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IRON Press Editor Peter Mortimer Takes a Look in the Mirror.

Posted on November 13, 2015 by Rebecca Robinson


Having been a small press editor for more than forty years, I find myself reclining on the 1950s Dan Dare chaise longue, musing on the peculiarities of the calling.

Let us examine the ten immediate advantages and drawbacks.

1) No salary. An individual is strangely freed from those usual pressures as to whether to build a house extension or take a three month holiday swanning around Mesopotoamia, even if such a place still existed. Having no salary also means you are not anxiously waiting for that pay cheque to go into the bank. There isn’t one. A cheque that is, not a bank. Alas, there are still many of the latter.

2) Loathing or sycophancy. Here lie the two extremes of the reactions from those few members of the public who do not treat you with a highly active indifference. There are certain authors who regard me with such contempt for not having published their life’s work (or even a haiku) that should I walk into the same room as they occupy, they are attacked by a severe case of projectile vomiting. Others believe sycophancy is the way and indulge in grovelling obsequiousness. This feeds my ego but does little to increase their chances of being published. Despite being given to the usual human flaws and limitations, one of my few proud claims in those 42 years is that no writer has been published by IRON Press unless thus merited by the quality of their work.

Most good writers, I should stress, occupy neither of the above two polarities.

3) On the Job. Often I envy those people who come home from a regular job and shut the door against the world. No, no, that’s not true at all. Let’s say I am curious about such a species. My own world of work seeps into every pore of my world of leisure, so that now I have no idea what is the difference between the two. IRON Press and the world of writing long since occupied every corner of this house. 2am phone calls from authors on the brink of suicide are not unknown. Usually I can persuade them out of it, especially if I’m still waiting for their completed manuscript.

4) Annual holidays. I heard someone mention these two words the other day. Any idea what they mean?

6) Despair. A regular visitor. You spend a year working on an author’s poems or stories, both parties nurturing them towards readiness. A further three months is occupied liaising with the book and cover designer, Finally the book goes to the printers and emerges blinking into the light – always a small miracle of a moment. Three months later sales total four, and you reach for the bottle of pills. Luckily you don’t have any pills so you go for a consolation pint instead.

7) Injustice. This is ubiquitous and mainly to be ignored when working as a small press editor. If there were even the slightest sense of justice, no-one would be publicising those ghost-written tedious autobiographies of minor untalented celebs snapped up by the chat shows at the expense of the neglected works of genius from your own imprint. Nor would they be promoting in the broadsheets those obscure unreadable tomes reviewed by the authors’ literary chums gravitating in the same small circle of the London literati. It was ever thus, so just get on with your own efforts. What do you want – a knighthood? Exactly!

8) Kindle books. Basically, they’re crap. They leave most real publishers cold and people are getting fed up already.

9) Authors. You don’t get to meet all of the ones you publish, but quite a few. Is there any more maddening, colourful, self-centered, brilliant, paranoid, funny, impractical,

imaginative, insecure, driven, impossible species on the planet? Some become good friends. Even lovers. Imagine your life without them. Exactly!

10) Moving house. Given the extent to which your small publishing activities have taken total possession of your house, this is clearly impossible. Thus you are freed from all the nonsense of property ladders or worrying about the value of your home.

Ten points to consider then. Fancy the job of small press editor? Fine. There’s no entry qualification, no interview, no career ladder, no organised structure. You just wake one morning and decide to do it. Good luck!

Peter Mortimer - Editor, IRON Press

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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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