Old Women in Books: on publishing your mother


Today is my mum’s birthday. Ghillian Potts is 84. Like me, she has written all her literate life, and still has a notebook full of poems written between the ages of about 7 and 12, (of variable quality!)
To celebrate, my publishing company, Arachne Press, is publishing two of her books today. I crowd funded to the family, and my sisters and Dad all contributed.

I grew up with my mum’s stories, bedtime and bathtime we would congregate to hear the next installment in some long running saga (one of which featured a family of five girls whose names all started with R discovering that their headmistress is a witch, which went on for weeks), or demand yet again an old favourite; Jackanory had nothing on Mum, and the Singing Ringing Tree (remember that?) was a very poor second.

It turned out that the publishing world agreed, and three of Ghil’s stories for primary school aged children were published in the 1990’s, including Sink or Swim which made it onto Jackanory and we were very pleased that they had finally caught up with us! However relatively speaking, these were contemporary, girl/boy in the street, stories (even the one with a witch), which didn’t showcase Ghil’s magnificent flights of fantasy… Her agent ‘knew’ what would sell and just wasn’t interested in her magnificently funny and silly fairy tales for younger children, nor in her fantasy novels for the Young Adult market.

My all time most-often-demanded tale aged 5 or 6 was The Very Cross King, although when I asked Ghil to write it out for me recently, it wasn’t at all how I remembered. Unlike the glorious The Old Woman from Friuli, which was exactly as I remember it, possibly because it was written much later, when Ghil was learning Italian and heard this outrageous claim:

The people of Friuli are the most stubborn in the whole of Italy, and the women are even more stubborn than the men, but the old women… well!

As a  4 star review from The Book Bag says: … a clarion call to our daughters… Three cheers, I say!

Mum denies any intention to instil feminism in the young, saying that she was just having fun letting the Old Woman be as rude as possible, but it’s there nonetheless.

I commissioned Ed Boxall to do the illustrations, having worked with him before, and there would have been more if we could have afforded them.

 

The other book Arachne Press is publishing is Brat: Book One of The Naming of Brook Storyteller.

I don’t have many shared interests with Ghil, we suffer from being very alike in personality but very different in outlook. Writing is our meeting place and touchstone.

Years ago I wrote an extended critique of the three books that make up The Naming of Brook Storyteller for Ghil, probably just before she offered them to the agent, I can’t recall now. And Mum did likewise for me on my novel The Dowry Blade. If there is one person it is difficult to take literary criticism from, it is your mum! Don’t try this at home! I’m sure she found my comments equally difficult, but we were both right. However, it meant that I know these books pretty well, and love them, although they have inevitable evolved over the interim, in fact I realised that some of the cultural peculiarities I had included in a early attempt at a fantasy novel (never to be published!) were swiped from Mum.

Gorgeous cover by Gordy Wright

The decision to publish now was almost spur of the moment, but once made it felt absolutely right. Ghil’s writing inspired me to write, and these are fantastic stories that deserve a wider audience that they have had so far. Neither of us is getting any younger, and I want Mum to see these books published while she can still enjoy the process.

The trilogy tells the story of Brook Storyteller, orphaned and alone, befriended by outlaws and rulers;  trained to remember, exactly, what happens, and sworn to always tell the truth, in a way that the listener will understand, and with the power to raise or destroy people by the names she gives them. Her own name is precious, and changes over the course of the three novels through the success and failure of her own actions.

This is absolutely a series based on the importance of acting and speaking truthfully and the consequences for those who don’t.

So when I sat Mum down and suggested I might publish some of her work, the choice was pretty much already made as to which books to start with, although I did look at one of her other Young Adult books that I remember her writing when I was about the age to be her target market, but these are the stories I grew up loving.

The second in the trilogy, Spellbinder,  will be published in December, and the final one, Wolftalker, in June next year.

Happy Birthday, Mum!

 

 

 

 

More From Cut a Long Story


More stories up on Cut a Long Story…

starkridge1Starkridge: Don’t Mess with Mountains…

glory or hope imagewcbGlory, or Hope: two goddesses meet on a beach…

bloomington cloudPrairie Rain: a flash fiction set on a porch near the town of Normal, Illinois

deja vue image cpDéjà Vû: A radical retelling – Sleeping Beauty and Snow White seen through the prism of The Stepford Wives

eye of the beholderEye of the Beholder: Bill keeps seeing the same woman – at least, he thinks it’s the same woman… a ghost story set in Brockley.

judges image copyJudges: What really happened to Jael and Sisera – not quite how it’s told in The Song of Deborah.

 

Cutting a Long Story – update


Some of the stories that were originally published in Tales Told Before Cockcrow are up on Cut a Long Story. Pleasingly quick. Buy them now!! (thank you).

all hallows imageAll Hallows: Keith’s obsessions get him into trouble
red dress imageThe Red Dress: A daughter’s loyalty is put to the test.
Dragon2Tales Told Before Cockcrow: Sybil tries to get Amelia to sleep – a very long sleep.
tales cover combinedThe She-Lord and her Tailor: A Tailor meets a very large cat and tries to sell her clothes. That was always going to end well…

and (not in Tales…) We Apologise for the Delay (complete with spelling mistake in the title – my fault – dizzy fingers.) Ade discovers a nest of strange creatures whilst cleaning an underground station

More to follow.

Reach them through my page on the Cut a Long Story site.

Hear me read from one of these,  and several others 7pm tomorrow, Thursday 26th February, at Richmond Lending Library, Little Green, TW9 1QL £2 which includes refreshments (booking in advance not essential but POSSIBLE here)

I still need a good image for several stories… offers of assistance anyone?

Cover image for Tales Told Before Cockcrow
Cover image for Tales Told Before Cockcrow

Inspirations – Deja Vu


I’ve always been fascinated by the concept of Déjâ Vu, and this story originated in something I wrote when I was still at school, a highly melodramatic piece about walking into one’s own past. That story remains as just one scene, as Lucy/Hilary steps out of the train at a station, and goes to a house she once lived in. The rest is dystopia and fairy tales – Sleeping Beauty and Snow White both get their tropes in, waking from long sleep and being offered poison by a door to door saleswoman. There is a hefty element of paranoia to the story – a Stepford Wives meets Smiley’s People cold war angle inspired by one of those what-if conversations. Huge fun to write!

Inspirations – Russian Fairytales, illustrations and London Bridge


Two stories came from the same picture, which I have been completely unable to trace. I think it is from an edition of The Snow Queen, and the illustrator might have been Kay Neilsen or Edmund Dulac or possibly Arthur Rackham, but as I’ve been unable to track it down I can’t confirm; maybe, like the rest of the story, I dreamt it.

The Bone Box (Mosaic of Air) definitely owes something to Kay Neilsen, whose illustration of the North Wind for East of the Sun, West of the Moon (a book I haven’t read!) influenced the design of the story and the language too. I had a reproduction of this picture on my pin board for about eight years. Neilsen’s North Wind is a solid, rather Art Deco god. This lent simplicity to the language I used, while my heroine, Adamanta, got her stubbornness from the frowning wind, and her good sense from the girl in the lost picture, in her voluminous coat. If this was a real fairytale its origins would be in Siberia, despite the lack of snow.

Another girl in an oversized coat features in All Hallows, (Tales Told Before Cockcrow) where she embodies my objections to TS Eliot’s claim that London Bridge is swarming with ghosts – ghosts don’t go anywhere, I remember thinking, and started wondering about the everyday ghosts, the homeless, with nowhere to go, and I imagined this ghost rooted to the spot, in all the surging humanity that is London and the more I thought about her the further back in time she went. This could have been really long, but I reused some scenes for the beginning of another novel, and this remains what it started as: concerned with what it is that keeps a ghost rooted to a place through time and how they might be set free by the right intervention.

bright shiny new book


Mosaic of Air by Cherry Potts (cover Melina Traub)
Mosaic of Air by Cherry Potts (cover Melina Traub)

So I’ve been working through the first box of books sending them out to reviewers. And I’ve been so busy organising things I didn’t get round to posting on the website, so (Trumpet fanfare!!) Mosaic of Air is here, and will be in the shops on 26th September.

There will be a launch party at The Planetarium, Royal Observatory Greenwich SE10 8XJ on 1st October 2013 at 6pm  (Combined with Weird Lies, the latest Arachne Press/Liars’ League collaboration).  Readings will focus on Science Fiction stories. If you would like to come along, it’s free, but we have to have a guest list for H&S and so on, so please contact me and reserve your place by the 26th September absolute latest.

On 5th September at 7:30 there is another joint Weird Lies/ Mosaic of Air event, (also free) focussing on fantasy stories, at Misty Moon Gallery, Ladywell Tavern 80 Ladywell Road, SE13 7HS.

You can still buy copies at pre-publication price of £11 up until 26th September, post free within UK.

The Queen’s Safety


My story The Queen’s Safety was read at Liars’ League last week.

For those of you not in the audience, you can read, listen or watch the story (performed by Greg Page) on the Liars’ League site soon, but in the meantime, the video is on YouTube.