In Camera by Nicholas Royle & David Gledhill

-Reviewed by Adrian Slatcher

In Camera follows on from other books from Roelof Bakker’s Negative Press in being both uncategorisable, and at the same time recognisably from the imprint. This seems to be what small presses should be about. In Bakker’s case, each project connects up photography with text in new and surprising ways.

in-camera

The stylish In Camera came about from the work of the painter David Gledhill, who discovered a book of family photographs at a fleamarket in Germany, depicting the old East Germany. In his studio at Rogue Studios in Manchester I’ve seen in the flesh some of Gledhill’s photo realist paintings that are reproduced here. The transformation between mediums adds something to the source material: they are imitations but they are also impressions.

This book adds a new layer to such interpretation, where Nicholas Royle uses the pictures to provide the inspiration for a short story, which here is interpolated between the various pictures. Each picture becoming a scene from a story; an imagined story of a doctor in the DDR, whose family becomes a target for the Stasi. In one scene, where the lead character is looking back trying to understand what happened in her childhood, her friend P says ‘one in twenty doctors in the DDR…spied on their colleagues and painters,’ twice the amount of collaborators in the general population. A doctor has access to privileged information, also, for the authorities, their transferable skills meant they were seen as more likely to defect to the West.

But the story here only slowly comes into that reflective present. It begins with an every day incident in the surgery, where the narrator’s father is treating a patient who slipped in the street. A child becoming dimly aware of their relative privilege compared to their neighbours, she suspects her friend J. has been responsible for the banana peel that the patient injured himself on. In the second short scene, she finds that her father has taken up photography and occasionally leaves the camera in a place where she is able to ‘borrow’ it for a few minutes.

We know that where there is a set of photographs there must also have been a camera which was used to take them. In those days, the care taken to ensure each picture was worthwhile, because of the cost and time it took to get photographs printed, meant that each photograph in an album would have significance. Royle imagines not just what’s in the photographs, but the ‘unseen’ story behind their taking. In every photograph of a person there’s the unseen camera operator. Who might it have been? At times it’s the daughter, at other times maybe it’s G, the untrustworthy son of ‘Onkel F’. He’s not a real uncle, of course, but as the story unfolds, we get hints at who he might have been – the person who tried to recruit the doctor as an informer, and when he refuses, the person who spies on them.

Told through the twin fractures of a child’s memories, and the prompts of these photographs, the story is a remarkably satisfying one, full of hints and half truths. This ‘real’ family is brought to life – or rather, the pictures are an inspiration for an imagined story that can have an authorial significance, unconstrained by whatever the true story told by the photographs might be. Taking a picture and imagining what is the story behind these lives. It’s what historians have done for decades, yet here is something in living memory – memorably told in Anna Funder’s Stasiland – that is well documented but has a whole layer of secrecy behind it.

In this short story that because of its accompanying images, repays re-reading and exploring, Gledhill’s pictures provides a constrained landscape against which Royle has created a carefully crafted story of 1950s East Germany. The style is pared down, and reads as if it might almost be in translation. It particularly reminds me of Natalie Ginzburg’s The Things We Used to Say where a child’s view on the everyday is used effectively to uncover the horrors of the age, in her case, the rise of fascism in Germany, in Royle’s case, the anxiety of the East German surveillance state. Royle’s doctor is the hero of this piece – ‘he protected us, and he protected his patients…anyway, it’s all history now.’

These photographs, these paintings, this story provide a plausible version of that history – and the books, like previous Negative Press offerings, is a beautiful presentation of the project it contains. Highly recommended.

Placing Stones by Martin Crawley

– Reviewed by Adrian Slatcher –

All grief is personal, all remembrance is public. At least that was part my conclusion reflecting on Placing Stones, a short memento mori by Martin Crawley. There are seven poems and a dozen or so line drawings – of different stones placed in memory – in this short elegant book from Negative Press. The previous book I looked at from this press was Still, a collection of stories inspired by photographs of an abandoned town hall. This short collection is, in some ways, a more conventional work. Elegantly designed and bound, printed on quality paper, the drawings of stones are little marvels, a few lines delineating shape and shade, giving extra dimension beyond the page. A note at the back from John Douglas Millar states that “the Jewish tradition of placing stones upon the grave represents a transfiguration.” The book is a statement of ritual, but separate, I think, from any official version: the stones are impersonal, but precise and delicately drawn. The short poems are very specific, and warm, whereas rocks are cold.

Each of the deaths is mourned and remembered; who are John, Bernard, Irene et al? We have only the faintest of sketches, perhaps little more than the rubric on a gravestone. These are, I feel, clearly an artist’s poems, rather than a poet’s artwork, though that’s not a criticism, just a note of the clean luminous, imagistic style of the poems. Like Rick Holland, who collaborated with Brian Eno, or Ian Hamilton, these seem condensations, taking a certain Poundian simplicity of image as the start and end point. For instance, “Irene” ends:

In the window box
copper leaves are opening
on the little rose bush
and in spite of your efforts
the mint is spreading.

Read it wrong and it could seem banal, but there’s a precarious balancing between prose and verse structure which gives it an air of authority, that owes something to spiritual verse, or to eastern forms. Across the seven poems, hardly a word is out of place, and though the theme is loss – and in a couple of instances, the death is a violent or an unexpected one – remembering is what is important. Yet I can see why it was necessary to pair the drawings and the poetry. These poems, which illuminate an aspect of a life remembered, give life to the departed, whilst the stones, our traditional way of memorialising, are more permanent, more ritualistic. Together they create something a little distinct from the usual poetic elegy. Here it seems the memorialising is what’s important. We know little of the relationship with the author, and the words discourage us from prying too deeply.

If there’s a failing with words, and it’s a slight one, it’s that the point of view changes across even these very short poems, so it’s sometimes hard to position oneself in relation to the poem. “Bernard” begins:

How was Dewling?
He’s Leslie now, and I’m Bernard….

and later….

What was West’s first name?
All too long ago, I can’t remember.

There’s a mention of “Firle Beacon” but the picture so captioned appears later on. This, like a couple of the other poems, seems too private a language, for which the reader has little way in.

This small press, expertly helmed by photographer/writer Roeloff Bakker, specialises in beautifully produced and conceived books that mix the visual and the literary, and this latest work, presented elegantly in a plastic wrapping, has a delightful simplicity to it. I’m no geologist, but the drawings evoke that sense of discovery you might get from finding an unusual stone on a distant beach or a mountain walk, and in tandem with the elegant verses which seem to be personal memorials, Crawley has created a highly satisfying object that though personal to the artist/poet is surely also intriguing to the accidental reader; a bit like the wanderer who comes across a dedication in an overgrown churchyard.

 

Strong Room by Roelof Bakker and Jane Wildgoose

-Reviewed by Eleanor Hemsley-

Strong Room holds an enchanting collection of photographs alongside a short story that reignites a sense of archaic longing within us. The focus is, as with many other things, on the digital age, and the things modern day humans are missing out on. But this doesn’t come across as a stuck-in-the-past piece. Instead it’s more of a pining recollection, a remembering and longing for the past whilst being firmly set in the present. It’s a collection of photographs from an old strong room, a council chamber and a maintenance room, and a story that sits us in the centre of a library, surrounded by books and silence.

Strong Room Roelof Bakker Jane Wildgoose

The collection of photographs taken by Roelof Bakker are wonderfully reminiscent of older times, if a little repetitive. The photos really set us up for the story to follow and intertwine nicely with it, making us see and even smell the old, worn furniture and battered packaging. It does exactly what it is meant to do, in that we find ourselves thinking and remembering what it would be like to live in a world without technology, where second hand shops are for the old and the new, and where people’s history can be found simply by looking through a pile of papers.

But what really makes this collection for me is the story that follows. The photographs manage to put us in just the right mind set to read the wonderfully descriptive ‘A Visit To The Archives’, and it is no disappointment. We find ourselves lost within a beautiful world of old books and shelves, that are falling apart and smell of their previous owners, until technology swims back to the surface, interrupting the memories and bringing us firmly back to the present, to our virtual reality.

And this is where the piece manages to succeed where many others fail. Instead of being brought back to the present and feeling comfortable there, we find ourselves longing once more for rows and rows of books, or old fireplaces filling the room with their scent, and for the things that can be touched. And whilst taking us on a physical trip down memory lane, the persona also goes down one from a memory, reminding us that it is often the smells of old things that remind us of our own pasts, of the good and the bad things that happen. And this is something that we realise won’t happen with technology, for it has no smell, and so no gateway to our forgotten memories.

The photographs taken are wonderfully nostalgic and perfectly reflect on the story. The old gallery chairs with the leather worn away to show the fibrous maze beneath give a real sense of abandonment, and along with ‘Strong Room (4)’, a photograph taken of rows upon rows of rolled up blueprints and drawings, we can almost feel the dust building up in our throats. But this isn’t a bad thing, not at all. Instead it’s a reminder of the things that have been forgotten, and like in the story that follows, we remember what it’s like to remember.

Jane Wildgoose has managed to create a piece that fits perfectly with Bakker’s photography to allow us a short walk into the past, so that we can remember what it is to touch and smell and feel. But don’t be put off, for the feeling resurrected within you when you read this won’t be that of sadness, more of remembering and longing, so that you can once again lose yourself within a world that has almost been forgotten.

Still Anthology

 -Reviewed by Adrian Slatcher

For my English O Level, one of the creative writing options was to write a story based on a picture that had been supplied. Though I didn’t know it at the time, I chose Vincent Van Gogh’s Bedroom in Arles. A picture doesn’t necessarily just say a thousand words, but can also inspire them.

That is the principle, at least, behind Still, the beautifully-produced debut publication from Negative Press. The photographer Roelof Baker had exhibited a series of photographs of the ‘vacated interior spaces at Hornsey Town Hall’ and the book sees the writer Andrew Blackman, who had blogged about the exhibition, inviting a wide range of short story writers to choose a photograph from the series and write a story about it. Unsurprisingly, writers of the calibre of Richard Beard, David Rose and Evie Wyld leapt at the chance.

Still Anthology reviewed by Adrian Slatcher

Contemporary photography has had an abiding fascination with abandoned spaces almost as a counterpoint to the developer-led regeneration of our inner cities. The abandoned building offers an adult artist the chance to delve down a rabbit hole of the imagination and see what he can find there. The civic building is particularly interesting to photographers, as denuded of their purpose, what is actually left? Roelof’s photographs are aware of the contradictions of the project and themselves suggest stories. We tend to think of the past in black and white, but Barker’s photographs are in a gloriously flat colour, the dark woods and bright paints of the interior hinting at a municipal pride even now the building itself is decaying. He places found objects in particular scenes – an old telephone on a council worker’s desk; a maintenance sign on a door handle – taking it away from the purely documentary.

The stories themselves are highly varied as you might expect, though a surprising number find poetry in the possible drab narratives of long forgotten municipal administrators. Mark Piggott’s opener ‘Midnight Hollow’ is a perfect start, as an ex-worker borrows the keys to his old work place as it’s due for demolition, and in an act of monkish devotion polishes the floors for one last time. In an era of casual labour and outsourcing this sense of civic pride is both sad and inspiring. The twenty-six stories in here are sometimes the shortest of snippets, sometimes longer, and are split between those which offer up literal interpretations of the photographs and the old building and those which use the picture as a jumping off point. Nina Kilham’s ‘My Wife, the Hyena’ follows the office worker home to his unusual domestic arrangements whilst Claire Massey’s ‘In the Dressing Room Mirror’ uses the image of the dressing room to tell a dark fairy story of a mirror that steals part of the person who looks in it. I particularly liked Dutch writer Jan Van Mersbergen’s first English language story ‘Pa-Dang’ which takes an image of a locked door as the inspiration for a story about an autistic man visiting his family.

Even those stories which stay in the mundane world of the municipal building have jumps of surrealism about them and I think it’s a testimony to Barker’s photographs which are not so much about documenting a forgotten building, as energising our memories of vacated spaces. James Miller’s future history ‘From the Archive’ looks back ironically on a picture of the council chamber and offer misinterpretations of our contemporary culture in the manner of Will Self’s The Book of Dave, complete with comprehensive footnotes.

Although I’ve mentioned just a few of the stories, I think it’s fair to say that Still works as whole, with the stories never overwhelming the images but offering a meta-narrative to the whole project. Some of the shorter pieces – such as those by Evie Wyld and S.L. Grey – take merely a couple of pages, and act almost as gnomic captions to the photographs; sketches for the reader to build their own interpretations on top of. The book itself is a beautiful paperback, clear white paper, great reproductions of the photographs, and a clean design that encourages repeated browsing.

Obviously the book will be of interest to anyone who likes some of the writers included. But fans of contemporary photography and those with an interest in our neglected modernist heritage will also find much to enjoy in this elegantly assembled collection.

Saboteur Awards 2013: The Shortlist

Your Pick of this Year’s Best Indie Lit!

VOTING IS NOW CLOSED!

Once a year, to mark our birthday, we at Sabotage like to give out some awards to the publications we’ve most enjoyed during the year. This year, we want YOU to vote for the winners in twelve different categories.

After over 2000 votes, voting is now closed! Winners will be announced on 29th May at the Book Club, London. It’s going to be a big celebration of indie lit in all its glory and we’d love it if you could attend. There’ll also be performances, a mini-book fair, music from LiTTLe MACHINe and our very own critique booth.

Here’s what happens next:

  1. Voting is now closed!
  2. Buy a ticket to the awards ceremony/birthday bash.

Please find the shortlist below, which consists of the top 5 nominations in each of the 12 categories, with links to their reviews in Sabotage.*

*Reviewing or featuring all of these works (through interviews for instance) is a work-in-progress which we hope to achieve by the time of the event. Obviously, it is quite a monumental task in a short time, so we appreciate any help from past, present and future reviewers in achieving this, as well as the cooperation of nominees!

Many congratulations to all those who made the shortlist!

In no particular order:

Best Novella

Synthetic Saints by Jason Rolfe (Vagabondage Press)
Holophin by Luke Kennard (Penned in the Margins)
Count from Zero to One Hundred by Alan Cunningham (Penned in the Margins)
The Middle by Django Wylie (Twentysomethingpress.com)
Controller by Sally Ashton (Dead Ink)

Best spoken word performer

Raymond Antrobus
Dan Cockrill
Emma Jones
Vanessa Kisuule
Fay Roberts

Most innovative publisher

Burning Eye
Unthank Books
Sidekick Books
Knives, Forks, and Spoons Press
Penned in the Margins

Best short story collection

 The Syllabus of Errors by Ashley Stokes (Unthank Books)
My Mother Was An Upright Piano by Tania Hershman (Tangent Books)
Fog and Other Stories by Laury A. Egan (Stone Garden)
All the Bananas I’ve Never Eaten by Tony Williams (Salt Publishing)
The Flood by Superbard (Tea Fuelled)

Best poetry pamphlet

Selected Poems by Charlotte Newman (Annexe Magazine)
Body Voices by Kevin Reid (Crisis Chronicles Press)
Lune by Sarah Hymas (self-published)
Songs of Steelyard Sue by J.S.Watts (Lapwing Publications)
Lowlifes, Fast Times & Occasionally Love by Lawrence Gladeview (Erbacce Press)

Best ‘one-off’

Penning Perfumes
Shake the Dust
Binders full of Women
Poetry Polaroid (Inky Fingers Collective)
Poetry Parnassus

Best Spoken Word show

‘Whistle’ by Martin Figura
‘Dirty Great Love Story’ by Katie Bonna and Richard Marsh
Wandering Word Stage
Emergency Poet
‘Lullabies to Make your Children Cry’ by Lucy Ayrton

Best magazine

Alliterati
Lummox
Lakeview International Journal of Literature and Arts
Rising
Armchair/Shotgun

Best regular Spoken Word night
Bang said the Gun (London)
Hammer and Tongue (Oxford)
Jibba Jabba (Newcastle)
Inky Fingers (Edinburgh)
Come Rhyme with Me (London)

Best poetry anthology

The Centrifugal Eye’s 5th Anniversary Anthology (ed. E.A. Hanninen)
Rhyming Thunder – the Alternative Book of Young Poets (Burning Eye)
Sculpted: Poetry of the North West (ed. L. Holland and A. Topping)
Catechism: Poems for Pussy Riot (English PEN)
Adventures in Form (Penned in the Margins)

Best fiction anthology
Unthology, volume 3 (Unthank Books)
Post-Experimentalism (Bartleby Snopes)
Best European Fiction 2013 (Dalkey Archive)
Front lines (Valley Press)
Overheard: Stories to Read Aloud (Salt Publishing)

Best mixed anthology

Estuary: a Confluence of Art & Poetry (Moon and Mountain)
Pressed by Unseen Feet (Stairwell Books)
Still (Negative Press)
Silver Anthology (Silver Birch Press)
Second Lives (Cargo Press)