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Nina Killham interviews Roelof Bakker

Still writer Nina Killham interviewed Roelof Bakker for her blog a couple of days ago and asked him about the background to Still and Strong Room and how Negative Press London came about. Read her post, here
Roelof Bakker 16 years old

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‘Still’ | Shortlisted for Saboteur Indy Lit Award

Still is shortlisted in the Saboteur Indy Lit Awards for Best Mixed Anthology. Congratulations to all the talented Still writers and many thanks to everyone who has been so supportive of the book.

Readers are invited to vote for the book, details at Saboteur Shortlist

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‘Still’ | A collage and slideshow of photographs from the anthology

Actor and fervent reader William Rycroft, posted a concise review of Still on his blog on 3 January 2013, alongside some other books he recommended as essential reading (including Nicholas Royle’s First Novel).

‘The anthology is incredibly diverse, featuring some writers I had heard of and read before like Richard Beard, Nicholas Royle and Evie Wyld. Others were completely new to me and that of course is the joy of an anthology. The pictures are wonderful and each reader is sure to find new voices they will want to keep an eye on.’

It was nice for the photographs (by Roelof Bakker) to get a mention, so Negative Press London are happy to present a collage and slideshow (just click on one of the photographs to activate) of some of the photographs from the book. Enjoy:)

 

 

 

 

All photographs ©2012 Roelof Bakker

 

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Story | ‘Waiting To Go On’ by Gill Blow

The second posting of short-listed stories from the Negative Press London/Foyles short story competition is ‘Waiting To Go On’ by Gill Blow – a writer from Lincolnshire. The story is her first attempt at writing flash fiction.

For the competition, writers were invited to contribute a new story (maximum 500 words) inspired by the photograph, ‘The Stage (Piano)’ – which was not included in literary art book/anthology Still.

Waiting To Go On

The Stage (Piano) by Roelof BakkerThere are different ways of waiting. There’s waiting on a platform for a train, or in a queue at Costas’, and at a level crossing when you pull on the handbrake and reach for a mint and chew it. There’s waiting for a reply to your e-mail or letter, or a birthday card from someone who was once special…who perhaps still is. There’s waiting for an operation, lying stiff and helpless in a white gown that lets in cold air to your back and exposes your bum, and you have no choice but to enter the world of letting it happen and allow strangers to have the power over what happens to you next. You wait for this intrusion, to be anaesthetised and thus forfeit all control. You wait to wake up afterwards. You wait for it all to be over.

Like standing in the wings, waiting to go on stage, taking in breaths that feed no air into your lungs, your body throbbing as your pulse pounds, you stare at the piano standing solid behind the thick golden folds of curtain. Solitary and immaculate, its black mahogany burnished, its ivory keys gleaming, its raised lid lifted high proudly exposing its highly strung insides. It waits.

A strip of light from the auditorium penetrates the curtains and plays over the steel pedals, that your feet will, in a few moments, compress and release, shifting the shafts of light and dark tone created by your fingers; one hand following the other, moving in remorseless memory of sound that is soft, lingering, sorrowful, jubilant.

A murmuring accompanies the light beam which filters thinly through the opening, it invades the stage space, its sound increases. Greetings are heard, the clunk of seats, a shout of laughter, a cough. You imagine lines of people filing down each gangway unzipping their jackets, stowing their handbags, settling in seats. You hear the babble of their voices, like rooks cawing and calling in a rookery, like the sound of the sea falling on sand. Their waiting is like a granite rock bearing down on your shoulders.

A silence descends and you hear nothing, become no-one. Into this void arrives a limbo into which you float; you disconnect yourself, become adrift in the wings, are translucent, invisible. You absorb the certain knowledge that you will not perform, you will refuse to play. You care not that the concert will be postponed and the ticket holders will demand their money back, or that your reputation will be in shreds, shredded with the sheet music of Beethoven and shoved into black bin bags. You care not that your career will be ended, and the piano will remain mute, and you will both go your separate ways; like used-to-be lovers whose enchantment became tarnished, it lost its appeal, until, in the end, it vanished.

Split Seconds by Gill BlowGILL BLOW lives at Knaith near Gainsborough in Lincolnshire. She previously worked with families and professionals in community development work and adult learning. She studied writing through The Open University and also Sheffield Hallam University, where she was awarded an MA Writing (Distinction) and received the AM Heath Prize for her short story collection. One of her stories has been broadcast by the BBC and others have been published in literary magazines and newspapers. Her monologue ‘Still Alive With Clive’ was performed at the Lincolnshire Festival of New Drama. She was recently shortlisted for the Bridport Prize and the Mslexia Short Story competition. Split Seconds, a collection of short stories was self-published in 2012.

GILL BLOW WEBSITE

BUY ’SPLIT SECONDS’

READ ‘PIANO’ BY AJ ASHWORTH

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‘Still’ on sale at Tate Modern exhibition bookshop

Still available at a special Tate Modern bookshop part of the William Klein and Daido Moriyama exhibition.

Still on sale at Tate

Still available to buy at Tate Modern

 

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Q&A | Ava Homa

Ava HomaAVA HOMA LIVES IN TORONTO, CANADA. She is a Kurdish-Iranian-Canadian writer. Her collection of short stories, Echoes From the Other Land was nominated for the 2011 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award. Ava’s writings have appeared in various journals including the Toronto Quarterly, Windsor Review and the Kurdistan Tribune. She’s finishing work on a her first novel and teaches creative writing and English. For Still she wrote ‘A Rose For Raha’, a story about a Kurdish family trying to find their way in Canada.

Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Eastern Kurdistan (Iran) and my parents still live there. Being a Kurdish woman, I was stigmatised both for my gender and my ethnicity. Nevertheless, living in a collective culture, I’d received unconditional love from my family and close relatives. Something I really miss here. I entered Canada on a student visa six years ago.

How do you describe yourself: Canadian, Kurdish, Iranian?
I have a hyphenated identity: I am Kurdish-Iranian-Canadian. The truth is that I have been exposed to all these cultures and have picked and chosen the best in each as much as I have been able to. The unconscious part of my brain has done its own selection without my consent.

Your story ‘A Rose For Raha’ is about a Kurdish family now living in the free world in Canada, but still not being able to be free. Is this based on your own experience? If not, where did the inspiration come from?
Writing fiction means feeling for others and writing about them. My family never left Kurdistan, but I have observed that the dictatorship mentality lasts long after the dictator is gone. I have observed that victims of oppression can sometimes turn into victimisers without being aware of it.

Female Artists Dressing Room (Rose) by Roelof Bakker

Female Artists’ Dressing Room (Rose) by Roelof Bakker

You selected a photograph with a dried yellow rose. Is the rose significant for you or in Kurdish/Iranian culture?
It was hard to choose between all the inspiring and beautiful photos, but something drew me towards this rose, not because of a significant cultural connotation, rather because of the sense of attractiveness mixed with exhaustion. That’s the sense this photo instilled in me.

Did you enjoy collaborating with an artist?
It was my first experience and a lovely, stimulating one. I look forward to more such collaborations.

How did you get into writing?
It was in me from a very young age. I completed my first manuscript at grade 5: an animal story illustrated by my immature drawing. I followed my instincts to write despite the infinite cultural/economical obstacles. Now, I am hooked on the joy of writing.

Who/what was your greatest influence?
I am constantly inspired by great people. I can mention two examples: Leila Zana, the female Kurdish leader who was imprisoned by the government of Turkey for ten years but never lost her strength and spirituality. She gives me hope as to what extent humans can be resilient.

Bahman Ghobadi, the award-winning Kurdish writer and director of A Time for Drunken Horse, Turtles Can Fly, Half Moon, and most recently Rhino Season. I believe he has served the Kurds in the best possible way. He is passionate, artistic, honest, talented, lovable, inspiring.

Your book of short stories, Echoes From the Other Land, explores the position of women in Iran. Are you active politically to improve women’s lives in Iran? Do you collaborate or work/write with women in Iran?
Iranian women live under horrific laws that openly discriminate against them. For example, based on the law, they cannot leave the country or get a job without their husband’s permission. Yet, they are highly educated, strong, resilient, and ambitious. We work with each other, we support each other, we help each other.

What’s the most important thing you have learnt from life?
No one can help me better than myself.

What are you working on at the moment?
I am editing my completed manuscript: a novel tentatively titled Many Cunning Passages.

AVA HOMA WEBSITE

BUY ECHOES FROM THE OTHER LAND

Echoes From the Other Land

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‘Still’ competition: winning story ‘Piano’ by AJ Ashworth

Negative Press London is excited to post the winning story of the Still/Negative Press London/Foyles short story competition. To celebrate the publication of Still, writers were invited to write a story up to 500 words, inspired by the photograph ‘The Stage (Piano)’ by Roelof Bakker.

The winning story, ‘Piano’, is written by AJ Ashworth and was selected from over one hundred submitted stories. Judge Evie Wyld said: ‘It was the voice that attracted me and Nicholas Hogg to this one. Her story is strong and understated at the same time.’

‘Piano’ is also on display at Foyles on London’s Charing Cross Road until the end of November 2012.

Piano

The Stage (Piano) by Roelof Bakker

Photograph by Roelof Bakker

This is not the place she thought she’d return to.

She imagined she’d be with Arthur. Strolling up the promenade as grey, northern skies broke open above them. Or lying beneath him, as he moved over her that first time – the second night of their honeymoon in a B&B in Blackpool.

Perhaps she might have returned to the births of their three children. To the first glimpse of each old face in her arms. Each a miniature Arthur, right down to the wrinkled brows and thin lips, the pale, translucent skin. All of them with long pianists’ fingers too, just like her own mother, even though none of them ever played or ever showed any interest in wanting to.

If they had, perhaps things would have been different for her. Better.

But no. Her failing mind has brought her here. To the stage of the concert hall. Standing in the wings and hidden by the curtains – those heavy ripples of yellow velvet which she would touch, if she knew she wouldn’t get her hand smacked for it.

Her mother stands just behind her, not touching but close. She can’t see her, facing towards the piano as she is, but can feel her, as if the woman is a tall, thin planet at her shoulder. Pulling on her and dark with gravity. Unaware of how she is able to draw in whoever she wants, whenever she wants them – even those she doesn’t.

There is a burst of noise from the auditorium, sudden as rain on a tin roof. The announcer looks at her his hand out towards the piano. He says her name again and then, ‘Young pianist extraordinaire’, his eyes growing wider each second she fails to move.

Finally, her mother pushes her arm. ‘Go on then,’ she says, the applause dying. ‘And don’t embarrass me.’

And she is out, beneath the hot lights, walking towards the piano. Scraping the seat out and sitting down as a sigh of air escapes from a small hole in the side of the cushion. She notices the overwhelming smell of lacquer and, then, how a tiny yellow thread from a duster has become trapped by a hairline crack in one of the keys.

‘In a grand piano,’ she recalls her mother saying during one of her lessons, ‘it’s gravity that brings the hammer to a rest after it’s hit a string. It helps you play faster.’

But when she tries to lift her hands from her lap to place them in their starting position, nothing happens. It is as if they too are being pulled down by gravity.

‘Nobody should have been left there like a sitting duck,’ her father said, later. Her mother in the mirror fussed with a curl at the back of her ear.

She’d never had another lesson after that – not from her mother, not from anyone. In all honesty, she’d probably never had the right kind of hands.

AJ Ashworth was born and brought up in Lancashire and is a former journalist who now works in publishing. She is the winner of Salt Publishing’s Scott Prize 2011 and her debut collection Somewhere Else, or Even Here was published in 2011 by Salt. This collection of short stories was also shortlisted for the 2012 Edge Hill Prize and nominated for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award.

A Q&A with AJ about her life as a writer will be posted here soon.

AJ Ashworth blog

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‘Still’ short story competition: A.J. Ashworth announced as winner

A big thank you to everyone for submitting stories to the Still short story competition organised by Negative Press London and Foyles – London’s iconic independent bookseller.

All the entries were read by Roelof Bakker (editor, Still) and Lisa Bywater (local marketing manager, Foyles) who together selected a shortlist of ten stories.

These ten stories were consequently read and judged by contributing Still authors Nicholas Hogg and Evie Wyld. Stories were supplied without the writers’ names.

Nicholas and Evie have selected what they felt was the strongest entry and the winning story is by A.J. Ashworth from Lancashire.

Judge Evie Wyld says: ‘It was the voice that attracted me and Nicholas Hogg to this one. Her story is strong and understated at the same time.’

Roelof Bakker, Still editor says: ‘The ten stories shortlisted were all stupendous and each highly original. I would have happily included all of them in the Still anthology. Congratulations to the shortlisted writers, but also to everyone else for entering – Lisa Bywater and myself greatly enjoyed reading your work.’

A.J. Ashworth will receive a copy of Still, a print of ‘The Stage (Piano)’, a copy of The Hummingbird And the Bear by Nicholas Hogg and After the Fire, A Still Small Voice by Evie Wyld and her story will be exhibited as part of the Still exhibition at Foyles on Charing Cross Road from Friday 26 October 2012 in the first floor Café. Her story will also be published on the Foyles and Negative Press London blogs and we look forward to interviewing her for the Negative Press London blog.

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Find ‘Still’ in Foyles on Charing Cross Road

A rainy day, perfect for a bit of browsing and a coffee in a bookshop…

Foyles, Charing Cross Road, Still in Anthologies

If you’re near Charing Cross Road, pop into Foyles and you can find Still in the anthologies section on the ground floor…

And in the art section on the second floor…

Foyles Art section third floor, Still

Also, the first floor café serves a pucka flat white (actually one of the best in London in my humble opinion). And there’s an exhibition of photographs from Still, too.

 

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Q&A | David Rose

David RoseDAVID ROSE LIVES IN ASHFORD. He was forty when his debut story was published in the Literary Review. He has since had around three dozen stories published in literary magazines and anthologies, as well as a mini-collection, Stripe. His first novel, Vault, was published in 2011 (Salt Publishing) and a new story, ‘Puck’ has just been published as a chapbook by Nightjar Press. The story he’s contributed to Still is about the ongoing decay of language expressed in three pages of pure bliss.

Has writing always been a part of your life?
In my teens and twenties I wrote sporadic poetry, as many do, but with no serious intention of being published. Much later, in my mid-thirties, I suddenly had an idea for a short story. I had never written fiction before, so I wrote it more from curiosity.

At the time, I was working with a woman whose daughter worked with Graham Swift’s wife, and recommended his work; it was around the time he was writing Waterland, an extract from which had been published in Granta. I then read his first novel, The Sweetshop Owner, which I admired. Through that tenuous connection with him, I wrote to him, enclosing the story. He was diplomatically encouraging, and I decided to take it a little further.

I joined a Creative Writing workshop in Staines, an evening class, which continued for some years with a nucleus of writers re-enrolling year to year, giving them/us the confidence to be objective in our criticisms of each other’s work. I enjoyed it very much.

It was at that time that I had my first story published, in The Literary Review, which had then recently come under the editorship of Auberon Waugh (I still have his hand-written letter – in blue fountain pen ink – accepting the story, after an eighteen month wait).

Sadly, I had less time to attend, and the nucleus was breaking up, so it all came to an end. I carried on writing on my own; there is no writing community I’m aware of in Ashford – it is quite small.

In a workshop/evening class, naturally the emphasis is on brevity, to give everyone a fair hearing, hence poetry and short stories were the staple (and I think the discipline of poetry is one most novelists would benefit from). But I think that the short story is the form that most suited me anyway; you can take far more risks.

So the short story was my natural form, and I had around four dozen published over the years in magazines here and in Canada. But when one attempts to interest publishers/agents in a collection, the question is always: are you working on a novel? I became so fed up with this that I started writing a novel just in order to say, yes, I’m working on one, here in the meantime is my story collection.

Needless to say, it never worked; I finished the novel, Vault, and after showing it to a couple of publishers, put it in the drawer. It was Nick Royle who, in a casual conversation which touched on novels, asked to read it, and passed it on to his agent before then taking on the role himself.

While we were still attempting to place it, he suggested writing a longer novel, which might be easier to place, since publishers buy fiction by the yard in Britain. I started one, carried on, finished it, and that now is in the drawer, where it will remain.

Vault David Rose Salt Publishing 2011Vault was written in the Staines branch of Pizza Express, do you still go there to write?
As Vault was a new genre, I needed a new writing discipline, which is where Pizza Express came in. I worked close by and went there for lunchtime coffee, with free biscuits, courtesy of a plump waitress who felt – maybe out of annoyance – that I needed fattening up. I would use that break to read, but decided to write instead, every workday writing something, however unusable, then revising and planning in the evenings. The discipline of regularity helped; it’s like riding a fixed-wheel bike – the momentum keeps you going.

I no longer work in Staines, and am no longer writing.

Do you spend a lot of time perfecting a story? When do you decide you’ve finished and you’re happy?
All my work was done initially in long hand, in pencil, to keep the draft as fluid as possible for as long as possible (it hardens once it is typed), and would be revised, then left for a few weeks, then revised again, until I became fed up with tinkering and would type it up, correct it and send it out. There is never a point where you feel satisfied with a story, only bored.

Assembly Hall Staircase (Flyer)

Assembly Hall Staircase (Flyer) © 2012 Roelof Bakker

Why did you select this photograph?
I chose the OkeyKokey photograph immediately because it struck a nostalgic chord with me. Whole worlds, epochs, are summoned up in such phrases, and are lost with the loss of those phrases. I find myself at an age where remarks, words, allusions – to such things as threepenny bits or Blakeys – are met with blank stares. So I find the whole issue of language decay melancholic. And having to master computer skills made me feel even more alienated by the jargon.

This is, I think, at the root of the problem of old age: not physical age but cultural alienation, and the fact that the elderly, being no longer thought of as useful, are no longer thought of; they become invisible.

Do you often work with artists and/or use visual materials as inspiration?
‘Sere’ is the first story to be commissioned as a response to a photograph, but many stories have begun as responses to paintings, or in one case an African sculpture. The first, The Literary Review story, was the result of visiting the exhibition of Picasso’s sketchbooks; more specifically, from the catalogue introduction by Claude Picasso, expressing his feelings at seeing in galleries things he had grown up with as a child – including his toys, turned into sculptures by his father.

Other stories had similar genesis, in one case, a series of Munch paintings arranged at random, as a way of breaking the habit of plot. A more recent example, to appear in Unthology 3 in November, describes a guided tour of an art gallery for the blind, again based on a series of paintings (on postcards) arranged to form ostensibly a history of art.

And the new Nightjar Press story, which I at first refused to do, as I don’t usually write in the macabre, came from another Picasso painting, the composition of which was based on a visual pun, that of a jar as a memorial of a friend of Picasso’s of that name (Jarra).

Music too has sometimes been the starting point, and a second story in Unthology 3, probably my last, concerns the real-life case of Joyce Hatto, the pianist whose husband plagiarized other recordings on her behalf. It is a poignant story (the real one), and the fictional version has an appropriate valedictory feel.

What are you working on at the moment?
I am no longer writing.

David Rose Puck Nightjar Press

DAVID ROSE BLOG

NIGHTJAR PRESS

BUY VAULT

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