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Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper
Photos © 2019 The Literary Shed

Photos © 2019 The Literary Shed

What’s in The Literary Shed?

Angela J. Phillip talks to writer and editor A. Vasudevan about The Literary Shed, publishing and beautiful words.

Hi, Aruna can you tell us a little about The Literary Shed and how it came into being?

The Literary Shed celebrates beautiful words and anything else that we love really, from music and film to travel and food. It’s a nod to those authors who produced their best works in great sheds. As well as publishing reviews, interviews and articles, etc., The Literary Shed site has a writing and editing wing (I’m a career editor and writer), working with authors and UK or US publishers to shape ideas into books or get typescripts to publication. And we also sell the Library of Scents room fragrances, a curated collection of original hand-mixed, pure essential oil-based scents which draw on the literary landscapes of classic books we love. We donate a percentage of each sale to charity.

Photos © 2019 The Literary Shed

A.Vasudevan Photos © 2019 The Literary Shed

I know from personal experience about the excellent writing groups that you run.  Can you say a little about them? What made you set them up?

Thank you, Angie, that’s kind. Well, our ‘voice’ is the most important thing we have and so many of us doubt that we have anything significant to say or that anyone will be interested. Writing, in any form, is power, no matter what you do with it, and yet it also can be a very lonely, heart-wrenching endeavour.

I work for myself now and while I’m very comfortable in my own company, I also crave people sometimes when I’m writing. So these informal two-hour sessions are about people coming together in designated cafes and libraries in St Leonards and Hastings and just writing for as long as they want for free – or for the cost of a cuppa. They’re also about creating connections with other writers in safe, encouraging environments. They’ve proved popular and the cafes, such as Sea Kale in London Road and Stooge Coffee in the Hi-Store, have been so supportive of the idea for which I can’t thank them enough.

Likewise beautiful Hastings Central Library. And it was important to me to have library involvement: they’re such a key part of any community and London libraries were personally so important for me growing up in allowing me access to such a galaxy of words and ideas. We now also have a writing exchange session in which people submit work for critiquing, held at Blue Bee in the Old Town. That’s relatively new and is great. That session is £6.00.

Photos © 2019 The Literary Shed

Photos © 2019 The Literary Shed

What brought you to St Leonards? Do you consider it to be a good place for writers and publishers?

I’m a London gal – south and then west – yet always craved the sea. When I was little, I dreamed of being a writer in Cornwall, in a place that was Daphne du Maurier’s Fowey combined with Vita Sackville-West’s tower. Dream big. About five years ago, life pretty much imploded, death, disease, pestilence, and it was paralysing – something had to give. I took a leap of faith to sell up and move out of London to live by the sea and write.

I got trains all over the place and just happened to get off at St L Warrior Square on an unfeasibly hot late April day. The sea was glistening and everyone was so friendly. So, I booked into Zanzibar, spent the weekend and that was it. I moved here three years ago on my birthday and love it. That said, it’s not without its challenges, but then where isn’t? It’s a great place and not just for writers – there are a lot of people doing wonderful things.

One of the best things, apart from the beautiful coast, is that there’s a lot of goodwill. People want to be supportive; they want to help, in most cases. I was involved in A Town Explores a Book recently, set up by Explore the Arch’s lovely Gail Borrow. Erica Smith and I collaborated on the garden installation in Warrior Square and that whole experience was so positive because everyone worked together and there were some brilliant things happening, involving businesses, the greater community, schools, etc. Gail is a wonder.

LitFest is another fantastic endeavour, the Storytelling Festival, Sheer Poetry at Bookbuster in Queens Road, readings at Carol Dennard’s The Bookkeeper in the Kings Road, the list goes on … There’s a lot going on here from the ground up. And there’s a lot of good heart underlying it.

Who are your favourite authors?

A difficult one. I have Old Familiars, the authors whose books I go back to again and again for solace, strength, laughter and they’re cross genres – everyone from Jean Rhys, Raymond Carver, Maya Angelou and Angela Carter to Georgette Heyer, Nora Roberts (JD Robb) and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. I give away The Little Prince at any opportunity.

What are your personal ambitions for the next five years?

When I moved out of London, I gave up on putting that kind of pressure on myself. If I can be joyful, kind, generous, mindful and loving, I think everything else might just fall into place. That’s the hope anyway …

Robert Macfarlane - Underland (Photos © 2019 The Literary Shed)

Robert Macfarlane – Underland (Photos © 2019 The Literary Shed)

Which book/s published in the last couple of years have you most enjoyed reading and why?

Gosh, there are so many. I’d say this year, David F. Ross’s Welcome to the Heady Heights, which just made me laugh, reminded me a lot of Colin MacInnes’s wonderful London series and has a great playlist. I love Jane Harper, who’s an Australian crime writer. The Lost Man, published earlier this year, is better than The Dry, which won pretty much every award a few years back. And I’m a huge Robert Macfarlane fan. Underland is just gorgeous, every sentence pretty much sings.

Your background is in publishing. Could you say a little about this? If you had to choose the highlight of your career so far, what would that be? What have you most enjoyed? And what has been most difficult?

Well, I fell into publishing by accident. Answered a tiny, very arcane ad in the Standard post-uni, and ended up meeting a New Zealand woman in what was pretty much a cupboard of a bar near the Old Vic and being offered the job straight off – and I still didn’t know what it was! Luckily, it was at an Anglo-American literary/arts press and, even more luckily, I went in as a named editor of a multi-volume series on international film (a great love) and also a huge volume on romance and historical writers, both great fun and a brilliant learning curve.

I spent the next three years in what was and has remained my dream job, working with and trained by people I loved and respected, many of whom are still great friends, doing research in the British Library, the BFI (British Film Institute) archives and The London Library and working with and commissioning some truly fantastic authors, including Anthony Burgess, quite a few personal heroes in fact. That was a particular highlight. Another was meeting Maya Angelou when I was staying at the Algonquin. She was very kind to a twenty-something me.

I’ve worked for some great companies since and written (ghost-written/under pseudonyms), edited and originated some books I’m proud of. Being an editor is a job you do for love not money. It’s probably the worst paid job of any section of publishing. And yet, there’s nothing better, more exciting, more joyful than when it works and the magic happens – that’s usually when everyone’s on-board and people work together and appreciate one another. When it doesn’t, it’s heartbreaking. And sometimes it’s simply heartbreaking because the books or authors one thinks are magic, for whatever reason, don’t get the recognition they deserve.

What do you think about the current state of British publishing? Do you see traditional publishers being overtaken by self-publishing?

I think it’s extremely positive. There have been a lot of new imprints springing up, in the last couple of years, in particular, which have opened up the field for what’s being published digitally or in print. Self-publishing has again allowed a lot of people to publish who might not have been given a window of opportunity otherwise. That said, it’s also allowed some not very good books to appear. In the last few years as well, print has made a huge comeback and gorgeous editions are a joy to see and that’s not just for new titles but for old works, too. The beautifully conceived Penguin Little Black series is a case in point. Books don’t have to be expensive to have good graphic design, covers and fonts. Here you’re paying £1 or £2 for great little reads across genres.

What is your advice to writers seeking publication?

If you’ve put your heart into writing a book that you’re proud of, that you care about, treat it with respect. Don’t blow it on a two-minute rushed letter or an email to an agent or publisher you’ve picked randomly or by sending out a typescript that you haven’t checked properly or that hasn’t been professionally edited. Do your research and put love into everything you send out. And congratulations on finishing your book/story/whatever and your courage in putting yourself out there. Good luck.

Thank you so much, Aruna, for joining me on Book Chat.

For more information, please see:
The Literary Shed
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In the News
Anne  Frank’s Diary
I got into trouble at school for reading Anne Frank’s Diary in a sewing class and the worst possible thing happened – the book was confiscated. I had to wait a week before I got it back and could finish the book. I can’t remember what other punishment I got but I do remember the desperation to keep turning the pages. Even though I already knew ‘what happened next’.

Anne was thirteen when she started writing the diary and my own character, Daniela, is a similar age. Dani is fascinated by the diary especially as she is half German and wrestling with the horror of  Germany’s history and the pursuit, torture and extermination of the Jews.

Dani is interested, too, for other reasons. She’s had problems with being able to write at all and it’s only when she learns to type that she discovers that writing can be a pleasure – not the torture it has been for most of her life.  She starts to write her own diary and wonders if hers will be interesting. Anne was in a dangerous situation and Dani is not, but still, she concludes that her life, too, is fascinating. Maybe every life is interesting ….

Should a diary be private? This is an enormous question. When Anne’s father published her diary as The Hidden Annex, he removed the sexual material and most of the parts where Anne criticised their fellow hideaways. But Anne herself had decided that she would like her diary to be published and towards the end of her time in hiding had added criticisms of former passages as well as inserting additional information.

Everything changes when writing is no longer private and especially our view of what we have written.  No wonder writing is addictive. And no wonder our versions are ever changing.

For more information on Anne Frank’s diary and her life, please see the Guardian article Anne Frank: the real story of the girl behind the diary.

Forthcoming
Literary Shed Writing Sessions run by A. Vasudevan
Two-hour weekly writing sessions in safe, creative spaces in Hastings and St Leonards
Thursday 30 May, 10–12 (free) at Hastings Central Library, 13 Claremont, 3rd floor, Hastings
On the first Thursday of each month, there is also a writing critique group in which members share work.
For further information, please emailaruna@theliteraryshed.co.uk, subject: WRITE-INS

Printed Matter Bookshop 185 Queens Rd, Hastings TN34 1RG
Wed 29 May, 6 pm Book talk with Keir Milburn on Generation Left

Books
I would love to hear about what you have been reading what you liked and what you didn’t. Why don’t you post something in the Facebook group Hastings Bookchat so we can share our thoughts? You don’t have to write a long book review, just a couple of lines to start us off. And it doesn’t have to be a deep and serious book. It’s the bank holiday weekend so we ought to be lying on the beach, in the garden, anywhere suitable or not just reading whatever we fancy. I hope that’s where you are as I write this (on Monday) because tomorrow (Tuesday) we’ll be back at work. Sigh.

Blogging and Writing
Talking about Chromebooks

Stabbing sketch on Asus C302

Stabbing sketch on Asus C302

I’ve spent a lot of time this week in search of a Chromebook with a stylus and a dedicated drawing facility. I love Chromebooks. I was converted last year (after years as a Windows person) and feel now a bit like an Ipad user in my dedication to one kind of machine. Except for me, it’s Chromebooks. I’ll write another time about how good I think Chromebooks are for writers but this week I was looking for something I could use to both write and draw on.

When blogging, it’s useful to be able to do a quick sketch to illustrate what you’re writing about. (And when not blogging, it’s a real pleasure to doodle along and create all kinds of pictures that are of no use at all e.g. see below.) I used to have a Surface Pro 4 in my Windows days but the less said about that machine, the better. The drawing capability, however, was good and I’ve missed it. For a long time, I had my eye on the Samsung Chromebooks Pro and Plus but they only sell in the States. Which would mean lots of money for shipping and no effective warranty.

Doodle using Sketchio on Asus C302

Doodle using Sketchio on Asus C302

It is possible, of course, to draw on most Chromebooks (not all – you need to check before you buy) that do not have dedicated drawing surfaces. For these you need to buy a separate stylus and off you go. The two pics here: the sketch above and the doodle were both done on the Asus C302 which is not really designed for artwork. They were fast and pleasurable to do but the surface slips just a little too much for satisfactory drawing. So I’ve decided to go for one with dedicated drawing capability.

What I’ve ordered is a Lenovo Chromebook 500e. It hasn’t arrived yet but I’ll let you know how it works out. I won’t include a link until I know for sure that I want to recommend it. At the moment, I’m writing on an Asus Chromebook C302 and I will definitely include a link to a review of this machine. It gets five stars and deserves every one. I love it and if only it had a dedicated drawing surface, I would never leave its side.

For more information on drawing on Chromebooks, please see How to spice up your blog with pics – part 1.

That’s it for this week. Hope you’ve had a wonderful bank holiday weekend and wishing you a glorious (well, as glorious as it can be) week ahead.

Angela J. Phillip

Posted 09:00 Tuesday, May 28, 2019 In: Hastings Bookchat

Also in: Hastings Bookchat

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