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Pippa Hennessy

10 August 10 words: James Walker
Redundancy motivated Pippa to enrol on a Creative Writing course and edit a book. Is this the Tories secret master plan?
This diverse collection of writing looks as beautiful on your bookshelf as it does on a purple silk cushion.

When Pippa Hennessy became the latest victim of the recession she had three options. Return to her native Reading, become an alcoholic and start shouting at folk on Mansfield Rd or to go for a completely different career path. Fortunately she opted for the later, enrolling on the BA (Hons) Creative and Professional Writing degree course at Nottingham University. Since then Pippa has appeared at Southwell Poetry Festival and edited the first anthology to come out of the course. We had a chat down by Lakeside as we fed the ducks…

Why did you call the book Into the River?
Picture the scene: six tired people sitting round my kitchen table at about 4.30 on a Sunday afternoon, having spent the whole day reading and discussing submissions. Pieces of paper are lying about all over the place. I have a printout of an Excel spreadsheet in front of me that is covered in minute pencilled notes. We have selected 71 pieces for inclusion in the anthology, and we’re quite pleased with ourselves. Then some bright spark says, ‘So what are we going to call it?’ Silence.

Then Helen Durham suggested using a line from one of my poems (Canyon): ‘into the river’s itch’. We loved that idea for all sorts of reasons. It sounds suitably literary, it implies a journey and a sense of longing, the river brings the Trent to mind. Some people didn’t like the itchiness of it though, so it became Into the River. I almost regret caving in now, but there’s always next year...

Was the selection process any easier?
The process was possibly more complicated than it needed to be – between six and eight people read each story and said whether they thought it was a ‘yes’, ‘no’, or ‘maybe’. I didn’t specify any criteria, I simply asked reviewers to give an instinctive response as to whether they thought it should be included.

I was hoping to get some level of consensus, but that would have been too easy. In fact, in only 3% of the 149 submissions did every reviewer agree. In 71% there was at least one of each response given. Which made the selection meetings all the more interesting…

'I’m also interested in producing beautiful books, giving words the respect and attention they deserve, which feeds into my ambition to start a small press at some point in the near future…'

Were there any extracts that really stood out, other than the ‘3%’?
I couldn’t pick any out above the others, they’re all fantastic. Having said that, I found the diversity of material and willingness to experiment inspiring, so on that basis I particularly love Elaine Aldred’s graphic piece Chiaroscuro Ambiguities, Gina Slater’s poem Two Boxing Gloves which she’s written in the shape of a boxing glove, Brett Marriot’s spectacular poem Unfinished Business, MulletProofPoet’s story Time Traveller, Carol Rowntree Jones’s poem Hawthorn... oh hell, I love all of them. Don’t ask me to choose!

Does the anthology have a particular theme?
 I don’t think there are any themes as such, although some motifs do appear several times. There are several pieces that are written from life, and quite a few about damaged people of one sort or another. Most of the pieces are quite dark – apparently this is to be expected, but it surprised me. I’m going to try and encourage people to submit more cheerful material next year. We’re not really a miserable bunch.

Graphic postcards from the anthology.

One thing I enjoyed about the book was the wide variety of styles, from poetry to graphically illustrated work…
Funny you should say that – one of the aims for next year’s anthology will be to include an even more diverse selection!

Our goal was to create a book that would provoke comment from the moment people first looked at it and then to maintain their interest. The students on the course are an incredibly diverse bunch, from teenagers to septuagenarians, all trying out many types of writing.

The inclusion of a CD was genius, from a journalistic point of view it meant we had extra material we could use on our WriteLion podcasts...
This was Richard Nettleton’s idea, and I agree that it’s a stroke of pure genius. Richard and Piers Edminson had previous experience of sound recording, and they spent many, many hours recording most of the contributors reading their own work and then editing and producing the finished CD. It was a great experience for us as contributors, and really makes the book stand out.

What do you think you’ve learnt from this experience and has it put you off entering the world of publishing?
How long have you got?

The time it takes that duck to eat this crust…
Ok. I think the overall lesson has been that nothing’s impossible. Last October I said ‘why don’t we put together a student anthology?’ and look what happened! It hasn’t put me off, far from it. It’s now my ambition to set up a small press.

I thought the book launch was excellent, particularly splitting it up into three parts so hacks could go outside and have a fag on the break. Reveal your secret forumla...
There were three areas that we had to sort out: the logistics of the event, the programming, and making the performances as polished as possible. Dealing with logistics was quite mundane – setting a date, finding a venue, organising catering, etc. I’d been to a Nottingham Poetry Series reading at the Angear Visitors Centre, so I knew it would work for us as a venue, and it was free. The Pimms was a brainwave, although unfortunately I was too busy to actually get hold of any on the day.

Pete Walsh and Carol Rowntree Jones took charge of programming and rehearsals. The general principles were to perform at least one piece by every contributor, to give everyone who wanted to perform a chance to do so, and to use a good mix of material. We were helped enormously by Cathy Grindrod, who acted as a consultant for the whole project, and I think if we hadn’t had the benefit of her advice it would have been a lot harder.

I have to admit we didn’t consider smokers when we decided to split it into three sections, we were thinking more of making sure everyone had a chance to buy at least one copy of the book!

Pete Walsh performing at the Angear Visitors Centre on launch night.

What else are you doing to promote the book?
We’ve just performed at the Lowdham Book Festival and we’ll have a slot at the Nottingham Lyric Lounge at the end of September. We’re planning to put on various readings and other events over the course of the next academic year, leading up to the release of the 2011 anthology. So watch this space…

Sell the course to us... 
It’s wonderful. I started hoping to write a best-selling novel and have since learned to love poetry. I’ve written scripts and seen them performed, I’ve had practice editing and revising my work, and learnt many techniques for writing short stories. The novel has been stuck at 43,000 words for over a year now, but that doesn’t matter. Being on the course with such inspirational people has opened up the world of writing to me in a way I didn’t even imagine was possible.

Well we better raise a glass to those greedy bankers that brought about the recession because without them, you wouldn’t be on the course and this book wouldn’t exist. So what’s next for you?
Next year’s anthology, of course. It’ll be bigger and better. As far as writing goes, I plan to focus on poetry with the vague aim of getting something published somewhere at some point. I’m also interested in producing beautiful books (and potentially online content too), giving words the respect and attention they deserve, which feeds into my ambition to start a small press at some point in the near future…

To see MulletProofPoet and others perform live, check out Glady's Handbag - a spoken-word event held at the Gladstone Pub, Loscoe Rd on a Thursday night.

James Walker's website 

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