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!

 

 

 

 

Rebellion: Writing Fantasy


Arachne Press

 Rebellion: Writing Fantasy, author talk and workshop

Author Cherry Potts reads from her new novel The Dowry Blade, and discusses ways of writing fantasy with an opportunity for a short writing exercise for the audience.

World building, weird logic and rule breaking at

Brompton Library

210 Old Brompton Road

London SW5 0BS

Thursday 14 April 18:30-19:45

Attending the London Book Fair?  This event is on the final day and Brompton Library is one stop on the tube/overground away from Olympia, at West Brompton, then a short walk.

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Launch events for The Dowry Blade


The Dowry Blade bookmark cropPublication day for The Dowry Blade approaches, and pre-publication copies are already available from Arachne Press’ web shop, where there is also a special offer of £25 (free postage in the UK) for combining TDB with Mosaic of Air (normal combined price £27.98) for the first 20 people to get there.

I have 4 launch events lined up (it is a BIG book, it needs several events).

If anyone has further suggestions or indeed offers as to other places to read, get in touch. Will consider anywhere within easy reach of London, plus near Sheffield, Bath, Durham and Newark where friends and family might be prevailed upon for a bed for the night.

Follow the links for full details, and I hope to see you for at least one!

The Dowry Blade Launch, Lewisham Library Wednesday 24th February 6.30-8pm.

The Dowry Blade Launch, Clapham Books Thursday 25th February 7.30-9pm.

The Dowry Blade Launch, The Beckenham Bookshop Thursday 3rd March 7-8.30

Readings from The Dowry Blade, Cherry Potts and The Don’t Touch Garden, Kate Foley; Gay’s the Word Thursday 24th March 7-8.30

The Dowry Blade, live and in the flesh


Dowry blade arrives

There is nothing to beat a pile of new books, except a pile of new books that you wrote yourself. And this is a big pile, of big books! The Dowry Blade is big! It weighs 620 grams. I hadn’t really thought through the amount of space a 400 page book printed in Royal format takes in bulk. This is just the 100 copies to supply events in places that aren’t bookshops, copies for reviewers and the copyright libraries. Buy one before I have to build an extension!

Julian is delighted at the number of new boxes to play in, and also thinks you should buy a copy so that they empty quickly.

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Support Julian’s plans for a small city of boxes to disport himself within by buying a copy direct from Arachne Press, or at one of the launch events (that’s the ‘live and in the flesh’ thing) – Lewisham Library on 24th February at 6:30, or Clapham Books on 25th February at 7.30.

More events to follow in March, in discussions with three more venues.

Solstice Shorts: Longest Night, the Midwinter Wife


The  Midwinter Wife got another outing at Longest Night. Here is the peerless Annalie Wilson reading the shorter performance version

You can buy the full length print version in Latchkey Tales Clockwise – Midnight Blues

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.

 

The Woman Who Loved the Moon and other stories


wwlmFor LGBT History Month, here’s an edited version of the review I wrote for Short Review of the fantasy/ scifi/ horror collection from 1981 by Elizabeth A. Lynn

Lynn is one of the earliest fantasy writers to include same-sex relationships in her writing as a matter of course.

Author of A Different Light, The Dancers of Arun, The Northern Girl (a favourite book of mine) and Watchtower (which won a World Fantasy Award as did the title story of this collection.)

The collection hosts traditional fantasy and science fiction tales which are given a lift by strong writing, realistically strong female protagonists, and satisfyingly matter-of-fact lesbian characters.

“Explain need for Empire at this Time”

I first read this collection when it was originally published back in 1981, an important year for me, coming out and on the lookout for (to be honest, any) books that were positive about lesbians. As a convinced fantasy enthusiast I fell on the work of Elizabeth A Lynn with delight. Thirty plus years later, (long enough to have forgotten all but the general shape of the stories, with the exception of the title story which haunted me for years) these stories have worn well, although I can see their faults more. Lynn does herself no favours with her introductory paragraphs, which I quickly learnt to avoid reading, best to dive straight in to the fantasy than hear how come it took so long to find a publisher, or why she got saddled with a different title (although the variant titles thing is quite interesting!).

As with all collections there are strong, and less convincing stories, and it is when Lynn sticks to fantasy that she is at her best – it is as though an outlandish setting gives her permission to really explore psychological and emotional complexity. The horror stories (and some of the SF)  in this collection are thin to the point of transparency, and feel thrown together, whereas the fantasies engage and challenge – for this shortened version of the review I’m sticking to the positive – this IS one of the books I would save from a burning building, despite its faults.

The first story Wizard’s Domain, starts solidly with treachery and an inventive punishment followed by a forgiveness of the perceived crime, and the forgiveness of the punishment, which we are set up to not trust. Lynn puts her wizards through it: Magic is not easy, and she can be both lyrical and brutal.

The Gods of Reorth is one of those ‘the natives think were gods but we are from another planet’ stories that feel very 50’s in content, but Lynn throws an unconventional spanner into the story with her indignant goddess/alien, who doesn’t see why she should do what the leaders back at home want for this planet, but hesitates too long and has to stand by and let her lover be killed. She gets a subtle, clever revenge. One of the best stories in the book.

The Saints of Drimman takes an anthropologist exploring religious ecstasy one step too far, and I dream of a bird, I dream of a fish, is a moving bit of mother-love overcoming odds with casually plausible bio-science.

Things really pick up with The Dragon Who Lived in the Sea, which makes an unexpected tragedy from fearlessness taught to a child, a lovely thoughtful story, chock full of tension and disappointment.

Mindseye is another explorers-on-an-alien-world story, but it cleverly explores what we mean by human; and how open we can be to difference, or not.

In Don’t Look at Me, a daughter uses sleight of hand to almost gets away with murder, and you find yourself wishing she had.

Jubilee’s story (the original title Gimme Shelter was rejected by the publisher as obscure) throws in warring brothers, childbirth and abuse, and is one of those stories that you spend time thinking about what came before and what might come after.

The final and title story, The Woman Who Loved the Moon brings together lots of mythological tropes: three sisters, goddesses peeved at being compared unfavourably to mortals, kingdoms under the hill where time moves differently, and magical mirrors. Lynn draws you in with the rhythms of the language and even though you are silently protesting this isn’t going to end well, don’t do it, Kai, Lynn allows you to believe it might – just – maybe, be possible to love the moon, and astonishingly be loved back. It is one of the saddest stories I’ve read, and while it doesn’t move me the way it did thirty years ago it deserved the Word Fantasy Award it won.