Mick Jackson at Hampshire Writers’ Society, Tuesday 10th October

 

With Barbara Long temporarily indisposed, Adrienne Dines kindly welcomed members and guests alike before hosting The Society’s Annual General Meeting. Adrienne presented for consideration the General and Financial Reports for the period 2016/17. A brief synopsis of the proceedings can be found at the end of this article.

 

Special Guest: Jon Walcott

Established in 2008, Little Toller Press is a small, independent publisher based in Dorset whose industry footprint has steadily grown despite its non-London centric ethos. Perceiving a market gap is often the catalyst for fledgling business ventures and it was the dearth of a specialist Nature Writing publisher that formed the germ of Little Toller’s creative profile, a profile that has become to be admired both within and beyond the publishing industry.

The success of any business start-up is rarely a foregone conclusion and this is even less so for those embarking on enterprises reliant on creative industry. This last, allied to the fact that the publishing world in 2008 faced what amounted to ‘the perfect storm’, should have ensured that Little Toller’s existence was short lived. Happily, this was not to be the case. A carefully constructed and meticulously produced early list, that saw lost nature classics re-born, safeguarded the company’s early life. ‘Classic texts of rural writing and illustration brought back into beautiful existence’ (Kathryn Hughes, The Guardian) is but one example of the early impression the press created. This, coupled with a resurgent interest in nature writing and a reading publics’ appetite ever more whetted for well-written words on the culture of ecology, began to establish Little Toller as a niche but significant player.

The next major step for the house came with a decision to look beyond established classics and divine new writing talent but again, the aim was to stay few in number and high in quality. Excellence, in terms of content and product, remains Little Toller’s prerequisite. Following on from John Burnside’s Havergey, Marcus Sedgwick’s Snow and Fiona Sampson’s Limestone Country comes the soon-to-be-released and much anticipated Beyond the Fell Wall by Richard Skelton. The growth of the new writers list has seen the house liaise with trusted literary agents cognisant of Little Toller’s culture with the aim to further augment a nascent stable of contemporary writing talent.

Jon’s commitment to providing readers with exquisite volumes that are a delight to own still underpins the aim of the press. Little Toller is one of the few publishing houses offering discerning readers the chance to acquire books to be treasured and passed on. If second-hand bookshops still exist in 100 years time, a browser finding a Little Toller First Edition, will no doubt consider themselves very lucky indeed.

 

Main Speaker: Mick Jackson

The theme of Mick Jackson’s key-note talk was ‘Finding Inspiration’. Members were treated to a thorough and detailed insight into how Mick finds inspiration for his writing from what, on first appearances, might be considered obscure and unpromising items. One of Mick’s slides showed the interior of his office, a space crammed with stacks of books, magazines, posters and personally precious things of curious interest. By his own admission, Mick is a hoarder, collecting the ephemera of his daily life in the hope that one day some of these things might provide the inspiration for his next piece of work.

Mick, working in light of Adrian Mitchell’s declaration, ‘I like stuff’ takes this modus a long way and we were treated to a glimpse of Mick’s scrapbook, a leather-bound ledger of Dickensian proportion, crammed full of things that have appealed to his sense of humour and curiosity. Working on Tom Waites’ premise of ‘putting interesting things in the same room and waiting until they have children’ is a writing philosophy that has worked well for Mick who believes that ideas beget ideas. Having a sense of physical place to establish a story’s concept goes hand in hand with a love of physical objects and this was perhaps best highlighted while Mick was a member of the UEA’s creative writing graduate programme. He accepted an invitation to explore the grounds of the English aristocrat, the Duke of Portland’s country house. It was a fascination with the labyrinth of tunnels that the eccentric Duke had excavated and how this endeavour connected to the Duke’s need to withdraw from sight, that inspired Mick’s triumphant debut novel The Underground Man, Faber and Faber, 2007.

An example of Mick’s prescience for the direction that some aspects of contemporary writing were to take was his recognition that ‘everything already exists’; that it is the writers who have the ability to find the interesting angle or the new approach who will produce new and original content. It’s all about ‘finding what’s already there and showing it to people anew’. Mick drew on the Michelangelo analogy that suggests the Boy David already resided in the block of marble.

Mick seeks to ask ‘what if?’ as a way of subverting preconceptions.  In doing so he hopes to find a way to show the world differently, in much the same way as the great American post-Beat Generation writer, Richard Brautigan sought to make the ordinary extraordinary.

This was perhaps one of those keynotes that might have been best enjoyed first-hand, packed as it was with pithy advice and practical suggestions for writers seeking to find their next idea.   If you weren’t there, Mick concluded his talk with the caution that inspiration won’t come to find the writer, it has to happen the other way round.

 

The Annual General Meeting

Adrienne Dines conducted the AGM’s (20016-17) proceedings, with written reports being made available for scrutiny. Presenting a thorough resume of The Society’s position, the report showed progress to be developing in accordance with the committee’s expectations. Membership numbers continue to increase year on year which in turn promotes The Society’s positive financial position. Whilst the need to recruit more members was acknowledged, the current status ensured that all financial commitments for the period of the report had been met with no existing debt burden cited. Appropriate steerage is being informed by the analysis of the results of the recent survey which also evidenced members’ satisfaction that the society has hosted a pleasantly wide variety of events and guest speakers. The proportionate distribution between expertise from both the creative and the business sides of the publishing industry was shown as being appropriate.

The Annual Report, proposed as an accurate reflection of The Society’s position by Sally Russell and seconded by Joan McGavin was accepted. The Annual Financial Report, proposed as an accurate reflection of the Society’s position by Peter Hitchen and seconded by Damon Wakes was accepted.

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