Thursday, 16 September 2010

Not on Facebook, Still on Twitter

To paraphrase the Philistine poet, Mr If, we're "not on Facebook, still on Twitter."

I set up a Facebook page for Philistine Press a few months ago, but haven't done much with it, and I'm sorry to say I've now closed it down.

There are a few reasons for this:

1. I didn't really like it. I've never really liked social networking sites anyway - I just set this one up as a means of helping to promote Philistine Press. There seem to be a lot of unnecessary restrictions on there - they wouldn't even let me call myself FJ Riley, because you're not allowed to have initials in your name!

2. I haven't had much chance to update the page. Believe it or not, folks, despite my immense writing talents, I'm still working in my day job. The office where I work recently blocked employees from using Facebook while at work, so I haven't really had chance to update the page. It's like an unwanted child - I'd rather get rid of it altogether than have a page sitting there with no one looking after it.

3. Frank Burton informs me that according to the web stats, the majority of the traffic directed to the Philistine Press site doesn't come from social networking sites. I'm pretty pleased about that. We only have a few followers on Twitter, but it's better to have lots of people visiting the Philistine Press site rather than loads of followers on Twitter who don't necessarily visit the site on a regular basis (or, indeed, at all).

I was running a feature on the Facebook page called "Extract of the Moment," which featured selected poems and extracts from Philistine ebooks on a semi-regular basis. Seen as we're no longer on Facebook, I'm going to transfer that feature to this blog. Watch out for that, lit lovers!

If anyone else wants to start up a Facebook page, that would be great - perhaps you'll have more success than I did. I'd say I'd be happy to be a fan of it, but as I mentioned, I'm no longer on Facebook. So, that's that.

FJ Riley

Monday, 13 September 2010

Tom Duckworth Interview

Tom Duckworth in conversation with Frank Burton.

Tom Duckworth's poetry collection, Happy Fat Children and Protein Enhancers is available to read online or download for free at

What's the appeal of anagrams for you?

I’m fascinated by the butterfly effect and how one event leads to the unfolding of several others (I think the film Sliding Doors perfectly explains what I would try and describe here). With that in mind I thought about it in the context of just letters and words. I’m quite into the idea of somehow capturing a single moment where a collection of words has come together for some reason. I thought to myself, 'why not try and create a poem to mark out the event of all these letters appearing together'. It then seemed fitting that the poem should only contain the letters that were present at the time and so my collection of anagram poems began.

I did expand by using groups of words that didn’t necessarily appear together in a captured photograph, but words that somehow share a common link with one another. I also figured that perhaps more people would be able to connect with the poems if they were familiar with the words or letters they were built from.

How do you put the poems together? Do you work them out on paper, or do you cut and paste on a computer?

I find when working on paper I can think a lot quicker and I'm not always in reach of a computer when I've had the time to write - however I am somewhat of an unorganised mess at times and frequently sheets of paper disappear from where I DEFINITELY left them (probably left them, maybe)... I really should buy a book of blank paper perhaps or something that I can't lose easily.

So more often than not I do cut and paste on a computer. It does have it's benefits, for instance it's easy for me to can keep track of the whole writing process in a chronological order and I can retrace my thinking if parts need changing, without getting all muddled up. And this, retracing my steps, turns out to be quite important for me when it comes to finishing a poem.

Do you use any computer programs or online tools to create anagrams?

Yes, occasionally I’ve cheated a little. I have a programme that lets you input some text and it counts the number of times each letter occurs. So I use this to split up the original text to get an idea of the distribution of letters available. I wouldn't say that’s the cheating part but the next bits are...

There is a particular online scrabble solver that I’ve occasionally used for inspiration lets say. So you can put in, I think up to 12 or so letters, and it will display all the possible words you can create from them. This is good because I often come across new interesting words here, I check out their meanings and if I like them and they seem fitting for the poem I will try to squeeze them in somehow.

When finishing off a poem I rarely get lucky where everything fits without much of a problem, most often I end up with a few useless letters that just can’t be added in anywhere. In these cases I’ll usually have to pick my least favourite phrase in the poem or sometimes change the grammatical tense of a word to free up more or different letters and see if I can combine them with those left out to make something new, exciting but importantly, uses all of them. So depending on how lazy, frustrated or desperate I’m feeling I sometimes use an anagram solver programme to help with this final tweaking as it spots things I’d most likely miss.

You've said that your work is more like a series of mathematical problems rather than poems. Are you influenced by other poets?

I quite like the work of Tim Key, I enjoy his style of writing and the performances he gives of his poems. But I wouldn't say I've read an awful lot of poetry by any particular poet or writer so I guess my influences are a whole bunch of people when if asked I'd struggle to remember any of their names.

You're also influenced by the (very funny) comedian Demetri Martin. Is there a direct link between his work and yours?

I'd say so yes. The first poem I wrote was based on something he created. Demetri wrote down all the words from a bottle of beer and then re-arranged them into something other than the slogan, drinking instructions and whatever else you usually find printed on a typical beer bottle. I was captivated by this view of the world as I had never seen anything like it before so I tried it myself but simply changed the product from beer to a packet of crisps. For me the inspiration for the format of my poems, being anagrams or rearrangements, came from Demetri Martin but the words themselves, ones that I see within a bunch of letters is very much personal and unique to me. I think then the way they become arranged giving the overall feel of the poems perhaps comes from subtle influences based upon other poetry I've read but I'm not sure if it reflects anyone specific.

Finally, how do you feel about internet publishing?

I love it. Online publishing is great. I spend probably 2/11th of my working day on the internet exploring for anything to distract me from actually doing any work, so having people to fuel my idleness with their interesting articles, poetry, anything really is fantastic for me (especially if the stuff is available for free, it's so much easier and more inviting that way). But with regards to publishing my own stuff, i don't think many people would read it if it wasn't published online.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Philistine Press - The First Six Months

by Frank Burton

Philistine Press was launched on 3rd March 2010. 6 months and 10 ebooks later, here are some thoughts on how it’s been going …

The idea for Philistine came about after I published my novella, About Someone, on my own website, The book was pretty much written in one weekend, and was an experimental writing exercise more than anything else – it certainly wasn’t intended for publication originally. When I decided to publish it myself online, it felt like a small act of rebellion against the publishing industry. (It's not the best thing I've ever written, and it won't be online forever - I'll be removing it from the site in a few months to make room for bigger and better things - so take a look while you still can.)

This sense of rebelliousness was the driving force behind Philistine Press. For the first six months of being online, the subtitle beneath the Philistine Press heading on the website was “What are you rebelling against?” – a famous cinematic line, often attributed to the James Dean film, Rebel Without a Cause, although the question was actually directed at Marlon Brando’s character, Johnny, in The Wild One. I’m sure I’m not the only person who finds Johnny’s reply, “Whaddaya got?” slightly unsatisfying. I’m more interested in the question, “What are you rebelling against?” Writers should ask themselves that question more often.

It was never my intention for Philistine Press to focus purely on rebellious writers (whatever “rebellious” means), although I’m happy to say all of our authors arguably fall into that category in one way or another.

So, has Philistine stuck to its initial aims so far?

Firstly, the aim was to publish a variety of ebooks, mainly focussing on poetry and fiction. Well, we’ve not published any fiction yet, but we have a novella, a novel and a short story collection due out later on this year, so that’s that one covered. The original aim was to bring out two ebooks a month, which we started off doing, but haven’t necessarily got the time or the resources to keep it up. With 11 releases in 6 months (10 ebooks and 1 EP), I don’t think anyone can criticise us for not publishing enough.

Secondly, I was particularly interested in publishing contemporary works that are no longer available in print. There aren’t enough publishers out there who are doing that. Often authors resort to self-publishing their out-of-print books because other publishers aren’t interested, regardless of how good the books are. For some reason, Philistine haven’t had a great response on calls for out-of-print books. Our only release of this kind is Andy Hopkins’ excellent Dark Horse Pictures. I haven’t given up on this idea, and maybe next year we’ll see some more previously-print-published titles appearing on the site. Fingers crossed on that one.

The main aim, however, was a simple one: publish some great ebooks. Well, I’m biased, obviously, but I think we’ve passed that one with flying colours. The submissions we’ve received have certainly exceeded my expectations (having heard stories from other editors, I was half-expecting everything we received to be total rubbish). Sorry to go all Oscar’s-acceptance-speech on you, but I genuinely can’t believe my luck.

A few projects have mysteriously slipped through my fingers. On occasions an author will email me with an interesting proposal. I’ll email them back asking for the full manuscript and then never hear from them again. Perhaps some of these missed opportunities will return in due course, or perhaps they’ve vanished forever.

So, as far as the next six months are concerned, our aims are …

1. More of the same.

2. Fiction, fiction, fiction – coming soon.

3. Multiple formats – our books are available as PDF files and as online text at the moment. Formats such as .mobi for the Kindle and LRF for the Sony ebook reader should help our authors reach a wider readership.

Incidentally, our subtitle has now been changed from "What are you rebelling against?" to the rather more straightforward "Non-profit digital publishing." It's not the catchiest tag-line ever, but it's important that anyone who visits the site for the first time knows what we're all about - digital publishing, not motivated by profit, but by the desire to do something fucking great.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Jay McLeod Interview

Jay McLeod in conversation with Frank Burton.

Jay McLeod's poetry collection, The Republic of Naught, can be read online or downloaded for free at

Would you describe the voice in your poems as yourself, or are you speaking through an invented persona?

I would say there is a minimum of artifice to what I write. I write because I need to. A persona would get in the way of that. The creative energy required to create and maintain a persona would detract from the contents of the poems - i.e. the images and events, etc would not be as fully realized because the focus would be inward (on the persona) rather than outward, or on the subject of the poem. I see the poems as largely independent of me. When writing I try to help them along as best as I can, and not get too much in their way.

The poems aren’t necessarily factual or drawn from my own experience, but speak to the kinds of things I wonder about or am concerned about. I’ve got some poems about murder told from the point of view of the killer. I have never killed anybody (yet!) but curiosity causes me to write about it. The voice is mine, but the perspective isn’t - nor could it be.

I see the poems as an extension of my “natural” being. The “me” that works my job is not discrete from the “me” that does housework or interacts with neighbours or writes poetry. If anything, these activities (and attendant states of being) all feed into one another.

To put it another way: it’s all part of the same cloth.

Who are your influences?

The writing I like tends to be of a populist sensibility. I generally go for stuff that is accessible to the general reader / or listener. The following list is in no particular order:

1. Alden Nowlan: an excellent mid-late 20th Century poet from Atlantic Canada.
2. Leonard Cohen: some of his poetry from the sixties and seventies is absolutely deranged.
3. Paul Westerberg: The Replacements are the best rock band ever. PW writes funny, clever, heart-felt, neurotic, realistic lyrics like nobody else.
4. Frankie Stubbs: Leatherface (from Sunderland, UK) is the best rock band you’ve never heard. See the above comments about PW. I can’t overstate how much I enjoy listening to this music / and the lyrics are killer.
5. Dylan Thomas: I haven’t actually read that many of his poems, but the ones I have blown me away.
6. TS Eliot / and the Imagists, generally.
7. Chaucer: I go for the characterization and the comedy.
8. Dostoyevsky: He didn’t write poetry (that I know of) but still.
9. Emily Dickinson: Of course.
10. Bukowski: gruff and heartfelt and cynical and madly prolific. My style is probably more directly indebted to Hank than to any other writer.

How political is your work?

Not very. I think of politics as being a sport for privileged middle-aged people - or for the “activist class”. I vote in nearly every election but I have no allegiance to any particular party or movement. I believe people should be good to each other, and I think that comes through in my writing. What is the opposite of a political agenda? That is what I have.

There seems to be a lot of anger in this collection, but there is also a lot of humour. Did you make a conscious decision to combine these two elements in your poetry?

There is very little to my writing which I decide on consciously. I pick a subject or a line or an image that I find compelling and go from there. The tone of a finished poem might be funny or angry or both. I try not to over-think it. It’s the same kind of thing with a lot of punk music. Nearly everybody I hung around with as a teenager and a younger adult played (or still plays) in a rock band. And of course a lot of it comes from working at jobs you don’t necessarily enjoy when you are younger - and hanging out in apartments and bars after work and the kinds of conversations you have with friends who are doing the same kinds of things you are. It’s angry: like “wow, my day at work sucked so hard” / “this job is demeaning and killing me one day at a time”, but also there are many good, funny moments in there. Funny things happen at work and shows and people’s apartments. Slaughterhouse Five and Trainspotting were two of my favourite novels when I was eighteen or nineteen - and have a similar anger-humour ratio. All of these things informed the kind of writing I did when I was 26 or 27 years old (when I wrote most of the poems in Republic). There’s black humour everywhere.

How well does Adriano Zanni's cover image of the white flag represent the collection?

First of all, I like the picture a lot. It has a kind of timeless quality to it. The blank flag is a screen-within-a-screen: many things could be projected onto that white space. In fact, it isn’t necessarily a flag at all. I think the poems in Republic can be taken in the same way. There are character sketches, one-liners, observations on popular culture, and some throw-away literary references. It’s a grab-bag of words, images, and ideas. It could be crap or it could be brilliant or it could be just kind of “meh”.

When I was sixteen I woke up every morning listening to “Fuck School” and “Kids Don’t Follow” off the Replacements' Stink. Now that I’m in my thirties, I find myself listening to All Shook Down. It’s all one body of work, but the emphasis is different.

A lot of the characters in Republic are kind of down-at-heels, but I don’t think of any of them as being defeated. Each of the poems presents a snapshot of a certain time, or mode of existence for the character(s). The flag on the cover of the collection isn’t necessarily required to mean “surrender” or “defeat”. It speaks only to a moment - and whatever the person seeing it understands it to mean.

I said just a minute ago that I like the “screen within a screen” on the cover of Republic. Chances are you will read it on a computer. So really, the flag becomes a “screen-within-a-screen-within-a-screen”. It’s like one of those Russian dolls. It’s post-modern as hell. It encourages a maximum of engagement with the text.

Finally, how do you feel about internet publishing?

I can’t possibly see how it is a bad thing. The publishing industry is currently going through the same thing the music and movie industries have been experiencing the past decade. Books and reading are less popular as entertainment than music and movies, so it’s taken longer to happen. As happened when the music industry went online, the only people moaning about the shift to internet-based publishing seem to be those (established) publishers and writers with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.

Internet publishing is good for the environment (saves trees, gas, electricity, etc). It also frees publishers from making decisions based solely on what they think will make money. I guarantee no “traditional” book publisher would have touched Republic. Publishers such as Philistine Press have the opportunity to work on projects which speak directly to their “artistic sensibilities”.

Readers and new writers (like me) have everything to gain from the paradigm shift. The fact that somebody in America or the UK or India or China or Greenland can download my book blows me away.

E-publishing will lead to a greater penetration of literacy among the general public. High literacy rates are directly tied to positive economic and social outcomes. As IT infrastructure becomes more readily available in developing countries, literacy will spread further and help give voice to those who have traditionally been disenfranchised due to remote geography or low socio-economic status.

So: regarding internet publishing: it is all pros and no cons.

New reviews from decomP magazine

Not one, but four Philistine poets get a favourable mention here from decomP magazine ...

decomP's Philistine Press Round-up

Nice one Andy Hopkins, Richard Britton, Rob Sherman & Sarah Ogilvie, and Mr If.

Christopher Al-Aswad Prize

Philistine Press were longlisted for this prize, and we'll be happy to help promote the work of the winner when this is announced in October.

Take a look at this:

Christopher Al-Aswad Prize