International Women’s Day Women on the Move reading


On 8th March Arachne Press held an International Women’s Day of readings from female authors and poets, surrounded by the  Tatty Divine exhibition at the Stephen Lawrence Gallery. Many thanks to Greenwich University Galleries for hosting.

Here I am reading my short story from Departures, Cloud Island.

Save A Spider Day 2020 – Arachne’s Daughters


Back in the mists of time, I wrote a very silly story, called Arachne’s Daughters and the carbon copy of the typescript (yes, that long ago!) did the rounds of a local auhtority women’s group and the feedback was such that I thought maybe, just maybe it was worth publishing. Eventually it made it into print, and I might have forgotten all about it, if I hadn’t subsequently, a long time later, set up a publishing house, and had Arachne Press as one of my possible names. Someone made the mistake of telling me NOT to call my press that, as spider haters wouldn’t buy the books, and Arachne Press it became.

This year Arachne is eight, and I decided to put together an anthology in praise of the spider (you can read about this over on Arachne’s website), and I remembered this weird little story. I was convinced that spiderlit was a minority interest and it might be an opportunity (or even a necessity) to republish Arachnë’s Daughters to bulk out the material, but in fact it turn out the largest response to a call out ever!

So I don’t need her. But it is Save a Spider Day today, and as the narrator of the story is very keen on doing just that, I thought I’d share it here.

 

Arachne’s Daughters.

The following document, which was found in our archives recently, is a transcript of the talk given to the inaugural meeting of the Lesbo-Arachnid League of Friendship, on 29th of February 1992 (old calendar). It is published here, for the first time, to commemorate the thirteenth anniversary of the revolution.

Our recently retired Archivist, who attended that first meeting, remembers that the speaker made a dramatic entrance, abseiling onto the podium. Unfortunately, due to her size, much of the audience was unable to see her once she had landed, owing to the over-exuberance of the floral arrangements.

 

Good evening Ladies, Madam Chairwoman. Before I start my talk, I would just like to thank you for coming. My subject for this evening is Closer Co-operation Between Lesbians and Arachnids.

Primarily I would like to discuss with you the mutual benefits of closer co-operation. I shall start by putting forward my reasons for asking for your help; and then I’ll dispel some of the myths surrounding our culture, in order to help you to contemplate the closer links I advocate.

Now we all know we have a common enemy in men; I hope I don’t need to explain why? Good, I see a few nodding heads. Some of you may feel uncomfortable with some of the things I have to say, but please bear with me.

Many women have a deep and abiding loathing of ‘spiders’ as you call us. I accept that, but I want to explain why this paranoia exists. To do that, I will have to explain Arachnophobia, to show it to you as the persecution of spiderkind it is.

You think Witches were persecuted? Right, but that was centuries ago, yes? And Cats, certainly, but they are pampered pets now. How many people do you know who even pass the time of day with a spider? I shall embarrass you now, I am afraid.

Stand up anyone, I mean anyone, who can honestly say she has never killed a spider.

I thought so. Feeling uncomfortable yet? What is the problem, do we have too many legs, is that it?

All the more to run away with, I assure you.

So some of us are poisonous; I agree, but tell me, have you ever met anyone in these climes who has been made even mildly ill by a spider bite? We don’t pose much of a threat, do we? Now compare that to the number of spiders you have personally injured, deliberately or otherwise? We only bite people to protect ourselves; we are friendly, peace-loving creatures who wish to live in harmony with other species – with certain exceptions, like men -. We are on your side, sisters, and we have plenty to offer.

You will have been told that we are devious murderers, entrapping innocent prey. Well, yes, we are. So what? I can’t buy flies shrink-wrapped at the local supermarket; and I bet you’d rather I ate that bluebottle buzzing against the window than leaving it to tread puke into your next meal, yes?

I’m sorry if I’m carping on, but I really get annoyed by this sort of petty, dishonest, prejudice. No one is asking you to eat insects, after all.

All of these distortions of fact have been foisted on you by men, make no mistake about it. There has been a deliberate attempt to drive a wedge between us. Unfortunately, it has been a great success.

Our only good press where men are concerned is that old chestnut about Robert the Bruce, winning the battle after seeing the spider remaking her web each time it broke, thus explaining to him the usefulness of perseverance. Well you can forget about that persecutor of Spiders. He said the wind was responsible for breaking that web. Nonsense. He broke it. He was bored and he liked to torment things, especially small, helpless, earnest things. So one of our sisters joins the hall of fame because of her courage and tenacity in the face of the deliberate destruction of her home and livelihood.

Does this sound familiar? I’m sure you have one or two heroines who fit this mould? Someone who stuck to her principles and struggled on in the face of the persecution of the people who now praise her: Joan of Arc springs to mind. I’m sure there are others.

Well, so much for our Robbie, who learnt to persist, and to lie about how he came by the idea. Had he bothered to ask, I’m sure that nameless heroine would have given him the same advice, and not spent all morning remaking her web.

You may wonder how a culture that does not have anything that you would recognise as a literature remembers these events. Spiders have a racial memory, a bit like instinct, but more refined. We remember everything. Not that you generally let us close enough to benefit from our advice, our accumulated wisdom.

Have you ever noticed the way your resident spider hunches up in fear when you come into the room, plays dead until she has the chance to use her legs to run for cover?

Why? Because she is afraid. She is hoping you won’t put her out in the rain, or let the cat play with her, or just step on her. She isn’t going to hang around and give you good advice under those circumstances, is she? Which is a pity, she could become your best friend if you only let her. Try saying hello next time you see Suzannah in the garden, or Babette scaling your cooker, you might be pleasantly surprised, we can be quite cuddly.

Which, I suppose, brings us on to sex; and Black Widows. Now this is one of the areas that members of your specie seem to find particularly difficult, although I can’t for the life of me understand why.

I would like to clear up one misunderstanding: All spiders eat other spiders. Don’t look so shocked madam, your specie has been known to do it too. I mean, if you don’t have the sense to steer clear of your neighbours when they are hungry, you take a chance, its quite simple.

It doesn’t happen so very often. There are codes we use, a bit like musical doorbells. One taps out a message on the threads, I am not dinner, and if you are in luck, the lady of the house will tell you which threads to avoid standing on.  Of course, copulation makes the female spider very hungry; so any male runs the risk of being eaten after the act. Or, if he’s very juicy, before.

To be honest, I don’t know why your heterosexual sisters don’t do the same, no male of either species are of the slightest use except for procreation. Our aeons of experience have taught us the most effective way to deal with all that childcare nonsense. I hatch thousands of the little monsters at a time. They get a parachute each, and off they go,  pioneers in the exploration of the world.

Did you know that spiders are always the first colonists on newly formed volcanic islands? It’s true, and a great many die in the attempt. I expect there to be spiders on the moon shortly. However, I digress. I was explaining how men have conned you into being frightened of us.

Let me tell you about Arachne. She is supposed to have been a human, a very skilled spinner and weaver. So far so good. She is also supposed to have been proud and boastful. I think ‘uppity’ would be a good word to describe Arachne. So this clever weaver challenges Athene (you remember Athene?) to a contest to see who is the best weaver, loses, and hangs herself. Then Athene is supposed to have turned her into a spider.

Now, can you believe anyone would be so stupid? I don’t believe it, personally. No one could expect to surpass a Goddess at anything and I would have thought Athene would have been pleased a woman was so good. So why would Athene have accepted the challenge, if indeed that challenge were ever made?

This myth was invented by – you guessed it – men. They wanted you to think that being a spider was a step down from being a woman, and a punishment for being too clever. This served a two-fold purpose, preventing you from taking pride in anything you do, even the things they expect you to be good at; and discouraging you from associating with spiders.

In fact, Arachne was always a spider, and a symbol of womanly virtues and strengths; strengths such as tenacity and courage and pride. Arachne was so popular with human females that men wanted to find a way of destroying her cult. They even went to the trouble of changing the calendar to lose the month named for her; I bet they wish they could have changed the moon’s turning too, to make it fit their twelve months. Nice try fellas.

Forgot something though didn’t they? How many Cancers and Scorpios are there in this audience? Greetings, cousins.

So now you know at least some of the truth about spiders, and why and how you have been lied to. I hope you appreciate that this disinformation has resulted in centuries of misunderstanding, and that we, the Arachnids have a lot to offer you, the Lesbians.

Listen to the Spider, when she tells you the watchwords of all Arachnids; the wisdom that is the basis of our civilisation. Remember, as you listen, that our civilisation exists, nay thrives, despite horrendous losses from centuries of persecution.

The watchwords of the Arachnids are these: Be self sufficient; Never despair at failure. Work toward perfection; be proud.

And most important of all: Where males are concerned, avoid them, but if that proves impossible, remember they can be a useful source of protein.

Hear, sisters, and learn.

Thank you for inviting me to talk to you. Good night.

 

And the rest, as they say, is History.

 

first published in Mosaic of Air, Onlywomen Press 1992, reprinted Arachne Press 2013

Story Cities – Foundation Myth


Story Cities is an Arachne Press project, bringing together 42 writers and 51 stories about the city – any city, every city, in flash of under 500 words.

The brief for the book was: no names, no recognisable landmarks, and to fit one of the themes – termini, transport, hotels, cafes, squares and parks, markets, main streets, side streets and crossroads.

When I started thinking about it, my reaction was, no, this isn’t what makes a city, it’s the people.

Here’s some video of my contribution to the book, Foundation Myth, read at Greenwich Book Festival, same story, slightly different take.

and at the book launch, at the Stephen Lawrence Gallery, also in Greenwich.

Order your copy direct

Writing the Past: The Bog Mermaid


Video from the Arachne Press Writing the Past event for Hither Green Festival 2019 at Manor House Library.

An extract from the 1926 thread of this as yet unfinished novel(la) – first draft almost done.

 

A Summer of Festivals


Early summer is the time for festivals in South London, and this year I am reading/ speaking at several

Hither Green Festival Saturday May 18th 7pm at one of my favourite venues,

Manor House Library, on  Old Road SE13 5SY

I will be reading from my novel in progress, The Bog Mermaid

alongside Joan Taylor-Rowan,  Rebecca Skipwith, Katy Darby, Kate Foley and Math Jones

FREE Readings of stories and poems based in the past – from the 17th to the 20th Century – life stories and imagined lives, followed by a fairly short discussion about writing from history – what inspired the piece, what research was needed, how was the story shaped by the facts and which got in the way – that sort of thing.

 

 

With my writing cronies WOOA we are at  BrockleyMAX Festival again this year, with stories at the Talbot pub, corner of Lewisham Way and Tyrwhitt Road, taking as our theme Hidden Corners.

We haven’t finalised who is reading, but probably Bartle Sawbridge, Neil Lawrence, Catriona Jarvis, Carolyn Robertson. And you can join in a very silly game after the break.

 

 

 

10am on Saturday 15th June (Flash Fiction Day) I am at Greenwich Book Festival for the first time, when I join my fellow editors Rosamund Davies and Kam Rehal for a pre-publication panel discussion on Story Cities at Room KW003 King William Court Greenwich University Old Naval College Park Row Greenwich SE10 9LS.

FREE, but we are assuming you will need at ticket, but they aren’t on the festival website yet.

As well as editing the book I have a tiny story in it, Foundation Myth, alongside 41 other writers. In the shops 13th June, you can buy it here now

STOP PRESS ! I just had a flash fiction accepted for Flash Flood Journal. Rising Dawn will feature on the journal at around 8.45 on 15th June (national flash-fiction day) not long before we talk about forthcoming Story Cities book of flash at Greenwich Book Fest at 10am!

This is a third outing for Rising Dawn, previously on Spelk and Story Friday

Festival Season


It’s that time of year when the festivals come thick and fast.

Over the next couple of months I will be taking part in a number of SE London events, so I thought I’d just mention them, in case you felt like coming along.

Hither Green Festival

I will be talking, with Katy Darby (fellow editor and author at Arachne Press)
about Women, Science Fiction and Fantasy
at Manor House Library 34 Old Road SE13 5SY
Friday May 18th 19:00-21:00 FREE

 

 

 

Brockley Max Festival 

I will be reading alongside my WOOA mates at Strange Brew, on Saturday 3rd June at 4pm at the Talbot Tyrwhitt Road SE4 1QG

Join us for

Strange stories including (probably) spells potions and drinking. Bring your own (story!) to read, and join in the writing relay.

 

Bellingham Festival

I am judging the children’s poetry competition! Winners will be announced on 16th June.

On 20th June I will be presenting authors from Arachne Press’ Dusk anthology, reading their contributions – stories and poems inspired by the in-between of no sun but not dark – yet.

12:00-12:45

St John’s Church on Bromley Road, opposite Homebase.

 

 

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!