Fell – The Making Of

By Jenn Ashworth

 

Fell arrived out of the blue. Just one scene. It happens like that sometimes. The scene was this: Jack, Netty and their daughter Annette are sitting on the concrete terraces over Grange-over-Sands old lido on a hot afternoon in August. I saw it all before I wrote it: the murky dark blue of salt water pool, the glare of the sun giving Jack the worst headache he’s ever had, and Netty watching a good looking young man swim lengths of the pool like a sleek white dolphin.

As soon as I started to write these details down (they demanded to be written – it’s a cliché, I know, but it was also true for me) the character spoke and moved and acted: Netty was sick and Jack was worried about her overdoing it. Annette went down to the lido to swim and Netty was worried about her, in the pool with the big boys who were messing about. Netty sent Jack to ask the boys to calm down an the strangest thing of all happened: this beautiful strange boy who introduced himself as Timothy Richardson (where did the names come from? I don’t know) laid a hand on Jack’s face and not only wiped away his headache – as if by magic – but cured in one fell stroke his life-long short sightedness.

What happened next? I typed in order to find out. Jack was nearly struck dumb with the shock of the strange healing – but not dumb enough to fail to seize the opportunity and to ask Timothy to come home with him and take a look at Netty. The doctors can’t help her, he says, but perhaps there’s something you can do for her…? The scene ended there.

I didn’t write anything else for six months. But these characters waited at the lido and I was tormented with questions about them. What was wrong with Netty? Did Annette know her mother was sick? How seriously was she sick? Who was Timothy Richardson and had he really cure Jack, or was it just a trick? Would he be able to help Netty, and if he could, what would he ask in return? Would the price, whatever it was (and there is always a price – I knew enough about angels-in-disguise to know that) be worth paying?

I spent days and days at Grange-over-Sands, looking at the boarded up and now derelict lido and inhaling the salt-and-mud smell of the unbiddable, dangerous Morecambe Bay. I travelled to London and spent a day on Savile Row speaking to cutters and tailors and watching them chalk outlines of suit jackets and trousers on rolls of grey cloth. I visited a retired nurse who told me what caring for someone dying at home was like in the early 1960s, before chemotherapy, before palliative care, before the hospice movement.

A few months later I went back to the scene, and started to write. I didn’t have much of a plan, which meant tonnes and tonnes of drafts, following my nose, and letting characters and the landscape they lived in shape the structure and tone and plot of the novel. In an early draft, Timothy Richardson, the butchers boy and aspiring tailor from Edinburgh, had an entire backstory: much of that was cut because in the end I wanted him to be as mysterious to the reader as he had been to me. After a few drafts, the ‘frame’ of the novel developed – a present day strand where grown-up Annette returns to her parents’ empty house in Grange and attempts to come to terms with her past, with the stories her parents never told her, with the magic she was never allowed to see. She isn’t quite haunted, but the house certainly is, as I would be, until three years had passed and I was able to close the computer and say goodbye to the novel.

 

Jenn Ashworth’s first novel, A Kind of Intimacy, was published in 2009 and won a Betty Trask Award. On the publication of her second, Cold Light(Sceptre, 20011) she was featured on the BBC’s The Culture Show as one of the UK’s twelve best new writers. Her third novel The Friday Gospels (2013) is also published by Sceptre, as is her fourth and new release, Fell. She lives in Lancashire and teaches Creative Writing at Lancaster University.

You can find her at jennashworth.co.uk, or on Twitter @jennashworth

 

 

 

 

Fell – Jenn Ashworth

Fell is the new release by acclaimed literary novelist Jenn Ashworth (Sceptre 2016). On one hand it’s a dark tale of love and loss narrated in first person plural and omniscient third person by the ghosts of those long dead. On the other it’s an intense exploration of power and the struggle to attain and maintain it in interpersonal relationships. But, perhaps more than either of these, it’s an elegy for a life unnoticed.

The story centres on the lives of Netty and Jack, who become undone both physically and mentally, and their relationship with a young man who provides a particularly aggressive form of hope. Desire and desperation meet and lay bare the raw howl of humanity.

The story dances in time and perspective but every leaf-like dart and flutter is clearly signalled; we always know where we are and who we are. Throughout the story runs the thread of decay in a beautifully handled metaphor of house and home and the dark and brooding destructive power of nature. This darkness can be overwhelmed but never removed – unlike the Sycamores which dominate the skyline – and it exists in every mixed motive and flare of ego, every doubt. Every character in this novel is uneasy and the unease grows in pace with the disease until we reach a fraught crescendo.

There is life after death, both literally and figuratively, but there is a sense of great cost.

Jenn Ashworth does a superb job of evoking the spirit of the age in this novel. The descriptive passages ground you in a very real world, against which backdrop the preternatural sings. The relationship between Netty and Jack is entirely believable and the strengths and weaknesses of each character lead to a carefully nurtured sense of emotional investment. The story may not be entirely born of its landscape but it breathes it, lapping at the edges of our perception like the tides. Grange-over-Sands and Morecambe Bay show an expanse of horizon which provides a counterpoint to the increasingly insular nature of the Clifford home.

There are wonderful moments of dialect- plooks, moider and mollycot – when one of the characters is ‘gattered’. A moment of unguarded voice which raises the question of whether any public face is a true face. Is every voice a decision, an attempt to be accepted?

And the life unnoticed?

For some it will be the child, forever on the edges of the adult drama, putting aside her own voice out of duty and love. For others it will be the young man, at once observed and unobserved, damaged and damaging, desirous of anonymity and fame. Both, cursed with the same burden.

 

Jenn Ashworth’s first novel, A Kind of Intimacy, was published in 2009 and won a Betty Trask Award. On the publication of her second, Cold Light (Sceptre, 2011) she was featured on the BBC’s The Culture Show as one of the UK’s twelve best new writers. Her third novel The Friday Gospels (2013) is published by Sceptre. She lives in Lancashire and teaches Creative Writing at Lancaster University.

Jenn can be found at

http://www.jennashworth.co.uk

@jennashworth  on Twitter

 

Curated Crowd Funding – Alice Jolly

Crowdfunding is the talk of the publishing industry right now. But what exactly is involved in crowd funding a book – and would it work for you? Numerous companies now offer crowd funding for authors and each has its own approach. I can only tell you about my publishers, Unbound, who are the most high profile and successful of these companies.

Unbound is a ‘curated’ crowdfunding publisher. That means that it carefully selects the books that go on its site. The reality is that Unbound are as selective as any mainstream publisher. However, it is also the case that, because they take less financial risk, they are frequently more adventurous than other publishers.

So, if Unbound agree to publish your book, what happens after that? First Unbound help you to make a video and write a pitch about your book. This then goes up on the Unbound website and then you, as author, need to bring in the pledges – which are effectively advanced sales of the book.

In general, for a hard copy book you need to raise around £ 10,000 in pledges which equates to around 500 people pledging £20 each. If your book is going to be produced only as an e-book then the figures are much lower – £3,000 to £4,000.

Two years ago I published a memoir with unbound called Dead Babies and Seaside Towns.

It took me six months to raise £12,000 and it was hard going. But once the money was raised, Unbound operated in the same way as any other publisher. They worked on editing, proof reading, cover design, printing, publicity, marketing and distribution.

Now that the book is out, I don’t receive the normal 10% royalty. Instead, I receive a 50% profit share. In my case, I am not taking this money. I’m giving it to Sands ( The Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Charity). But that only makes the this highly favourable financial arrangement more important to me.

I am now publishing a novel with Unbound. That decision wasn’t easy. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to raise the subscriptions a second time. But so far I’m doing well. It helps that I know exactly who signed up for the memoir and I’ve got their emails. That is part of what Unbound are about – building direct links between writers and readers.

It is also exciting to be part of a publishing experiment. And finally, I didn’t want to go back to a mainstream publisher. Perhaps I’m not the only writer who has got questions about the mainstream publishing industry and what it produces. I’ve reached a time when I want to publish my own work in my own way and unbound are helping me to do that. Who knows what the future may be.

 

You can subscribe to Alice’s new novel which is called ‘Between The Regions Of Kindness‘ here:

https://unbound.co.uk/books/between-the-regions-of-kindness

Alice’s website is here:  http://www.alicejolly.com

You can find Unbound here:  https://unbound.co.uk/books

Rewrites

Novelist Derek Farrell (Death of a Diva, Death of a Nobody – Farenheit Press) gives us his quirky take on the sometimes tortuous business of rewriting.

 

So you finished a first draft?

Congratulations. Seriously, in a world where most people never finish a sentence let alone a book, you did it.

Be PROUD of yourself.

Now, lock the manuscript in a drawer in a desk in a very high tower surrounded by thickets and forests and leave it there. Or save it to a drive where you won’t easily be able to open it. In other words, start your rewrite by not looking at the manuscript.

Instead, ask yourself what, if you were asked in an interview to describe your book, you would say. What’s it about? How’s it written? Does it have a message, and if so what is it?

Let go of what you’ve written. Go back to what you wanted to write.

Jot this down if you like. Fast. Don’t think too much about it.This is the truth and too much thinking turns truth into bullsh*t. Years of therapy at eighty quid a pop and you’re getting this nugget for free. You’re welcome.

Now you know what you wanted to write about, how you wanted it to sound, and what it’s meant to look like, you can cut through the thickets (careful: Thorns) climb the ladder to that high tower, unlock the drawer, drag out the MS, and take a look at it.

Or open the file on your computer; whichever works for you.

Rewriting:

It is not ‘Killing your babies.’ You’re an author not King Herod. It might be taking your babies and putting them into an orphanage until you find a proper home for them. Nothing you write is ever worthless, so don’t delete. Just cut ‘n’ paste to a document called ‘Offcuts.’

It is not ‘Throwing everything away and starting again.’ I promise you the book you’ve written is good, this will just make it better. Silence the voices. Keep as much as you like of the draft.

It is not ‘Adding whole chapters.’ Or rather it shouldn’t be. The process is about reshaping to your original vision, and inserting new material only where it’s needed.

It is not a one shot activity. My first book ‘Death of a Diva’ was rewritten nine times. The first draft is massively different to the second. The ninth barely different from the eighth. Each rewrite was necessary to get it to the vision I had in my head when I started the book.

That said it is not an open ended activity. The voices in your head cannot risk your book ever being seen by someone who might contradict their negativity. Thus they will continually tell you that it ‘needs another reworking,’ ‘will never be right,’ or ‘isn’t done yet.’

Further, there will be real life actual people – agents, other authors, your uncle Tom with the funny eye and the unfulfilled dreams of becoming an actor – who will happily tell you everything that is wrong with the work, and advise what you should do to put it right.

Remember that vision you had – the one you scribbled before the rewrites began? If the book you end up with looks like that vision, you’re done. If it doesn’t, rewrite it again.

Ignore the other voices. They are not necessarily wrong; but what they want is their own book, not yours.

Keep on until yours is in front of you.

 

Derek Farrell’s new novel Death of a Nobody is available from Farenheit Press from May 2016. You can find him at http://www.derekfarrell.co.uk or alternatively @DerekIFarrell on Twitter

 

Tom Vowler – Dazzling the Gods

Tom Vowler champions the short story and introduces his upcoming collection:

Short stories, good ones at any rate, are rarely fashioned with ease, their alchemy, for me at least, a complex and protracted procedure. They require a poet’s precision, an artist’s artifice. They must have a subtext, a second story, veiled within the first. Their language must function, not only on a literal, expository level, but an affective, abstract one too, so that their impact is more than the sum of their parts. Significant space must be left for the reader to occupy, lacunae that must still be implied.

The best stories are deeply immersive, yet holding something back, reluctant as they are to yield all their meaning, at least on early readings. They must evoke more than explain, be felt more than understood. They must get under our skin a little. The modern short story is patterned by internal emotion, mood and atmosphere rather than by external action. Rarely comfortable with providing facile entertainment, stories instead provoke, delight, instruct or enchant. They fit large truths into small spaces.

The best short stories can stay with us as long, if not longer, than even our most cherished novels, their ripple enduring thanks, perhaps, to their more visceral impact, the additional demands they make of the reader. They can unsettle and change us.

But of course short story collections, we’re told, don’t sell; they are written, primarily, for those who write them. They are tricksy, full of ambiguity; they shun satisfying narrative arcs, are more art than entertainment. They can be difficult, impenetrable at times, delivering more questions than answers. Publishers, because of the story’s diminutive commercial impact, tend to avoid them. Which is a shame because they can also be things of great beauty and elegance and profundity. They tell us so much about ourselves; they reflect in complex and wonderful ways on what it means to be alive, to be human. They can exult and dazzle. To borrow from Stephen King, they are a kiss in the dark from a stranger, or from Kafka, an axe to break up the frozen sea within us.

And so after three years of writing little else other than stories, I have curated them into Dazzling the Gods, which is currently being crowdfunded via the wonderful folk at Unbound. To whet your appetite, here’s a little about the book.

A brother returns from exile to stir up the past. A macabre performance in the bowels of a Parisian museum must be seen to be believed. Lovers torn apart by heroin confront their loss in wildly divergent ways. A severely disabled husband struggles with the permission he has bestowed. A credulous lover finally faces the crimes of her partner. A father hopes a son never tires of their pilgrimage. And a widower observers his daughter blossoming amid the carnage of war.

By turns tender, brutal and darkly humorous, the stories in Dazzling the Gods are furnished with fraternal affection, climate change, artificial intelligence and the contrails of lost love. Sensual and shocking, lyrical and haunting, these tails are a curation of all things human, from the exultant to the diabolical.

You can support Dazzling the Gods and follow its journey into existence here

( https://unbound.co.uk/books/dazzling-the-gods ).

Tom Vowler is an award-winning novelist and short story writer living in south west England. His debut short story collection, The Method, won the Scott Prize in 2010 and the Edge Hill Readers’ Prize in 2011, while his novel What Lies Within received critical acclaim. He is editor of the literary journal Short Fiction and an associate lecturer in creative writing at Plymouth University, where he’s just completed his phD. His second novel, That Dark Remembered Day, was published in 2014. Tom’s second collection of stories, Dazzling the Gods, is forthcoming in 2016.

More at http://www.tomvowler.co.uk

 

A New Prize for Small Presses

Award-winning novelist, Neil Griffiths (Betrayal in Naples, Saving Caravaggio), on his new prize for small presses.

It was over a year ago this month when I realised I would have trouble placing my new novel Family of Love; the theological theme is complex, it is very long, and my last novel, Saving Caravaggio, while being short-listed for the Costa Novel of the Year, was an existential thriller and almost ten years old. Even my agent said ‘no’. As usual, I met my former Penguin editor Leo Hollis, now at Verso, for advice. I showed him the rather contradictory emails I’d been sent – contradictory in the sense that they were rejections but no one thus far in my writing life has ever said such flattering things about my work. (I won’t quote them.) Leo’s advice was transformative. Not so much for my novel, although that has worked out, too. He said have you tried Galley Beggar, they’ve just had a big success with A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing? What about Fitzcarraldo Editions; there’s a lot of noise around them after Zone?

Now let me make this clear, as a published author, voracious reader, and cultural flâneur, I thought I knew all about literary stuff, but I hadn’t heard of either publisher. And yet, when I looked on their websites I saw a vision of publishing that was not only interested in beautiful design (FE even have their own typeface) but was dedicated to publishing difficult books that would never find a home in mainstream publishing. Galley Beggar stated that they were committed to ‘hardcore literary fiction and gorgeous prose’ – a line I’ve lifted (stolen) for the strap line of my prize. Given this highly uncommercial attitude to the market, I wondered how these small presses survived. A little research told me they barely do; they are even more vulnerable than independent bookshops with no large sales of Jamie Oliver or John Grisham or Christmas to keep them afloat. For many, all they have is the hard stuff. Each book a risk that barely – rarely – breaks even.

How might I help, I wondered. I have a little disposable income, a little disposable time. I knew from experience that being short-listed for a prize has an impact on both exposure and sales. Maybe I should start a prize for small presses. So I did: The Republic of Consciousness Prize for Small Presses. It was launched two months ago. Seven independent bookshop owners have agreed to be judges. The prize money has now risen from my own contribution of £2,000 to £3,000, and I expect it to reach £5,000, maybe even more, by the time the short-list is announced in January. My hope is that, whoever wins, the prize money will take a little of the risk out of publishing one or two books next year, and that the announcement of the short-list will boost sales for  books that might never have been published if it wasn’t for the range and vision of small presses.

http://www.republicofconsciousness.com/prize

Twitter – @neilgriffiths

 

 

Tell it like it is

 

Art, is an area where it is impossible to walk without stumbling. There are in store for you many unsuccessful days and whole unsuccessful seasons: there will be great misunderstandings and deep disappointments…you must be prepared for this, expect it and nevertheless, stubbornly, fanatically follow your own way.

Anton Chekov