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OUT NOW: Persons Unknown - The Battle for Sheffield's Street Trees

OUT NOW: Persons Unknown – The Battle for Sheffield’s Street Trees

Persons Unknown – The Battle for Sheffield’s Street Trees has been published by Wrecking Ball Press.
 
In 2012 Sheffield City Council and the Department of Transport signed a twenty-five-year contract with Amey PLC to renew the city’s highways in a programme titled ‘Streets Ahead’, costing £2.2 billion of public money.
 
That contract has never been made publicly available. As a result of persistent Freedom of Information requests, we now know that it includes the following clause: Amey ‘shall replace the highways trees in accordance with the annual tree management programme at a rate of not less than 200 per year so that 17,500 highway trees are replaced by the end of the term’.
 
For three years residents took ‘non-violent direct action’ (NVDA) to prevent the unnecessary felling of healthy street trees. This is their story, a story of ordinary people doing extraordinary things in the service of their community. All the chapters consist of original first-hand accounts of events from the perspective of people who were involved.
 
Calvin Payne and Simon Crump have deliberately stepped back from an authorial role, allowing their fellow protesters to speak for themselves, and often the stark truths told are all the more shocking for that.
 
With a Foreword by Nick Hayes, Introduction by Paul Brooke and Afterword by Christine King.
 
AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Michael Stewart

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Michael Stewart

Bold, gritty and blackly comic, Michael Stewart’s new collection of short fiction, Four Letter Words, explores twin contemporary urban dystopias: work and home.
 
Stylish and unsettling with a seam of black comedy running throughout the collection,Four Letter Words is a baker’s dozen of modern urban noir that offers responses to a number of contemporary concerns such as homelessness, addiction and sexual exploitation.
 
We asked Michael to tell us more about the collection, which is published by Wrecking Ball Press this week.
 
Give us give us the elevator pitch for Four Letter Words?
It’s a short story collection. How about ‘for many people, home and work are the dominant spaces in their lives, this book looks deep into the darkest corners of these worlds’
 
How do you feel about the publication of this collection of short stories?
It’s my second collection of short fiction. Much grittier and darker than the first. I think it contains some of my best writing.
 
What prompted you to write this collection and how long has it been in the making?
I’ve been writing short fiction for a very long time. These stories are a culmination of work gestating over a twenty-year period. The collection started to form as a coherent unifying project, as soon as I realised it was a book in two halves, and that this would be the overarching organising principle. We go to work. Then we come home. For some people, there isn’t much else in their lives. What if neither experience bring solace or satisfaction?
 
Tell us about the themes of the collection?
Work and home, and within that: loneliness, alienation, exploitation, dependency and desperation.
 
Who is the book for?
For the lost and the lonely. For anyone who loves a good story.
 
What experience do you want your readers to have?
I want to immerse my reader in precisely imagined worlds where they will see through the eyes of my characters, hear their thoughts and feel their fears and vulnerabilities. I want my reader to empathise with my characters. I want to engage them emotionally, to make them laugh and cry, and look deep into the recesses of the human experience.
 
What is the importance of short stories?
A short story can be more experimental than a novel. It is a snapshot. It is a unified artform. We can experience a short story in one sitting. There is a totality of experience that is missing from longer narratives. It is not interrupted or compromised by episodic events. Like a painting, we can see it in its entirety. Characters in short stories are mysterious, and enigmatic, we don’t need to feed into the narrative elaborate backstories. They are strangers that we meet in one fleeting moment. But that fleeting moment can have a profound impact on the reader.
 
Some consider that short story collections are something that authors move through on their way to their next novel. What would you say to that?
The status of the short story has changed significantly over the years. It wasn’t that long ago that writers wrote short stories to make money and pay the bills. Novels were something they wrote out of love, knowing they would make no money from it. Now it is the other way round. Why this has happened is quite specific to our culture. Other cultures value the short story over the novel. The short story has much more status in Ireland and China for example.
 
What is the importance of place to you as a writer and in the stories gathered together here?
This is very much a northern collection. I write about the north. I don’t know anywhere else. It was where I was born and where I grew up. I am a product of this landscape, and these stories are the products of this northern landscape. Setting is crucial. A story in a forest is very different to a story in a desert for example. Setting is character and character is setting. A good setting is a metaphor for the central themes of the story.
 
What was your route into writing?
Long story. I was forceable removed by two security guards from the factory where I was working in 1992. I found a typewriter in a skip, taught myself to touch type and wrote a novel called Leeches.
 
Was there a significant person in your life that encouraged you to write?
Lots of people discouraged me. Mainly my teachers.
 
Could you tell us something about your creative process? 
I try and write every day. Sometimes for an hour, sometimes for three or four hours. I consider it to be a vocation.
 
Who are your favourite writers? And which writers are you influenced by?
My first influence: Edgar Allen Poe. Others: George Orwell, Shakespeare, Milton, Dante, Flannery O’Connor, Katherine Mansfield, Emily Bronte, Kafka, Knut Hamsun, Raymond Carver, Sylvia Plath, James Baldwin, William Blake, Samuel Beckett, Cormac McCarthy, Angela Carter…
 
What is your favourite novel?
I have to say Wuthering Heights, but Nineteen Eighty-Four is a close second. As is Kafka’s The Trial, as is McCarthy’s Road, Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho, Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange, Knut Hamsun’s Hunger.
 
Why this collection, now?
During lockdown home and work merged. We became prisoners in our own domiciles. Post-lockdown we are reconfiguring those spaces. Redefining them somehow. This book is part of that re-examination.
 
Do you have any thoughts about your experience of independent publishers?
My first four books were all published by independent publishers. I have a deep respect and love of independent publishing. I am editor-in-chief of an indie (Grist Books). I think what indies have achieved over the last ten years is remarkable. I liken it to the indie music scene of the 80s. The world of independent publishing is a very vibrant place.
 
What else are you working on and what does the future hold for you?
I have a poetry book called The Dogs which is being published by Smokestack in June 2023. I have a new novel called The Last Wolf which is under consideration with a publisher. I am working on two new books, one a new novel called Surrounded By My Enemies, and a hybrid memoir called Walking in the Shadows.
 
Tell us more about your work teaching creative writing?
I’ve been teaching creative writing for over 20 years. First in the community, then for the Open University, then for Leeds and Bradford Unis, and for the last 15 years, Huddersfield Uni. I run the CW department there. Grist, which I edit, allows us to publish our own students’ work alongside some of the biggest names in the industry. 
 
What would you say to someone who was keen to write, and would like to see their words published?
Learn your craft.
 
What are your hopes and dreams for the book?
I set a low bar. Sadly, short fiction does not get the attention it deserves in this country. I wish it were otherwise. If people read it and enjoy it, I’ll be happy with that.
 
The publication of Four Letter Words was made possible by Arts Council England National Lottery Project Grants funding. Buy Four Letter Words direct from Wrecking Ball Press at https://wreckingballpress.com/product/four-letter-words/

We’re hiring: Join the Wrecking Ball team as Bookseller

Applications for this opportunity have now closed.

Wrecking Ball Music & Books is hiring! We have an exciting position as Bookseller based within our city-centre independent book and music shop on Whitefriargate. This is a great opportunity to join a growing team at one of Hull’s most exciting retail outlets and venues.

Initially offered on a six-month, fixed-term contract, and with a competitive salary, we’d love the right person to join us in March 2022 and interviews will be held at the beginning of March.

For more information, read the job description below. 

Wrecking Ball Music & Books – Bookseller

Purpose

Wrecking Ball Music & Books’ Bookseller has the knowledge and enthusiasm to drive book sales forward, engage with the public and increase sales. 

Based at the large, independent Wrecking Ball Music & Books shop in Hull city centre, our dedicated Bookseller is responsible for providing guidance and literary insight to customers wishing to learn more about the books on sale, an extensive range of books from UK independent publishers.

In addition, the Bookseller will be responsible for arranging promotional events, such as in-store signings, author readings and in-store literary events.

Specific Duties and Responsibilities of the post

Your primary concern as a Bookseller is customer service, but you’ll also need an excellent knowledge of the UK’s independent publishers, the shop’s stock and the wider book market in general. You’ll help customers locate titles and offer information and advice about different books that are available. You’ll also be heavily involved in selecting, ordering and displaying stock, as well as working with publishing companies and their representatives.

Our stock of literature encompasses all forms and genres and our Bookseller is expected to have a deep understanding and knowledge of the widest possible range of literature and should be a self-confessed and proud bibliophile and poetry lover.

Our Bookseller needs to be confident when talking and communicating with the public, publishing companies and their representatives and writers involved in delivering events and activities. You should also be experienced and comfortable in the use of social media platforms as a marketing and promotional tool. A self starter, you will be brimming with ideas for potential events and in-store literary activity and relish the opportunity to have a lead role in organising events, supported by Wrecking Ball team members with extensive event experience.

Responsibilities

  • serving a range of customers
  • dealing with enquiries and identifying customer needs
  • offering advice and recommending books where appropriate
  • maintaining up-to-date knowledge of current titles and changes in the market
  • organising in-store events with authors and poets.
  • promoting in-store and venue events and activities via social media platforms
  • undertaking bibliographic work using computer or print sources to identify and locate titles
  • processing customer orders and book reservations
  • dealing with mail order, email and web-based orders
  • handling payments by cash, card and using book tokens using electronic point of sale (EPOS) technology
  • buying from catalogues and publishers’ representatives 
  • negotiating prices with sellers
  • processing book deliveries and returns
  • stock-checking books and other merchandise
  • creating in-store and window displays
  • maintaining commercial awareness including identifying business and promotional opportunities
  • liaising with other external account holders, for example schools, councils and companies
  • reviewing sales performance 
  • a range of administration tasks
  • undertaking general housekeeping duties, such as unpacking, stock replenishment and tidying.

This position is funded by Arts Council England.

Wrecking Ball Music & Books now on bookshop.org

Our sister company Wrecking Ball Music & Books now has a ‘shopfront’ on bookshop.org. Bookshop.org is an online bookshop with a mission to financially support local, independent bookshops.
 
Bookshop has created an easy, convenient way for you to get your books and support independent bookshops at the same time. By purchasing your books from the Wrecking Ball Music & Books bookshop.org shop, you will be supporting us, as we will receive a percentage of the cover price. Your order is sent straight to your address, and all in-stock items arrive in 2-3 days.
 
Our bookshop.org shop includes recommendations by the team at Wrecking Ball, along with lists of the books that have inspired our writers. While we will be shining a light on the books that we stock in our ‘bricks and mortar’ bookshop in Hull, and Wrecking Ball Press titles, readers will also be able to purchase books that we don’t stock, and support us, and other independent bookshops, at the same time.
 
Below are some of our lists of recommended books. Happy shopping!
 
 
 

National Poetry Day 2021 – Vicky Foster’s The Constant Parade

Hull’s High Street Heritage Action Zone (HSHAZ) and Humber Mouth Literature Festival have partnered with Wrecking Ball Press to commission Whitefriargate’s poet-in-residence for 2021, Vicky Foster.

Drawing on the street’s rich history and its long-standing role in the story of the city and the people who live and work on Whitefriargate, Vicky has written ‘The Constant Parade’.

Launching on National Poetry Day on Thursday 7 October, this short film of Vicky reading the poem, made by Wrecking Ball Press, will be seen on the big screen in Trinity Market Food Hall.

The poem will also be stencilled on the pavement at six locations along Whitefriargate.

The project has been funded by Historic England as part of Hull’s High Street Heritage Action Zone (HSHAZ) and forms part of the Community Engagement Plan.

Vicky Foster is an award-winning writer, performer and poet who has broadcast extensively across the BBC. She has published two collections of writing and is currently working on her first novel whilst studying for a PhD in English and Creative Writing. She won The Society of Authors’ Imison Award at the 2020 BBC Audio Drama Awards for her Radio 4 play ‘Bathwater’, and last year her Radio 4 documentary, ‘Can I Talk About Heroes?’ was reviewed in the national media. She has written poetry for radio, podcast and TV, delivered writing projects and creative writing workshops for all kinds of organisations, and performed at festivals and events across the North. She is a writer-in-residence for First Story, working with schools to help young people write their own stories.

Find out more 

Wrecking Ball Press: 

https://wreckingballpress.com

https://twitter.com/wbphull

https://www.facebook.com/wreckingballpress/

Humber Mouth: 

http://humbermouth.com/vickyfoster/

https://twitter.com/humbermouth

https://www.facebook.com/humbermouthliteraturefestival

Historic England: 

https://historicengland.org.uk/services-skills/heritage-action-zones/regenerating-historic-high-streets/

POET INTERVIEW: Mike Ferguson

Mike FergusonMike Ferguson’s poetry collection Drawing On Previous Learning was published in August by Wrecking Ball Press.

Drawing On Previous Learning is an eclectic collection of poems from the unique perspective of a poet who has spent much of his life at the hard edge of education.

These poems reflect the emotions and experience of being a teacher as well as the thoughts and feelings about everything that externally impinges on teaching English. While the collection will have broad appeal to fellow practitioners, it will also resonate with anyone and everyone who has attended school.
 
“Mike Ferguson’s latest collection takes us to the heart of his passion for two things: poetry and education. In this wide-ranging anthology, it’s the wit and wisdom born of 30 plus years of teaching English and writing creatively that shines through. Sometimes there’s anger: Who Killed the Thought Fox rails against those who only value things they can run their “measuring tapes” across, ignoring all the other things teachers do for our children.” – Martin Phillips, former Local Authority English Adviser
 
Mike has put together here a collection that celebrates and scathes, with honours and horrors put on the page in poems, prose poems and monologues.” – Peter Thomas, former Chair of the National Association for the Teaching of English
 
We caught up with Mike to find out more about the journey he, and these poems, have been on, a little bit of politics and why this collection, now.
 
How would you describe this collection?
 
Like an autobiography: 30 years of teaching English and 35 of examining GCSE English Literature are a significant part of an adult life. The poems aren’t presented chronologically so you can’t determine mood changes across time!
 
The collection comprises a lifetime’s writing about being an English teacher in all its personal reflections – how does it feel to finally get these pieces published?
 
I regard it as a privilege, as the job of teaching largely was. To be able to share the reality of my experiences as well as honest thoughts and feelings are an inherent part of the writing process. In so many ways, writing is cathartic, or a crystallising of ideas and emotions at any one time, but the urge to share this with others is also a compulsive element. I’d like to think what I have written can resound with fellow professionals as well as anyone who attended school or simply cares about education – so a broad audience.
 
When did you start writing these poems in the collection and when was the final piece written?
 
I will have started writing poems specifically about my teaching experiences in 1980, but the hard focus and work of those first years means much creative energy went into resources about reading and writing poetry, as well as other work. The selection of ‘pastiche’ poems from my annual Christmas ‘Stocking Fillers’ covers the years 1991-2009. The most recent poem will be ‘Dynamic Learning’, written in the summer of 2019, the year before Covid caused the halt in national examinations and when I decided to stop marking completely. The sequence of poems about subject specialists, as well as others that refer generically to students, are always genuine reflections of colleagues and pupils who filled the full 30 years of my teaching. The book’s final poem ‘Students’ is filled with familiar faces.
 
A number of poems air your political and critical views on education – tell us more about this?
 
What follows is a third attempt to respond to this question, the first and second having become essays! For anyone interested, a detailed overview can be found in the educational writing on my blog https://gravyfromthegazebo.blog/ As a taste of my holding politicians to task, in my teaching lifetime, I wrote to at least 11 Secretaries of State for Education, initially when campaigning to preserve 100% coursework assessment in English – this including a face-to-face visit to a then Minister of State (Department for Education and Science) in London. Most subsequently has been concerns and anger regarding testing regimes, target setting and teacher/school measurements based on this. The Conservatives initiated such, and Labour continued with it when coming to power in 1997. The testing soon shaped how teachers increasingly felt compelled to teach for students to ‘pass’ exams and schools to meet targets, and in English, this dramatically narrowed the curriculum, though Michael Gove slaughtered in in 2015. I could write so much more, but…
 
Drawing On Previous Learning will clearly resonate with those that work in education – but who would you like the audience for your poetry to be?
 
Obviously teachers, and certainly English teachers but not exclusively. Anyone who has been a student should be able to recognise and relate to the explorations, but current ones may well have other interests and preoccupations. I’d hope the range of poetic styles will be of interest to fellow writers.
 
Can you tell us something about your journey into creative writing?
 
I was inspired to start writing poetry when a charismatic English supply teacher took over 4th/5th year lessons at my secondary modern school in Ipswich around 1968. He played The Fugs singing a version of William Blake’s ‘Ah Sunflower Weary of Time’ and introduced Ginsberg and similar from that band’s influences as well as their lyrics. So, in ‘68/69 in our new large house on Elsmere Road, I wrote my tonnage of teenage poems in my new late-night big bedroom that aped the Black Mountain poets. I still have all of these. They will never be shared.
 
Was there a significant person in your life that encouraged you to write poetry?
 
That wonderful supply teacher but also another English teacher at my school who asked to see me specially to explain why my entry for the school’s poetry competition had been unsuccessful for gaining a prize, and probably publishing in a collection (it was one of those Ginsberg-esque attempts) but expressing his encouraging fascination for my unexpected style models and interest in them. These got me started.
 
What is the importance of place to you as a poet?
 
Not so much in these poems that are all prompted by ideas and attitudes. As an American permanently resident in the UK since 1976, my Nebraskan origins, and the West Coast where most of my American family now live, and Devon where I reside feature regularly and importantly in what I write, especially in their cultural influences on who I am as much as the geography of place – though the seaside has been prevalent ever since moving to Devon to teach.
 
Could you tell us something about your creative process? 
 
I am of late a habitual writer: I had a period of three years where I wrote exclusively sonnets, and the discipline of those fourteen lines (and the sonnet form was usually as loose as this) was a control I enjoyed in expressing within these confines – often in a narrative voice. A selection of these was published in 2015, and some appear in this book. I then had another intense period of writing found prose poetry, these published in two separate collections in 2019 and 2020 – again, three in this book. My most recent focused writing is experimental, and I have a full collection of varied poems (erasure, concrete, appropriations, visual) that are all found in philosophical texts.
 
Why these poems, now?
 
Pragmatically, because Wrecking Ball Press was willing to take them. They’ve existed as a collection for a while, added to over time, and there has been interest previously, but nothing more than this. All poetry publication is a commitment to the work above any other considerations, unless the writer is popular and well known, so I am genuinely thankful to Wrecking Ball for taking on this singular subject matter – though I obviously hope my voice and the writing itself brings it to the reader with that resonance already mentioned.
 
What experience do you want readers of your collection to have?
 
Always enjoyment, but also engagement. A recognition of the meaningfulness, especially where it taps into the readers’ experiences, but also the importance and ability of poetry to capture the observations made.
 
Who are the poets that you admire, and why?
 
As an active member of the Coleridge Memorial Trust, obviously Samuel Taylor Coleridge and the other Romantics. My ‘pastiche’ poems reflect a broad interest, but some often served a purpose. Three particular poets of the more recent past I have always read and admired are Ted Hughes, Raymond Carver and Peter Reading: TH for ‘Crow’ in particular; RC for the potent simplicity of voice, and PR for his innovation and acerbic wit. Currently, my blog is again a good source of answers for this as I regularly review contemporary poets. Named writers would be Rupert Loydell, Ian Seed, the late Matthew Sweeney, Martin Stannard, Maria Stadnicka – and also a vibrant online poetry community, both for reading a massive and global range of individuals’ work but also for online publication/sharing opportunities.
 
What else are you working on and what does the future hold for you as a poet?
 
I’ve already mentioned my experimental work. At 67, I am a relative latecomer to the publication side of things – this steadier only since 2015, not that publishing is everything, but it can be such an affirmative prompt for continuing – but I am a compulsive writer, excited by the innovative side of working at it, and animated by the things that aggravate – and there is much to write about here!
 
What would you say to someone who was keen to express themselves through poetry?
 
The obvious initial advice: read poetry as widely as you can, exploit the online opportunities for that reading but also to try and get work out there (remembering that refusals are an absolute major part of the process!). I tend to be quite an isolate when it comes to writing, but there are many writers’ groups around which may provide support and encouragement, and the Zoom boom more recently has facilitated many readings to be able to attend from anywhere, as well as courses to join. And never use the word ‘shards’.
 
Do you have any plans to read/perform the works from this collection in public?
 
Post-lockdown cautiousness prevailing, I would like to at some stage to read locally with a friend and teaching colleague from our recent work.
 
Do you have any thoughts about your experience of independent publishers?
 
A lifeblood for the majority of writers, surely. All my poetry publications have been with independent publishers, and I would say the majority of poetry books that I buy are from the same. My work with Dave, one of the editors at Wrecking Ball Press, has been a most positive, reassuring pleasure.
 
Drawing On Previous Learning can be ordered from Wrecking Ball Press at https://wreckingballpress.com/product/drawing-on-previous-learning/

Poet Interview: Carla Mellor

Carla MellorCarla Mellor’s debut poetry collection Scraps will be published in October by Wrecking Ball Press.
 
Naturally, we love Scraps – but don’t just take our word for it. 
 
“Carla reminds us to love our rough edges and embrace the imperfect. A candid and crucial first collection from a bright new voice.” Toria Garbutt
 
“Common but not commonplace, lyrical and luminescent. If you like early Armitage, karaoke, Cooper Clarke, cans of Carling, Garry and Garbutt, and growing up working class, you’ll love this book of bitter-sweet poetry from an up-and-coming Northern star.” Louise Fazackerley
 
“Microscopic reflections. Half answered questions, half answered.”Mike Garry
  
We caught up with Carla to find out more about her work, writing in dialect and her route into poetry. She also described independent publishers as “normal”, which is the nicest thing anyone has ever said about us. 
 
How would you describe this collection?
 
Nostalgic would be the main word that springs to mind. Although it’s not entirely autobiographical it is heavily influenced by my childhood and teen years spent between Sowerby Bridge, a small Yorkshire mill town, and Withernsea, a rural Yorkshire coastal town.
 
When did you start writing these poems in the collection and how long did this body of work take to complete?
 
I started writing poetry back in 2018, so it’s been building up nicely since then. I’d say 2020 was my most productive year in terms of producing poetry.
 
Tell us about the cover design and the collection’s title?
 
I really wanted to call it Broken Biscuits to be honest, but there seemed to be a fair few books out there with the same title. In the end I felt like scraps paid homage to the seaside town where I landed my first job, at a chip shop – but also summarised my poetry as they’re all just small scraps of writing really – nothing too long.
 
What is the importance of place to you as a poet?
 
All I ever wanted to do was write, but I struggled finishing anything longer than a poem. I put my poor concentration down to lack of ambition and focus but was recently diagnosed with ADHD. That diagnosis helped me to stop beating myself up and to embrace what I (seemed to) have a natural talent for – short, succinct poems.
 
You write in a northern dialect. Tell us more about the reasons why?
 
I just want the reader to hear the poem as it would be performed as spoken word. I remember reading the Colour Purple about a decade ago and the thing I loved the most about it was how it was written how the protagonist spoke.
 
Why these poems, now?
 
Why not? I think poetry is becoming more accessible to people and I hope I can contribute to that. I remember the feeling of dread pulling out my GCSE anthology in English and knowing I wouldn’t be able to understand half of it. Obviously there were other people in the class who could, and who probably enjoyed it, and that’s great. But i think there needs to be an alternative option too.
 
Who do you consider the audience for your poetry to be?
 
People who don’t like poetry. People who do like poetry. Anyone and everyone really.
 
What experience do you want readers of your collection to have?
 
Just to enjoy it, maybe even think “if she can do it anyone can” and have a go themselves.
 
Poetry on the page, or on the stage?
 
Ah it depends on the poem, there’s some stuff in scraps I wouldn’t perform and others that I would.
 
Can you tell us something about your journey into creative writing?
 
It was always something I’d dabbled with and never really picked up fully. I think confidence and self belief come with age, and having the right people around you. My fiance Tash has always pushed me with my poetry and I’m really grateful for that.
 
Could you tell us something about your creative process? 
 
Nothing about me is disciplined or organised, unfortunately! I tend to get a thought or a feeling and just go with it, get as much down as possible and then edit it or add to it later.
 
How do you feel as your debut collection is about to be published?
 
It’s absolutely unreal. When I was a kid, about 6, I remember saying to myself “when I grow up i’m going to write a book”. And it’s never left me really, it’s always been the one thing i’ve wanted to do with my life, and to achieve it is the best feeling ever.
 
Who are the poets that you admire, and why?
 
There’s a few – Toria Garbutt, Louise Fazackerley, Mike Garry, Matt Abbott, and of course John Cooper Clarke. I think they all just own their truth and speak it. It’s accessible and relatable.
 
What would you say to someone who was keen to express themselves through poetry?
 
Just go for it!
 
Do you have any plans to perform the works from this collection in public?
 
Yes, absolutely. I live in Wigan so i’ll be popping up at numerous places across the North West in the coming months but also hoping to travel further afield too.
 
Do you have any thoughts about your experience of independent publishers?
 
It’s really warming how nice everyone has been, and how normal too!
 
Scraps can be ordered from Wrecking Ball Press at https://wreckingballpress.com/product/scraps

National Poetry Day 2021: A poem for Whitefriargate

Vicky Foster

Hull’s Whitefriargate is the inspiration for a new poem that will be unveiled on the historic street on National Poetry Day on Thursday (7 October).

Vicky Foster, Whitefriargate’s poet-in-residence for 2021, has written a new poem, drawing on the street’s rich history and its long-standing role in the story of the city and the people who live and work there.

Hull’s High Street Heritage Action Zone (HSHAZ) partnered with Humber Mouth literature festival and Wrecking Ball Press to commission the poem.

Vicky said: “It was important to me to write a poem that captured a sense of both the history of the street and the spirit of the people who’ve built that history. But also, that the poem ended with the idea of possibility and thinking about what might come next, because history and identity are constantly changing and we get to make choices about what happens next and how we take care of our places.”

The poem will be stencilled on the pavement at 6 locations along Whitefriargate for National Poetry Day on Thursday 7 October.

Two short films made by Wrecking Ball Press will also be released for National Poetry Day – one of Vicky reading the poem (which will be available to watch in Trinity Market) and one of her talking about the inspiration behind her poem. Both films can be found online via the Humber Mouth website after 7 October.

Councillor Rosemary Pantelakis, portfolio holder for culture at Hull City Council, said: “Whitefriargate is a key part of our heritage. The historic street is one of the most recognisable and much-loved places in our city, so it’s fantastic to see projects like this unearthing stories and celebrating its rich history.”

Whitefriargate has been at the heart of the historical, cultural and contemporary life of Hull’s people. Whether this relates to the city refusing entry to Charles I in 1642, its part in the Glorious Revolution of 1688, Wilberforce’s role in the abolition of slavery, or the various fashion trends and pop cultures of the swinging sixties, punk rock or house music eras.

Chris Collett, Public Engagement Manager for Historic England in Yorkshire, said: “Whitefriargate has a rich heritage, which has provided a great source of inspiration for Vicky’s poem. We are really pleased to be funding this project through the High Street Heritage Action Zone and look forward to experiencing this new tribute to the historic street.”

The project has been funded by Historic England as part of Hull’s High Street Heritage Action Zone (HSHAZ) and delivered in partnership with Humber Mouth literature festival and Wrecking Ball Press and forms part of the Community Engagement Plan.

Whitefriargate has benefitted from £1m from the Humber LEP’s Humber High Street Challenge Fund and secured £1.75m from Historic England’s High Streets Heritage Action Zone (HSHAZ) programme.

Hull City Council has also been awarded a £100,000 grant from Historic England as part of the Whitefriargate High Streets Heritage Action Zone (HSHAZ) to create and deliver community-led cultural activities on the high street over the next three years.

Dan Anthony

Author Interview: Dan Anthony

Dan Anthony’s novel The Pumpkin Season will be published in October by Wrecking Ball Press.

A little after the Berlin Wall falls and the ‘Eastern Bloc’ realises it’s not a ‘Bloc’ and it isn’t particularly ‘Eastern’, misunderstandings multiply. As the world begins to transition into chaos, a new serial killer threatens the city. But the reluctant detective isn’t engaged. No one is telling the truth. Not even him.

The Pumpkin Season is is a comedy and a tragedy, a search for identity and a thriller. Dan’s novel is about poetry and intellectual property and is for readers who want to enjoy themselves and those who don’t.

We caught up with Dan to find out more about The Pumpkin Season, who he thinks his audience is and writing that’s influenced his work.

Tell us more about The Pumpkin Season?

In this story nothing is what it seems. Even though we’re told in the first paragraph that the central character isn’t a real part of the story, we believe he is because we want to. He’s a cop, who can’t work out the big picture. By the time you finish this book you’ll see the picture – and you’ll want to know more. That’s how a good story should end.

How do you feel as the publication date moves closer?

I’m very excited about the publication of this novel. I’ve written novels for children and young adults but this is my first ‘grown up’ novel. Apart from anything else, I want to see how people react to the story which has a kind of childlike quality in that it elides comedy, fantasy and tragedy so that the ride is quite bumpy.

What prompted you to write The Pumpkin Season?

I was in Ljubljana in the mid 1990s and people kept saying to me that I must be on the way to other parts of the former Yugoslavia as they fell apart. I said that I thought that the real story was there. At the time there seemed to be a vacuum left by the lifting of Soviet control from the east of Europe, before markets expanded and society was transformed by capitalism. Culturally speaking, the tide was right out, and so it was possible to see rocks pools and the bones of shipwrecks that are normally hidden. The tide has come in again now. This story is a kind of snapshot of that moment in time. I wrote the first draft almost immediately. It took me a couple of decades to get it right. I’m usually a lot quicker than that.

Who is the book for?

What a good question. 20-40 year olds who are about the same age as the protagonists. Although these readers won’t remember the time I’m talking about, the sensation that society and the way that it is controlled are running in opposite directions, that some kind of catastrophe is on hand because everything seems to be for sale, principles seem to have evaporated and truth and justice seem to be threatened, will resonate. The book is also for older readers who remember the world before the division that separated Eastern and Western Europe was removed. The moment that the Berlin Wall fell is remembered by everyone as a hugely positive step forward – and an end to division and a chance for Europe to join up again. But the re-assembly of Europe has had strange consequences. People are nostalgic. The East/West division provided a strange kind of stability and capitalism’s worst aspects were kept in check. Today we’re looking at a Europe that is threatened by the right. This story is about the moment the cat was let out of the bag.

What experience do you want your readers to have?

I’m afraid the answer to this question is disappointingly simple. Yes it’s a serious subject, a serious story, but the experience I want my readers to have is ‘enjoyment’ – perhaps even ‘pleasure’. I write comedy, it’s all I can hope for.

What is the importance of place to you as a writer and also within the pages of The Pumpkin Season?

I’m from Cardiff and the idea for the Pumpkin Season came to life in Ljubljana. That’s because I recognised in Ljubljana a city which is historically conditioned to living behind net curtains. Cardiff hasn’t had anything like the same number of invaders as Ljubjana, but there have been enough to inculcate the same habit – saying one thing and doing another. It’s also a small capital city. So I knew that if I found one of the very few jazz clubs in Ljublana, I’d probably meet the minister for culture – because that’s how things are in Cardiff. This ‘villagy’ politics, in which Ministers appear in your local, enabled me to talk about a lot of the hypocrisy that goes on in a small country like Wales, without actually naming names and revealing sources. The story I’ve told is completely fabricated, there is no truth to it at all, but the sensibility and almost magical sense of reality taps into a Celtic approach to storytelling which I like.

All this means that, in the end, it’s very important that readers don’t know where the story is set. In a sense, the reader should bring their own sense place to The Pumpkin Season and fill in the gaps.

How would you describe yourself? And how would you describe yourself as a novelist?

Are the two different? I don’t think there are two ‘me’s’ – although, funnily enough, there is a character who wrestles with the same problem. I am a collection of characters hanging around in the same person.

What was your route into writing?

Bad spelling. I was awful at spelling and handwriting at school. But I couldn’t stop ‘writing’ invented stories. I used to listen a lot to radio. In the end it was books like the Goon Show Scripts and Monty Python scripts that made me realise that if I wrote dialogue people would be less sure I couldn’t spell (because people don’t talk proper) and I could tell stories only through dialogue. I began writing jokes for radio, plays and sit coms for radio and eventually developed the confidence to tackle short stories and novels. The amount of control novel writing gives you is liberating, after working for years with teams of people, all of whom are dying to tell you what to do, or explain why what you’ve done is wrong, the ability to decide for yourself can’t be beaten.

Was there a significant person in your life that encouraged you to write?

My English teacher Mr Eynon. He used to plonk a packet of Marlboro red on his desk and talk about Romantic poetry. I never understood a word of it. I was terrible at it. But he was the only teacher at school who ever read anything I’d written myself and said something positive about it. If all you ever have is negative feedback, it’s surprising how important one word of encouragement can be. People are funny – we’re not objective, we hear what we want to hear.

Could you tell us something about your creative process?

Yes, when I’m writing I’m very boring – start 9am, finish 2pm, read through the day before’s drafts, make a few notes. Usually have a beer in the evening, and wonder what’s going to happen tomorrow. Hopefully something occurs whilst I’m asleep. I start writing again at 9 when my conscious brain has taken delivery of whatever my subconscious has decided. In general, I think we undervalue the importance of subconscious, or unconscious thinking. I think that’s a theme in all my stories.

Who are your favourite writers? And which writers are you influenced by?

They change – J G Farrell’s Troubles and The Siege of Krishnapur are always important; Flann O’Brien (Brian O’Nolan) is a constant, The Third Policeman, At Swim-Two-Birds and a lot of his other work are big influences. I also like Sylvina Ocampo’s short stories. I find her position as an observer, close to the heavyweights of Latin American literature, and her strange stories which seem to be rather like magic realistic stories, but are perhaps more ‘unconscious’ realistic stories really alluring. I like stories that envelop you so that you find yourself reading to inhabit a world – not to get out of it by reaching the end.

Do you have a favourite novel?

Don Quixote.

Why this novel, now?

It was the first. It’s a comedy. It’s about everything. It’s still funny. It embraces contradiction. It’s about the ‘now’ always – so that means it’s also about the ‘then’.

Do you have any thoughts about your experience of independent publishers?

Yes – they’re vital. I think our most creative time happens in our teens. When I was in my teens punk and new wave were the thing. They were enabled by indie record labels. The changed the world as I saw it. Independent publishers like Wrecking Ball have that sense of responsibility in their creative/entrepreneurial DNA.

What else are you working on and what does the future hold for you?

The exciting (or worrying) thing about writing is that having got ourselves into a position where we can be creative, we find ourself in a place where predicting the future becomes a bit tricky. I’d like to bring out another story.

What would you say to someone who was keen to write, and would like to see their words published?

Don’t expect to get it right first time. The whole idea of ‘right’ is actually a bit of a minefield. Just keep writing and don’t forget to enjoy yourself. Books can take a long time to finish, so (I think) it’s important you appreciate the process of making them and the importance of the people who read them. Perhaps this is going a bit too far, but the whole thing should be something of a celebration.

Tell us more about your work for children and young people? And how that has led to this book, which isn’t aimed at them at all?

That’s a good question. One thing about being a writer is that, even though lots of us moan about different aspects of our work, ultimately, we’re our own bosses. We can write whatever we like. I’d worked in children’s literature for ten years and thought I’d run out of ideas when I wrote a story called Submarine Spies and the Unspeakable Thing about Russian spies smuggling themselves up a Welsh river using coracles. The story was comic, magical and about today. When I finished it, I knew I wanted to develop some of the techniques I’d learned writing for children for an older readership. It wanted to tackle some different ideas. Although I’d been writing children’s fiction for ten years or so, it wasn’t as if I hadn’t been writing for adults. I’d done a PhD in Creative Writing looking at how trade marks and branding influence creative writing and I’d developed this story from a draft into a finished piece of work with Richard Gwyn at Cardiff University. I’d begun work on a comedy about art galleries, but that’s another story.

Your intellectual property expertise features in the book – can you tell us more about how and why?

I joined the Patent Office, now called the Intellectual Property Office in 1990. It was a day job and I was a scriptwriter. I left the Intellectual Property Office twenty years later. I’d worked in Europe, the UK and been involved in some of the negotiations unifying the EU after the fall of the Berlin Wall. I was and still am fascinated by the power of intellectual property – it’s a discreet little enclave of the law, but it’s full of intrigue, it has a language of its own and characters of its own. It’s a kind of Le Carré-like world. It’s also extremely important.

What are your hopes and dreams for the book?

The Pumpkin Season is a kind of anti-detective novel. I was tired of formulaic stories about central protagonists who go on journeys that reveal this or that about their character that ultimately lead to a sense of being robbed (on behalf of the reader). I wanted to write something that paid no attention at all to the conventions of genre. I’m not sure that that was a ever a deliverable task, because what I think I’ve done is contributed to a different genre. Anyway, my hope is that readers enjoy it. That’s the whole point.

The Pumpkin Season can be pre-ordered from Wrecking Ball Press at https://wreckingballpress.com/product/the-pumpkin-season/

John Newsham

Author Interview: John Newsham

John Newsham’s short story version of Killing The Horses was longlisted in the 2018 Manchester Fiction Prize run by Carol-Ann Duffy. Killing The Horses is John’s debut novel. His other writing credits include fiction publication in the Fortnightly Review, winning a Dorothy Rosenberg Prize for ‘young poets of unusual promise’ from the University of Berkeley, and the Grist first-place prize for poetry describing place, from the University of Huddersfield. He has performed at numerous literary festivals around Yorkshire including the Ted Hughes Festival, the York Takeover Festival, the Leeds Lit Festival and the Bradford Literature Festival. John is also a teacher of A Level English Literature and Language.

We caught up with John to find out more about his debut as a novelist, his writing process and the importance of place to his writing. 

Give us the elevator pitch for Killing The Horses?

Killing The Horses follows two boys who are skipping school in the woods on the edge of the Bradford. They are trying to get away from all the things that are still there, haunting themselves and haunting the hillside. It’s a simple story about isolation and friendship. It’s about the violence of human beings and the violence of the natural world.

How do you feel about the publication of your debut novel?

I’m really looking forward to seeing it on shelves and hearing readers’ thoughts on it. I’ve been trying to write for years with more failure than success and I’ve had several false starts of trying to write novels in the past so it feels great to have this completed and published.

What prompted you to write Killing The Horses?

I tried to write a novel a few years ago which ended up not really working but out of that I developed a short story focusing on the characters in what would become Killing The Horses. I then forgot about it for a few years whilst I got on with life and was writing other things. When the covid lockdown hit last year I re-read the original story and just started writing about the characters and seeing where it went. The novel is the result of that.

What experience do you want your readers to have?

I’d like them to feel as though they’re walking through these woods with the two boys in the novel and seeing the landscape and the animals and the trees and the sky. It’s supposed to be a ‘close-up’ novel – it’s set over a short period of time in a single place with only two characters so it’s a lot more focused on those close-up, day-to-day details, rather than anything sprawling or expansive.

What is the importance of place to you as a writer and, more specifically, within the pages of Killing The Horses?

The novel is set entirely in the woods on the edge of Bradford, all within a mile or so of where I grew up. It’s all slightly fictionalised in the novel but everything in it is basically a real place. Bradford is a big post-industrial city and this corner of Bradford is not exactly a glamorous one but it’s nestled amongst all these rolling Yorkshire hills and there’s something quite distinctive about the combination of the two. It feels a lot more remote than it is. I like the idea of natural settings that are within reach of urban ones- places that aren’t far removed from most people’s lives. Lots of nature writing focuses on picturesque and remote places and the setting in the novel isn’t one of them. The woodland isn’t supposed to be idyllic. It’s supposed to be a troubled place but somewhere that’s isolated from the rest of the city. Otherwise, it’s set in Bradford because I’ve spent more of my life there than anywhere else and it’s a lot easier to write about what you know! Everyone should write about where they grew up – there’s nowhere that doesn’t make an interesting setting for a novel or a story.

What was your route into writing?

I used to write poetry and I had a few things published and won a few prizes when I was younger. I read with a few different groups of local writers and at a lot of literary festivals and really enjoyed it. I met loads of really talented local writers who were all really unique in what they were doing. But I mainly wrote poems because I didn’t have any kind of organisation to write anything longer. I wanted to write a novel for a long time but I never had the self-discipline to stick with it until more recently.

Has Covid-19 affected the way that you write?

I wrote most of Killing The Horses during the first coronavirus lockdown. I’d been trying to write another novel slowly for years and then the lockdown suddenly freed up a good bit of time as I was working from home for a few months and had long, free evenings. I started writing something new based on a short story I’d written a few years earlier and it was mostly completed by the time I returned to work 10 weeks later. I’d considered expanding it further but felt like it reflected quite a unique mood of being completely isolated and locked-down. I felt like it would be impossible to recreate that mood again. As it turned out, of course, lockdown #1 was not to be that unique so I didn’t need to worry. The story itself has nothing to do with covid but I think lots of the concerns it brought up are in there- isolation, sickness, the destructive power of nature etc.

Could you tell us something about your creative process?

Now that I’m back at work it’s a good bit harder to write as regularly. However, I try to sit down every Saturday and Sunday morning and write 1,000 words before I stop. Any additional time I get to spend on it is a bonus. Writing is the good part, though, so it doesn’t take much discipline once started – it’s everything else that gets in the way!

Who are your favourite writers? And which writers are you influenced by?

My favourite novelist is probably Cormac McCarthy. His writing is so stripped back it seems timeless but it’s also got a very modern sense of the hostile relationship between the individual and nature. There’s something really unsettling about how direct his writing is but it’s also much more moving for it. I’m also a big fan of Ted Hughes’ poetry. I think both writers have quite a stark sense of the violence and destruction within the natural world which is something a lot of writers ignore in favour of a more rose-tinted view. They also both manage to create something that seems mythical out of the natural world as it exists today. Other than that, I try to read as many local writers as possible and those whose literature is rooted in the north of England. I’m currently working on another novel, set in Yorkshire, and I’ve been doing a lot of reading of writers who have written about the area: Ben Myers’ The Gallows Pole, Elmet by Fiona Mozley, Ill Will by Michael Stewart and Black Teeth and a Brilliant Smile by Adelle Stripe are a few that stand out. They all create quite a striking sense of the region as distinct from the rest of the country through the dialect and character of the place. There are loads of others and loads more I’ve got lined up to read- too many to name.

Similarly, what is your favourite novel?

The Road by Cormac McCarthy. It’s a really simple story with only two characters but it seems to cover everything- life and death, meaning and meaninglessness, where humanity is headed. It’s unbelievably direct and every sentence seems charged. Everyone should read it. Why this novel now? It was mostly written in the first covid lockdown. I think the lockdowns made everyone think about things we otherwise don’t get much time to think about. Life and death questions and questions about isolation and loneliness and so on. I think the pandemic has also been a reminder of the power of nature and the strange relationship we have with it. On the one hand the natural world is being destroyed and needs to be protected. But nature as a whole is also always a hostile force which we have to battle against in order to survive. This novel explores some of these themes in its own small way.

Do you have any thoughts about your experience of independent publishers?

My experience with Wrecking Ball Press has been great. I don’t have any comparable experience with non-indie publishers but I’ve really enjoyed the creative freedom and the whole process of seeing it develop from a manuscript to a published novel. I’ve been able to share a novel which is a bit different and which I suspect would not have had any interest from major publishers without any pressure to make massive changes. I’ve found the team at Wrecking Ball really supportive and, like other indie publishers I’ve encountered in the past, they seem to be doing it entirely because they enjoy literature. I’ve also found local independent bookshops to be especially supportive with the sale and promotion of the book. The relationship between independent publishers and indie bookshops seems to be a really strong one and I think they both have a really important role to play. Independent publishers like Wrecking Ball Press seem to do a really good job of finding alternative and overlooked writers. Loads of my favourite English writers at the moment seem to have been published by independent publishers.

What else are you working on and what does the future hold for you as a writer?

I finished Killing The Horses a year ago and I’ve spent the time since then working on a longer novel with a much bigger cast of characters. I’m still very much learning as I go though so I’m not rushing anything and I’m more than happy to spend a good few years on it if necessary. I’d love to get more novels published in future but I’ll keep writing either way as I just enjoy doing it for its own sake.

What would you say to someone who was keen to write, and would like to see their words published?

Keep writing for the enjoyment of doing so and don’t worry about getting rejections or writing rubbish as both are inevitable and will make up the largest part of it.

What are your hopes and dreams for the book?

That some people will read it and that some of those who read it will enjoy it!

Killing The Horses can be purchased online at https://wreckingballpress.com/product/killing-the-horses/