Photograph Éireann Lorsung
On Saturday, 17 March around seventy writers gathered in De Montfort University’s Clephan Building to read and discuss independent writing of all kinds for an audience charged exactly nothing for the privilege. States of Independence offered twenty-six different events taking place over the entire day, including the performance of a short play, readings from the nominees for the East Midlands Book Award and subjects that ranged from Irish short stories (the event was on St Patrick’s Day, after all), Dickens, Roman Nottinghamshire and the fiction of World War II.
The bad news is that even if you stay the whole day you can attend, at most, five of the events, darting to the many publishers tables on the ground floor in between to browse their wares and maybe snatch a bite to eat before another one kicks off. The publishers attending this year included Shoestring Press, Longbarrow Press, Candlestick Press, Crystal Clear Creators, the newly launched MIEL, about twenty others and, of course, Nottingham’s own Five Leaves Publications, who organise the whole thing.
With so much on offer the events can be hit and miss, but one definite hit was the fascinating lecture by Nicky Harlow on the link between epilepsy and saints for her first novel, Amelia and the Virgin (Pewter Rose Press). Inspired by her daughter’s battle with epilepsy, Harlow’s book details the life of a young girl with the condition in 1980’s Liverpool whose fits and visions are taken as proof of the divine by her religious family.
Also fun was a frenzied dash through small press comics with Jay Earles and Selina Lock, the most intriguing example of which was a tiny comic presented in a tea bag envelope. The last talk I attended was a discussion led by Ian Parks and Jacqui Rowe, covering writing in museums, galleries and other public spaces. Parks’ rueful tale of his shortlived joy after one of his poems was engraved on the glass doors of the Gladstone Library gained an appreciative chuckle from the audience. It was only at the opening that he realised anyone trying to read it would be frustrated by the fact that the doors slide into the wall as they approach, hiding the poem from sight.
States of Independence remains a smörgåsbord of writing events, offering a range of literary dishes to satisfy every palate. And all for free. States of Independence has also inspired a similar event that will form part of the Birmingham Book Festival on 8 October at the Eastside Projects Gallery in Birmingham: States of Independence West. There’s also talk of one occurring in Nottingham soon.
The night before States of Independence Éireann Lorsung and Jonathan Vanhaelst celebrated the creation of their new publishing imprint in Beeston’s Oxfam Bookshop. MIEL launched with three chapbooks, Neele Dellschaft’s I Come Home And I Move Differently and Laressa Dickey’s two books, A Pictorial History Of Wilderness and Companions, Corps Of Discovery. After buttering up the guests which included Jon McGregor - who dedicated his recent short story collection to Éireann - both authors read from their books and talked about the imprint’s ethos and genesis. For anyone too cheap to buy one of the books, there were a couple of flyers each containing a single poem from either Neele or Laressa. I snagged one of each and bought a copy of Neele’s gorgeous looking chapbook.
Catching up with Éireann at States of Independence the next day was a reminder that for her, thought and deed appear to be one. After a conversation last year with Laressa Dickey in which they lamented the fact that Dickey hadn’t yet found a publisher, Lorsung decided to do the job herself. Fast forward to now, and MIEL is launching three beautifully hand-crafted books and a range of groovy knick-knacks (pencils emblazoned with the command that it should only be used for love letters, or pleasingly tactile e-reader pouches). Intent on publishing writing that she wants to read and that might not find an outlet if she doesn’t do it herself, Lorsung has lined up a list of titles for publication by MIEL that will take us into 2013.