Nothing like a drought to reinforce the impression that we're living in End Times. But hey. It's also fun going to the beach. And at least we're going down fighting. Here's Norwich's contribution to the battle against the Trump/Brexit conspiracy of evil morons last week:
Our writers have also been battling for respect, decency, art - and hell, for living in a world where we can accept that there might not always be simplistic answers to difficult questions, where we can allow for nuance and dissent and complications and where truth and beauty might not be all ye need know, but they still matter for something. None more so than Alex Pheby, whose new novel Lucia is not only a god damn masterpiece it's also a broadside against oppressors and suppressors. I've been talking about this book for a long time now, so I guess you must know how I feel. Happily, you can now take it from other people too.
We’ve already shared David Collard's magisterial TLS review. But I can't help doing so again. (Brief highlights: “intensely moving… delicately luminous… [Lucia is] an ambitious and daring investigation of selfhood, mental disorder, medical callousness and misogyny”. But please read it all. It taught me new things about the book.)
And Alex and Lucia are continuing to gather tremendous notices.
Here’s Sean Hewitt, for example, in the Irish Times:
“With publication set to coincide with Bloomsday today, Alex Pheby's Lucia treats Lucia with an unusual degree of empathy and critical nuance. ... Emotionally powerful, constantly questioning… [Pheby sets the] standard for intellectually uncompromising fictional biography.”
And Ian Sansom, in this weekend’s Guardian: “Pheby is a writer possessed of unusual – indeed, extraordinary – powers. ... Read [Lucia] with your eyes wide open.”
Lovely. Again, please read those reviews. It isn't just that they're favourable, it's that the writers have taken serious effort to engage with the book and understand it. The same is true of this perhaps slightly more equivocal notice in Review 31 from Genevieve Sartor. Sartor acknowledges Alex's skill, but has some questions about his intentions... In my thoroughly biased opinion the novel answers those questions - or at least raises them itself, along with hundreds of others. But it's also clear that Lucia has been difficult for some readers. It's a book that matters - and it's correspondingly challenging.
When Alex read at the James Joyce Centre in Dublin a few days ago, there was a walk out (our first!). We've also had a bit of online antagonism, and a few spiky emails informing us that “members of the public” aren’t equipped to write – or indeed, read and understand (yep, that’s you, reader) – a book about the Joyces.
Anyway. What do we think of all this? Well, to a certain degree we’ve been expecting it. The Joyce Estate and some [by no means all] associated academics have long had an interesting reputation.
Aside from that, Lucia is – Elly and I are convinced – an incredibly important book. But it’s not a comfortable one. Which is just how Franz Kafka for one would want want things:
“I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound or stab us. If a book we’re reading doesn’t wake us up with a blow to the head, what are we reading for? So it will make us happy, as you write? Good lord, we would be happy precisely if we had no books… We need books that will affect us like a disaster, that will grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves… A book must be like an axe to the frozen seas within us.”
So. Take it from Franz. Take an axe to that frozen sea – and injustice. And also, revel in prose hotter than the centre of a supernova… I'm asking you to buy Lucia, in other words. And read it. You’ll be saying no to safely, no to literary armbands, and yes to a world where writers are free to take the kind of risks that might change things. (Fuck Up-Lit, in other words.) Please head here. We still have signed limited editions in the store – and the more people who read this extraordinary novel, the happier we are.
Meanwhile, the equally fearless Toby Litt has plunged right into the ongoing international conversation about masculinity – among other things – in Wrestliana. And he too is getting the kind of notices that make publishing feel entirely worth it.
We’ve already shared Chris Power’s review in the New Statesman, but we can’t resist the temptation of posting just a little again:
“A disarmingly honest and at times extremely powerful work of memoir… It is the particular quality of his examination that makes it so compelling: its plain-spokenness.”
Yes, we’re very pleased. We're also pleased that Toby has just been crowned BookBlast’s Book-of-the-Week, with a careful and in-depth review that called Wrestliana:
“… like an experimental mosaic, [that] flies in the face of more conventional, streamlined narratives. I loved this book, and the writing. Toby Litt delights in and plays with language. … In Wrestliana he tells new truths about manhood, society and the literary world in a way that has not been done before. Read it and savour it for yourself.”
You should, too. And you can get a copy by heading here.
There’s a also fantastic and very candid interview with Toby here. And if you like to listen to your writers, as well as read them, then you can catch Toby here and Alex here.
(And oh! As I type this, I've just been told Toby is a summer pick in the Big Issue too. Yay!)
Okay! More announcements. The first one is a big one:
Calling all writers! And friends of writers! And people who wonder if they are writers, and want to have a go at finding out: The Short Story Prize 2018/19 is now open to submissions. We’ll leave off going on too much here, but suffice to say, we really love our prize. The judging every year is tremendous fun, the range and quality of submissions is awe-inspiring – and we come out of it feeling not just refreshed, but inspired by the sheer amount of talent out there, and the miraculous ways that stories can take shape. You can find full details on our web site, read the finalists from previous years, and learn more about our excellent judges (Aki Schilz, Jonathan Gibbs, and Philip Langeskov… I know. How lucky are we???). (There are also still a small number of low-entry free entries, so do contact us if you’d like to submit and need one.) Full details here.
SUBSCRIBERS - PLEASE MORE SUBSCRIBERS!
The second thing is that we’re launching – well, trying to push as much as we can – a new subscriber drive. Many of you will know about this, but, like many small presses, we have a subscription scheme – Galley Buddies – which offers subscribers limited editions of our books, as well as other goodies (invitations to launches and events, discounts, and other things). The scheme is really important to us. It means that our writers always have a certain number of readers (the most important thing a writer can have). It means that we get to know some of you better. And, of course, it offers us some much-needed financial padding – without which, there are times when we simply wouldn’t have got by.
At the moment, we have 124 Buddies. Which is amazing. (What’s also amazing is that a high percentage of those Buddies have been on board with us for years – and feel like much valued, and loved, friends.) If we can build on that – and we have a goal of 250 – then we'll be all the more able to keep on taking risks, keep on taking on talent, keep on printing books and keep on sticking It To The Man. We don't want to take over the world. But we do want to change it. And we need your help to do so.
Okay, onwards! There's lots more to look forward to. Preti Taneja and Alex Pheby will soon be coming out in America. Here's what Kirkus Reviews says about We that are young and Playthings in anticipation. I'm going to be bursting with pride watching them plugging into the best bits of the US. And no doubt taking on the worst. We in Britain and the USA have a lot of problems at the moment. But we still have our writers. And they're still the best of us. And they will be remembered for a long time to come. Hopefully longer than all the troubles.
But! Talking of troubles. Yesterday was - it was impossible to avoid it - Amazon Prime Day. This is a special kind of Hallmark holiday, like Father's day on teeth smashing steroids, only without the bit about being nice to your family. Where the only thing we were supposed to be celebrating was, erm, Amazon. My twitter feed was infected with confected bullshit from Jeff Bezos' Comically Evil Corps urging me to celebrate the Worst Store Ever. (Which, incidentally, has just had itself declared not legally a store, in spite of calling itself the Everything Store for - like - decades, so it can avoid accepting responsibility for the dangerous crap that now takes up most of its marketplace.) Even The New York Times got in on the act with the fake news articles about Prime Day. We are truly living in the Upside Down. But we do have options. One of which is to say, fuck that shit. Unfollow anyone tweeting their nonsense propaganda. Support unions, support companies who pay taxes, and so support a flourishing, diverse publishing industry. Demand an end to zero hours contracts. Smash up the Alexa spyware gathering personal data about you and your home. If your friends have an Alexa, smash that too. It'll be fun. There might be short term awkwardness. But they'll thank you when the data farming scandal relating to those bastard devices breaks. It's going to be bigger than the Facebook mess. And given what a shitfarm that place has turned out to be, that's pretty big... Anyway, where was I? Oh yes! Up yours Bezos.
PS Apologies to Andrew McDonnell. In my excitement and joy at Preti Taneja's Desmond Elliott triumph in our previous newsletter I typo-ed him as Andrew McDonnald.
PPS Talking of the awe-inspiring Preti Taneja, here's a typically fantastic interview with her. Look out America!
PPPS People who enjoy reading the extended bits where I can't quite bring myself to end the newsletter will know that a while ago I predicted a new Cure album. If you liked the sound of that, for all sorts of reasons, you'll enjoy this wonderful interview with Robert Smith from Dorian Lynskey.