Monday, 15 October 2018

Some gothic inspiration...

There are just four weeks left in our call for gothic poems, for an anthology edited by Nisha Bhakoo and Charlotte Geater. It turns out that Sophie Rowson, who's doing work experience with us at the moment, is a big fan of all things gothic, so we asked her to write a blog to give you some inspiration for poems in the run-up to the deadline. You can also read Sophie's interview with the editors here.

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Gothic places. Gothic stories. Gothic art. Gothic architecture. Gothic literature. Gothic music. Gothic films. Gothic horror. Gothic comics. Gothic people. Gothic past, present, future...

The Gothic.

Whichever way you look at it, gothic starts with a darkness. It explores emotions like fear and desire but in a range of complicated, unnerving and even sickening ways.

The Gothic was once a way to talk about the taboo by hiding behind symbolism. We continue to draw from the classics and renew them. Inverting, subverting and reimagining them. The Gothic genre continues to thrive and is watered by the timeless fears of humanity.

Take the innocent young girl. Let her feel uncomfortable desires. The treasuring of a horrible secret, a sickening transgression or a pulsing revenge that pushes her to the brink of her sanity... and the gothic seeps out of her. Especially if in the process of her creation you have questioned not only yourself, but everyone around you.
“There is something at work in my soul which I do not understand.” ― Mary Shelley, Frankenstein 
Highlighting the strangeness and inexplicability of life is part of the gothic. It takes a piece of reality and smudges colours of the imagination into it. This creates the hypnotically irresistible shade of the genre of the night.

The real and the make-believe swirl together to create meaning in exciting and horrific ways. We can explore the soul and the flesh, the soul leaving the flesh, the flesh without the soul...
“We seem to be drifting into unknown places and unknown ways; into a whole world of dark and dreadful things.” ― Bram Stoker, Dracula
Death. The most mysterious and uncharted of places. And yet, through the gothic genre, we can visit its boundaries often.

Ghostly figures, re-animated corpses and the familiar cursed creature, the vampire. He cannot starve to death and yet he thirsts for your fresh blood. He does not live, but he can be destroyed with a stake to the heart. If he really does lurk in the shadows, he might be impossibly fast and sickly pale. He might also have the power to hypnotise you.

The fear of the unknown and the unimaginable is both there and not there with the vampire. We know that by the vampire’s bite we can end up either dead or undead. We could either leave this world a human, or stay in it. As something entirely different.

That’s what we love about gothic. We love how it plays with the unimaginable. We want to be invincible, powerful, more than simply human. We want death to fear us instead of the other way around. And we want possibilities that make us unique and extraordinary. That’s why gothic characters are so compelling. We want to know their stories, what it’s like to be them. We want to watch how they deal with the darkness...

And for a short while, death is our amusement. For a short while it is a limit that may or may not exist.

And that makes it bloody delicious.


The call for submissions runs until 9th November 2018. Read the submissions guidelines here.

Wednesday, 26 September 2018

Gothic poems: an interview with the editors

We've launched a new call for Gothic poems! Our intern Sophie Rowson interviews the editors Nisha Bhakoo and Charlotte Geater about all things Gothic. 


Which gothic motifs do you most like to explore?

Nisha Bhakoo: I really enjoy seeing how a sense of the Uncanny is created within gothic writing, and I try to explore this concept in my own poetry too. The Uncanny is when something familiar to us becomes foreign and frightening, it’s actually a Freudian concept. It’s concerned with the blurring of boundaries, like the ones between dream and waking states, and life and death. The Uncanny is also created through doubling, which can be seen in gothic writing such as Frankenstein and The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. I really like work that involves doppelgangers! I’m looking at the Uncanny in relation to contemporary poetry as part of my PhD at Humboldt University in Berlin this year, so it’s definitely an idea that captivates me.

Charlotte Geater: I'm kind of obsessed with architecture - in an extremely amateur way, that is. So gothic houses and landscapes are probably my favourite traditional motif of the genre. There are some really delicious recent examples - the house in Crimson Peak with a hole in its roof, and the earth around it stained so red with clay that it looks like blood... yes please. I'm also very into ghosts, and haunted places. The ways in which the past can create a rupture in the present and future...

If you could be a vampire, witch, werewolf, zombie or ghost, which would you be and why?

NB: A witch. I read tarot cards and am interested in alternative medicine so I guess I already have witchy interests!

CG: I would absolutely rather be a witch. Like, the rest of these have a lot of downsides - what's the downside to being a witch? You can do magic! You might have a special bond with cats! Sure, people might be a bit unhappy about it if they find out, but who cares. You're a witch. You can just hex them and be done with it.

Which of the classic gothic works is most inspiring to you and why?

NB: The late Victorian gothic novel The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde stands out to me. I read it first in my early 20s, and I loved the witty and poetic style of the writing, as well as the eerie atmosphere Wilde seemed to create with ease.

CG: It's really hard to beat Jane Eyre. It's transgressive and strange and irreducible. I love the spiritual element, how esoteric and deeply-felt it all is. It's a book that's full of problems but they only deepen the book, for me. There is so much texture in all of the relationships in the book - they're so wild and difficult and they're better for that. I love how wilful Jane is, how in the end her life is hers, because she wills it to be so.

And it's not a book that actually shows us the supernatural - but I don't think it's any less gothic for that. It's about how it feels; how the world in which Jane lives in scares, scars, constrains her. And finally she breaks free, in her own way, on her own terms.

What are you most excited to see in the gothic poems submitted? 

NB: Gothic writing is traditionally known for ghosts, doppelgangers, darkness, wild weather, labyrinths, castles, haunted houses, as well as eerie atmospheres and sublime emotions. I’m excited to see how people engage with these gothic elements in a contemporary way, and apply them to mundane settings and scenarios too.

CG: Honestly, I'm looking forward to so much. I want to see all of the new twists on the genre possible - I want queer gothic romance, I want poems in which monsters talk back, in which modern architecture becomes haunted... in which the materiality of old texts is played with... everything, send me it all. 

If you could give one piece of advice when writing gothic poetry, what would it be?

NB: Stay away from clichés. I want to see fresh, unusual and thought-provoking perspectives on the gothic. I’m really excited to see what comes in! 

CG: I would say not to copy what's come before. It can be hard when facing a genre with such a rich history to know where to begin. Don't be afraid to do something different, or to change something that doesn't seem right to you.


The call for submissions will run until the 9th November. Submissions guidelines can be read here.

Monday, 24 September 2018

Inspiration for insect poems, by editor Fran Long

There are just 2 weeks left in our call for insect poems for children, for an anthology edited by Fran Long and Isabel Galleymore. Here are some prompts for poems from Fran, to help you if you're still thinking about what to write!

Photos of insects, by Fran and her son

Can you imagine a world without bees? Have you ever thought about how dung beetles are awesome recyclers? Did you know there are an incredible 20,000 insect species in the UK alone, with more being discovered each year? Insects truly are amazing and I am keen to spread the word!

I have been privileged to go behind the scenes and explore the British Insect Collection at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, learning first-hand about the fascinating world of insects from amazingly knowledgeable entomologists as part of a Heritage Lottery Funded project called HOPE for the Future. The aim of the project is to inspire future generations about insects and the natural world, and as part of it I have co-written, designed and piloted ‘Project Insect’ in local schools. 

Incredibly, at a session last month, a 10 year old girl found a very rare beetle in her school grounds, which she has subsequently added to the historic collection at the museum. It was the first time this species had been added since the 1950s! My hope is that this is just the beginning and that many youngsters will become advocates for insects. Here are some of the remarkable facts I have been sharing with them through my work which might also inspire your poetry.

  • The most common type of insect is the beetle: there are 400,000 species worldwide, 4,000 of which are native to the UK. Insects pollinate, recycle and are an important food source for many animals – you could say they are our super heroes! 
  • I think it is fascinating how insects get their common names, often from their distinct characteristics or appearance. From the bloody nosed beetle who produces a red fluid from its mouth as a defence mechanism, to the minotaur beetle, so called for its likeness to the character from Greek mythology. 
  • I'm hoping to find poems which will take young readers on a journey of discovery to learn about insect anatomy (exoskeletons, 6 legs, thorax, abdomen, antennae and wings) and inspire them about insect super powers? From ants who can carry incredible amounts of weight to the compound eyes of insects that create mosaic like images. 
  • Or how about a poem about how the stability of dragonfly wings is being copied for high tech drones, or about how cockroaches can squeeze into minute spaces? Did you know that butterfly wings are inspiring phone screen and solar panel technologies? Or what about the way insects camouflage themselves to match their environments? 
  • What's more, insects need our help. Habitat loss, pesticides, intensive farming and climate change all pose threats to these stunning creatures. By helping children explore the fascinating world of insects we can enthuse them about the natural world and hopefully ensure that insects are protected for years to come. 

You can read the full submission guidelines here. The call closes on 5th October 2018.

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

Anna Murai on her work experience with the Emma Press

I met Emma at the University of Birmingham when she was holding a guest lecture for one of my creative writing modules this spring. I’d come to Birmingham for a year abroad, away from my main literary studies in Germany, hoping to develop as a writer and maybe gain some in sight into the publishing world I knew I wanted to be part of one day. One hour into Emma’s lecture, I knew I’d gotten it all wrong: I wasn’t looking for a titan publisher in the bustling hubs of London, where you’re more likely lose yourself than find your way in. What I needed was a small press like Emma’s, warm and welcoming, tucked in the calm streets at the Jewellery Quarter, and brimming with originality and innovativeness that excited my inner creative.

A few months later I was interning at the Emma Press every Tuesday for a month. Writing it out, it sounds like an awfully short time, and it did indeed feel short, almost over before it’d really begun. While I was still realising I was finally at the heart of a publishing house, a dream come true, two weeks already flew by in a heartbeat. But I was quick to catch my footing. In spite of all the new environment I found comfort and confidence in speaking the same language I’d been immersed in as a writer on the other side of publication.

I helped compile anthologies, read new submissions and wrote reader’s reports. I helped out with publicity plans for different titles, interviewed authors and was lucky even to have met one of them, the wonderful and inspiring Rūta Briede, Latvian artist and author of Queen of Seagulls, at one of her crafting workshops where we painted puplaks, little painted sea-wood dolls she invented herself.

I discovered what it means to sit on the receiving end of submissions and deal with the weight of recommendation (or not) in my reports. I learned how press releases are written, how they change from title to title, and then wrote one myself for In Transit. I discovered a new joy in writing blurbs, how to navigate through Indonesian texts still in translation to capture the sense of the fledgling book. I glimpsed into the hard work and long hours of research that go into when looking for homes for new publications, or even when scouring for children’s books waiting to be brought to British readers across Europe.

But most of all, I was delighted in finding that we were all working towards a common goal. Being a writer who strives to write for a better, more hopeful world, it was encouraging and welcoming to see I wasn’t alone in feeling this way. At the Emma Press, everyone works to push the boundaries, discover new voices and always eager to explore new ideas, from the ideation of themed anthologies to the selection of children’s books to be translated. It was amazing and inspiring to see so many stories across Europe and Asia being in the works, and hopefully there will be more to come in the future.

The Emma Press and its team taught me to value and cherish creativity and fun in publishing in a way I’d have never imagined and more, to nurture the small dreams however far-reaching. I’ll be missing helping out and see incredible works become reality, and hope one day to experience the heartwarming magic of the Emma Press once again.