You too can be Battersea Poetry Home. It’s amazing the treasures you can rescue from potential oblivion, and give sanctuary to in your own head. When you pick up a poetry book and find something you love, ideas, images and phrases take root. You have enriched yourself, as well as rescuing a book that might not be picked up that much, not being a popular novel or a box of chocolates.
Three poems I have never forgotten
From Sky Breakers…
Photo of Mr and Mrs Daft
by Joe Fearn
The sky here
isn’t actually blue
it only appears blue
because it reflects the sea.
Which itself isn’t really blue,
it just reflects the sky.
It sounds daft, but somehow works.
Like the marriage of Mr and Mrs Daft,
shown here in Hastings in 1915.
Mr Daft is stunning in khaki,
Mrs Daft is peaches and cream.
She will run a shop in St Leonards,
he will board a troopship
and be blown to pieces
in the Dardenelles.
From Records, Rivers and Rats
The rock chamber
by Derek Sellen
A steep-sided gully
where the cliff narrows to a spit
and a fallen ram has left its bones;
It’s the ocean compressed in a box,
a cyclone of brine and spume,
a square cut maw,
it’s the breaking turmoil of the world.
From Misfit Mirror
by Jocelyn Simms
John Scott rubs square palms across apron stripes.
I finger a solid apple.
Together we regard the sky: sulphurous clouds, nacreous
sun, the moon a cinnamon curl. The Resurrection.
Apocalypse. Turner’s Fighting Temeraire?
I bite tart flesh, silver juices spill, the taste of almond
at the core. Removal of any item of school uniform
will result in nuclear fission.
What have we to lose, John Scott? Here at the end of the world …
And you with all these pheasants to sell?
Why not rescue some poems for Christmas? If you’re in or near Hastings, contact me to have all three of these books delivered to your door for £15
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
a poet a bard a hahaha-hazel be-twigged master
lurking in ash groves oak gown sites
of special scientific interest
ten cloves of garlic
Contact me to order either of these books or, if you’re in or near Hastings, have them delivered to your door, post free.
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
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.
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.
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…
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.
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:
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
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…
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…
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…
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.
How many years ago did I jump on a train to Arundel to have lunch with Mandy Pannett, and talk about organising a poetry collection competition? It happened before the Corbyn movement swept me away for several years of single-minded battle; it happened before the most urgent women’s campaign of my lifetime, and before COVID, and I am looking into a long-gone world to write this.
I ask myself how to make that long-ago world come alive again, the world of river and café and castle, all ancient stonework gleaming in cloistered sunshine – and the wondering leads me into Mandy Pannett territory. It’s more real than Monday, despite being as far away as last night’s dream.
‘Tell it slant’ is a phrase of Mandy’s that evokes the necessary skill – do I have that skill? The first work of Mandy’s that I read was The Onion Stone, which took me to Shakespeare’s days, and sparked off a million diamond-flash worlds because it evoked, involved and manifested an idea, but it WOULD NOT tell the reader what it was. I was captivated, haunted, for ages. She calls it ‘telling it slant’. You can read about how that works here.
Mandy worked with Catherine Edmunds on that poetry collection competition, and two brilliant books came out of that. Firstly, one of my all-time favourite poetry collections, Georges Perec is my hero from our winner, Caron Freeborn.
Why Georges Perec?
How are we to speak of these ‘common things’, how to track them down rather, flush them out, wrest them from the dross in which they remain mired, how to give them meaning, a tongue, to let them, finally, speak of what is, of what we are.
– Georges Perec, ‘L’infre ordinaire’
The other book to come out of that poetry collection competition was Convergence – the meeting place of eight poets, edited by Catherine Edmunds and Mandy Pannett, and beautifully juxtaposing sets of poems by Andie Lewenstein, John Wilkes, Eilidh Thomas, Anthony Watts, June Wentland, Mick Evans, Rata Gordon and Angela Arnold – and of course, featuring Cathy Edmunds’ drawing of that most famous meeting place at St Pancras.
I last saw Caron when, back over Arundel way, I got lost in a visionary dream at the launch of Mandy’s The Wulf Enigma – an enigmatic evening if ever there was one, with music, poetry and plans – such plans! – alongside the River Arun.
Mandy didn’t believe me about the hyperbolic plane (if you didn’t click the link above, you don’t know what I’m talking about) but you know, I stopped tippy-tappy typing just then, and started thinking about The Wulf Enigma again, and it led me off down yet another train of thought that hadn’t occurred before, so I maintain that it contains infinite folds of story, illuminating infinite worlds, and so you will never tire of being fascinated by it.
I always thought it was something leafy and twiggy we were hidden under but it turns out it’s a kind of bowl.
Bushels (or in some translations, ‘vessels’)
“And no man, when he hath lighted a lamp, covereth it with a vessel, or putteth it under a bed; but putteth it on a stand, that they that enter in may see the light. For nothing is hid, that shall not be made manifest; nor [anything] secret, that shall not be known and come to light. Take heed therefore how ye hear: for whosoever hath, to him shall be given; and whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that which he thinketh he hath.”
— Luke 8:16-18
No, I haven’t gone all religious unless that really is the bit in the Bible where Jesus is telling everyone about how small presses work. It’s a huge task, bringing a new title to the public. It’s not just that you can’t afford the posters on the railway stations, the stand at the London Book Fair and all the rest of it – it’s also that distributors and corporate bookshops tell lies about you.
Yes, all our books are available through the standard supply chain as well as from our friends, the local indie bookshops but if you look in the big online bookstores, they tend to be labelled ‘unavailable’. They may even be missing the cover image. And if you go to closed-system shops like Waterstones and ask for one of our books, the staff may not even admit they exist.
The reason for this is distributors. Big businesses don’t like ordering from little businesses, they like ordering in bulk from big distribution companies. We little presses do supply the distributors, but if they don’t happen to have a pallet-load in the warehouse, their automated system punches out that word ‘unavailable’ – not true. My own little press is particularly bespoke here because we happen to be just a few miles away from one of those gargantuan book warehouses so every week, our Jim bravely goes over there on the train, clutching a weeksworth of individual shop orders – sometimes even just one book – and weaves his way through the security gates, the articulated lorries, the pallets and the forklifts, and hands his little packet over to the giant, book-munching system. That means that even if the great big store labels one of our books ‘unavailable’, you can still order it, and you’ll probably get it within a week. Indie bookshops generally do this willingly. Even Waterstones do, if you can convince the innocent person behind the till that the stock list they are logged onto is not the be-all and end-all.
So why do they say ‘unavailable’? It’s because they’re all – knowingly or not – part of a big global plot to get everyone in the world reading the same hundred books. It’s so much easier to manage, if everyone’s reading the same hundred books. ‘Unavailable’ means ‘we’d have to make a small effort to order this so why not save us the bother and buy one of this week’s top sellers instead?’
The Good old days
What used to happen was that we’d go to all the local events and exhibitions, and do our own marketing.
Here I am with Lesley Samms at one of her amazing Pure Arts Festivals, with our Hastings Modern Art Beach Book, and What’s the Story? – a beautifully illustrated account of some of the artists and printmakers at work in their studios in and around Hastings.
Unfortunately, recession came along, closely followed by COVID and Brexit and – how long ago did I last do a real world book event? They are starting to happen again now. They’re few and far between, though and in the meantime, we really need to tell you that we are NOT UNAVAILABLE!
Here I am at FantasyCon – oh, feels like decades ago! With the glass-twiddler from George Street, Kate O’Hearn, Terry Pratchett and er… the Green Knight.
The world is beginning to open up again. I’ve recently seen authors Chris Tennent and Simon Edge announcing their presence out in the world…
All being well, Earlyworks Press and Circaidy Gregory Press will be out there again in due course. It’s vital, because once people have actually seen and handled a book, maybe had a chat with the author, it becomes familiar and once the book is familiar, people will go into shops and order it. If the distributors get orders for a book regularly enough, they will actually stop pretending they’re ‘unavailable’, take in some stock and admit they’re ready to take orders. That’s how small press titles ‘break through’ to the level where even Waterstones will admit they exist.
Meantime, I tend to put Foyles links in blog posts, for people to buy their books because Foyles are the best known of the stores that are pretty good at ordering small press books without making a fuss – or else I put local indie shop links such as Printed Matter and Bookbuster in Hastings. If you’re not in Hastings, the chances are, the indie shops where you are will be just as good so please ignore those ‘unavailable’ tags. They are telling Porkies.