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Negative Press at the Small Publishers Fair 2016

Negative Press London will be taking part in the Small Publishers Fair 2016 taking place at Conway Hall, Red Lion Square, London WC1R 4QL, Friday 4 and Saturday 5 November, both days from 11am to 7pm. We are delighted to be sharing a table with Michael Atavar from Kiosk Publishing.

All Negative Press books will be available to purchase, including In Camera by Nicholas Royle and David Gledhill, as well as  rare archive copies of Still and  Strong Room (Roelof Bakker and Jane Wildgoose) and Roelof Bakker’s self-published photo book, How Many Hopes Lie Buried Here Mother (edition of 50).

An A2 collector’s poster of new hand-drawn stones by Martin Crawley (Placing Stones) will also be available alongside a limited edition set of postcards of Hornsey Town Hall from Roelof Bakker’s extensive Hornsey Town Hall photography archive.

Small Publishers Fair 2016

Small Publishers Fair 2016

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Q&A | Ashley Stokes from Unthank Books

Ashley Stokes and a flat whiteSince publishing Still in 2012, Roelof Bakker has met a number of unique personalities in the world of independent publishing, people who are passionate about books and writing and do things in their own particular way. People like Meike Ziervogel from Peirene Press, an imprint specialising in publishing European novellas translated into English; Nicholas Royle who publishes chap books on his independent press Nightjar; and Robin Jones and Ashley Stokes from Norwich-based Unthank Books, who are leading the way in publishing new experimental fiction. The fifth instalment of their on-going series of anthologies Unthology 5, has just been published and it includes an exciting mix of talented writers, like Angela Readman, Elizabeth Baines and Jose Varghese as well as a short story by Roelof Bakker. He wanted to find out more about Unthank Books from its Short Fiction Editor Ashley Stokes, who is the co-editor of Unthology 5 as well as a celebrated author in his own right (Touching the Starfish and The Syllabus of Errors). He lives in Norwich.

How did Unthank Books come about and what made you and Robin pick the name?
Unthank Books surfaced on a rainy night in Camden. I was in London to read for Staple magazine when Robin Jones told me that he wanted to publish himself novels on his agency list that he couldn’t place with publishers. He liked these novels so much that he thought they needed to be read.

These included David Madden’s The Mystery of Edwin Drood Completed, which has gone on to be Unthank’s bestselling title, and my own Touching the Starfish. Quite soon after this we opened up the nascent press to general submissions.

We came up with the name Unthank pretty quickly. The Unthank is a piece of unclaimed land, a dystopian city in Alastair Grey’s Lanark and a road in Norwich’s Golden Triangle area, where I live, so, along with its Orwellian vibe, it seemed to fit with what we were trying to achieve.

Unthank have just published Unthology 5, part of an ongoing series of anthologies of new, unconventional experimental writing. The first Unthology was published in 2010. Why did you start this series?
Firstly, when we were still thinking of Unthology as a ‘sampler’, we wanted to use shorter work from our authors to showcase their novels. However at the time, I was myself writing short stories again after working on a long novel, and when I was looking about I realized that many journals and magazines seemed to have definite aesthetic agendas and very restricted word counts.

I thought that there was an opportunity to let writers spread their wings with longer stories beyond the 1,000-1,500 words, and allow writers to play with fire in terms of form and content. Later on I started to like the way that a quite conventional story could seem quite different if set alongside a more adventurous or experimental story, and started to pay much more attention to the arrangement of the stories in each collection, so they would have moods and atmospheres that characterized a run of stories within each book.

Unthank are a young and independent publishing company, what’s your outlook on the future of publishing?
Publishing as we knew it pre-internet has obviously changed beyond recognition. It’s easy now to see writing serious fiction, in the UK at least, as either pointless and fruitless, or a lark for insiders administered by a cartel of nepotists and nabobs. I do think that the interesting work is now being done on the periphery and I hope we contribute a vivid spark where the blade meets the rim.

Your proudest Unthank moment so far?
We’ve started a regular prose event in Norwich called Project U. Last November we launched Unthology 4 and Red Room: New Short Stories Inspired by the Brontes there. There was a great atmosphere in the audience and great warmth directed to the writers, one of who, Michael Crossan, had travelled overnight from Renfrewshire to read his story ‘Eden Dust’. The writers were really buzzing and I was left standing there thinking that it had all been worth it, that Unthank meant something after all.

You are also a writer and your second book The Syllabus of Errors is a series of overlapping short stories. What’s the appeal of short stories, as writer, reader and editor?
I love writing and reading short stories. There are straightforward reasons creatively for writing them. They don’t take as long as a novel to write. You can try out new techniques and experiment with material. There is not as much at stake as when you write a novel and they are easier to place.

But, other than that I love the ‘shot of vodka’ effect (Chekhov’s phrase) when you read a short story, that after-burn that you feel in the back of your throat long after you’ve swallowed. I often think of short stories as checkpoints – an obstacle reached after a long journey – or flashpoints: something long-smouldering is going to explode. It’s an infinitely variable form, really, and you can achieve things with short fiction that few other art forms can achieve.

 I love the ‘shot of vodka’ effect (Chekhov’s phrase) when you read a short story, that after-burn that you feel in the back of your throat long after you’ve swallowed.

What’s your favourite short story of all time and why?
I am terrible at answering this sort of question, because if I knew the what-and-why of this, the short story would be solved for me and its allure would dull. I am much better at making short, loose lists in no particular order. I would, if pushed, plump for ‘Metamorphosis’, simply because if a story has had 40,000 books and essays written about it, and still with a relatively linear storyline no one really knows what it means, that’s a triumph.

Otherwise, in my personal canon, stories I’d come back to again and again, I would place: ‘The Overcoat’ by Gogol; ‘Guy de Maupassant’ by Babel; ‘Spring in Fialta’ and ‘The Vane Sisters’ by Nabokov; ‘Grief’ and ‘The Darling’ by Chekov,’ ‘The Five Forty-Eight’ by Cheever; ‘Builders’ by Richard Yates, ‘Breaking It Down’ by Lydia Davis; ‘How to Be An Other Woman’ by Lorrie Moore; ‘Flora’ by David Rose; ‘The Lost Decade’ by F Scott Fitzgerald; ‘Cranley Meadows’ by James Lasdun; ‘The Depressed Person’ by David Foster Wallace and ‘Offerings’ by AJ Ashworth. I could go on, of course.

I was pleasantly surprised when my story ‘Red’ had been accepted for inclusion in Unthology 5. What made you pick this?
It did stand out for us because it’s remarkably tense for such a short piece. Its sense of urban alienation appealed to us, and we felt a certain schadenfreude while reading about a person losing her composure in public. It’s definitely a flashpoint, not a checkpoint. It also sits nicely after the dark-dark of the first two, longer stories, Angela Readmans ‘A Little More Prayer’ and KS Silkwood’s ‘Daddy’s Little Secret’. We are very wary of very short stories, so they really do have to grab us and not seem like poems in disguise. ‘Red’ did manage to get our attention.

Unthology 5Recommend one recently published book (by any press) that deserves a wider audience.
We are Glass by UV Ray (published by Murder Slim). He’s pretty out-there and a brave and honest writer. Talking of honest, I would also recommend Aidan O’Reilly’s forthcoming collection, Greetings, Hero, to be published by our friends at Honest Publishing.

What’s your favourite literary journal (print or website)?
I usually find something I’d like to read on 3:AM.

The most hotly anticipated release by Unthank is…
Meridian by David Rose, a day in the life of an architect and crafted by a master mason.

Apart from writing, editing and teaching is there something else you do that you feel passionate or obsessive about?
Berlin, fur hats and proving the existence of the North Surrey Gigantopicthecus.

Unthology 5 is available from the Unthank Books’ Online Bookshop at, Central Books, Book Depository, Waterstones and all good booksellers. Digital formats at iTunes and Amazon

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Strong Room | reviewed

David Hebblethwaite has included Strong Room in his early-February reading round-up on his book blog, Follow the Thread. He writes, ‘Where Still was perhaps more about space, this collection is focused on detail, and how physical objects can be both permanent and transient…Wildgoose’s text approaches the same issues as Bakker’s photographs from a different angle; all adds up to a thought-provoking whole.’

See Follow the Thread

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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, still being reviewed

Writer Sarah Manyika reading Still Negative Press London 2012

Sarah Manyika reading Still at home in San Francisco

It’s wonderful to see Still is still being shared, and as a result also being reviewed. Two intelligent reviews appeared in November in the Short Review and in literary magazine Wasafiri.

Sara Baume, the Short Review, 13 November:

‘Inviting writers to compose stories as a specific response is risky business for an editor, but Bakker has been spectacularly lucky with his twenty-six contributors… Not one photograph shows a person, yet the text brims with people. Each story is an acknowledgement that even the slightest detail is the trace of a life.  As a whole, the collection explores how every keyhole and windowsill and lampshade give rise to a plethora of associations and memories…This collection is the first print publication by Negative Press London and it sets a high standard for a sort-of new genre. Perhaps for the first time in my life, I just didn’t have the heart to scribble notes or fold the page’s corners down; Still is simply too attractive and unique a book.’

The Short Review

Sunil Chauhan, literary magazine Wasafiri, issue 76, published November 2013:

‘Loss, isolation and loneliness are never far from the page, the inability to forget a frequent thread. Many of the authors use the town hall as a muse rather than a setting. Sharing a tartness of tone, these tales are quizzical, haunting, occasionally abrupt but mostly as teasing as the accompanying images, often concluding with a lingering shot of pain.’


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Sold out

The great thing about printed books is that they sell out. Still did some months ago.

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A negative birthday…

Today is our first birthday and we are feeling remarkably negative about everything in a positive kind of way.

A big thank you to all the writers involved for making Still happen. Many thanks too to the readers, bloggers and shops (particularly Foyles and Tate Modern) for your treasured support.

Exciting times lie ahead as our next print publication Strong Room will be out before the end of the year. More details to follow soon.

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Saboteur Awards 2013 | ‘Still’ runner-up ‘Best Mixed Anthology’

Negative Press London celebrated success last Wednesday at the Saboteur Awards ceremony at the Book Club in Shoreditch, where Still came runner-up in the category Best Mixed Anthology. Congratulations to all the winners and runners-up and thanks to Sabotage Reviews for organising this fun literary event, with some wonderful performances.

Great to meet Robin and Ashley from Unthank and Claire Trévien from Sabotage Reviews. For full results, see Saboteur Awards 2013 results

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Q&A | Deborah Klaassen

Deborah Klaassen

Writer Deborah Klaassen with the photo that inspired her story at the Still exhibition at Foyles in September 2012

DEBORAH KLAASSEN LIVES IN LONDON. She is a Dutch, London-based blogger, essayist, philosopher, copywriter and the author of the horror novel Bek dicht en dooreten! (Shut up and eat!). She came to Still via James Miller and contributed the story ‘How To Be a Zombie’. She’s currently writing a crime novel.

When did you write your first story and what was it was about?
I started making up stories long before I could write, and must have started writing them down as soon as I could write. My grandmother has kept one of my earliest stories in a photo album. She had given me a piece of paper and some felt tip pens so that I could draw, but instead I wrote a story about a farm.

Why did you move to the UK?
After my MA Philosophy, I discovered that Fay Weldon teaches Creative Writing at Brunel University. I figured that would be a unique opportunity to write a novel with all the guidance I could possibly need. Ergo Veni, Vidi, Vici. (I saw, I conquered, I came)

Do you find it easy to write and communicate in English? Also, do you continue to write in Dutch?
I wouldn’t say that I find it easy, but it’s no more difficult than writing and communicating in Dutch. I talk in my sleep, and according to my boyfriend, my preferred language is English.

What inspires your work? Favourite writers?
It’s the people around me that inspire me the most: the Excel Hero, the Spliff Artist or the Manager with a Heart of Gold. When I was a teenager, my favourite authors were Fjodor Dostojevski and Ronald Giphart. These days, my literary diet is incredibly varied.

You work for a London media agency as a copy writer, how do you find time to work on your writing projects? Do you put time aside every day or do you write sporadically?
I spend about three hours a day on trains and busses to get to work and back. I try to use my commute for writing, though distracting headlines in newspapers, not having a seat or dozing off when I do have a seat all are great threats. I recently won an iPad in a Vine Competition though, which is a great boost for my productivity en route.

Your story ‘How To Be A Zombie’ explores the idea of slowing down time. Is it an expression of a personal frustration of there not being enough hours in the day?
It’s actually more of a frustration with how gullible people can be, no matter how intelligent they are. And with other people’s tendency to take advantage of this gullibility.

Zombie takes a violent turn. How important is violence in your writing?
Just as important as it is in real life.

Short story or novel?
Both. Ideally: short stories within a novel. My favourite passage in Shut up and Eat! is the milk-incident, where Horrible Herman almost gets stabbed by a twelve-year-old. It’s a short story in its own right, but really adds value to the full novel as well because it shows what sort of person Horrible Herman is.

Did you enjoy the experience of collaborating with a visual artist?
I really took the time to choose the right photograph and to let it sink in before I started writing. It was very inspiring, and has made me look at photographs in a different way.

Is reading in public and performance an important part of your writing practice?
When I was still in university, I used to read books and newspapers to someone whose eyesight had deteriorated due to MS. Reading out loud was a very important part of my life, and I started doing it as well when reading difficult texts on my own. It helps understand the structure, grammar and, ultimately, meaning of a sentence. Because reading other people’s work out loud is such an important part of my life, I love reading my own work in public too. It’s an opportunity to share the story and emotions, get carried away and make sure that the ‘reader’ doesn’t miss out on the important nuances.

What are you working on at the moment?
I’m writing a crime novel. I’m afraid I can’t tell you much more about the characters and the plot yet, but I’m enjoying it.

Where do you see yourself in ten years?
Gosh, I wouldn’t even be able to tell you where I see myself in one year! Life is a plot full of unexpected twists.


‘Bek dicht en dooreten’ by Deborah Klaassen

‘Bek dicht en dooreten’ by Deborah Klaassen

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Q&A | Nina Killham

‘Still’ writer Nina Killham at the <em>Still</em>launch

Nina Killham at the ‘Still’ book launch

NINA KILLHAM currently lives in Melbourne. She is the author of three novels: How to Cook a TartMounting Desire and Believe Me. She also writes short stories and screenplays. For Still she contributed ‘My Wife the Hyena’, which has been selected for inclusion in the annual anthology The Best British Short Stories 2013 (Salt), which is published next week. She’s currently writing a historical novel set in Singapore just before the Japanese invasion.

Why and when did you decide to become a writer?

Writing for me has been a way of processing my life. I’ve had a lot of change in my life. My father was a diplomat and so we moved every three years. I was always the new kid on the block, always the outsider, looking in, taking notes. I was writing in my mind long before I was putting it on paper. And once I began I couldn’t stop. The downside is that sometimes I become a spectator in my life rather than a participant. It’s something I’m trying to change.

How do you fit time in to write?
My children are growing up and I thought it would get easier to find the time to write. In fact it’s sometimes harder. Yes, they are out of the house longer going to school but I probably worry about them more. I wrote my first novel around my daughter’s naps. And it showed. My daughter wasn’t a big sleeper so my first draft was a series of little snippets written in about twenty minutes. I’ve recently taken to writing in my bed. Since we moved to Melbourne from north London, I have the most beautiful view outside my window: beautiful spring green Honey Locust trees waving in the wind. So I prop myself up with my laptop and stare out and eventually get some work done.

Is life in the sunshine affecting your approach to writing?
Life in the sunshine. Ah, can’t tell you how lovely it is. I had forgotten sunshine! The people are sunnier as well. Not sure how it will affect my writing. But I am getting it done and for that I’m very grateful. Of course the flat whites are probably a huge help.

Does the short story format offer the opportunity to do something different and let your hair down so to speak?
What let my hair down was that I was not trying to please an editor, an agent, or a perceived ‘buyer’ of my fiction. I’d been writing novels to a varying degree of success. When I approached my fourth, my third had just come out and sank without a trace. I suddenly became very panicky about ever getting published again. So I started looking to see what worked; what was sold, what was marketable. I drove myself and others mad. So when you asked for submissions I delighted to write what I wanted. I felt free and the entire experience has been the utmost pleasure.

Do you have a secret/unpublished collection of short fiction?
I do have a collection! You astute man! The stories circle around a north London primary school. Surprise, surprise. One day, perhaps, after they’ve matured a bit in my cellar, I will sort them out.

Story or novel?
There is nothing more satisfying to read than a good short story. That intense concentration rewarded with a pungent ending thought. I tend, though, to read more novels as they are something to sink into, to completely immerse myself in another world. I also think novels, though more time consuming and horribly muddy and murky at times, are easier to write. Bigger canvas. You get to splash more paint about. Mistakes get lost in the length. Short stories, to be effective, require more control, a sharper focus.

‘The Mayor's Parlour’, ‘Still, Roelof Bakker

‘The Mayor’s Parlour’ from ‘Still’. ©2013 Roelof Bakker

Where did the inspiration for ‘My Wife the Hyena’ come from?
The title came first. In fact I’d wanted to write a story called ‘My Wife the Hyena’ for a while because I’ve long noticed the similarities between society’s perception of hyenas and women. A bit too pushy, a bit too gamey and earthy, possessed of a mean streak, with wicked, raucous laughter… When I saw your photograph I immediately saw how it could work. What I found evocative about your photos was the idea that even though there was no one in the rooms you felt a presence. It was as if someone had just stepped away. The photo I picked with the desk and the coat rack seemed so lonely. It spoke to me of a long, dutiful, rigid and utterly lonely life. Who knows what another viewer would have made of it. That was what was brilliant about Still. So many takes on one body of work.

How did you find working with a visual artist?
I loved working with a visual artist. I can spend hours looking at paintings and photography. In fact I always ask for art books for my birthday. So when you sent me the photographs it felt like something I do on my time off anyway and it really sparked my imagination. I’m also a Sunday painter and wish I was better. So I was just thrilled to be working with you.

Do you use visuals as inspiration for your writing?
I don’t usually. Perhaps I should. My first three novels were contemporary satires so I didn’t think to look at pictures. Currently I’m writing a historical novel and I am looking at photographs of the time. They inspire me in the sense I am trying very hard to impart my visual fascination with the era into words.

How do you approach a new writing project?
It differs. My first novel was fun because I didn’t know better. I just wrote what I thought was amusing and luckily I found an agent and editor who agreed. The second and third I had to approach more professionally, with a little more of an eye to what I thought might be of interest to readers. With my latest book, the historical novel, I have been fairly calculated, trying to come up with something my agent would approve of. And yet at the same time I have had to make sure it’s something that resonates with me, that truly fascinates me. Otherwise it will fall flat.

What are you working on at the moment?
It’s a historical novel set in Singapore right before the Japanese invasion. I find the Peranaken culture – which is a mixture of Chinese and Malay – fascinating. The book is a bit of an octopus at the moment as all the characters are coming alive and saying what they think. Which is brilliant. But I always find the length of novels cumbersome. It’s like being in a dark wood and I can’t see the path in front or behind. I lose my way in my own novel.

Favourite writers?
I love Evelyn Waugh. Handful of Dust would have to be my favourite book. I reread it regularly and laugh deliciously at his viciousness. The way the book ends is sheer brilliance. Graham Greene is another favourite. The Quiet American in particular. I’m coming to the age, unfortunately, where I forget everything I read almost as soon as I close the book. But I loved Life of Pi and oldies but goodies like Love in the Time of Cholera. Now that I’m in Australia I’m immersing myself in its literature. I recently read a gorgeous book called Rules for Scientific Living by Carrie Tiffany. Just beautiful.

Advice to budding writers?
Advice to a budding writer? Had you asked me that ten years ago I would have said just write, write, write, and eventually you will learn your craft and you will get an agent who will get you a publisher. But now, I don’t know. I feel like so much has changed in the publishing world that it’s barely recognizable. And yes, I suppose, in the end, my advice would be the same. The write, write, write, part anyway. After that I’d probably add, learn your social media to make contacts. Mainly I’d say, be bold. Be you.

‘Still’, Negative Press London

‘Still’, Negative Press London

Any thoughts on the future of publishing?
Off the top of my head I think more small boutique online publishers will crop up. They will offer both ebooks and print but they will have zoomy websites and striking social media skills. They will create followers who will buy their books in the way people will buy branded clothes or music. Their customers will trust these publishers to pick books that they will like and be interested in. They will then create forums for the readers/customers to connect. Because as the world gets more connected and more overwhelming with choice, people will rely on book publishing brands to keep the noise at bay. A perfect example of this are the books published by Peirene Press. A wide eclectic stable of writers under one brief: short European literature. You want one of these, you go to Meike Ziervogel (publisher Peirene Press). She’s collecting the best. My two cents anyway…



The Best British Short Stories 2013

The Best British Short Stories 2013



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