In this month’s Wrapped Up In Books, Getintothis’ Cath Bore explores storytelling in all its glorious forms.
I grew up in a village in Lancashire. My factory worker father came home from his night shift each morning just as we were getting ready for school. He would have a bath, eat some food, then settle down with a cuppa tea and a book for a short while before going to bed.
The book was inevitably a thick hardback from the library, Alistair MacLean and Nevil Shute novels, epic adventure and war stories with sturdy romances knitted in for reassurance, and aimed double barrels blazing at a solid male market. They had gun metal grey tanks on the cover, or a frost bitten man climbing up the side of a mountain with an ice pick, a grim expression and stubbly chin.
Each day my father would sit and read a single chapter of the book, without fail.
Me, who at school then college read all the high falutin’ books, the classics, To Kill a Mockingbird, Little Women, Schindler’s Ark, and the war poets, silently mocked my father’s daily read. I wouldn’t dare say anything out loud, but they’re just stories, I thought. No depth or social message. They are not art! What on earth is the point of reading that trash?
My mother read Catherine Cookson books avidly, she scoffed once that ‘they’re all the same really’ but when the next one came out she’d be asking the librarian for it and would sit there until the thing was read from cover to cover.
We have an addiction to stories, all of us.
But there are, I think, different levels of respectability in storytelling. My teenage self picked up on that and ran with it. Some stories, how they are consumed and who they are consumed by, are seen as having different levels of worth.
Stories that cost the consumer nothing or not much and are easily accessed have less value, I think. If they can’t be bought or sold, bought in a proper bookshop or via Netflix n chill, they are worthless, sneered at. It’s a class thing.
An independent bookshop’s shelves stacked with Man Booker prize winners has a moral superiority over paperback from WH Smiths, as we heard this week.
While it may not be the coolest shop on the High Street, research suggests that WH Smith, and not Waterstone's, is the place where most working-class people buy books. If we care at all about promoting literacy, we should at least be aware of this.
— Joanne Harris (@Joannechocolat) May 28, 2018
So what about stories not mentioned in polite company? The soap operas, the 30 minute escape from real life after teatime, an earworm song on the radio, the one with the cheesy ending. Work gossip; words earwigged at the till in Asda, snatched over the garden wall or at the bus stop. Celebrity magazines at the hairdressers, celebs you’ve never heard of but once you read that actor-Premiership footballer marriage is over you wanna know absolutely bloody everything. Reality television, ‘you ok hun?’ posts on Facebook, threads going on forever on Twitter.
And glorious commercial fiction, the book you read a handful of pages from, and dive right back in the next day it’s like you’ve never been away.
We source stories from all over the place, highbrow and lowbrow tales, and we make up our own. Sometimes we don’t even think of them as stories, because of where they come from. But that’s what they are anyway.
In this month’s column we look at many different types of stories.
Boy Azooga frontman Davey Newington reveals how his favourite books influence his songwriting. Online and television book clubs bring both new authors and classics to massive audiences, so we have a look at what’s out there this summer.
National Flash Fiction Day is in a couple of weeks, so we find out how writers have embraced flash fiction and made it their own. We pay tribute to Frightened Rabbit‘s Scott Hutchison and enjoy illustrations he drew last year to enhance Oyster, a wonderful book of poetry by Michael Pedersen,
We also speak to the organisers behind Feminist Book Fortnight, taking place later this month, about the lack of diversity in publishing and share examples from new exhibition of book art inspired by Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.
- Book clubs with a difference
The traditional book club, where people meet up in each other’s homes or at a cafe over coffee or a cheeky glass of wine for book chat is still going strong. Book lovers gathering together and debating over a quality read can’t be bettered. But with life being how it is, busy-busy, lots are turning to virtual or online clubs and interacting in a different way.
Richard and Judy’s book club attached to their telly show in 2004 set off the trend, followed by the likes of Simon Mayo on his Radio 2 show. Mayo’s own book club is no more but the good news is, he is shortly to launch a new podcast called Simon Mayo’s Books of the Year.
Announcing the news on Twitter, Mayo said he is “keen to keep (his) association with new authors and wonderful books”.
Musician Florence Welch and actor Reece Witherspoon both have book clubs on Instagram, Between Two Books (100k followers) and Hello Sunshine (502k followers) respectively.
Zoe Ball has book club starting as part of her new television programme. It starts on 18 June on ITV1 on Sunday mornings and will run for 10 weeks. The list of books selected features an impressive six debut novels.
The Violette Book Club in Liverpool has been running since the beginning of the year. Interaction is on Twitter, and books dissected online so far have been The Grass Arena by John Healy, Memento Mori by Muriel Spark, The Good Times by James Kelman.
The current read is Buddha Da by Anne Donovan.
‘It’s just to encourage people to read more – ie myself. Selfish really,’ says PJ Smith, who started the group. ‘Our followers just chip in as the month goes by.’
How do you choose the books each month?
‘We are open to suggestions for new books. New book picked on the 15th of every month. Loads of people are really engaging with it.’
Why did you select Buddha Da, your current pick?
‘We try to alternate between male/female authors each month. This one had been recommended a while ago. The reviews grabbed me. It’s going down well so far!’
The Violette Book Club can be found here. It also has a weekly recommended poem, revealed on Sundays. Each featured book is announced on 15th of each month.
- Feminist Book Fortnight
The combined effort of a group of UK independent bookshops, Feminist Book Fortnight celebrates the 100th anniversary of UK women getting the vote, and aims to highlight inequality in the book world. The Fortnight is the brainchild of Five Leaves Bookshop in Nottingham, earlier this month crowned British Book Awards Independent Bookshop of the Year.
We spoke to Jane Anger from Five Leaves and Cherry Potts from indie publisher Arachne Press about the lack of diversity in publishing.
There’s an oft repeated theory that the publishing industry is dominated and run by women, when in truth the facts speak very differently. Inequality and imbalance of opportunity is depressingly widespread.
Jane tells us, ‘(The)lack of diversity in publishing is endemic’ and provides the evidence:
Nothing like a count of #OUP catalogue to let you know casual sexism & racism is alive and kicking in academic publishing! Leading academic publisher in uk? We’ll just leave the numbers here…
105 (white) men
26 (white) women
6 writers of colour pic.twitter.com/XUvMe7rCUo
— Lighthouse Bookshop (@Lighthousebks) May 4, 2018
Cherry Potts agrees. ‘Who gets reviewed? Who gets long/short listed or wins prizes? And who (to some extent as a consequence) gets stocked by bookshops? Mostly with honourable exceptions (but it always seems to be the same exceptions) men,’ she says.
‘Indie bookshops are more open to exploring but are taking a bigger risk when they have limited shelf space. If they stock ‘unknowns’ – and if your book doesn’t get reviewed, (because proportionately more reviewers are men and they review mainly men) you aren’t on their radar.’
Setting up Feminist Book Fortnight was, says Jane, a response to a resurgence of interest from customers of all ages in feminist writing.
‘(but) critically we also felt that we were facing some of the same issues as in the 80s: lack of diversity of all kinds in children’s books, lack of publishing of women’s books (the VIDA stats bear this out and they also highlight the biases in reviewing – men’s books get reviewed more; women writers reported that they are more likely to get published if they have a male protagonist and so on). So, we chuntered to ourselves, why was there less feminist publishing than in the 80s despite, in technical terms, in never being easier to publish a book?’
Five Leaves set the idea up, built a website and Facebook page, but each shop that signs up to the Fortnight organises their own events. The aim is to connect audiences
‘We are finding in the shop, like everywhere, that young people, and particularly young feminists, are very active themselves (and recent political events and the protests against sexual harassment for example highlighted issues). Young feminists are writing but they are also rediscovering some of the classic feminist writers (eg Audre Lorde, recently republished by Silver Press).
In addition, there is a widespread debate on social media about diversity in terms of who does or doesn’t get published, and reviewed, whether that is women, BAME writers, writers from the North or working class writers. We wanted to provide a bookshop based forum in which to continue the diversity debate and to intervene in that debate. We also wanted to generate that intervention from outside a London base. Basically, we want to keep the pressure on publishers to publish more diversely.’
We ask Cherry what the wider publishing industry can do to level the playing field.
‘Get rid of any thought of quotas unless they are substantial. There is anecdotal evidence for some publishers that they have a one in one out mentality about minorities so that if they publish a new lesbian writer, the old one gets quietly dropped (‘we already have a lesbian on our books’),’ she says.
‘Really the only way to get equal representation is to go for over the 50%, 20% or whatever we THINK the target is. Invite women only submission periods (as Galley Beggar did recently) and make sure you are speaking to a diverse audience. I am very well aware that we publish a very small number of black and ethnic minority writers – and I know it’s because I haven’t found the right place to talk to them yet – they don’t know we are here! I know where to find the lesbians and the disabled writers because they are my tribe. The publishing industry as a whole is all about ‘employ people from minorities and the writers will come.’ I’m not persuaded that means much, until minorities are in the decision making roles that’s going to have a limited impact.’
‘Rip up the playing field and start again,’ insists Jane, in response to the same question.
‘….the publishing industry needs to recruit from a far wider range of people. They need to look like the diverse communities we live in. With regard to women writers, go out and commission them. Regarding people of colour, go out and commission them. Regarding voices of working class writers, go out and commission them. Show us children’s books with people of colour in, with men and women doing all sorts of roles. Stop being lazy and buying in stuff from the States because it ticks a diversity box.’
Feminist Book Fortnight takes place 16 – 30 June.
Liverpool’s News From Nowhere on Bold St will be participating. They will be in conversation with poet, fiction writer, translator and activist Meena Kandasamy and author and poet Clare Shaw on 25 June, from 5pm till 8pm. The event is free.
- Scott Hutchison
Scott Hutchison was the founding member – and primary songwriter – of the indie rock band Frightened Rabbit.
Frightened Rabbit enjoyed international success, their songs marked out by Scott’s deeply personal lyrics which meant so much to so many people. He was also a freelance illustrator, studying illustration at the Glasgow School of Art.
Last year, Scott drew some moving, smutty, witty illustrations for his friend, the poet Michael Pedersen’s poetry collection, Oyster (published by Polygon).
It seemed a fitting tribute to Scott, who died last month, to remind ourselves of his considerable talent and enjoy once again some of the wonderful illustrations he drew for the book.
- National Flash Fiction Day 2018
“For Sale: baby shoes, never worn.”
This famous six word story is precise and very complete. It’s perfect, sets the scene and leaves us wondering what the hell’s happened – why haven’t the shoes been worn? – and urges us to think about what might happen next. This story kicks off an emotional reaction – in this case, sadness.
This tale is often attributed to Ernest Hemmingway, but no matter who penned it, in the 21st Century the story would be called flash fiction, albeit a very extreme version .
Flash, a form of very short story writing, goes by a myriad of names, and word length varies.
Descriptions like sudden fiction, micro fiction, one-page fiction, short-short stories, one page only, micro fiction, drabble (100 words exactly) and dribble (50 words) show the variety and flexibility of the form and how writers of flash have moulded and made the genre their own. It’s exciting and continually changing.
National Flash Fiction Day, an annual event to celebrate flash, takes place this year on 16 June.
Diane Simmons is a leading flash fiction writer in the UK; she took time out from writing to share her thoughts on the power of flash.
How do you define flash fiction?
‘Flash fiction is a story under 1000 words, but more usually under 500 or 300. Stories of around a 100 words are often labelled micro fiction. My view of flash is that it should have some movement in it that makes it a complete story.’
Why do you think flash fiction appeals to readers so much?
‘I think that social media has helped to make the form popular. There is a real buzz on Twitter for example with lots of new writers taking up writing flash and experimenting with it. There are also quite a few high profile flash completions now, with many of the big names introducing flash competitions in the last few years.
I think readers may also enjoy that they are often required to do some work when they read flash — that they have to fill in the gaps. It also works well at spoken word events. Listening to a 2000 word or longer story is a big ask of an audience, and short pieces in a variety of styles helps to keep everyone awake and interested.’
Why do you write flash fiction personally? As there are many other forms of writing that are much more lucrative!
‘I write flash because I think it’s what I’m best at and I find it fun to write. I am not a very experimental writer, but I find flash allows me to try out things I wouldn’t feel able to in a longer story.
The online flash community is also very supportive and I have made many virtual friends who have become friends in real life. National Flash Fiction Day and also the Flash Fiction Festivals run by BFFA (Bath Flash Fiction Award) help to connect us all.’
National Flash Fiction Day takes place on 16 June 2018, with an annual anthology published to coincide; this year’s theme is food. Events are happening all over the UK, such as readings, writing competitions, workshops and flash walks. More details here.
The Flash Fiction Festival 2018 in Bristol is 20 – 22 July.
- What’s on
Liverpool’s Reading Trees in Liverpool ONE close for business this weekend for another year, but there’s plenty more literary, reading and writing events to look forward to over the coming month and beyond.
Liverpool Book Art – Frankenstein, Central Library
To mark 200 years since the first publication of Mary Shelley’s classic novel there is an exhibition of Frankenstein book art on display at Liverpool Central Library.
An important book for a myriad of reasons, it’s the first published novel within the science fiction genre.
It is also a core text of Gothic literature, with Dracula not being published until nearly 80 years later. Its themes of ambition and hubris, ethics and morality, responsibility for the consequence of one’s actions, free will and empathy have been important since the book was first published.
The book art exhibition has sculptures, hand made books and observations and interpretations on what it means to be human. It features work by Michelle Holland, Pauline Lamont-Fisher, Sue McLaren, Tim Shore, and Alison Stockmarr.
Liverpool Book Art: Frankenstein is at The Hornby Room, Liverpool Central Library Until mid-August. It transfers to Knowsley’s Kirkby Gallery from 17 September until 26 January 2019. New works will be created for the Kirkby Gallery show.
2 June – 404 Ink on the Nasty Woman phenomenon: Edge Hill University (part of the Festival of Ideas)
Laura Jones and Heather McDaid – better known as indie publisher 404 Ink –last year published Nasty Women, a collection of essays, interviews and accounts on what it is to be a woman in the 21st century. The collection covers class, race, immigration, Brexit, pregnancy, identity, family, finding a voice online, and role models.
This event also features two of the anthology’s contributors, Joelle A. Owusu and Laura Waddell, and is chaired by short fiction writer Claire Dean.
5 June – Marian Keyes Talking Books, Talking Life, Just Talking: Epstein Theatre.
Best selling author Marian celebrates the publication of The Break in paperback. She’ll be talking The Break, Strictly, her writing, her Ailment of the Month, shoes, reading lists, fillums, inspirational celebs, make-up, Sudden Wild Enthusiasms and everything in between.
9 June – Here We Are: UK Chinese Writer’s Network (Bi’an) – Writing Workshops and Discussion: Liverpool Everyman
A new writing event organised by Bi’an, the UK Chinese Writers’ Network. Join novelists PP Wong, the first British-born Chinese novelist to get a publishing deal in the UK, and Susan Barker author of Sayonara Bar (2005) and The Orientalist and the Ghost (2008) for discussion, practical writing workshops and networking.
19 – 21 October Liverpool Literature Festival
The University of Liverpool’s literary festival this year welcomes Sir Tony Robinson, Val McDermid, Frank Cottrell Boyce, Colm Tóibín, James Naughtie, Claire Tomalin and Fiona Sampson.
Bookworm of the Month
- Davey Newington, musician.
Davey, your new album carries a song called Hangover Square, inspired I understand by the 1941 novel of the same name by Patrick Hamilton. Can you say how the song came about, and what role the novel played in writing and recording it?
‘When I moved out of my folks home my dad gave me that book. My dad’s got quite dark taste, a Hitchcock obsessive. Growing up, those films and the music the (Bernard) Herrmann stuff was always on in the house. My dad found out about the book because Herrmann did the music for the film.
I tried make the songs (on the album)…some of the harmonies in the strings are inspired by Hermann stuff although I can’t write to that level. The mood was inspired by that. I haven’t read a lot of books in my life but the ones I have, left a big impression.
It’s one of those things, I’m sure you’ve had it many times where you read something, it could be a record or a film but it totally encapsulates that moment in your life. I was going out drinking a bit too much and I wasn’t really sure what to do with my life. There’s something about that book…I love that book….just the whole him having dead moods. It’s beautiful and dark at the same time. He’s in this weird other state of his brain. I love the way it’s written, reading it I can totally see that world in my head.
(Hangover Square) is one of the easiest songs I’ve ever written. It flowed quite easily. Some of the songs took 2 or 3 years or longer to actually find the lyric. But this came really quickly. It lended itself to it.’
What’s your favourite book?
‘I’m a massive Calvin and Hobbes fan. It’s obviously not as a serious a read but all of the Calvin and Hobbes collection…I think I’ve got pretty much every book. I love The Days Are Just Packed. But Hangover Square – yeah, I think Hangover Square is my favourite book.
A poem for this harsh weather by myself age 5 pic.twitter.com/2dpuewSf2W
— Boy Azooga (@boy_azooga) March 17, 2018
We’ve been enjoying this poem of yours. It is is actually a perfect short story, with a strong narrative – and a beginning, middle and end.
‘I was going through a bunch of stuff at my parent’s house and I found that and I found it so funny. I think when you’re that age you have no inhibition at all. I wish I was as carefree now!’
What book are you reading at the moment?
‘Demian (The Story of Emil Sinclair’s Youth is a Bildungsroman) by Hermann Hesse, another one of my dad’s. I’ve almost finished that, I’m loving that. I think when I was younger I had more capacity for attention but now there’s so much going on but I can’t seem to slow my brain down and read.
Damien’s got a same kind of mood to Hangover Square really, pretty dark and again I can see the world as I’m reading it.
My dad told me he was working in a music shop in Southampton and this guy came into the shop my dad said he looked pretty psychedelic he had long hair and looked a bit other worldy or whatever, and he just went up to my dad and was like, you need to read this book and handed him a copy and left the shop! My dad said it changed his perception on a bunch of stuff.’
Davey Newington is Boy Azooga’s singer and songwriter. They play Liverpool Shipping Forecast on Thurs 7 June. Their debut album 1, 2, Kung Fu is released the following day through Heavenly Recordings.