Moscow and the 1970s – researching the novel – Sarah Armstrong

All novels need research, but some need a bit more research than others. My third novel, The Wolves of Leninsky Prospekt, is a cold-war story of a young British embassy wife, Martha, who lives in a communist apartment block in Moscow. I had to discover as much as I could about Soviet Moscow and the 1970s before I started writing. I have never been to Moscow, and don’t remember much of the 1970s, but both the place and time were interesting to me, and that is essential for researching any project which might take a year, or more.

IBook cover: The Wolves of Leninsky Prospekt started off with a broad overview of the USSR and the period, 1970-1980, reading a range of historical and political texts, as well as books written on and by those who spied for and against Britain and the USSR. Memoirs written by visitors to Moscow were especially useful for giving me everyday details I could include, but once I’d chosen the year there were other ways in which my research became more targeted. This is where the Open University library came in.

Limiting the year of publication when searching key words and phrases gave me access to contemporary materials, and raised ideas I hadn’t considered. In the novel, Martha is struggling to make sense of the restricted world she finds herself in, and is relieved to meet Eva, an ex-British citizen who has renounced her nationality to live in Soviet Russia. Finding out that not only were pets popular, but that 1973 was the year that the first dog owners club was set up in Moscow, the Moscow Association of Amateur Breeders, led me to give Eva her dog which made her more accessible to Martha. I had imagined Soviet Russia to be a place where pets were a luxury, and these answers to questions I didn’t know I had proved very important to my understanding of the place.

I was also fortunate that this particular place and time was caught on tape and photographs and I could watch tourist information films and snippets from television news reports. I also found sites which detailed daily reports on the weather in Moscow, calendars, sunrise and sunset times, music, propaganda posters, contemporary Russian and British novels, as well as modern British novels set in Moscow in the 1970s. I looked at the influence of space travel on Soviet designs of everything from matchboxes to samovars to vacuum cleaners. Ex-CIA maps revealed the huge amount of green space within the city, so I printed some out as well as other images as ways to visually ground myself in the setting, and then started to collect metal Soviet badges.

Knowing a place and time isn’t just about understanding what happened there. It is also about understanding the weather conditions, the clothes and the food. My research of Moscow started with a few stereotypical ideas (that it would be very cold and concrete and fearful) only to have all of my assumptions challenged. The environment, the heat and the dogs all enhanced my discovery of Soviet Moscow.

The Wolves of Leninsky Prospekt is available from Hive as an e-book and a hardback:

https://www.hive.co.uk/Product/Sarah-Armstrong/The-Wolves-of-Leninsky-Prospekt/22971801

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Tutor Nessa O’Mahony writes about her new crime novel The Branchman

Most people know me as a poet. I’ve been writing poetry since the early 1990s and have been lucky enough to have books published with a fine poetry press, Salmon. But I’ve always been interested in stories. Many of my poems had a strong narrative thread; I explored family history, in particular the exciting life led by my maternal grandparents during the first quarter of the 20th century. Granddad fought in all the conflicts of that period, from World War 1 through the War of Independence to the Civil War. My grandmother lived through that brutal period, and saw many acts of violence in her own home town of Kiltimagh, Co. Mayo. Poetry allowed me to get inside the heads of these characters via dramatic monologue; I enjoyed the compression that the poem required, and the tension with the expansiveness that storytelling called for.

But the more I researched my grandfather’s life, the more I read of the chaotic period that followed Civil War and the early years of the fledging Irish State. Essentially Ireland was in a limbo where war had petered out rather than ended, and many people hung on to the arms they’d been using during the war. Added to that were the tens of thousands of men made redundant by the National Army, many of whom had no work to go to. The recipe was civil disorder on a massive scale. So it struck me forcefully that there would be a terrific novel, or series of them, to be written about extraordinary period when people were emerging stunned, brutalised and shaken by a decade of violence. I looked on the shelves of bookshops and libraries, but couldn’t see anything. There have been some wonderful examples of Irish historic crime fiction in recent years, but they were either set earlier (Conor Brady, Kevin McCarthy) or later (Joe Joyce, for example).

So I decided to have a go. I’ve spent my life teaching students that we should learn through practice, so that’s what I set out to do with my first crime novel, The Branchman. I began at the beginning – well, first let me stop and wind back a little earlier to when it really started. I began with books. I grew up reading crime – Agatha Christie was my teenage obsession – and I’ve always loved the TV police procedurals on the Morse / Endeavour / Lewis model. I love character-driven mysteries, where we discover the truth at the same pace as the protagonists.

So back to my second beginning, when I signed up for a crime-writing course being taught by Louise Phillips at the Irish Writers Centre. Over ten weeks, Louise taught a room crammed with crime fiction enthusiasts the basics of narrative, structure, building suspense and creating character. Some of the principles I was already familiar with, having taught fiction for a number of years, but the specific requirements of crime-writing were new to me. So too was the practical advice on how to write a novel, bit by bit. As a poet, I’d always been overwhelmed at the scale of a novel; used to writing in short bursts, I couldn’t imagine having the stamina to write up to 100,000 words. But Louise sensibly pointed out that a novel grows; if you write 500 words a day, in six months you’d have 90,000 words and more. Louise handed us out a grid marked out in days and weeks, and invited us to put in our daily word count. For a literalist such as me, that was all the encouragement I needed. I proudly handed in my weekly word count, and by the end of the course I had more than 15000 words written.

Sustaining that momentum in the weeks and months after the course proved difficult. A jobbing writer, I had assignments to mark, courses to teach, life to live; the sorts of excuses we all find ourselves making. And yet I didn’t want to waste what I had already done, or stop thinking about the story and characters I had already been imagining.

So I resumed my daily schedule, getting up at 5.30 (thanks, hormones, for that extra time gained) and working to produce at least 1,000 words each day. By the following spring, I had a complete first draft. Then, two things happened, one unfortunate, one incredibly fortunate. I’d given the first draft to my brother, who had a friend who was an avid reader of the sort of book I was trying to write. He’d passed it on and promised to revert with feedback. Time passed, and there was no word. When I finally followed up, he airily mentioned that it hadn’t held his friend who’d given up after 60 pages. I discovered this on the first day of a writer’s retreat where I’d planned to spend the time redrafting the novel. The reader’s response devastated me; I sat surrounded by proof pages and crushed ambitions.

The fortunate thing happened on the same day. I was contacted by a wonderful writer, Ferdia MacAnna. He was calling about something else entirely, but I took the opportunity to vent my distress. He offered to read the offending 60 pages and, when he contacted me a short while later to tell me how much he’d enjoyed the whole draft, making very constructive suggestions for improvement, I knew I’d found a trusted editor. I’d also re-found my confidence.

With Ferdia’s advice I completed three further drafts, and by the Autumn of 2017 it was ready to send out. I began the task of researching the names of agents and publishers, feeling that UK big names were the place to start. Not surprisingly, I got very little response (only one agent replied of the three I’d identified). Crestfallen yet again, I began to wonder if the type of novel I was writing (a historic crime fiction set in the post Civil War period) was more suited to the Irish market.

At this point, fate intervened once more. I got a phone call from the publisher, Alan Hayes of Arlen House, who I had worked with on a critical study of Eavan Boland that I’d edited alongside Siobhán Campbell. He asked how the novel was going, and I told him. He offered to read it and, a few months later, told me he’d loved it, and would be happy to publish it. That simple.

Though of course nothing is ever that simple. As anyone who has published a book will know, getting it out there is just the start of it. It’s a constant challenge to get readership, to get space on those bookshelves I pored over looking for the sorts of narratives I wanted to read. I’ve had a great word of mouth response from initial readers, and amazing support from festival organisers and libraries (note to new writers – it’s always worth directly emailing librarians to ask if they’ll stock your book – they often will). So the story is still only beginning for me and for my Detective, Michael Mackey. How long it will last remains to be seen.

The Branchman, by Nessa O’Mahony, is published by Arlen House. It can be ordered online via Book Depository https://www.bookdepository.com/The-Branchman-Nessa-OMahony/9781851321896

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Crossing art forms – dramatic techniques and fiction writing

One especially rewarding aspect of the Open University MA course in Creative Writing is the chance to make a sideways swerve into another writing form. So, for example, poets can try their hands at fiction for a term, and non-fiction writers discover the different rhythms and possibilities of scriptwriting.

As a fiction writer turned playwright who’s also had a go at song lyrics, this cross-genre exploration is dear to my heart. Each writing world has its own concepts, and I’ve learned so much from each.

In particular, dramatic techniques from live drama have transformed my relationship with writing and editing. Concepts such as beats, reversals, ritual, status and transformation; thinkers like Stanislavski, Goffman, Berne and Bachelard have so much to offer fiction writers, especially when it comes to shape and deep structure. After years of evangelising about the powerful concepts of drama to writers of all persuasions, I decided to compile them into book.

dramatic-techniques-creative-writers-jules-horneDramatic Techniques for Creative Writers covers the ground I wish I’d known about when starting out as a playwright. It’s an eclectic mix of techniques to power up your writing and make your storytelling bolder, more engaging, and more compelling.

Why are dramatic techniques so powerful? Because they’ve been test-driven for centuries in front of unforgiving live audiences. They’ve passed many other filters, too, before a word you’ve written reaches an audience – actors, director, producer and your own experience of living, breathing language in the amplifying echo chamber of the rehearsal room. So as a playwright, you undergo (in some case, endure!) full-on, experiential, fast-track learning about flow, rhythm, engagement, and so much else.

Here are a few of the dramatic storytelling tools I’ve drawn on in my fiction:

Spatial thinking

How do you establish your written world? Is it inside or outside your narrator’s head, or somewhere between? What broad brush-strokes are needed to make the context clear?

Transformations and reversals

In a story, something changes. On stage, that change is made visible. From… to… creates a strong narrative shape. How can you use transformation to create a bold story?

Powerful images

The central images in some of Shakespeare’s plays – Juliet / balcony, Hamlet/ skull, Bottom/ ass’s head – are so clear and simple that they translate into any culture, yet resonate with great complexity. Is your core visual image just as clear?

Performance as metaphor

Erving Goffman’s work shows how an audience makes people behave differently, responding to status, complex social roles, forming tribes, and so on. How can this be used to add layers and tension to your writing?

Dramatic actions

Characters with burning desires that are thwarted create knotty emotional complexity and strong stories. How can you use Stanislavski’s ideas on impulses and motivation to give your characters momentum?

Aside: it’s true that not all fiction writers need or want to use these techniques. Fiction can live in different and subtle spaces of the mind, and has its own concepts and creative vocabulary. But dramatic techniques read at a distance, and I find them a great help with bold writing decisions, especially when structuring a scene or mapping a story.

Jules Horne teaches on A363 and the Open University MA course and lives in Scotland.
www.juleshorne.com

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Prose Poetry UK

Anne Caldwell writes:

‘I am delighted to announce that I have an Arts Council Award this year to research and edit a new anthology of UK prose poetry. It will be called the ‘Valley Press Anthology of Prose Poetry’ and will be published in May 2019. I am working on a web site at the moment and this will be open for submissions later in the summer of 2018. I am co-editing the book with Professor Oz Hardwick from Leeds Trinity University and it will be published by Valley Press, who are based in Scarborough. The project will involve workshops for young adult writers alongside Sheffield based writer, Beverley Ward and it will be evaluated by Glynis Charlton. 

Arnside Woods

Arnside Woods, by A. Caldwell

So, what is a prose poem, I hear you ask? It is a difficult form to define, but the poet Carrie Etter came up with this useful description of some of its properties: she sees the prose poem as ‘circling or inhabiting a mood or idea, perhaps remaining in one place (although not static) rather than moving from A to B as a poem does.’  

If you want to read more about the form, and its wonderful possibilities, you might be interested in an article I have written for the academic journal, Writing in Practice (Issue 4) , which is published by the National Association for Writers in Education:  

http://www.nawe.co.uk/DB/current-wip-edition-2/articles/prose-poetry-and-a-sense-of-place-exploring-the-influence-of-ted-hughes-on-voice-nature-and-gender.html


The Journal’s principal editor is our own Dr Derek Neale, from the Open University.  I am also working on a new full length collection of work, which is in the prose poetry form and explores the idea of the North. 

Valley Press Website (C) Valley Press 2018

(c) Valley Press 2018

I will share details of the Prose Poetry Project via its new website later in June 2018. If you are interested in finding out more about the research, do get in touch with me.’ 

 

Anne Caldwell

Associate Lecturer, Open University

anne.caldwell@open.ac.uk

Latest Book: Painting the Spiral Staircase, Cinnamon Press, 2016 

 

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Unusual Places: Notes on short story writing by Louise Tondeur

Using live writing to create short stories

When I wrote my short story collection, I mainly used a technique that I call ‘live writing’. Others have called it ‘writing in situ’. I went to a particular place to write. I usually did this longhand in a notebook. Sometimes I spent the day writing a first draft of a story, on other occasions I got some ideas down and wrote the story at home – this depended on the environment itself. I wrote the second and subsequent drafts at home, referring to images of the places I had visited.


A patch of nettles: where it all started

I started using this technique at Totleigh Barton https://www.arvon.org/centres/totleigh-barton (the Arvon centre in Devon) when the tutors asked us to watch something outside for 45 minutes. This was a revelation to me (aged 19) as I had never watched anything for that long, and hadn’t meditated or anything similar. I realised how much detail you get involved in if you watch something for an extended period of time.

At Arvon we were simply watching – not writing. I watched a patch of nettles. I wrote afterwards. I began to understand that there was something about being in the environment itself that helped me to write. It wasn’t only the observation, it was also being immersed in the experience of being there.


The natural world

Most of the stories I have written using ‘live writing’ have been in towns and cities and weren’t – like my Arvon experience – about being thoroughly immersed in the natural world. However, nature does play a big part and I found that trees in particular were an unintentional theme throughout the collection. Again, unintentionally, most of my live writing excursions involved finding the natural world in an urban environment. I wrote at the Garden Museum in Lambeth, the College Garden at Westminster Abbey, in Chiswick Park, and in Kensington Gardens for instance.

Here’s the story I wrote in Kensington Gardens, called ‘The Swim’: http://www.viewfromheremagazine.com/2013/06/the-swim-by-louise-tondeur.html

The Round Pond, Kensington Gardens, London, where I wrote ‘The Swim’. © Copyright Paul Gillett (licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons License).

Research

I had a few guide books to help me find my way to quirky locations in London. The stories aren’t all set in London, but it was where I was living when I started. I began writing my short stories this way a while back (in the early 2000s) – and there seem to be several more books about hidden or secret or unusual London now. Try searching with those key words and you’ll see what I mean! I also found sites such as London Walks (http://www.walks.com/ ) very useful.

 

Unusual Connections

I find I tend to make unusual connections between stories when I used live writing. For example, one character – someone whose face had been disfigured – came across very strongly and I realised that they were appearing in several of the stories, including ‘The Swim’. I turned this into one long short story called ‘Unusual Places.’

I named the whole collection ‘Unusual Places’ because of the way in which I set about writing the stories in the collection.

 

Four rules & several cafes

I had a few friendly rules which helped me to choose places to go and write:

  1. The place had to be free to get into. (I only deviated from this once – at the Garden Museum in Lambeth! https://gardenmuseum.org.uk/ )
  2. The place had to have something unusual, secret, hidden or quirky about it.
  3. The place had to have access to tea and shelter from the rain.
  4. There had to be somewhere to write – at least a bench, for instance.

This meant that I ended up writing in a lot of cafés, so cafés feature in the story somewhat. All of these are fictionalised. My favourite was the café in Red Ruth in Cornwall, with its cosy atmosphere and open fire place, which I think has since closed, and formed the basis of the story ‘Red Roof’ – of every fictional place I invented, I wish Red Roof was a real place!

 

Adventures by train

Now the collection is finished, I’m still using the technique to write. My most recent use of live writing was on a trip to the Cumbrian coast where I wrote on the train (it’s a long way from the South of England!). I find it very useful to write on a journey or an ‘adventure’ and to go somewhere I have never been before. I see this as a development of the live writing technique. I prefer to write short stories this way, rather than writing at my desk.

 

Where to find the collection

My short story collection comes out with Cultured Llama Press in May 2018, when it will be available from here: http://www.culturedllama.co.uk/

Louise Tondeur, Sussex, March 2018.

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Nullaby: A poetry pamphlet by Patrick Wright

Nullaby pamphlet by Patrick WrightAssociate Lecturer and PhD candidate Patrick Wright’s poetry pamphlet, Nullaby, is now available to purchase through Eyewear Publishing:

https://store.eyewearpublishing.com/collections/eyewear-pamphlet-series

The poems explore themes such as psychodrama in the domestic space, clandestine realities of love, and fears and anxieties in a modern relationship; the reflections on which most often occur in liminal states between sleep and waking or as a result of being kept awake at night.

 

Reviews of Nullaby:

‘Blindness, and seeing, are inseparable in Patrick Wright’s Nullaby. Deeply personal in the way they record illness and care, the poems often emerge out of darkness: in “The Blind Photographer”, typically, he relishes the dense particularities of his speaker’s situation, even as he goes about “invoking all that’s lost in the world / as blocks of visitation on contact paper.”’ – John McAuliffe

‘The sensual, anatomised poems of Nullaby travel through interior and external landscapes, “the body’s catacombs”, to track apparitions, hospital wards, the night terrors of illness. These places where “the joke begins to wear itself thin” nevertheless brim with light,colour, scent. At once loss and redemption, its song of “I” to “you” is almost unbearably intimate and always extraordinary. In this heart-aching collection Wright is “faithful all along” to lyrical form and its “limitless repertoire of love”.’ – Gail Ashton

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Review of Anne Caldwell’s poetry collection

Associate Lecturer Anne Caldwell’s latest poetry collection, ‘Painting the Spiral Staircase’, (Cinnamon Press, 2016) will be reviewed in the next edition of Stand Magazine (Vol.16.1) by Dr Stella Pye, who writes:

I have combined the review with some previously unpublished poems from Muriel Spark, and with Michael Sweeney’s ‘Inquisition Lane’. I’ve taken part of Michael Schmidt’s ‘Afterward’ to the Spark as a denominator common to all three collections, in which he says:

‘Even the most rigidly shaped are voiced, and even the most casual

are meticulously wrought, the diction, tempo and phrasing revealing

at once the drama of the narrative and the character of the narrator.’

Stand Magazine

Stand has been a fixture on the British and world literary scene since 1952, when the first issue appeared in London. It moved to Leeds in 1960, then to Newcastle, and it is now edited from the School of English at the University of Leeds in collaboration with Virginia Commonwealth University in the USA.

 
For a copy of the magazine, or subscription, visit http://www.standmagazine.org/welcome

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Creative writers and copywriting – from Jules Horne

If you’re a recent creative writing graduate and are wondering how to make a living while you finish that novel or script, you may not have considered copywriting. It’s not on the radar of most creative writing students, and yet it draws on all the skills that are honed on a CW degree, including storytelling, viewpoint, tone of voice, research, characterisation, hooks, and a demon eye for editing. Good listening skills and the ability to cut through complexity to find a clear narrative thread are also useful.

Writing skills are highly sought after in the commercial world, but it can be hard for creative writers to know how to translate their skills for that different context. I wrote this book as a start-up guide for students, based on my experience of running Texthouse, a writing business in rural Scotland.

One of the unexpected privileges of copywriting is the fascinating range of people and businesses you meet. I’ve had the pleasure of working with divers, housing associations, dry rot specialists, hoteliers, chocolatiers, heating engineers, designers… people whose work I’d never normally come across in the comparative isolation of writing. For a curious writer, this is wonderful. And as I discovered, people in the world of small business are a lot like writers: independent, in pursuit of a strange vision, prefer working for themselves…

How to Launch a Freelance Copywriting Business is about startup nuts and bolts for creative writers and journalists, and doesn’t cover the writing side. If you’re a student and would like recommendations and templates around copywriting, email j.horne@open.ac.uk

Jules Horne is an Associate Lecturer on the Open University MA in Creative Writing and module A363, Advanced Creative Writing.

http://www.method-writing.com/launch-freelance-copywriting-business/

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Bringing a major Irish poet back home – from Nessa O’Mahony

As my co-editor Dr. Siobhán Campbell, one of the Module Team developing curriculum for the new MA in Creative Writing, writes in the introduction to Eavan Boland: Inside History, a new book of essays and poems on the work of one of Ireland’s leading poets of the 20th and 21st centuries, we belong to a generation of writers for whom Boland’s ‘presence as a poet, critic and teacher has been of major importance.’ But despite that importance, there had been few recent, Irish-produced critical studies of a poet whose work is so well known on the international stage. As Irish women poets and academics ourselves, we felt that this was something needing to be addressed.

Siobhán first approached me with the idea of a critical study in early 2012; at that point, we were aiming to publish something to coincide with Eavan’s 70th birthday in 2014. And although a number of events took place and celebratory publications were issued during that year (a special issue of PN Review, for example), our own project proved to have its own deadlines. As Siobhán and I discussed the sorts of contributions we’d like, we understood that it would take longer to assemble the range of writers and voices we wanted; not only academics who had written critically about Boland’s work, but also poets and writers who, as her peers, could give their own perspectives on the Eavan they knew, personally and professionally. Quite soon we realised that we’d also like to include poetry from other poets for whom Eavan’s work was significant; either as contemporaries or as writers for whom she was an important influence.

So we began to approach our wish-list of contributing authors. We knew the academics who had already written on Eavan, so the choice of Jody Allen Randolph, Lucy Collins, Patricia Boyle Haberstroh and Peter Dolmanyós were natural ones. But with the writers, it was more complex. Not every poet is a critic too, and although we had a really good response to the idea of the book, not everyone we first approached felt they had the time to commit to researching and writing a critical essay. But many did, and the essays produced by Gerry Smyth, Gerald Dawe, Eamonn Wall, Thomas McCarthy, Nigel McLoughlin, Chris Murray and Colm Toibín offer wonderful insights from the perspective of other writers who had lived through her times, or who had benefitted from her influence in their own literary development.

These essays offer many fascinating perspectives on Boland’s context within Irish literary and political history. For example, Gerald Dawe focuses on the political dimension, exploring the poems produced during the decade 1975 to 1985 in order to make the argument that Boland’s initiating engagement with, and opening-up to, the political and ideological conflict of the northern ‘Troubles’ is often over-looked and that she made a substantial contribution to what he terms the ‘debates’ of those troubled decades. Gerard Smyth concurs, arguing in his essay that beyond the personal in Boland’s work lies an engagement with what he terms ‘less distinct, often trickier notions of national and cultural identity.’ From his own position as an Irish poet based in America, Eamonn Wall takes the perspective of Boland’s position in Irish America, and explores the contention that a priority in Boland’s work is to provide an account of exile that is realistic, personal, and rooted in contemporary times.

The choice of publisher was as important a choice as that of contributors. We needed a person who would embrace our vision of what such a book might look like. In Alan Hayes of Arlen House, we found somebody with the imagination and generosity of spirit to run with our notion, and to improve upon it. We had initially thought that just a handful of poems might punctuate the book; Alan suggested expanding it to the number we now have (14 in total) so that each essay is separated by a poem. We are thrilled to be able to include poems by Paula Meehan, Michael Longley, Paul Muldoon, Sinead Morrissey, Thomas Kinsella, Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, John Montague, Medbh McGuckian, Eiléan Ní Chuileanáin, Katie Donovan, Dermot Bolger, Jean O’Brien and Moya Cannon.

Of course we recognised the symbolism of working with Arlen House on this project; Eavan herself worked as an editor there in the 1970s and Arlen published some of her early collections (In Her Own Image, The War Horse) so in a sense we were bringing the poet home. And we couldn’t have done it without the generous help and support of another one of her publishers, Michael Schmidt of Carcarnet, who was unfailingly generous in his granting of permissions to quote from her poetry and who allowed us to reprint the wonderful conversation between Paula Meehan and Eavan Boland – A Poet’s Dublin – that took place on the occasion of Eavan’s 70th birthday at the Abbey Theatre.

Both Siobhán and I feel as editors that with this volume we have just begun an important conversation and reappraisal of Eavan Boland’s position in Irish and world literature. As Irish women poets we both feel indebted to her, for opening doors and creating precedents that meant that neither of us faced the struggle for acceptance or opportunity that she and her contemporaries did. We’re excited to see the reaction this new volume will provoke, and hope that it will contribute to a more nuanced and broader discussion of her work and influence and provide an important new resource to students of her work.

Dr. Nessa O’Mahony, Associate Lecturer, Creative Writing

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Literary writers and the Indie Spirit – from Jules Horne

It’s fair to say the world of publishing is in turmoil. With margins squeezed in commercial publishing, mid-list authors are being dropped, and it’s harder than ever to find a publisher. Writing literary or experimental fiction? Forget it (mostly). I’ve been shocked to hear of major Scottish authors struggling to find publication after mainstream UK publishers let them go.

But while some avenues are closing down, others are opening up. All around, I’m seeing writers publishing their own work, whether as e-books or in print. I’ve been particularly impressed by younger writers embracing indie publishing, and not waiting for permission to have a voice.jules image 2

So I decided to try it for myself. Not just ethereal e-books, but solid, papery ones that have a smell and a heft, and real pages you can write on and fold (I know, I know). With ISBNs and my own Texthouse imprint. The whole indie author shebang.

My poet friend Andrew Forster wasn’t impressed. After all, poets have been producing their own books for ever. And it’s always been possible to get a short run done at your local printer.

But what’s new and impressive to me is the speed and ease of printing a new book. With print-on-demand, you can order a dozen, or even just one. You only pay for what’s printed, so the cost is low.

You do need patience to learn the ropes, and a techie mindset definitely helps. But printing your own book is incredibly empowering. And for literary and experimental authors who may not find mainstream publication, or regional authors with a strong niche, it’s a real eye-opener. The difference between you and a small press is vanishingly small. And what’s good enough for Virginia Woolf…

So here they are:

Nanonovels – experimental flash fiction, written one a day in the course of a year. Wrapped Town – a collection of stories from anthologies, competitions and radio.Jules image 1

Fellow OU tutor and sometime concrete poet Dr Mike Johnson was kind enough to call them ‘vibrantly original tales’ and ‘evocations of the spirit of Ray Bradbury and Angela Carter’. Pints on me!

And now I’ve done it, my mind is racing with the possibilities. Apart from all else, it frees up literary writers to write what they want, and bring it to their readers, without fretting about genres, markets or profit margins. It puts individual creativity back in charge. Exciting times!

That said, national agencies including Creative Scotland, Publishing Scotland and the mainstream press have yet to catch up. They don’t yet recognise self-published work – presumably because they want to avoid a deluge of submissions. But how long can they ignore this creative revolution? Especially with literary authors taking things into their own hands?

I’ll be blogging more about the indie author-publisher journey at www.juleshorne.com.

Jules Horne is a playwright and publisher who teaches on A363 with the Open University in Scotland. 

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