“…old pleasures abundant”

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A book I turn to in summer is a beautiful edition of Robert Bly’s Ramages, published by Gaylord Schanilec’s Midnight Paper Sales in 2005. This was a gift from Anik See, friend and co-conspirator in our Fish Gotta Swim Editions project. The poem”Turkish Pears” holds in it the heat and bounty of August.

Sometimes a poem has her own husband
And children, her nooks and gardens and kitchens,
Her stairs, and those sweet-armed serving boys
Who carry veal in shiny copper pans.
Some poems do give plebeian sweets
Tastier than the chocolates French diners
Eat at evening, and old pleasures abundant
As Turkish pears in the garden in August.

No veal or multiple kitchens here, no pears this August (when you read my essay “Euclid’s Orchard” you’ll understand why…), but there are old pleasures and gardens and even a sweet-armed serving boy. Errr, man. And if not Turkish pears, at least Ficus carica ‘Brown Turkey’, which we ate last evening stuffed with Boursin cheese and wrapped in proscuitto. And I’ve just picked more.

“I say, ‘Regicide.’ I say, Help!'”

From An Exaltation of Larks, by James Lipton:

An Herde of Wrennys, The Book of St. Albans. Hodgkin says, “The wren was probably allowed the term of ‘herd’…because it was the king of birds.” I say, “Regicide.” I say, “Help!”

It’s been slightly more than a month since the boxes of my novella Winter Wren arrived at my door. Readers of this blog might remember that my friend Anik See and I have begun a small literary imprint, Fish Gotta Swim Editions, to publish novellas for now and perhaps other innovative prose forms in the future. It’s been an interesting process so far. I wrote Winter Wren, Anik designed the cover and text, and the wonderful team at Printorium in Victoria printed the beautiful hand-sized books. People are sending the nicest notes or calling me to tell me their impressions. So far, so good!

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It’s a word-of-mouth endeavor at this point. We don’t have an advertising budget so we’re relying on email newsletters and the kindness of friends and strangers. Anik doesn’t even have copies yet but will receive hers when she’s in Canada next month. After then, she’ll fill orders for European customers and those from other parts of the world. (I’m filling orders for North, Central, and South America. And have mailed books to the UK and a few other places far afield.) But we both believe that readers will be interested in novellas and will somehow find us and our titles. (More are in the planning stages.)

Several reviews are forthcoming and I will post information and links on my News and Events page once I have them. I look forward to reading from Winter Wren when I participate in the Sunshine Coast Festival of the Written Arts on Friday, August 12th at 2:30 p.m. (I plan to talk about novellas in general and to also  read from my Patrin, which isn’t even a year old yet!) There will also be a proper launch for Winter Wren, probably in September. (If this sounds a bit vague,it’s because, well, life is busy right now! The Pender Harbour Chamber Music Festival, which I’m involved with, is coming up on the weekend of August 18-21 in Madeira Park; some of my children are coming for a couple of weeks later in summer; and there’s a third grandchild due in late August. But watch my News and Events page for a book launch date and if you’re in our area, come to help celebrate its regicide — without giving too much away, that word has a kind of eerie truth for this tale of wrens and the solstice and the passing of the old year.

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And if you want to support independent publishing not just in Canada but internationally (because Fish Gotta Swim Editions is located here on the west coast as well as in Amsterdam), please consider ordering a copy of Winter Wren. You can order from me. Or Anik. Several bookstores here on the Sechelt Peninsula carry the book and others can order it for you. If you are interested in a review copy, please let me know.

bookends

In 1977-78, I spent most of a year living in Ireland. I rented a cottage on a small island off the Connemara coast. It was a sweet time, though often lonely too. I walked. I gathered mussels and nettles to supplement the meager amount of food I could buy weekly in the nearby town when a boat was going that way and I could tag along with fishermen selling their catch or their wives doing errands. I say “meager” because I had so little money and also because everything I bought for the week had to be carried in my rucksack. Sometimes the boat would cross the narrow passage between the island and a strand several miles from the town and on those days I walked back and forth with my rucksack of provisions or else I borrowed a bike from a farmer who lived above the strand. A week’s worth of food could get heavy (and expensive) awfully quickly.

And I wrote. I wanted to discover if I was actually a writer and for some reason I thought I had to go far away to do that. I’d always loved Irish music and literature and somehow I imagined the west of Ireland would be a place I could lose my young damaged self in and find a better self. (I was 22. This is the way I thought then.)

I have no regrets about that time. I loved the island, I loved the hedges of fuchsia and the sound of corncrakes in the field behind my cottage. I read voraciously and I wrote the beginning of a novella which I completed later, once I’d returned to Canada. That novella, Inishbream, was published first as a private press book by the Barbarian Press. It took them years to actually produce the book and all the reasons for the delays were entirely legitimate. The wait was worth it. And so was the process, the step-by-step process of making a book the old beautiful way. An American artist, John DePol, did a series of wood-engravings for the book.

currach

Some copies were quarter-bound with soft green Japanese silk; others with leather; and the very rare Design editions were quarter-bound with turbot leather. The printing is exquisite. And when I read the novella now, as I do from time to time, my heart goes out to that girl on a western island, her wild ecstatic heart. (I know now that some of the way she saw the world — a heightened rapturous vision — was in part due to hunger…)

There are pale beaches of coral sand, strung darkly with the dead weeds. I walk them endlessly, alert for news of the world: a bottle, an explosive, a book of the saint’s voyage enacted on the edge of the Atlantic, a waterlogged crate washed from the deck of a ship.

In those windy cottages, the stories age. Outside, a well runs dry. Pots rise empty on their bleach-bottle floats, the hay rots under the rain’s assault. And they stand, all of them, on the rim of the chopping sea, straining to the tide, pulling in the nets of the morning. World without end, amen.

My husband John remarked awhile back that my new novella, Winter Wren, is in some ways a bookend to Inishbream. The main character lives on a remote beach, on an island’s western edge, and although much older than the protagonist of Inishbream, she shares many of the same habits and aspirations. She wants to know where she is, wants to know the plants, the weather, the patterns on the rocks. (In Inishbream, the speaker of the book discovers what she thinks is a pattern of carvings on rock and wonders if they’re petroglyphs. In Winter Wren, Grace finds fossils from the Oligocene period in the sandstone below her house. Both of them are alert for whales. Both have unexpected lovers.) And although Winter Wren isn’t printed letterpress on fine papers with linen stitching, it is a very pretty production (thanks to Anik See and the great team at Printorium). In purely physical terms, it’s a bookend to the trade edition of Inishbream, published by Goose Lane Editions.

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The older I get, the more I realize what a capacious form the novella can be. A small but surprisingly roomy vessel, for meanderings, meditations, for recording flora and fish species, for weather notes and snatches of poetry, for expanding the known world of a speaker who “came, wanting only the isolation of tides” but who found so much more at the doorstep of those tides. Birdsong, old stories, the vertebra of a whale, the far-off lights of Neah Bay.

 

Winter Wren arrived!

It’s official! Fish Gotta Swim Editions is truly in business! Our first title — my literary novella, Winter Wren — just arrived, by our postal worker’s own car, grinding its way up our long gravel driveway. Anik See designed the book and it’s beautiful. And a bargain — $18 (plus postage, at cost).

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If you’re in Canada, the US, or Central and South America, you can order from me: https://theresakishkan.com/fish-gotta-swim-editions/

And for the UK, Europe, and the rest of the world, you can order from Anik See, who is in Amsterdam:

https://aniksee.squarespace.com/forthcoming-titles

Some bookstores will carry the book and there will be a launch here on the Sechelt peninsula, date to be announced.

My own printer-in-residence (and Friend of the Press), John Pass, printed a lovely keepsake on our 1890s Chandler and Price press. These will be tucked into orders until the keepsakes run out so get ’em while you can!

keepsake

the fish are swimming!

fish

Readers of this blog will know that my friend Anik See and I are both passionate about the literary novella. We love to read them and we write them. Although I’ve been very lucky with publishers in the past — both the Barbarian Press and Goose Lane Editions issued beautiful editions of my novella Inishbream and more recently Mother Tongue Publishing released my Patrin — I’m also aware that current publishing models aren’t exactly embracing the novella any longer. A few stalwarts persist. But when Anik visited here on her way back to her home in Amsterdam after a three-month residency at the Berton House in Dawson City a year or two ago, we were both lamenting that we had novellas that we couldn’t find publishers for. At one point in the conversation, we began to laugh and one of us said to the other, “Well, you know what this means.” And we did know. It meant we had to create a place for novellas so that this wonderful, well, is it a genre? A hybrid? A special variant? Anyway, a place for it to flourish. Anik has a lot of experience as a book designer — have a look at her Saudade, which she both wrote and designed…(She is also an amazing journalist: listen to her recent documentary, “The Illusion of Money”,  for the CBC’s Ideas:http://www.cbc.ca/radio/ideas/the-illusion-of-money-part-1-1.3460225 )

We’ve been working back and forth on the first title of our Fish Gotta Swim Editions, which just happens to be my novella Winter Wren. Anik edited it, then my husband John (a poet and long-time college English instructor) copy-edited it (with a few disagreements of the “Can This Marriage Be Saved” variety, mostly to do with how to present dialogue on the page: as a writer, I want to believe that a text can accomodate dialogue as part of a narrative without setting it off with quotation marks; John is less convinced…), and now Anik has designed the book block which will be sent to the printer in Victoria when we have all the details right. The pdf arrived this morning so I could see and approve and make suggestions. And reader, I have to say it’s absolutely beautiful. I can’t wait for it to be a book in hand. Soon!

We are sorting out details to make it easy to buy this book. Copies will be available for shipping from both Amsterdam and here (the west coast of B.C.). And I think I’ll make a webpage for our Fish Gotta Swim in the next while too. Watch for more information on this. (For now, Anik has a page for it on her website, www.aniksee.com)

We don’t intend for Fish Gotta Swim to be a vanity press. We’re starting with one of our own books simply because Winter Wren is ready. We hope to make a small but relevant contribution to our literary culture over the next few years by finding and publishing novellas.

small packages

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As Christmas approaches, I’ve been shopping and making — and trying to remain true to my belief that good things come in small packages. With my family, it’s not difficult. We’ve never gone into the season with the sense that we had to go into debt or buy big electronic items or expensive bijoux. And it’s lovely to find the right thing, to know it as you see it, or to find the materials in your own surroundings. To plan the baking — white chocolate fruit cakes, savoury rosemary shortbread, gingerbread people with smartie buttons and silver dragee eyes. (I once tried to use a piping device to do fancy work with icing and failed miserably.)

I’m also having an interesting time discussing a new project with my friend Anik See in Amsterdam. Both of us have novella manuscripts which haven’t (yet) been able to find publishers. (Anik has published a novella, postcard, as part of her fiction collection, poscard and other stories; and I’ve published one, Inishbream, and have another, Patrin, forthcoming from the inspiring Mother Tongue Publishing in September, 2015.) Like John and I, Anik has a printing press and has designed and created some beautiful books through her Fox Run imprint. When she was here in September, on her way back to Amsterdam from three months as writer-in-residence at the Berton House in Dawson City, we continued talking about the idea (the madness?) of beginning a small imprint to publish novellas (and maybe some other forms not high on the lists of most commercial publishers). We’d probably begin with our work, my Winter Wren and Anik’s Cabin Fever, mostly because of logistics. We have them ready and we trust one another enough to work together in this way. She’s adept at page design, we have some sense of the market for these titles, and we don’t have illusions about commerical success.

Both of us love novellas. We love beautiful books. And we believe that there should be room in the literary conversation for this form. So we intend to try to expand the conversation, not with the intention of silencing any other voices but simply to ensure that the quiet ones continue to be included.  There are sure to be difficulties but is that a reason not to try? Nope.

Last night I finished re-reading Sheila Watson’s Deep Hollow Creek, written in the 1930s, before her extraordinary (and hugely influential) The Double Hook. It’s a hermetic story, set at Dog Creek in the Cariboo, in winter, and the language is precise and chilly, perfectly suited to the human relationships in the contained world of this novella.

As Miriam reached up the move the lamp Stella noticed the curve of her hip under the gold-haired brown wool of her Harris tweed skirt and the light bathing her braided hair as water bathes pebbles in the creek.

Nor in things extreme and scattering bright — no not in nothing — certainly not in nothing. Why, Stella thought, slipping from the literacy of the past into the literacy of the present, must the immediacy of the moment act itself out in the klieg light of a thousand dead candles.

She rose quickly from the end of the camp cot on which she was sitting and, going to the bucket, poured a dipper of water into the white enamelled hand-basin.

Is supper ready? she asked.

I think of a shelf of Canadian literature — or the literature of any civilized culture — missing this book and others, By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept by Elizabeth Smart, Gillian Wigmore’s Grayling, Barbara Lambert’s Message for Mr. Lazarus, Ethel Wilson’s Swamp Angel, and so many others, simply by virture of their size, and it determines me to continue my discussions with Anik. Stay tuned!

The Next Big Thing

My friend Barbara Lambert has “tagged” me in “The Next Best Thing”, a lively literary relay making the rounds of Canadian writers. The idea is that we answer a series of set questions about our current work-in-progress and then tag (ideally) five other writers, providing links to their websites or blogs. Barbara’s own answers can be found here (and if this also leads you to her recent novel, The Whirling Girl, you won’t be disappointed!): http://barbaralambert.com/writer/author/books/177-Blog+Tour+That+Ran+Itself

Ten Interview Questions for the Next Big Thing:

— What is your working title of your book?


I am half-way through a novella – working title is Patrin (a Romani word for “leaf” or to indicate a trail marked by sticks, leaves, etc.). It will be a companion-piece to a recently-completed novella, Winter Wren.

— Where did the idea come from for the book?


Patrin grew out of research I am doing for an extended non-fiction work based on the life of my grandmother, born in what is now the Czech Republic in 1881. She was poor and it turns out poor people don’t leave a huge material record. I said to someone, “I might just have to imagine her early life as a work of fiction.” About a week later, I began to write a novella based on the life of a woman who turns out NOT to be my grandmother but who has allowed me to imagine another world, a woman who is as far away from my own life as my grandmother was, who came to Canada under similar circumstances but with a very different background. I am also interested in how material objects  can hold family history, often undecoded, so when I saw Patrin opening a box containing a tattered quilt with a curious pattern of loden leaves, connected by trails of grey wool, I knew it was a map directing me to the heart of the story.

— What genre does your book fall under?

Literary fiction.

— Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Someone dark and willowy for Patrin, the 20-something woman at the heart of the novella-in-progress. The young Juliette Binoche from The Unbearable Lightness of Being? A young Adrien Brody for Petr, her guide in Prague and further afield. And if anyone has a suggestion for Patrin’s grandmother, a woman in her late eighties, heavy-set, rugged, and with dark-ish skin (she is a Kalderash woman from eastern Moravia), do let me know so I can tell the studios when they come calling.

— What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?


Victoria, British Columbia and the forests of the Beskydy Mountains in the Czech Republic form the backdrop for a brief lyrical narrative about a young woman in search of her family’s mysterious past.

— Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I have never been able to interest agents in my writing, alas. But I’ve been lucky enough to have placed my books with lively small(ish) presses over the years and have nothing but praise for the presence of these presses on the literary landscape. They keep the cultural conversation diverse and authentic.

— How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?


I haven’t yet finished Patrin. Winter Wren took me a year. I anticipate that Patrin will take about the same time.

— What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I’m not finished yet and don’t want to suggest relationships that might not survive the writing. But I admire the novels of John Berger for their fiercely idiosyncratic structure, the consummate story-telling of Louise Erdrich, the intelligent trajectory of anything by John Banville…


– Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I partly answered this in the second question but of course who ever knows where, exactly, the inspiration for a book truly comes from? As well as family history, I’ve also been immersing myself in Czech cultural history and look daily at the photographs of Josef Sudek who has given me entrance to the Beskydy Mountains where my grandmother lived as a child. And I’ve been listening to Roma music, both the styles of Central Europe as well as Macedonia.

— What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?


Joe Fassler wrote a wonderful piece on the novella, published last April in The Atlantic. (http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2012/04/the-return-of-the-novella-the-original-longread/256290/) He mentions Dennis Loy Johnson, co-founder of Melville House Publishing and its “Art of the Novella” series: “He was daunted by the genre’s limited viability—and yet the idealistic prospect of novella-writing pleased him. ‘It always struck me very romantically,’ he said. ‘A pure writerly exercise that was only for the love of writing. We had no expectations our novellas would ever circulate.”

Maybe this is part of the pleasure of the novella. Years ago I wrote Inishbream, a brief narrative set on an island off the west coast of Ireland. It was published by the Barbarian Press in a beautiful edition, illustrated by the American wood-engraver John DePol; and then given a second life a few years later by Goose Lane Editions. Yet when I wrote it, I had no expectation that anyone would ever want to publish it at all. The thing about getting older is that you come to terms with what’s possible and what’s unlikely. I’m probably never going to write a block-buster, a best-seller which will be sold to Hollywood (I hate to disappoint Juliette Binoche and Adrien Brody), but every morning I can come into my study, turn on my desk-light, and write for the sake of the language and the story. What a privilege.

I’ve tagged five writers and so far can tell you that Anik See, Catherine Owen, and Don Gayton will carry the baton forward in the near future. I can’t wait to see what they write!

www.aniksee.com

http://blackcrow2.wordpress.com/

www.dongayton.ca