Ten Minutes with Ron Carey

Ron Carey is a gifted poet born in Limerick and living in Dublin. His current collection Distance has been nominated for the Forward Prize, Best First Collection UK and Ireland.

roncareypic

 

When did you first realise that words were important to you?

My Mum brought a mixture of silence and awe to every wedding or birthday party when she sang. It wasn’t that she was a great singer, though she had a sweet voice, but she sang with such conviction that everybody felt it. As a small boy, I began to realise what words could do. I and my brother Greg, who is also a poet, had a facility for learning songs and poems very quickly. I couldn’t wait to get my new English books for school. I spent many a summer’s day devouring poetry and learning poems by heart. The first time I got a real reaction to something I wrote – real in the sense of unexpected and outside the circle of family and friends – was an essay on fishing for a secondary school’s competition that I had to read to the class. When I finished, there was a spontaneous round of applause that took me and our English teacher by surprise. Naturally, this spurred me on in my writing.

You seem to have very quickly chosen poetry over prose although I imagine, like most poets, you appreciate the music in both. How do you think about sound when you are writing?

As a poet, I hold the strong suspicion that the universe is in tune. We know the stars have their own notes but I think that everything must have a God-given note, if only we could play it. I’ve always been interested in our response to rhythm and sound. Music seems to bypass the logical filters in the brain and go straight to the emotional centre – how else can one explain being moved by an aria in a language one does not understand. Some poetry has so much musicality the it floods the poem. In good poetry, as in good music, we wait for the provoked expectation to be satisfied. I think Robert Frost’s poem ‘Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening’ does this brilliantly, filling up the poem with falling words until we are also full –

‘The woods are lovely dark and deep,

But I have promises to keep,

And miles to go before I sleep,

And miles to go before I sleep.’

At the moment I am reading ‘All the Pretty Horses’ by Cormac McCarthy, which is a love story on so many levels. Though it’s called a novella, it’s really a prose poem. McCarthy is able to carry it off but when I write prose it is the language of explanation and not of love.

Do you write prose?

It’s a question that hasn’t come up in any other interviews but the answer is yes, but less and less as my poetry has had more recognition. I even tried to write a novel a few years back but please don’t tell anyone. I like to write short stories with quirky endings. I wrote a lot of flash fiction when I was on the Open University Creative Writing Course, which, by the way, I highly recommend.

Take me back to when you were putting together your new collection, Distance. What were your thoughts about what you wanted to include?

If someone had told me, Distance, was going to be on the Forward Prize shortlist, I might still be trying to decide which ones to put in. But because I was only picking what I thought were the best poems, irrespective of how they would come together, it actually worked out. As I reread the poems, I began to see some themes emerging – themes like the passing of time and how we are all connected to those who have gone before and to those who come after us. And the distance we are from each other, both physically and psychologically. I put the poems together under these different sections and hoped people would see the same connections.

It’s often easier to see themes in retrospect, we look back over a shoulder and see the rivers of thought and not the flood. Which poets grew you? When exploring words we find those kindred spirits who drive us on. Can you name yours?

My first love was the language and imagination of the Romantic Poets, especially Keats. They seemed to have such high ideals and to be enthralled with life. But when it came to recitation, which involves one to the greatest extent, with musicality and story-telling to the fore, Tennyson and Longfellow had the best lines. As I got a little older, the Irish poets spoke to me directly – Padric Colum and Francis Ledwidge and the poets of the 1916 revolution – with Yeats striding over all. Later, I began to recognise Patrick Kavanagh’s influence in Irish poetry and on my own and to find some poetic kinship there.

What are you working on at the moment?

The standard answer is that I am working on my second collection. And I am – just not all the time and by no means with a central theme in mind. Though nomination for the Best First Collection has put some pressure on me, at the moment I am writing poetry just for the sake it, free from expectations, including my own. I am near to having enough poems to form the basis of a collection but I don’t want to think about finishing because I enjoy discovering new poems within myself.

Ron Carey can be found:

http://roncareypoetry.com

or on Twitter @RonCarey49

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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

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

 

 

Review – Man On Fire – Stephen Kelman

This book is a vibrant and visceral song of India. Part biography and part embellishment, it weaves through the lives of both its narrators, charting a path from pain to acceptance, reflecting on the nature of purpose and calling and what it means to be truly present; truly human; alive.

In the dust and glory of this story there is great peace and hope. The narrative prowls the line between life and death with the sure-footedness of the tiger and all the colours of Maharashtra flood the pages. It is a beautiful exploration of need and man, examining the ties that bind us and the desires which drive us, laying them as bare as the earth before the rains.

In choosing to enter into the life story of Bibhuti Nayak, the writer has found a cause which resonates deeply in the heart of Navi Mumbai. A multiple record holder and tireless worker for the health and welfare of others, Nayak seeks to demonstrate what can be accomplished with perseverance and determination, and he does so for those whose lives  demand determination on a daily basis if they are to continue. Nayak takes his place as hope-bringer, perhaps the highest title to which any of us can aspire.

There is foolishness and thoughtlessness, there is great love and great sacrifice, and there is wonderful flawed humanity; it boils from the page in the summer heat.

It is worth reading this book simply for the craftsmanship with which the writer drip-feeds information, gently leading us in the search for purpose, or for the poetry of symmetry with which he balances the plot, making each new revelation startling yet inevitable. It is to his credit that his guidance is always gentle, taking a backseat to the development of character. You should read this story for its richness, its beauty and its stunning sense of resolution. This is a powerful work beautifully written.

Stephen Kelman is the Man Booker-shortlisted author of Pigeon English. His new book Man on Fire will be published by Bloomsbury on 13th August 2015.

He can be found on Twitter @stephen_kelman

Why The Eighteenth Century?

This is what happens when you ask the obvious question of a Historical Fiction author. Thank you to the wonderful Rebecca Mascull for her time and patience. Why the eighteenth century? My second novel SONG OF THE SEA MAID is set in the eighteenth century and what a century it was. Violent and chaotic – there seemed to be a more or less constant state of war in Europe and beyond for much of the century; flamboyant and appalling – the fashions were extreme and the poverty was grinding. Life was cheap, children were treated as badly as animals, and the animals had a very bad time of it themselves. Women were generally seen as a lower order or a larger form of children. The poor were sometimes thought to be a different species, let alone those of other races. Religion ruled the roost, politics was rife with corruption and you could be sentenced to horrible punishments for blasphemy or for treason against the king. So, there’s plenty of material there for a novelist. But why in particular did I choose it for my setting? I knew that I wanted my main character to be a woman of science. She was going to begin with lowly origins, then later study, travel and get into scrapes. I wanted her to make a scientific discovery and develop a theory, formed by the experiences she has as she grows up and goes further afield. I could have set my protagonist down in another century – the nineteenth perhaps – and still achieved the same aim. The Victorian era was not easy for women either, or orphans for that matter (see Dickens!), so the nineteenth century would provide enough obstacles for our woman of science. And let’s face it, even the Twentieth century had only just shifted a little along the line to equality, when one thinks of the problems a woman like Rosalind Franklin had to be taken seriously by posterity. But my decision came when I realised that I wanted my scientist to be after the gigantic strides forward made by Isaac Newton and long before the mould-breaking work of Charles Darwin. I wanted her to be in the midst of the age of reason and yet still constrained by the rule of religion and also superstition. I wanted her to be born into an age that still believed in unicorns, dragons and mermaids, before dinosaurs were named but giant bones had been found and erroneously labelled as monsters. Into this melee comes my heroine, Dawnay Price, and through it she must negotiate a path of study and science. She is a creature of her age and yet she strives to escape it. Despite its horrors – scurvy on ships, stoning people in pillories, kidnapping boys for impressment – it’s such a fascinating age, that once I’d made my decision to use it, I fell headlong and was thrilled by it. The fabric of everyday life was wonderful – chairmen carrying the gentry, frost fairs on the Thames, children playing knucklebones – and when I’d finished writing, oh how I missed it! I might just open up SONG OF THE SEA MAID again and climb back in there, horrors and wonders all. Twitter – @rebeccamascull http://www.rebeccamascull.tumblr.com http://www.facebook.com/RebeccaMascull

Review – The Ship – by Antonia Honeywell

This is an emotionally complex, chilling, and compelling read. The author takes the Dystopian genre and the YA Fiction genre and slams them together to produce anything but simplicity. What initially seems to be a first person narrative written by an undeveloped writer, turns out to be an essay in selfishness through the eyes of an extremely broken protagonist. Again and again the world proves to be the author and creator of its own destruction, not least in the creation of its flawed beacon of hope.

This is a disturbing read which will stay with you long after you have read it. The unsettling nature of the work stems largely from the psychological truth in the actions of its characters. We are forced to face the reality of desperation. We are made to ask ourselves if we would fare better. Would we make similar choices? We are made to ask ourselves if we are capable of terrible things. The truth is that under certain circumstances we all are. It’s not an easy thought to take tea with.

I left this book understanding but not liking any of the characters. This is not a bad thing. The characters are extremely well constructed and we have to take into account the inability of the protagonist to make sense of her world. The information we receive is filtered through a shattered looking glass and the struggle to piece it together is evident throughout the story. People will have different reactions and take different things from this tale. I had to take away confirmation of the struggle with brokenness and darkness  in all of us. I had to ask myself whether I was disliking people for who they are or humanity for what it is.

The story drives you forward in a bid to gain comprehension. We seek to eat the apple of the tree of knowledge and are damned.

Read it. You won’t forget it.