Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Helter Skelter

I thought things were hectic before! the CCANW Fundraiser is coming together apace - arranging lifts for some of the great acts we've got to perform, posting on websites, liaising with the Rangers, seeing if we can get some fire dance performance arranged... A festival have e-mailed to confirm a venue for the 'Porlock the Warlock Show' but with queries about show times and workshops; I've been asked very kindly by Alan Summers - Japan Times award winning writer and haiku specialist, to perform at the Launch Party of the Bath Japanese Festival in May, and all this just after perhaps the scariest Edition of Spoken/Written I've yet issued...as it gets split into two come May - into free and premium newsletters so to speak. So the last Edition in this format...but it had to happen sometime I guess, with secure funding running out in July. I would have loved to keep it as one and free or voluntary subs only, but with everyone in the arts tightening their belts right now, it just wasn't possible. I can only hope it works...
It feels like being on some weird fairground ride, whizzing high then low then sideways...I just hope it's more candy floss than throwing up...

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Highs and Lows in the Arts

So much keeps happening, the highs and lows of working in the arts. On the the former front, today a heap of thank yous arrived from Instow School, with lots of words for sound, and material that appeared to be from a lesson or session where the idea had been run with, and the pupils had written more structured poems as a result, as well as photos including a picture of one pupil holding up his list of 56 words - hopefully with pride! but who likes having their picture taken?! It made one feel that the workshops had gone even a bit better than we'd thought.
This followed hot on the heels of a print copy of 20x20 Magazine arriving - and what a delicious addition to any library of literary magazines it makes. Beautifully produced, in its trademark square format, I was as ever really struck by just how good the work is (and not just because I had a piece in it...).
And these followed on from a great review of the stories we did at the Garden of Awen in February, in Tasty Fanzine! Always nice to be appreciated. Apparently Widsith & Deor 'are genuine entertainers' - well, we do (with some tales anyway!) aim to make people laugh as well as think.
We also got a thank you from the person who booked our 'Temptation and Redemption Show'. And 'Not What One Was - A Brief History of the Concept of Justice' a series of political philosophy short snappy essays on current affairs (Cartwheels Collective Publishing's latest book) is starting to sell.

On the downside, the wonderful Northcott Theatre (Exeter's largest theatre) has gone into administration, incredibly. This is very bad news for the arts in E.Devon, as they not only put on a great range of productions from ballet, opera and conventional theatre to contemporary dance, visual/physical theatre and puppetry, but also have a gallery space, massive outreach in the form of a community company and youth theatre, and too much else to mention. It would be disastrous if they were allowed to close. As well as being a huge blow for Exeter University students as it's a resource for drama students and does cut price tickets for everyone who studies or works there.
And of course there are funding cuts everywhere. We storytellers are organizing a fundraising gig in aid of the Centre for Contemporary Art in the Natural World (CCANW) at Haldon Forest Park over Easter, as they, like Spoken/Written, had to resubmit a funding application, and were set the unenviable challenge of raising £20,000 in two months.
Moreover Spoken/Written will, in all likelihood have to split into two with the larger newsletter becoming a paying only service in early summer, as of course, it has only been given funding until the end of July. Shoestrings are getting thinner, and more organizations, groups and artists are having to exist on them. Here's to a spirit of rising to the challenge - it's the only attitude that will keep the arts sector afloat in difficult times.

Check out; 20x20 Magazine

Tasty Fanzine

'Not What One Was' at Cartwheels Collective Publishing's Webshop

Fundraiser for CCANW
Centre for Contemporary Art in the Natural World

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Science of Sound Week & a New Show

At last the weather has got warmer, and what better week to be travelling down to Middlesex to do our 'Temptation & Redemption Show' for Lent? The show went well, the hall packed, and many kind comments left in the comments book, and a couple of good friends turned up, but all just the day after a long journey - with a very winding diversion! so taking much longer than it should - and parting with a fellow member of the Collective, as they were off to Nepal for three months to do environmental community projects such as eco-gardens... We had swapped news, filled in masses of detail to one another about our respective artforms and arts scenes in respective counties...and then said goodbye. The day after was spent networking at a social gathering, and then it was back to the West Country and off to N.Devon for some Sound and Writing and Storytelling by Noise Workshops for Science of Sound Week! Which went brilliantly. The children seemed completely engaged and enjoyed the one on noises immensely - without it devolving into a mass of farmyard impressions as might have been feared! My own workshop on Words for Sound went really well, too - we played them sounds, noises and soundscapes, and they really got the hang of it. Two came up with wonderful scenes as settings for the sounds, good enough for film or poetry. One managed to describe what it was about the music that evoked a feeling of x, y or z - which was by far the most advanced point I wanted the workshop to make, and not something I thought we'd cover with the age group in question. And at the end, two boys came up and said they'd listed 184 and 153 words for sound respectively - now that, I think, really is a result! The teachers were pleased, their classroom teacher wanted to use the material for further teaching, the head was there for part of it and was charming, and Yolande as ever made us feel we knew where everything was in no time. Instow School is a school with limited space, but because everyone is piled up together, it means they really have to get on! And so there was the most amazingly friendly air of co-operation and goodwill between teachers, children, catering and admin staff, and the most relaxed head teacher, we'd ever encountered! And who needs more space when you're set on the side of a hill with a ruined windmill to explore just above, and magnificent views of estuary, sea and coastline all around? What a fantastic place. The staff room was laden with chocolates and biscuits as a thank you to all who came in to work during Science of Sound Week, so that made for a homely welcome too. We had tea with Yolande afterwards, and discussed the rest of the Week's events, the ever-present ongoing funding situations which were all too similar, and generally caught up.

Afterwards we had to go up the hill and see the ruined windmill on its wonderful vantage point (on only about the fourth or fifth day one could wear a jacket out of doors instead of a fleece!). It was a lovely atmospheric cylinder of stone, with tiny 'windows' and no roof, commanding a fine panorama of coastal seascapes. And then it was on to another part of the estuary, to have dinner with some newer members of the Collective - a delightful evening, and especially as Andi has been booked to make mosiacs on the beach during Appledore Visual Arts Festival, and Mandy had very kindly made me a gonfalon for the shows! I took pictures of her wool dyeing and spinning wheel for the website, and we talked until at last it was time to go. A very full five days it had been too.

Big thanks to Andi and Mandy, to Yolande for having us again and booking us to work in such nice places with such lovely people! To all the workshop participants who did so well, and the teachers of Instow Community School, especially Mark Gough the head teacher for hosting us.

Monday, 1 March 2010

To ISBN or not to ISBN?

Previously, everybody who published a book thought of ISBNs as a must have. For a start, before the copyright libraries got totally overwhelmed with works (some drivel, and others so poorly made that they needed to be held up with an elastic band), bookshops only stocked titles that had them. Now however, sure Waterstones will only stock them if you have one. But who buys books that aren't travel guides or the latest t.v. promotion, 'celebrity' ghost-written books or recipe books in Waterstones? Most of the independent or smaller bookshops are increasingly hard to find and hard pushed. Certainly some famous ones strong on a certain type of book (radical, poetry, cookbooks or whatever) survive, but tend to be specialists. A friend of mine has published many books, and stocks them in Waterstones, where they only ever shift if he holds a signing or related event.
Also, what guarantee have you got that the big retailers will stock (never mind sell) them when you have to badger their distributor first, and they may turn you down anyway?
People say you have to have an ISBN to be stocked on Amazon. This is true, but how many small press publications have you bought from Amazon lately? And what of the cut they take? True they stock obscure and wonderful books you can't get elsewhere, but most of those I buy, for instance, tend to be by authors known in classic circles, like Cocteau, or Kandinsky. And if I do want to buy a poetry book by a fine author whose collection isn't in the mass media's narrow circles a lot, (say James Turner's 'Forgeries') then I already know enough of either author or publisher to contact them directly to buy my copy knowing that they'll get more of the money than if I'd gone through Amazon!
If someone's heard of The Books of...Trilogy, it would be surprising if they also didn't know of either my name or that of the Cartwheels Collective & Publishing arm. Anyone looking up 'Porlock the Warlock' on Google should get the Cartwheels Collective website and hence Webshop. Why bother with Amazon? The same goes for Barnes & Noble.

Most people don't need the 10 ISBNs you have to buy for £110 plus £18 postage. In their dreams they might, but other friends of mine who have bought 10, they have helped sell no copies at all and they've only ever used one. Cartwheels Collective Publishing has eight titles out (well, the last one will be available in a couple of weeks) and two more in the pipeline. It was at this point that we were always going to review editorial policy as to ISBNs. We've thought about it and rejected it - indeed my co-editor is at this moment writing a piece about the decision on the Cartwheels Collective Publishing google site.
People have got to hear about your work (and it should be work) because of your efforts. ISBNs are not a magic bullet to help shift copies. Once sales are comfortably at the next level, then they will have been issued along the way - when to bother will be self-evident. But starting selling books in limited editions, and the way you get people to know about them is at events, small mags, recommendations, word of mouth and via the web - including (see the last post) tools like Facebook. Never ever expect ornamental accessories from a vanished past like the ISBN (and when it did make a book stand out simply because there were less of them) to do the work for you.

Since ISBNs have effectively been privatized (they are now run by Nielson Book Data), it has become about making money out of book publishers and authors not for book publishers and authors. Hence the end decision of CCP's editorial board not to have them.

An independent publisher with an explicit 'no ISBN' policy is Magic Realms Publications. Check out their well argued case at;
If ISBNs have done you any favours, I would love to hear from you! Either via comments below or by e-mailing.

Works referred to;
James Turner's 'Forgeries'

The Books of...Trilogy;