Tuesday 29 April 2014


This week’s poem on the Oxford Brookes Poetry Centre website is D. Nurkse’s ‘The North Side’ from his collection A Night in Brooklyn, published by CBe last year. (I read that poem first in a US magazine; it was one of those poems I had to buy the whole magazine for, just to have it; I never guessed, at the time, I’d eventually publish the book that includes it.)

That US publishing rights for Jonathan Barrow’s The Queue (‘A wild picaresque fantasy, erotically polymorphous ... with a cast of bizarre humans and talking animals’ – Independent on Sunday), published by CBe in 2011, have been sold is a happy surprise.

Update (non-update) on the tedious saga of Faber partially remaindering their poetry books – see this previous post. To my email to the sales director accepting his offer to sell me copies of my own book at 27p each (the price at which they were sold to a remainder merchant), no reply. To my email of over a month ago asking whether the same offer would be made to other Faber poets whose books are subject to ‘modest stock reductions’ (i.e., they are being partially remaindered), no reply.

I don’t think this is anything personal. (Well, it probably is, by now.) Earlier this year, after rereading work by an author I knew and admired, I emailed both his editor (at Faber, as it happens) and his agent to ask if they knew of any writing by him left unpublished at the time of his death in 2011. No reply from either. Alexei Sayle once wrote that the switch for the indicator light in taxis is located in the rear boot; for many in publishing, the email ‘reply’ button is similarly located.

From next week I’ll be away for a month (the Czech Republic, since you ask) and during that time I too may find the ‘reply’ button hard to find. Apologies in advance for erratic service.

Friday 25 April 2014

Two posts before going AWOL for a while: (2)

Early in May I'm going away for a while; back in June. Being in two places at the same time is something I've tried but am not good at, and while I'm away I can't see that there'll be more than one trip a week to the post office. Therefore: if you want to order books from the website and expect prompt delivery, please order in the next week.

Monday 21 April 2014

Two posts before going AWOL for a while: (1)

1 It may well not happen, but the hum that’s been humming at the back of my head for some time still translates as in the previous blog post of 14 March and is: a magazine; prose, poetry; twice a year; 160 pages, say; no more than around six contributors per issue (so on average around 25 pages per contributor). Reviews, no. Print-based, but as each issue comes out the previous becomes available free online (on Issuu?). A single initial print run, and no faffing with reprints.

2 A little late-night discussion, above. About many things, but this is one of them.

3 Funding. Is not, I think, an issue. CB editions has run since 2007 with no funding. I don’t want to make a point of this. On the other hand, and at the risk of being co-opted into some right-wing anti-arts-funding agenda, and at the lesser risk of being accounted grumpy-old-man, I do: 2007–14, CBe has shown that it is possible to publish books by the kind of writers the mainstream won’t touch, and have those books reviewed here-there-&-everywhere, and pick up a few prizes along the way, and not lose financially, without any funding at all. (And have more fun – seriously, playfully – than I ever had in a salaried publishing job.)

4 (If you check the annals of ACE, and you’ll need to be a certain mood to do this – the page from which you can download the figures is here – you’ll see that CBe was granted £2,450 in 2012 and £4,160 in 2013 for the Free Verse Book Fair; the first book fair in 2011 had zero funding; for 2012 and 13 the contributions of both I and Chrissy were calculated as ‘support in kind’, and neither of us profited by a cent; and this is fine. Last year we managed to underspend; we had a supper; the rest has been put into the 2014 budget. But repeated applications to ACE for the CBe publishing programme have been turned down.)

5 Money. Is not the point, is nowhere near the point, distracts from the point. Writing is not a ‘business’. Reading neither. Publishing, ditto.

6 Costs for the magazine: printing of 550 copies of one issue of 160 pages, slightly larger than the standard book B-format: £1,000. (Punch some numbers into the online calculator of this printer – which is excellent, and is used by many of the smaller presses – and you get under that.) Contributors’ fees (and rights for work in translation): allow £750. So £1,750. Income: sales of 460 copies at a cover price of £8.99 = £4,135. Assuming just 40% of that actually comes in (i.e., after the big discounts on copies going out through the distributor, and post-&-packing on copies sold through the website, etc), then £1,654. The margin of error seems OK.

7 If you have work, or want to suggest someone else’s work, that may fit the magazine – long form; I’m not interested at all in, say, a batch of six poems out of which I may like one – then say.

Tuesday 15 April 2014

April is the kindest month

A post largely made up of other people’s words. Review coverage in the past couple of weeks of CBe’s new titles includes:

In Bare Fiction (issue 2) Lucy Jeynes reviews May-Lan Tan’s Things to Make and Break:
‘These are bold, sensual stories of love and loss … Tan plays with form and convention in a confident, interesting way: “Candy Glass”, about a Hollywood actress, is written in a form where the dialogue is presented as a script, raising a question mark over the authenticity of self in a world where a girl who was once a boy drives a driverless car and crashes through a windscreen made of sugar into a new life.
We dive headlong into a Technicolor world populated with a lapdancer; two triplets (with a dead third brother) sleeping with the same woman; a boy and girl with the same name; a stunt double. There is sex, and drugs, and rock’n’roll – as well as murder and quite the nastiest game of hide and seek … There is an unshrinking nakedness in the depiction of self-destructive behaviour that is almost painfully honest. This is not a book to be read with a cool, objective view. Gulp it down, smear yourself with the luscious prose, inhale it.
The narrative voices of each of these eleven pieces are distinctively characterised, wonderfully subjective and opinionated in their self-reflection, telling their own self in the telling of their stories; sassy, witty, modern, international … There is a lot of sex in this book: straight, gay, loving, nasty, sensual, strange and all very explicit … But the sexiest writing in this book is not the sex, it’s the writing itself.’

– and Will Eaves’s The Absent Therapist:
‘It is always a joy to find a book that demands an intelligent engagement of the reader, and there is no spoon-feeding here … There is no obvious narrative thread or arc and the stories are all the more pleasing for that. Instead there is a drawing out of themes and motifs as each new personality arrives on the page … This collection would be a superb desert island choice – you would not get lonely with all those people to keep you company. Small enough to fit in your pocket, with enough food for thought to sustain you for weeks, and filled with the seeds of stories that you could grow into your very own forest.’

In the Times Literary Supplement, Eimear McBride reviews Agota Kristof’s The Notebook:
‘Louring over Agota Kristof’s entire narrative is the shadow of war, occupoation and the ambivalent experience of liberation for the “liberated”. The twins survive by rejecting traditional notions of identity and social order. Like a pair of self-realised Nietzchean Supermen, they make themselves of the earth, driven by the need to preserve rather than service the flesh, uninterested in abstract or unquantifiable concepts such as love or the divine. With survival as their guiding principle, they become monsters of distilled, unsentimental humanity and, by the shocking climax, invulnerable even to what has hitherto seemed their own impregnable bond.’

– and The Illiterate:
‘The security and relative material comfort of her new life cannot make up for the glaring absences inherent in the refugee experience. Her descriptions – of those with whom she escaped and whose sense of isolation eventually leads them back to Hungary even at the cost of their lives, as well as those whose sense of despair brings them to suicide – offers an uncomfortable insight into the extreme vulnerability of those obliged to seek asylum abroad. Fortunately this experience did not prevent Kristof from creating works of uncompromising intensity, which forbid the reader to overlook the terrible price her liberty to do so paid.’

Another review of Kristof's The Notebook and The Illiterate will be in the New Statesman in May.

Meanwhile, Will Eaves’s The Absent Therapist has reached New Zealand – first, from the blog Off the Tracks: ‘I’ve never read a book like it … the accumulative power of this book – of taking it all in, seeing not a hair out of place, sensing a strange and powerful madness within and around the writing and selecting of these pieces, the placement – is when you really see the magic. The writing is technically flawless, vivid, cruel and wonderful. It’s so often as good as it gets.
Whatever this is – whether novel/anti-novel or just a twisted stop-start journey of nearly short-stories – it’s a mini-masterpiece. And it contains – or is barely able to contain and control – multitudes.’

And from Page Blackmore Booksellers: ‘… a kaleidophone of voices, first-person narrative fragments, tiny stories bearing the impress of larger, untold stories; wry observations unknowingly made by unobservant people, anecdotes with perfectly deflating punch-lines, almost-jokes that meticulously leave off at being almost-jokes without aspiring to be jokes; gauche quips, mundane miseries treated with both sympathy and humour; small lives writ small and at once satirised and celebrated for their smallness; an encyclopedic accumulation of human experiences of the kind that usually evanesce without being recorded even in the experiencers’ memories let alone on paper. All these thousands of voices are captured pitch-perfectly by Eaves … with a cold eye and a warm heart, and with an unbelievably sensitive ear for what all sorts of people say and how they say it (or, what they think and how they think it)’

And Francis Ponge’s Unfinished Ode to Mud in Beverley Bie Brahic’s translation gets to the US – from LunaLuna: ‘No one before or since has managed Francis Ponge’s quintessentially French style, balancing documentary narration with classic encyclopedistism with bemused koans with grandfatherly humor. “The Crate” (page 9 in Beverley Bie Brahic’s translation) we get his special brand of Objectivism with such a pleasurable command of diction/telling: “…it is not used twice. Which makes it even less durable than the melting or cloudlike produce within.” I have no compunction about calling him magic.’

Thursday 10 April 2014

Money. Funding. That stuff.

Stendhal, 1835: ‘The sight of a large sum of gold awakens no other thought in me than the bother of keeping it safe from thieves; this feeling has often been taken for an affectation, and I shall say no more about it.’

There was a period when I was working in an office and I kept getting cold-called by people wanting to talk to me about one of the money things – pensions, probably; or investments – and one day when the caller asked why I didn’t want to talk to him I found myself saying, politely, that I could think of nothing more boring; that I’d rather spend the next hour staring out of the window at the brick wall opposite than continuing our conversation.

This is not a responsible attitude. I don’t defend it. I think I have a problem with money – it scares me, I run away – in the way that some people have a problem with sex, or commitment, or crowds, or dirt. That’s it: about money, I’m squeamish. I’m a candidate for therapy.

I need to say up-front that I’m talking from an extraordinarily privileged position. I live in a good house in London and have no mortgage. I’ve never been out of salaried work (made redundant twice, resigned twice, each time I wandered into another job). Since going freelance (in 2005), I’ve also been fairly continuously in work. I’m of a certain generation, a very lucky generation.

This money thinking is occasioned by a lunch this week at which I was waffling about what next for CBe, magazine maybe, but quality printing and payment to the contributors so I wouldn’t be happy about going into this without £1,000 in the bank, and someone at the table rolled her eyes and said she’d send me details of a new European culture funding programme (which she did: small co-operation projects, up to 200,000 euros per project; large, up to 2 million) and added that I shouldn’t even think of applying for less than £40,000. At which point, I remembered the Stendhal quote.

Money can enable things to happen, lives to be changed. It also can fuck things up. CBe was started up with a £2,000 legacy from a deceased uncle (privilege, I know; it’s like the mad sudden thing that happens at the end of a Dickens novel) and has survived on that basis. Most money is debt, or waste: this is how the economy works. I’m completely sure that whatever CBe has done in the past six-and-and-a-bit years has been achieved not despite having no funding, from ACE or anyone else, but because of having no funding. I (you, one, we) do what I do because I love doing it. Which is worth holding on to. And equally, of course, letting go of. I don’t want to make a fetish of this.