Like early spring flowers, Facebook today is studded with Likes and little thumbs-up Posts of delight. It's the Day After Independence. Or 'States' as we returnees know it. On a sunny Saturday, the corridors of DMU's Clephan Building thronged with book lovers, lit. addicts, small press publishers, editors, readers, printers, writers, friends old and new. The walls were lined with lovingly-crafted volumes and chapbooks, the halls were packed with punters catching words of wisdom or wit from speakers on an array of topics. This year 'events include(d) talks on Victorian women writers, independent publishing, Nordic crime, the 1916 Easter Uprising, women in graphic fiction, David Bowie, the Vikings, and the announcement of the 2016 East Midlands Book Award shortlist.' Not even the unlikely spring sunshine could drag us outdoors.
The annual States of Independence Publishers fair is hosted by a formidable alliance of Five Leaves Press and De Montfort University's Creative Writing department. I've been going to 'States' right since its beginning in 2010 and so can properly be described as a fan or groupie of this annual press-fest. So imagine my excitement at becoming part of the organising team this year! The students were brilliant but it is really the community of writers and creatives who come from around the region and as far afield as Norfolk who make this event so joyful and informative each year.
And here's a few of my personal highlights this year ...
First up, a panel on Writers doing it themselves - on the challenge and benefits of 'self-publishing'. This featured an author of several aliases - Nicola Monaghan/Niki Valentine - who has recently 'dipped her toe' and then several feet into indie-publishing after previous books by Vintage Books etc. She commented on her surprise at how easy - 'almost too easy in a way' - it was to design and upload an e-book. But then comes the challenge of doing all those jobs a traditional publisher does for you - suddenly you're the legal/ marketing/ distribution/ accounting depts. and more. Niki had found it a positive experience so far and offered lots of tips on good sources of info. out there - as well as 'the sharks'. Another indie-author Russ spoke of writing for a niche market of LGBT fiction and focusing on sales at events as much as via social media. He offered hard-won insider know-how on the complexities and costs of book distribution for indie-authors and there was general agreement that hard-copy products are far less likely to turn a profit for indie-authors. Further invaluable advice was offered by Pippa Hennessy of Five Leaves Press. From her vantage point as a copy-editor, publisher, book-seller and Development Director for the Nottingham Writers Studio, she knows how hard it is to shift copies of self-published books if they don't look 'absolutely professional' and properly edited and designed. But be wary of self-styled 'experts' offering to charge an arm and a leg to do all that for you - do your research first before committing large sums of money.
Next we warmed ourselves on the solidarity and beautiful poetry of the Over Land, Over Sea anthology This book, published for free by Five Leaves, has raised £3,000 for refugee charities in a few short months. As one of the editors, I know the quality of the poems selected was very high. But each time we do a reading, I re-discover new voices, new stories and am moved afresh by the elegance and compassion of the writing.
I moved from this community of poetic voices into a still dark space with one voice only. The almost-whispered, haunting elegies of Simon Perrill's latest Beneath collection had me mesmerised. I love collections that tell a story and this reached far into ancient Greek history to bring us a tale of Archilochus and his lost bride Neobulé . 'The soldier-poet’s scurrilous response (to a cancelled marriage) shamed the entire family into committing suicide. Beneath tracks Neobulé’s arrival in Hades; and voices her gradual understanding of shadehood.' Simon Perril accompanied his reading with a stunning Photo-story montage that evoked a dark, grainy underworld in which Neobulé wanders. Rhythmically cut, it was music for the eyes as much as ears. Utterly spellbinding. And now I have both Shearsman collections featuring Archilocus (moon-exiled) and Neobulé (Hades-bound) in which to lose myself.
After a hasty lunch, I caught up with another celebration of the rich literature of this region at an East Midlands Book Awards gathering to announce this year's short-list. A wonderfully diverse short-list - memoir, poetry, novels, children's picture book - was revealed and the six authors read beautifully. Tom Preston's 'The Boy in the Mirror' delivered a quiet but poetic intensity in his cancer-survivor's memoir. Jonathon Taylor and Steven Dunne both offered mystery and humour in their respective novels. Dunne's crime thriller 'A Killing Moon' and Taylor's magical lit-fic 'Melissa' both summoned up the atmosphere of a whole community in a brief encounter. Eve Makis seduced us with a curmudgeonly great-uncle, his family secrets and the scents of his Armenian 'Spice Box Letters'. And Jess Green set the room on fire with an impassioned and comic reading from her 'Burning Books' debut collection. It's published by 'never knowingly mainstream' Burning Eye Press who are putting together an exciting list of spoken word artists who light up the page and stage. Overall a cracking short-list and congratulations to all six on their well-deserved nominations!