised by rape, has an ‘unnamed flower inside her […] a fist growing through blood’. This is the language of the fairy tale; richly symbolic and infused with the rhythms of the natural world. In many ways, it’s also where Okojie is at her strongest. Her prose, both stylistic and surreal, seems more suited to the fable than to the confines of realism.

In other stories, the many pop culture references sometimes distract from the semi-fantastical narratives. In Outtakes, Okojie’s lyrical description of a dreamy European odyssey, ‘The shrinking landscape became smaller in the side mirror, blown away by exhaust pipe breaths’, is juxtaposed sharply with the petty mundanity of the narrator: ‘I ate a sandwich, watched a couple of Family Guy episodes, sent a scathing text or two’. Rape is the dark centre of the deceptively light and sweet-toothed Fractures. However, the mysterious suitor of the main protagonist, who writes poetry ‘as though leaning into a storm’, is described in jarringly prosaic terms: ‘Wearing a sheepish expression, he stirred his cookies and cream flavoured Ben and Jerry’s ice cream.’ Although this serves to ground the reader in a particular time and place, it also punctuates the magical realism which makes Okojie’s writing so unique and otherworldly.

Speak Gigantular

In many ways Okojie’s collection of stories, so rooted in the monopoly board of streets that are instantly familiar, comprise a love letter to London. However, she resists the desire to romanticise a city which has reduced so many to haunted, lonely figures. This strange co-dependence, with all its connotations of vampiric and malevolent maternity, is described thus: ‘The city carried you like its infant child then bled you.’ Okojie excels when describing the almost pathological feelings of isolation and disconnection that often plague those living in cities. In Walk With Sleep, an imagining of the ghostly underground world those who commit suicide by tube might inhabit, one of the ‘jumpers’ experiences this sense of dislocation quite literally:

 At social gatherings he found himself holding his breath, watching and waiting for the body parts he couldn’t feel to appear at the opposite end of the room, his leg parting through the crowd towards him to claim ownership

At another point in the narrative, she describes the daily commute in almost apocalyptic terms; ‘ The sky snatched facial expressions, turning them grey…Their voices were locusts scratching his throat.’ In Why is Pepe Canary Yellow?, the chicken-suited, bank-robbing Messiah figure at the centre of the story literally uses his feelings of urban anonymity to disappear: ‘Embracing the feeling of painful invisibility, the way he had done many times in an unforgiving city, he vanished.’ In the same story, she describes how ‘the gutted consciences of the city were ghosts pressing their mouths against the keyholes.’ The sense of desolation is palpable.

At times, Okojie’s more disorientating sentences (‘The sound of pens rolling on the countertops was enough an accompaniment to the heavy breathing to jar stillborns crossing over to a separate horizon’) can be hard to unpick. Often Okojie’s simpler sentences are her most effective: ‘He was left with a father who chewed pine nuts relentlessly, barely spoke to him and looked at him as if he were nothing’ is a far more relatable concept than the idea of a Betty Boop t-shirt which spits sassy retorts to its owner (a flight of fancy in Walk With Sleep but one that typifies Okojie’s unconventional approach to reality). When it comes to narrative clarity, sometimes less is more.

However, Okojie’s more lyrical prose imbues her work with a layer of meaning which transcends the everyday. In Walk With Sleep, the main character may be long deceased and living in a strange subterranean purgatory but ‘the memory of he and Nuri carrying atlases and hopping over low fences remained, as if they were holding worlds and crossing them simultaneously.’ This beautiful description of the transient relationships between brother and sister, childhood and adulthood, life and death, ties the strings that bind this narrative together in one deft movement. That is Okojie’s greatest gift: using language to transport us to worlds both unknown and achingly familiar.

Click here to buy Irenosen Okojie’s Speak Gigantular directly from Jacaranda Books.

About the Publisher

Jacaranda Books is an independent publishing house based in London, specialising in adult fiction and non-fiction, including illustrated books, which cross linguistic, racial, gender and cultural boundaries. The authors represented by Jacaranda come from diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds, and offer writing that shines a light on issues affecting ethnic minorities, women, and young people, and those people from the Diaspora.

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.

 

 

RofC Prize Rewards ‘Brilliant & Brave’ Fiction from the Small Presses

RofC Prize Rewards ‘Brilliant & Brave’ Fiction from the Small Presses

‘Small press fiction enables stories, characters and experimentation not found anywhere else in British publishing’ – Neil Griffiths, founder of the Republic of Consciousness Prize

Last night’s inaugural Republic of Consciousness Prize award ceremony was held in the iconic setting of the University of Westminster’s Fyvie Hall, in conjunction with The Contemporary Small Press.  

The prize’s founder Neil Griffiths, who set up and crowdfunded the prize to reward ‘brilliant and brave literary fiction’ being published by small presses ‘who are willing to take risks’ in the UK and Ireland, hosted the evening and spoke about the work of contemporary independent publishers.  He said, ‘I’ve been accused of trying to overthrow the established order of the literary establishment’, and while he readily acknowledged the high quality books that are being published by big publishers, he affirmed that in his opinion ‘the best fiction currently being published in the UK and Ireland is with the small presses.’  He elaborated on this, saying that ‘small press fiction enables stories, characters and experimentation not found anywhere else in British publishing.’  Griffiths explained the awarding process for this year’s prize, saying that there would be one ‘Winner Winner’ and two runners-up: ‘not second and third’.

Winner of the inaugural Republic of Consciousness Prize for fiction from the small presses was Counternarratives by John Keene, published by Fitzcarraldo Editions.  Unanimously voted the overall winner by all six judges, Counternarratives was considered a ‘once in  generation achievement for short form fiction’ and praised for the way that its ‘subject matter, formal inventiveness, multitude of voices, and seriousness of purpose transform a series of thematically linked stories into a complete work of art.’  Accepting the prize,  Jacques Testard from Fitzcarraldo confessed that ‘it’s not easy to publish this kind of fiction in the contemporary British climate’ – another example of the risk-taking innovation of small press publishers as testified by the quality of books selected for the prize.

Testard said: ‘We’re so thrilled that John Keene’s COUNTERNARRATIVES has been awarded the inaugural Republic of Consciousness Prize. First of all, it is a magnificent book and deserves the widest possible readership. The prize is so important for its focus on small presses — it’s tough, in this cultural climate, for risk-taking small presses to achieve visibility for our books. It’s also a unique prize on two other counts: it does not put limitations on what fiction can be in considering short stories, novels and translation together, unlike other prizes in Britain, and in fact it is the only prize which COUNTERNARRATIVES has been eligible for. Less important but remarkable nonetheless, it is a prize that rewards the publisher as well as the author — a welcome, refreshing reversal when many bigger prizes expect a financial contribution from a shortlisted publisher, big or small. Long may it continue.’

Counternarratives
Counternarratives by John Keene, Fitzcarraldo Editions.  Photograph by Sally-Shakti Willow

The two runners-up and winner were announced by The Guardian’s Literary Critic Nicholas Lezard who praised the ‘long and distinguished history of publishing by the small presses.’  The first runner-up to be declared was the novel Martin John by Anakana Schofield, published by And Other Stories about which the judges said, it ‘makes no judgment: it renders Martin John’s world with phenomenological honesty. It is a moral act.’  Joint runner-up was Mike McCormack’s Solar Bones, published by Tramp Press, described by the judges as a novel that ‘sets a new bar for fiction about a family. No other novel we’ve ever read portrays the lived experience of dying with such precision.’

A further category was created for Griffiths’ own criteria of Best First Novel, or ‘Surfeit of Multitudinous Energy’, awarded to writer Paul Stanbridge and publisher Galley Beggar Press for Paul’s novel, Forbidden Line.  Galley Beggar’s Sam Jordison collected the prize with Stanbridge.

Paul Stanbridge and Sam Jordison
Writer Paul Stanbridge and publisher Sam Jordison from Galley Beggar Press.  This photograph and the header image by Becky Danks

‘So much in the literary industry disadvantages small presses, and yet they are publishing the most interesting and innovative current fiction’ Dr Leigh Wilson, The Contemporary Small Press

The Contemporary Small Press’s Dr Leigh Wilson said, ‘We’re delighted to be involved in supporting the prize. So much in the literary industry disadvantages small presses, and yet they are publishing the most interesting and innovative current fiction.’  Organiser Neil Griffiths concluded: ‘I thought it was a wonderful evening. All the presses seemed mutually supportive, and I’m not sure that’s always the case at prize events. I think the key take-out is that small presses really appreciate the emotional support just as much as the chance to win some money’.

The prize was judged by: Sam Fisher of Burley Fisher Books in Hackney; Gary Perry at Foyles; Lyndsy Kirkman from Chapter One Books, Manchester; Gillian Robertson of Looking Glass books, Edinburgh, Marcus Wright and Neil Griffiths.

Congratulations to all the writers and publishers whose books were selected for the Republic of Consciousness Prize long- and short-lists.  

image (1)
The Contemporary Small Press’s Dr Leigh Wilson with prize founder Neil Griffiths.  Photograph by Georgina Colby

Article by Sally-Shakti Willow, Research Assistant for The Contemporary Small Press.

Photographs by Dr Georgina Colby, The Contemporary Small Press; Becky Danks reviewer for The Contemporary Small Press; Sally-Shakti Willow

The Glue Ponys

The Glue Ponys

The Glue Ponys by Chris Wilson: Tangerine Press, 2016 Republic of Consciousness Prize Long List* 

‘Larry was the first to wake up.  It was raining again and with the fever he couldn’t figure out if he was boiling or freezing.  His few remaining teeth were bouncing a tattoo off each other as his jaw played out the rhythm of the infection.’

These perfectly crafted short stories each give a fleeting glimpse into the lives of the transient outsiders whose lives are forged daily on America’s streets, in prisons, in run-down hotels and rusty old cars.  Heroin addiction is a uniting theme that runs like a thread through the highs and lows, the comedy and the tragedy, of each of these instant snapshots of the forgotten and unseen lives just beneath the surface of respectable city life.  Frequent details of places – street names, hotels, city quarters – serve to highlight not only the reality but also the close proximity of people whose existence is so often barely noticed by their parallel city-dwelling counterparts.  The sharing of common space between people whose lives are so vastly alien to one another calls into question the routine invisibility of the stories’ characters and those like them.

Wilson’s prose is measured, well-paced, with a sense of immediacy and brevity that makes every encounter sting with the sharp barb of honesty without sentiment.  These stories are not designed to evoke hand-wringing sympathy or provoke the reader to want to change the world.  They present important stories that Wilson is well-placed to tell, having lived on the streets and in prisons in the US for many years before returning to the UK and becoming drug and crime free in 2001.  The stories present the matter-of-fact realities, told through exceptional prose-fiction, of lives little glimpsed by most readers – each with its own dignity, desire, sadness and humour.

‘But there was another part of her, way down somewhere inside, that just wasn’t going to let her break and it held her and it lifted up her chin so that her eyes met with the eyes of the drivers coming down the freeway and she raised her right arm into the air with her fingers balled up in a fist and stuck her thumb straight up and into the heart of the blue morning sky.’

The Glue Ponys is a book worth reading for many reasons – both its style and its content are fresh and enriching.  In addition to the standard paperback edition, Tangerine Press have also produced a number of limited edition fine press copies of the book: 100 numbered collectors editions and 26 individually produced artwork copies with bespoke artworks by Chris Wilson (now sold out).

Click here to visit The Glue Ponys page on Tangerine Press.

About the Publisher:

Tangerine Press publishes poetry, prose and photography in handbound, limited edition fine press books.

Review by Sally-Shakti Willow

Sally-Shakti Willow is researching for a practice-based PhD in utopian poetics and experimental writing at the University of Westminster, where she also works as research assistant for the Contemporary Small Press.   The Unfinished Dream, an experimental collection of words and images by Sally-Shakti Willow and Joe Evans was published by Sad Press in October 2016.  @willowwriting

Beyond the Bestseller

SAT 25 MARCH 2017, 10:00 – 16:30 GMT

We’ll tell you about the book trade, the workings of a small press and offer advice about submitting your work and approaching publishers.

Talks and readings by Lynn Michell, director of Linen Press, and Avril Joy, successful Linen Press author and finalist in The People’s Prize.

Karen Kao will introduce her accomplished, searing novel The Dancing Girl and the Turtle, a new publication due April 2017.

Put your questions, worries, frustrations and hopes to our experienced panel. We’re here to help!

WIN—a consultation with Lynn Michell to discuss your novel

WIN—a consultation with Avril Joy to discuss your short story

WIN—a selection of books from Linen Press

Click here for more information and tickets to Beyond the Bestseller.

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Linen Press: The Dancing Girl and the Turtle by Karen Kao

Without Destination or Intent

Without Destination or Intent

Forbidden Line by Paul Stanbridge: Galley Beggar Press, 2016 – Republic of Consciousness Prize Short List*

‘This is not a casserole we are making here, it is a philosophical work.’

A pair of misfits set out on an adventure into notoriety and oblivion. Don is a writer who hates writing and his downtrodden servant, Is, has recently been struck by lightning. Prepare to laugh out loud as, dressed in rabbit skins to give them the appearance of prehistoric men, this eccentric duo embark on a riotously entertaining odyssey with the emphasis firmly on the odd.

With no map to direct them or conscious idea of their destination, Don and Is go round in circles, frequently ending up back where they started. Undeterred, they eventually make a peculiar path across Essex and into London, analysing along the way what it means to be alive in the world. Travelling on foot, by boat, and on other people’s shoulders, these intrepid adventurers spend a lot of time in the pub, join what they think is an alternative community of Druids, get intimidated by a gang of cows, and sleep in a graveyard, amongst other things. There are also several altercations with the police.

‘Without destination or intent – onwards!’

forbiddenlinemassfrontboard

It is not always clear which, if either, is the wiser of the two protagonists. Don certainly thinks he is right about everything and his grandiose aim is the ‘salvation of Being’. A self-proclaimed expert on many bizarre subjects, he likes to question the fundamental norms of society, speaking with authority but not always sense. Is, like the reader, does not always know what his master is going on about. On occasion a witty and shrewd observer, he takes Don’s waffling in his stride and often brings him down a peg or two with well-timed quips. Inspirational messages do, however, emerge sporadically from amidst the absurdities Don spouts, such as his respect for mindfulness and desire to live in the now.

The characters are often at the mercy of the all-seeing (and meddling) narrator, who takes great offence at Don’s attitude to writing and manipulates the story to punish him. Pursued by a crowd of thousands who mistakenly believe them to be their leaders, the purpose of their trip having been mistaken for a re-enactment of the 14th century Peasants’ Revolt, Don and Is face an ongoing battle to regain control over the chaos.

‘The reader can rest assured that a story will very soon be dragged out of all this nonsense…Read on!’

Intricately detailed and daringly innovative, Forbidden Line is a book unlike any other. The reader is swept into the story, drifting alongside the two strange friends with no idea where the narrative is heading. Don and Is bring to mind an eclectic mix of double acts as random as Blackadder and Baldrick, Dogberry and Verger, and Doc Brown and Marty McFly. The prose is witty and elaborate and the story has a timeless quality to it. So much so that the rare reminders that it is set in the contemporary age come as a bit of a shock, the reverie rudely interrupted by passing cars and mobile phones.

The ambitiously complex way of writing occasionally results in the story tying itself up in knots and it is certainly a challenging read. But this book is a magnificent accomplishment by the ground-breaking author Paul Stanbridge.  Thought-provoking, perplexing, vivid and surreal, this is a laugh-out-loud funny tour de force and definitely one to watch out for.

Click here to buy Forbidden Line directly from Galley Beggar Press.

About the Publisher

Galley Beggar Press is committed to producing beautiful books. Nurturing unique and innovative writers and publishing works of the highest quality and integrity, they also believe in the ‘fantastic potential of ebooks to reach new audiences, to spread our writers’ precious words around the world and to revive and revitalise books that would otherwise either be out of print or lost on the backlist’.

About the Reviewer

Becky Danks is an avid reader, creative writer, dog lover, poet and reviewer of books. Amongst other things! Follow her on Twitter: @BeckyD123

 *The Contemporary Small Press is celebrating the first ever Republic of Consciousness Prize for small presses by reviewing a range of titles from the long- and short-lists throughout early 2017.  The Republic of Consciousness Prize was established by writer Neil Griffiths to support and reward adventurous new fiction published by small presses in the UK and Ireland.  The judges have selected some of the most exciting and innovative new fiction to highlight through their long- and short-lists, demonstrating the breadth and depth of high-quality literary fiction currently being published by small and independent presses.  The winner will be announced at an award-ceremony held in conjunction with the Contemporary Small Press at the University of Westminster in March.