Manchester is in need of more literature power houses and look-y here, a new one has sprung. This piece by Alex Webb describes the story of Sleep House Press’s latest release by David Hartley
Just over a year ago I sat down with David Hartley to talk about the Manchester writing scene and his first flash fiction collection Threshold. This February sees the release of Hartley’s third flash fiction collection, Spiderseed, and it is an incredible piece of work! This latest release is fully illustrated by the outstanding Emily Ingle, a local writer and illustrator. I was lucky enough to sit down with Hartley again to discuss the journey from Threshold to Spiderseed and the way his writing has changed since we last spoke.
The collection is named after one of the stories, it came about after he saw a submission call out for Re:Imaginings where he saw an image of ‘branches of a tree that looked like spiders were emerging from them’. Hartley worked this image into a story about seeds that ‘grow trees that produce animals instead of fruit’ and it eventually became ‘Spiderseed’. For anyone who has read Threshold, this origin story will come as no surprise as Hartley has always been an expert at winding the unhinged and the uncanny into the worlds he creates. Whilst both Threshold and Spiderseed give an eerie sense of unease, the former did so by poking fun at superstition whilst the latter is more focused on nature.
What is creepy about nature? What is there to be afraid of? How can it take advantage of us? These are key questions to ask yourself before embarking on your journey into Spiderseed. When I asked Hartley about this transition, he stated ‘I’ve been writing a lot about animals in the past few years. Some of the shorter pieces that have come out of this impulse have ended up in the collection’ such as ‘Trails’ (a personal favourite of mine which sees slugs gather insects to make one unfortunate home-owner suffer). Some of these darker stories stem from his time as a volunteer with the Manchester & Salford RSPCA where Hartley got a clearer insight into how animals are treated. This ‘messy, complex and frustrating situation’ led Hartley to write more and more about the topic, culminating in Spiderseed.
The realm of Spiderseed is best described by Hartley who calls it ‘inherently weird, without being too weird. Of course “spiderseeds” don’t exist but they sound like they could’ve done, somehow, somewhere’. This sense of unreality is best seen in ‘The Librarian’ which sees the titular man turn his library into a time machine. Hartley’s unique narrative brings every aspect of the time machine to life, you can almost smell the old books as you follow the librarian on their next twisted adventure. When asked how he manages to breathe life into his work Hartley noted that the influence of Manchester in Spiderseed, whilst not as obvious as in Threshold, is undeniable. The difference comes about as in Spiderseed Manchester is not the backdrop for these tales and misfortunes, but their catalyst.
(Dave Hartley Above)
Manchester is a ‘curious, mercurial sort of place’ says Hartley. ‘In the guts of the city it can get labyrinthine, the cobbles are soaked in shadows and histories but that same ground is incredibly fertile, especially for the creative industries’. It is this rich bed of creativity that developed the ‘weird, nightmarish and urban’ world of Spiderseed, and the frequent intrusion of the natural world as backdrops that ‘somehow tie everything together and keep it all from collapsing’. However, the city was not the only ingredient in concocting the cast of twisted characters. The Manchester literature scene with all its characters was fundamental to writing Spiderseed. Hartley says that this collection was ‘tested out on spoken word stages, particularly Bad Language and First Draft’.
Discussing what he did differently with Spiderseed compared to Threshold Hartley says ‘it’s not an exact science, but I certainly get a better feel for a flash fiction piece when I’ve road-tested it on a spoken word stage a few times. I owe a heck of a lot to this city and its creatives’. This is testimony for Manchester’s literature scene. Hartley gave a huge thanks to his writing group for testing and developing his style. Some of the pieces in Spiderseed come with a more performative aspect which Hartley credits to Bad Language’s Fat Roland, ‘the master of prop usage and stage littering’. Another key influence is David Gaffney (one half of the hilariously unsettling Les Malheureux) and his flash fictions which have left Hartley eager to ‘emulate the precision and economy of the best Gaffney stories’.
Moving away from his influences, I spoke to Hartley about the actual process of writing Spiderseed and how this differed from Threshold. ‘The process is more fine-tuned and I’m not as precious as I used to be’, says Hartley, ‘if a story hasn’t worked I’m much happier to ditch it and move onto something new, I’m slightly less concerned about experimentation and more with story and truthfulness now I think’. In Spiderseed there is more a direct connection with the stories, giving a clearer message to be heard/read by the audience. Even the more ridiculous stories, such as ‘Most Haunted’, ‘have something to say about various evils, even if that’s not immediately obvious’. This is what is so strong about Hartley’s new collection. In the world he has constructed things are not always what they seem, your first visit to Spiderseed will be nothing like your next. However, you will keep coming back for more.
Spiderseed is out on 25th February, published by Sleepy House Press and fully illustrated by the outstanding Emily Ingle. Check out Sleepy House Press’ Facebook page for details.Like Sleepy House Press on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SleepyHousePress/?fref=ts
Follow David Hartley on twitter: https://twitter.com/DHartleyWriter
Check out the launch party for Spiderseed: https://www.facebook.com/events/1515540278750798/
Story told by Alex Webb
Inspired by the media outcry regarding the death of Aylan Kurdi and his family, this piece interrogates Britain’s response to the world’s immigration crisis. Specifically it questions why David Cameron only acknowledged the situation after it was too late
Last night on the shore
harsh realities washed up with their sons,
some say they got lost on the way to Canada,
others say Cameron drove them there.
A Daily Mail poll reads “SHOULD BRITAIN AGREE TO TAKE MORE REFUGEES?”
three quarters of a family taken whilst
gasping for hope:
Father: Abdullah, servant of God;
forsaken by a godless nation
forced to suffer by politicians
who’d rather play god than help Him save them.
3:1 Mother: Rehan, a flower;
desperate for a chance to bloom in
Places to take refuge with those who condemn:
modern day colonialists not ready to pay their
with added interest.
Son: Galip, the winner;
maybe he was trying to win the race,
someone should have told him
in England, the only race worth winning is White.
And then there lies Aylan,
face down in the sand,
becoming a national symbol for change
because Cameron couldn’t stomach it.
David, the beloved,
beloved assailant of those who
made his Britain great.
How much more will he take
leaving innocents to pay the price?
He raises Aylan as a promise for change.
The Metro tells us
“as a father,
he felt deeply moved by the sight”
as a human, I felt disgusted by your Conservative resilience.
When will you let it wear down?
by Alex Webb
Do you have something to share about our current global situation? why not submit a literary piece and share your feelings to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Allegorical piece by Fandango Hack; a list of the weird, the beautiful and the atrocious things that make up the world
The bath, the stainless shovel, the mask, the cat, the bastard and the brothel
The sloth, the slowly sinking, the dogman in the doghouse drunk and slowly drinking
The cot, the dripping tap, the cobra and the Bearn with cradle cap
The nag, the reigns of brass, the hands retracting from the chance to clasp
The mole, the focal point, the oil slick and dripped drawn to anoint.
The eldest, dead and dying, the trier God would love giving up trying
The prayer, the prongs of forks, the damsel in distress popping the cork
The window, the tubby fucker, the golden punishment for copper suckers.
The world, and all its raging wrong, the sorrow in the truth of every song.
The tape, the worm escaping, the lacerated shapes, the plates that Greeks be breaking
The sand, the flooded earth, the man, the battle and the bloody birth
The heart, the tumour clock, the startled pecker pecking and the strangled cock
The news, the bloated leader, the reader of bad blues, the filthy minded bleeder
The grass, the meadow strung with deaths own tinsel, the tooth, the biter of the bitten pencil
The fruit, the guardian of all unknown, the beauty bought and battered cloaks a clone
The worms, the worms that guide us to the core, the claws that burrow, the bully come a bore.
The gas, the flame, the poisoned budgies feather, the world that went to war over the weather.
The world and all its rarest rights, the joy found in the truth of every fight.
read more at:www.fandangohack.tumblr.com
Natalie Proctor previews the nous magazine/As We Are Away festival, taking place around the city 20-30 November
How lucky we are here in Manchester to have so much creativity on our doorstep! No matter what the artistic genre, there is always something going on in this vibrant northern city. This diversity of talent is something that self-established Nous Magazine champions. The magazine is a relatively new enterprise, which has a unique focus on ‘contemporary mind culture’. In collaboration with As We Are Away, the magazine has created a mini-festival for all things arty. AWAA is an art project with a difference, focused on overcoming the cultural stigma around mental health. The festival hopes to inspire us to think differently about mental illness, and learn to become more open and understanding about something that affects thousands of people across the UK.
The event, which goes on until the 30th November, will host a variety of acts throughout the creative sphere. Each night focuses on a different collection of some of Manchester’s finest artists, poets, musicians and directors. Whatever you may have an interest in, the AWAA mini-Festival will surely have something to spark your creative interest.
What makes this event even greater is that it’s free! Although donations are extremely appreciated, and do go on to ensure that these kind of fantastic events may continue. You can even buy an 11- day ticket that gives you access to all the events running for just £5.50. That seems like a bargain to me! We here at M20 would also strongly encourage you to make this donation, as we fully believe it is vital to support the arts to the best of our ability. Without such contributions we would find it hard to maintain the wealth of opportunities on offer for Manchester creatives.
So what’s on? Well, if you’re interested in poetry, there is Tea Hour Poetry on 25th November, which is sure to offer a plethora of new and old talent; including established writers like David Hartley, who we interviewed in October. This will be taking place at the trendy Northern Quarter café The Koffee Pot. Certainly not one to miss!
There is also a lot to offer in terms of music. On Thursday the 27th, the night As We Are Here will host some of Manchester’s most exciting up and coming bands and artists. The live music will continue into the evening at the Eagle Inn, and there will be a variety of sounds from the likes of Second Shepherds, POST and Locean.
If you fancy a little slice of the Cannes Film Festival in Manchester, then why not head over to the concluding night of the festival, curated by Cultivate Film Art. This evening will present some critically acclaimed foreign films, which may perhaps may a nice change from the outlandish Hollywood blockbuster. The documentary film ‘Black Sun’ (2005) by Gary Tarn tells the dramatic story of French artist Hugues de Montalembert who finds himself blinded after a violent attack in New York. It is a moving piece of cinema that is sure to strike a nerve. Also showing is the 1970 film adaptation of the novel ‘Valerie and Her Week of Wonders’. This erotic horror is somewhat otherworldly, and definitely different to what’s out there in the box office!
The festival has plenty more to offer so check out the website for a full list of the events coming up. And remember, the festival ends on the 30th November so don’t miss out. Keep supporting the arts.
Ahead of the publication of REVOLUTION on Bonfire Night, we talked politics, pamphlets and people with Black & BLUE editor Beckie Stewart
It took just a few short years for Black & BLUE to establish itself as one of Manchester’s top contemporary literary exports. Founded in November 2011 by Dane Weatherman and Alex Marsh, both students of University of Manchester at the time, Black & BLUE has now grown to be a five-strong editorial team (plus designer). They host exhibitions and readings up and down the country and bring the works of artists and writers from around the world together in original, beautifully curated print publications/print journals and political pamphlets. Though the Black & BLUE founders are now based in London, there’s still a strong Manchester presence maintained through Beckie Stewart, one of the Black & BLUE editors, who has stayed in the city and continues to contribute to its creative scene.
Beckie describes the people behind Black & BLUE as “an odd handful of people, each with really diverse tastes, political views and backgrounds but with one aim: to provide a space for new writing as a counterpoint to what we view as the ‘traditional’ literary scene”. This patchwork of people and ideas is reflected in the genre-crossing nature and variety of the work they produce: annual journals of creative writing, images and art; political pamphlets; blogposts on art and words – there’s no one rule. They’re tackling as many art forms and inviting as many collaborations as possible in their attempt to re-imagine literature.
When I asked Stewart what Black & BLUE are looking for, she noted that they are “openly political…because everything is political”. Black & BLUE believe that “no one can speak from a position of neutrality anymore” so embracing the highly political nature of society through literature is what seems natural to this group of creatives. What this means for the submissions Black & BLUE want is that they are eager for “fresh writing that speaks to everyone; we want to make it accessible and break down the walls of what surrounds poetry and creative writing” – they want to challenge people’s assumptions about literature and the forms it can take in the modern day.
Talking about how Black & BLUE want to represent themselves, Stewart referred to co-founder Weatherman who saw representing younger writers as a main focus of the magazine. They wanted to “make a break from outdated literature promulgated by archaic university lecturers” which is something I’m sure a lot of students can relate to and appreciate at least some of the time (I know I certainly can!). This focus on newness and energy is in everything they create, every issue of the Black & BLUE journal aesthetically and thematically unique.
That being said, as you look at the Black & BLUE catalogue there is an underlying current that links it all. Beckie points out that the issue CITY ended on the lines “you have no idea what you are doing, that you are merely wandering the earth, no particular reason for being there, no particular place to go” (from a piece by Louis Jenkins). The Black & BLUE team felt that this could not be left on a cliffhanger – they had to pick it up in the next issue and “it was only natural the theme of REVOLUTION followed, considering pieces in CITY like Robert Montgomery’s billboards denouncing high capitalism, tweets encapsulating the rise of UKIP… it drew our attention to this shift, this un-settling.”
REVOLUTION is Black & BLUE’s boldest issue to date. To be published on 5th November, the edition features poetry, prose, art and thought that is in itself revolutionary, or is inspired by what is. A dedicated Twitter feed set up during the submissions process gave people a chance to share that exciting experience of reading what revolution means for different people around the world. Beckie talks excitedly about it as “a strong collection of writers” having received phenomenal submissions – the main problem she encountered in the process of making it was finding space in the magazine for it all! “It’s a shame we can’t feature more of it, there’s a huge pool of creative writing out there and it’s so exciting to provide a platform for some of that”.
Turning to the future of Black & BLUE I asked Stewart what we could expect from the publication.
“Much like M20Collective, we’re all for collaboration in all areas of arts – Black & BLUE work with the basis that the more people involved, the more inspired we can be and the more we can accomplish”.
This has already been a key focus for Black & BLUE in 2014: in June they put on a London-based exhibition, Illuminations, showcasing textual forms of art. The success of this project has spurred on hopes for more in the future with a pop-up gallery and other collaborative plans in the pipeline. We can also expect a follow-up to the brilliantly received political pamphlets Black & BLUE released last year and Beckie revealed that the group is “hoping to do a series of lectures”.
For anyone who wants to get involved with Black & BLUE, and we can’t push this opportunity enough, Beckie is eager to find new collaborators and submissions to the Black & BLUE body of work. After all, collaboration “is how the most progressive and beautiful things in life are formed”, she says. The contemporary, collective Black & BLUE way is certainly progressive and a great platform for future developments as yet undiscovered.
REVOLUTION is A NEW ANTHOLOGY OF REVOLUTIONARY CREATIVE LITERATURE IN SEVEN PARTS: FATHERS| CHILDREN|FUCKERS|WOLVES LIBERTINES MONSTERS|THE DEAD|NO PLACES|PLANTS & FLOWERS. Pre-order now to receive on bonfire night 
Protesters Manchester Center 2014
Who are you in Manchester’s Eden?
Longing for justice, protesting for freedom.
Tarpaulin shelter and tales of woe,
banners of facts of crimes we should know.
Holding vigil for those who are lost.
Discussions of politics, counting the cost.
Displaying disturbing photographs of terror.
Carefully laminated against English weather.
Displaying the flag of a proud & treasured past,
their fight for the hope that Palestine will last.