Wednesday, 8 June 2011

The postman, in this case, never rang at all

But he still brought the books, goshdarnit. This involved me lurking outside the tower block, leaping out at delivery vans and asking them if they had a crate of books in the back. Luckily I didn't intercept anyone's last-minute revision pack, but instead ended up with five boxes of shiny new copies of The Manchester Anthology.

And now the thunder's just hit. I feel like a mad professor who's just pulled the switch on the lightning generator to animate the monster. IT IS ALIVE. You can do your own manic laughter.

Anyway, here are the boxes. You get two camera angles, as if it's Jackie Chan leaping between rooftops.

I'm not ashamed to say that opening them felt a little bit Christmassy.

Actually, I haven't opened the other four boxes yet, so for all I know they contain dismembered pets. But I'm going to be optimistic and say they look much the same. 

Friday, 27 May 2011

Walking to the mail

In which Alec wishes he had a much snazzier camera on his telephone.

For today there was post, and it was good. I'm now clutching the advance proof of the anthology. Okay, I'm not clutching it right now, because I'm typing, but it's very near. Because a picture tells a thousand words (although I don't know if the MA marking scheme would accept fifteen photographs in place of a dissertation), here are pictures, hopefully not accidentally including any of my cat.

These are the covers, looking like a book. Unfortunately the right-hand side of the front cover has been slightly dodgily trimmed, so some of the text is, like an embittered television detective, close to the edge. Not sure if there's anything that can be done about this.

Look, it has three dimensions! Just like a conventional visual perception of the universe.

Pages can be read using eyes and turned using hands. Yes, that is a pile of change in the corner of the first photograph. It's my desk, and I am male. Therefore.

A real human thing reading the anthology. I have it on good authority that he enjoyed it. 

The anthology, on a bookshelf, looking like a real book alongside some arbitrarily selected novels that I'm sure bear no connection to the Manchester creative writing MA.

Sorry about all that. I'm quite excited.

In other news, the full set of author pictures and biographies has been added to the blog, so you can browse our lovely people here.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Jeremy White

Jeremy White grew up on a farm in the southern United States. Before moving to Manchester, he received a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Georgia and worked in book publishing. ‘Don Juan’s Harem’, featured in the anthology, is an adapted extract from a longer work-in-progress.

jeremykwhite AT

Barnaby Walsh

Barney Walsh has a master’s degree in theoretical physics and a bachelor’s in English literature. He lives in the north of England.

barneywalsh AT

Jane Verity

Jane Verity grew up in Armley, Leeds. She studied English Literature at Durham University and worked for three years as press officer at West Yorkshire Playhouse. Her short story ‘Sunday’ was shortlisted for the Cadaverine Ilkley Literature Festival Young Writers Award 2009. She took part in West Yorkshire Playhouse’s So You Want To Be A Writer? scheme in 2009.

jlverity AT

Emily Talbot

Emily is 21 years old and lives in London. She first came to writing creatively during an undergraduate degree in Philosophy and Literature at the University of Warwick. Her passion grew from there, and after obtaining high marks for a number of pieces of work she applied for the MA in creative writing at Manchester, where she is currently studying. She enjoys writing social realist fiction and her particular passion is capturing, in essence, how people interact with each other. Emily is working on a novel, based on life in post-Second World War Ireland.

etalbot89 AT

Colin J Stewart

Colin J Stewart has had stories, poetry and articles published in half a dozen obscure writing journals. He has won or placed in equally obscure contests for fiction, speeches, slam poetry and math. His greatest literary achievement was having a poem framed on the wall of a $1.50-a-slice pizza joint in Vancouver. His first novel, A Question of Extremes, is about utilitarian vigilantes; he self-published it in 2007. His second novel, to be released at some point in the future, is about a man’s jealousy for his wife and son.

Claire Snook

Claire Snook is a journalist-turned-writer who rebels against the day job by penning stories in her breaks. Her interests lie in writing contemporary fiction, historical fiction, and fantastical stories with a twist.

She is currently writing her first novel, under the mentorship of acclaimed author Jenn Ashworth. Claire’s story explores the different concepts of love and relationships by following a couple and their friends and families over several years and continents.

Claire has been published in Ink, Sweat and Tears, Six Sentences Volume 3, Million Stories Anthology 2009, and The Pygmy Giant.

clairesnook AT

Holly Ringland

In 2009, Holly quit life as she knew it in Australia, emptied her bank account, abandoned her career and kissed her family goodbye before boarding a plane on her own, Manchester-bound. She has since survived two English winters, lost all natural tan, learned to drink whiskey in the morning, and greet people with, ‘You alright?’ This excerpt is one of Holly’s posts from Little Bird Stories, which was shortlisted for Best Personal Blog in the 2010 Manchester Blog Awards. Holly’s first novel is, of course, in-progress.

Angus Prior

Angus Prior was born in Portsmouth and grew up in rural Hampshire. He studied English Literature at the University of Manchester, graduating with first-class honours. He works as a marketing copywriter and is writing his first novel.

angusprior AT

Alun Evans

evansalun AT

Dai Parsons

Dai Parsons was born and raised in South Wales but now lives in York. He works as a community psychiatric nurse for a busy crisis team. He had a joint collection of short stories published with Skrev Press in 2003 titled Solipsism for Beginners and his first collection of poetry was published in 2009 titled Love Is A Fat-Arsed Cow Waiting To Happen, once again with Skrev Press. He regrets the latter title!

Kathryn Pallant

Kathryn Pallant is thirty-six and lives in Bolton. She is also at home on the Gold Coast, Australia, where she grew up, and in London. After twelve years in public relations, Kathryn is devoting a year (and maybe longer) to creative writing and completing an MA at the University of Manchester. She is the author of For Sea or Air, her first novel, for which she is seeking a publisher. She is now working on short stories and her second novel. Kathryn loves roses, chocolate and having a room of her own.

kpallant AT

Lou Minns

Lou Minns worked as a teacher of English and drama for a ten-year period, most recently as an English tutor for Keele University ISC. She writes both adult and children’s fiction and has three children of her own. She is now working as a freelance writer. One of her screenplays is in collaborative production as a short film. Lou Minns is currently working on her first adult novel, Somewhere, Nowhere.

louminns AT

Simon Messenger

Simon Messenger was raised in Scarborough, North Yorkshire. After graduating with a degree in classics he moved to London to work as a chef, before returning to Yorkshire to take up an editorial role at a newspaper. He writes short stories, blogs about cooking, and is working on a novel. He currently lives in Manchester.

semessenger AT

Luis Enrique Mendez Angulo

Luís Enrique Méndez Angulo is a poetry and prose writer with interests in expanding children’s resources in the arts. He has appeared in The Hartford Courant and The New Britain Herald newspapers, in the United States. He currently lives in Manchester, but grew up in San Juan, Puerto Rico and Hartford, Connecticut, United States. He has served as assistant editor for Helix Magazine, at Central Connecticut State University, and has been published therein. His goals are to write in a common style that talks to the issues relevant to an urban, immigrant society. He is currently writing and editing a novel and a grouping of poems.

mendez.angulo AT

SJ Luddem

SJ Luddem lives in Stockport. She is married with two children and is currently working as a part-time librarian and freelance writer. The anthology features an extract from Getting Away With It, her novel-in-progress.

susan AT

Ming Liu

Ming Liu is a writer and journalist whose work has been published in the Financial Times, The Sunday Telegraph, V Magazine and China International Business. She has also featured on programmes such as the NBC Today Show. Her first short story, ‘1801’, was published in January 2011 in the Asia Literary Review, and was featured alongside work by the Chinese dissident and Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo as well as the novelists Xiaolu Guo and Yiyun Li. She is working on her first novel, about Chinese-Americans in China, parts of which are extracted in the anthology.

Sarah Leigh

Sarah Leigh used to work in publishing and as a literary agent before becoming a full-time mother.  Her work has previously appeared in London Magazine. She is currently working on a novel.

Jodie Kim

Jodie Kim was born in Seoul, Korea and moved to the United States when she was seven years old. When she was twelve years old, her father taught her how to make ice cream. Since then, she has helped run her family-owned ice cream parlor for over a decade. Jodie received her BA degrees in English and Studio Art from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In 2010, she received a fellowship from the Centre for New Writing to fund her MA. The following is an extract from her novel-in-stories.

jodie.kim1 AT

Katherine Khorey

Katherine Khorey grew up in the United States and completed her BA in English literature and Russian language at the University of Notre Dame in 2010. She is currently pursuing various avenues of employment following the completion of her MA at Manchester and Bloodstone Creek, her novella-in-progress. Katherine also reads fiction submissions for Apex Magazine online. Works of her own fiction and non-fiction are slated for publication in several projects in the near future.

kkhorey AT

Laura Ellen Joyce

Laura Ellen Joyce has published stories and poetry in Succour Magazine. Her story ‘Painful Hard Ectoplasm’ is out later this year in Murmurations: An Anthology of Uncanny Stories About Birds. Her first novel, The Museum of Atheism, is forthcoming from Salt Publishing’s new crime imprint. She has worked as a creative writing tutor at Prestwich Psychiatric Hospital and interns as a fiction assistant at African Writing magazine. She is beginning her DPhil in Creative and Critical Writing at the University of Sussex this year, and now lives in Brighton.

Laura can be contacted via her agent Antony Harwood at mail AT

Alec Johnson

Alec worked in publishing until he ran away to Manchester to become a student again. He has a BA in English literature from the University of Oxford, and was once paid to write an article about why cats shouldn’t be kept in flats.

Greeks Bearing Gifts is a novel about the Cyprus conflict and the perils of growing up half-Cypriot, half-Scottish, and entirely confused.

alecijohnson AT

Alicia Higgins

Alicia Higgins was educated at Marlborough College, Wiltshire and graduated from UEA with a first-class degree in English and Creative Writing. 'The Grange' is an extract from Alicia’s first novel.

Alicia_c_higgins AT

Percy Herbert

Percy started writing over ten years ago, initially finding a creative seam through expansive complaint letters. He has since had travel articles published, worked as a music journalist, a commercial copywriter and as editor of a guide to Manchester – a job that largely involved going to parties for a living. He has always written fiction and now concentrates all of his energies on that. He is working on his first novel, the beginning of which you can find in the anthology. It’s a story about a boy called Theo. It’s about curiosity and death, oddity and life.

percyherbert AT

Helen Guthrie

Helen Guthrie is a 23-year-old born and raised in Greater Manchester. Among other things, she has an interest in science fiction, a first-class BA in English Literature and Creative Writing from Aberystwyth, and an e-mail address: helenvguthrie AT

MP Grogan

Michael was born in Leicester and graduated from Royal Holloway, University of London with a BA in French and Italian Studies. Since then he has moved around the country, working as a bookseller and gradually selling all of his possessions on eBay. His writing has previously been awarded a Midlands-wide prize from The Literary Consultancy.

His anthology piece is taken from Dolly, a novel-in-progress. The narrative is set over a 24-hour period and follows the interweaving lives of an economics student, a construction worker and a 14-year-old girl.

tantcefeu AT

T Garrett Gibbon

T Garrett Gibbon was born in Philadelphia and educated in New England. His work has appeared in McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Modern Humorist, and The Onion. He is working on a novel, an excerpt from which is in the anthology. He lives in Wales with his wife and step-rabbit. 

tggibbon AT

Mark Gardner

Mark Gardner is 22. He read English Literature at Manchester before joining the MA course. Originally from Preston, Lancashire, Mark now writes and works in Withington, Manchester. He enjoys blood sport, black coffee and dry humour – in that order. He has also owned, over the course of his life, three pet pigs. This will be his first published work. He’s currently working on a novel.

markgardner2 AT

Alys Conran

Alys Conran writes both fiction and poetry. Having published several short stories, she is now working on a novel and a collection of short fiction. She previously studied literature at Edinburgh University and Barcelona’s Universitat Autonoma. Examples of her short fiction can be found in Nu: Fiction and Stuff published by Parthian Books and launched at the Hay Festival, and in Cut on the Bias: stories about women and the clothes they wear, published by Honno Press. She lives in Gerlan, North Wales. 

alysconran AT

Ben Colley

Ben Colley was raised and educated in North Yorkshire before studying advertising at Buckinghamshire New University. He lived in London for two years working as a sandwich deliveryman, comedy club stage manager and copywriter. He now lives in Manchester, where he is writing a novel. He was a finalist in the 2011 NYC Midnight short story competition. 

muchobenny AT

Nicola Bowerman

Nicola Bowerman was born in 1984 and grew up in York. After a BA in Philosophy and Literature at the University of Warwick she completed an MA in Critical and Cultural Theory at the University of Cardiff. She lives in Manchester, where she’s working on her first novel, about what happens if you apply Hegel to your sex life.

Owen Clements

Owen Clements writes about animals and detectives and films. His work has appeared at The Cadaverine. He is writing a novel. He lives in Leeds.

o.clements AT

Monday, 16 May 2011

Done, done, done!

The Manchester Anthology is now being painstakingly copied out and illuminated by a crack team of specially trained monks. Give it a couple of weeks and it will be time for the fun Tetris-style game of working out where to keep the cartons of books in my little student room. Or I could just sell the buggers. There's a plan, eh?

Anyway, now it's off to press I'm going to start updating the author biographies on this site, and by the time that's done with any luck the book will be out and I'll be trying to work out how to set up an ordering system. It is unlikely to be technologically advanced. Can you e-mail money by folding up fivers and sticking them in the CD drive?

Other things to come:

- Electrobook version!
- Distribution!
- Drinking!

As you were.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011


These posts are becoming shorter because the work is becoming busier. This is the problem I have with blogging: I can only seem to get round to doing it when I have nothing to say.

So what has been going on in the Manchester Anthology secret lab?

- Story/extract layout. The copy is nearly all in, and the pages are being cranked out at top speed. There's some great stuff in this collection, there really is. And I can exclusively reveal that although we're coming from a creative writing MA there's not a single story about a divorcing university lecturer in sight. They're not even all about middle class people. Take that, Guardian comments section.

- Cover design. There'll be a draft up here soon. Suffice to say it's looking pretty foxy.

- ISBNing. The forms are off and the application is being processed. This in turn led to two other areas of mild havoc:

  • The copyright page. This had to be done, at least to a preliminary degree, before the form could be sent off. This was interesting and tricky to get right, so it should probably be written about at some point.
  • Barcoding. This happens after the ISBN arrives, and is easier than I was expecting: it basically consists of sending twenty of your shiny English pounds to the printers. 'It will cost extra' is one of the most terrifying phrases in the English languages, after 'presented by Noel Edmonds', but in this case the number that followed was the sort of pleasingly small number our budget could handle. Hurrah!

Monday, 18 April 2011


Things are happening. Stories, extracts, photos and biographies are starting to arrive. The preliminary pages are taking shape. ISBN forms are sitting on my table looking ominously bureaucratic. The printers have been selected, paper weights decided on, logos acquired and launch parties pondered.

This book is beginning to exist. 

Soon this site will start to be filled with author biographies, and not long after that the book will be out. Then, once someone comes up with a way of getting 150 books up to my twelfth-floor flat, it will be time for distribution, e-book conversion, and all the other things that remind a fellow that press day is not, is never, the end.

Oh, also, some of our splendid authors should be appearing at Word Soup in Preston in June - more on that nearer the time.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Hard food for Midas

I was going to call this post 'Money', but then that would have been two Amis Junior titles in a row, and that would be immoral. But money is certainly what this is about.

The obvious question for a project like this is how much the ruddy thing is going to cost. That's for a paperback book of around, say, 400 pages, and a small (I like to think of it as bijoux, but that's probably because I spent several years working in Kensington. That kind of place does something to a fellow, what?) print run of 150 copies.

Inevitably, the answer is 'it depends'. And the things it depends on are:

Paper thickness
This wasn't something that could be worked out with a ruler: my eyesight isn't that good (nobody's is in publishing). This applies to both the inner pages and the cover. In both cases the anthology wants to carry on with its plan of looking as much like a normal paperback book as possible: something that won't tear or fall to bits, but not something you can't pick up without back support.

The standard weights for this are 80gsm or 90gsm (grammes per square metre) for inside pages and 300gsm for the cover. That'll do us. The 80/90 decision will come down to price - 90 would be pleasant, if we can afford it.

There are various fancier forms available, but the basic, classic, standard, call-it-what-you-will version is perfect binding, as seen in most paperbacks: the pages are just glued into the cover. I have no idea why the cheapest form is called 'perfect'.

Colours and contents
Our inside is going to be all black and white, and nearly all text. Ideally we'd like to include black and white photos of the authors, but that will depend on what the printers can offer, and, more importantly, how much it costs. For covers we want the option of being full-colour, which in printing terms means four-colour - CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow and, er, black).

Next you get in touch with a few printers, preferably those specialising in short print runs, and see what they'll charge for 150 copies, 400 pages, 80/90gsm b&w text pages, 300gsm CMYK covers, perfect bound, delivered to one address.

Typically, you're looking at around £675.

However, there are other costs too. The main one, if we want to make this an official book, which we do, is an ISBN number. By an 'official book' I mean one that turns up on computer systems, one that gets dumped in copyright libraries, one that's searchable, buyable, identifiable and so on. One you can find on LibraryThing. Basically, a national insurance number for a book.

This is one area where self-publishing companies get one up on us: they normally include the ISBN in their costs, because they print shedloads of books and thus buy the numbers in bulk. We just want the one. The grandmasters of ISBN, Nielsen, will sell us ten for around £120. Harrumph. Suppose we'll just have to hope that the anthology can keep going for a few years to get our money's worth.

This gives an overall printing cost of roughly £800. Selling the books at £9 a pop (sorry, I mean £8.99) that means we'd be breaking even at around 90 copies sold. With 31 authors on board, and each of us allegedly possessing at least several friends, relatives or other bullyable people, with any luck we should be able to reach a point where we have a bit of spare cash left over to start funding postage of free copies to agents and whatnot.

Once that's done, we start sneaking glances at Kindles, with avarice in our eyes...

Full disclosure
Money is complicated. My brain is not. As a result, this is probably all wrong. If I've added it up wrong and wind up living in a bin I will attempt to explain what awful and unexpected problem ruined everything. Assuming the bin has internet access, anyway.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Time's arrow

This is a post about scheduling. Fittingly, it's late.

When you're attempting to turn some words into some pages, probably the most important thing is making sure you know when everything is supposed to happen. Setting the deadlines is even more important than keeping to them: as long as you've got a finish date you know when to start panicking. Er, preparing for press. Not panicking. Publishers don't panic, they just get serious.

Actually, the joy of working on a one-off or annual publication with nothing else on your plate is that the dates aren't quite so ferociously important. If you have a long list of publications with a couple of deadlines every week, you can't afford mistakes. Here, though, a few days' delay makes little difference. However, it's still important to have a rough idea of when things are to happen.

The first thing to establish is when you want a van to turn up and dump a crate of books on your doorstep. In our case, we wanted early June. Some other university anthologies release around September, and while I like the idea of co-ordinating to generate wider exposure for creative writing MAs as a whole, since this was our first year it made sense to aim for release while everyone was still at university. Our dissertations (or 'novels', if you like) aren't due until September, but university teaching finishes in June, and after that there'll be a tiny diaspora as we wander off all over the place and go back to something approaching real life. So to make sure everyone is still around, the release date for the Manchester Anthology 2011 is early June.

With that approximately set, a press date could be worked out. For a short print run like this it might take a week to print and a week to deliver. Sometimes quicker, sometimes much slower, depending on all sorts of things from sluggish production (which naturally I will blame on something else. Maybe piskies) to the whole print run being bought up and pulped by the Ministry of Defence. Y'know, purely hypothetically.

Adding a week on for paranoia time, it seemed sensible for press to be around three weeks before the date we want the thing released. I've always been a fan of Friday press dates, because it means that after the raging horror of last-minute problems (first rule of publishing club: something will go wrong) you can go to the pub and not come out until everything is better.

Taking those estimates into account, that gives a press date of, oh. The thirteenth of May. Friday the thirteenth of May.

I'm not superstitious, okay? *hides under desk*

Right. That's the release date and the press date. The next one is the copy deadline. This is the date by which all the lovely authors have to hand their stuff in. Thankfully, short pieces of fiction like this aren't too hard to lay out. They require care, certainly, but basically it's pages of text. Equally, with serious writery types like this lot, all the copy should arrive in pretty good condition (right guys? Right?), so this isn't going to require arduous subbing and repeated proofing. With these advantages in mind, it sounds about right to go for a couple of weeks to proof and a week to slam it all into layout.

Working back from the press deadline, this gives the 22nd of April. When I worked with lawyers we used to have to add on another month or so to take their inevitable tardiness into account, but I trust writers, so the 22nd of April it is.

Time to send an e-mail...

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Everything in its right place

What is this?

Why, it's a copy of Adobe InDesign, one of several ferociously expensive lumps of software designed to turn words into books. Using the basic features lets you make page layouts fairly easily, but there are gigantorific numbers of tiny tweaky features hanging about beneath the surface if you want to get stuck in to things like ligature choices and interactive PDF design. Frankly though, I don't.

I'm not going to go into the nitty gritty of layout, because there's already masses of that all over the internet. Basically, I needed two kinds of pages: the standard ones filled with bits of story, and the front page for each author, with their photo and biography. The standard pages came first, and ended up looking like this:

Or, without guides:

The font is Palatino Linotype, which is a fairly typical choice for a book. It's clear, moderately pretty, sensibly spaced and I have a good collection of character sets for it, meaning I don't have to worry about not having proper italics or bold lettering.

Publishing being a high-tech industry, I came up with size, borders and spacing by pulling books off my shelf, deciding which ones looked pretty, then measuring bits of them with a ruler. I wouldn't care to speak for the industry as a whole, but I suspect I'm not the only one who does this.

Once those were put together I moved on to the front page. This needed a heading, a photo box, a biography section and a smaller box for contact details. It came out like this.

Or, without guides:

One thing these images reveal is that an empty template doesn't do much to demonstrate how things will really look. So, to test things out, I borrowed the opening of Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur and slammed it into the template. Here, as the philosopher said, is one I made earlier:

As you can see, our Thom is pretty hot on Dan-Brown-style two-page chapters, and someone needs to take him aside and tell him about dialogue. Apart from that, though, he'll do for an example.

Incidentally, apologies for the mugshot. Malory was notoriously unphotogenic, so he's had to settle for an artist's impression. This artist's impression was put together in Adobe Illustrator, which came with my copy of InDesign as part of the Adobe Creative Suite Design Standard Edition. If you are observant you may notice that I'm not very good at Illustrator. Technically it's a fairly snazzy bit of art software, but as far as I'm concerned it's Microsoft Paint with more buttons (*hopes no future job interviewers read this paragraph*).

This design will probably be tweaked over the coming weeks. In particular, I'm not happy with the contact details box or the position of the picture borders. However, that is far from urgent, and for now this design should suffice. The important thing is that this gives a reasonable estimate of words to a page, and this means I can come up with an approximate word count for the writers. See next week, when scheduling starts happening.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

When size matters

Once everyone was signed up, it was time to work out how to put this anthology thing together.

The main aim is to create a print quality paperback book - the kind of thing that sits on a bookshelf with all the other paperbacks without being bullied because it doesn't have a penguin on the spine.

Helpfully, many moons ago, all the paperbacks got together in a forest clearing and had a huge argument about size. Eventually, here in the UK, they reached something close to an agreement. There is variation for small presses, US publishers and large volumes, but on the whole 130mm by 190mm has become standard*. I don't know who decided this, or how the regular width became came to be 130mm instead of 125mm or 135mm, but I'm glad it happened. It makes things easier all-round, from printing to designing to shelf-stacking.

Oh, on a related topic, does anyone know who decided that loaves of bread were 800g? I've always wanted to know ('always' may not, strictly speaking, be true). In my head it's down to a sinister cabal of international mega-bakers meeting in a secret bunker under the Tower of London, but I appreciate that this isn't very likely. The Tower of London is so old hat. These days all the cool conspiracies happen on secret desert installations, or in mysterious shady corners of the internet.

Anyway, after the page size came book length. With thirty-one writers, plus scrappy bits like an intro, prelims (more on these later) and author biographies, ultra-narrow isn't an option. It's all very well trying to catch agents' attention, but chucking them a couple of brief paragraphs by each writer is going to be an unsatisfying experience for all involved. Also, since we want people to buy the thing, a bit of heft might make it a bit more tempting.

On the other hand, we don't want a doorstop, or something that's more useful for building with than reading. Sticking with a rough estimate for now, a length of around 350 pages seemed like a reasonable compromise: not something you need a forklift truck to pick up, but not something skinny as a Topman trouser-leg. That's roughly the size of an average novel, which again will help this look like a professional job.

This might all seem vague and pointless, but having basic estimates like these is important for the detailed planning that follows. With an approximate idea of the size and shape you can start gathering print estimates (and thus leap into the mysterious land of budgeting), you can start putting together some page templates, and you can work out what you need to request from authors, and, even more importantly, when you want it to arrive.

Believe it or not, those will be the next three blog posts. Unless I forget, or get distracted, or have a better idea. Because that's the other thing this publishing lark teaches you pretty sharpish: sometimes you need to be ready to change things as you go.

* There were going to be some pretty pictures demonstrating this, but the camera on my telephone is sulking, so you'll just have to believe me. Or look at your own shelves, I suppose. Either way I'm disappointed. I'd gone and arranged my bookshelf in colour order and everything.

Friday, 11 March 2011

All shall have prizes

Once the anthology was narrowed down to prose there were still a few troublesome decisions to make before any real work could begin. One significant point was the question of inclusion.

There were suggestions to limit entry to the anthology in order to focus it on the course's best work and to make sure recipients weren't overwhelmed and left uninterested by the sheer number of writers. However, in the end this idea was abandoned and the decision made to let in everyone who  wanted to be included. After all, it's up to readers to decide what they like best: we're (mostly) unpublished wannabes - it's not up to us to judge who's the best. Sure, we could have argued about it or asked some of the tutors to decide, but in the end this would have led to bitter squabbling, wanton hatred and possibly fisticuffs, or one of those special business meetings that happens by a river-bank at dawn, attended by a doctor and a priest. I've read The Information: I know how this goes. I'm all for literary feuds (I don't know about the others, but I'm certainly sizing people up to see who's most likely to respond to snide remarks in the comments section below The Guardian's review of their first book), but I reckon it's safer to wait until after we've actually got ourselves published. Call me risk-averse, go on.

The same argument applied to ordering the contents. Most anthologies and other fiction collections are ordered according to the whims and theories and prejudices of the editors. There are all sorts of discussions about which bits of books get the  most attention (people reading magazines backwards, and so on), but here it seemed fairest and most sensible to bow to the tyranny of the alphabet. Although being called Alec I was tempted to press for first names...

But no. Surnames it is. From A to Z, or, specifically, Bowerman to White, barring anyone deciding that they now write under the name Alfred Aardvark.

And in fact, you can see the list of everyone who's going to be included up there in the top right where it says 'The authors'. Or you can click here, because the internet's kind like that. Over the next few months, as we veer towards publication, I'll be posting biographies so you can see the sorts of folks who'll be included.

Next week, posts on shape, size and scheduling. It's a seriously sibilant, er, sevenday.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

An apology for poetry

Whatever Robbie Burns and conspiratorial mice might say, plans are good. Books need them. Otherwise all the pages come out at the wrong time, the wrong way up, and in the wrong order, like an experimental novel from the sixties that comes in a shoe box. And that's not what we're up to here, as far as I know. Printers charge extra for shoe boxes.

So, a plan.

The general aim is to make an anthology representing the work of the Manchester MA course. That doesn't narrow things down much: Manchester University loves its creative writing, and has a whole Centre for New Writing which runs events and workshops throughout the year for everyone including undergraduates, postgraduates and sometimes even real people from the outside world - you know, those ones with jobs and lives and stuff.

To narrow this down, we decided to limit this to just the prose side of the MA course. There are plenty of hotshot poets here, studying under John McAuliffe and Vona Groarke, and it was tough deciding to leave them out, but it also made the project much easier. After all, if we want to promote our work by sending it to agents, publishers, reviewers and so forth, we want the package that lands on their desks to be relevant. There's no point sending poetry to someone who only works with novels. I mean, they might rather enjoy it, and be jolly pleased by the whole thing, but from a practical perspective it isn't very helpful.

This was supported by the specialist decision-making technique I turned to whenever things got iffy: what would UEA do? It doesn't quite fit on a wristband, but it's a good motto for the project. In this case, the UEA answer is to create two separate anthologies, one for prose and one for poetry, so the work can be distributed wherever it's most relevant. That way poetry shacks don't have to wade through stories, and novelists' agents don't see line breaks and panic and hurl the book through a window.

Seems like a good idea. Unfortunately two books means twice as much work, money, chaos and complication. So, for this year at least, there'll be no Manchester MA poetry anthology.

Where are we then? Yes: anthology. MA. Prose. Stories and that. There will be some. They will be good.

Thursday, 3 March 2011


There're plenty of ways of getting a book made.

One is to construct a full-on publishing company with years of experience, an international reputation, and oak-panelled back rooms filled with old white men smoking and muttering about how publishing hasn't been the same since moveable type came along.

Alternatively, you can track down one of these shiny self-publishing companies, shower them with riches, post them all your stuff in a brown envelope and watch as they turn it into a book. This isn't a bad idea for this sort of project: you get plenty of control, and you get someone else handling some of the logistics in exchange for, well, money. And that's the problem: we're students, so we don't have money. Worse: we're postgraduate student writers. Point more than two ale taps at us and we might ask which one's cheapest.

Then there are small presses. Small presses are lovely things, and the modern world with all its electrickery and internet cleverness is making them more viable by the year. Sadly, they're also businesses, so they're unlikely to be terribly interested in a wonky little project like this that intends to give away a hefty proportion of its print run to agents and reviewers and whatnot.

Ideally what we want is a cross between a small press and a self-publishing company: our very own small press - a pet one that we keep in a hutch in the garden and let out to run around at the weekends. So we have made a small press. A very small press. In fact, it's a laptop, plus a few e-mail addresses belonging to people who happen to run printing companies.

Why this, then? Well, partly that aforementioned electrickery and internet cleverness. With a bit of publishing experience and some software there's nothing stopping a little project like this from cutting out all the middle-folk. Making a regular paperback book isn't necessarily that hard these days (unless you're a tree). It's fiddly and takes work, but the barriers to entry are surprisingly vaultable.

The advantages of this are that it saves cash, gives us complete control over the process, and, most of all, is kind of fun. Making books is cool. Not asymmetrical-haircut cool, and definitely not trendy brand-name cool, but geeky cool. And that's the best sort, isn't it? No, don't answer that.

The downsides are that this takes time and effort, and there's a horrible possibility that if it goes wrong I will end up sat on a street corner with a cardboard sign saying 'Will proofread for food' (I will anyway, by the way, particularly if the food is cake). Mainly the time and effort, though. And hell, I'm a student: it's not like I have anything better to do.

So self-self-publishing it is. Let's see how this goes.

Saturday, 26 February 2011


Welcome to the website for the Manchester Anthology 2011. This is the official collection of new fiction from the 2011 graduates of the Manchester University MA in creative writing.

Called 'one of the highest-profile creative writing courses in the English-speaking world' by The Independent, the 2011 MA course is being taught by Martin Amis, Geoff Ryman, MY Hyland and Ian McGuire, and right now, around halfway through, it's already produced a decidedly snazzy collection of writers and writing. No, really, we're awesome. Buy us.

When the 2011 students (er, that's the year, not how many of us there are. That would be a scary classroom) turned up the only thing the course lacked was its own anthology, so we thought the quickest way to fix this would be to make one. And rather than just hurl a briefcase full of text files and money at a self-publishing company, we decided to do it ourselves.

So this blog has emerged not as a place to pimp our stuff (although it's that, too, obviously. Did I mention that we're all amazing and you should offer us publishing deals?) but as an account of the faintly terrifying process of building a book from scratch, then printing it, selling it, and trying not to get too many angry letters from the bank along the way.

Over the next few months there'll be posts dealing with planning, design, layout, proofreading, printing, funding, e-books, treebooks, events, sales, and everything else that a small publisher might have to get up to, possibly including the bit where I curl up under my desk with a bottle of whisky and mumble about typesetting until I pass out.

Oh, and writing, too. Lots and lots of writing.

So hang around if any of this sounds interesting. I'm attempting some kind of Twitter thing too, but damnit, I work in publishing: I'm not cut out for all this futuristic internet stuff.