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Guest Blog: Remembering Oluwale by S.J. Bradley

Posted on August 03, 2017 by Rebecca Robinson

It had been a long time since I'd been so nervous. Me and Max Farrar from Remember Oluwale were at the Saboteurs in London, palms sweating, heart racing, waiting for them to call out the winner for “Best Anthology”. 

Getting here had been a long road, and I don't just mean the train journey from Leeds to London. In March 2016, Max had approached me to edit a book that responded to David Oluwale's life and death. The anthology had been a voluntary, time-intensive project involving lots of hours on my part, with support from Leeds Big Bookend, Fictions of Every Kind, the Remember Oluwale charity, and Valley Press. 

During the editorial process I had felt huge amounts of pressure to get it right. To do justice to this man's memory, and to make sure that everybody involved in the process met deadlines. Though there were a lot of people involved, there had been one person mainly steering the project – me, and now here I was at the Saboteurs, with Max, hoping that we'd win. 

I must confess that I initially knew little of David's story. To prepare, I read Kester Aspden's “The Hounding of David Oluwale”, a thorough and shocking book, and discovered that David Oluwale was a man who had immigrated to Leeds from Nigeria in the 1960s, who had spent most of his time in the city either homeless, or in a psychiatric ward. He was victimised by members of the police force, and eventually found dead floating in the River Aire. Nobody was ever convicted for his murder. 

Far from trying to create a comprehensive book about David Oluwale, (we are far from the first group to create works of art in his memory), I aimed to put together a book that responded to the themes in David's life, that anybody could delve into even if they weren't familiar with his story. During the Writing Prize, we received over a hundred entries of prose and poetry. All entries were blind-read by a wonderful, very experienced and diverse reading team, who then voted on their favourites, with each “yes”-voted entry getting a second read by me. 

Choosing twenty entries to publish was not easy. Some of the entries referenced David directly, many didn't. A lot of entries were similar to one another in approach or form, and as editor, I wanted to find a balance between those which talked about David directly, and those which used his life story, and the issues, in a more oblique way. 

Two stories that caught my attention early on were Koyejo Adebakin's true life story, 'In the Cold', in which our narrator and his family are evicted and told: “Neither... of... you... has... recourse... to... public... funds”, and Gloria Dawson's 'Promises (for David Oluwale)', which covers poverty, social justice, work, and exclusion, in just under 2,000 beautifully written words: “I sit with them, I am the man with the city's disorder, I am the woman in the crumpled skirt.” Though each covered similar ground, their diversity of approach was enough to make me want to include both. While Adebakin's story felt real, something you might overhear on a bus, Dawson's story showed us a desperate world glimpsed through poetic vignettes. 

The poetry category, similarly, gifted us with a range of material and approach. Alan Griffiths' 'In The Day Room' was a reading team favourite, with its powerful image of a man completing a jigsaw: “the pictures perfect on the lids / a country farm yard, park gardens or dales, / all stone walls, daffodils and clouds, / but the pieces never all the right way up”. This poem, with its resonances of psychiatric-ward boredom, I liked for the simplicity of its approach. 

Another poem which I included was 'He Remains', by Cherie Taylor-Battiste. This was one of the many pieces sent in that talked about David Oluwale directly. It struck me with the immediacy of its voice, as though being spoken right into my ear. “David's last run with head broken heart strong pushed on all our thighs / Carrying The Black Man's burden and tripping on Darwinian ties”. As a poem, it spoke so directly, so distinctly, that I couldn't help but want to put it in the anthology. 

I could talk about each individual piece directly, and what it was about each that I loved: their telling of the lived experience of asylum-seeking, or of social exclusion and prejudice (David Cundalls' 'Signs and Wonders', Helen Forbes' 'The Curse of Naples'); their mention of the particulars of David's story – the geography of Leeds in Ian Harker's 'Aire', the policemen who taunted him in Char March's 'Son-of-the-Mother-Whose-Children-Are-Like-Fish'; the characterful exploration of identity and history by an Efik narrator in Anietie Isong's 'The Storyteller' – but I suspect that there isn't room here. I will say though, that one thing that struck me over and over again during the editing process was how current “David's issues” still are. Those facts of institutional racism, of systematic social exclusion, don't and have never gone away. The diversity of entries to this competition was testament to that fact. 

Our longlist was a brilliantly varied collection: Max Farrar and Sai Murray of Remember Oluwale both had chance to read it before it went to press, and helped with their input and comments. We were keen to include works that had formerly been published and created about David Oluwale, and were lucky to be able to include work by Caryl Phillips, Linton Kwesi Johnson, and Rommi Smith and the Baggage Handlers, among others.

Getting it all to press on time wasn't easy: negotiating with 20 poets and writers during the editorial process, as well as juggling the judging process for the competition, and bringing in all the previously-published material and getting everything into the manuscript in time for it to be typeset, is probably the editors' version of riding an unbraked bike downhill towards a clifftop. 

When the book came out though, I realised it had all been worthwhile. Gathering those previously published works together with the new pieces, in a book with David's picture on the front, was a fitting way to remember David Oluwale. Ian Duhig read at the Leeds launch; we gave prizes out to our competition winners. Max sourced a CD player and some boxed wine for the party. Authors came from as far away as London to celebrate the anthology launch.  

We knew that the book was something to be proud of, and that it was a good artistic response to David's story. The only thing we didn't know was, would anybody else agree? 

So it was with train tickets in hand, and a set of pre-booked Eventbrite tickets, we found ourselves at the Saboteur Awards, hoping to win. Max was primed with a bottle of champagne from the bar, perhaps he knew something I didn't, and when the Saboteur judges read out the name, “Remembering Oluwale,” a cheer went up so rowdy I felt as though I was back in Leeds again, watching football in a pub. We'd won! 

It was a validating end to an immersive and important project, something I was very proud to have been able to be a part of. I went home with a head full of happy memories, and a banging headache from the afterparty. 

The Best Anthology trophy now sits in pride of place on my writing desk. 

Buy the book here.

SJ Bradley (@bradleybooks) is a writer from Leeds, UK. Her short fiction has been published in the US and UK. She is director of the Northern Short Story Festival and her second novel, Guest, will be out this summer from Dead Ink Books. 

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Seven-book series builds a 5,000-mile literary bridge between Shaanxi and Scarborough

Posted on June 06, 2017 by Rebecca Robinson

Scarborough-based publisher Valley Press is helping to raise the profile of translated books in the UK – currently just 1.5% of general fiction – with a seven-book series by acclaimed Chinese authors.

This comes just days after author A L Kennedy blasted British publishers for not producing more literature in translation.

She said British publishing’s aversion to risk meant it currently had ‘little appetite’ for foreign works, especially since the abolition of the Net Book Agreement which fixed prices for books, leading the industry ‘into a territory of simple calculations of profit and loss’.

 

However, Valley Press, founded by publisher Jamie McGarry in 2008, is setting itself up as one of the exceptions that prove the rule with Mountain Stories by bestselling Chinese writer Ye Guangqin, due out in July, followed by six more translated titles in 2018 and 2019 all by authors from the Shaanxi province of north-west China.

‘Readers might not have heard of Shaanxi before, or be particularly familiar with the bestselling Chinese-language authors who call that province their home, but they soon will be,’ said Jamie.

‘We've signed an agreement to publish a whole series of titles from the region's finest authors, translated with great care by a team at Northwest University in the city of Xi'an, then edited and proof-read by native English scholars.

‘These books offer an astonishingly fresh literary experience for UK readers – and for us at Valley Press. It's something genuinely new for us to get to grips with and, as you can probably tell, I'm very excited by the whole idea.’

But just how did the ‘whole idea’ of bridging the 5,000-mile gap between Shaanxi and Scarborough come about?

‘Dr Robin Gilbank of Northwest University’s School of Foreign Languages was looking for a UK publisher for this project. He has a family connection to Scarborough and they suggested Valley Press. So, we met in local independent bookshop Wardle & Jones and the arrangement progressed from there,’ said Jamie.

‘It really was a chance encounter of deeply engaged literary people thousands of miles apart.’

 

:: Mountain Stories, a collection of six tales about the colourful legends and everyday absurdities of life in China’s Qinling Mountains, is available to pre-order from Valley Press, and is represented to the trade by Inpress.

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Top Publishing Lessons Life has Taught Me

Posted on May 24, 2017 by Sophie O'Neill

From a talk I gave at the brilliant Writing on the Wall Festival in Liverpool last weekend. 

1. You can judge a book by its cover
That’s what book jackets are there for. Readers need signposts, the visual signpost of a jacket is the most immediate hook you have to engage with a potential buyer. Publishers who ignore this essential part of their book production do so at their peril.
2. Sales is not a dirty word
If you are putting all that effort into writing or editing or designing something to the best of your ability it has value and should be shared with people!
Publishing is a commercial art form, if you hope to publish more you need to sell the books you have.
The best independent publishers manage to bridge the gap between integrity and breaking even.
3. Metadata rules
Not the most glamorous of subject matters, but definitely the most important. Statistics show that the more detail and visuals you attach to ISBNs, the better the sales. Get the metadata right initially and the sales and publicity will follow.
4. You don't need to invest all your cash in stock
Digital printing, short run printing and print on demand have transformed publishing. The old days of having to pay upfront for a print run with no idea of how many books might actually sell are over. Independent publishers are capitalising on this, these days a new publisher doesn’t even need to print a single stock copy, they can just print to demand. (Although some stock does help Inpress!)
5. You can be a global sales and distribution network from the minute your book is published
Companies like Ingram Lightning Source can be your worldwide distribution network. Share your book files with them, and their network of printers will ensure your title is orderable through online and bricks and mortar retailers worldwide.
6. Writers, no matter how obscure your potential bestseller, there is a publisher out there for you

The PA, Publishers Association, the biggest body representing publishers, who lobby government and put on major conferences has approximately 1200 members.
The IPG Independent Publishers Guild has approximately 600+ members
Inpress has 45 members
And there is a huge amount more out there, Inpress is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to smaller independent publishers
You can look them up – the Writers and Artists Yearbook 2017 with over 4,000 entries of who to contact where across marketing and the media
Mslexia publish list of literary independent publishers which includes 250 small indie presses and 200 literary magazines.

I have no idea how many publishers there are out there, but will find out and update this blog!

7. People won’t buy books if they've never heard of them
One of the perks of big commercial publishers is that they have departments dedicated to sales, marketing, publicity, online communities. That doesn’t mean small indie publishers can’t achieve as good results as the big ones, they have the advantage of knowing their market intimately. Poetry publishers have nurtured their communities way before the advent of social media.
8. There are more people writing poetry than buying it
This point is based on no empirical evidence, just a feeling….
I had no idea until I started at Inpress how many small indie publishers there were. I had no idea how many poetry publishers there were out there producing not only books but pamphlets and chap books. And I certainly had no idea how many people out there are writing poetry!
9. Don't let your mum phone your managing director
Or, don’t go on a work trip to the Middle East a few days before the US invades Afghanistan. Staff insurance policies were discussed, I’m reliably informed.
10. Print or Ebooks, they all have a place in the modern publishing eco-system
Yes, ebook sales are declining, but that is just all the many formats finding their place in the market. I like reading physical books in the main, but I do enjoy a Georgette Heyer on my phone, so many people I know now love audiobooks, it’s an ever changing confusion of delights.
11. Biggest is not necessarily best
What are smaller independent publishers doing?
Shaking things up
Publishing from passion
Being commercial with integrity
Being supported by ACE
Not being supported by ACE
Working together
Working alone
Working online
Publishing print only
Publishing digital only
Publishing hand-stitched-letterpress-printed-only
Doing what they want

I am constantly amazed at the ingenuity, agility and doggedness of independent publishers and publishing. I’ve said it before elsewhere, so apologies for repetition, but what they lack in resource they make up in resourcefulness. Long live the independent publisher!

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Peter Mortimer On... Creative Writing

Posted on March 06, 2017 by Rebecca Robinson


 

If you work at home you’ll be used to those regular doorstep callers who flip open a suitcase full of gardening gloves, dishcloths, feather dusters and chamois leathers while showing you a document explaining how they’ve been a bad lad but are now trying to make a new life.

I always buy something even if a couple of dischcloths can run out a fiver.  From the last caller I bought a special dog brush for seven quid. All I need now is a dog.

What follows has nothing to do with those guys except a new breed of caller has started ringing the doorbell – or at least my doorbell. These unfortunates are seeking sanctuary from a cruel and pitliless system that has thrown them on the scrapheap of life. They are not asylum seekers, redundant bank clerks from HSBC, or train guards laid off by Southern Rail.

No, these are individuals who often have invested their entire life savings in what they thought would be an education and a qualification which would open for them many doors.  Now they find all doors firmly shut and getting shutter by the month.

Imagine if this happened to doctors, engineers, or brain surgeons or other qualified folk whose education almost guarantees a life of full employment.

I give you, ladies and gentleman, one of the great tragedies of the early 21st century;

The creative writing graduate. Their numbers are increasing as are their fees. They will usually pay many thousands of pounds to be led into the world of the literati, to sit at the feet of great poets novelists and playwrights who will reveal to them the secrets of creative success. Or such is the theory.

Look carefully and you can spot them throughout the country. They can be seen, pathetically waving in the air their certificate to prove they have successfully completed the course. They make tracks to first one editor then another, they knock at the door of this publisher, then that publisher. They offer up their great works, their novels, their full-length plays, their epic poems. And to what response? None.

For as the number of these writing students has grown (no self-respecting university or college is now without its own creative writing course), so the world of publishing has shrunk – and alarmingly. Fewer books, fewer magazines, fewer newspapers, more online tosh. The last thing the few remaining publishers dream of is a whole new army of literary aspirants beating a path to their door. Many publishers don’t even answer.

A quick check of publisher details reveals many now advertise no postal address nor even a email submissions  address. Many will accept submissions from agents only (and ask any aspirant author about the chances of landing an agent). Some small publishers just bring out work from their chums.

As ever, a lot of the writers struggling for publication aren’t much good. But authors bearing creative writing degrees tend to think they are.

Good or bad, once outside the shelter of academia, these aspirants shiver from the cold reality of the writing world. As an editor, my heart obviously bleeds for them, though in this very act of bleeding I glance anxiously up the road to check if any more are heading my way.

Graduates of the creative writing degree have become the new deserving poor, people who dreamed of freeing themselves from the shackles of wage slavery only to discover they brave new world they fought so hard to enter has no interest in them.

What are they to do? Drag themselves back to wage slavery? Throw themselves off a very high stack of books?

 If these unfortunates seek any consolation it must be that they have at least helped secure paid employment for a small army of people who previously found themselves in a similar position to the current wretches  –  I speak of course of that growing band of author academics running the mushrooming creative writing courses. They seem to be doing alright.

 

Peter Mortimer is the founder / editor of IRON Press.

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OUTCOME: New from Arachne Press

Posted on September 16, 2016 by Rebecca Robinson

a guest blog post by Cherry Potts

I’m standing in a photographer’s studio juggling a slightly too big pile of books and a picture of myself aged about seven. I’ve been here a while. The books have been splayed into a fan across my chest, piled on my head, held out earnestly like Oliver Twist asking for more, currently they are in the crook of my arm and I am asking Tom who else will be in his Outcome project. He is reeling off celebrities, mostly male, mostly white; and actually mostly young(ish), I am thinking who else I know who would meet his criteria. Mostly writers, that would make for a not terribly entertaining collection of pictures, given we are supposed to be embodying our professions or hobbies. So, why, the childhood photograph?

 

Outcome is Tom Dingley’s brain child, and at this point is entirely based online. His brilliantly simple idea is to take pictures of LGBT people with pictures of themselves as children to show how far they’ve come. The project is aimed at young people questioning their sexuality and the purpose is to show that they is, very emphatically, life after coming out.

 

What about physical exhibitions? I ask. We talk about galleries, and somewhere in the back of my mind, while Tom tries to get me to look like I enjoy having my photograph taken an idea forms, to be swiftly dismissed. What about a book?

 

Arachne is a very small outfit – basically me, and a couple of friends I call on for proofing and to help at events, and my long-suffering wife Alix, who does front of house when I don’t feel up to it, and reads in for shy authors. We’ve only ever published text based books, but I spend a lot of time thinking about cover designs, and we have had an art exhibition… no we can’t; we can’t afford the outlay for full colour – it’s too high a risk.

 

I talk to our printer. He doesn’t do colour. That settles it. But then, he knows someone who could… the samples are awful. No we aren’t doing it. I talk paper stock with a number of other printers. They obviously think I’m mad, and a couple of quotes send me reeling in shock.

 

I talk to some more printers, I hold paper stock over pictures and discard sample after sample. Can we really afford this?

 

But then, it’s no good, I email Tom.

 

We talk to an art college about exhibition space, for the launch they can’t help, but we suddenly realise we might not have to pay for exhibition space- not everywhere at least, and that the show should go on the road.

 

So, if we do this book, I say to Tom, as we wait for the bus, wondering where in the UK to take the exhibition, we need lots more pictures and we have to sort out the gender imbalance, and the race imbalance, and the age imbalance, and where are the transpeople?

 

We’ll have to crowdfund, I say, as the 68 pulls up Are you up for helping? We’ve done a crowdfund before, twice. The first time we didn’t get the money, the second time we did, just. So I’m used to the process. I MAKE Tom speak on camera, he hates it. We set up the crowd fund. Money starts coming in. A LOT of money starts coming in – Do you think this guy hit an extra zero by accident? We email each other at 6 one morning, but no, we have our target in a matter of days. Do I think this book might sell? Do I!

 

We raise more than twice what we need, and start talking about the travelling exhibition. Tom hits the targets I gave him for numbers of photos, and we spend hours poring over little prints on my table, working out who goes in and who doesn’t, and the order of the pictures. HOURS!

 

We go to look at the gallery at University of Greenwich, and they remember Tom who did his degree there. It becomes clear they are very keen to have the launch at the gallery. We have lots of meetings, while I stave off the worst throat infection I’ve had for years, and try to say as little as possible. We agree an astonishingly detailed and exciting programme of events. Now we just need those books.

 

Steep Learning Curve – a phrase that was invented with me in mind. I know how to typeset a book, of course I do… but a photographic book? I’m back to first principles: different page layouts, no page numbers, working out the bleed actually matters! Some of the pictures don’t readily fit the format, to my horror stray elements repeat themselves on the opposite page, people’s fingertips go missing, and emails are sent saying strange things like – does the original file have more leg?

 

It takes several goes to get it right, and the printers do me a sample on the paper I’ve asked for, which looks – alright. I chase Tom for files of higher Resolution, and then we finally send the files – and no, it still isn’t right when we get the proofs. Kind printer talks me through what is going wrong and I resend the files trembling with anxiety. We are now a week behind schedule.

 

Alix and I go on holiday. I need that holiday! The books are due for delivery the week of our return. Then, a phone call. How many did I need right away? Because there is a stray intermittent fault – a mark on random pages, and they are doing a 100% check, but can only guarantee to deliver a proportion by the due date. We are now going to be two weeks behind schedule, possibly 3, and the launch has to be when we’ve planned it:, the University are sorted, rooms are booked, lighting effects agreed, miles of rainbow ribbon purchased… and anyway, it coincides with International Coming Out Day.

 

The advance copies for reviewers and crowd funders and the launch arrive and … It’s gorgeous. I hardly dared hope they would look this good.

 

Will the bulk arrive at the distributors in time? Will the distributors get them out to Waterstones in Greenwich who are stocking for the duration of the exhibition?

 

We’ll have to wait and see!

 

OUTCOME: LGBT portraits by Tom Dingley is published by Arachne Press.

 

The exhibition is at The Heritage Gallery, University of Greenwich, Old Naval College, Park Row, SE10 9LS 10-14th October 10am-5pm except Monday 10th 10am-4pm http://alumni.gre.ac.uk/outcome/

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