This book is a small treasure– a wee jewel of a book. And that’s just the physical feel of it. It’s a beautiful artefact – feels lovely to hold, looks gorgeous.
As to what’s between the covers of this very slim volume – it’s heart-rending – desperately sad and tragic. I don’t want to give too much away so I’m not going to say too much about the story. Suffice to say it’s about a mother’s love and fear for her children. It won’t take you long to read it but it will stay with you for a long time after you finish it.
The writing is beautiful – icy and precise – and yet, at the same time, the words ache with love.
It’s no surprise that the book is a French literary bestseller. It has been translated into all the major European languages and has sold more than 100,000 copies in Germany alone.
It’s published by Peirene Press and is the first book, out of three so far, published by them. I first heard about this press on – yeah, you’ve guessed it – the Eight Cuts site. Check them out at http://www.peirenepress.com – even the website is good-looking.
Their mission is to publish contemporary European literature (in English translation) – books that are ‘thought-provoking, well-designed, short’. They only publish novels that are 200 pages or less. It’s a neat idea and neatly packaged. Definitely proof that small is beautiful .
Some readers may remember my review from last year of the Eight Cuts online gallery’s exhibition – ‘Into the Desert’. Indeed you may have visited for yourself. Well, Eight Cuts has a new exhibition. It opened yesterday. Below is a copy of the press release for the show. This will set the exhibition in context for you. I have visited and have written a review, which will be my next post here on the blog.
I should also come clean and tell you that I have two of my stories in the exhibition – I haven’t reviewed them. 🙂
Once Upon a Time in a Gallery Live
International writers, artists, filmmakers and musicians join in a new kind of online exhibition, using the oldest form of storytelling to offer a unique perspective on the foundation myths of the digital age’s new societies.
Once Upon a Time in a Gallery is an online literary exhibition offering a new way of presenting a modern book of fairytales that combines technology with work from some of the world’s most exciting writers and artists to cast a fresh light on some of our oldest stories. Running through February and March, this is the second exhibition from eight cuts gallery, a project designed to blur the boundaries between literature and other art forms, and make the public think about what literature is, as well as about a series of important cultural questions.
Curated by Dan Holloway, who runs eight cuts gallery, the show creates possibilities that aren’t possible with a traditional anthology or storybook. Like the first exhibition, Into the Desert (http://eightcuts.com/eight-cuts-gallery/into-the-desert/welcome-to-the-desert/), which featured stories, poetry, photography, art, music and film by 19 writers from around the world, the virtual exhibition will guide readers through the pieces using hyperlinks. “Once inside, people can click on pictures, or words and phrases within a piece, and by choosing where those links take them, I can make people question their presuppositions about the nature not only of fairytales but of literature,” Holloway explains. “I can also create an experience that’s different every time someone visits. It’ll be like being lost in a forest and trying to find your way out – what could be more perfect for a fairytale experience.”
Fairytales are our foundation myths, reflections not just the manifestation of our own Freudian psychosexual neuroses but of the fears and aspirations of our communities. For diasporas everywhere they provide roots that creep back in time and place to a utopian or dystopian ancestral home. As the digital age pulls us increasingly into communities not just geographically dispersed but born in diaspora (and often, ironically, subsequently drawn together physically), fairytales will inevitably be recycled and refreshed to form the foundation myths of these new societies – ones that have no physical homeland, whose communal roots lie lodged in the internal, not the external, lives of their members. What better time to re-examine the way fairytales relate our individual psyches to our social networks, and ask: Have we reached a tipping point in the evolution of collective cultural consciousness, where we can opt freely in and out of communities, picking up and leaving behind their roots as we go? Are there any universal archetypes left?
The hyperlinked, flitting, rootless style of curation of this exhibition invites the audience to reflect on this rootlessness, and whether, when they find themselves lost in today’s dark forest, there is any gingerbread trail to lead them to safety.
The exhibition has a live launch in the fairytale setting of the O3 Gallery, located in a turret of Oxford Castle on January 27th. The show features writing by local and international authors, artwork from the UK and United States, and music from acclaimed Oxford-based artists Christi Warner, Dylan Gwalia, and Kevin Jenkins.
“Storytelling began as something spoken and communal,” says the show’s organiser, Oxford-based writer Dan Holloway, who runs eight cuts gallery, the experimental literary gallery hosting the online exhibition and the live show. “Fairytales reflect our collective subconscious, and form the foundation myths for our communities. So many of our modern social groups exist online, but we also exist in the physical, geographically limited world, so combining an online event with a real-life show, bringing together writers, artists, and musicians from all over the world, and those from a specific place, Oxford, is the perfect way to reflect on, and maybe start to build, the foundation myths for our new societies.”
N.B. from Anne and the Write Enough Blog – Some of the content is adult in nature so if you’re offended by sexual references, nudity or erotica, the exhibition is probably not for you. But there is also material that is suitable for children and adults alike.
Guest Blog/Interview with Johanna Harness – founder of #amwriting
I’ve not interviewed anyone for the blog before or hosted any guest appearances, so any shortcomings in the format are entirely down to me and my inexperience. But I believe I’ve definitely got something right – and that’s my choice of interviewee.
I’m delighted and excited to be able to welcome YA fiction writer, Johanna Harness, to the blog. Johanna is the winner of the inaugural Christopher Al- Aswad prize set up in Christopher’s memory by Eight Cuts Gallery http://eightcuts.wordpress.com It is awarded for ‘outstanding contribution to breaking down barriers in the arts’.
Johanna received the award because of what she has done by setting up and running #amwriting on Twitter. But, as you will discover, there’s more to #amwriting than its status as a very successful common interest group on Twitter – although that is awesome enough.
Anne: So, welcome and congratulations on the award, Johanna. First of all, could you explain what #amwriting is and why you set it up?
Johanna: Thank you, Anne!
When I began #amwriting, I really had no idea it would become so big. There was no master plan. I knew I felt isolated in a way that I didn’t feel when I was teaching. I missed the collegiality with others who were doing the same work I was doing, so I started a twitter call-out at the beginning of my writing day. I’d chat and drink coffee until my fingers were warm and then we’d all dive into the words. Writers who joined us later would stay longer and greet others.
It was really thrilling to watch #amwriting grow into a nonstop 24-7 conversation. We have over 2000 individuals posting every week from all over the world—and apparently a lot more who only read. The writers who post using the hashtag have so much enthusiasm and energy. It’s really a wonderful group. I don’t think anyone can plan for something like that. I’m thankful.
Anne: How was it winning the award? What does it mean to you and for #amwriting?
Johanna: At first I was a little confused. It never occurred to me an award could be attached to what I was doing. We had this big hashtag and I’d started compiling author biographies for members of the group. I still did my morning shout-out and looked for ways authors could help each other, but it always felt like we could be doing so much more.
The Christopher Al-Aswad award came with an amazing prize: volunteers. In order to accept the help of others (which, clearly, I needed to do), I needed to better understand my own vision for the group. We could keep getting bigger on twitter, but I’d reached a practical level of difficulty with the author bios. I needed to put my writing ahead of developing the site and I had more bios piling up every day. I couldn’t get them all added. What we needed was a new site.
Winning the prize helped me to tighten my focus. I had all these people willing to publicize #amwriting, to spread the word even farther, but I needed a website that could absorb that increased involvement.
The member site we have now just opened December 1st. Anyone can become a member and post to group forums. Those who have been tweeting with #amwriting for a while are becoming authors on the site, posting new author bios as well as new articles for the blog. The focus of http://amwriting.org is community. I want growth to always flow from members helping each other. We’re still really getting started there and I keep holding my breath, hoping the site will hold together as more and more people join. So far, so good!
Anne: You have a wonderfully refreshing and open attitude to writing and writers – you say on your website http://www.johannaharness.com that ’you’re an author once you author something’. That is a very affirming and validating thing for a writer to hear. What would you say to those who say you must be traditionally published to be able to call yourself an author?
Johanna: I really have no patience with limitations. You can’t do that or you can’t say that or you can’t be that. Who says?
We each have the responsibility to make the most of our individual potential. That’s all there is. How you define your potential is entirely up to you.
For every rung up on your personal ladder of success, there will be people pulling you back down, filling your space with negativity. If you stop to address every one of those people, you’ll lose sight of your goals.
So what do I say to those who would define writing or authorship in a narrow way? Nothing. Nothing at all. I keep exploring my potential and I keep encouraging others to do the same. Life is too short!
Anne: Tell us a bit about your own writing? How did you get into writing, what does it mean to you and what sort of things do you write?
Johanna: I write young adult and middle grade fiction. I started writing seriously a little over two years ago. My dad’s death had an enormous impact on me, making me realize that I really didn’t have all the time in the world for my someday-goal of becoming an author. If I wanted the dream, I had to put in the time. I’ve worked on my writing in one way or another every day since then.
Most recently, I’ve been working on revising my young adult novel, Claire Morgane Almost Saves The World. I have a series of short stories based on Claire’s early life available on my Claire Morgane website (http://clairemorgane.com). I talk about recently signing with a literary agent on my author blog (http://johannaharness.com).
Thanks so much for this opportunity, Anne!
And thank you to you too, Johanna, for taking the time to collaborate on this post.
I urge all readers of this blog, who are also writers, to visit the #amwriting community on Twitter and the amwriting website – then you will truly appreciate Johanna’s awesome achievement – from its small beginnings to its present wide-ranging, supportive and influential status.