We caught up with Stephan to find out about his latest novel and how Beeston played a role in his writing career…
If you’d have told a young Stephan Collishaw that one day he would be a published author he probably wouldn’t have believed you. Yet his third novel The Song of the Stork has recently been released by Legend Press, and he’s set up Noir Press, which is the only publishing house in the UK dedicated to Lithuanian Literature. Not bad for a man who failed his GCSEs twice.
Collishaw, 49, who currently lives in Colwick, grew up in Basford and attended Ellis Guilford, and despite failing his exams, he did leave school with a love of literature.
“They introduced me to Guy de Maupassant, which is the only thing school did for me,” he reminisces. “My poor mother was at her wits end and got me onto a Youth Training Scheme back in the 1980s. I went to work at a bookkeepers and lasted there 6 months until I got sacked.” However, this proved to be a crucial moment in his life.
“At that point in time, I decided I wanted to be a writer. So I started reading as much as I possibly could,” he says, “but when I was at work the cleaning lady caught me going to the toilets with Jane Austen and cup of tea.” We laugh at the memory. “She reported me to the manager who didn’t think it was appropriate, and sacked me.”
In 1995 he decided to go on a whim to Lithuania after teaching for two years in Radford, and that decision has made his life what it is today. “I’d gone with the start of a novel stuffed in my backpack,” he says, “and when I got there, life was far too much fun to be writing a novel. I ended up getting married to a Lithuanian.”
Now, he has three children, speaks Lithuanian and visits the country regularly. “When you explore a country, one of the things you want to do is explore the writing,” states Collishaw. “It’s almost impossible to actually read Lithuanian novelists,” he adds.
It was this that became the driving force behind Noir Press, which he set up about a year ago. “Until this moment in time,” he tells me, “there was only one living Lithuanian novelist in translation in the UK and that’s the one I published. It’s the only one.”
So far, Noir Press has published Breathing into Marble by Laura Sintija Černiauskaitė which won the European Union Prize for Literature. The publishing house is also set to release three books this year: The Easiest by Rasa Aškinytė; Shtetl Romance by Grigory Kanovich; The Music Teacher by Renata Šerelytė.
“All the books that we’re publishing have been award winning or in the top five books in Lithuania,” he tells me. “The concept is not to do more than one of each writer so that we build up a showcase. This is Lithuanian fiction as it stands at this moment in time.”
I ask him about his latest book Song of the Stork, a historical fiction novel set during the 1940s amid the Second World War which tells the story of a fifteen year old Jewish girl, Yael. While on the run, she meets a village outcast who is mute and they form a relationship.
“Before I’d started writing it,” explains Collishaw, “I hadn’t thought about how you would develop a relationship between two characters who can’t speak to each other. But in some ways that was a powerful, energetic part of the novel because I had to think how I was going to develop that relationship rather than falling back on normal tropes of writing.”
Although he doesn’t live in Beeston, Collishaw does have links to our town particularly with the Flying Goose Café along Chilwell Road. “I’ll be doing a reading there,” he reveals, “and at the moment Hilary [Cook] is very kindly selling my books in preparation for the talk.”
Beeston was one of the first places I was taken seriously as a writer
It’s not just recently that Flying Goose has played a part in his writing career, as he explains: “Years ago I did one of my first ever readings as a novelist at her café back in 2001-2, so for me it’s a special place. That was when I first felt as though I was a proper writer and had any kind of identity as a writer.” It’s not just the café he likes to visit when he comes to Beeston. Jen Glover who set up the micro-brewery A Pottle of Blues is one of his former colleagues. “We worked together for many years at a school in Radford and it was enough to send us all off crazy,” he laughs, “so for Jen it provided the impetus for her escaping from teaching and living a dream of hers; opening a bar is the most appropriate thing she could possibly have done.”
The Beeston-based publisher Shoestring Press also holds a place in his heart, not only because he considers John Lucas a “godfather of literature” but because his first published collection was a Shoestring edition.
Collishaw explains: “I entered East Midlands Writers Awards and won. They published it with Shoestring, so I was first published by a Beeston publisher and it was the first time I’d ever made it into a proper publication.” He adds, “Beeston was one of the first places I was taken seriously as a writer.”
Stephen will be at the Flying Goose Café on Wednesday April 12 where he will be reading from Song of the Stork.
To find out more about Noir Press and upcoming publications, visit: www.noirpress.co.uk