Influx at the Radical/Alternative Press Fair

Last weekend Influx Press had the pleasure of being a part of the second London Radical Bookfair, this time working in tandem with the Alternative Press Fair at the much bigger venue of the Bishopsgate Institute (last year’s venue, Conway Hall, became so packed it was almost impossible to move – a good sign).To us this seemed like a perfect pairing – combining the more overtly political aspect of the radical bookfair and the more ‘creative’ side of Alternative Press is an obvious choice, the crowd of people who attend these two normally separate events having a heavy amount of overlap.

For Influx Press it was especially perfect, as really we could have been on either floor, the work we publish (hopefully) being ‘creative’ rather than academic, but with a genuine interest in modern social problems and attempting to address those problems through fiction, poetry and creative non-fiction. Also we know lots of lefties and crusties with poetic aspirations.

Shift looking fellas - Kit, Gary, Sam Berkson

There appears to be a really positive upsurge in independent publishing right now, with small presses, journals and magazine springing up all over the place, exploring and addressing issues and ideas left largely untouched by the work of the big publishers. It’s an exciting time to be doing what we’re doing, and we’re very happy to be part of this loose network of publishers and writers who actually support each other.

We are very grateful for all the people who attended and bought our books, as well as the sterling efforts of Nik at Housmans who put the whole thing together. These events are crucial for small outfits like ourselves, a great way to meet likeminded folk, check out all the exciting projects that others have been working on, make people aware of who we are and what we do, and to get us out of the office away from our laptops actually speaking face to face with people. We’d even go so far as to say it was fun.

Kit reading GJB

On a personal note, it was great to see our friends and allies like Lisa at PROWL, Nick at Annexe, Jon from Active Distribution, the guys at the brilliant Zero Books, Kitty at Red Pepper Magazine, Canterbury poet Mark Beechill, Verso, Housmans…the list goes on and on.

Here’s to next year!

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The Anti-Canon: Peter Gelderloos' To Get To The Other Side - by Gyorgy Furiosa

American anarchist, poet and author Peter Gelderloos’ most significant contributions to the anti-canon of radical critique and journalism have come in the form of two books exploring and exploding the false dichotomy of ‘violence versus non-violence’ in terms of enacting political and social transformation. His 2005 essays How Nonviolence Protects The State and The Failure Of Non-Violence: From The Arab Spring to Occupy (2013) both set out to '[debunk] the notion that non-violent activism is the only acceptable and effective method of struggle' and to 'defenestrate the stranglehold that [pacifism has on movements]', yet it is his 2010 work To Get To The Other Side that more fully explores and examines the human aspects of a life anarchic. Engaged in the life of action, as well as literature, Gelderloos has also been incarcerated for his political actions, once in 2001 for attending a protest at the School For The Americas, and again in 2007 for public disorder offences during a squatter’s protest in Barcelona.

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What we're doing with our Arts Council funding

We are very happy to officially announce that Influx Press is now Arts Council funded. From the outside, funding can often look mysterious and you never really find out where exactly the money has been allocated. We like to be open about what we do here so I’ve decided to write a short post detailing what we’ve received and where we are going to spend the money. For me, it’s a bit like taxes – if I knew what percentage of my income tax went on the NHS and what went on defence spending I’d be much happier/angrier about the tax system!

Gary and I applied to the Grant for the Arts programme to fund our next three titles. We have applied to the Arts Council before but haven’t made the grade. Looking back on our previous applications we can see why. They went a bit like this:

Give us some money to print some books.
We’ll do some engagement and a book launch.
Give us some more money.

This time round we met with two lovely people at the Arts Council London offices to discuss a real business development plan. We worked out how to curtail our ambitions, how to make the money stretch as far as possible and where to focus our efforts. In a huge Orwellian ministry of culture building we sat under a ceiling fan in the highest ceiling you could imagine and sweated nerves of molten steel.

The application was arduous. That’s not to say it wasn’t worth it, but for two people like us – a punk and a golden era hip hop junkie – grant applications have never entered our lives. It took us about ten full days to complete. We argued over every word (each section has a 250 word limit) and at times felt we were just churning out shit soundbites on an endless loop. Luckily, as editors, we knew when our writing was awful. By then end we thought we had something good, so we transferred £30 from the lowly Influx account to Gary’s card and went to the pub for some beers. The pub being in neo-Hackney, this meant about a round and a half before it ran dry.

The Arts Council, after rejecting the initial application because we’d put £500 in the wrong place, agreed to everything we asked and we went ape shit in the office for about thirty minutes.

The main thrust of the application was ‘business development’ over six months and our next three titles. Influx Press has existed by the skin of its teeth since we started. Gary and I haven’t taken a penny (apart from that aforementioned booze money) out of the business since our first book, Acquired for Development By came out in 2012. Until the grant was accepted we have only been able to pay our solo collection writers royalties from net sales. Some of the grant money is to pay Gary and me a small wage for the work we will be doing over the next six months: editing, publicity, typesetting, hobnobbing – that sort of thing.

The main part of the grant is the bit we’re most proud of. We will be able to pay the authors of our next three titles an advance fee. It’s not a life-changing amount, but for us – as a tiny independent press - the ability to pay writers for their work is fantastic. We so dearly want them to be valued for their outstanding talents and I’ve felt really good being able to write a contract for them stating that they will get paid in advance of the book being printed! (plus payment of royalties will continue at 20% of course).

The rest of the money has gone on a few other things. Our office rent for six months, an accountant to teach us how to run the company books properly (payments to authors, tax returns etc) and an intern for six months. Up until this point we have had many requests from young people for internships with us. We steadfastly refuse to employ anyone for free so we haven’t been able to take anyone on. Now we have this grant money we will be employing someone for one day a week, well above the London living wage. We want this person to gain experience in the book industry that they may not have access to otherwise (due to circumstances financial or class etc). We will be teaming up with our good friends at Arts Emergency to find the right candidate and hopefully help them as much as they help us. Lastly, the rest of the money will go to our designer Chris for his wonderful work and also any artists that work with us on book covers or art inside our books.

We feel so lucky to have been given this money we are determined to spend it wisely. We realise that opportunities like this don’t happen to everyone, so we’re going to try our best to help our authors and other contributors to further their careers as well as make Influx Press a sustainable small press in the future.

Thank you for all your support so far with our literary experiment, without the success of books like Life in Transit, Acquired for Development By and Marshland, we certainly wouldn’t have got the funding we did.

We raise a toast the future of independent publishing!

Kit

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The Anti-Canon: The Price of Nostalgia – The novels of Jim Crace by Gary Budden

Sprayhoppers. Kelp-ash. An indoor retail-Eden of glass and steel. One-armed stone-age storytellers. An unnamed town, in an unknown time, struggling in an indistinct rural region isolated from the world. Some of these things are real and some are not, some may have been real once and some may be real in a time yet to come. Characters full-blooded and contradictory, petty and noble, as human as the page allows, unlikeable and sympathetic in equal measure. They enact small dramas we recognise in fictional topographies. These places that seem so familiar, the battered coastlines, heaving cities and muddy fields, they have no name and they don’t exist. They’re populated by creatures that never were, but sound like they did. They are archetypal and specific.

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The Anti-Canon Series: Abraham Rodriguez by Linda Mannheim

I found my way to Spidertown, Abraham Rodriguez’s first novel, when I was trying to understand what had happened to The Bronx, trying to track its trajectory from a bustling working class neighbourhood to a derelict hell hole where the burnt out hulks of six story buildings stretched for blocks – the post-apocalyptic neighbourhood across the river from Manhattan. The stretch of streets where 16 year old Miguel lives is known as Spidertown, named for the drug dealer that he works for. Miguel shares a rundown apartment with Firebug, a teenage arsonist for hire. And, when Firebug torches a building, Miguel and Amelia, Firebug’s girlfriend, are his popcorn-eating audience, “cheering when the water gun on a pumper nailed the building with a loud crash that sent bits of metal and wood flying, flames scurrying away.”

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The Anti-Canon: A Minor Place by Fernando Sdrigotti

In the prologue to his novel Los lanzallamas Roberto Arlt writes: ‘to have a style it is necessary to have comfort, to live off a rent, to have an easy life’. This was an answer to many contemporary critics who had pointed out that Arlt's prose was arcane and obscure, that he couldn't write. Regardless of the place he now occupies in Argentinean literature, Arlt, born to Prussian/Austro-Hungarian parents in Buenos Aires, arrived to the canon as an outsider. An outsider to the aristocratic club of the Argentine literary establishment. A linguistic outsider.

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The Anti-Canon: Shannon Burke's Black Flies, by Kit Caless

My own experiences in hospital are as follows: hare lip and cleft palate operation, broken leg in traction for seven weeks, bone graft from my hip to my upper jaw, abscess in my knee, concussions, fractured fingers, a broken ankle and false alarm ball cancer. I’m pretty au fait with both Canterbury hospital of the 1990s and Homerton hospital of the 2000s. I’ve been in the back of an ambulance enough times to remember what it smells like. I know how much morphine is enough to knock me out. I’ve got some scars.

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The Anti-Canon Series: This Green and Unpleasant Land by Rowena Macdonald

‘On the country has gathered the idea of a natural way of life: of peace, innocence, and simple virtue.’ Raymond Williams wrote this in his 1973 book The Country and The City which explores urban and rural settings in literature. This pastoral ideal, the concept of a lost rural idyll, is still the predominant view of country life in Britain, which is remarkable since it originated in the Greek Empire during the 3rd century BC in the Idylls, the poems written for the Alexandrian court by Theocritus. These poems were based on the song competitions held by shepherds in Theocritus’ native Sicily and present an idealised and nostalgic vision of a simple life in contact with nature. They have retained a place in Western culture through the Roman poet Virgil’s reworking of these themes in his Eclogues and Georgics.

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The Anti-Canon Series: Orhan Veli Kanik by Chimène Suleyman

“When I walk on the street, alone,” Orhan Veli Kanik writes, “If I notice that I am smiling, I think that people will suppose I am crazy. And I smile.”

1940s Turkey was evolving, and with it a recent democracy that saw way to a new equality and understanding of secular life. The Ottoman Empire had collapsed, with it the Republic of Turkey emerged to replace it. The arabic script which had previously been used, was now exchanged for a latin alphabet. Naturally, Turkey’s liberated youth captured this socio-political independence, and with it transformed the recent anarchy into their words.

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The Influx Playlist Series - Gary Budden

We've asked our writers and editors to put together a playlist that reflects, or inspired the work they've done with Influx Press. Editor and co-founder Gary kicks things off...

This is a list of songs that inspired me whilst putting together the two Influx Press anthologies, Acquired for Development By . . . and Connecting Nothing with Something, and my own two pieces in the books, ‘Tautologies’ and ‘The Exhibition’. Both stories either directly reference the songs on this list, or were inspired by them in some way. This playlist also reflects my obvious love of punk, ska, reggae and folk music.

 

CLICK FOR SPOTIFY PLAYLIST LINK

 

1. Inner Terrestrials – ‘Smoke’
The ITs are one of my all time favourite bands, the best example of the political-punk/ska/folk/dub crossover there is and the best live band you’ll ever see. Coming out the free festival/traveller scene of the nineties they’ve been going for 18 years with no sign of slowing down. I can’t recommend them enough. To me, this is the sound of the Hackney squat parties described in Acquired For Development By..., making it the perfect start to this playlist. Like all the best political music, you can dance to it. It bigs up South London, but nobody’s perfect...

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2. Roy Ellis aka Mr.Symarip – ‘One Way Ticket to the Moon’
Roy Ellis was the singer of Symarip, one of the very first skinhead reggae bands, songs like ‘Skinhead Moonstomp’ and ‘Skinhead Girl’ being almost universal classics that perfectly sum up the spirit of ’69 ska sound. This track is off one of his much later solo albums, a call back to ‘Skinhead Moonstomp, and in my opinion is one of the greatest ska songs in existence. Proof that not all skinhead music is dodgy white geezers playing Oi!

3. The Horses of the Gods – ‘John Barleycorn’
“Three men came down from Kent / To plough for wheat and rye / And they made a vow / A solemn vow/ John Barleycorn should die.” This is a version of the old folk song ‘John Barleycorn’. I’m really interested in weird British folk traditions that never seem to quite die, and this song captures that feeling perfectly. John Barleycorn is a folk figure akin to the Green Man, the wodewose etc, in this case personifying barley and the booze we make from it. So a weird folk song that mentions Kent, is about boozing and nature springing up again where it’s not wanted make it the perfect choice for this list. Folk music that’s as far away from rubbish like Mumford & Sons as you can get and a song I listen to whenever I’m in a Wicker Man / A Field in England kind of mood.

4. Chas and Dave – ‘Margate’
“...you can keep the Costa Brava, I’m telling ya mate I’d rather have a day down Margate with all me family.” It’s a song about going to Margate with the family. Self-explanatory. I found it interesting that this addresses the issue of people beginning to take cheap package flights in favour of holidaying on the English coast. Quoted directly in ‘The Exhibition’.

5. The Restarts – ‘N16’
“My body's sore / But I just want more / Dead brain, my head's in pain / Tonight we'll drink again / Weekend in N16” A hardcore punk song about going a weekend bender in N16. Sums up my life for about five years and is directly referenced in ‘Tautologies’. I don’t really expect anyone else to like this kind of punk rock, but I love it.

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6. The Jam – ‘That’s Entertainment’
“Watching the telly and thinking 'bout your holidays” I’m not actually the biggest fan of The Jam, but I always thought this song was brilliant. It completely captures how oppressive a city like London can feel at times.

7. Aswad – ‘Warrior Charge’
The best reggae track I’ve ever heard, from the soundtrack to the 1980 film Babylon, which anyone with an interest in the reggae soundsystems or London needs to watch. Even better than Aswad’s ‘Don’t Turn Around’…

8. New Town Kings – ‘La La World’
A contemporary ska-band from the new towns in Essex. It’s a great ska track. Simple.

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9. Bad Manners – ‘Skinhead Love Affair’
“I took her down the last resort / She nicked a shirt, I went to court” I had to put Bad Manners on this list, for many reasons. Firstly, Buster Bloodvessel ran a hotel for ‘larger’ customers in Margate called Fatty Towers, until 1998. Secondly, I simply like Bad Manners and this song makes me smile. Thirdly, this relates to a number of topics in my story ‘The Exhibition’, mentions The Last Resort, ballroom gigs and a number of other sub-cultural things mentioned in the story. Poor old Buster cries at the end.

10. Burial – ‘UK’
Like all white people who know nothing about dance music, I like Burial. This is a nice ambient piece, incredibly melancholy which is the right tone for a song called ‘UK’. This is ‘after the party and the comedown’s kicking in’ type music, a feeling I try and get across in my writing.

11. Hard Skin – ‘Beer and Fags’
Hard Skin were a band who started as an affectionate pisstake of the Oi! and street-punk scene (taking their cues from the Cockney Rejects, and, well, the Cockney Rejects) who ended up writing better songs than any of the bands they were spoofing and becoming one of the most loved institutions in the UK punk scene. If this song doesn’t cheer you up then there’s no hope for you. They did a song with Joanna Newsom recently. Go figure.

12. Citizen Fish – ‘Wake Up’
“As disbelief in systems tries to reason with insistence / That the way you think is something to be classified as bad /It will send you down the learning curve/ From ‘I accept’ to ‘I deserve’.” Another political ska-punk song. Vocalist Dick Lucas (also of Subhumans and Culture Shock) is one of the very best lyricists out there, definitely as influential on my thinking as any novel or academic text. I could have chosen any number of songs, but ‘Wake Up’ shows Citizen Fish at their best.

13. The Levellers – ‘Miles Away’
“I always hoped this place might stay the same.” Tragically, I like The Levellers. This is a great simple folk song written at the time of the road protests in the mid-nineties. To me it succinctly sums up a huge number of the ideological divisions in the country and the anxiety of being in a landscape in constant change.

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14. The Filaments – ‘Land of Lions’ A pure ‘London pride’ song about unity in Tower Hamlets. The Filaments are another UK band coming out of the street-punk/ska scene, and this song cheers me up endlessly. It makes me happy to be a Londoner.

Buy Acquired For Development By or Connecting Nothing with Something from our shop right here:

Influx Press in Hastings

Last Saturday we went to Hastings to do a Connecting Nothing with Something reading at the Roomz in St Leonards.

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Salena Godden, our briny siren hosted the night with me, Chris Watson, Sam Berkson and Gareth Rees of Influx reading. We were also joined by Emily Lloyd, the legendary actress from the film Wish You Were Here reading from her memoir.

Hastings features heavily in Connecting Nothing, as one of the original cinque ports its connection to Dover, Sandwich, Folkestone and the like is as old as the castle on the west hill. It's a town experiencing similar changes to Margate; a much lauded new art gallery, an influx of artists and "creatives" to the town, new cafes and auxiliary services. But to me, Hastings felt very different to the east coast of Kent this time I visited. Maybe it's come alive from the fiction and poetry we edited for the book, perhaps the changes are more gradual than in Kent, or it might just be that sea was dead calm and the gulls a little more laid back.

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There was still very much a sense that this town is on the fringes, but purposefully so. There's a sense that Hastings wants to be the alternative (but not necessarily 'alternative'), a refuge for weird and wonderful, a place where you can be whatever you want so long as it isn't pretentious or highfaluting. I'm loathe to romanticise dead-beatness, as I grew up in  a deadbeat part of Kent and couldn't wait to leave, but... there is a certain charm to Hastings dead-beatery, wearing it on its sleeve rather than pretending it doesn't exist, unlike other places on the south east coast. Our event was attended well, the drinking was solid and dependable, the crowd increasingly raucous as the night went on - and yet... due to commitments on the Sunday morning, I had to get the last train to London at 22:10.

I was disappointed to leave, aware that perhaps the 'drinking town with a fishing problem' was about to come alive at night and reveal itself to me. The deadbeat transformed into a hedonistic quest for liquored enlightenment - or perhaps I've just read too much of Salena's work. Salena's fictional Hastings is a seductive place and her writing is so powerful that her version of Hastings is now my version of Hastings. My disappointment at leaving was compounded by the emergence of a video late last night of the remainder of the night - a lurid, psychedelic smash of Gary and our Hastings-based writer Gareth extending the night through to the morning. The 'official' video of the evening, the readings at the Roomz seemed a little more urbane by comparison.

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But I will return to Hastings soon, it had been too long and my crazy golf score card didn't look too hot this time. I also didn't visit the Jerwood, walk up either hill, pub crawl the old town or watch the catch come in. The sea was eerily calm last weekend, but the next time I'm down I want it violently crashing and the winter rain to be lashing and...

Who am I kidding? I can't demand anything from Hastings - it does what it wants to and I can only take part on its terms.

But what great terms they are.

 - Kit Caless

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Two videos below of stark contrast, first our sober readings, second the maverick jaunt of the drink possessed.

[vimeo]https://vimeo.com/74669547[/vimeo]

[vimeo]https://vimeo.com/74675383[/vimeo]

Anti-Canon Series: The Hunter, Julia Leigh - by Gary Budden

Committing a cardinal literary sin, I came to Julia Leigh’s debut 1999 novel, The Hunter, via the cinema. Even worse, in fact, a DVD.

The 2011 adaptation of the novel, starring Willem Dafoe, was an unusual beast and struck me as something far removed from mainstream modes of cinema storytelling (though not without its precursors), with its Tasmanian setting, unique and unusual characterization and the fact that the plot involved hunting down a possibly-extinct species for the benefit of a shady biotech corporation. It may have a title that suggests a Jason Statham thriller, but The Hunter was most definitely art. Reading a few reviews I duly discovered the film was based on a lauded Australian novel from the end of the last century, by a woman named Julia Leigh; a writer I had never come across (then again my knowledge of antipodean literature doesn’t stretch much beyond Bruce Chatwin’s The Songlines, and he was English).

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The Anti-Canon Series: Zen in the Art of Archery by Brendan Pickett

Zen in the Art of Archery by Eugen Herrigel is a sublime introduction for Westerners seeking an understanding of Zen. Herrigel was a German professor of philosophy at the University of Tokyo. As such, the prose is concise and efficient, focusing on the “essentials, so as to make them stand out more clearly.” If it was a waffling literary tome it would not accurately recount Herrigel's enlightening Zen experiences. And it is enlightening.

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The Anti-Canon Series: David Peace's Red Riding Quartet by Natalie Hardwick

“This is the North. We do what we want!”

Welcome to the sepia seventies according to David Peace. His seventies is also abundant in ultra-violence, patriarchy, punchbag spouses, liver, gravy, claggy-carpets, civil decay, yellow lights and muddy floors – so, all in all, pretty drab. It’s a boil on the arse of time, one to be lanced and drained over four pieces of perfect crime fiction.

Peace’s vitriolic portrait fits perfectly with my thoughts on the decade. To me the seventies is the three-day week, warm Blue Nun, Chapman and Chinn, not Ian Dury, abstract design and Al Pacino’s golden age. However, the Red Riding quartet contains no jocular nostalgia, quipping or anything nice at all, in fact.

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Sympathetic Refurbishment

This week Gary Budden looks at patterns of regeneration and cultural amnesia outside the London Orbital.

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‘I always hoped this place might stay the same’

The Levellers, Miles Away

A combination of turning thirty last February, reading a number of books on the seemingly prosaic activity of walking – Geoff Nicholson’s The Lost Art of Walking, and the wonderful Wanderlust: A History of Walking by Rebecca Solnit – and my getting-to-be-ancient grandmother’s move to the Kent coast to be near/looked-after-by my mother, have all coalesced in the last few months into a slightly clichéd pensiveness. Basically, I’ve been dwelling far too much on the notion of time passing, listening to melancholy songs by Nick Cave and Hüsker Dü, and getting sad about things that have not even happened yet, in a way I realised that I was kind of looking forward to; a perverse notion if ever there was one.

However, Solnit herself cheered me up immensely with the following lines:

'In small doses melancholy, alienation, and introspection are among life's most refined pleasures.'

Amen.

This slightly rambling introduction leads to me my recent visit to the city of Canterbury in Kent, a stay with my mother in Whitstable, and visiting my brother in the beautiful rural setting of Hernhill.

I went to secondary school in Canterbury, and in many ways my image of the place is cemented around 1999, in those years of GCSEs and A-levels, boozy forays into the many, many pubs that litter the small city. It was different before me, and is different after.

So, inevitably, in the intervening decade and a half, things have changed. What does shock me, unless I’m betrayed by my own memory, are the clearly visible signs of the bland brandscape of 21st century neo-liberal Britain. Perhaps in a city such as Canterbury, so old and oozing with history both well-remembered and obscure, a new shopping district or a ridiculously large Costa coffee stand out more. Would I care as much as these things appearing in Harlow, Milton Keynes, Ashford?

In London, the city’s skin is in constant upheaval and metamorphosis, the schizophrenic architecture somehow adding to the appeal of the place. Like Suggs says in London: The Modern Babylon, it never was like it was. Seeing the open sores of franchise coffee outlets on the streets where I was schooled, it’s more upsetting, if selfish and not entirely rational. Richards Records, the store where we pored over the latest vinyl in those pre-Spotify frontier days of the early internet, is long gone. Whatever Comics remains, albeit in a shifted location. The new Marlowe theatre looms large and insistently modern, men and women patiently sipping coffee in its gleaming café looking out at clouds of midges that boil in clouds above the river Stour. A small banner on the opposite bank informs of the Canterbury Quakers meeting point; I note it and photograph it; my partner works for Quaker Social Action up in Bethnal Green. It is of interest to us at least; I am an atheist but I like to see evidence of traditions older than Costa and Café Nero making themselves known.

One upshot of my pedestrian reading and clichéd introspection is an ability to slow down and look. By the metallic new theatre sits a collection of doll-sized statues commemorating revered playwright, Christopher Marlowe, and I photograph greeny-metal representations of the Jew of Malta, Tamburlaine, and of course, Doctor Faustus. Though it’s in a busy sidestreet, right by the tourist draw of the theatre, it feels unloved and set apart. The largest statue, standing atop the plinth bare-breasted and clutching what looks to me like a lyre, has a cobweb running from hand to ear, a small spider going about its business wrapping flies.

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A few feet from this forgotten monument to Marlowe, a small opening barred with black metal railings allows anyone who cares to peer into a small graveyard. A tasteful and modest sign informs:

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Here lie the bodies of many of those Protestant refugees fleeing Catholic persecution in France, and their descendants. A service in French is still held within the cathedral, the Eglise Protestante Francaise. Again, I am not a Christian, but the continuity and sense of history and their place in it is humbling and affecting. What would they think of the city as it is now; as it was in 1999?

We all invest certain places with real meaning, personal biography, and it is sad to see certain place where I recall fond times and formative (drunk) experiences change. The luxury of nostalgia in a safe first-world country.

The most naked sign of constant flux is The Parrot pub. I still find it hard to use that name, as to us it was and always will be Simple Simon’s, an independent pub that served 8% cloudy cider that guaranteed an eventful night and a brutal hangover. The building, always a public house since 1370, still maintains some of the original architecture, Flemish bricks, 14th century staircases. Make your own story if you like, the place is bloody old whatever angle you come at it. So OK, Shepherd Neame buy up the place, sand down some of the character and install worryingly clean looking wooden floors and try and present themselves as a restaurant that happens to look like a pub. On my recent visit, people still were using it for its original purpose, drinking, as it should be. If you want a restaurant, go to a restaurant. It seems simple to me.

Writing this piece, I decided to have a look at The Parrot’s website and see what they said about the history of the place:

Following a sympathetic refurbishment in 2008/9 the Parrot is now a stunning drinking and dining venue in the heart of Canterbury.Having renamed the pub the Parrot after hearing local rumours that it was once called the Parrot in previous centuries, although we haven’t found any evidence to back this rumour up, we rather liked the name!

No mention of Simple Simon’s. So much for their bogus claims of heritage.

This is a small example, common across all of the UK, and I’m glad that the pub remains in some form rather than having become yet another set of flats that make a mockery of the word ‘luxury’. But the half-hearted attempt they make at continuity with history, unverified by their own admission, and the disavowal of the very recent history that looms large in my own teenage years, is disquieting and symptomatic of much larger problems.

Believe the website, the information signs, and you’ll forget things were ever any different. But they were, and this is why I am writing this. I cannot allow myself to forget that things weren’t always the same. I’m all for sympathetic refurbishments but not like the one The Parrot has enacted.

***

As I was showing a newcomer Canterbury, of course we visited the cathedral. Nine pound fifty the privilege to access a piece of crucial history, more if you wanted to wander the gardens. We paid the minimum fare and wandered the gardens anyway, where small stalls sat selling plants, organic muesli, local honey. Leather-gloved men stood smiling holding tethered barn and tawny owls, a buzzard and a goshawk. Small children looked amazed at the birds of prey. They were real and unfree.

We walked the gardens, landscaped to the point of no return, all in control and in order. It was nice. For reasons unclear, guinea fowl plodded on the immaculate grass while a white and ginger cat sunned itself in a flower bed. Old women were everywhere.

We wandered back to the stalls, gravitating to the honey. We had a conversation with the man running the stall, bearded and amiable, about his locally produced produce, and yes it did taste good. Why are these jars a pound cheaper? I asked.

The honey in those jars, we discovered, had been heated to regain its fluidity and allow it to be filtered. How come? All the bees in the hive were dead when the beekeeper went to collect the honey. The awful weather, he said, amongst other things. The bees are dying, aren’t they? Yes, they are, he said. We bought the A-grade stuff, and mix it with our yoghurt, blueberries and granola in London.

We carried on looking round the gardens, at a Japanese peace tree to commemorate Nagasaki, signs for the French protestant church, a statue of the Son of Man. We walked inside the cathedral, as beautifully and coldly unaffecting as I always found it. All I thought of were dead bees.

***

We’d done the deep history of Canterbury. Avoided the high street at all costs, wouldn’t go anywhere the new(ish) shopping precinct and the malignant McDonalds, so instead walked the nicer areas around Palace Street, near The Parrot, close to the Marlowe.

My partner spotted a shop, what looked like a temporary set-up, Orange St Vintage, and we went in. If I’m honest I wasn’t expecting much, in Hackney vintage is becoming a dirty word, a source of mockery, whether justified or not. I still try and work out the difference between ‘second-hand’ and ‘vintage’ while everyone else has stopped caring.

The couple running the place were, it turned out, Kent born ex-Londoners who had recently made the move back down to the coast, to Westgate-on-Sea. They all spoke about Danish furniture and I nodded along like I knew what they were talking about. Then the husband told us that they supplied many of the Hackney vintage sellers who sell products on for double the price, the stuff that they scour Belgium, Holland and Germany for. Lot of Danish stuff there apparently. I didn’t ask why they didn’t go to Denmark.

The conversation moved round to Hackney and their days there, I announced I lived there right now with the addendum that I grew up in Kent and was down visiting family, absolving me (I hoped) from the dreaded DFL (down-from-London) tag. It’s all public schoolboys with three-grand cameras in Hackney now, he said. The price of houses in Margate, where my brother works, came up, the utter insanity of London house-pricing, gentrification, the all-consuming desire for authentic vintage furniture from a past we all helped destroy, all that was discussed. I wondered if I, in ten to fifteen years, would be having the same conversation, ruminating on my time in the city that forced me out, talking to Londoners who were themselves feeling the pinch. It was a good chat.

***

The day after, we visited my brother in rural Kent near Blean woods. He lives in Dargate, but we drove the short distance to Hernhill for food and alcohol at the Red Lion.

What struck me as uncannily in keeping with these thoughts, was the Red Lion pub I was eating my Sunday lunch in (I say Sunday lunch; a butternut squash curry was the only veggie option whilst everyone else enjoyed a roast) was the very place I had been writing about about a month previous. Walking through the small graveyard of St Michael’s church which stands directly opposite the pub, obscured by a venerable and huge oak tree, I noticed a small wooden sign dedicated to those who had fallen in the Battle of Bossenden in 1838, in the woods nearby. The pub we had sipped cider in was the very place where the body of self-styled messiah William Courtenay had been lain out after his failed uprising. The sign gave Courtenay’s real name, John Tom, and no other information. His and his followers bodies lie in unmarked graves somewhere under the soil here.

kent3

Strange to come face to face to a small piece of fascinating and largely forgotten history; this was the last armed uprising fought on English soil, allegedly. The regiment who gunned down the group of labourers from Hernhill, Dunkirk and Boughton, the 45th from Canterbury, would go on to kill twenty chartists a year later. The local labourers were angry about the Poor Law of 1834 and enticed by Courtenay’s millenarianism and promise of a better life; these dreams, whether naïve or not, were put down in a classic British fashion, with state violence and largely rubbed out of the narrative.

I took photos on my iPhone, of course, thought briefly about the depth of history in even such beautiful and dull places as Hernhill, and continued to enjoy my family’s company. I pondered dead bees, Huguenots, teenage alcohol nights in a pub that seemingly never existed, Hackney retro-dealers, a past that is never stable and a future that I will make sure I write myself.

Small press solidarity

Kit Caless on combining forces with other small presses...

At this years Stoke Newington Literary Festival, Gary and I decided to invite three of our fellow and favourite small publishers; 3:AM Press, Galley Beggar and Lonely Coot to join us on stage for a 'small press showcase'.

The event was great, Eimear McBride, Adam Biles, Alex Preston, Chimene Suleyman and Daniel Kramb all read wonderfully and a Q&A with Christiana Spens, Gary, Sam Jordison and Daniel Kramb raised some interesting questions from the audience.

Gary and I hadn't met Sam (Galley Beggar) or Christiana (3:AM) before, having only communicated via twitter or email. Adam Biles was a guest on my Resonance FM show, Mapping the Metropolis, but we also hadn't met any of the authors in person either. (including Chimene, our own representative on the night!). This was a definite triumph for the digital age.

Adam, Christiana, Kit, Gary and Daniel

What I found most interesting about the night was that each press had pretty much approached publishing for the same reasons we did, and also with the same methods. The Q&A's main thrust was about the whys and hows.

At Influx Press our regular story is that Gary and I started the press to put a book out (Acquired for Development By) that no other publisher would touch because it was too niche. We borrowed money from local Hackney people who came forward to offer it and the book did much better than we thought. Off the back of that success we thought we'd keep going.

Sam's reasons for setting up Galley Beggar seemed pretty similar, though coming from a bookshop in Norfolk rather than a pub in Hackney. Sam felt like he wanted to contribute to publishing rather than feel frustrated that the books he wanted to read weren't out there. They took a loan, risked a lot and the gamble paid off. Galley Beggar's first books have done very well and have funded them to do more, including the innovative Singles Club.

Christiana explained that after a hairy week a year or so back when 3:AM Magazine was lost in the internet vortex, its server disappeared and potentially 10 years of content missing, the idea for making physical books came up. As a kind of safety net, I suppose. Again, small print runs, small budgets but the crucial ingredient of almost willing a book into existence was key here. 3:AM clearly care about the writers they are publishing and they are putting books on shelves that really should be read.

Daniel, from Lonely Coot - without wishing to hammer the point home here - concurred once more. He and a friend had been writing and editing books about climate change and environmental politics. Not your average bestseller at Harper Collins. So in much the same way, set up Lonely Coot to put these books into existence.

Scrimping ain't easy

For me this is such an encouraging thing. It's hard to run a small press as it is, Gary and I only really have ourselves to talk to about what books we want to do next, argue over editorial issues, worry about money, chase invoices and all the other shit that comes with it. To do an event like this made me feel less lonely, less like we're just orbiting the publishing industry in a tiny small press capsule, whistling a melancholic Ziggy Stardust song to ourselves. It even... dare I say it, felt like there was a bit of the old solidarity in the group. We all publish very different books and have different resources, different agendas and different goals. But, I think, just to be in that space, together, knowing that the person sitting next to you on the stage has been struggling the same way you have and come out still passionate about the next publication they're bringing out - that's enough.

Galley Beggar and 3:AM books

It's enough to keep me going anyway. I'm really excited about our next two books and can't wait to get them out. Hopefully we'll be able to do more events like this in the future. This sort of solidarity and collaboration is what is needed to survive as a small press, and on top of all that - it's genuine fun.

- Kit Caless

(thanks to 3:AM and Galley Beggar for the photos)

Update on Influx Printing - a note about the way we work

An eventful week at Influx. We'd like to be open about how things work here, so Kit has written a short post about printing troubles.

On Monday our printers MPG Biddles, we were told, went into administration. This is a huge shame for the workers at Biddles. We have had a wonderful relationship with them and everyone on production level has been incredibly caring and friendly. Biddles is part of the MPG group which, according to various sources (see below) expanded too quickly and inefficiently after acquiring Cambridge University Press. Over 200 people appear to have lost their jobs (this is after the company made £800,000 profit last year).

While I don't profess to know the ins and outs of MPG's predicament it does seem to me that acquiring too quickly and underestimating costs are to blame. The staff were told not to turn up from Monday just gone as they couldn't be paid. However, Tony Shard (CEO) has just told Printweek that, "The directors would like to reiterate that the company is not in administration although a notice of intention to appoint administrators remains in place. This notice affords the business time to enable the management to evaluate all options available."

Now, what has happened to us, and other publishers I have spoken to who also use Biddles MPG is that we have orders waiting to be delivered and absolutely no communication regarding whether the contracts will be honoured. Yesterday we couldn't get through on the phones or via email all day.

We sent through for a re-print of Sam Berkson's Life in Transit - which, happily is still selling very well for a poetry collection. We have paid for the half print run (second half paid on delivery), but as yet have no stock to show for it. Thus we are pretty frustrated and are currently looking for a new printers to take this run on - which is going to cost us money we previously hadn't budgeted for. We may never see the MPG run of Life in Transit and have to chalk it up as a heavy loss to our tiny funds.

These things happen. That's the best I could tell myself yesterday when we heard the news. However, I think we've learned a valuable lesson. Searching through the web for news about MPG, I found a number of articles discussing problems at the company over the last few months. Had I been more in tune, or perhaps even taken our industry involvement (however small it is) more seriously, I might have flagged this up before we sent off for the re-print. It's made me realise that even if you're doing it as small as we are, publishing books with great care but long time lines, you have to keep abreast of what is happening in the world you have entered.

At Influx we come from a DIY background and still feel like we are there, really. However, we are trying to produce quality books that will look good in any bookshop, so we have pushed for some serious printing. It's with that in mind that we went with MPG, and our next printers will hopefully produce as good quality books too. In the future though, with more books in a catalogue and more orders being made, I will definitely be reading the insider business magazines. Even if it means I will cry salty tears of boredom all over the pages.

- Kit Caless

References:

 

http://www.printweek.com/Business/article/1184436/mpgs-chard-confirms-administration/

 

http://www.printweek.com/Business/article/1184941/MPG-evaluating-possible-sale-options/

 

http://monographer.wordpress.com/2013/06/04/lessons-from-a-printers-demise-the-case-of-mpg-biddles/

 

 

The Anti-Canon Series: Daniil Kharms by Gareth Rees

A few months before 36 year old outlaw writer Daniil Kharms starves to death in a psychiatric prison in 1942, a German bomb hits a block of flats during the siege of Leningrad. One side of the block is destroyed. On the other side, windows implode. Inside one of those shattered apartments. Kharms’ second wife, Marina Malich and philosopher Yakuc Drukin frantically gather up his papers and notebooks. These fragments floating through the bomb blasted air are his collected works. They’re what’s left of him.

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