A not-so-sunny May marks the launch of the warm and eclectic short story collection by Bolton-born Anna Wood: Yes Yes More More. Published by The Indigo Press, Wood’s debut is a comical, heart-warming and introspective example of masterful short fiction — an absolute treat for readers and aspiring writers alike.
The book’s blurb promises ‘stories that explore the radical possibilities of pleasure’, something that was immediately apparent even in the first few pages. Delving into the decades of a woman’s life, Wood gives readers a look at unexpected situations, hilarious interactions and surprising characters, all while maintaining absolute clarity and creative use of language.
During her live book launch on Instagram, hosted by the brilliant Alice Slater, Wood shared some interesting insights about the collection and the process of writing it. Written over 10 or so years, Yes Yes More More is truly an example of how time and dedication really does produce precision — and arguably perfection too.
I was intrigued to know how the author’s Northern identity impacted her writing of the book, and asked how place is relevant to her work, particularly in stories like Rise Up Singing which is set in her hometown of Bolton. During the Q&A session, she described Yes Yes More More as very much a ‘northern book’, despite the majority of the stories being set in London. Northerness as a feeling is certainly present throughout; there’s a certain amount of joy, honesty and raw comedy that’s evidently reminiscent of culture in the North.
Rise Up Singing explores a day in the life of two Boltonian teenagers, Janey and the book’s protagonist, Annie Marshall. It’s set in the 90s and they’ve taken acid before their English class — the perfect inciting incident for any great story.
The way the author captures their friendship in glittering moments of dialogue and familiar camaraderie was certainly memorable, something that can be seen throughout the collection. As well as poignantly representing friendship, the story is a whirlwind of place and setting. From lingering in Toys R Us to kissing miscellaneous men in night clubs, Wood has a very unique ability to really bring an age and a location to life.
In Chronicle of a Baffled Spinster, the author documents a year in the life of her protagonist. Each month is captured in small moments: rejection by a man she likes; joy in the presence of music; sexy dresses and smear tests. Reading this story was like seeing life through a series of postcards, the most memorable message of all being that pleasure can be found wherever you choose to acknowledge it. If nothing else, this chronicle brimming with life was just another confirmation that Wood’s collection is pure brilliance.
Yes Yes More More is completely unique. Finding short stories that glow with insights on life, all while causing you to laugh out loud can be quite the feat, one Anna Wood has quite clearly achieved with this masterful debut.
Yes Yes More More was published in May by independent publisher, The Indigo Press. You can purchase it here.
Words: Beth Barker
Beth Barker is a writer and blogger from Blackpool, now working in Manchester. She also co-hosts Up North Books, a podcast celebrating books and writers from the North of England.
Beth wanted to contribute a monthly review to NRTH LASS in order to shine a light on Northern women writing great books. The North is very much underrepresented in publishing and she hopes a monthly review throughout 2021 will showcase the talent Northern women have to offer.
For more book reviews and insights on publishing in the North, follow Beth on Instagram and Twitter.
Since its launch in October 2020, Northern Writers Studio — a resource bringing writers together through workshops, groups, networking and events — has reached hundreds of established and emerging writers based in the North of England.
The writing platform and support network was created by Sarah Davy, a writer, maker and facilitator living in rural Northumberland, who was driven by a desire to help those who felt left out or disconnected from the writing and publishing world due to physical location or background.
We recently spoke with Sarah about how she came to establish Northern Writers Studio, her goal to grow a community of writers who can offer workshops, advice and mentoring to others and why its important to provide supportive spaces for people at all stages of their career.
How did you first get into writing and publishing?
Writing is something I’ve always done, but never taken seriously. I got my Literature degree with the Open University while working full-time and took a creative writing block. Everything fell into place and I started slowly sending work out. I won my first writing competition in 2018 and have been working towards being a writer since then.
What support did you have when carving out your own career path?
It worked like stepping stones, one thing leading to another then another. So after I won the writing competition, Susie from Hexham Book Festival asked me to lead a workshop at the festival. This boosted my belief in myself which then led to me building links with Helen at Forum Books. When she asked me to be writer in residence it was like I’d been given permission to take myself and my writing seriously. Building an online community alongside this, mainly on Twitter, has been so valuable is finding like-minded people and opportunities.
Why did you create Northern Writers Studio?
When the pandemic hit, I had a busy year of workshops and writing gigs planned, but they were all cancelled. I wanted to find a way to keep working and to bring people together. Writing can be a solitary task, but I don’t think you have to do it alone. People still needed to feed their creativity and be able to bounce off other writers. It just felt like the right thing to do especially with the future being so uncertain. And as well as helping everyone who has joined in, it’s given me a purpose and a new focus.
What does Northern Writers Studio provide in terms of support and events for those working in publishing in the North?
The Studio works with writers of all abilities and the main focus is getting people together to create a sense of support and community. I run Zoom writing sessions, regular writing groups and spoken word evenings where people can share their work. I also wanted to create paid work for writers, so I engage Northern writers to lead workshops on all aspects of creative writing. There are also regular discussions where I learn what people need so I can develop new events and resources to help people find the right support and place for their work.
What has the response been like so far?
It’s been really lovely, participants are a mix of brand new, emerging and published writers. There have been some lovely events; a poetry collection launch for Caroline Hardaker where Chris Riddell live illustrated; a spoken word fundraiser for East End Women; inspiring and often emotional workshops; and an overall growing sense of community and mutual support. Since launching in October 2020 over 200 writers have taken part in the events programme. And not just from the North. Although everything is led by Northern writers, people take part from across the country and the world, which is the joy of being online!
Do you think there is a discord between publishing in the South and the North?
Yes! Publishing is very London-centric, and this is a barrier to people who want to work in the industry and to Northern writers who feel like opportunities and connections are not open to them. It’s also about class as well as geography, and there are some deeply entrenched behaviours and expectations that need to change. The gatekeepers of the publishing industry don’t represent the voices who need to be heard.
In your opinion, what can be done to make the publishing industry more equal and inclusive?
There’s already brilliant work being done by New Writing North, the Northern Fiction Alliance and a host of indie publishers. Some big publishers are opening regional offices, but this just isn’t enough. A huge shift in the way we work and who we work with is needed. There’s a great report here by Professor Katy Shaw, which talks about the need to decentralise publishing and to include diverse voices from across the North and the entire country. I do think we’re leading the way in the North and hope that we can keep up the momentum and make meaningful, long-term change.
Who are some of your favourite authors from the North?
There have been some brilliant debuts in the last couple of years, my favourite is Saltwater by Jessica Andrews, which included locations I know from childhood. It’s the first time I’ve recognised a place so deeply in a book and it was really transformative. I loved My Name Is Monster by Katie Hale and have Boy Parts by Eliza Clark and Exit Management by Naomi Booth on my reading pile. I’m also hugely looking forward to Test Signal from Dead Ink books, a new anthology of Northern writing which has a brilliant line-up.
Why is it important for you to support your fellow Northern writers?
In my own writing journey, I often felt left out or left behind or just not good enough when looking at opportunities, primarily because of the London and often middle class focus of publishing. I want to make sure others don’t feel like this. We have so many rich voices, and unique stories to tell and I hope that by helping people work together, we can enable and amplify Northern writers.
What is next for Northern Writers Studio?
Even as the world starts to open up, my plan is to keep going as an online platform. There is a programme of workshops and a summer school as well as our regular Zoom writing sessions. I’m hoping to offer mentoring from September and just want to continue to reach people who might otherwise feel left out or alone. Getting this off the ground and seeing how much it’s meant to people has been a silver lining to lockdown, and one I’m holding onto.
Originally from sunny Blackpool and now living in Manchester where she works as a marketing coordinator, Beth Barker is, first and foremost, a reader.
With books piled high throughout in her room, Beth’s passion for publishing is palpable, which explains her latest venture, Up North Books, a podcast celebrating and discussing books about the North and by Northern writers.
Having written about reading as an act of resistance and actively seeking out titles written by underrepresented groups, Beth knows more than most about the obstacles to regional diversity in the publishing industry and the struggles of those looking to enter it.
Last year, a survey of the UK’s publishing industry found that the majority of people working in it grew up around the south east of England, with only 10% of people coming from the North. As Beth eloquently explains on her blog, this also impacts those reading books, “as a working-class woman growing up in the North, I struggled to see myself in many books, and whilst I enjoy reading in part because it allows me to learn about other experiences, it is special when I find a book I can relate to in that sense”.
We recently had the pleasure of speaking with Beth to find out a bit more about her perspective on the current state of publishing, and got the lowdown on her new podcast, before asking her to tell us a bit more about her most cherished books and favourite Northern writers.
Could you start by telling us a little about yourself, who you are, where you’re from and what you do?
My name is Beth and I’m an avid reader, podcaster and writer from Blackpool, a seaside town on the North-West coast of England. By day I am a marketing coordinator, and by night I assist with events at Blackwell’s Manchester. When I’m not creating social media campaigns or drinking wine at the bookshop (sadly a far away memory in the age of Corona), I spend my time reading and reviewing books and attempting to write my own.
What is your earliest memory relating to books and reading?
I spent a lot of my early years with my nose buried in books, but this definitely started with my Dad reading his own childhood copy of Enid Blyton’s The Magic Faraway Tree to me before I went to bed. I loved escaping to this little imaginary world and I think this really made a mark on me in terms of finding a love for reading and the power that books can have. I also spent hours in the local library after school, sifting through the shelves for something I hadn’t read yet. They are such important spaces for giving kids the time and access to enjoy literature and I am a huge advocate for their place in our communities.
If you had to pick a book that represents your childhood, what would it be and why?
I think I’d probably have to say The Worst Witch by Jill Murphy. I read it over and over again and had this gorgeous navy hardback which I think is to blame for my collector’s attitude towards beautiful books. I also learnt a lot of important life lessons from Mildred Hubble, the protagonist in the series. She’s kind-hearted and cares about the people around her, but she’s also hugely clumsy and things never really go her way (hard relate!) No matter what happens though, she keeps going and everything seems to turn out okay in the end. I guess this is where my approach to life comes from!
Your podcast, ‘Up North Books’ celebrates books from the North and the Northern authors who write them, what was the motivation for starting this?
Although I was a big reader as a child, when it came to reading as a young adult I seemed to lose my love for it somewhere along the line. I think a big reason for this was because I struggled to see myself in books. I was working in cafes and pubs and holiday parks whilst studying to get into university and all of these books I was reading about middle-class London weren’t striking a chord with me. I wanted to read about working-class people (particularly women) living in the North of England, but finding books like this seemed impossible. There are barely any books about the North full stop, nevermind books about small towns or the working-class communities within them.
I met my wonderful co-host Kate at a publishing event and we completely connected over our Fylde Coast roots and our passionate Northern identities. We created Up North Books as a way of showcasing Northern writers and books about the North in one space, sort of like our very own bookshelf so people like us could find books they can connect with.
Leading on from that, do you think it is harder for Northern writers to establish themselves and be published?
I do. It’s quite hard to pin-point exactly why this is and it’s a question I think the publishing industry is still trying to find an answer to. Publishing is incredibly London-centric, and although we have a fantastic line up of indie presses championing writers in the North of England, the publishers with big money haven’t really been interested until recently. A survey last year found that only 10% of people working in the industry are from the North of England, which seems to me a pretty shocking statistic, and one which probably explains the lack of books about the North being published. Much like the need for more Black authors, disabled voices and working-class stories, I think the industry itself needs to diversify in order to ensure these books are emerging more frequently. Class certainly has a huge part to play though as I myself have found, and the combination of living up North and a lack of wealth or professional contacts can definitely make the process of getting published seem impossible.
Why do you think it’s important to showcase authors from across the Northern region, what’s the end goal of the podcast?
One thing we’ve always stressed on the podcast is a recognition of the North’s complete diversity and variety of experience. It’s made up of coasts and villages and towns and cities with rich histories, diverse cultures and stories to tell — who wouldn’t want to read about that? I think because a lot of the networking and showcasing of authors goes on in London, we often get forgotten about. I want people young and old to be able to find books that speak to their own experiences and the places they live in, as well as have their own writing published. We’ve already had such a great response to the podcast and my favourite messages are those from people who have managed to find a book that they connect with in a regional sense. The end goal is to curate a space where we’re promoting books from every region in the North and continue to showcase authors who deserve to be on everyone’s bookshelves.
Who are some of your favourite authors and books and why?
As someone who reads a lot of books, I always find it hard when people ask my favourite! Some classics I’ve loved over the years have been 1984 by George Orwell, another influenced by my Dad, and Virginia Woolf’s Orlando which is beautifully written and completely ahead of its time in terms of the themes it delves into. I also adore Pat Barker’s Blow Your House Down which has inspired a lot of my own writing.
Other than books, are there any websites, blogs, newsletters, or podcasts that you listen to and are inspired by?
Can I say I’m inspired by Twitter? Although social media can be an tumultuous hellscape sometimes, Twitter has been a lifeline for me in terms of my career, finding authors I love and connecting with other people in the book industry who always inspire me to continue chasing my dreams. I love the Comma Press podcast too. They are an exciting and radical indie press based in Manchester and their podcast is such a brilliant reminder of how powerful literature can be. As a young Northern woman working in a creative field and aspiring towards a career as a writer, I’m of course an avid reader and fan of Nrth Lass too!
Where in the world represents home for you? And what three things do you love about it?
Home for me is Blackpool and it always will be. I’ve been living in and around Manchester for the last four years and although I love the city and everything it has to offer, I’ll always belong to the seaside. Blackpool has a reputation for being a forgotten town tainted by high levels of poverty and crime, but for me it is home. I love that it is chaotic and strange but also has a very strong sense of community and a unique history that I always love hearing about. One day I hope to return there, buy a house by the sea and write about it’s oddities.
What book or piece of content has had the biggest impact on you?
The book I recommend to everyone I speak to is Saltwater by Jessica Andrews because it has truly impacted me more than any other book I have ever read. She’s an incredible writer from the North-East and the book explores what it’s like growing up working-class and finding your place in the world. It was the first book I really saw myself in, and I’ll always love it for that reason.
NRTH LASS talks to Newcastle-born writer Eliza Clark about her debut novel, Boy Parts, a surprisingly gory tale spanning art-school pompousness and hedonistic living, which has shocked and delighted readers in equal delight. Here, she tells staff writer Sophie Dickinson about the inspiration behind the book, stereotyping of Northern writers and how to get published.
Eliza Clark talks to me through a fuzzy webcam, both of us sitting at our kitchen counters. The Newcastle-born writer published her debut novel, Boy Parts, to wide acclaim in July. But Eliza is decidedly surprised about the amount of attention the book has been getting.
“I honestly thought it would be a lot more divisive,” she laughs, looking sheepishly at the camera. “I expected more negativity. And there hasn’t really been any! It’s been great seeing it out in the world, and getting to people that I have no connection to at all.”
It really has been – with both the critical and the public reception awash with praise. The book follows Irina, a Newcastle native who quits her bar job to focus on photography, and pursues insecure men to model for her. The protagonist is decidedly unlikable – cruel to her friends, and bitter about the lack of appreciation for her art. This quickly spirals into violence: by two thirds of the way through the book, it’s very clear this is not a gentle tale about artistic endeavour or struggling as a student. As the book becomes more gory, the narration descends into a dreamy half-truth. Suddenly, we don’t know what is really happening at all – only that it is gruesome and dark.
Eliza says her confidence about writing horror comes from film, rather than literature. Citing films by Korean director Chan-wook Park (perhaps best known for his 2016 film The Handmaiden), her ability to move from horror and humour definitely seems to have more in common with cinema than literature. “I feel like it’s more reflective of real life,” she says, nonplussed by my squeamishness at the plot. “We often end up with moments of strange comedy mixed in with horror.”
There’s definitely some truth in that. There’s a moment in the book – and I won’t give away which – that made me physically wince in a way I never have before when reading. But Eliza doesn’t anticipate that reaction at all when writing, saying she consumes that sort of content herself, and therefore doesn’t expect it to shock. It’s been compared to American Psycho –which Eliza hasn’t read, but she thinks it’s “not quite as violent as that.” I’m not so sure.
Something particularly refreshing about Boy Parts is the commitment to character-building – Irena is beautiful, we’re repeatedly told, but we see how much time it takes to acquire that beauty. She squeezes herself into a waist trainer; has an intricate skincare routine. This is rarely seen in fiction: women are unaware of how they look; popular novels of the last couple of years have had these unusually pretty, naturally stunning characters that frankly seem like a fantasy.
“I hate that so much,” says Eliza. “Why do these female characters not have a relationship with their appearance? Literature is packed with these waifs who are like ‘well i’m not as pretty as this girl’ but every man they come across is madly in love with them.”
“I sort of think if you’re going to make your protagonist beautiful, you need to face up to that, and she needs to have a relationship with how she looks. Every woman I know has a really distinct, and torrid, relationship with their appearance, it really frustrates me…” she says trailing off.
That same frustration is reserved for the wealth of assumptions about being ‘from the north’ that both Eliza and Irena deal with. Eliza seems exhausted while explaining the preconceptions there are around being, essentially, not from London. “People don’t realise that there are various cities in the north, and every place in the UK has old money and new money.” Invariably, this leads us onto a discussion about class, with Eliza saying that her situation was “completely normal” for the North East – her parents left school at sixteen, but a generation later, she went to university at Chelsea College of Art.
“You become very aware of your class identity in London, too, going from that feeling of being fairly middle class, to suddenly releasing you have none of the connections,” she says. “There’s a feeling that you’ve got to justify that you haven’t grown up in a complete cultural wasteland, that you’ve got hobbies and interests and you know, your dad’s not necessarily a miner.”
For northern writers, Eliza’s advice is clear. “Lean into it,” she says with a grin. She says that literary agents from mainstream publishing houses are looking “for a new Andrea Dunbar to fall off a council estate and write a bestseller. If you are northern and working class, just lean into it. They’ll love it.” If you don’t fancy being the next Jeanette Winterson though, she recommends looking for indie presses (like Influx, the publisher of Boy Parts), because they will likely have more time to nurture a new writer. The books being published by Influx in 2021 are testament to this: a broad range of writers, their offering is notably diverse in terms of geography, ethnicity and sexualty. “There’s a lot more going on from underrepresented writers in the indie presses,” Eliza says with pride. “The big publishers might have more money, but at indie places you’ll get a lot more attention. So yes – play the game, or go independent.”
She suggests using resources like Mslexia magazine (“a crash course for getting published”), and the New Writing North writing programme for 18-25 year olds, which Eliza was herself a part of. The benefit of these schemes, she says, are that “if you’re above the low income bracket but don’t have the connections, it can be hard to get on a course. This allows you to get in as early as possible.”
Clearly, whilst Eliza had always wanted to write, publishing a bestselling book at 26 was not part of the plan – but it’s because of resources like New Writing North that she was able to. “I was expecting I’d write Boy Parts, put it in a drawer, and then see if my second novel got picked up.” And the best places to write in Newcastle?
“I wrote the vast majority of Boy Parts in Flat Caps Coffee, and a fair whack of it at Camber Coffee, too.” Perhaps, for writers in the North, that’s the place to start.
Sophie Dickinson is from Clitheroe in Lancashire. She is a freelance writer and journalist, but when she’s not hurriedly writing phone-note poems, she can be found collecting ceramics and wild swimming.