Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Goldsmiths Prize shortlist: stickers!

For a publisher the size of CBe, that Will Eaves’s The Absent Therapist is on the Goldsmiths Prize shortlist, announced today, is BIG. Even if it doesn’t send sales rocketing, even if it may mean nothing financially. (Ken Edwards of Reality Street may have felt similar when Philip Terry’s Tapestry was shortlisted last year.)

Last year’s shortlist was almost universally (well, in the little universe I inhabit: a universe that was tired, tired, tired of the Booker) applauded. That the eventual and deserved winner was Eimear McBride’s A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing – a novel that had spent a decade being turned down by every major publisher in the land; a novel that did what it had to, irrespective of the rules of the game, and went on to win a clutch of other prizes and is now garnering reviews-to-kill-for in the US – confirmed the Goldsmiths as necessary. The timing was immaculate: book and prize, in its inaugural year, seemed made for each other.

This year the first-day responses to the Goldsmiths shortlist have been more subdued. The overlap between certain books on the Goldsmiths and the Booker lists (long, short, it’s not worth checking, it’s not important) was noted. One blogger has asked for a clearer definition of terms: Booker ‘the best novel’, Goldsmiths ‘to reward fiction that breaks the mould or opens up new possibilities for the novel form’. ‘Best’ is huh, is meaningless. ‘Breaks the mould’, you can see what they’re getting at, even if not exactly, which is the whole point. Prizes, definitions. The books come first, and then a little catching up (a little scurrying around, a little re-alignment) of how to notice them.

Yesterday night, the Forward Prizes for poetry were awarded; poetry is another camp, in which one of my feet is planted, and the Forward things are top (or go head-to-head with the TS Eliot, slugging it out year on year) in that camp, and I think they made good choices (Kei Miller, Liz Berry). I say I think because I haven’t actually read either of the books. I say good choices because of the relief of knowing that it’s not John Burnside, Sharon Olds, Simon Armitage, Don Paterson, Robin Robertson, again.

Which is deeply unfair, because those named names are excellent poets. (Not that I’d guarantee to publish them, if they were reduced to coming my way: there’s the feeling, not just mine, that I’ve read them already.) (Same goes for a number of submissions that ping in the in-box: wonderful writing, but in a mode I already know.)

There’s a demographic problem (people living longer), and literary careers going on and on while the next and then the next generation come to the party, and mainstream publishers having tight little lists, and the pressure building and ground opening up for the smaller publishers, not to mention online, and the ways in which people write also opening up, and one of the most interesting things about the Goldsmiths prize is the expectations put upon it.

Meanwhile, you can buy Will Eaves’s The Absent Therapist here and I’ll post it tomorrow, free delivery in UK. (I collected a new print run at 7 a.m. yesterday from the printer, stickered them and then lugged boxes over to the warehouse. I can’t think that there’s ever been a more interesting time to be publishing.)

Monday, 29 September 2014

Free advertising for independent bookshops

When I collected the first four CBe titles from the printer back in the autumn of 2007 I had no distributor, no trade representation, no mailing list, and the authors were all unknowns. I put sample copies in a bag and trekked around some of the independent bookshops in London. One bookseller read one of the books overnight and phoned next day with an order for 40 copies. Crockatt & Powell (remember them?) enthused about the books on their blog and also ordered. We were in business, almost.

The good will, experience and enthusiasm of independent booksellers are undervalued and underused by most publishers.

The new magazine being started by CBe – more details here – will be carrying paid-for adverts. Almost no independent bookseller has a budget for advertising. For the first issue of the magazine (and maybe others: we’ll see) I’m therefore offering a limited number of free quarter-page ads to independent bookshops. Two or three or four pages of adverts for good bookshops will be a good thing in itself; and maybe, even, the bookshops will stock the magazine. Any bookshop that is interested, please contact me on Files (82 x 53 mm; high-res pdf or jpeg) will be needed before the end of October; or a bookshop could simply send me the information they’d like the ad to carry, plus a logo if available or other artwork, and CBe will make up the ad.

Monday, 15 September 2014

New Dan O’Brien; and ‘the necessary drudgery of the novelist’

Dan O’Brien’s new poetry collection Scarsdale will be launched at the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival in early November, where he’s reading as the winner of the 2013 Aldeburgh Fenton First Collection Prize for War Reporter. You can do these things by the book – which involves having blurb and cover and proofs in place many months before publication (and in time for the submission deadlines for the PBS recommendations, etc) – or you can think, a few weeks from now the author will be over from Los Angeles and reading in front of a large and generous audience, so let’s wing it. Scarsdale is a very different book from War Reporter: it’s home-grown, for a start, though of course home can be as conflicted a place as any war zone.

On Friday of this week, I and May-Lan Tan will be reading at the Cork International Short Story Festival. I haven’t been to Ireland for a couple of decades, at least. I’m excited about this.

May-Lan will be reading, I assume, from her CBe book Things to Make and Break and maybe from her chapbook Girly. I might be reading from The Manet Girl, published by Salt last year. More likely, the pages in front of me will be from what is resulting from finding my failure to write a particular story more interesting than the story itself.

As a lapsed poet, I’m still finding my way in fiction. I remember an agent’s note, handwritten in the margins of the printout of my first attempt: ‘Where are they? The reader needs to see them.’ They – the characters – were in the Golborne Road, as it happens, which is at the tag end of Portobello Road and is probably worth describing (junk stalls, cafés, Moroccan street food) but I got no enjoyment at all from this kind of writing (and if I’m bored, then God help the reader). I’m aware that good descriptive writing isn’t just scene-setting, but it still felt more duty than play.

Virginia Woolf in her 1924 essay ‘Character in Fiction’ has fun with Arnold Bennett’s descriptive writing, of which she quotes a chunk and adds: ‘One line of insight would have done more than all those lines of description; but let them pass as the necessary drudgery of the novelist … he is trying to hypnotise us into the belief that, because he has made a house, there must be a person living there.’ Into the category of necessary drudgery I’d add ‘characterisation’ and ‘plot’ and most of the other chapter titles in the how-to-write-a-novel books – but a lovely thing about the novel is that these things aren’t really necessary at all. Short-cutting, I’ll point to Gabriel Josipovici’s ‘Writing, Reading and the Study of Literature’, his inaugural lecture at the University of Sussex in 1986 (included in his The Singer on the Shore, Carcanet, 2006), in which he recalls writing his first novel: ‘It was not that that I didn’t like the forms of description I was using; I didn’t like any form of description. What’s more, I suddenly realised, I didn’t need it. What had happened was that I had adopted not just the tone and mannners of every book I had ever read, I had also adopted their assumptions … I had made a fantastic discovery, you see. I had discovered that I did not have to do do what I didn’t want to do to, and at the same time that I could do something which a moment before I had had no idea I could do.’ This is liberating, in the way that is characteristic of my own favourite novels: oh, so you don’t have to do all the high-cheekbones, blustery-weather stuff, you can do it another way.

Ninety years on from VW’s essay, the market into which novels get pitched is still deeply conservative: the choosing of what gets published, reviewed, wins prizes. But the novel is not ruled by the market. Kate Webb, reviewing Every Day is for the Thief in the TLS in July this year, suggested that Teju Cole’s work ‘occupies a now common ground of uncertainty in twenty-first-century writing, blending fiction, memoir, observation and conjecture’. Hari Kunzru, reviewing Ben Lerner’s 10:04 in the New York Times earlier this month, suggested that the book ‘belongs to an emerging genre, the novel after Sebald, its 19th-century furniture of plot and character dissolved into a series of passages, held together by occasional photographs and a subjectivity that hovers close to (but is never quite identical with) the subjectivity of the writer’. The precedents for this date back decades, but there seems now to be momentum, and this too I find liberating.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Free Verse: The Poetry Book Fair 2014

Top pic, near top right, the CBe table – no one behind it because I was, uh, at the opposite side of the room taking this photo. It took time to get back to it. Bottom pic, view from the CBe table. All those people. One person mentioned in passing, as if this was a perfectly normal thing to do, that she’d travelled from County Cork to London just for this event. Someone else I’d never met before offered to buy me lunch. There were readings, continuous through the day, both in a separate room in the venue and in the square outside, and then in a pub in the evening, but no speeches telling us what we were here for and why, no need. It felt like a good deed in a naughty world.

Monday, 1 September 2014

Robinson: the answers

– to the quiz posted on 21 August: here. Prize for competition with least entries: this one. I missed an obvious one (thank you, J.O.): Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Little Pig Robinson, the story of the pig in Lear’s ‘The Owl and the Pussycat’.

1(a) Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe; (b) Elizabeth Bishop, ‘Crusoe in England’; (c) J. M. Coetzee, Foe; (d) Michel Tournier, The Other Island; (e) Robinson Crusoe on Mars, 1964 film, dir. Byron Haskins; (f) Judith Schalansky, Atlas of Remote Islands; (g) Eric Maltaite, Robinsonia (graphic novel)

2 Chris Petit, Robinson; 3 Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Journey to the End of the Night; 4 Simon Armitage, ‘Robinson’s Resignation’; 5 Charles Dickens, Dombey and Son; 6 Muriel Spark, Robinson; 7 Joseph Conrad, Lord Jim; 8 Weldon Kees, ‘Aspects of Robinson’; 9 Henry Fielding, Amelia; 10 Charles Webb, The Graduate; 11 Franz Kafka, Amerika; 12 Henry James, The Princess Casamassima; 13 Robinson in Space, 1996 film by Patrick Keiller (or maybe it was London); 14 Jack Robinson, Days and Nights in W12.

If you like this kind of thing, go here; and check out his other riffs on zebra, joke, nail, lemon, mutt, etc.

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Next thing: Sonofabook, the magazine

‘What! another literary journal?’ – Stendhal, 1822. (He was writing about a magazine started up by two people who ‘found it would it would be less boring for them to found a literary journal than anything else’.)

Magazines: why, who for, when and how and what? They’re not books; no magazine is going to be in your desert island luggage. They are secondary. But they have their place and their time: lunchtime, café time, between-times. They tease, they flirt, they make rash promises, all good things to do. They are a kind of foreplay. Through time – think Alan Ross’s London Magazine (the associated book list, London Magazine Editions, was the model for CBe at start-up), not to mention all the little magazines with odd names that everyone in the book world grows up with – they become a kind of of backplay. Either way, fore or back, they’re a form of intelligent play.

So: Sonofabook, a magazine/journal from CBe, first issue next March. Spring and autumn; prose (fiction, non-fiction), poetry. (No reviews, not least because if I open that door I will drown.) ACE have granted funding for the first three issues, so it’s for real, and I’m grateful and yes, excited, and daunted. ‘This one will be different from all the others,’ said Stendhal in 1822. They all say that but, first, none of that send-six-poems-max or one-short-story-under-3K-words: either the work is good enough to hold ten or twenty pages or more or it’s not. Second, and this is the defining feature: after the first issue, the contents of each issue will be chosen by guest editors (CBe backing off to a purely hosting role). The first guest editors will be invited from among the usual suspects – writers, critics, editors from other small presses – but if the thing gets going we can move out a bit: booksellers, bloggers, readers. As Hamlet in effect said to Horatio, there is far more literary intelligence and curiosity out there than is adequately represented by those professionally engaged within the book industry.

Each issue of Sonofabook will therefore bear the distinctive character of its editor’s interests, preferences, prejudices. (Nobody can read everything, let alone like everything; this is the point of having the magazine guest-edited.) Collaborative editorships – two or more people – will of course be fine. If the magazine continues beyond the first three issues (and the set-up can change: e.g., more issues per year if that can be made to work) it could become an occasional focus and record of what the mainstream deems not worth publishing but actually is, and here is one place where. (Mainstream is welcome too, but it will have to fight for its place.)

(Submissions. This is all a little bit different from how magazines usually work. Most of the contents of each issue are going to be determined by invitation from that issue’s editor. Very rarely will anything be held over from one issue for consideration for the next issue. Anyone can submit, of course they can, to the address, but best to inquire first and don’t even think of submitting unless you’ve got some idea of what CBe is about and of what the issue editor might be looking for.)

Print, because I like putting physical objects into the world: things that weigh a bit, that involve a bit of manual labour. As each new print issue comes out, the previous issue will become available free online. Because the ACE money will guarantee the first three issues only (including payment for contributors), I’m going to have to work at getting other revenue; invitations to take advertising space (at bargain start-up rates) will be going out this week, and anyone interested in that do please get in touch. Website page up sometime soon.

Sonofabook 1 will include new work by a number of CBe writers, plus others. Issue 2 will be edited by Nicholas Lezard, author and Guardian reviewer. Issue 3 will be edited by Sophie Lewis, translator and editor-at-large for And Other Stories. Editors of future issues will be announced several months in advance.

I think this is such an obvious idea – setting up the form, inviting some of your literary heroes to fill it with content – that I’m surprised it doesn’t already exist. (Why, for example, does the Nicholas Lezard weekly Guardian paperback column work? Both as a guide to good books arriving under the radar and as a lever for sales. Because whoever gives him that space trusts him and just allows him to get on with it. It’s one model for how the magazine may work.)

One Friday eve in early 2011 the idea of a poetry book fair in London at which the full range of contemporary poetry publishers could display and sell to everyone, anyone, also seemed an obvious idea; the first book fair, initiated by CBe and with no funding, was held the following September; then 2012, 2013, bigger each time; the fourth (I’ve now ducked out, it has its own momentum and is more than brilliantly run by Chrissy Williams and Joey Connolly) will be at the Conway Hall, London, next Saturday, 6 September, from 10 a.m. Come.

Thursday, 28 August 2014


Classified Revision Exercises in Spanish (George G. Harrap & Co. Ltd., 182 High Holborn, London WC1; 1932)

Exercise 1 (Definite and indefinite articles)

He said that truth was the most important thing.
He gave me such a look that I went into another room.
More than a hundred friends went to meet Mr Lopez.

The curious thing is that he himself did everything.
The children who understood raised their hands.
He put on his gloves and went out.

Exercise 2 (Adjectives)

His younger sister is very inquisitive.
The climb (la subida) is very long and very difficult.
A very important thing has just happened.

The third speaker spoke seriously and sadly.
He showed me a hundred jewels, all of great value.
None of the other speeches equalled the first.

Exercise 3 (Times, dates, etc)

I saw him at a quarter to four.
What time was it when he left? It must have been about 5 a.m.
I want to go away at twenty past seven.

Philip the Second died on September 13th, 1598.
He did it on Monday, August 1st.
He goes to Madrid on Thursdays.

Exercise 4 (Time, weather, etc)

I wrote to him a little time ago.
It’s a long time ago that it happened.
He’d been ill for three days before they sent for the doctor.

He said it was very hot, but I was cold.
In windy weather, one may lose one’s hat.
Owing to the fact that they had worked hard, they were hotter than we.

Exercise 5 (Negatives)

Haven’t I already done it?
My sister didn’t buy any flowers yesterday.
Nothing new has happened.

He swore he would never do anything of the sort.
I have no books; nor do I want any.
He doesn’t like it; nor I either.

Exercise 5 (Correlatives, etc)

He was not so ugly as his brother.
We need as many knives as forks.
It isn’t as hot as it was last summer.

The task is becoming more and more difficult.
More than three of my books are missing.
The black horse has won more races than it won last year.

Exercise 6 (Ser and Estar)

His house was of brick (el ladrillo) and was very high.
The streets are dirty because it has rained a lot.
Everybody is tired tonight.

Where is he now? He is still in the same house where he has always been.
Who is it that is calling us? It is we.
Most dogs are faithful animals.

Excerise 8 (Pronouns: objective)

Don’t do it now; do it later, please.
He went to meet me at the station, but I did not see him.
Don’t talk so fast, my son; I can’t understand what you say.

I didn’t tell them, because they knew it already.
Don’t speak to me in that way; speak to me more politely.
I have told it to your father, but not to your mother.

Exercise 9 (Pronouns: relative and interrogative)

I spoke to the doctor’s wife, whom I had already seen often.
Our neighbour, whose son you liked so much, has gone away.
He lost the sword with which he has killed so many enemies.

What did he give you when he came in?
What book do you mean? He didn’t give me any.
Which of the sailors came with you?

Exercise 10 (Pronouns: possessive and demonstrative)

I have found your handkerchief, but now I have lost mine.
A cousin of his has broken his leg.
His translation is worse than yours.

He washed his hands and put on his gloves.
His house is bigger than this one, and mine is bigger still.
The man with the black beard did this.

Exercise 11 (Subjunctive: general use)

Let them try to do this, if they think they can.
Do it at once, and don’t tell me it’s impossible.
Come here: don’t sit down on the chair.

I am sorry that he was not able to come.
I advise you not to come back too early.
Has anyone ever done a thing that seems so stupid?

Exercise 12 (Sequence of tenses)

I don’t think he will arrive tomorrow, nor the day after either.
Ask him to go off a little way off from the window.
My friends do not believe I am capable of doing it alone.

I was looking for a child who could read and write.
They all denied that they had seen the deed.
Their father did not want them to stay away from home too long.

Exercise 13 (Subjunctive and infinitive contrasted)

I hoped I would find them in the dining room.
I fear I shall be the first to arrive at the party this afternoon.
Everyone was afraid of not arriving in time.

I wanted them to finish it at once.
They were unwilling to speak to the others, or for the others to speak to them.
I want you to write to me every week.

Execrise 14 (Subjunctive: conditions)

If he stays there no more than a week, we shall not see him.
If you will open the window, it will be cooler.
If there is no snow in the mountains, it almost always rains.

If they had both gone together, it would have been easier.
I would have written to you, had there been another post.
If I told you I had done it, would you believe me?

Exercise 15 (Subjunctive: impersonal exptessions)

It is possible that my brother is the author.
It is doubtful if he means to marry.
It was important that they should do it at once, wasn’t it?
It is a pity that there has been so much rain.

It was not yet certain that there had been a revolution.
It seemed probable that there had been an accident.
It was obvious that no one was paying any attention to him.

Exercise 16 (Subjunctive: conjunction)

He passed without seeing us, and without our seeing him.
Provided he does this, he can take everything.
In order that his army might escape, the general sacrificed himself.

As soon as he saw me, he asked when I would go.
Tell him when he comes, that I knew he had lied to me.
We ought not to go until he comes back.

Exercise 17 (Subjunctive: whoever, whatever, etc)

Wherever you may be, don’t forget to take money with you.
However you travel, you must go quickly.
Whoever he may be, speak to him politely.

However cold the water may be, I am going to bathe.
Whatever shoes you wear, they must be strong.
However many mistakes you make, I shall not be angry.

Exercise 18 (May, might, etc)

Ask her: she may know.
It may be true; perhaps he did it.
Go now; maybe it will rain later.

He said they might do it at once.
May they take two apples each?
Each man may do as he likes.

Exercise 19 (Must, ought, should, etc)

I never thought I should have to do that.
According to the papers, he had to tell them everything.
I shall have to light the lamp as soon as I return.

Instead of playing, you ought to work a little.
He would not do it, and said we should have done it ourselves.
Please look for my stick: I should be sorry to lose it.

Exercise 20 (The passive, etc)

All the officers were killed by the enemy.
It is to be feared such things will be seen again.
What he had written was still to be seen on the blackboard.

They were in the act of doing this when I came in.
She is tired of always being surrounded by servants.
The platform was deserted when I arrived.

Exercise 21 (Reflexives)

As a rule, the word is spelt in this way.
He was much surprised, so they say, on hearing this.
They did not think it could be done so easily.

When their aunt entered the room, she was told the news.
The horses were heard in the stable.
The dog was seen wandering alone though the town.

Exercise 21 (Reflexives and reciprocals)

We don’t love one another, do we?
She did it herself, without my helping her.
I prepared dinner myself, while he was dressing.

He was sitting in an armchair, and soon went to sleep.
It was getting darker and darker, and finally we turned round.
I don’t dare stand up while he is sitting down.

Exercise 23 (Adverbs and conjunctions)

It would be something to know where we are going to.
He received me most kindly, and invited me to dinner.
He ran as hard as he could.

I spent the afternoon not sleeping, but writing letters.
I can see nothing on this map except a few rivers and islands.
Call them petals (el pétalo) or leaves, it’s all the same to me.

Exercise 24 (Prepositions, etc)

Look for him outside; he’s not likely to be under the table.
He was standing in front of the blackboard at the time.
He was upstairs when I saw him last.

I will go with you as far as the village, if you will will dine with me first.
He was always very good to the unfortunate.
I am tired of working without achieving anything.

Exercise 25 (Para and Por)

He went to meet them so that they might not lose their way.
She got up early so as to milk (ordeñar) the cows and goats.
Come and see me in order that I may tell you what to do.

I believe he bought this for me, but it will be useless.
There will be no prize for those who can’t swim.
As for me, I have not even playing cards for the party (la tertulia).

Exercise 28 (Measurements, etc)

These woollen stockings are eighteen inches long.
It is more than a thousand kilometres from Paris to Madrid.
They have built a wall seventy yards long and twenty feet high.

There is only half an hour left, and I have not done half my task.
Three-quarters of an hour later the play finished.
He lost half his money in the shipwreck.

Exercise 27 (Exclamations)

How splendid it would be to able to do that!
How much I meant to do, and how little I have done!
How badly your brother writes!

Would that we had already arrived!
Unfortunate people! They got wet to the skin.
I wish to goodness that man would stop talking!

Exercise 28 (Special verbs)

I didn’t think my bag would hold so much.
Tell him to bring it up; I don’t want to come down now.
Go up and tell them breakfast is ready.

It will be your turn when I get back.
Having dropped my pen, I can’t write any more.
He won’t miss you so much now that he can speak Spanish.

Exercise 29 (Some important words)

He was sitting in an armchair near the fire.
He was already seated when I was just sitting down.
A complete stranger asked me for a cigarette.

You can walk if you like, but I am going by car.
I have heard they are going to be married next week.
I did not realise what subject was going to be discussed.

Exercise 30 (Miscellaneous notes)

He found more books than he had lost.
I agree to their doing this when we’re gone.
I insist on this lesson ending now.

He complained little, but he didn’t seem well.
I have seen them all, and they all want to come.
He welcomed most politely all who came.