Book Review: Bristol

Bristol is an anthology of experimental prose poetry from the wonderfully subversive publisher, Dostoyevsky Wannabe, under their DW Cities imprint. Created in collaboration with an array of literary groups, each book in the series is accompanied by a local event held in the city featured. Like the writing, the idea may be innovative but it is satisfying that such a venture is made possible by supporters and contributors. The literary world benefits from original thinking.

This slim title contains diverse work from six writers. It opens with a concept piece from Sarer Scotthorne which I interpreted as a commentary on the effects of zero hours contract relationships. There is a feeling of risk and disconnection – of those who sign up being expendable. Hours are described as ‘missing’, method as ‘island gropes’ or ‘into a kind of abyss’. It is strangely disconcerting.

Vik Shirley offers a series of poems on celebrity (Betsy) and their varied acolytes (vigilantes). Betsy is a has been whose continued fame relies on her intense following. They demand certain standards for inclusion and have become a power in themselves. The real Betsy is no longer needed for the vigilantes to continue as influencers.

David Turner sets his pieces in the Tate Modern and provides an entertaining alternative commentary on famous art installations. They are playful in their treatment of the conceits and rage of well known artists and their work.

Paul Hawkins’ contribution is more opaque. I took from it a cynical despair at continuing demand for vanilla living and writing.

“the world is full of climbers
putting the win on instagram

hucksters pumping sherbet after sherbet
of effects into the stratosphere

balm ready
going super soft option for the whining win”

Lizzy Turner opens with a quartet of diary entries highlighting the problems of living with anxiety. She then blacks out increasing sections, thus bringing to the fore the ongoing darkness of such a condition. It is a powerful evocation.

The final contributor is Clive Birnie whose bio explains he works with appropriated text. His six interrelated poems are about deals and money-making. Their protagonist, The Lemon Squeezer, is a ‘cease and desist investor’. There is mention of disgrace and deteriorating conditions, of catastrophe ‘becoming commoditised’ – advise given:

“A fool should sell himself, while
he still has something left to sell.”

One of the difficulties of reviewing experimental writing is a concern that my interpretations may be wide of the mark intended. Such is the risk taken by any writer publishing their work. As a reader I enjoyed unpacking this collection. It benefits from rereads and offers much to consider.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the editor, Paul Hawkins.

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Author Interview: Isabel Waidner

As part of my feature on the Republic of Consciousness Prize for Small Presses I invited publishers and authors whose books were selected for the longlist to answer a few questions or write a guest post for my blog. Today I am delighted to welcome Isabel Waidner, author of Gaudy Bauble, which is published by Dostoyevsky Wannabe.

 

1. Can you tell my readers a little about yourself and your background?

The name’s Isabel Waidner. Writer, queer. Working-class, EU migrant. Currently lecturer in creative writing at Roehampton University in London, with specialisms in avant-garde literature, cultural studies, gender studies and embodiment. Ex-musician (lastly with the indie band Klang, records out on Rough Trade and Blast First).

2. Can you tell us about Gaudy Bauble?

Gaudy Bauble (Dostoyevsky Wannabe, 2017) is riot of all things marginalised (LGBTQI, BAME, working-class, also the nonhuman, the not-just human). It is designed as an intervention against the normativity of literary publishing contexts in the UK, and the growing conservativism and nationalism in Tory Britain and beyond. The narrative is set within a London-based queer subculture, the near future (201x). It builds around a fake detective story. It’s just, the detectives don’t detect anything. Instead, they appear to effect an out-of-control insurgence of disenfranchised things, unheard(-of) things. Gaudy Bauble ask what might become possible if the marginalised (the riff-raff) were running the show, and I promise they are making a difference.

3. What inspired the book?

The project to develop more progressive, innovative and diverse forms of literature which are missing entirely from the existing UK literary canon. To be part of a transformational literary community and subculture contributing towards a progressive and inclusive politics in the UK. The project to effect social change. Also, the work of writers, performers, artists, academics and activists including Mojisola Adebayo, David Hoyle, Lisa Blackman, Charlotte Prodger, Ego Ahaiwe-Sowinski, Irene Revell and Campbell X, pioneers like Derek Jarman and Brigid Brophy, and US writers like Dodie Bellamy, Kevin Killian, CA Conrad and Jess Arndt, to name just a very very few.

4. George RR Martin has said there are two types of writers – the architect, who plans everything in advance, and the gardener, who plants an idea and allows it to develop organically. Which are you?

I’m not an ideas writer (or rather, I rely on having several ideas within the space of one sentence). But neither do I pre-plan. My ideas around pre-planning are much in keeping with those developed by Lucy Suchman’s in her monograph, Plans and Situated Actions (1987). Here, Suchman analyses human interactions with a Xerox photocopier in order to argue that our conventional understanding of preplanning as the straightforward execution of a preset plan, does not take into account what she terms the situatedness of all human behaviour, a sort of improvised responsiveness that is part of our actions and practices including writing.

5. What is your favourite part of being a writer?

Everything. I love being a writer, it’s my dream. 

6. Do you seek out reviews of your books?

Yes of course.

7. What do you do when you wish to treat yourself?

Read.

8. What books have you read and enjoyed recently?

Just recently:

  • Jess Arndt’s collection Large Animals
  • Jay Bernard’s The Red and Yellow Nothing
  • Joanna Walsh’s Seed and Worlds from the Word’s End
  • Rosie Snajdr’s forthcoming A Hypocritical Reader
  • Richard Brammer’s The End of History
  • Dodie Bellamy & Kevin Killian’s (ed.) Writers Who Love Too Much: New Narrative Writing 1977-1997
  • Andrea Lawlor’s Paul Takes the Shape of a Mortal Girl
  • Eley Williams’s Attrib
  • Jeff Hilson’s Latanoprost Variations
  • Eileen Myles’s Afterglow: A Dog Memoir
  • R. Zamora Linmark’s Rolling the R’s
  • Huw Lemmey’s Chubz: The Demonization of My Working Arse
  • performance artist Scottee’s screenplay Bravado
  • Tommy Pico’s Nature Poem.

I also liked Dead Ink Books’ collection Know Your Plays: Essays on the Working Class by the Working Class, notably Abondance Matanda’s contribution.

9. Who would you like to sit down to dinner with, real or from fiction?

ALL OF THE INSPIRATIONAL AND ADVENTUROUS WRITERS AND PUBLISHERS AND READERS, ALL REAL.

10. What question has no interviewer asked that you wish they would?

What do you most look forward to in your entire life? The publication of a book I’ve just finished editing, called Liberating the Canon: An Anthology of Innovative Literature (out in February 2018 with Dostoyevsky Wannabe). The book might be interesting to your readers and anyone interested in the interdependency of independent publishing and innovation in literature. It features some of the UK’s most innovative writers including Mojisola Adebayo, Jess Arndt (US), Jay Bernard, Richard Brammer, Victoria Brown, SJ Fowler, Juliet Jacques, Sara Jaffe (US), Roz Kaveney, R. Zamora Linmark (US), Mira Mattar, Seabright D.Mortimer, Nat Raha, Nisha Ramayya, Rosie Snajdr, Timothy Thornton, Isabel Waidner, Joanna Walsh and Eley Williams.

 

Thank you Isabel for providing such interesting answers to my questions. You may follow Isabel on Twitter: @isabelwaidner

Click on the book cover above to find out more about Gaudy Bauble. 

Keep up with all the news on The Republic of Consciousness Prize for Small Presses by following on Twitter: @PrizeRofc

Chatting to independent publisher, Dostoyevsky Wannabe

As part of my feature on the Republic of Consciousness Prize for Small Presses I invited publishers and authors whose books were selected for the longlist to answer a few questions or write a guest post for my blog. Today I am delighted to welcome Vikki and Richard from Dostoyevsky Wannabe, which published Gaudy Bauble by Isabel Waidner.

An introduction – who are you and what do you aim to achieve?

At its core, Dostoyevsky Wannabe is essentially two of us, Victoria Brown and Richard Brammer but beyond that we like to think of it as a collaborative affair that includes all of the writers who we work with and our readers. What do we aim to achieve? That’s a tricky one. We don’t really have any aims beyond doing what we’re already doing which is having nothing to do with the cookbooks and books about wizards of mainstream publishing (although we do have an idea for a range of cookbooks actually) and sitting to the side of the more normative versions of independent publishing and seeing what develops in that space.  We don’t seek to deliberately marginalize ourselves or our books with this approach, we’d like ALL of our books to gain plenty of readers but the reality is that some do and some don’t but from our point of view all of our books are equal. We tend to attract readers who having discovered their first Dostoyevsky Wannabe book come back to see what else we’ve got.

How have things changed in publishing since you started?

Publishing hasn’t changed all that much in the time that we’ve been around from what we can tell. Maybe it should change more. It’d be cool if independent publishing didn’t seem so institutionally dominated by middle-class, white, male affair though because that’s how it often looks to us, when we view it out of the corner of our eye.  Maybe it’s getting better, we haven’t done a sociological study, and, as we say, we only really see it in our peripheral vision because we don’t subscribe to ‘Publisher Monthly’ or any of that trade stuff. We do have a good record collection though.

Your experience of prize listings – costs and benefits, monetary or otherwise?

The prize we’re currently long-listed for is the first prize we’ve ever entered. It seems a worthwhile one. We’re not sure how we feel about prize-giving culture more generally. Ambivalent probably. On the one hand, prizes maybe do give publicity (and therefore readers) to books and authors who might not get their due otherwise and that is a good thing but quite often they tend to reward the already previously awarded. The other discomfort we have with the culture of prizes is that from a certain angle some prizes can have a slightly unpleasant whiff of Darwinian Capitalism about them that often skews who is and isn’t allowed to acquire readers and it all presents an idea that there is such a thing as good ‘literary’ quality between one book and another and we’re not sure that such canonisation has ever made any sense. Our general opinion is that the notion of a canon has long been a strategy of the powerful, one that wields false notions of ‘quality’ in order to maintain things in favour of certain groups and not others. We’re not down with all of that ‘the best things that have been thought and said’ Matthew Arnold nonsense.

That said, if any prize-givers are reading then please feel free to award us and long-list us and short-list us for your prizes. We won’t mind and we deserve them as much as anyone might deserve them.

The future – where would you like to see your small press going?

We’ll just be carrying on as we have been. We’ve received vast amounts of submissions over the last year, and they keep on coming, they’ve tended to grow exponentially over the lifetime of Dostoyevsky Wannabe. We can’t do them all and we apologize to anyone who has submitted to us where we didn’t choose to go ahead and work with them on the book and we hope that those people aren’t too disheartened and will realize that we’re not any authority on the quality of a book, we either like it or we don’t but it doesn’t mean that someone else won’t like it and want to publish it. Alternatively, why not publish it yourselves or put it out with a few friends. It’s about time the taboo of the vanity press got shown up for what it has always been. After all, the world would never have had certain songs by The Pastels, Tallulah Gosh, Bikini Kill, Team Dresch, The Buzzcocks or Joy Division without those bands setting up with their friends to do it themselves in the form of what, in literature, would be dismissed as vanity publishing.

Back in Dostoyevsky Wannabe world, we are looking forward to the following books due out with us in 2018 which are as follows (these are the ones that we know about, to date):

  • Yeezus in Furs by Shane Jesse Christmass
  • Dark Hour by Nadia de Vries
  • A Hypocritical Reader by Rosie Šnajdr
  • Lou Ham: Racing Anthropocene Statements by Paul Hawkins
  • The Peeler by Bertie Marshall, Honest Days by Matt Bookin
  • A Furious Oyster by Jessica Sequeira
  • Death to the Bullshit Artists of South Texas by Fernando A Flores.

They’re all on our Dostoyevsky Wannabe Originals imprint. On our Dostoyevsky Wannabe Experimental imprint we have a huge anthology edited by Isabel Waidner titled Liberating the Canon: An Anthology of Innovative Literature featuring a whole host of fantastic writers, Metempoïesis by Rose Knapp, Blooming Insanity by Chuck Harp and Sovereign Invalid by Alan Cunningham. Finally, we have Cassette 85 guest-edited by Troy James Weaver and there’ll be a few chapbooks on our Dostoyevsky Wannabe X imprint from time to time.

Please check our site: Dostoyevsky Wannabe  for more info.

 

Thank you Vikki and Richard for providing such interesting answers to my questions. You may follow Dostoyevsky Wannabe on Twitter: @dw_wannabe

Click on the book cover above to find out more about Gaudy Bauble. 

Keep up with all the news on The Republic of Consciousness Prize for Small Presses by following on Twitter: @PrizeRofc

Gaudy Bauble by Isabel Waidner, published by Dostoyevsky Wannabe.

Throughout January I will be running a feature on the Republic of Consciousness Prize for Small Presses. This will include interviews and guest posts from some of the publishers and authors whose books were selected for the longlist. The first title to be featured is Gaudy Bauble by Isabel Waidner, published by Dostoyevsky Wannabe. To kick things off, today I have a guest review of the book from my fellow judge, Graham Fulcher. Graham is a father of 3 girls and a new puppy, lives in Reigate, Surrey and works in London (with monthly trips to New York which gives plenty of reading time). You may follow him on Twitter: @GrahamFulcher

 

Gaudy Bauble is published by a small UK publisher, Dostoyevsky Wannabe, who “publish and exhibit independent/experimental/underground things”

Given this aim it is far from a coincidence that Isabel Waidner is the ex-bassist of the indie, experimental group “Klang” – who struggled at times with matching their underground philosophy with the attention they gained from their lead singer being Donna Matthews of Elastica. Their main single was “L.O.V.E.” from their early post punk period. The author is now a research fellow in the Department of English and Creative Writing at the University of Roehampton, London, where she invites inquiries from prospective research students in “areas of innovative fiction, avant-garde writing, and creative writing at the intersections with cultural studies, gender studies, queer studies, body studies, subjectivity and independent publishing.” These research themes are key to the motivation behind this novel – even more so on the realisation that this novel was in fact an integral part of Waidner’s PhD Thesis. The reading of this was crucial to cementing and amplifying my (admittedly still limited) understanding of this hugely experimental book.

Attempting to put that understanding in my own words, I believe that Waidner’s key idea is to link two areas: conceptual art (something which she feels has only had limited cross over into literature) and post-identity gender fluidity – this leads to her concept of trans-literature.

Further, a key element of the book is its rejection of the traditional novelistic structure featuring a main character, other key characters, minor characters and then passive objects with which they interact. I believe that Waidner implicitly equates this rigid and hierarchical structure with a traditional patriarchal, gender-rigid society.

In this book by contrast the dominant character is a fluid concept – and just as an hierarchy starts to form (often to the relief of the reader, who finally starts to be able to identify the book with conventional concepts of plot and character and feels they are returning to something they know), Waidner very deliberately overturns this hierarchy and introduces a new main character, including in many cases what initially seemed inanimate objects – often based around patterns or illustrations on clothing (clothing often described in detail, and all it seems based on items that Waidner or her friends have worn).

Another way of saying this is that just as we start to find some solid ground Waidner pulls the rug from under our feet – a cliché but one I have chosen deliberately as a key example of this idea (and one Waidner explains at length in her thesis) is when a pattern on a carpet suddenly emerges as the main protagonist of the book, only for, just when the reader is starting to accept this, the polyester-style material of the carpet to take over from the pattern as the protagonist.

Other thematic elements of the book which stood out to me on my initial read (and before reading the thesis) were: the clear use of Google as a tool to take an idea and extend in a kind of free-association exploration of an initial concept and a search for links or word plays that can be incorporated to alter the course of the novel or to facilitate the introduction of new protagonists; the slightly odd narrative which at times can read like a rather literal translation from German (an idea crystallised by the occassional insertion of German sentences). To my interest, both of these elements (which I may have regarded as criticisms) are dwelt on and examined in the thesis.

The actual style and plot (to the extent such reactionary concepts even have any validity in this ultra-progressive, post-everything novel) is best captured by simply giving links to a number of websites that have published excerpts from the novel (others are embedded and conceptualised in the author’s PhD thesis).

And this perhaps gets to the heart of my only criticism of the book – accessibility. I suspect for many (if not most) readers, these excerpts are not going to encourage further engagement with this book. Another Goodreads reviewer who ended up giving this book a 4* rating, originally could not get past the first page for several days.

One of the very few mainstream authors that Waidner admires is Ali Smith, and in fact Smith’s partner, Sarah Wood, provides the photography for this book. However Smith has made a breakthrough into the literary mainstream. I was critical of elements of her latest book “Autumn”, which I felt owed more to the absurdity of Harry Hill than cutting edge literature, but it’s clear from Goodreads reviews that it’s exactly those passages that have drawn many others into the book, giving them an entry point with which to engage with the more radical and experimental themes.

I suspect if (and this may be a significant if) Waidner wishes to really challenge the mainstream with her ideas, then she may need to think about this concept of allowing an entry point into her work.

However, once engaged I found this a fascinating novel.

GF

  

You may read my review of Gaudy Bauble here.

I will be posting interviews with the publisher and author later this week.

Keep up with all the news on The Republic of Consciousness Prize for Small Presses by following on Twitter: @PrizeRofc