When I first came across Aunt Elsie’s Secret Market, I thought it might be a cult. A sandwich board chalked with an owl and an arrow caught my eye on the way to meet a friend in Reading last year, and I weighed up the thrill of following a mysterious sign up into an office block against the embarrassment of falling for some textbook cult trickery. Would I have learned nothing from watching both the Children of Barabbas and Life Mechanics storylines on Neighbours in the 90s? Then my friend arrived and curiosity got the better of us, and boy am I glad it did. Aunt Elsie’s is AMAZING. It’s lovingly curated by Suzanne Stallard from local arts charity Jelly and full of gorgeous stalls selling everything from ceramics to vintage clothes to handmade fabric accessories to books by local presses. Ahem. . . I knew I wanted to be part of it and was insanely excited when my application was accepted for the Spring Fling event in the marketplace at the beginning of May.
I’d had one experience of having a stall at a fair before, but not on this scale. This time, I felt more confident about setting up my table and I was pretty pleased with my new signs, knocked up on some canvases from Hobbycraft the night before. I wanted to create some height on the stall without bringing my entire remaining stock of The Flower and the Plough, so I built a little wall from some of my favourite books, which I thought might come in handy if footfall was low during either of the days.
As it happened, I didn’t have time to pick up a book once. People kept stopping by to read the cards and leaf through the The Flower and the Plough, and often they wanted to chat about the poems or how I was finding being a new publisher. One lady read the Catullus postcard the whole way through and was astonished by how apt the line ‘Oh kiss me all the way to the tattoo parlour!’ was for her daughter, who’d married a man with a sleeve tattoo and subsequently had her own arm tattooed to match. Another lady read the Napoleon BonaCard and couldn’t believe that this ardent declaration had come from the same man she’d studied at school.
Selling as I do mostly online, it was lovely to be able to see people’s reactions to the book and my cards and brooches, including the new cards I’d made just in time for the Spring Fling and the brooches I sewed on the Friday, as a non-aggressive way to occupy myself while people were browsing my table. Since my last craft fair, I’ve refined my business plan to focus more on publishing rather than having a gift shop, but I enjoyed running the stall so much that I really would like to do it more often. To that end, I’m going to have a stall at the Lower Marsh Market (behind Waterloo) every Friday from 14th June for a month as a kind of pop-up shop, to see how it goes. I’m hoping to sell Emma Press products as well as books by other small poetry publishers and poetry-inspired affordable art by some very talented artists I know. It’s going to be AMAZING.
My favourite bookshop, the Arkadia International bookshop, is only two minutes from a church built inside a rock, on Nervanderinkatu in Helsinki. At first glance, it appears to be a small but arty, cleanly-designed book boutique, with neat shelves and several tables and sofas dotted about. Half bookshop, half gallery, perhaps.
Step inside, however, and you will learn otherwise. I stumbled upon Arkadia last month with a friend, having intended to visit it at some point but not having looked it up on a map. We wandered in hesitantly and were welcomed by Ian Bourgeot, one of the proprietors, who suggested we might want to take a tour of the shop, all bajillion rooms of it. For it turns out Arkadia is not a one-room book boutique but in fact a veritable empire, stretching out far underground in a network of rooms all filled with secondhand books and gizmos. A man on a sofa recommended we take a butter eye bun and leave a trail of crumbs in case we got lost.
So we went down the stairs and discovered a wonderland. It was as if someone (ok, Ian and his wife Liisa) had asked themselves, ‘What are all the best things in the world?’ and come up with books, company, space, music, nice surprises and good lighting. There was a sense of neatness and everything having its place, but also enough intriguingly-labelled cardboard boxes and cubbyholes to make it feel like we were discovering it all for the first time. The first room contained a billiards table and a children’s section, a globe and several bookworms deep in study; the next was lined with boxes of blockbusting authors; from the third poured a lugubrious old English man’s voice, which turned out to be an audiobook; the fourth was a light and charming meeting room; and the fifth was a chapel. For quiet contemplation and the drinking of wine.
If I were pressed to describe the Platonic ideal of bookshops, I’d come up with pretty much an exact description of Arkadia. This aptly-named establishment isn’t just a bookshop; it’s an M&S, Carlsberg-made, glacially-proportioned utopia, where people can go to browse, hang out and study, all in beautiful surroundings and hosted by the delightful Ian and Liisa. They hold events nearly every evening, ranging from lectures on international politics to poetry and jazz, and if I lived in Helsinki I know I would be there all the time. Do yourself a favour and swing by if you’re in Helsinki, or maybe go to Helsinki just to visit Arkadia. I promise it will be the highlight of your trip (assuming you love books and/or people).
I thought that the Anthology of Mildly Erotic Verse would be my first erotic publication, but quite a few people have observed that the title of The Flower and the Plough is pretty erotic too, along with some of the poems within. Embarrassingly, this hadn’t occurred to me at all, but since working on the Erotic Anthology I’ve become a lot more alert to potential erotic content and if anything I’ve gone too far the other way, seeing eroticism in everything.
So far, the best submissions for the anthology have done exactly what I asked for in my brief and surprised me, both with their treatment of all matters erotic and in their interpretation of what can be erotic in the first place. It’s not that I equate eroticism with novelty, but it’s hard to be excited when you know exactly how that flower metaphor is going to unfold. None of that in The Anthology of Mildly Erotic Verse, which is shaping up to be an utter delight. I can’t wait to start sharing it with everyone in September, but until then here are four things I didn’t expect to be erotic, either to me or other people. Then roll on September, when you’ll never look at wolves or peanut butter or cassette tapes in the same way again.
7 Minutes In Heaven with Mike O’Brien, guest starring Patricia Clarkson
All of Mike O’Brien’s videos in this series are gold, so funny and charming and always surprising. O’Brien takes the central premise of the American high-school sleepover game and expands the scope of what one can get up to within a cupboard (mini dramas, hard-hitting interviews, musical breaks) while clinging doggedly to the original and best occupation. He gets the best out of all his guests, whether they’re comedians or just celebrities, and the humour is never uncomfortable or cruel. I love the ones with Seth Meyers, Amy Poehler and Kristen Wiig, but for sheer and incredible eroticism you have to watch the Patricia Clarkson episode. It is sexy and hilarious. ‘Are you really gonna kiss me?’The photo of John Steinbeck on the Kindle screensaver.
Obviously the worst author portrait in the Kindle screensaver series is Emily Dickinson. No-one wants to pick up their Kindle and see her massive black eyes staring out at them. When I worked in ebook production and carried a Kindle around with me, the usual reaction to Emily Dickinson was to shudder and flip the switch, except for one time when I was told by a co-worker instead to ‘stick it on that saucy little picture of John Steinbeck.’ Sorry, what?Gene Kelly in a bodysuit in An American In Paris
Gene Kelly didn’t immediately strike me as an attractive man when I first watched his films as a teenager. He was sturdy and safe, jolly and enterprising, which somehow didn’t add up to hotness when I was fifteen. However, there was this disturbing bit in An American In Paris where Kelly recreates a Toulouse Lautrec drawing and does a waggly kind of dance which irresistibly recalls Ned Flanders in a ski suit.Tegan’s eyebrows in the music video for Closer
Eroticism is all in the tiny details.
One of my main motivations in setting up the Emma Press was to create the means by which I could bring great writing to a wider audience. As soon as I read Rachel’s poems I wanted to package them up appealingly and tell everyone to read them, and I’m looking for the same response in myself to submissions for the Erotic Anthology. Once I’ve found something I love, I want to share it with as many people as possible. With that in mind I give you … five terribly romantic and wonderful things.A book: The Morning Gift, by Eva Ibbotson
Don’t be put off by the classic ‘random girl’ YA cover and don’t read the blurb on the publisher’s website. Or rather, you can read the blurb but before you start thinking this is just another romance, with a marriage of convenience which unsurprisingly turns out to be more than that, consider one thing: it’s by Eva Ibbotson. Eva Ibbotson didn’t do trashy romances set against the dramatic backdrop of whatever. Eva Ibbotson wrote uniformly magnificent novels spiked with pathos and wit. Her children’s books are a riot, and her adult romances possibly the best ever written. They’re all amazing, but The Morning Gift is my absolute favourite, possibly because the story was closest to the author’s heart (the historical setting is somewhat autobiographical) and this really comes through.A music video: Elephant Gun, directed by Alma Har’el
I must have watched this at least thirty times. I love the song by Beirut, but oh my god the video. It’s a Bacchanalian fantasy full of loose-limbed dancers, antique maps, elephant masks and people falling over. All the dancers are stripped down to their braces and shirtsleeves or petticoats and stockings, and Zach Condon is sporting an exquisite bouffant hairdo. It’s exuberant, bonkers fun and utterly beautiful.A song: Cherish, by the Four Tops
I first came to this song through Glee, but it was combined with a Madonna song such in a way that excised all the best lines. I didn’t begin to really love it until I found this heartbreaking version by the Four Tops, with backing vocals from the Andantes.A poem: Symbiosis, by Rachel Piercey
It’s hard not to make judgements about people depending on which poems they like best from The Flower and the Plough. I’m probably offensively wrong 100% of the time, but it does seem like Symbiosis is especially popular with people in happy, stable relationships (that’s a nice judgement, so it’s ok to make, right?). Or it could just be that it’s a lovely poem and people are responding to that. Either way, it’s gorgeous and we made a video so people could enjoy it aurally as well as visually.A bar: Bobby’s Bar, Bob Bob Ricard, Soho
I believe you can create a romantic atmosphere anywhere, though it helps if you have the right lighting (dim), furniture (sturdy, high-quality materials) and background noise (definitely some, though hushed). Bobby’s Bar helpfully provides all three, along with friendly staff who take your coat like you’re royalty even if you’re wearing a moth-eaten jacket and a too-short skirt. It taketh with the other hand, however, by being incredibly pricey (£10.50 for a cocktail).
If you want to read more romantic things, try matching the lovers to the love letter in a quiz.
I’m very excited to announce that the ebook for The Flower and the Plough is available for purchase now in the shop, both on its own and in a bundle with the printed book. If you’re used to buying your ebooks through online retailers with proprietary devices, you might not know how to load ebook files onto your devices manually. Hopefully the instructions below will make things clearer, but if you have any problems feel free to send me an email, preferably with some screenshots to show me what you’re seeing.Files
You will receive a .zip file which you’ll need to extract/unzip before the files work correctly (some computers let you see inside the zipped folder, but the files won’t function properly). This folder contains two folders:
The third option makes the folder too large to upload on my systems, but if you email me after your purchase I can send it to you too, if you want it:One labelled ‘Old Kindle,’ containing a .mobi file which is intended for the 1st- and 2nd-generation Kindles (see the Wikipedia page for more details). This is the most basic file. E-reading devices
If you have a physical device, you can load the appropriate file onto it by plugging the device in, opening the folder and dragging and dropping the .epub/.mobi file into the ‘books’ folder. Or, if you have email set up on the device, you can send the appropriate file to it via email and open it up within the device.
If you don’t have a physical device but would still like to look at the ebook, there are many options available to you. These are the three I’m familiar with:Adobe Digital Editions, which you can download here. Once you’ve downloaded this, the icon next to your .epub file should change to the ADE icon and when you double-click on the .epub it will open up in ADE. The main thing people find confusing about ADE is the registration screen which appears when you first open it up. This asks if you want to sign up or register, and (unless you want to have ADE managing your ebooks on your computer) you can just skip this step. Kindle Previewer, for if you feel more comfortable with Amazon products. You can download it here. Once you’ve opened the screen, just drag the .mobi file onto it and it will open up. The whizzy thing about this (for me) is that you can view the file as if in the various different devices. For my ebooks, definitely use the second .mobi file and select Kindle Paperwhite or Kindle Fire for your viewing options.
Calibre, which you can download here. Again, once you’ve opened up the program, you can just drag your .epub straight into the middle of the screen
So, give it a go, and if it doesn’t work or you have problems with the files, send me an email at editor [at] theemmapress [dot] com and I’ll do my best to help.
NB: there’s no DRM on my files, and if you’ve bought several copies of the book and given them away as presents, you can of course give them the ebook as well.
I often find myself zoning out at poetry readings. A terrible habit, and partly a hangover from attending early-morning lectures at uni, but I think it’s also because I absorb dense text better visually. I wish they’d project the words onto the screen behind the poets so I could engage more with the text, and with that in mind I’ve created a video for Symbiosis, one of the loveliest poems in The Flower and the Plough. I’ll be showing it at the launch next week, but I’m so excited I want to share it on my website right now. I hope you enjoy it!
If you want to see more of The Flower and the Plough, you can read the knockout poem Bonfire here.
Turns out it’s hard to get a book by an unknown author from an unknown publisher into bookshops, and it doesn’t help if the author’s a poet and the book doesn’t have a spine. I didn’t expect booksellers to be clamouring for copies of The Flower and the Plough, but it still made quite a change from seeing five-figure orders coming into the production department and being able to identify most of the books on the WH Smith’s bestsellers wall as from Orion. I felt like a trained corporate administrator reduced to the status of a bum.
After many rejections from some nice independent bookshops I’d approached, things started looking up when the Albion Beatnik Bookstore in Oxford agreed to take a couple. The Albion Beatnik is exactly the kind of place I’d imagined the book in: cosy and full of obscure titles and character. It’s the kind of bookshop you’d visit if you just fancied buying a book, any book.
I also sent some to Quimby’s, a very cool-sounding bookshop in Chicago which specialises in ‘unusual publications, aberrant periodicals, saucy comic booklets and independent ‘zines.’ I like the idea of my first publication going ahead to places I might visit one day. If I’m ever in Chicago I’ll definitely swing by Quimby’s, because it looks like a treasure-trove; check out this statement from the founder:
“I really want to carry every cool – bizarre – strange – dope – queer – surreal – weird publication ever written and published and in time Qvimby’s will. Because I know you’re out there and you just want something else, something other, something you never even knew could exist.”
I salute you, Steven.
My friend Helen then suggested I try florists, which was a complete masterstroke. It’s not as though I expect every shop in the country to stock my books, but I do really want The Flower and the Plough to have a real-life presence. I want it to attract people who might not usually make a beeline for the poetry section of a bookshop, and until Rachel or I are household names the only way people are going stumble across this book is if it’s displayed in shops, facing forwards. It’s a tactile, beautiful object and the poems are so fantastic that I think my main hurdle is getting people to pick the book up in the first place; once they’ve looked at a few pages they’ll see how wonderful it is.
I emailed some independent florists asking if they’d like to sell a book of love poems alongside their flowers and a few replied saying yes, they would love to give it a try. Libby Ferris Flowers is a gorgeous, friendly shop in central Norwich, which my aunt recommended to me. Daisies is the fanciest flower shop in Oxford, up in Jericho. I remember going there once as a student in a frantic search for red carnations. Zita Elze Flowers is a magical greenhouse-style grotto near Kew Gardens, which looked all the more magical when I went to deliver the books in the snow last Friday.
Finally, a couple of weeks ago, I went into Magma in Covent Garden, where I used to go on my lunchbreak when I was looking for birthday presents. I was lucky enough to speak to a man who turned out to be the owner and he agreed to give it a go too, and to display the book in the gift shop instead of in the Magma bookshop where it would just get lost.
So I’m thrilled. I count my blessings like Pokémon and I feel very lucky that the Emma Press’s first book is on sale in six real-life shops. What’s more, these are six gorgeous, independent shops run by people who are passionate about their business and willing to take a chance on a small, hopeful, poetry press. The best kind of shop, then, so if you’re passing by any one of them, do go inside and take a look.
I had my first stall at a craft fair today. It was in a barn on Stokes Farm near Wokingham, and before you ask, no, I didn’t make a killing. I had just the one customer, and since this was my friend Harriet’s mum I’m not sure how much this counts if we’re trying to evaluate my sales techniques. But, but but but, making money was not the point of my first fair, and I’d spoken to enough craft fair veterans to realise that this was an unlikely outcome anyway. The reason I did the fair was because I wanted to give myself an incentive to put together a decent-sized collection before Christmas and start learning about the craft fair circuit.
So, what did I learn? The most important thing as far as my business is concerned was:
1. People from the Wokingham area who go to craft fairs on a Friday afternoon do not want to buy silly and romantic cards for their significant others. Literally three women said to me after reading my Napoleon card, ‘Ha, that’s very nice, but not for my husband! We’re LONG past that.’ An alternative interpretation of this data would be: go to Wokingham craft fairs if you want to learn some harsh truths about marriage.
The majority of my creations are love- or romance-themed, so if I want to thrive on the Wokingham scene I’ll have to rethink my product range.
Lesson 2: Alternative ways of arranging my stall. I don’t have a huge amount of stuff right now, so I chose a small table and piled it on as best I could on 3 gold shoeboxes. Looking at the vintage clothes stall next to me, I wondered if I should have been more imaginative in the display of my goods. For example, tiny pigeonholes. I also wished I had more things so I could pile it up even more, and then browsers could discover little gems amongst the rubble.
On the other hand, and on my other side, I had the example of Jayne Ward, whose incredibly cool textile art had plenty of space to breathe and looked classier for it.
Lesson 3: When standing in a barn for seven hours, be sure to wear thermal underwear and two pairs of socks.
All good lessons, I think you’ll agree. Next time I do a craft fair, I should be warmer, better prepared for the demographic, and maybe I’ll even make some money.
I love all the poems in The Flower and the Plough, but this has been one of my particular favourites from the start. What I love most about it is the way it captures the sensation of falling utterly in love but leaves it open as to whether this is a good idea. The reader can bring their own experiences to the poem and remember those same feelings with fondness, or want to scream ‘You little fool! Protect yourself!!’
There are so many lines that just sing out and float endlessly around in my head. ‘I’ve got my toes lined up,’ I think when I’m pulling my socks on. ‘When you spit out glass / though you only got sand,’ when someone says something nice about my work. ‘I think it’s worth it‘ pops up several times a day, whether I’m contemplating a matter of the heart or wondering whether to buy some fabric on Berwick Street. ‘Because when I feel the silk / I think it’s worth it / And when I imagine it going with that other silk / I think it’s worth it.‘
My initial idea for an illustration was a bonfire with a stack of limbs burning away. Then I realised I’m not great at anatomy and also that this would be too literal, as the illustrations ought to give the reader room to form their own interpretations. That’s another thing I like about the poem, though – the visceral, brutal depiction of devotion and the physicality of being in love. It’s hopeful and romantic as well as alarming and far too much, and I just think it nails passion. I hope you like it as much as I do, and do let me know in the comments what you think. Bonfire, by Rachel Piercey
I have felled all the trees in my wood to keep you going,
thrown old faithfuls and flimsy, startled saplings into your
hot ears and come- to-bed mouth. Then all that was left
was the pointy scent of gum and the bellow of an oak.
So I hacked off my hair with barely a second thought,
and both ears were carelessly slung in, then my thumbs
with their crucial opposability. I’ve got my toes lined up
and my unaccountable hips and my knees are ready too,
so please give me more of your particular brand
of alchemy. Because when you temper scraps into treasure
I think it’s worth it, and when you spit out glass
though you only got sand I think it’s worth it. Because I could
spot you a mile away on any frightening night
and when I got there you’d soften me. Because I hope
that when I’m down to just my heart in the open air you’ll keep it warm.