New review of SPRING FLOWERING

Even in the hottest months of the year, when the rest of us are quietly wilting and Hoping It Will All Go Away Please, there are reviewers still industriously at work.  We like to picture them reclining under shady trees, with the quiet plash of water nearby and a drink or an ice cream close at hand.  (If they’re beavering away in airless attics above busy main roads. we are even more grateful to them than usual!)

Reviewer Olivia Waite, writing in the Seattle Review of Books, tried Farah Mendlesohn’s SPRING FLOWERING on a recommendation and found it very much to her taste.

This is absolutely a romance reader’s romance — delicate and subtle and complex, playing with tropes and expectations and story rhythms like a virtuoso at an antique ivory keyboard. It’s some of the best Austen I’ve seen outside of Austen.

Considering the book as part of a group in which the reviewer discusses ‘The Niceness Industrial Complex’ – an expression that could well catch on! – she concludes that a romance (or a romantic book) can also explore important social issues.  That’s the Manifold Press philosophy in a nutshell: it needn’t, not always, but it absolutely can!

Thank you, Olivia, and thank you, Seattle Review of Books, for your time and your very good opinion.  We wish you cool streams, cool drinks, and cool books to read.

Any regrets?

A guest blog post by Sandra Lindsey

I recently had the pleasure of chatting with Elin Gregory on a sunny day in her home town. Among the many things we discussed were sequels, as we’ve both been working on sequels to our books – UNDER LEADEN SKIES, and ELEVENTH HOUR – which were released by Manifold Press on the same day in 2016.

“Do you regret killing off [character]*?” she asked me at one point. My answer was an enthusiastic, “No, not at all!”

I don’t want to give the impression here that I’m an author who scribbles away joyfully killing off characters, but for the story I was telling in UNDER LEADEN SKIES it is necessary, not only from a plot point of view, but also because it felt dishonest to write a book set in wartime without losing at least one major character. I’m lucky not to have lived through such times, but in all my reading, research, and stories of the war I heard growing up, I’ve not come across a single account where loss of friends or family doesn’t feature. To write a story where all my most beloved characters remain alive felt like a betrayal or denial of the grief that war brings into people’s lives.

That said, the death of that character being so firmly written and out in the world in published form has presented me, as the author, with a bit of a dilemma. Ever since he first appeared on the page – and hijacked the story, pushing it onto a different and more interesting path than my original rather pedestrian ideas – I’ve wanted to write his story as well. He’s such a strong character, with an infectious charm and light-hearted view of life that I’d love to write it in a similar way to UNDER LEADEN SKIES, as the character’s own memoir, but with the ending I’ve already written to his life, it’s taken me a while to work out how to do that without delving into the world of ghosts or suchlike. I think I’ve finally found a solution, though, and in time I hope to share the resulting tale with you as well.

All the work I’ve done so far on the sequel has confirmed one thing in my mind: I really regret giving Teddy’s grandfather a title other than “Mr”! Pass the Debrett’s, would you?

*Anyone who has read UNDER LEADEN SKIES will know which character I am referring to.

We’re still here!

“Good times and bum times, I’ve seen them all
And, my dear, I’m still here”

Stephen Sondheim

As you will no doubt remember, we announced a year ago that we were intending to scale back operations and discontinue publishing altogether from 1 May 2018. We cited changing family circumstances as the main reason.

A lot of different factors combined in the making of our original decision. Julie – our youngest and most energetic team member – had plans to retire from her day job and return, with her other half, to live near their families in Australia. We didn’t think we were likely to manage very well for long without her, especially as Fiona’s age begins with a 6 and Morgan’s with a 7 and we’re both slowing down a little bit. Plus, as we mentioned, we have family members to look after and our own health has started to be somewhat unpredictable into the bargain.

So, it seemed that a decorous retirement was in order. We made plans for it. We told people what we were doing. We put our metaphorical house in order, wrapped up loose ends, organised a last AGM and got ready to say a tearful ‘goodbye’.

And that, of course, was precisely when someone came along with a thoroughly serious and sensible plan to take over the business and carry it forward in our absence. We know that their aims and ours are very much in aligment when it comes to quality and customer service, and we’re sure they’ve got all the necessary skills, experience and confidence to continue building the Press’s profile in just the way we would have loved to do ourselves – if only we’d started slightly earlier in life, or had just a little bit more energy!

We’re not going into any more detail than that just yet. When we’re ready, we’ll make a formal announcement and let our new team introduce themselves properly. In the meantime we’re going to continue producing newsletters, updating this blog, and maintaining our social media presence, but we won’t be publishing anything new until early 2019. We will be open for submissions again as from 1 June 2018 – please see our website for more information. Fiona will also be attending UK Meet 2018 to hear pitches in person; details will appear here as soon as they are available.

Many of our existing authors are remaining with Manifold Press and their work will continue to be available to buy through the usual channels. Some have decided either to retire, to self-publish, or to move elsewhere; to every one of these we say a heartfelt Thank You – we’ll miss you, but we wish you the best of everything in your future endeavours.

Most of all, we want to thank the inimitable Julie Bozza; without her this Press would not have been half as successful as it has been, and it would very likely have run out of steam several years ago. We’ve learned a lot from Julie, and we’re hoping we can put some of those lessons into practice in the future.

Morgan and Fiona will retain their connection with Manifold Press for the time being. Our contribution may gradually diminish, but we’re certainly keen to be involved as much as we can to help our ‘baby’ take its next big steps into a wider world. If this changes at any time we’ll let you know, but for the time being both we and the Press are – in the words of the great Mr Stephen Sondheim – ‘still here’.

And it’s not impossible you may be almost as surprised about that as we are!

How I ended up IN DEEP

A guest blog post by Adam Fitzroy

To celebrate the paperback edition of IN DEEP, which is published today, I thought you might be interested to hear a little bit about how it came to be written.

I didn’t grow up wanting to write M/M relationship stories; I grew up wanting to write crime. In fact, I think a thorough grounding in the logic of crime fiction works well for any author; it’s a huge help to be able to analyse cause and effect, or the consequences of characters’ actions, whether you start with a ‘beginning idea’ and work away from it, or with an ‘end idea’ and work towards it. And crime fiction, of course, has recognisable rules – although it’s quite possible to subvert or undermine them on occasion.

I started reading detective fiction as a child with Holmes, Poirot, Lord Peter Wimsey and Ellery Queen, then worked my way through Brother Cadfael, Falco, Baldi, McLevy and Charles Paris, and I’m currently enjoying the Albert Campion books. TV and radio added Ironside, Kojak, Bergerac, Wallander, Martin Beck, the Endeavour/Morse/Lewis arc, Dalziel and Pascoe, Shetland, Broadchurch, Inspector Wexford, and of course Z-Cars and The Bill. From all these I learned that two things are important in detective fiction; the detective must be likeable (although not necessarily all the time) and the setting must be interesting. The trend towards ‘Nordic noir’ suited me perfectly, since I’ve always enjoyed places that were slightly run-down and depressing – seaside towns in winter, plush hotels past their best, Victorian railway stations with buddleia and rosebay willowherb growing out of the roof. (Woe betide the well-meaning Civic Society that cleans up or, worse, demolishes one of my favourite tatty old buildings!)

Truly, crime fiction and Orkney were made for each other. It’s Britain without being Britain – there’s no Starbucks, no Domino’s, hardly any supermarkets. TV and mobile reception are variable, there’s precisely one cinema, and sport is something you do rather than something you watch. The further away from the mainland you get, the smaller the communities become – and the more versatile individuals have to be. They pilot the lifeboat, deliver the post, paint or tile each other’s houses, and still find time to play accordion in the pub twice a week and deliver a sermon on Sunday. Imagine how something as shattering as a murder would work in a small community like that; imagine how it would undermine relationships, upset the balance and leave people feeling wounded and betrayed.

The story that eventually became IN DEEP grew out of a very tiny seed – watching a light plane land on a grass airstrip on Lamb Holm. I was also mildly irritated by the Shetland TV series’s insistence that officers from outside cannot possibly understand the islands and will make no attempt to adapt to their surroundings. This sets up an uncomfortable – and artificial – ‘us–v–them’ dichotomy, whereas I have never understood why a well-intentioned outsider shouldn’t be able to adapt to conditions in the islands rather than trying to make the islands adapt to him. That was what I wanted my detective to do – to blend in, not make any enemies, and to learn from the local people rather than throwing his weight about.

So there you have it – this story started with a seed, plus irritation. Whether or not IN DEEP is actually a pearl is not for me to say, but certainly something grew out of those very small and unpromising beginnings – and I have to admit that I’m actually rather proud of the result!

We’re giving away two copies of the paperback edition of IN DEEP. Please enter via our giveaway form. The draw will be made on Sunday 22 April, after which we’ll contact the winners directly to ask for a postal address. Good luck, everyone!

New review of ARDENT

Anne Barwell is a good friend of Manifold Press – she’s helped us out with questions of fact and cultural sensitivity issues in the past – but we had absolutely no idea she was planning to review one of our books on her blog!

We love a good historical – which is why we grabbed Heloise West’s ARDENT with both hands when it was offered to us – and apparently Anne does, too:

Ardent is very well researched and it shows. I loved the descriptions of the settings—they were very easy to visualize and made me feel as though I was there watching everything going on as I was reading. I enjoyed learning about the artists’ process, and especially the day to day life of the masters and their apprentices in the workshops of the time. […] I loved the descriptive language and thought it suited the time period of the story well.

This review was a lovely and unexpected treat, and we’d like to thank Anne for her time – and especially for her concluding words:

I’d recommend ARDENT to readers who enjoy a well researched historical with lush descriptions, interesting characters, and a murder mystery.

We’re in total agreement with her about that – and in fact we couldn’t have put it any better ourselves!

New review of SPRING FLOWERING

We did, briefly, wonder whether we were experiencing deja vu when this review came to our notice this morning; the reviewer’s name seemed uncannily familiar. And yes, we checked – Heather Rose Jones has actually reviewed Farah Mendlesohn’s delightful SPRING FLOWERING before. However, on investigation, this turned out to be whole new review in a different venue, six months after the last, although we’re reassured to learn that Heather’s opinion of the book doesn’t seem to have altered in the slightest.

This is a perceptive review, and we especially appreciated this paragraph:

“The most common failure mode of historical romance is to drop modern women into the past and have them react in anachronistic ways. Mendlesohn’s characters are a delightful exception: neither too modern in their self-awareness of their sexuality, nor tormented and angsty about it in a way that only really developed in the 20th century.”

We know that’s what our historical authors are always aiming for, so confirmation that one of them has hit the target is particularly welcome!

The review’s conclusion:

“…a book for those who want their historic romance to be as true to the history as to the romance. I found it a breath of fresh air and hope it will be an inspiration for more stories of this type…”

would make us want to go out and buy the book immediately ourselves, if we didn’t already have a copy or two stashed away. Thank you again, Heather; we really appreciate your good opinion, and are once again grateful to you for sharing it.

The Refugee Council

A guest post by editor Fiona Pickles

As those who were involved in preparing our charity anthology CALL TO ARMS – and, hopefully, also those who bought copies and enjoyed them – may remember, all the proceeds from the sale of this volume go directly to the Refugee Council. We sent them their first ‘royalty payment’ at the end of February, and in return they kindly sent us a letter of thanks and a copy of their ‘Impact Report’ for 2016-17 to enable us to see where our contribution is likely to be spent.

Not only is it nice to be acknowledged by such busy people, it’s also very valuable to have some sort of picture of the work they do. On the whole we could probably have guessed most of it, but there were a few highlights which stood out and captured my imagination, so I thought I would pass those on to you.

In 2016-17, the Refugee Council supported 7,522 refugees and asylum seekers and 3,318 unaccompanied children. They helped 97 young people who had been trafficked – 77 girls and 20 boys. They pushed for refugee status and resettlement funding for Syrian refugees, enabling them to attend university in the UK – and also to apply for passports, so that they can travel abroad to see their families.

They support refugee children whose age is disputed, who are sometimes treated by default as adults and therefore put into unsuitable accommodation; they provide them with language teaching, help with socialisation, access to sports facilities and homework support. They also provide psychotherapeutic services for children and young people, and training and support for foster carers.

In addition to helping refugees with documentation and legal services and steering them towards suitable work and accommodation, they have helped a number of refugee doctors to retrain and requalify so that they can be employed in the NHS. It’s difficult to imagine anything more closely resembling a win-win scenario than this!

There is, too, an extensive programme assisting and supporting destitute asylum seekers who are otherwise forced to rely on the standard asylum support payment of £5.00 per day (about $7.00 US) – intended to cover food, clothes, toiletries, travel and in fact everything else the individual may require. The Refugee Council provides hot meals, showers, laundry and barbering facilities and – perhaps even more importantly – moral support and social opportunities for people who must at times feel very isolated by their position.

In fact, it probably doesn’t take too much imagination to put oneself into the position of an asylum seeker or refugee, hundreds or perhaps thousands of miles from home in a country where the weather, the language, the customs, the clothes and just about everything else are not only unfamiliar but potentially quite terrifying. Getting away from the threats, the violence, the famine or the fear in their home country and making a difficult journey half-way around the world is only the beginning of the story for them. Once they arrive in the UK, however, the Refugee Council is – together with Oxfam, Amnesty International UK, the British Red Cross and a number of other organisations with dovetailing remits – right there in the front line of people stepping up to welcome them and help them to settle in.

All in all, then, it’s difficult to think of a better use for our “ill-gotten gains” than to support the Refugee Council in their sterling efforts, and we look forward to sending them further payments every three months throughout what we hope will be the long lifetime of CALL TO ARMS.

You can find more information about the work of the Refugee Council on their website.

We’d like to thank anthology editor Heloise Mezen for nominating the Refugee Council as our chosen charity, and for undertaking all the initial discussions with them. Take a bow, Heloise; none of this would have been possible without you!

New review of A TASTE OF COPPER

We were delighted to see this new review of Elin Gregory’s A TASTE OF COPPER, by reviewer Sammy, which has recently appeared on The Novel Approach Reviews.

For such a short novella, I was thrilled by the lush quality of this author’s writing. From the stark beauty of the countryside to the harsh living conditions that Maheris and Olivier endure while guarding the bridge, I felt fully immersed into this medieval tale. I rarely find many novels in this genre that have both a ripping good storyline as well as such attention to detail. A Taste of Copper managed to both educate and entertain, and that places this historical romance at the top of the genre for me.

Thank you, Sammy, we loved it too – although I suppose that goes without saying! – but you’ve articulated the book’s merits so much better that we ever could have done. It really is a little gem!