As well as getting to hear some fabulous work by some lovely local ladies, the evening gave me the chance to finally have a snoop around the International Anthony Burgess Foundation (well, when I say snoop, I mean I went in the cafe, the Engine Room and the his’n’hers loos – “progressive”, as a fellow visitor put it). There are various cabinets containing probably rare but definitely nicely artworked Burgess novels, and loads of weird bits of paraphernalia and objets d’art. There is what appears to be a harpsichord, and also a piano, on which I tried to get Nicholas Royle to bang out a tune, but he was having none of it (to be fair, he already had his hands full, touting Nightjar Press chapbooks next to the folk from Comma Press, including founder and managing editor Ra Page, who I had the pleasure of meeting).
Writer (and Nick’s MMU colleague) Sherry Ashworth is one half of The Hidden Gem Press; the other half is her other half Brian. Sherry did the talking, like any good woman. She explained the thinking behind setting up a new publishers, and the USP of the HGP. She reiterated the website, which outlines the mission statement: "The Hidden Gem Press is based in Manchester and is owned and run by Sherry and Brian Ashworth who have some strong ideas about how to find good fiction and how to publish it. We’re independently run, and we aim to publish good quality novels from the best of emerging writers – and we have a distinctly north-west flavour." She said that "London publishers just don't get the north" and explained that she and Brian see so much "readable fiction" and so many "top-class novelists" that they "want to give them a platform".
Sherry also explained that the first title out of the stable, if you will, is Hungry, The Stars and Everything by Emma Jane Unsworth, which is due to hit the shelves in June 2011. Emma (who I vaguely knew through a friend of a friend and who I forced a hello onto during the evening, poor girl, although she was absolutely lovely and gracious about it) treated us to a couple of extracts from her novel: the prologue and part of a chapter entitled Vintage Champagne. Featuring a main character called Helen Burns (oh, hello, Jane Eyre), it's about different sorts of love (food, romantic...) and Sherry described it as being "like a Russian doll" with many layers of "witty, original, off-the-wall" prose. The parts we heard certainly whetted the appetite.
Emma's "support acts" were fellow Manchester writers Zoe Lambert and Claire Massey (well, Claire is from Chorley and I think Zoe might be from Salford, but hey). Zoe read Down Duchy Road, a sad tale of a soldier's ex-wife Marjorie, and one of her stories from her new collection The War Tour, published by Comma Press in the new year. Claire edits Fairy Tale Cupboard and has previously been mentioned on this blog when she won the Oxfam Short Story Competition back in July with the awesome Chorden-under-Water, which you can read here. She gave us Feather Girls, a fantastical (and fantastic) fable with women and ducks indistinguishable one from the other.
It was a great evening with three great writers. Definitely ones to watch.
EXTRA, EXTRA! READ ALL ABOUT IT!
There are now piccies of the launch up on The Hidden Gem Press website (I can be seen loitering in the background in one, wearing purple and stroking my hair - very odd behaviours, all), and a brief write-up of the event from Sherry and Brian. You can read Emma's blog post about the shindig here and about the first time she met Sherry here. Zoe's take on proceedings, meantime, is here, while Claire wrote a preview, complete with link to an interview with Sherry on Manhattanchester. (Sherry is also interviewed on Manchester Confidential here.) Salt poet Adrian Slatcher also mentions the evening on his blog The Art Of Fiction.
PLUS: My event review on For Books' Sake.