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On Writing The Green Table, by Tricia Durdey

Posted on October 14, 2015 by Rebecca Robinson

As Booker winner Marlon James reveals his novel A Brief History of Seven Killings was rejected 87 times before finally being published, Cinnamon Press author Tricia Durdey writes for us about the journey that finally saw her book, The Green Table, take shape.

I was a young dance student when I first heard of the choreographer, Kurt Jooss, and saw his iconic ballet, The Green Table. It was a pirated video copy in poor quality black and white, but even so I was struck by the extraordinary opening scene. Twelve Gentlemen in Black sit around a conference table. Are they diplomats, politicians, bureaucrats? The opening piano chords sound, and they gesticulate, preen, bow, shake fists – the tension mounts, and then they back off again, circling round each other in a predatory fashion, until finally they draw pistols, gun shots sound, and the figure of Death appears. It’s a classic work of German Expressionism, and won a prestigious choreography prize in 1932. Then in 1933, Hitler came to power, and demanded the Jewish company composer, Fritz Cohen, was dismissed. Jooss refused, and the company had to flee Germany overnight.

A few years later I moved to Amsterdam to continue my dance training. On my many walks through the city I was aware of a long shadow of Nazi occupation, even though it was by then the early 80s. One day I will write a novel set here, I decided. And so the seeds of The Green Table were sown.

Almost thirty years later I attended an Arvon Course at Lumb Bank – writing fiction for young adults – led by Celia Rees and the late Jan Mark. It was there that I first met Jan Fortune, who had not yet launched Cinnamon Press. Our task that week was to begin a new piece of work. I remember sitting in a writing hut in the garden, overlooking the steep wooded valley and talking to Celia about Amsterdam and the Nazi occupation, and how I wanted to write something about a young girl who was determined to dance. As I began to write, I remembered Hilde Holger, a Viennese Jewish dancer I trained with briefly in a basement in Camden Town. She was a very old lady, fiery and passionate, who had survived, and danced, despite the daily threat of being discovered by the Nazis. I heard her voice shouting at us as she banged her tamba, and the first scene wrote itself. On the final night I read out the first pages of The Green Table to the rest of the group.

I loved the period of intense research that followed – Dutch history, dance history, a visit to the Resistance Museum and Theatre Museum, translation of Dutch newspapers, and discoveries about the moral struggles of Dutch medics during the occupation. Slowly the characters emerged, and a narrative took shape.

The Green Table as a book for teenagers never quite made it. Two agents tried to sell it – including the wonderful Pam Royds, children’s fiction editor with Andre Deutsch for many years, who persuaded me to redraft a version with a stronger heroine, and call it Dance for Your Life – which I wasn’t keen on. At least two editors were enthusiastic, and one accepted it, but it was turned down by the marketing departments. It was never going to make big money. So in the end I abandoned it for three years and went off to do an MA.

But I could never quite let go. I had the notion that if I were to redraft it as novel for adults there would be scope to go into greater depth with the material. At this point I reconnected with Jan Fortune when she published one of my short stories. She’d loved the opening pages of The Green Table, heard all those years earlier at Lumb Bank, and I was delighted when she agreed to mentor me, and subsequently agreed to publish the re-worked version in 2015. What I hadn’t bargained for was the immense struggle involved, how much material from the original I had to eliminate, and how often the early work hindered the development and deepening of my characters. It came together, finally, when I spent a week alone last August, house and cat-sitting for Jan in Wales – something like solving an intricate puzzle, I could at last see the form, the shape of it.

Writing The Green Table has been a fulfilling and absorbing task, and has given me much joy. The act of writing, though personal, seems at times to reach far beyond the personal. It feels then like soul work. I have loved the journey, and am immensely grateful to Jan for believing in my work from the start.

To learn more about Tricia's work you can visit her website.
You can buy The Green Table here.

 

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Coffee to Cinnamon: Ten Years of Cinnamon Press

Posted on September 24, 2015 by Yen-Yen Lu

In celebration of the tenth anniversary of Cinnamon Press, Jan Fortune discusses the roots of Cinnamon, obstacles and achievements from the past ten years, and what we can expect from Cinnamon in the future. She also talks about the writing courses run by Cinnamon and some exciting pop-up events taking place in October to celebrate Cinnamon’s anniversary.

Ten years ago, Cinnamon Press began with a small magazine, Coffee House Poetry, with under a hundred subscribers. Since then we’ve published over 250 titles, worked with over 500 authors in some 20 countries and our books have been nominated for and won major awards, including Wales Book of the Year, The Forward Prize for best first collection and the Scottish Arts Council Best First Book of the Year. From the outset, Cinnamon set out to be an innovative publisher, publishing fiction, poetry and selective non-fiction books that have something to say and that don’t fit more mainstream houses. The books cover a wide range of poetry and prose styles, but always have a distinctive and compelling voice, whether it’s the award winning poetry of T S Eliot-prize winner, Philip Gross or the lyrical, mesmeric prose of Adam Craig’s extraordinary novel, Vitus Dreams. Our list includes books from Wales, Scotland and England and also titles from Ireland, South Africa, New Zealand, America, France, Italy, China and many other places.

In addition to publishing around 25 titles a year, plus pamphlets and our new Liquorice Fish Books imprint, which features inventive and experimental writing, we also have a popular series of writing competitions and courses, plus a successful mentoring scheme. In short, we’re a small, family-run independent press with a love of inventive writing and a passion for literary activism.

Getting to the milestone of ten years feels like a huge achievement. There have been several periods when we didn’t think we’d make it this far. In 2012 we found ourselves without any grant funding and only survived a rough six months due to the generosity and ingenuity of our supporters and authors. Two authors set up ‘Cinnamon Friends’ as a way of raising some income; others gave donations or offered time to edit or help with mentoring; others helped us to redesign our competitions. This year we had a major attack on the website with hacking that made the site unfeasible to retain, but once again we were rescued – this time by the generosity and talent of web designer, Sarah Willans, who runs ZipFish. Life remains precarious – getting books into the world is always a challenge for independent presses, but we’re thrilled to be able to say, after ten years ‘We’re still here’ and we have lots of exciting plans for the next decade.

The books published in our tenth anniversary year represent the best crop we’ve ever had. They are a diverse range, but what unites them are authors with distinctive voices who are willing to take risks with their writing. Adam Craig’s Vitus Dreams is a novel, but also uses poetry techniques – highly lyrical, often concrete; it’s both narrative and experiment and stands out for being inventive. Ian Gregson’s novel, The Crocodile Princess, is full of wit and fresh thinking – a slightly alternative world in which Peter Cook suffers of crisis of comedy and becomes a diplomat in Cambodia during the Cold War; with brilliant effect. Meet Me There is a distillation of some of the best writing from Cinnamon Press on the theme of place – ten authors showcasing their writing, discussing literary process and offering suggestions for writers wanting to develop their craft; a real insight into how writing works. Vanessa Gebbie’s Ed’s Wife [and other creatures] uses extraordinary micro-fictions combined with gorgeous illustrations from Lynn Roberts to explore the many facets of a relationship, sometimes surreal, always captivating. Laura Seymour’s The Shark Cage won our poetry collection competition with a series of poems that constantly surprise; the language is supple, the images are startling, there is humour and darkness, mischief and light. And these are just five of the offerings from this year’s celebratory list.

Our relationship with authors is really important to us and the courses and mentoring scheme help us to develop relationships with emerging writers or more experienced writers doing something new. We live in a fast world, but writing takes time and taking time out from busy lives to nurture the writing with a course or giving serious attention to a writing project over a whole year with supportive feedback and development can make all the difference. And the publication rate of our mentored students is over 70%.

For the future our stress will remain on inventive writing from authors who find fresh ways to communicate. We have some exciting new projects including Liquorice Fish’s first novella set in Beirut, Omar Sabbagh’s Via Negativa and a several compelling novels for 2016. We are also putting a lot more energy into our design with wonderful new covers from Adam Craig.

Throughout this year we’ve had launches with an extra something and published books we’re more proud of than ever. We’ve also launched extra-special offers throughout the year so that we now have ten offers to celebrate ten years. You can catch up with us at this year’s Free Verse Book Fair in London at Conway Hall on September 26 and at events around the country in the autumn, but our big celebration will be the 10th anniversary pop-up weekend in Northampton, at the beautiful NN Gallery from October 2 – 4. All the weekend events are free, we will have lots of special offers and giveaways and the café will be open.

You can find out more about Cinnamon Press on our website:

http://www.cinnamonpress.com/

Take a look at our celebration special offers at:

http://www.cinnamonpress.com/index.php/about-cinnamon-press/special-offers-ten-year-anniversary-bonanza

You can also find details of our anniversary weekend and download the full programme here:

http://www.cinnamonpress.com/index.php/about-cinnamon-press/tenth-anniversary

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