sheenaghpugh: (Critics)
There's been a lot of debate recently in the literary world about whether women are under-represented in the field of reviewing, both in terms of reviewing books themselves and getting their work reviewed. And editor after editor, some of them female, have complained that "women don't put themselves forward". According to a writing friend of mine in a recent tweet, "she [editor] said "women don't contact her, but men send her lists of books they want to review, and why, and when".

This was all news to me, cos when I was reviewing, editors contacted reviewers, not the other way about. And I can't help feeling that though it may well make an editor's life easier to sit back and wait for reviewers to contact them, it's a bit of an abdication of responsibility. If I were an editor, and Joe Soap sent me a list of books he fancied reviewing, unless I knew him very well, alarm bells would ring; I would think, either these folk are his mates and he wants to puff them, or his enemies and he wants to shaft them, and neither is much use to the reader who just wants an unbiased opinion. I would also feel it was my job to decide what was reviewed and who reviewed it, and that he was being a trifle forward. If I liked his style, I would probably write back saying, none of these are available but you're welcome to review x, y and z if you like. If he refused that offer, I'd take it that I had been right about his having an agenda.

Editors are a kind of journalist, and as far as I know, journalists do not wait for news items to put themselves forward; they go out and look for them. If editors content themselves with those reviewers who put themselves forward (dear God, what an unBritish thing to do!) then we shall indeed hear from a narrow group of people. They may well be mainly male; they may also be disproportionately privately educated, because those schools, while in my view (and I'm speaking here as an ex-uni admissions tutor) offering no better an education than state schools, do tend to imbue their pupils with a self-confidence that sometimes amounts to an inflated sense of their own importance. If reviewers are mainly male, and choosing their own texts to review, then those texts too will be overwhelmingly male. I know this because more than one editor has noted a reluctance among male reviewers to assess women's writing - when I was reviewing for Poetry Review in the relatively happy days of Peter Forbes' editorship, I once asked him why he sent me so many women poets to review. He said he had to send women's books to women, because many of his male reviewers refused them. To his credit, he then sought out female reviewers who wouldn't say no; another editor, who was having trouble getting her regular reviewers to look at books from a certain part of the kingdom, simply jacked in the attempt. Me, I'd have concluded those reviewers came from too narrow an educational and geographical pool and that I needed to look elsewhere.

Editors have a hard and often thankless job, but I think it is part of that job to be proactive and independent. They, and no one else, should decide what is to be reviewed; if they go along with the suggestions of would-be reviewers they are opening the door to a great deal of intentional or unintentional nepotism, because many reviewers are also mentors of writing, and of course they think their own ex-pupils are the brightest and best; that's how teaching works. And there's nothing wrong with their promoting those whose talents they believe in as long as they do it in their own space; I use this blog to review and interview those I believe in and who might otherwise be overlooked. But part of what an editor is for is to counteract the influence of those with the loudest voices and widest connections and make sure quieter voices get heard as well.
sheenaghpugh: (Trollfjord in Norway)
I've been involved in a Facebook discussion about the naming and evoking of places in poems, and how the naming of places, while it can sometimes invite the reader in, can also sometimes exclude. At one point the poet and translator Peter Daniels, who's kindly given me permission to quote him, remarked 'There are poets that can evoke "my place" as a magic invitation to the reader (e.g. Yeats with Innisfree, Longley with Carrigskeewaun), and others (e.g. Brooke with Grantchester) that are too much of a private party - "you had to be there"'.

The more I think about it, the more I think it hinges on the fact that places, at least as far as people are concerned, exist in time and context. However much we may love a place for its landscape, its light, or anything else intrinsic, it will also, in our minds, be the place where we grew up, or fell in love, or were happy in our work. And while everyone's particular place-references will be different, the roles those places occupy in their history will be similar and can be evoked by a writer referring to a quite different place, provided he/she somehow finds the universal element that links them. As usual, example is easier. William Barnes has a poem called "The Wife a-Lost" (he wrote in Dorset dialect) in which a grieving widower spends all his time in a gloomy grove of beech, a place his wife disliked and never spent time in. The rationale is simple:
Below the beeches' bough, my love,
Where you did never come,
An' I don't look to meet ye there,
As I do look at hwome.
- he feels some easing of his grief in this grove because it's the one place where he does not expect to see her at every turn. Now this particular place-association is specific to the poem's narrator, but almost any reader could empathise with the basic idea, and substitute his own place for the beech-grove.
more behind cut )
sheenaghpugh: (Default)

I feel very iffy about reviewing this anthology, because I have some poems in it. But it seems to me to have a far more interesting organising principle than your average anthology of "poets under 30" or "women poets", who don't necessarily have a damn thing in common. This is an anthology of poets who came from, or live on, Scottish islands (not just visitors on holiday) and as the thoughtful intro makes clear, this liminality does give their writing traits in common. "The islander's sense of being removed from the heart of things relates, I think, to the writer's sense of being an observer as much as a participant". This is true, though it should not be taken to mean that island poets are unaware of what is going on at the heart of things, just that they can view it with a certain amount of detachment. Jim Mainland's scorching, careering satire "Prestidigitator", which I've blogged about before here, is as committed a modern political poem as you'll find:

Watch this, watch my hands, look in my eyes:
this is viral, this is fiending, this is Celebrity Smash Your Face In,
I'm spooling tissue from an ear, I'm sawing her in half, no, really,
I'm vanishing your dosh, I'm giving it makeover, giving it bonus,
palming it, see, nothing in the box, check out
your divorce hell text tease sex tape, whoops,

but the same writer, in "The Gunnister Man", is acutely conscious of the massive timeline, reaching back centuries, on which he is a point and which connects him to everyone else who has ever lived there. Those who live in small communities are more apt, I think, to have this sense of connectedness to the past; it appears in the poems by which George Mackay Brown and Sorley MacLean are represented here (MacLean's "Hallaig", in both the Gaelic original and the English translation, being a bright particular star).

It is in fact thought-provoking to consider the roll of famous names who fit this anthology's criteria: MacLean, Brown, Crichton Smith, Edwin Muir, MacDiarmuid, and in more contemporary times the recent T S Eliot winner Jen Hadfield. But there are many others less well known, like Jim Mainland, Laureen Johnson, William J ("Billy") Tait, Laurence Graham, who deserve to be more widely read than they are and who should come as a salty surprise to those who maybe picked up the anthology for other reasons but happen on something like James Andrew Sinclair's "Immigrant":

Fill my pockets with lochs
the wind will fit snug in my wallet.
I will weave a scarf of mackerel, haddock and trout
the good fit of sheep on my feet.
My jacket, knitted peat and heather
with a bottle of good humour for the journey.
Planks of fishing boat bound tight as a belt
the sails making dandy trousers.
My back-pack holds the entire ocean
and last but certainly not least
I will wear the sky beneath my hat.

These Islands, We Sing: An Anthology of Scottish Island Poetry is published by Polygon.
sheenaghpugh: (Default)
Christopher Meredith is a novelist and poet from Wales. Though he works mainly in English, one of his books for children is in Welsh and he also translates from Welsh into English. He is a professor of creative writing at the University of Glamorgan. His most recent collection of poems is The Meaning of Flight (Seren) and he has just completed a new novel, The Book of Idiots, which will be published in 2012. He is also involved with five artists in the project "Bog-Mawnog", responding to fire damage on a mountaintop in the Black Mountains in Powys. A booklet of Meredith's poems, Black Mountains, with images from the artists is being produced by Mulfran and there will also be an exhibition about the project in Brecknock Museum, 16th July to late September.

Toy Revolver

He loves its pointed symmetry
the lazy, opened hook of trigger
stock shaped to the palm
like a lover's hip,
opens it like unstoppering a flask
of magic that might spill.

He holds the chamber,
sectioned like fruit, close
to see each scoop and groove
each empty socket in the disc,
counts with a fingertip
six spaces for the dark seeds.

Interview and more poems behind cut )

Links to other poems and information

Breaking Wood - Christopher Meredith reading his own poem on YouTube.
What flight meant - a poem of Chris's featured on Jo Preston's writing blog.
Christopher Meredith's website
Seren, Christopher Meredith's publisher
Christopher Meredith's page on the Contemporary Writers website
A Woollen Line - the blog of Pip Woolf, who is involved with Meredith in the Bog-Mawnog project.
sheenaghpugh: (Default)

Review of Melog by Mihangel Morgan, translated by Christopher Meredith (Seren 2005)

Melog is a novel with a rich cast of characters, but the only two who really matter are Melog himself, an avatar of that perennial literary type, the Mysterious Stranger Who Changes Lives, and "Dr" Jones, the hapless protagonist whose life is changed. Dr Jones is a failed academic on the dole, devoting his middle years to somewhat nebulous study of the vast 19th-century tome, The Welsh Encyclopedia. At least, however, this is a real book, whereas the one for which Melog spends most of the novel searching, The Imalic, may well exist only in his imagination, as may several other things like his country and his history.

Melog is a young man, emaciated, with striking blue eyes and unusually white skin and hair, whom Dr Jones first sees theatening to throw himself off a high building. He's thus in an accidentally rather angelic pose (he is also stark naked) and Dr Jones' first impression, indeed, is that Melog is extra-terrestrial. True, the first request an angel makes is not usually to be taken to the nearest chip shop, nor are they generally portrayed as habitual liars, thieves and fantasists.
cut for length )
sheenaghpugh: (Default)
(a concept possibly more familiar in fan fiction than in litfic.) You know what I mean, that way a writer can casually drop a shared cultural reference which not only conveys in one or two words a huge cargo of meaning and information to his/her readers, but does it more powerfully than by any other method, both because of the weight of emotion and memory it already carries and because the reader has pretty much arrived at the meaning independently rather than being led there. It's extremely common in fan fiction because that relies on shared cultural references, but one good litfic example is Francis Lauderdale Adams' poem "Hagar", where by giving this title to a poem about an outcast unmarried mother, he conveys to anyone acquainted with the book of Genesis that not only is the girl in this condition, the man who caused it was almost certainly some patriarch, some pillar of the community (think master and housemaid).

It's harder to do in litfic these days, precisely because you can't rely on readers having heard of Abraham, Circe or various other mythological/historical personages whose names and stories were once common currency. And as soon as you have to add footnotes, much of the effect is gone. Nonetheless, one of my favourite poems is an 8-liner from 9th-century China which takes this technique to such extremes that when A C Graham translated it in his Poems of the Late T'ang (Penguin 1965) he had to paraphrase it for Western readers. Obviously these references wouldn't have been anything like as arcane to a T'ang Chinese reader as they are to us, and one can only guess at the way the meaning would have insinuated itself, trailing all the emotions and associations he's haunted it with. In the vague hope of re-creating something of that effect, the background info first:

The lovely and dissolute Queen of Wei once gave audience to Confucius behind a brocade curtain.
Prince O, out in a boat with his lover, piled embroidered quilts above her for warmth.
In the dance Drooping Hands, girls wear jade waist-pendants; in the dance Snapping Waists, they wear saffron skirts.
Shih Chung cooked a banquet over the flames of massed candles.
Hsun Yu exuded a natural perfume which lingered where he had been.
The poet Chiang Yen dreamed that a poet's ghost visited him to take back his brush of many colours; when he woke, he found he had lost his ability to write.
A goddess slept with King Huai in a dream; when she left he asked her name and she said "At dawn, I am the clouds of morning; at sunset the driving rain."

and here's the poem )
I never tried this on students, because some were ready enough to cry "elitist" if any poet used a reference they hadn't come across. But even without being able to experience it as a T'ang Chinese would have done, I still find its technique utterly enchanting. What interests me is that I can't think of any Western work, offhand, that uses this technique in the same intense, concentrated way as this one (unless indeed it would be certain fan fiction stories). I suppose Eliot is the obvious candidate, yet no poem of his works quite the way this does for me. It surely could be done, though, even with the decayed state of our cultural currency, and it'd be interesting to try.

EDIT: I've just realised I was 16 when I first read this in 1966 (the book was a birthday present from my best friend at school, thanks, Anna Cortens and where are you now?) and it totally changed my perception of what poems could be and do.
sheenaghpugh: (Default)
From Philip Pullman's Guardian article:

"We need to be on our guard when people say they're offended. No one actually has the right to go through life without being offended. Some people think they can say "such-and-such offends me" and that will stop the "offensive" words or behaviour and force the "offender" to apologise. I'm very much against that tactic. No one should be able to shut down discussion by making their feelings more important than the search for truth. If such people are offended, they should put up with it."
sheenaghpugh: (Default)
This is a collection of short stories (pub. Salt 2010) and ever since Joyce, the one thing we've known about a short story is that it should have an epiphany: ie, at some point something should become clear, either to us or to the protagonist, that wasn't clear before, and that changes everything. One of the most interesting things about these stories is the way Rickards sometimes subverts the epiphany, by subtly implying that though the protagonist has indeed found out something new about himself or the world, this new-found knowledge is not in fact going to change anything; things will go on much as they did before. In the title story, the materialistic Dominic finds himself having fun in a way totally independent of the money and social cachet on which he generally depends for enjoyment, but you could lay bets that he will not, next morning, sell all he has and give the money to the poor. In "Mango", a failing marriage, seen through a child's eyes, gets a sudden boost of happiness and all seems well at the end, but an adult reader can easily deduce that the respite is temporary and does not address the real problems in the relationship. And in "The Last of Her", Jo, having been welcomed at a vulnerable time into the home of what seems a kind couple, has to reassess them in the light of their conduct to someone else, but again you could bet she is not going to walk virtuously out on the comfort she needs.

Sometimes Rickards does use the epiphany in a more traditional way; in "Odissi Dancing" it does feel as if a woman's self-image has been permanently altered, and in "Ultimate Satisfaction Everyday", Greg, who's always thought of himself as a loser, finds out not so much that he is or isn't, more that nobody has the right to make such a judgement about what anybody's life is "worth". In "Life Pirates" there are practically two stories running in tandem, the one most people see, involving a drunken tramp in a park, and the quite different one seen by the narrator, who knows him.

There are a few stories that don't work for me, notably "Moon" which I don't see the point of and "Moleman" in which the tempting metaphor in a real situation has completely taken over the story to the point where it reads like an exercise. But as a collection, this is massively more worth reading than some considerably more hyped ones I've read lately. Where these stories end happily or at least in temporary contentment, it is often because of some apparently trivial thing: the taste of a mango, the gift of some dog biscuits, the budding of an apparently dead tree, can be enough to turn a situation, a mood, even a way of seeing the world.

sheenaghpugh: (Default)
Mike Thomas is a serving police officer in Cardiff. His debut novel, Pocket Notebook, was published by Heinemann in 2010. It tells the dark but often comic story of Jacob Smith, a troubled and unorthodox policeman who uses his police notebook for the unauthorised purpose of chronicling his spiralling breakdown. Pocket Notebook was named one of the nine ‘Hot Books’ to watch out for at the 2009 London Book Fair and was on the 2010 Wales Book of the Year Long List.

In this excerpt, Jake has been suspended, and has no business being on patrol. But he goes anyway, into streets which he no longer sees in quite the same way as anyone else...

"What you've done here is just the start," I say, moving closer. "It's just a few small steps to a life of crime, boy. Possibly worse. You could end up as a threat to the security of the country. It's lucky I got to you so quickly. To nip it in the bud."
       "It's just spraying a wall..." one of them mutters, eyeing me with an odd expression.
       "Right", I say. "You've asked for it." I whip out the old Fixed Penalties, ask their names, addresses, dates of birth. The boxes of the pro forma aren't big enough for all the details but I write them down anyway. Fill in three of them as best I can, flip the top copy off each, hand one to each of the artistes.
       "What's this for?" Carrier Bag asks, looking at the chitty with a mystified expression.
       "A fine," I tell them. "For criminal damage."
       "But it's a parking ticket," he says, wrinkling his nose.
       "Don't be clever with me!" I yell, then clench my jaw as they look at each other; look at me. Start giggling. Cheeky little bastards.
       "Come on," Carrier Bag says to his chums. "Let's chip. This dude's a freak."
       My fingers toy with the mouse gun through the fabric of my cargos. I feel the muzzle, the trigger guard. The handle with its magazine of nine-millie bullets. "Laugh all you want, boys," I tell them as they shuffle towards the main drag. "You won't be laughing when you've got to find eighty quid each for those fines, yeah? Ha! Yeah? Are you listening to me?"
       They disappear around the corner. I hear screams of laughter. [...] Another small incident taken care of for the greater good. I pull out my cigar tin, select the half-smoked reefer, light it and take a long drag. I hold my breath, lean against the wall. Exhale. Nice. Very, very nice. Just chill and smoke and work out what you need to do next, Jake. I finish the spliff, stumble out of the alleyway.
       My face hurts and it takes a minute for me to realise I'm grinning uncontrollably. I really can't relax my cheeks or lips. Not to worry. Adds to the agreeable air. The smiling, helpful policeman. I nod at a couple more pensioners. Wave back at a bus full of primary school children, forget to stop waving even after the bus has driven off and it's just me shuffling down the street with my arm in the air.

Interview and links behind cut )

sheenaghpugh: (Brain)
I've often heard novelists debating whether it's better to be with a big publisher or a small one. The big guys have more clout with people like Waterstones, and bigger budgets to spend on publicity, but if you're a first-time or midlist writer, that may not help you much, because they spend the budget on their big names and ignore the small fry, whereas with a small publisher you may be a big fish in a small pool. Leastways, that's the theory; in practice I suspect most writers, certainly first-timers, go gratefully with the first and often the only outfit to make them an offer.

But this interview on Helen Caldwell's writing blog shows an interesting example of a far from first-timer author switching publishers from Hodder to the small (and to me unknown) operation Plash Mill Press. David Wishart has been writing his Marcus Corvinus ancient Roman murder mysteries for 15 years; I know because I'm addicted to the things and devour them as soon as they come out. He says that "being a small fish" at Hodder, there was little money for marketing his books and describes his frustration at seeing them disappear into a “publishing black hole”. That surprises me because he was always easy to find in Waterstones, got lots of Amazon reviews, and the last few Corvinus books had started to come out in hardback before the paperback, which I always thought indicated success. Yet here he is switching in hopes of more publicity. Whether it'll work just because PlashMill have a blog, I'm not sure. I only found out about the new book via googling him and finding this interview, but to be fair, it's only been around for a month.

I'd be interested to hear what my novelist friends feel about the big vs little debate. And my publisher friends, come to that...
sheenaghpugh: (Brain)
The Irony Font

It's many years now since an exasperated student of mine demanded how she was meant to guess that a sentence in the piece of prose we were reading was meant ironically, and suggested that authors should use a special "irony font" when saying things they didn't mean. It came back to my mind lately because someone mentioned how easy it is to have this mode of writing misunderstood online.
long witter continues by way of music-hall, Euripides, Swift, Defoe, Will Hay, Johnny Speight and other suspects )
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Lawrence Sail is a British poet of some renown, who for 20 years has been writing poems for the Christmas season that he's sent as cards to friends. Now he has collected them in an illustrated book, Songs of the Darkness which he is marketing entirely on behalf of the charity Trusts for African Schools, which supports some of the poorest schools in Africa. I've a friend a headmaster in Kenya, who testifies that it's a charity which uses its money wisely and to good account.

Lawrence's poems are thoughtful, delicate, very observing of nature and with a quiet unfussy originality of language. I've just got the book and it's lovely. Here's the opening poem:


Delete leaves, the hum of long evenings, light.
Change to bold the grip of frost, black nights.
Rearrange forest gales, seas steep as stairs.
Italicise the stinging slopes of rain.
Stet the murderous world, heartland of despair.
Indent: in the beginning, begin again.

Insert an asterisk over Bethlehem.
Replace damaged characters with wise men.
Substitute stable for inn, manger for bed.
Transpose caviar and crust, fish and hook.
Realign hope, cherish the hungry and the dead.
Print: weigh in your hand spring's budding book.

Some of the poems have an overtly Christmas theme, others are more generally wintry, but all have that delicate, surprising language, those slopes of rain... What could make a better gift for someone who loves books, or someone who wants to do some good to people other than manufacturers and retailers over the season? As the blurb on the back, written by none other than Archbishop Desmond Tutu, says: "Lawrence Sail's poetry is beautifully pictorial, evocative and deeply thoughtful. I am glad that this collection will help support the education of children in Africa."

The book (£9.99 + p&p) can be bought from Enitharmon and - I daresay Amazons elsewhere in the world will also have it. G'wan, make the Archbish a little happier!
sheenaghpugh: (Default)
If you've had enough of contemporary novels about nothing that matters very much, with tedious or dislikeable protagonists you wouldn't care if you never met again, with posturing authors anxious to show off their stylistic brilliance at every opportunity instead of getting on with the story and, above all, novels that don't so much end as peter unsatisfyingly out along with the author's ideas and impetus, I suggest you try this one a.s.a.p. and don't be daunted by its doorstep size. The intrinsic interest of the story and its two main narrative voices is such that on a first read you won't even be conscious of time passing, much less of the stunningly artful structure that underpins it.
more behind cut )

sheenaghpugh: (Default)
Find me in your own time
find me in your own face

- "Thames Idol"
review behind cut )
Flatlands is available from Salt
sheenaghpugh: (Sydney Smith)
The first thing to say is that when I'd finished this book, I knew for certain I would read it again. This is important, because I've been fearfully disappointed in my novel-reading over the last few years; if I had a quid for every well-reviewed contemporary novel I've read once and know I shall never re-read… Usually it's because they just don't seem to be about anything fundamental enough, and they don't do enough to me; you don't get that wrung-out feeling of having been through something momentous that you get after reading, say, Adam Bede or Kim. There are a few exceptions, and this is one of them; it is definitely a re-reader, partly for all the right reasons and partly because I'm by no means sure I understand it all yet.
more behind cut )

sheenaghpugh: (Do somethin' else!)
"We need better networked programmes [...] offering talented writers help at early stages in their careers. [..] and the profiling of work by new writers" (Arts Council England, in a recent consultation paper)

This might seem unexceptionable, and probably is, with one proviso: that "new writers" and "writers at early stages" are not, as they often turn out to be, weasel words for "writers under 30".

Not that there's anything wrong with writers under 30; they can't help it, and, given time, will acquire the experience of both life and language that gives them something to write about and the skill to do it. In the meantime, the energy of youth may even compensate, to some degree, for what they necessarily lack... ok, ok, slightly tongue-in-cheek, but no more outrageous than the assumption by so many movers and shakers in the literary world that youth and newness are intrinsic virtues.

I've got no locus in this, btw; I am neither young nor at an early stage in my career, more the stage of checking the obituaries for an appearance. But it so happens many "new" writers are not young, because they didn't start writing (and marketing) seriously until other pressures allowed them to do so. One such pressure is childcare, and although there certainly are male late starters, it's a more common pattern with women writers, which raises interesting questions re equal opportunities.

These writers are disadvantaged by "initiatives" that, more often than not, seem to be targeted at the under-30s, as if what was wanted by the public was specifically young work, rather than, as I suspect, good work. Drama is a particular offender, but in novels and poetry too, if a year goes by without some rising teenage star, or a prize shortlist consists of established authors (as why would it not?), you can guarantee some broadsheet running an article on the lines of "where are the young writers?" (a question to which I'm always tempted to reply "learning their trade in decent obscurity").

It's also a fact that, these days, you don't just break through into publication and find you have it made. I wish I had a quid for every novelist I know who had real trouble placing a second or third novel because the first, though it sold respectably for a first novel, wasn't a mega-earner. At one time publishers would stick with a writer building a reputation, rather as TV bosses allowed a sitcom to bed in; now everything has to be a mega-success from the off. As far as novels go, I'm not sure ACE shouldn't focus on mid-career writers rather than new ones.

I've heard it suggested that mid-career writers would do well to reinvent themselves with an assumed persona, because of this craze to find something "new" each year. That craze, which I'm not sure readers actually share, is one reason for this youth focus. Another is the drive to find a young audience for genres, like poetry and litfic novels, that tend to appeal to an older one - maybe publishers should accept that fact and concentrate on marketing to the audience they know is there, rather than the one that isn't listening? Another culprit, in my view, is the universal modern practice of putting a picture of the author on the book. This pernicious habit presumably brought about the question reportedly asked by a US publisher about a novelist recommended to him; "will she look like a babe on the back cover?" (So: reinvent yourself with a new name, but also with a picture of some obliging young model; he or she'll only want 10% of the hopefully huge dibs.)

I'd be interested to know what experiences writers on my f-list and elsewhere have of this, also if anyone has age-related stats on the sales of writing? And readers; does the age or newness of an author make any odds to you?
sheenaghpugh: (Do somethin' else!)
There are fashions in writing; there always have been, and being in tune with them does sometimes make odds to one's chances of publication. For instance, the Holy Grail for some publishers, both in prose and poetry, has lately been to find young, male writers who concentrate on urban settings and "gritty" themes. (I assume this is in order to appeal to young male readers, though since by far the most novels are bought by women, it would seem a strange marketing strategy to ignore the likely buyers and focus on the unlikely ones.) In poetry especially, it has been fashionable to dismiss anything with a rural setting or preoccupations on the ground that most readers live in towns and want to see their own background reflected in what they read (yes, that would make the popularity of fantasy and histfic inexplicable, but I guess that just underlines the way that for the litfic establishment, Genre Doesn't Count). Poets have long been accused of concentrating on nightingales and seascapes and ignoring "real life". Rural isn't contemporary.

Though I've always thought this a bit daft, it never actually affected me before, because I was by nature very urban, my curiosity directed more towards people than places, and that reflected in my writing.
Now, however )
sheenaghpugh: (Posterity)
The Terry Pratchett Anywhere But Here, Anywhen But Now Prize

So much to like about this -

1. it's for previously unpublished novelists
2. it offers serious money for what some would call sniffily genre fiction
3. you can enter by email (yes, a novel!)
4. the prize includes a publishing contract

What I can't see anywhere is an entry fee, which may mean they'll get inundated. Still, that's their prob....
sheenaghpugh: (Anthony Gormley's Another Place)
It's a prose writer this time, or mainly so, though her luminous, lyrical prose makes many poets look prosy to me. Ruth Lacey was born in 1962 in Sydney where she grew up. She earned her law degree from the University of Melbourne, and an M.Phil in writing from the University of Glamorgan in Wales, in 2006. For the last two decades, Ruth has been living in a small kibbutz in the Galilee region of Israel, and has worked as a legal adviser, community manager, freelance journalist, magazine editor and copywriter. Her short stories have been published in literary journals in the US, UK, Australia and Israel, including The Best of Carve Anthology, Voyage, Arc, Overland, and Verbsap. Ruth has just completed a new novel, and is working on a new story collection.
Interview, poem, short story and link to another story here )
sheenaghpugh: (Heslop from Porridge)
There's a certain amount of chat going on at the moment about book prizes. Elizabeth Baines' blog FictionBitch details how the Guardian's First Book Award will now cost £150 to enter - there'll never be another poet shortlisted, that's for sure. Poetry collections by first-time authors are lucky if they make £150 in profits.

As Elizabeth points out, "this has always been an expensive prize for small presses to enter, as publishers of shortlisted books are required to provide 100 copies free for the reading groups involved, thus effectively wiping out the profits on that book for a small publisher". There is in fact a great difference between the kind of competitions individual poets and short story writers can enter, which generally cost them no more than a few quid and one or two copies, and the book prizes for which publishers enter. I'm not sure it is generally known, outside the writing world, that these frequently involve crippling expense not just in entry fees but in the number of free copies demanded, and that this effectively rules all but the biggest presses out of competition. Even if a book is shortlisted, it's debatable whether the publicity will recoup the expense; probably only the actual winner will come out ahead, and small presses just can't afford to gamble on it.

Some competitions also demand more money for publicity purposes - take, for instance, the Dylan Thomas, which could teach Dick Turpin a thing or two: "the publisher/producer of longlisted works agrees to supply free of charge 40 copies for promotional purposes [...] the publisher/producer of shortlisted works agrees to supply free of charge a further 40 copies [...] the publisher/producer undertakes to contribute £2,500 (!) towards the general publicity of the prize and to spend an additional sum of not less than £1000 on direct, paid for media advertising". (See here). With demands like that, you'd wonder they need sponsors.

Does all this matter? Only in that, as I say, I don't think it's generally known outside the trade, so that one might easily be deluded into thinking the winner of the Guardian First Book Award, for instance, was the best first book published that year, rather than the best first book brought out by a publisher who could afford to enter...


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