Sojo Publishing Mouse

There’s a new publisher in town. They’re called Sojo Publishing Mouse, and they are a children’s publisher who are throwing the publishing rule book out of the window, and are seeking the best stories around. Here’s theirs…

Helen Goodbarton and Sophie Johnson-Hill are the creative minds behind the publishing company, and I met them both at The Milk Lounge in Beeston, surrounded by children…which was the ideal setting really!

Helen, 39, runs a performing arts school for young children in Beeston called Sprouts, and has been for the past 10 years. It was through this that her and Sophie, 36, both met, as Sophie’s children used to attend the sessions.

Sophie is the creator of Sojo Animation, which she started whilst doing an MA in Puppetry and Digital Animation at Nottingham Trent University. Her research on the course was focussed on encouraging creativity in children.

“I’d just chat to a little one and find out how they think and how they feel about certain things,” says Sophie. “If they said something particularly brilliant I would take that sentence and get them to draw a self-portrait and I would animate their words coming out of their artwork.” She called these individual animations ‘Thunk of the Day’, and they can be found on the Sojo Animation YouTube channel.

So while Sophie was doing this, Helen was working with children through Sprouts. “There’s a theme each term and a story the kids follow. There are poems and songs that we learn that I wrote,” explains Helen. “I’ve written four years’ worth of adventures.”

It was when Sophie was in the process of making some puppets that she had an idea to involve Helen in her preparations for a Christmas workshop with children. “I wanted to make giant puppets out of willow and paper, I wanted to make glowing snowmen,” Sophie tells me. “I asked Helen to join forces with me so the kids can understand the story of this snowman. I asked her to make up a story about a snowman who swallowed a firefly by mistake and then doesn’t know what to do about it. I handled the making of the puppets while Helen took them on this huge adventure,” says Sophie. “Afterwards Helen read me the story and it was a beautifully written book with rhyming couplets.”

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“I’d written a few things before and I’d even sent one story off to a publisher,” explains Helen. “Then I wrote this. You know they say everyone has a story in them that needs to be told? This is mine.”

At this point, they both decided to see if they could find a publisher, going with the idea that the story would be Helen’s, and Sophie would be the illustrator. But after exploring the world of children’s publishing, they discovered a few rules that would stop them in their tracks.

“Aside from lots of other rules that publishers have, a lot of them won’t take a book that’s already illustrated by somebody else, because they have in-house illustrators,” Helen tells me. “I feel it would be wrong if it wasn’t with Sophie’s pictures.”

Sophie adds: “There are rules about which of the pages needs to be a double page spread regardless of what’s happening at that point in the story, or how many times a theme should re-occur within the story. It’s like a guide to how a kids book ‘should’ be.

“We needed this creative publishing company that cut out all of these ridiculous rules”

In an industry that is all about something that is so beautifully creative, to cut creativity with rules is just frankly insane,” she says.

This made them realise that there must be other people out there in the same position as them. Sophie says, “We’re not the only fantastically, originally talented authors and illustrators in Nottingham, there’s loads of us, and there must be loads of people who aren’t telling their stories because of the restrictions.”

Helen adds: “That was where we stopped and went, shall we do this ourselves? How do we do it ourselves?”

And that’s exactly what they did. They set up Sojo Publishing Mouse with the intention of throwing the rule book out of the window.

“We needed this creative publishing company that cut out all of these ridiculous rules,” says Sophie. “We’re gonna set out our book just as we want to, just as it’s calling to be set out. The whole ethos was calling for people to get behind it and be a part of our journey.”

The Glowing Snowman tester

They actually had the idea a couple of years ago, but with Sophie doing her MA and Helen having a baby, they’ve only just got round to launching it properly. They set up a Kickstarter campaign as a way to get more people involved in their vision for children’s publishing. Sophie described pressing publish on the campaign as a “moment of impending doom.”  When I met them, the campaign for their first book The Glowing Snowman had only recently gone live, but they already had around £800 raised.

They had no reason to panic, as their final total came to £3, 986 which was almost £1000 above their original target. After this incredible result, Helen has this to say:

“We were so pleased and overwhelmed with the success of our Kickstarter campaign; to see so many people take interest and belief in our project, and not just to reach our target but to surpass it so well. It means we’ll have more funds not only to invest in selling this book, but in creating our next one too! We’re very excited to get cracking with this little publishing mouse!”

Make sure to like them on Facebook at: @sojopublishingmouse

JM

Women, War and Writing

A catch up with local author Clare Harvey…

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I met local author Clare Harvey and her black Alsatian-cross Jake in Froth, which is part of the aptly named Creative Corner in Chilwell. I’d met Clare quite by chance at the re-opening of Beeston’s library in September. Clare has written three novels so far: The Gunner Girl, The English Agent and The Night Raid, with a fourth currently being penned. Her stories have all featured independent, strong women in a World War II setting.

I firstly asked Clare about her beginnings and how she got into writing. “I was born in Barnstaple, North Devon, but spent time growing up in Mauritius, as my dad worked at a teacher training college there. After some more moving around, I took a Foundation Course Diploma in art at Plymouth University, before reading law at the University of Leicester. After graduating, I took some temping jobs in London and then spent a year doing voluntary work and travelling in sub-Saharan Africa. On my return, I moved to the Peak District to work for an overseas development charity, and later returned to London to take a postgraduate course in journalism at the London College of Communication.”

She proposed to her soldier boyfriend Chris in 1996 in Split, Croatia during a 72-hour leave pass from his operational tour in Bosnia. The couple married in early 1998. They moved to Beeston, as Chris was posted to Chetwynd Barracks with the Royal Engineers, and Clare divided her time between an administrative job at Boots’ Head Office and freelance journalism. The couple were then posted to Northern Ireland for two years, where Clare worked as a freelance journalist. It was there that Clare began writing short stories, but she didn’t start work on her first novel until 1998 when they were posted to Germany and pregnant with their first child. “Being an army wife can be a lonely existence, and my writing became a kind of companion in the years when I was the trailing spouse to my husband’s military career.”

“…the revelation that my husband’s mum had been a teenage soldier in the Second World War was an inspiration.”

By 2011 Clare had three children, moved house seven times and written three unpublished novels. Finding herself back in Chilwell, with a husband about to go on a six-month tour in Afghanistan, Clare enrolled on a creative writing MA at the University of Nottingham. That’s when the idea for her debut novel came about. Her husband was polishing his medals ready for the Remembrance Sunday parade, when she remarked that he had more gongs than his dad. Clare’s husband was a third generation career soldier. He replied that his dad didn’t have that many medals, and that the joke in the family was that Mum had seen more enemy action. “How had I not known that my mother-in-law saw active wartime service? I was intrigued. Although she was sadly no longer alive, the revelation that my husband’s mum had been a teenage soldier in the Second World War was an inspiration.”

Whilst her husband was away on active duty, Clare used her MA as an opportunity to write the beginnings of what would become The Gunner Girl. Clare graduated in 2012, just after Chris returned from Afghanistan, and carried on working on the novel, alongside teaching English learners with Voluntary Action Broxtowe, and running art-inspired literacy workshops for primary pupils at Nottingham Lakeside Arts.

Clare finally finished her novel in early 2014, and sent it to the Romantic Novelists Association for feedback. They suggested a few tweaks. By October she had signed with an agent. Then in November she got her first two-book deal with Simon & Schuster. The Gunner Girl was published on the 8th of October 2015, with the paperback coming out three months later. She then had the hard job of writing book number two.

Clare had come across the story of Vera Atkins, who worked for the Special Operations Executive (SOE) during the Second World War, and had the idea that one of the characters from The Gunner Girl (Edie) gets the opportunity of becoming an SOE agent in France. “Setting the book there meant that I had to go to Paris for research purposes. This just happened to be around Valentine’s Day!” The English Agent was published last year.

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Clare’s third novel, The Night Raid, features lots of Nottingham locations including Bromley House Library and artist Dame Laura Knight as one of the main characters. It was published in July. There is going to be a very special launch for the paperback edition on December 14th. Clare will be officially launching the book at 11am with a ceremony on the ‘Dame Laura Knight’ tram at the NETtram depot, with help from pupils from George Spencer Academy. At 2pm she’ll be at Nottingham Lakeside Arts to talk about how Dame Laura helped inspire the novel and signing copies of her books (booking essential, via Lakeside Arts: 0115 846 7777). Then at 4pm, she will be more signings at Lady Jayne’s Vintage Tearoom, next to Toton Lane tram stop, where there will also be mulled wine and homemade mince pies on offer.

It’s always interesting to read about what routines authors have for getting their words down, so of course I had to ask Clare what hers were. “I manage to do about 45 minutes in the morning, before everyone else is up and then take the kids to school.  I’ll then usually work through, until its time to do the school run. I storyboard everything, like a film director does, and I always write in longhand, before typing it up on the laptop. I prefer to write in silence, but am happy to listen to music when I’m at the editing stage.”

Finally, I asked Clare about book number four. “It’s a two-timeline story. One takes place in Germany 1945 as the Red Army move in, and the Iron Curtain falls. While the other is set in 1989 in the UK and Berlin, as the Berlin Wall falls and the Iron Curtain rises.”  The Escape should be published in hardback next August.

You can find out more about Clare on her publisher’s author page: http://www.simonandschuster.co.uk/authors/Clare-Harvey/576635850

Her website: http://clareharvey.net

Or catch up with her on social media:

Twitter: @ClareHarveyauth
Facebook: ClareHarvey13

CDF

Jai Verma: an interview

Beeston’s own Indian poet…

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Jai Verma is a Hindi writer who has been living in Beeston for 35 years with her husband. They both retired a couple of years ago after working in the NHS. Now, Jai likes to spend time with her family, but continues to be a key part of her community through her role as a writer and promoter of the Hindi language and culture. I met with her at her home to talk about her life and writing.

Her origins are in India, where she was born in Meerut. In 1971 she moved to the UK with her family where she taught Hindi for 15 years, and was involved in translating books from English to Hindi. Her other hobbies included badminton (which the also taught), tennis, and later on, golf. For a short time, she served on the committee at Beeston Fields Golf Club.

About her teaching, she tells me, “We didn’t have any material for children in the 80s. About 31 books were done. Then I was employed by the language centre in Nottingham for 6 months. I made a thousand copies each of all these books, then they were in circulation and children were reading those books.”

Once her children were leaving home, they encouraged her to pursue her own education. She joined Broxtowe College to study Business and Finance, then went to Nottingham Trent University and did an advanced diploma in Practice Management.

“After that there was a taste for knowledge,” she says.  “A hunger for knowledge, I wanted to learn more.” And she did, going on to do gain a post-graduate certificate in Service Management. This lead to her 25 years working as a practice manager with the NHS.

“I didn’t think of myself as a writer, never thought I was a writer,” she reveals. “I used to do paintings, and one day suddenly I wrote two poems. I remember it was very cold weather and we couldn’t go out of the house so I sat upstairs near the fire and then I wrote two poems.” She shared her poems with a friend, who she was a part of the Indian Women Associates with, and at one of their meetings Jai’s friend announced that Jai had some poems with her which she would then read aloud.

“I didn’t know what sort of quality my writing was. And I read them! Everyone clapped and were very happy. And someone said ‘why don’t you read it on the radio?’” That someone happened to know the radio presenter, and Jai ended up reading her poem ‘A Moment’ on air.

“Someone in Birmingham was listening and he knew us, and he rang.” He then asked if Jai attended any writing groups in Nottingham. But at the time there wasn’t any such group, so he invited Jai to Birmingham where there was a monthly poetry group she could join.

“Once I went there,” she says. “I had the opportunity to listen to other poets and writers, and talk to them. And they used to clap on my poems as well when I used to read. I didn’t know if it was good or bad, I had no idea, but that’s how I started writing and developing.”

The group encouraged her to keep writing, and to keep collecting her poems. Jai noticed that the people in the group were published and had their own books, and this inspired her to eventually put some of her poems into a collection. Her book was published in India in 2008, and called Sahyatri Hain Hum.

“It means we are the core traveller on this earth, no matter where we are, no matter where we live, we are the core traveller,” says Jai. Her book received two awards, one in India, and one here from the High Commission in London.

“Nottingham is at the heart of England, it’s the Queen of midlands.”

In 2003 Jai decided to set up her own group in Nottingham called Kavya Rang. The group was made up of Jai and two of her friends. “Today we have 27 writers. They’re writing in different languages of Asia. Four main languages: Hindi, Urdu, Punjabi, and English.”

Whilst continuing to write poetry, Jai began writing stories and eventually had enough for another collection which became Saat Kadam (Seven Stories) which was published in April of this year. It was first launched at The High Commission in London, and then at The White Lion in Beeston by the Mayor of Broxtowe.

“And the mayor, very jokingly said: ‘But I will not be able to read it, because it’s in Hindi.’ And then of course I thought it’s about time these stories should be translated into English.” These stories are currently in the process of being translated and Jai hopes eventually they will be published and reach a wider audience.

Speaking about writing inevitably leads to her mentioning how inspiring she finds Nottingham, especially with its title as a City of Literature, and all the opportunities this provides for writers.

“Nottingham is a wonderful place to live. I wouldn’t like to change it. I can’t think of any better place. When I came to Nottingham and used to go and see the houses I thought Beeston was very ideal Nottingham is at the heart of England, it’s the Queen of midlands,” she says.

She adds: “Beeston has got everything; it’s a very cosy type of shopping centre. Whenever I’m driving towards the A52 I feel good going home.” At this point she hints that she’d like to join Beeston’s Civic Society, believing that it’s good to be a part of the community.

We finish with Jai offering advice to young writers, which is: “Keep writing. Never judge yourself what sort of writing you are doing. Let other people enjoy it and make the judgement. You should not worry about what sort of writing you are doing, whether it’s poetry, stories, essays or articles. Just write it, and then see afterwards.”

You can find out more about Jai and her work via her website: jaiverma.co.uk

JM

Interview with Graham Caveney

Graham Caveney is an author who, up until now, has written books about other people. He wrote the biographies of two great writers, Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs. But having put time, effort and research into the lives of others, he finally got round to writing his memoir…

The Boy With The Perpetual Nervousness is a memoir like no other, and is a true testament to not only Graham’s adolescence, but his ability to turn his life around and produce something to be proud of.

The book explores Graham’s early life growing up in a catholic household in Accrington during the early eighties. The book is packed full of endearment for the working class society he lived in, his trips to Blackpool, and his parents. The events of his early years are described with a steady balance of nostalgia and wit. Yet, casting a shadow over his memories of growing up is the abuse he suffered from his head teacher and priest, who, with an affinity for culture, theatre and literature, at first seems like a friendly, literal father figure in the book. Graham has done well to present ‘Rev Kev’, as he is called, in a way that lets readers make their own mind up about him, rather than lacing his words with resentment or retrospective suffering. Graham takes us back to that time, and puts us exactly where a young, teenage boy stood.

The memoir almost doubles as an exploration in the memory process. There are a few layers to it, although it remains uncomplicated and surprisingly easy (and addictive) to read. Graham’s memory works more like a film, but he acknowledges that his past relationship with drug and alcohol abuse affects this, as he writes: “You cannot live the life of a drug addict and/or alcoholic and still expect to trust your memory.” This is where the chapter titles come in. Each chapter starts simply with ‘Next’, ‘Next’, ‘Next’…which, he tells me, wasn’t the original intention for the book.

“It was a way for me to remember where the chapters were, and when I finished it I thought ‘I’m gonna keep that’”. He adds: “I was trying to get the weird way memory works. There’s no linear cause and effect ‘abc’ structure, they have a life of their own, they’re all over the place and that temporal shift is what I wanted to get at.”

It’s clear that Graham is a book-lover, both from meeting him in person and reading his book. On the day of the interview, Graham had been reading Ongoingness: The End of a Diary by Sarah Manguso. This is a fitting choice for the man himself, as another feature of his book is that every chapter begins with a quote, whether from a book, song, or film, each quote holds meaning for Graham.

“They’re all quotes I wrote in my journal,” he reveals. “I used to keep a journal, and still do.” At this point he points out that after writing his memoir, he burnt the journals from his teenage years. His reason? “I’d got what I needed to get out of them, it was time for them to go.”

Graham moved to Nottingham in 1999 to begin teaching American Literature at the University of Nottingham, but sooner after his mum died, and drink took over. Living in Beeston during his time with alcoholism, his life used to consist of journeys to and from Sainsbury’s. He describes himself at the time as having “a deathwish, but with cowardice about doing it” and that it was self-harm on a scale he will never return to. He acknowledges the kindness of local ‘Dutch friends’ who came to his rescue, “They were kind to me and helped me out in ways I will never be able to repay.”

During this period, he still read books, particularly those by Anita Brookner. He read poets, listened to music, but he’d stopped writing altogether. In 2009, he finally went into rehab, and the next few years were taken up with having therapy and attending AA meetings which he did for two years.

Sobriety came in early 2010, at which point he was unemployed, which fed into the reasons for him writing the book. He also volunteered for a short time at Oxfam Books and Music in Beeston, a place which allowed him to “learn what it’s like to be in the world again, at an age when you are too old to learn.”

But it was while he was working at Five Leaves Bookshop in Nottingham (the first place to give him a job) that he began writing his memoir. Previously, he’s written three books: Shopping in Space: Essays on American ‘Blank Generation’ Fiction (with Elizabeth Young); The “Priest”, They Called Him: The Life and Legacy of William S. Burroughs and Screaming with Joy: The Life of Allen Ginsberg.

It was being surrounded by books, objects which he is ‘in awe of’ that provided him with the boost he needed to begin writing again. Originally, The Boy with the Perpetual Nervousness was going to be a semi-autobiographical novel called ‘Meta-Metamorphosis’ taking the opening lines of Kafka’s Metamorphosis for inspiration. However, this idea was scrapped, and he began putting together scraps of memories which would form the early process for his completed memoir.

He then shared these scraps with close friends, “a way of introducing them to a bit of me”, and it was Julie Hesmondhalgh, known for her role as Hayley Cropper in Coronation Street, who read some of these scraps and offered encouragement, which was greeted by him with reluctance. She sent some of these to Jonathan Coe, who Graham says he has “never been out of touch” with and this was the springboard for him getting the memoir published by Picador. “All my heroes were published by Picador,” he says. “They were my dream publisher.”

The Boy with the Perpetual Nervousness is out now

Poetry For The Mind

(First published on Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature , republished with kind permission

Middle Street Resource Centre is an inconspicuous building. Long a feature of Beeston, its unassuming structure belies the vibrant creative activity within. The charity, Mindset, runs from here, lending support to those with mental health issues, and the socially excluded. It has been an invaluable asset for Beeston and surrounding areas, signposting and providing activities for those looking for them. The filmmaker Shane Meadows has run exclusive fundraisers at the centre, and it has gained plaudits from all quarters of the East Midlands, as well as from further afield.

There are a multitude of courses here for people to participate in, from music appreciation to carpentry. A beautiful, meticulously-tended vegetable garden is a testament to the work done by the volunteers who have made it their own. We at Nottingham City of Literature are here for a less green-fingered reason, though: to meet an inspiring poetry group that has just put out their first anthology.

The Middle Street Poetry Group was co-founded in 2014 by Steve Plowright, a local poet, songwriter, and craftsman who has been dealing with acute mental health issues for decades. Around the time of the millennium, he set his poetry down in a self-published anthology, Bi-Polar Rhythms: a raw, often terrifying look into his own chaotic head. The book is a visceral read, and it would be easy to assume that the writing process behind it must have been painful. Yet Steve also found that it had a remarkably therapeutic effect. As one of the group participants later comments [of writing poetry], “It gets my thoughts out of my head, and onto paper.”

However, the purpose of the group is not merely to provide catharsis. “It’s good fun,” Steve explains, as he sets up for the session. “People have to enjoy it.”

The group-members gather, some clutching their own poetry, some with other’s work. They form a circle, and with no real prompt, start to share poetry. Tom has brought along four poems, each one exquisitely crafted tales of his life – of alcohol and breakdown. The group listen intently. They discuss the poems afterwards, opening up to each other and exploring the meaning behind the lines. It would be too simplistic to label this ‘talking therapy’; it is a spontaneous discussion, with any therapeutic aspect merely a helpful by-product.

A cheerful older gentleman named Dennis tells me that he has only just started reading and writing poetry, at age 74. “I’ve always liked reading, just never poetry.” Has the group converted him? “Oh, yes. It’s my hobby now.”

Ray, a young man with his poetry in pixel form, ready to be read off his tablet, tells me how the sessions have boosted his social confidence; first encouraging him to read aloud to the group, and then to the general public.

It’s also an educational experience. In the previous week’s session, the chosen topic was the First World War. While the usual Sassoon and Wilfred Owen poetry was read, so too was that of the often-overlooked Irish war poets. Notable among these was Francis Ledwidge.

“I’ll go home and google poets and poems we talk about,” one member told me, “and then find something else, then something else. It’s constant learning in a subject I never thought I’d be interested in.”

Another member, Yasmin, found the session on war challenging but ultimately effective: “I like nice things,” she explains. “War, and talking about war – it’s horrible, horrible. But when I went home and my mind had thought through what we’d talked about, I felt a wave of emotion and empathy, which I’d have never been able to face before this. It had a huge impact on me.”

Nick brings in lyrics that he judges are more poetry, with a particular love of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen. “So much can be poetry,” he tells the group.

Earlier this year, Steve realised they’d produced enough good poetry to justify putting together a collection, and thus Journeys Through the Mind came to be. A diverse and fascinating volume, beautifully illustrated, they’ve sold most of their initial run of 100 copies and are considering printing more. For most of the contributors, it’s their first time in print.

Poetry has proven to be a force for good with the group. They relish playing off each other, developing each other’s work, interacting and inspiring. Their weekly Monday meetings are looked forward to; they lend a crucial structure to the group and provide motivation for the participants.

“I get excited on a Sunday and re-read my poetry,” one of them explains. “I want it to be just right.”

The group are now hoping to take their book on tour and perform in public places. If you know of a good venue, or a similar group to collaborate with, please get in touch with us via the Contact Us page.

Buzzword: A Poem For Beeston

We’ve come over all poetic. And no, that doesn’t mean this entire issue is written in verse. Instead, we’re eager to find a poem befitting of Beeston.

This month we are launching our very own poetry award, Buzzword: a poem for Beeston, in a bid to discover some hidden talent and quality poetry.

We know you’re out there, and it doesn’t matter whether you’ve never written a poem before in your life, if you can express your thoughts/memories/insights/feelings about Beeston in something resembling poetry, then you’re in with a shot.

And don’t worry, it doesn’t even have to rhyme. Take your time, think it through. The right words will surely make their way to you…

This isn’t just a competition for competition’s sake either, you could win £100 (or £50 if you’re under 16), an actual trophy to show off to your friends and family, your poem will form part of an anthology and you’ll be a published poet!

So what’s the catch? Well, there isn’t one. You don’t even have to live in Beeston! As long as the limerick/haiku/sonnet/epic etc. relates to Beeston in some way, it will qualify. You can submit more than one entry if you find yourself overcome by the urge to write…and it won’t cost you a penny because it’s free to enter.

We’ve got some star judges lined up to cast their eager eyes over each entry, and trust me, they’re just as excited as we are.

Our lovely writers here have also had a go at writing their own Beeston poems to provide some inspiration (by way of being terrible), and you can find them here with more details about the award.

Have a peek then take up your pens, readers, and write us a poem (or two)!

JM

Buzzword Poetry Competition

Here’s all you need to know before taking up your pen/pencil/keyboard/quill:

The winner will win £100, a trophy, inclusion in an anthology and much more.
Under 16s will win £50 as well as the other stuff. Judging alongside our editor Christian Fox will be a panel of professional poets:

• Tommy Farmyard, organiser of Hockley Hustle and Nottingham Poetry Festival
• Jenny Swann, co-owner of Candlestick Press
• Alan Baker, editor of the poetry publisher Leafe Press

It is free to enter, and you can send as many poems in as you like.

The winners will be announced on National Poetry Day (28 September) at a special event.

HOW TO ENTER:

Email your entry to: buzzwordpoem@gmail.com
Or alternatively, send it to: The Beestonian, 145 Meadow Lane, Beeston, Notts, NG9 5AJ
Submitted poems consent to future publication in The Beestonian. Please state name, contact details and if under 16 to ensure entry into correct competition.

DEADLINE FOR ENTRIES: THURSDAY 14 SEPTEMBER

Our poems to get you thinking:

The home I’ve always known,
the place that’s changed almost
as much as I’ve grown:
sufficient to make a difference,
but not enough
to lose its touch.
Jade Moore

Here’s an Oxjam stage with an artiste on;
Station platform, has no arriviste on;
There’s the parish church aisle with a priest on
And a playground with kids just released on –
Beeston:
What a sight here for our eyes to feast on!
Colin Tucker

I like Beeston,
I like the bees.
Last weekend I burnt my knees.
I wasn’t wearing any sun cream,
and now I can’t wear shorts.
Because it’s embarrassing.
Dan Cullen

Beeston, it’s never about bees,
Nor is it ever about Dan’s knees.
Lots of places for beer,
Pottle to the weir.
Though don’t get me started on Breeze.
Darren Kirkbride

JM

An interview with…Giselle Leeb

A couple of years ago when I was still an undergraduate, I found myself being taught how to do HTML and WordPress with a select bunch of other writers. Our teacher was Giselle Leeb, 47, website developer, IT trainer and writer. She’s lived in Beeston for two and a half years but grew up in South Africa. I caught up with her to find out what she’s up to and how her writing career is going.

Giselle has had 20 short stories published so far. They have appeared in publications such as Reckoning, Litro, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, Mslexia, The Stockholm Review, and Firewords Quarterly among others. She has recently become assistant editor at Reckoning, an annual journal of creative writing on environmental justice, who published her short story Wolfinia in December 2016.

The secret behind getting her stories published is to always write and constantly submit. “I write every day except for weekends,” says Giselle. “I’ve got enough short stories to try and put some into a collection, I’ve got the stories and the manuscript ready.”

For someone who usually submits short stories to publications, putting together a collection would seem like the natural progression. I ask her which publishers she has in mind for the collection.

“There’s quite a few good indie publishers, but it’s very hard to get short story collections published if you’re a relatively unknown writer.”

Giselle submits stories as much as she writes them, and doing so has revealed new things about her writing style and capabilities that even she didn’t realise. The last story she had published was ‘The Dog’s Aren’t Barking’ which appears in Supernatural Tales. She wrote it and submitted it despite it not being her preferred genre.

“I don’t normally write supernatural stories,” she reveals. “That’s the longest short story I’ve written (about 6,500 words). I was a bit unsure because it’s not my usual genre. I wasn’t sure if they would publish it but I was very chuffed.”

She describes her usual genre as ‘literary slipstream’, an area of fiction I’d never heard of until that moment. “It’s a bit like magic realism or weird tales,” she explains. “It’s a literary story setting in a real town but there’s some strange element to it.”

It’s absolutely essential to have feedback from a group

Although I write fiction and poetry, I hardly ever submit them to competitions or publications, but Giselle believes that submitting work helps with the motivation to write.

“I’ll try out competition themes and sometimes they spark something off. You can get too distracted by it, addicted,” she laughs.

She also makes use of websites that can help with tracking submissions such as Duotrope and The (Submissions) Grinder. “I’ve got about 20 stories I’m sending out at the moment so it’s quite important. It’s really easy to forget where you’ve sent a story.”

For anyone who has never submitted creative work before and doesn’t know where to start, the answer is simple: Google it.

“Look at competitions,” says Giselle. “It will always be there, it’s not like anyone is going to take it away or do the exact same stories!”

In issue 47 of The Beestonian we featured an interview with Beeston author Megan Taylor, who is Giselle’s partner. They met through both being members of the same fiction group, and had known one another two years before they got together. Giselle explains the benefits of being in a relationship with another writer.

“We write quite differently but I think we’ve got a good appreciation of each other’s work. We definitely bounce ideas off each other but it’s never rivalrous. For me, it’s absolutely essential to have feedback from a group or from Megan.”

In the near future Giselle is hoping to so some workshops with Writing East Midlands, but for now she is enjoying going through the slash pile of unsolicited submissions at Reckoning, and getting an idea of what it feels like to be on the other side.

It was announced recently that Giselle will have one of her stories published in Best British Short Stories 2017 by Salt Publishing. The anthology will be available on 15 June and is available to pre-order now from Amazon and Waterstones.

You can find out more about Giselle’s writing and publications on her website: giselleleeb.com

JM

Nottingham Poetry Festival

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This year’s poetry festival, which lasted for one week from 21 – 30 April took over from what was Nottingham Festival of Literature and was organised by the comedian, writer and poet Henry Normal.

The programme for the festival was full to the brim with over 50 events featuring a wide range of poets, both from inside and outside Nottingham, and featured big names in poetry such as Carol Ann Duffy and John Cooper Clarke. I attended the following events which showcased the breadth of poetic talent in our city.

On Saturday 22, a poetry slam took place at Nottingham Mechanics, judged by poet and facilitator Jim Hall, whose only criteria was that the poems made him feel something.

There were performances from Panya Banjoko, and former Mouthy poets, Joshua Judson, Matt Miller and Neal Pike, as well as other familiar faces from the poetry scene.

In the end, Jim chose a wonderful poet Gloria for third place, whose soft-spoken poems made an impression on the judge and audience alike. Second place went to emerging performance poet Jake Wildeman, with first place awarded to Matt Miller, whose poems about love and home were poignant enough to win him £30 in prize money.

Jim, who was assisted by Jeremy, the chair of Nottingham Poetry Society, said, ‘[Matt] really thought about the time limit. It was a whole journey within three minutes and I learnt a lot about him. It was quite a clear one for me.’

On Sunday 23, Rough Trade was the home of Book Off, which began with a workshop in ‘found poetry’ whereby participants used magazines to create poems by cutting or blacking out selected words. The day continued with a performance poetry workshop by Jamie Thrasivoulou and Sophie Sparham, which covered issues such as heckling, performing politically sensitive poems and the best way to introduce yourself to your audience.

Bridie hit her teammate Joshua’s face with a wet teabag to demonstrate schadenfreude

At this point, sportswear-clad poets began to assemble for Poetercize: the Poetry Game Show hosted by Stephen Thomas. This round was the decider between Bridie Squires and Joshua Judson vs Chris McLoughlin and Milla Tebbs. The event was delayed due to technical problems, but was handled with humour. The show featured That Welsh Woman, interpretive dance and audience participation.

Bridie hit her teammate Joshua’s face with a wet teabag to demonstrate schadenfreude, and Chris ate orange peel in a desperate bid to be the best…but in the end it was Chris and Milla who were crowned champions.

On Tuesday 25, Debbie Bryan in the Lace Market welcomed Some Poets from Big White Shed for an evening of performances from poets that have been published by BWS and poets that they would like to see published.

The event celebrated what Anne describes as ‘peer publishing’ and featured poems from Neal Pike, Stephen Thomas, Midnight Shelley, Trevor Wright and Jim Hall among many others.

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Continuing the celebration of publishing was Mud Press on Friday 28 at the launch of their latest anthology Woman. Mud Press is a publishing house which was set up by Georgina Wilding.

The event took place at Cobden Chambers and replicated the festival vibe but on a smaller scale. There were live artists, music, face painting and a poetry kissing booth.

I’ve only covered a tiny portion of the poetry festival, and my experience was exactly what I wanted it to be. It was a week of celebration that both poets and poetry lovers could appreciate.

JM

Stephan Collishaw: Interview

We caught up with Stephan to find out about his latest novel and how Beeston played a role in his writing career…

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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

Jade Moore

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