What I’ve been up to
Preparing my new murder mystery novel, The Peasmarsh Players, for publication. Three years ago I decided to set up a small publishing house to publish my own work that I thought deserved publication, but didn’t seem likely to find a publisher any time soon, and work by others in a similar situation. It all sounded so easy! Well, it’s a lot easier than it was ten years ago, but there’s still wheelbarrows of work involved. Included in the heavy lifting is writing the book (no change there), editing it (numerous times), proof reading, copy editing (checking dates and names are consistent), design, formatting, publication and marketing. And then you have to dispatch the books to the lovely people who buy the book directly from you. Yes, folks, there’s a reason why people seek publishers to do all this stuff.
Having said all that, I find it satisfying, too. It certainly beats having novels you’ve laboured over for years gathering dust in the computer. Self publishing is derided by some but it’s got an honourable history. Jane Austen, Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman are among the literary greats who chose to self publish and/or set up their own small presses. Print on demand services mean that you can print one copy or ten thousand at the same unit price. Plus, you get the fun of doing readings and promotions – unless there’s a pandemic. And if there’s a pandemic, there’s always the option of organising events online. I’m looking into that now.
I love writing workshops. I love the contact with others, the surprise at what people write, the chat and catch-up, the buzz that arises when you work in a room with others whose creative energies are humming. If you’d asked me before lockdown if I’d enjoy an online workshop, I’d have said No.
But I would have been wrong. Since lockdown in all its various permutations was introduced I’ve explored online and Zoom workshops and writing groups, and I’ve learned that they’ve a lot to offer. Let me give you an example. I’m in a poetry group that meets monthly. Let’s call it Third Wednesday. In normal times we get together in a gorgeous local café and discuss work, sometimes to the accompaniment of the coffee machine or another group discussing the forthcoming print festival. Yes, it’s good to meet people, but I sometimes feel that my poem receives cursory or hastily composed comments. Or none at all, from some people. But since that group started exchanging work by email, I’ve received detailed, constructive comments from everyone. Why? Simple. We’ve had more time to read and reread the poem, think about it, and formulate comments in a tactful though perceptive way.
I find the process of giving feedback more rewarding, too. When I receive the poems by email, I read them for a first impression, then return to them another day. Then I might spend half an hour or more writing comments for the poets. That’s a very different process to giving a short comment on each poem, having read it through once.
Recommended things to read and watch
I’ve recently enjoyed the first poetry collection by Jonathan Humble. His delightful book Fledge celebrates the Cumbrian landscape in which he lives. Published by Maytree Press, the book is available from www.maytreepress.co.uk or from the poet – find him on Facebook. You can also see and hear Jonathan at the Contains Strong Language festival.
If you’re looking for a thrilling work of fiction, I recommend the Booker prize winner Girl, Woman, Other, by the irrepressible Bernadine Evaristo. She writes with huge energy and originality about women of colour in Britain today.
Finally, a beautiful memoir from the poet George Szirtes. The Photographer at Sixteen is a memoir of his mother, that tells her story backwards through time. Born in Transylvania, Magda Szirtes studied and married in Hungary then fled to England in 1956 with her husband and two young sons. This compassionate and moving memoir is a testament to a woman who lived through tumultuous times.
If you’re looking for something to listen to and watch, check out Bones by Zosia Wand, a radio play to be broadcast on Radio 4 on Monday 28 September at 2.00 pm (but check the time as afternoon plays usually start at 2.15 pm). Part of the BBC Contains Strong Language Festival, the play can also be heard, accompanied by a film by Hannah Fox and Richard Berry, at The Forum in Barrow-in-Furness on Sunday 27 September from 1.30 pm – social distancing and lockdown rules permitting. This touching play about a Polish mother and her daughter wrestles with heritage and secrets, played out on the sands of Morecambe Bay.