Gig Review: Ariana Harwicz in Bath

On Wednesday of this week I travelled to Bath for an unusual but very much enjoyed literary event. Hosted by Toppings Bookshop, Ariana Harwicz, author of Die My Love and Feebleminded, was there to talk about her writing and her books. These are available in English from the fabulous Charco Press who are based in Edinburgh and publish books in translation, several from South America. Born in Buenos Aires, Ariana currently lives in France and writes in Spanish. She spoke to the audience in her mother tongue and was ably translated by Carolina Orloff. Carolina is co-founder of Charco Press and co-translated both of Ariana’s books. As someone who speaks only English, I was impressed that so many in the audience appeared to understand all that was being said.

The evening opened with an introduction by Matt, one of Toppings’ booksellers, who spoke of how viscerally he had been affected reading Die My Love. Ariana then gave a reading from the original version of Feebleminded. This was followed by the same section read from the English translation by Carolina.

“if we don’t suffer there’s no passion”

“falling in love is the ultimate curse”

Matt asked a series of pertinent questions that enabled an interesting discourse on the creation of Ariana’s trilogy (the third book will be published in English next year). The following summary is produced from notes I took on the night. Some of the responses are translations of Ariana’s answers and some are additional comments from Carolina. My aim is to reflect the gist of what was said. I hope it will be of interest.

Q: What is the purpose of the trilogy?

When asked this question an author tries to go back in time. This process happens later, when the author becomes a reader of their own work. It is a deconstruction process. The more truthful answer is the writing comes from a mystery. I don’t know where it comes from.

What unites the three books is a feeling of desperation in the main character. There is a certain style, perhaps like musicians creating a triad. It is the punctuation that unites the books.

Q: How does it feel to revisit your published books that are only now coming out in English?

To write a book is a miracle. To see a translation is another miracle. It is as if I have written another book. Translation is like two people making music. It has to work together. There can be slight changes – politically, ideologically. Some authors hand over their work to a translator and don’t get involved – beyond their responsibility. I am not like that. The involvement comes from the dialectics. Writing is an act of translation.

C: Ariana was recently told her books were thought in French but written in Spanish. This was said as a criticism but she thinks it is a good thing.

Q: Has there been variation in response from Spanish and English readers?

To be here is a political act. It is expected that a Latin American author will write about certain things. I have an eight year old son who is Franco-Argentinean. All he gets from television is: sexist, stereotypical, poverty, dictatorship. I am not interested in these clichés.

It was through the English translation that Die My Love came to be translated into fifteen languages. Now it cannot be so easily pigeonholed. I write literature, not just feminist Latin American.

C: One of the biggest aims as publisher is to do away with such limitations. Charco launched with five Argentinean writers from the same generation yet all are different. It is good to break preconceptions.

A: Reactions of different readerships stems from cultural history. The Hebrew version is getting very different reactions from the English. Some regard the writing as akin to science fiction, others recognise it as realism.

C: These social constructs and clichés exist because Latin American authors are not widely read. Charco wishes to change this.

A: The true political act is to step away from expectations and write what I want.

Q: What was it about the English translation that particularly resonated?

I live in a small French village, write from the margins, produce cryptic literature. English being such a massive language it opens work up to so many readers. What I want to do is break language, undo and then remake, add new meaning. I was told when the books came out they would be impossible to translate.

The challenge of translation is to get across something of that which is broken. The translation had to be hidden, quiet, convoluted – whatever the original conveyed. To leave the bare minimum of image or colour or feeling.

I would not wish to live without writing – inventing language. It is the language that is the main character.

After a second reading, the audience were invited to ask questions.

Q: Characters are never named. Do they recur in the trilogy?

C: Ariana has a background in drama and film.

I am interested in the idea that characters have no names, that it is up to the reader to assign them. I would even prefer books to have no titles, preferring to keep things as pure as possible. There are darker elements. Each character is condoned to their role in society. It is this that defines them.

Q: The ‘mad woman’ – are they thrust into this role? Do they embrace it?

Having to name people, reducing them, creates a misunderstanding. When Die My Love came out many readers understood it was a woman suffering post partum depression. But I never thought of this pathologically. I wanted to give a wider perspective.

Q: The language moves as though alive. Does Ariana edit to achieve this?

Consider artists who paint outside, trying to find an image but the image cannot exist without surrounding sound. Feebleminded comes from an image of a female village idiot. I then saw her again on a train and realised it was not idiocy but obsession.

I also observed the relationships between mothers and daughters. I found something disturbing. There were two bodies that looked alike. What was going on there, between them?

Sound matters more than realism. I just write, uninterrupted. The language comes out.

Q: When you picture the people who love your books are you surprised that they look like me? (a young, white, male)

That they are normal? To answer I go back to my first novel. Being a foreigner is a lonely experience. I wrote for myself, out of desperation. I didn’t know it would become a novel. When I heard it was to be published I went into the forest and cried. It was a way of saving myself.

C: In Argentina the book has been adapted for the stage yet uses the same words as in the novel – it is striking.

I am interested in writing from deep solitude, sorrow, tortuous loneliness.

Matt: The power of good writers is that they evoke situations the reader has been unable to express themselves.

Indie publishers are great because they are places of discovery. And unlike some, Charco has not published a bad book.

As audience members queued to have their purchases signed by both Ariana and Carolina, I left to catch my train home. The evening offered much to consider about both the power of writing and of quality translation.

Die My Love and Feebleminded are available to buy from good bookshops such as Toppings, and direct from Charco Press.

 

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Gig Review: The Republic of Consciousness Prize Winners’ Event 2019

On Thursday of last week I travelled to London to attend a party at Foyles bookshop on the Charing Cross Road. The event was to culminate in the announcement of the winner of this year’s Republic of Consciousness Prize for Small Presses. Long time readers will know that I am a particular fan of this prize and its ethos. I was honoured to serve as a judge last year.

This year I observed from a distance, as reader and advocate. My coverage of the longlist and shortlist is best summarised here. My thanks again to the publishers who provided me with books or a guest post. I urge you to read any or all of these fine literary works.

For the Winners’ Event I travelled to London by bus which takes twice as long as by train but costs £13 return as opposed to £56. As well as loss of comfort and time, bus travel also precludes reading as this makes me ill. I therefore downloaded podcasts to keep me entertained and these proved excellent preparation for the event.

  • Republic of Consciousness Podcast: the judges discuss the shortlist here
  • London Review Bookshop Podcast: the shortlisted authors read from their books here

The weather was glorious for the two days I was in the capital (I stayed over in my daughter’s student house) so on arrival I was able to walk from Victoria to the venue. I then enjoyed time in a bookshop which is always a pleasure.

The party was just getting started as I moved to the top floor space. There was a fine turnout of authors, publishers, writers and readers. I had some lovely conversations – thank you to those who came to say hello and to those who welcomed me when I joined their circles.

The founder and one of the organisers of the prize, Neil Griffiths, then gave a speech that I felt encapsulated its ethos – celebration rather than competition. He stated that he will be stepping back from the organisation next year which a few people commented on with concern. The RofC is a valued and increasingly respected voice in the world of literary fiction.

Neil introduced each of the books on the shortlist before announcing the winner.

Actually, there were two winners because two of the books shortlisted could not be denied the title: Murmur by Will Eaves, published by CB Editions; and Lucia by Alex Pheby, published by Galley Beggar Press.

Each of these winners gave a short speech of appreciation.

 

I keep coming back to this guest post provided by Charles Boyle last year in which he wrote:

“Does there have to be a winner? Boringly, yes. It’s how the world tick-tocks. But that doesn’t matter, because the real point of the Republic of Consciousness Prize is to celebrate a movement and a community.”

It was a pleasure and a privilege to once again spend an evening in the company of this esteemed – if not widely enough recognised and generously rewarded – literary community.


If purchasing their books on line do please consider buying direct from small publishers as this is the best way to support their ongoing work.

Related posts:

Gig Review: The Republic of Consciousness Prize for Small Presses – Winner 2017 (write-up of the 2018 event)

Gig Review: The Republic of Consciousness Prize Winner(s) Event (write-up of the 2017 event – the prize’s inaugural year)

 

Republic of Consciousness Prize 2019: from longlist to shortlist

The Republic of Consciousness Prize for Small Presses announced its shortlist on Saturday afternoon at an event held at the University of East Anglia in Norwich. Sadly I couldn’t attend. As in previous years, I had followed the judges’ selections with interest.


The complete longlist – 13 books
Photo credit: Graham Fulcher on Twitter @GrahamFulcher1 

Thus far I have managed to read nine of the thirteen books longlisted and posted an interview with, or guest post from, eight of the publishers. If any longlisted publisher would still like to send me their book to review, or a guest post about their press and thoughts on literary prizes, I will happily continue with my RofC feature this month (my review of Sweet Home will be posted on Wednesday).


The nine books from the longlist that I have received

As a recap, click on the book title below to read my review or on the publisher name to read their interview or guest post. Some of these are older posts. Others were provided in response to a request I made in preparation for my 2019 coverage of the prize when the longlist was announced.

Having been a judge for the prize last year I am well aware of how hard it will have been to whittle down submitted books to create the longlist, and the near impossibility of then removing some of these from contention to create a shortlist. Much as I enjoyed my previous involvement, standing in a room full of hopeful authors and publishers at the shortlist announcement last year knowing that some of them would not be happy with the result proved excruciating.

This year I am looking on as a reader, not party to discussions. Bearing in mind that I have not read four of the thirteen books from the longlist (Kitch, Now Now Louison, Follow Me to Ground, The Cemetery in Barnes) I was disappointed not to see Resistance and Bottled Goods on the shortlist.

However, the five books on this list that I have read are all strong contenders. Well done to these six authors and publishers for making the cut.


The five books from the shortlist that I have received

On 20th March an evening of readings will be held at the London Review Bookshop (details here). I have no doubt that this will be a fascinating event for those who can attend.

The 2019 winner of the Republic of Consciousness Prize is due to be announced on March 28th. Good luck to all on the shortlist, and to the judges as they make their difficult choice.

Gig Review: Novel Nights in Bristol, with guest speaker Jackie Law

Novel Nights is a monthly literary event showcasing and supporting writing and writers at all stages of their career. Held in Bristol and Bath, their events open with selected writers reading from their published work or work in progress. After a short break there will then be a talk from a guest speaker, typically a published author or publishing professional who will offer advice to attendees on the varying aspects and challenges of their writing journey. I have previously enjoyed evenings featuring Jon Woolcott (The Business of Books), Sanjida Kay (On How to Plot) and Nikesh Shukla (Writing and Persistence).

On Wednesday of this week I faced a new experience as I had been invited to attend Novel Nights in Bristol as the guest speaker. Putting myself in front of an audience was a daunting prospect but I felt honoured to have been asked and did not wish to pass up the opportunity to talk about my passion.

The event opened with an introduction by host, Charlotte Packer, who shared with us the good news that the founder and organiser of Novel Nights, Grace Palmer, has had her work longlisted for the Ellipsis Zine Flash Fiction Competition and also for the Bath Flash Fiction Novella in Flash Award. Authors remain anonymous at this stage in the judging process so little more can be revealed but it is always wonderful to hear of a writer’s successes, especially one as actively supportive of others as Grace.

Charlotte then introduced the first reader of the evening, Christine Purkis, who read an extract from her latest novel, Jane Evans, recently published by small Welsh press, Y Lolfa. Set in 19th century central Wales it tells the fictionalised story of a remarkable woman who was a pig farmer, the first female drover in the area, and who nursed alongside Florence Nightingale in the Crimea.

The second reader was Mina Bancheva who had invited her friend, Michael, to read from her work in progress. Family Life (working title) is the second book in a proposed trilogy. It is set in Bulgaria and the USA from the 1920s through to the present day. It is a family saga telling a tale of the lives and fates of three generations.

The third and final reader was Jess Farr-Cox who read from her work in progress, described as a gently experimental murder mystery. Jess explained that she had played around with form while writing. Sections are written as script, as diary entries, and in more straightforward prose. She told us this process had been a lot of fun.

The story is set in a small village, key characters being a vicar and his children. In the section read, a young boy had just caught a fish and was weaving a tall tale about it in an effort to impress his playmates.

The first half of the event was drawn to a close with a quick word from Robert Woodshaw from Foyles in Cabot Circus. He told us about an event coming up on 20th March – An Evening of Sex and PoliticsRobert will be discussing his debut novel, The Iron Bird, which takes the premise of Animal Farm and applies it to the life of Margaret Thatcher, a bird of prey. He will be joined by Lucy-Anne Holmes who will be talking about her memoir Don’t Hold My Head Down, the story of how she found feminism through sex and took on the The Sun over Page 3. Whilst the format of this event sounds innovative and lively we were assured that clothes would be kept on at all times.

There was then a break to enable audience members to chat and buy drinks from the bar before I was required to take my seat for the Q&A, hosted by Grace.

Sitting in front of an audience holding a mic and answering questions prevented me from scribbling notes about what was being discussed as I normally do at literary events. I have therefore decided on a different approach in this write-up.

When I was first contacted about speaking at Novel Nights I was told that the audience might like to know more about:

  • how I got into reviewing books;
  • how to set up a blog and build a following;
  • how I choose who to review and (possibly) how they can get their books reviewed;
  • how I deal with requests from individuals as there must be books I am not interested in reading.

Following further emails and a chat over the phone, the topics to be covered were expanded to include:

  • where book blogging sits within the publishing industry, its impact and influence;
  • reviewing self published authors;
  • why I devote so much time to doing something I am not paid for (ed. how many writers ask themselves this?).

Having requested that the structure be a Q&A rather than a talk, I was sent a list of potential questions. My preparation involved writing out my answers and trying to commit them to memory. I hoped that enough would remain in my head to be talked around as my mind has a bad habit of going blank when I try to think on my feet. I believe this approach was successful.

Rather than try to remember the detail of what was actually said live on Wednesday, and worry about the veracity of my recall, tomorrow I will post in full the notes I prepared and from which my answers to Grace’s and the audience’s questions were drawn. This will be a long read but may be of interest to some.

My husband, who came along as taxi driver and moral support, told me that I fluffed one question from an audience member. I believe a gentleman asked me about translated poetry (I had mentioned that I wanted to read more poetry) and I thought he had asked about translated fiction. My mention of Charco Press and Peirene Press was therefore not the answer he was probably looking for – my apologies.

It was an interesting evening and experience. I mentioned in my talk that being a part of the literary world, even if only from my small remote corner, is one of the benefits of book blogging. On Wednesday, within this company, I felt like a writer who had something to contribute. Despite my habit of over analysing every social interaction there remains within me today that warm fuzzy feeling of having been a part of a tribe I admire.

Spotlight on independent publisher, Charco Press

As part of my coverage of this year’s Republic of Consciousness Prize for Small presses I invited a number of the publishers whose books made it onto the longlist to contribute a guest post. I also offered to review the books should they wish to send me a copy. Throughout February I will be posting these reviews and the articles or Q&As received from the presses that responded. These offer a window into the variety of output and current state of play of the innovative publishers whose books I am always eager to read.

Charco Press contributed a fascinating guest post about the origins and aims of their publishing house last year after one of their inaugural titles, Die, My Love by Ariana Harwicz, was longlisted for the RofC prize. This title went on to make the 2018 shortlist and was also longlisted for that year’s Man Booker International Prize.

You may read the guest post here.

I did not ask them to contribute again but was grateful to receive a copy of this year’s longlisted book, Resistance by Julián Fuks (translated by Daniel Hahn), which I will review tomorrow.

In looking at what has been happening at the press in the past year there was a wealth of exciting news and achievements (summarised on their website). Charco are reaching impressive heights in the literary world and deserve further, wider attention.

A conversation between Ellen Jones and Charco’s Carolina Orloff and Samuel McDowell, published in Hotel magazine, was of particular interest – you may read it here. Amongst other topics they talk of: the exciting publishing scene in Scotland; their vision for the visual presentation of their beautiful books; the value of bringing established and respected authors who have won awards internationally to English speaking readers.

Resistance has already won the Jabuti Award for Book of the Year (2016), the Oceanos Prize (2016), the José Saramago Literary Prize (2017) and the Anna Seghers Prize (2018). Julián Fuks has gained recognition as one of Brazil’s most outstanding young writers.

Charco’s aims are best summarised in their own words from their website.

“Charco Press was born from a desire to do something a little out of the ordinary. To bring you, the reader, books from a different part of the world. Outstanding books. Books you want to read. Maybe even books you need to read.

Charco Press is ambitious. We aim to change the current literary scene and make room for a kind of literature that has been overlooked. We want to be that bridge between a world of talented contemporary writers and yourself.

We select authors whose work feeds the imagination, challenges perspective and sparks debate. Authors that are shining lights in the world of contemporary literature. Authors that have won awards and received critical acclaim. Bestselling authors. Yet authors you perhaps have never heard of. Because none of them have been published in English.

Until now.”

Personally I would like to read every book put out by this fabulous publisher. I am grateful that the Republic of Consciousness Prize brought them to my attention.

 

You may follow Charco Press on Twitter: @CharcoPress

Random Musings: Literary Podcasts

I am old school when it comes to book reviews, author interviews and literary discussions. I prefer reading to watching or listening. Mainly this is due to time constraints. I can read most articles in just a few minutes whereas audio and visual content demands a much longer time commitment. I prefer to devote that extended time to reading books.

Last year my favourite book prize, the Republic of Consciousness Prize for Small Presses, announced that it was starting a podcast. I was dismayed. Then, when I read of the books, participants and discussions being featured I grew curious.

The episodes released varied in length but required that a significant block of time be made available. To listen I had to find a space within my day. The obvious place, where I would benefit from a distraction, was the gym. After presenting my cost-benefit analysis, my husband kindly gifted me a set of headphones. Many fruitless attempts to download episodes to my phone for offline listening later (I don’t use Apple products or have internet access at the gym) I found a means of carrying audio content with me (I use Castbox, available for android).

Listening to podcasts while cycling nowhere or working out on a cross trainer has proved effective at taking my mind off how tiring and tiresome these activities can be. I quickly worked my way through each of the Republic of Consciousness podcasts and sought out alternatives to supplement the time I have available each week. I now have a backlog of interesting book discussions to listen to, thereby working both my heart and mind.

The Republic of Consciousness Podcast for Small Presses

Click on image for link

“The Republic of Consciousness Podcast comes out about 3 times a month. It’ll be a bit different each time, but expect interviews, readings, and some regular features, such as our Book of the Month.”

Bookmunch Podcast

No dedicated page as yet but first three episodes may be found here:
Episode 1 – Emma Glass (Peach)
Episode 2 – Adam Foulds (Dream Sequence)
Episode 3 – Melissa Harrison

Why Why Why: The Books Podcast

Click on image for link

“We ask writers why they wrote the book they wrote, editors why they published the book, and readers why they picked up the book and read it.”

 

I realise that I am probably late to the party but I am enjoying these audio broadcasts given that they fill a time slot when reading would be difficult. It goes to show that trying new things can sometimes be worthwhile.

 

Updated, May 2019

I am still listening to and enjoying the above podcasts during my visits to the gym. The RofC hasn’t quite managed to produce fresh output three times a month but each new episode it does put out is worth listening to. I have also been listening to the following that you may wish to check out.

The Comma Press Podcast: from the team behind the Manchester based publisher


Click on image for link

“Series One focuses on our best-selling Protest: Stories of Resistance anthology, and episodes will feature the author and their historical consultant from the collection, alongside a third guest who will be connected to the cause or movement, either directly, or in a more contemporary way, and will be hosted by a Comma editor.”

Unsound Methods: A literary fiction podcast


Click on image for link

“We want to share conversations about the nitty gritty of writing fiction and explore what makes fiction ‘real’.”

The Slightly Foxed Podcast: the independent-minded book review magazine


Click on image for link

“Think of it as an audio version of the magazine, full of interesting bookishness, interviews and discussion – all set around our kitchen table, here in Hoxton Square.”

Gig Review: New Voices of 2019 from Headline

On Thursday of last week I travelled to Bath for my first literary event of 2019 – the Headline New Voices Roadshow. Bath was the third stop on what appears to have been a raucous and much enjoyed publicity tour. Check the Twitter hashtag #NewVoices2019 to get a flavour of what went down. It used to be that what happened on tour, stayed on tour; in this case the pictures appeared on social media and provided much entertainment.

Held in the downstairs snug at Walcot House, six friendly authors were in Bath to talk about their new books. They were accompanied by a fabulous publicity team from Headline: Georgina Moore, Becky Hunter, Jenny Harlow, Jennifer Leech, Phoebe Swinburn and Caitlin Raynor. Invited guests included booksellers, PR professionals and bloggers. Given the presence of the latter much has already been written about the three evenings – check the Twitter hashtag to catch other write-ups.

In the time I had available I wasn’t able to talk to everyone but I hope I got a flavour of each of the books before I left, tote bag well stuffed with proofs. I ensured I spoke to Sarah Davis-Goff as her book was the only one I had already read and I wanted to let her know how much I enjoyed this chilling dystopia (click on cover below for my review). I was pleased when she told me that it is the first in a proposed series.

My chats with Richard Lumsden and Rhik Samadder made me curious to read their books so that was a successful outcome. Rhik’s book is not yet finished so I will be asking Georgina if she will kindly send me a proof when available.

I will be checking out the other books at my leisure.

Given the number of people in attendance it was not possible to chat to even all those I recognised from previous events. From the pictures posted the next day I was happy to see that Sharon (Shaz’s Book Blog) partied with the author’s and publicists into the wee small hours. I managed to briefly catch up with Suzan (Novel Heights) who hadn’t expected to be able to stay long but outlasted me (what a lightweight I am).

The night, however, was all about the books. If you would like to know more about them and their trajectory through publication, you may find each of the authors on Twitter. From the fun response to the tour I expect their accounts will be worth following.


I Never Said I loved You by Rhik Samadder  @whatsamadder
The Girl in the Letter by Emily Gunnis  @EmilyGunnis
Last Ones Left Alive by Sarah Davis – Goff  @SarahDavisGoff
Past Life by Dominic Nolan  @Nolandom
The Six Loves of Billy Binns by Richard Lumsden  @lumsdenrich
Blood Orange by Harriet Tyce  @Harriet_tyce

I am always grateful when publishers are willing to travel to their readers rather than expecting everyone to attend events in London. Thank you to the team at Headline for my invitation to what was an enjoyable party.