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Book reviews book shops Circaidy Gregory Press Short stories Uncategorized

If you comment on this post, please avoid the ‘A’ word

Guest post by William Wood

When my anthology Stories for Sale was published by Circaidy Gregory Press in 2013 I little suspected the changes to come: changes in my own life and in our geopolitical lives. We now live in a different world.

Let me start even further back. When Philippe Delerm published his bestseller La Première Gorgée de Bière et Autres Plaisirs Minuscules (The first mouthful of beer and other small pleasures) I was inspired to write my own book of small pleasures. This was published by Sunpenny Press in 2011 and I revised it under the title 100 Small Pleasures in 2017. This was before the Danish claimed hygge which resulted in the cult of mindfulness in Britain. I felt resentful and envious because Delerm and I had pre-dated the craze and besides, having lived five years in Norway I knew that Norway had originated hygge or kos, related to our word cosy.

That’s as maybe. As luck would have it, another of my books, Trying to Care, an account of my four years spent living with and looking after my nonagenarian parents who each had a different form of dementia. The book is not without humour and a growing self awareness. Again it was ahead of its time. Social welfare and concern for the elderly has become trendier recently.

 A third book that also appeared at the same time was my novel Bribes d’une Identité Perdue (Traces of a lost identity). I love languages and European culture and I was so dismayed by the Brexit vote that, European as I thought I was, I resolved never to write in English again.  To my surprise a French publisher accepted this novel. I have not translated it into English.

In 2018, then, I had three new books to launch and publicise. At the best of times I am useless at self promotion. I am no salesman, no performer. However I thought I had better make an effort.

Stories for sale

But suddenly something happened worse than the national suicide by Brexit. My wife was diagnosed with cancer. We had just moved from crowded East Sussex to rural Cumbria to make a fresh start. What we saw of it for the next eighteen months was mainly the inside of hospitals. Anna died despite the added misery of chemotherapy and I had forgotten about my books.

Then of course Covid 19 struck and the first lockdown. I took up writing again and to lighten the mood published an anthology of comic verse Oh No! I did this in collaboration with Green Arrow Publishing ordering just 50 copies to cheer up my family and friends. Ironically it was a great success. I had requests for multiple copies to give as gifts and even orders from bookshops. It sold out quickly with no effort on my part.

My next project was to gather more of my short stories. Not as well edited as Stories for Sale where I had the invaluable advice of Kay Green. I published them myself on Kindle. I think the stories are all right but I feel ashamed of sinking to vanity publishing. I did the same for Four Novellas and felt worse. My vocation is to write. It is natural to want to share what we have written but almost pathological when we are driven to self publish.

The advantage of bona fide publishers, as I have hinted above, is that you open a dialogue with an editor. Our work needs this kind of scrutiny. Sadly several of those I have worked with, Babash Ryan, Sunpenny etc have disappeared and their books are out of print. I continue to write, but I no longer have the desire or the energy for the moment at least to chase up publishers and sales. I just exchange the odd manuscript with like-minded friends. At least they will not say, “Awesome William” as some did in the days before I abandoned Facebook.

William’s blog

Stories for Sale book cover

Buy Stories for Sale from Foyles

Or if you’re in or near Hastings, contact me to have your copy delivered to your door, post free.

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Book reviews book shops Circaidy Gregory Press Earlyworks Press flash fiction Poetry Short stories Uncategorized

Blog of blogs for Earlyworks Press

Greetings to all the authors and friends of Earlyworks Press!

I’m sorry for the long silence on the competitions and website fronts. COVID blah blah recession blah blah need to earn a living – you know how it is. For those who signed up to our newsletter for competition news, I’m afraid there isn’t any yet. I do intend to look at the possibility of re-starting the main competitions next year but we are scattered, and funds are non-existent so no details yet but I’m still here, and still obsessed with finding interesting stories and promoting small press work, so there will be at some point.

In the meantime, there are still anthologies available – I am in the process of putting information about all our backlist into blog posts so people can still find them, and I am still, as ever, willing to offer bundles of books to the authors who have contributed to them until stocks run out  – if this is you, and you’re looking for Christmas presents for example, feel free to contact me if you want any. Generally, I can supply ten books – of one or of a selection of titles – for around £60 to authors, post-free so long as they have a UK delivery address and can do discounts on individual title orders.

Here are the Earlyworks Press blog posts so far…

You are here and Old Magic in a New Age

Barcelona to Bihar

The Several Deaths of Finbar’s Father

Significant Spaces, recognition and Loretta’s Parrot

The Hastings Modern Art Beach Book and Visions of Hastings

The Ball of the Future, The Road Unravelled and Telescoping Time

Porkies

The Sorcery of Smog, Journeys Beyond, Unsafe Spaces and Apples, Shadows and Light

There are also write ups of quite a few of the Circaidy Gregory titles on the blog now.

There are more to come, so if you want to publicise the books your work featured in, please use the blog links, and do keep an eye on our Facebook account, or on Circaidy Gregory on Twitter (links below) for more. There will be announcements there, and via this newsletter, when I know what the future holds competitions wise.
All the best,

Kay Green (editor, Earlyworks Press)

Other ways to keep in touch:

follow Earlyworks Press on Facebook, or our related publishing imprint @CircaidyGregory on Twitter or write to us at Earlyworks Press, Creative Media Centre, 45 Robertson St, Hastings, Sussex TN34 1HL
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activism Book reviews Corbyn Hastings Labour media Politics women

Crosscut your community

In November 2021, the news hit Hastings that a group of refugees had drowned trying to cross the channel. It hit us hard, because being a southern coastal town, the victims of failed attempts tend to wash up on our shore. This has never been a problem we are able to ignore. Local reactions are varied as they are everywhere but on this occasion, as the news came out that those people had had a mobile, and had called both French and English authorities for help and been denied by both, anger rose.

Quite where that anger was directed depended on people’s knowledge and political position. Some feel that looking after refugees is our responsibility because our society, our government are as much to blame as any for the number of displaced people currently crossing Europe looking for safe haven. Some feel that the UK have done all they can, that money and housing are short, so we can’t help any more. Others feel that we have room, and we have housing, but we have a government that won’t allocate resources to match needs. Many more, regardless of their political stance, are unbearably distressed by the arrival of cold, wet, terrified people on our beaches, and want to help whatever the cost and whoever pays it.

I was particularly struck by one man’s comment that managed to cut down the middle of all those views. He said something along the lines of “if I was in their position I’d do the same, but how are we going to cope with them?”

 That’s a discussable position, and a good starting point. But why is a middle-of-the-road, negotiable view of current events – any events – so rare? Why are we so ready to withdraw into opposing camps and shout about things, rather than trying to solve problems?

Party politics? Social media encouraging anonymous, irresponsible scatter-gun commenting? Shortage of money, housing and work making people defensive? I’d say yes, all those things but what we need are answers, and I suspect cross-cutting is one of them.

Crosscutting

Did you, like me, immediately think ‘oh yes, that’s the difficult way of cutting wood’ – but I’ve just seen the term in an entirely different context. I have just started reading The WEIRDEST book…

If you’re not into seriously long psychology books, don’t worry – there’s a single-paragraph abstract of the book here.

In (very) brief, Henrich and his colleagues had a startling moment when they realised that almost all the psychology studies they were relying on for information about humans had used US university students as subjects for study, and they had precious little to go on as to whether there were other kinds of humans in other places who thought in different ways.

There follow 500-odd pages of ‘us and them’ discussions about different societies, about how our own society developed and why, and what the alternatives might be. One of those discussions hinges on a study of a people in New Guinea called the Ilahita, a society that, although broadly tribal, seemed unusually good at growing and assimilating in-comers without strife. The key point, the study found, was how the communities developed interdependence. Not the kind of interdependence that is vital for survival – our modern society has no shortage of that – witness the panic whenever supermarkets run out of anything, or the power goes off – we’re really useless at shifting for ourselves as individuals, however many cans of beans we have in the cellar. No, this is about social interdependence.

Ilahita communities were crosscut, in that every village was sub-divided into extended-family clans, but also into ritual-organising groups that cut across clan groups, and groups who worked together for other purposes that cut across *those*. It meant that people were used to being ‘the same’ as another person on one issue, but ‘different’ on another. As a result, they had no problems with the idea of adopting non-blood relatives, or integrating new people into a community when they needed to.

Always coming home by Ursula Le Guin - cover pic

The idea struck a chord, and I remembered reading Always Coming Home – It’s an epic by Ursula le Guin, whose speciality was writing ‘what if’ books about different ways of living. In this particular book, she builds a detailed crosscut world, where people’s ‘kin’ allegiances were crosscut by membership of community ‘houses’ – and other group allegiances both distinguished and interwove them socially and emotionally.

My tribes

Like many of us, I got deeply involved in politics during the last decade, feeling that the time had come to agitate for change. I joined first the Green Party and then, when Jeremy Corbyn offered a new way of going on, the Labour Party. The switch from one party to the other felt odd to me. I was aware of changed perspectives, and also of a change in who was rude to me, and who gave me house-room. I made a point of still trying to talk to, and work with, Green Party people, and was enthusiastic about the ‘Progressive Alliance’ for a while.

And then the ground moved. I was also involved with the women’s sex-based rights campaign, and was shocked to find that sizable elements in both the Green Party and the Labour Party had decided this was not acceptable and worse, they had decided being rude and destructive towards gender-critical women’s groups didn’t count as bad behaviour, because we were ‘the enemy’.

I stuck around in the Labour Party and then some other lefty groups for while, and tried to build bridges, talking to trade union people, to shadow cabinet MPs and other party members about how they had been blinded by the demonisation of the women’s groups, and talking to women about how our views of the politicians involved were becoming skewed and polarised. I thought about how (former?) comrades were completely unaware of how insulting and dismissive they were of my views on this issue, or how infuriating that was for me and, as a result, tried to think more about the affect my words had on others.

In February 2020, Woman’s Place UK ran a Women’s Liberation conference at UCL in London, to which over a thousand women came. I collaborated with a woman from the Green Party to present a workshop there about how to work on women’s issues within political parties. The women who came to that workshop, and worked together for the afternoon, included Conservatives, Lib Dem, Labour, Green Party and Communist Party members. They worked well together because we were all feminists and, as women, facing a lot of common issues.

The nature of that group was in itself liberating and I tried to bring that mood back to my other political groups. The trouble is, political parties are more or less the opposite of that Ilahita culture. It became too much of a strain for me in my local Labour Party, and I left and soon afterwards, I left the other lefty groups I was in, feeling suddenly aware of just how worn down I was by tribal disagreements and blindnesses – I still can’t decide whether that was sensible self-protection or a failure of nerve.

I still try to maintain the diversity of stance in the women’s groups I work with. When I find a woman backing away, thinking a group is too far this way or that way, I sympathise. There are always going to be people at the extreme ends of every opinion within a group, and it’s hard work being one of those people – but I don’t want them to leave, because it narrows the scope of the group and someone else finds themselves being ‘the extreme’.

I don’t think that would happen in a properly crosscut society.

Avoiding polarisation

There are so many current issues and behaviours that encourage polarisation. Brexit, responses to COVID (here’s an interesting take on that – I don’t agree with everything said in this article but there’s plenty worth thinking about ), the sex-based rights campaign and, of course, how we deal with refugees and other in-comers. But is it actually the issues that are divisive, or the way we approach difference? It’s well known, for example, that the damage wreaked by racism is much *lower* in areas with well-mixed communities, where people maintain allegiances to ‘their own kind’ but also manage to function in different aspects of the wider community.

I hope and trust that Hastings will resolve its differences over refugees because there are huge overlaps between the fishing community, the RNLI, the refugee support groups and the coastal-dwellers generally. At the moment, a minor altercation on the beach has become national news, and the national media are world champions at driving a wedge into a small dispute to make a big story – but I see that members of all those crosscut local groups are investigating, and trying to heal the division. Good for them.

Let’s mix it up some more, and get on with what needs doing. I place hope in the politicians I see around social media currently looking to be (or forced into being) independent MPs and councillors. That could be a disaster, a fracturing of power – but it could also be the beginning of people mixing it up more, and having complimentary allegiances that *work*.

If you’ve read this far, please join me in resolving to crosscut our lives more. Look at your communities, your allegiances, and your attitude to ‘others’. How can you broaden it, and learn some new angles? Also (I guiltily say to myself) look at who you think it’s okay to be rude to, and who you assume you have nothing to learn from, then look again, a different way. This is the call to adventure.

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Book reviews book shops Earlyworks Press Hastings Poetry Short stories Uncategorized

Back in the days of the desktop publishing explosion, this happened…

Way back before I got involved in publishing, I had developed a fascination for small press books, glorious evidence they are of specialist endeavours that most people will probably never get to hear about. Someone commented once that there were probably more than a few books on my shelves that were the sole surviving copy of whatever it was.

Small press bookshelf
A random section of one of the ‘special’ bookshelves

I doubt that, but one of the reasons for my loyalty to small press is that I truly dread the success of the corporate world’s dream of everyone buying the same book, the same film, the same everything. It’s also why I loved producing the Earlyworks Press anthologies, collections of the best that had been offered up in our annual poetry and short story competitions. It was all brand new then: suddenly, desktop editing and publishing was within reach of the not-rich and not-leisured classes, and digital printing made small runs – not cheap perhaps, not exactly *easy*, if you wanted to do it well – but possible.

Every now and then, as well as the standard annual competitions, we’d branch out and call for different kinds of writing – and where the time, the inspiration and the print-fund allowed it, we’d produce anthologies of those, too.

Here are a couple that have earned their places on quite a few people’s bookshelves and, I can guarantee, will be on mine for life.

You are Here

Let’s try out some non-fiction, we said, and announced the Earlyworks Press Memoir & Journalism competition – and my goodness, it produced some unexpected wonders – and all true.

He’s a GI. She’s Pregnant. He’s recalled to New York… Her dad left home years ago: he wanted to be Robinson Crusoe – but now he’s back… From pork chop purloiner to community leader – who is best qualified to solve our problems…?

Dodging maths lessons, going to violin lessons; learning about love and life, war and death; dreadful accidents, extraordinary luck; growing up, changing your mind, changing your life; the stories came from all over the world, and some came with the most extraordinary photos – so the book is illustrated throughout, often with photos and artworks that had not been in print before – it’s a treasure.

Another time, we went off in the opposite direction…

Old Magic in a New Age

Standing stones and churches, trees and totems, fairy tale creatures: dragons, princes, gods, ghosts and elementals from Europe and beyond … We asked our writers and illustrators to find the mythic and magical figures that spoke to them, and show us why they have survived into the New Age.

Old Magic in a New Age: Earlyworks Press Myth & Legend

The result was a fabulous collection. Some of the motifs are familiar and faithful, others have evolved as the world has changed. So if modern life leaves you hungry, enter these pages and find out which eternal classics still speak to your personal magical language.

According to poet and cover artist Cathy Edmunds, the search went something like this…

I need to find a druid

need to bind a long-beard be-robed figure of fun

to raise a smile

need

a poet a bard a hahaha-hazel be-twigged master

lurking in ash groves oak gown sites

of special scientific interest

need a druid

an onion

ten cloves of garlic

at least

Contact me to order either of these books or, if you’re in or near Hastings, have them delivered to your door, post free.

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Book reviews book shops Earlyworks Press Short stories

Stories that travel with you

This short story collection ducks and dives through time and space with the speed of a tap-happy social media surfer. In the opening story, ‘Reading Tolstoy in Barcelona’, a young merchant sailor gets to grips with the world via some extraordinary midnight shore-leave encounters, setting the scene for a series of tales of immigrants and migrants, of misfits and visitors from every corner of the world.

Opening time in a shop in India, and nemesis arrives in the shape of a genial stray dog. In Britain, sons and daughters of immigrants seek ways of being British, whilst the indigenous Brits find the familiar – from office party to lighthouse beam – is not what it ought to be.

Taking in letters from Africa, from the Solomon Islands and from previous centuries, witnessing potentially murderous mountaintop encounters with goats and even trolls; navigating a European tunnel, an English bell tower and a social divide wider than the Australian outback, the mind of the reader must twist and turn, encompassing many miles and many moods, before coming home with a view from another planet as to what it might mean to be human.

Having chosen the title – Barcelona to Bihar – and the strapline – stories that travel with you – I could not resist sending my own copy on a tour to visit the far-flung authors. Here’s the title page, signed on its arrivals in Barcelona and Bihar, and by me on its return, a full two years later!

This copy is not for sale but if you’d like a copy, you can

Buy Barelona to Bihar from Blackwells

Buy Barcelona to Bihar from Foyles

Or if you’re in or near Hastings, contact me to get your copy delivered to your door, post free.

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activism Hastings media Politics

What is a safe country?

Our politicians are talking about safe countries. They say refugees need to claim asylum in the “first safe country” they reach. In today’s news, we’re told that the UK and the Netherlands have agreed that refugees arriving here need to be “returned” to the “first safe country.”

Screenshot of MSN article,, header pic shows beach-art message 'safe routes now'
link to article

Sounds logical doesn’t it? But who decides what is safe, and how? Or is the very idea of “first safe country” yet another convenient myth, some words to say in parliament? I think this is likely, firstly because the problems that are creating the tide of refugees across the world are enormous – wars created by the arms industry, climate crises created by a generation of destructive industries, and unstable, unsafe regimes created by lousy politicians, mostly propped up by the USA, who don’t like to see other countries running independently of US hegemony.

It could not be more obvious that we have no politicians in our own current government with the intention or the ability to solve problems that big, so jockeying with other countries to try and prove refugees should go somewhere other than here is likely to be the best they will attempt.

In fact, according to France, our politicians are so bad it’s not worth talking to them at all. Macron is apparently annoyed with Johnson for tweeting one thing when he’s just said another, and although it’s possible he’s making a fuss, all our experience of Johnson suggests that when Macron says there’s no point in trying to work with him, it’s likely to be true.

We need a proper government, managed by professionals.

Our Home Secretary is making the refugee situation a crime issue, and thinks the answer is “tackling the criminal gangs” who arrange channel crossings – an absolutely standard Tory response that amounts to treating the symptoms. No-one would be paying strangers to organise stupid little boats if there was an official, safe route available.

Our so-called opposition has at least managed to point out that there needs to be a safe passage.

Michael Rosen tweeted the other day about the masses and masses of displaced people who were on the move after the Second World War, about how the UK had refugee camps all over the country then about how, despite being broke and all but broken by the war, we assimilated many of those refugees and organised passage to places they could live for many more. When you have a proper government, you can do things like that. Like any other project a government runs, such an endeavour builds bonds, creates work, and generally becomes a part of the life of a healthy country.

My second reason for not believing in the “first safe country” idea is that I have seen a stark example of how this works in reality.

An example of a ‘first safe country’

I went to the FiLiA women’s conference in October and in one of the plenary sessions, we all joined a zoom with some women in a refugee camp in Kakuma. It was a devastatingly emotional experience. Most of the women we spoke to were lesbians, and had been put in a ‘special’ area in the camp, because they were in a place where LGBT people were seen as something strange, something to put ‘outside’ the ‘normal’ area. There had been attacks, there had been rapes, there had been tents set on fire. One woman’s baby had been killed.

The women were terrified, and tearful, and had no idea how they could get away from that camp to a place where they would actually be safe. Most of them had no money, and those who did found that traders would not take ‘dirty’ money from gay people. Some had tried to escape from the camp, only to be attacked by security forces and dragged back. They had run away from a country where LGBT people were not safe, and been trapped in a place that was as bad, if not worse.

When I realised what the zoom was about, I worried at first that this would be some terrible spectator drama, but it wasn’t. The women had wanted to do the link-up because of the way news and politics works, because people who are known, people who have names and faces and voices, people who are in communication with others around the world, are harder to kill. I’m writing this blog post because I saw those women, they spoke to me, and I will never forget them.

We know about those women, Ms Patel. We have heard about “first safe countries”, Mr Johnson. We don’t believe you, we don’t trust you, and we require that you participate in #safepassage arrangements for refugees.

If you would like to help the Kakuma women, please visit the FiLiA website here.

Joanna Cherry has written to Priti Patel – one of the outcomes of that zoom…

Header from Nationa Scot article "Joanna Cherry: Priti Patel must help the women from the nation her parents left
Cherry’s column in the National Scot

We need to make more contacts with refugees, whether they are here or in camps elsewhere, find out more about them, and the issues that drove them from home, and then we need to educate our government.

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Book reviews book shops Earlyworks Press Short stories

The Several reasons why Finbar’s Father is unique

There’s a story here I read about once a year. It’s unique, and it transports me every time.

This book is The Several Deaths of Finbar’s Father & other stories, published in 2014. It’s the anthology of the very best works that came to us through our international competitions the year before.

A moment contains an adventure-filled life, and a life is bargained for on a cliff-edge: one is glimpsed in the back row at a lunchtime concert, another smashed by a careless blink. In these stories, you will visit a sun-soaked castle, its towers in starry heavens, its basements deeper than the roots of trees. You will step into other worlds (minding the gap) and find new life in the everyday. These are stories of life as it is lived; life that can be snatched from mountain spirits or rewritten from the end backwards, blighted from the start or suffused with indelible blessings.

Magic moves in a music recital, the steps of a once-upon-a-time plains tribe and the boozy farewells of an urban evening class. Enjoy lives that were, lives that almost were and lives that might just be.

The authors whose work featured in this book are all worthy of attention but, I just have to tell you this: when I sent an email to the address Julian Holt had given us, to tell him he’d won our main competition with ‘The Several Deaths of Finbar’s Father’ and that I therefore wanted to name the next year’s anthology after his story, I didn’t get an answer for a while, and when I did, it came from a relative of his.

This story was Julian Holt’s one and only published work, and he died before he knew it had won a competition. It does not read like a first attempt. Rich, well crafted and complex, it is a story about a man who loved, briefly, and a boy who lived in books – it is a story about a life in a stolen moment and above all, it is a story to go back to again and again.

Well, having read it this afternoon, and told you about the book and its poignant uniqueness, I am now going to settle down to read some of the jewels that go under the title of ‘& other stories’ in this book.

The Several Deaths of Finbar's Father - cover pic

Buy The Several Deaths of Finbar’s Father from Foyles

Buy The Several Deaths of Finbar’s Father from Blackwells

As is so often the case with small press books from a year or so back, they say ‘not available’ but, if you ask, they can order it (that’s why it’s on their websites!) Our distributors *will* supply. Or….

If you’re in or near Hastings, and you’d like a copy of The Several Deaths of Finbar’s Father & other stories, please contact me to have one delivered to your door, post free.

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Book reviews book shops Circaidy Gregory Press Corbyn Hastings Labour Politics

Left Books Forward

Heads up – this looks like a political post, and it is – but mainly, it’s one of my ‘Books for Christmas’ soapbox posts…

We in Hastings were quite surprised when we heard that Momentum was an organisation for wild young Trots. We in Momentum Hastings thought we were a group of all sorts of people who had been looking for a better way of going on, and thought the new Labour Leader at the time, Jeremy Corbyn, might open the door to that.

It was clear that a lot of powerful people – many of them sitting behind big, shiny Labour Party desks – really did not want to let change happen. We invited Richard Seymour along one night to tell us about all that. He detailed for us a lot of the behind-the-scenes manouvrings that had gone on, and predicted a lot more: nasty, shameless, worrying things – all of which have since come to pass – and he told us that whilst he supported our efforts and hoped we’d win, he didn’t really think Jeremy Corbyn would be able to survive it all as Labour leader.

Well, he was right. Momentum is something else altogether now, and so is the Labour Party. If you’re thinking ‘where do we go from here’, you could do a lot worse than read his book now, and think over what happened, and why…

Or you could spend Christmas immersed in these enlightening – and gripping – stories of one of humankind’s most extraordinary attempts at socialist revolution…

“…it is a success in its own terms, and is a place you can learn about the greatest revolution ever while enjoying an exciting tale.” – Richard Allday in Counterfire
Reviewed by Sheila McGregor in The Socialist Worker

These titles are available from good lefty bookshops, including Bookmarks in London and Bookbuster in Hastings.

Or, if you’re in or near Hastings, contact me to order, and have them delivered to your door, post free.

Categories
activism Hastings Politics prejudice

Christmas lights on the beach

Dear Home Secretary,

Fairy lights are on the trees and the lamp posts in the town centre, and the coloured lights are appearing in the shops and the windows of everyone’s houses, but these lights are the ones people of Hastings took to the sea-front, as a farewell message to the families who drowned in the English Channel this week.

They drowned in the sea because France rejected them and Britain would not help them. It’s very clear that you, like the former Home Secretary, who was our Hastings MP, do not prioritize people whose families come to Britain seeking sanctuary, or a more bearable life, you prefer to prioritize ‘our own’ – but could I ask you to look at it like this?

How do you think the people of seaside towns like ours feel, looking out over that cold, dark sea at night, and thinking there may be families drowning in that cold, dark sea? How do you think we feel, knowing that you are asking our RNLI – volunteers, who do the work they do because they care deeply about people – you are asking them to turn their backs on those people, and you are asking our border forces to do a ‘push back’ which will lead to more drownings?

I don’t believe that you are unable to find a humane solution to this. I don’t believe you are trying. The people of Hastings have been going down to the waterline to help frozen, soaking wet, terrified refugees for a long old time now.. This Christmas, if you wake up in the night, never mind the little match girl, try to imagine a little girl drowning in that cold, dark sea. For as long as that is happening, our country is not civilised, and your party is not the party of ‘law and order’, or ‘family values’.

Yours sincerely,

One who stood on the Stade tonight, unable to stop imagining families drowning in that cold, dark sea.

People of Hastings stand vigil for the drowned refugees, November 2021.
Categories
Book reviews book shops Earlyworks Press Short stories

Cover Stories

One of the things I loved about working on our short story and poetry anthologies was figuring out how to put the covers together. The  contents would be of excellent quality – we published the very best from the shortlists of our annual, international short story competitions, so the quality was guaranteed – but their style and subject matter ranged across every genre and every topic you could imagine. Finding a title and a ‘look’ that worked for all the stories was always a challenge but sooner or later, something would emerge.

Here are three memorable examples:

Recognition

How do you know?

Ancestors linger in darkness, held by the attentions of the living. A monk prepares to answer the eternal question. An accident victim loses his memory, another loses something less tangible. One artist dreams of snow, another of the sea – but what do their artifacts dream of? The last performing tiger in the world meets the mob… and then there are the crocodiles…. In these shape-shifting stories murderers, sleuths, monks and marketing wonderboys all battle with their unique visions of the world but who wins, and how will they recognise victory when it comes?

24 stories to keep you awake

Complex roof tops and elevations of Manchester

But what to put on the cover? Himself and I had spent a memorable weekend exploring the architecture of central Manchester that year and in the end, we picked on a detail of a bull from one of the gargantuan city centre memorials…

Font cover: recognition

Significant spaces

Just how much can a missing character-card matter to a schoolboy? Can you recognise true love? What can be forgiven, what should remain hidden, and what will be revealed? Lance Hanson’s ‘Sleeping Jesus and the Green Goblin’ seemed to set the tone for this cascade of tales about things that are not where they should be, or not what people expect them to be. Can you fill the spaces?

Well, Earlyworks Press club member Cathy Edmunds came up with a jigsaw with some pieces missing. That seemed to fit the bill, but what to put in the spaces? I have no idea why, but after some rummaging around, a photo of mine of this extraordinary yew tree from Crowhurst, just outside Hastiings which also has some significant spaces, seemed to be the thing. Oh, and there was the title. Significant Spaces…

Detail of front cover: significant spaces

Loretta’s Parrot

An escaped parrot changes lives on the streets of Glasgow, an art historian finds a young lover too much to handle, a big-game hunter meets an unexpected nemesis – and that’s just the first three stories. The collection also offers a window into the lives of amnesty activists and kidnappers, soldiers and aid workers, jazzers, photographers, Irish dancers and taxi-drivers – through stories fizzing with love, laughter, fear and revenge, fairytales, dreams and nightmares.

But I had fallen in love with Loretta’s Parrot. And a mental image of him, flapping around in the tenements of the city throwing a bit of holy chaos into so many lives gave us the theme – but you know what? None of us had such an image in our photo collections so, as ever when that happened, our Cathy Edmunds picked up her brushes and paint, and got to work. Fantastic! There he is, Loretta’s Parrot…

Loretta's Parrot

You can order all these books from any decent independent bookstore but if you’re in Hastings, give me a shout and you can have a special Christmas offer – all three delivered to your door for £12. That’s three excellent Christmas presents nailed in one go.

Three books: Significant Spaces, Recognition and Loretta's Parrot.