Friday, 12 April 2013

It's All about the Books

It's All About the Books

“Always be "opportunity-ready" - The greatest door-opening opportunities often come in the form of objections. ”  ― Lisa Washington

This is not my room. But if it was, I probably would still need more bookshelf.

After I've badgered my brother to lug my 23kg bag up to my room and the customary comments about the fact that my hand luggage is full of clothes and the one he's carrying is all books, the first thing I do is ask myself a familiar question: 

How on earth am I'm going to renegotiate space on my bookshelves?

It's inevitable. I come home from university a few pounds of fat less, a few kilograms of books more, and since I'm not Harry Potter and I don't have a magical expanding trunk, there's a constant battle between where the stuff I bring back to London finds it's home. 

This time, perhaps spurred on by the fact that I've been reading up on my publishing houses as I apply for various work placements and pray that maybe one or two of them see some hint of potential, I decided to figure out what publishing houses fill my shelves. Do the Big Six dominate? Do their various imprints reflect themselves between my own literary choices? What about the independents? How many of them have crept into my hands? What about the vintage books: the classics I've inherited or those uncovered gems from Portobello Market? 

I started off with vague musings - a plethora of questions about what my book shelves tell me. But as I took them all down and rearranged them into their relevant groupings, I figured: why not turn it into an exercise in which you all can share? 

What writer or aspiring young publisher, like myself, hasn't had to go through the eye-opening, eye-wearying trawl of Penguin or Random House, trying to figure out exactly what makes an imprint distinct from the mothership? Who hasn't wanted a comprehensive, finger-tip guide to some of those book-brands that make applications to any company just slightly overwhelming? 

Now, I know there are way too many questions here for just one blog post so for the next few days, you're going to be privy to the intricacies of my book shelves. I'm going to go through publishing house by publishing house, looking each one and their imprints. By the end, you'll probably be able to see what sorts of things I read and where they come from - should be useful, should be fun, should be challenging. 

As usual though: it's all about the books. 

Je serai poète et toi poésie, 

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Of Readers and Reviews

Of Readers and Reviews

Find your favourite first page. Think about why it's your favourite. What about it captures your attention?
Is it the first line? The first paragraph? Is it the tone or an image that it creates? Think about the feeling that page evokes in you and see if you can identify what makes you love it.

For many twenty-somethings like me, the page above was the first page of our lives. I was seven when the first book was published, eight when I read them, eleven when I realised that I was doomed to muggledom and seventeen when I did my maths coursework on 'How Eponymous is Harry Potter?' I, along with millions of other youngsters-turned-teens-turned-young-adults, listened to the lovely voice of Stephen Fry every night, and in my case The Prisoner of Azkaban all the way to Scotland and back. Similarly, I was one of those lined up in Tesco at midnight after a Shakira concert in my fervour for Book Four, then again for Five, Six and even dressed up in full wizarding garb for book Seven. I have all the receipts for the books tucked into a scrap book and I found a letter my cousin and I stowed in an empty shampoo bottle, asking Sirius Black to save us from Voldemort and telling him that He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named had shrunk Harry Potter into a dolls house. 

Some say JK.Rowling cast a spell over a generation - our generation - but it's more like she overwhelmed us with the magic of her writing. As you can probably tell from the shampoo-bottle-letter, she inspired us and begged us to use the imaginations that other books failed to encourage. That's not to say that all over books failed, far from it, but something special happened on that train when JK scribbled her first words onto the billion-pound-napkin. The origins are described as if some strange spirit dubbed Rowling worthy and she claims that:

"I had been writing almost continuously since the age of six but I had never been so excited about an idea before. I simply sat and thought, for four (delayed train) hours, and all the details bubbled up in my brain, and this scrawny, black-haired, bespectacled boy who did not know he was a wizard became more and more real to me." 

There are a couple of things that we then have to think about - she wasn't given a book deal immediately, it was a long hard slog and a lot of determination that finally succeeded in putting Harry Potter on book shelves everywhere. Similarly, Harry Potter was begun in 1990 (the year I was born) and it took seven years before the first one was in print. If there's ever a story about 'Don't-Give-Up' when it comes to writing, it has to be this one. 

Did you know that those opening pages were dismissed again and again for 'telling instead of showing', the Dickensian style caricatures that describe the despicable Dursley household, the Dahlian morbidity of Harry's dire, neglected childhood - there's something about these that capture our imaginations, taking us back to the way we read when we weren't too old to walk through the children's section of Waterstones without feeling awkward. I think it's important to think about those first pages, those things that draw us in and make us believers despite the surreality of the content. I think it's important for any writer to know what appealed to them and thus what might appeal to others. It's your first impression, the quickest way to your audience. So spend a little time thinking about what OTHER writers do instead of just focusing on you. Furthermore, to mention briefly the 'review' part of this post: listen to what others say and don't take affront when someone offers you criticism. Yes - JKRowling was lucky and she powered through the years of refusal but a child read that book and it was published and look at it now - it's a perfect hollywood tale. However, you're not JKRowling yet (unless you are but that's another story) and you still should listen to what others make of your work. The world is at the tip of your pen, don't scribble all over it just because you can.

Je serai poète et toi poésie,

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Four Way Books Poetry Competition

Judge: D. A. Powell

Submission Dates: January 1 – March 31, 2012 (postmark or email deadline) by online submission manager or regular mail. Postmark deadline March 31 and email deadline (by 3 am EST April 1).

Awarding publication of a book-length collection and $1000.

Open to any poet writing in English who has not already published a book-length collection of poetry.

Submissions accepted on-line (preferred) and by mail.

Please read the following instructions carefully.

Online submission:
Submitting to us online is easy, saves you money, and saves trees.
• Fill out our online entry form and follow the directions for online credit card payment on our secure site.
• You will be assigned an online entry number. You will then submit your manuscript through our online submissions program.

By mail:
• Submit a previously unpublished, full-length poetry manuscript by regular mail (USPS only).
• Please include a completed Entry Form. Click here to download the Entry Form (PDF format). (You will need Adobe Acrobat Reader to view and print the Entry Form.)
• Include one cover page with the title of your work and all of your contact information, including your email address if you have one. Your name and contact information should not appear anywhere else in the manuscript.
• You must include a second cover page with just the title of your work, no other contact info.
• No more than one poem per page, please. More than one section of a poem can appear on a page, of course.
• No page limit, but we recommend a length of between 48 and 80 pages of poetry. This page limit does not include your title page, notes, etc.
• Do not include art work.
• Please use a legible font of 12 point.
• Include an entry fee of $28 with your submission, by check, made payable to Four Way Books. A stamped self-addressed postcard may be included to confirm receipt of manuscript. Multiple submissions may be mailed together. If you submit more than one manuscript, please supply contact info for both and an increased fee ($28 per submission).

Mail submission and entry fee to:
Four Way Books
POB 535 Village Station
New York NY 10014

GENERAL GUIDELINES (for all submitters)
• Please let us know immediately if your manuscript is accepted elsewhere.
• Material in your manuscript may have been published previously in a chapbook, magazines, journals or anthologies, but the work as a whole must be unpublished.
• Translations and previously self-published books are not eligible.
• There are no length requirements save that book-length collections of poetry usually run between 45 pages of text and 80 pages.

The winner will be notified by email or phone no later than Labor Day. Submitters will be notified by email only. The result will also be posted on our website by Labor Day.

We do not return manuscripts. We do not offer editorial feedback to submitters.

Our Reading Policy
Each manuscript is delivered to our readers as a blind submission. That is, it is stripped of identifying material. Only the manuscript, inclusive of any text notes, is sent to the readers and, if chosen as a finalist, to the judge. We do not give a list of submitters to the judge.

Please do not submit to this contest if you are close enough to D.A. Powell that his integrity, your integrity, and the integrity of Four Way Books would be called into question should you be selected as the winner. You may query us if you have questions regarding this matter. We will allow you to submit to us outside of the contest if you feel that you are treading deep water in this regard. Please query by email

Our preliminary readers for the contest are selected by the director of the press and are published poets, experienced editors, and/or poets who have received a graduate degree in creative writing or literature. Each manuscript is read by at least two readers. We regularly rotate our readers.

Our readers select approximately 50 manuscripts as finalist selections. They look for work that is beautifully crafted, manuscripts that feel whole and well shaped. They do not try to second guess a judge's preference. Rather, they look to present a wide range of excellent work to the judge.

Finalists are notified in May that their work will be sent on to the judge. On occasion, a judge may ask to see more work and the judge is not allowed to ask for specific work by a specific writer, but may ask to see a wider sampling of strong work. If that is the case, the press reviews the submissions again and more manuscripts are sent to the judge as finalists. Therefore, we do not inform the public of finalist selections since that list may grow after May.

The judge is instructed to notify the press of any indiscretions. If a submitter contacts the judge regarding the contest, that person will be disqualified. If the judge does not select a winner, the press's director and senior editors will select a finalist's manuscript to publish.


Je serai poète et toi poésie, 

Of Quibbles and Questions

Prompt of the Day #15
Take an idiom, proverb or frequently used moral and either manipulate its meaning, add something to it or develop it into a story. Think of people like Oscar Wilde or Woody Allen, they're rather well known for doing this.

There are two parts that I'd like to look at for this image. The first is simply: you should be the Opportunist. You need to be otherwise you're likely to fail. Your writing can be one or many of the above but ultimately you won't go anywhere with your writing if you don't make the most of every chance that comes your way. I say it a lot, I know, but don't forget it. The second is, don't you find the addition of the third 'character' to be pretty interesting? Something like this image, simple though it may be, adds a new character to the story making it more dynamic. It's comic, your mouth twitches into a grin, maybe a little giggle bubbles up in your chest. Innovative? Yes. 

You're telling a story, let's take a standard example: boy meets girl. Do you think that the reason we're drawn to a very simple, fairly mundane tale, is because it's familiar? Do you think it dominates bookshop shelves because we like reading the same things over and over? Of course not, there's an element of reinvention. 

All you need in a little spark of something new and you revitalise the banal and overdone. 

Je serai poète et toi poésie,

Monday, 12 March 2012

Genius and Nurturing Creativity

Elizabeth Gilbert Talks about Creativity

Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love talks about the future of creativity

In this world there are many types of 'genius', and here Elizabeth Gilbert talks about creativity as it's impetus. She talks about fear, fear of failure and of too much success. She talks of her own love of writing, fascination with her trade and much much more. Inspirational and wonderful. Take from it what you will. This week is going to be about GENIUS. 

Je serai poète et toi poésie,

Of Personae and Print

Prompt of the Day #15
Think about a writer. What does s/he do? How does s/he think? What does s/he struggle with? How do you stylise them? What relation do they bear to your own sense of writerly-ness? 
Write about a writer.

One of the curious things said of James Wood, was that he is, in many senses, a literary figure - a creation of his writing that would need another of him to fully analyse and comprehend. 

Roland Barthes said that 'falling in love involves telling ourselves a story about falling in love'. This much can seem true. Many of us will admit that 'the chase' is more exciting than the endgame. Is this not because we are treating ourselves as characters, imagining the twists and turns, the internalistic emotions and such? Is this not because we are more in love with the fictions than with the reality? We like to live in stories. 

I'm going to admit that I'm one of those old fashioned thinkers. I don't think there's a balance that can be struck between life and work for a writer because life is the work of a writer. That doesn't mean I'm another disciple of the House of Wood. I'm not advocating Realism and the be-and-end-all of good literature. I'm the kid that sits there reading Ulysses and thinks 'this is so true to life' and then reads The Redemption of Althalus and muses over the same thing. No, when it comes down to it, I believe that life is the ever present muse of the writer because anything that happens in real life can transform into fiction. In fact, it's a little like the epistemic dreaming argument - we can dream something lifelike but what we do in dreams may be impossible. Here, as writers, we can fictionalise life but we can't always live fiction. The trick is to make the reader believe that perhaps our novel, story or poem etc is somehow possible. Part of that is done by adopting a voice, a perspective, a form that encourages the reader to put faith in fiction. This is you as the writer. 

I will end by denying a view that I began with: the author is not dead, not entirely, no matter what Barthes said. You have power as a personae in print although your presence is not a determinant of interpretation.  Reading what you write, why not wonder where you find yourself. Hopefully, it's not as a Mary-Sue.

Je serai poète et toi poésie, 

Sunday, 19 February 2012

American English

Dear America,
The Queen of England has one small request to make. Please take heed and realise, we could care less about your odd pronunciations, but do try to at least make sense. 
David Mitchell. Comic Genius.