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An Orchestra of One-Man Bands

The first post in Staple Magazine’s month of blogging on incwriters – starting on June 1st, and ending on June 31 – got the introductions and promotions out of the way, before looking at that small word, ‘we’, so often used to describe the magazine’s operations.

Yet despite that ‘we’ being less the royal version than a perfectly valid reflection of our existence within a wider network of advisers and supporters, contributors and readers,  Staple itself amounts not to the dedicated team in an office that team-spirited ‘we’ implies, but of myself in an attic room at my own house – and even then, only for two days’ work on the magazine each week, between other freelance assignments, reports, journalism, web copy and all the dozens of things that writers and editors do to earn a crust instead of actually writing and editing.

This makes the recent announcement of big cuts to arts spending over the next few years a source of both optimism and pessimism. On the one hand, it needs to be acknowledged that small publishers are among the most efficient organisations that funding ever reaches: even the biggest, like Salt, Bloodaxe and Enitharmon, rarely add up to more than a handful of salaries and office/warehouse space, while at the smaller end, Staple does everything – paying for time, replying to submissions, posting out orders, doing accounts, organising events – on a total grant equivalent to a middling salary at any other organisation.

In terms of value for money, then, I think most small publishers can fairly claim to offer it in spades: but that very fact has, in previous funding rounds, tended to count against us. Because most small publishing ventures run on enthusiasm and would – in theory – continue without funding suggests (to a certain mindset) that our funds might be cut without impacting too much on overall levels of activity. So when it comes to making the judgements, the old prioritising of large over small scale tends to come into play.

In recent years, the Arts Council had begun to rethink this previously enforced amateurism, and insisted that grant applications cover adequate payments for writers and editors. The professionalism implied in this is important: and those without access to salaried positions, able to subsidise time for what necessarily becomes a kind of hobby (whether that covers writing or running a publishing venture) may be at risk over the next few years – a fact that could threaten the small publishing ecosystem.

Hopefully at least one of the aims of Save Our Presses is to bring together our collective weight in order to counter the unavoidable fact that, individually, we don’t have the means to fight our corners when grants are threatened with the attendant publicity that a major institution – a big festival, agency or even a provincial theatre – can generate in its defence.

Over the next month’s blogging on Incwriters, I hope to draw attention to some of the many results of recent decisions in literature funding – a climate that has enabled many publishers without direct funding to thrive alongside those of us in receipt of the occasional GFA cheque. I hope this hasn’t been too gloomy a starting point, though: my real point is to suggest that we small publishers already have a strong case to make for ourselves as the climate changes: the trick will be to ensure we make it effectively.

Put bluntly, then, a full-strength orchestra might make more noise than a one man band: but with enough one-man bands gathered in one place (under a heading like, oh, I don’t know, Save Our Presses, perhaps?) we can make sure we’ll be able match any orchestra decibel for decibel.

CJ Allen’s Lemonade at The Red Ceilings

The Red Ceilings

Staple’s reviews editor, C.J. Allen, drew my attention to the appearance of his latest pamphlet – the rather wonderful Lemonade – as the latest in a growing series of beautifully designed, very high quality downloadable e-chapbooks created by New Mills based The Red Ceilings. There are many rewards to be had from browsing that particular pamphlet, and even more to add, should you enjoy it, in the library here, and this is an enterprise that looks like it will be well worth returning to as its catalogue develops. Is this the future of the small poetry press? It certainly looks and feels like a model that will become a significant part of the mix, even if the printed chapbook has its own powerful appeal, and will no doubt continue alongside any fresh developments of this kind. My only niggle was that the design at The Red Ceilings is so good I found myself initially frustrated that I couldn’t lay my hands immediately on paper copies. Then again, a decent printer, some good quality A4 paper and a stapler would quickly resolve that…leaving the choice of print or digital entirely in the reader’s control. Whichever you prefer, then, The Red Ceilings is worth a look.

Hatching New Audiences

On Tuesday night, between 7pm and midnight, the sixth Hatch programme, Hatch: Across, cranked into gear on Nottingham’s St James’s Street, taking in a range of performers from the relatively well-known likes of Leicester’s Metro-Boulot Dodo and Bristol’s Action Hero to local artists and students just trying things out, taking risks, and coming up with ideas as oddly compelling as Ruth Scott’s  three hour tightrope walk in an Australian-themed bar, Adam Goodge’s  philosophical snooker sessions, and an attempt by Ollie Smith to describe the lobby of the Park Plaza Hotel in instant text messages to Kathryn Cooper, who then tried to draw it during a live online link up between Nottingham and Barcelona.

Although billed as a performance event, the Hatch nights are the brainchild of two writers – Nathaniel J. Miller and Michael Pinchbeck - who came up with the idea as a way of bringing together a whole community of people to collaborate, experiment and generally catalyse new work in and around their home city. Of the six events staged in the two years since, only a couple have received any significant funding, and the Hatch model demonstrates what a collaborative approach can achieve in terms of bringing artists and appreciative audiences together.

Hatch has the feel of a free street party or unique never-to-be-repeated event, each one based on a new theme and quite unlike the last: in that – and its open door policy to participants and observers alike – lies the secret of its success. Individual pieces you might see along the way can be wonderful, heroically misguided or simply the beginnings of something that will develop further, but whatever the mix of parts, it’s the whole package of Hatch that gives these sessions their buzz, and brings audiences back (with their friends) time and again.

Perhaps it’s a format that would be hard to translate directly to writing and publishing, but it’s worth noting that many Hatch events are essentially text-based, with staged fake powerpoint lectures, one-on-one performances in which someone might whisper their script into your ear under a duvet, and absurdist puppet shows all part of the mix. Perhaps more poets and short story writers should be devising similarly inventive ways of presenting material and taking a greater part than is currently evident in events like Hatch, and others like it elsewhere in the UK.

Some, of course, are already doing exactly this: David Gaffney‘s fiction has been presented in many different ways, as has the work of Ken Hollings, while even the mainstream has Iain Sinclair‘s activities in psychogeographic walking, film-making and theatrical presentation. Perhaps the running so far has been made more by such inventive but niche publishing enterprises as Mark Pilkington’s Strange Attractor  or Phoebe Blatton and Susan Finlay’s wonderfully low-budget Coelacanth Press  than the typical poetry and fiction presses, though it’s hugely encouraging to see Popshot Magazine and others like it developing the 60s heritage of magazines like Ambit.

Performance poetry has long been noted for its inventive ways of framing work outside the usual confines of the traditional bookshop and author reading, but examples of this approach in page-based work also seem to be on the rise. If anyone reading knows of interesting approaches to add to the (very partial) list above, please post them, as I’d love to hear more.

I’d go so far as to wonder if the future of writing rests on nurturing this kind of activity alongside our traditional outlets, and just as the galleries, theatres, art cinemas and festival circuits ultimately benefit from the fresh interest generated by the activities of nights like Hatch, similar things in literature probably wouldn’t do our magazine and book sales any harm either. 

 

Lumen Reading, June 8th

Staple Magazine presents three very fine poets, Jacqueline Gabbitas, Sophie Mayer and Fawzia Kane, at LUMEN (88 Tavistock Place, London WC1), on Tuesday June 8th, from 7pm, £5/£4.

Open spots are available (sign up on arrival) and all proceeds go to the Cold Weather Shelter. Hope to see you there!

States of Independence

A regional event

INDEPENDENT PRESS DAY

Clephan Building, De Montfort University, Oxford Street, Leicester

10.30am – 4.30pm, Saturday 20th March.

Staple 72: Music Issue launch from 12 – 12.40pm, with Aly Stoneman & Jonathan Taylor.

Stalls from dozens of independent publishers.

Workshops, readings and book launches.

Independent presses from across the region (and some from around the country) will be on site, together with many regional writers whose work is publishedby large and small independent publishers. Join us for an hour or two or the whole day.

Open to all and free of charge.

States of Independence

Forty writers, mostly from the East Midlands, will be reading from their work at an events programme to accompany an equal number of independent publishers and writers’ organisations staffing bookstalls and displaying their work.

Authors include nationally known figures including children’s writers Berlie Doherty (twice winner of the Carnegie Award) and Chris D’Lacey, novelists Anthony Cartwright (Heartland, recently read on Book at Bedtime) and Rod Madocks (shortlisted for the CWA John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger, which was featured at the Specsavers Crime Thriller Awards on ITV3) and poets Gregory Woods and Deborah Tyler-Bennett. We’ll also be providing a Leicester launch for Maria Allen’s first novel, launching the international poetry magazine Cleave and featuring talks on independent football magazines, the 1984 Miners’ Strike and well known phrases and sayings.

Independent press editors taking part include Iron Press’s Peter Mortimer on his “40 years before the mast” as a publisher, and Lynne Patrick from Crème de la Crime, probably the only female crime fiction publisher in the UK. Publishers, groups and magazines from the East and West Midlands and the North East in particular will be represented.

Organised by Five Leaves Publications in Nottingham and the Creative Writing Team at De Montfort Univeristy

Printed programmes available from info@fiveleaves.co.uk, 0115 9895465

Information

The Book Fair and all readings take place in the Clephan Building, Oxford
Street (entrance on Bonners Lane), Leicester LE1 5XY

Public transport and car parking information on www.dmu.ac.uk/Images/DMU1227-campus%20map_tcm6-734.pdf Clephan Building is five minutes from Leicester city centre and ten minutes from the train station. On site parking only for stall holders and speakers, sorry.

All events are free, no tickets required

Bookstalls are on the ground floor, with further displays on floors one and two

Events take place on first and second floor – please allow ten minutes to get to the correct room

There will be an information point as you come in to Clephan Buildng

All rooms are accessible. Please get in touch if you have any special access
requirements

For further information please contact info@fiveleaves.co.uk, 0115 9895465,
(Out of office: 0115 9693597)

Catering; Clephan Building is very close to the city centre, cafes, shops and pubs. We can only provide vending machines on site. There is a café in the Hugh Aston Building, also on Oxford Street, open from 9.00am-3.00pm.

“States of Independence” is organised by Five Leaves Publications in Nottingham and the Creative Writing team at De Montfort University  www.demoncrew.com

Welcome to the new website…

Ellen Bell: A Memory (Hampstead) (from Staple 71: The Art Issue)

It’s been a while in the planning, but we’ve now relocated to a new home on the web, where the blog and news features can be integrated with the main site, and there’s more room to add pages of extra content – we’re still unpacking and it’s all a bit makeshift at the moment, but if you kick your shoes off and have a nose round you’ll be feeling at home in no time: find out more about who we are and what we do on the About  page, rummage through our back issues, subscription details and submission guidelines on the Buy page, see what’s in the pipeline in Coming Soon, and there are extracts from recent Editorials, a list of the latest issue’s Contents, a Gallery of images from recent issues, and details about the collection we published by James Caruth  in 2008. The page you’re currently on is the Blog, and this where most of the news and fresh content will be added, starting with a collection of links to additional material related to the 17 spoken word recordings featured in our current issue, a series that opens with T.S. Eliot, and over coming weeks will include many things we couldn’t fit into the print article.

Welcome to Staple’s new abode, and hope to see you here again soon!