A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing – by Meg Tobin-O’Drowsky

By Nick P Canty, on 22 July 2014

The moving, heart-wrenching, and painful story that is Eimear McBride’s A Girl is a Half-formed Thing won the Goldsmiths Prize, Bailey’s Women’s Prize, Kerry Group Award, Desmond Elliott Prize, and was shortlisted for the Folio Prize. So it might be surprising for some to learn that it took McBride nine years to find a publisher for her critically acclaimed and arguably industry-changing book. Galley Beggar Press of Norwich finally picked it up in 2013 (with Faber signing on to publish the paperback and ebook editions in 2014). It’s been a long, hard journey for McBride and her story of a girl doing her best to cope with her family, her brother’s illness, and the difficulties life is throwing her way.

Yes, Eimear McBride’s debut novel is experimental, something for which it has been praised time and again, but that isn’t all it is. It pushes the boundaries of the novel form, it’s told stream of consciousness style, it’s unconcerned with grammar, it spans twenty years…It’s gutsy. McBride takes risks with the form that are even more impressive when one considers she’s a debut novelist. And those are no doubt the reasons she had so much trouble finding a publisher. But beyond the heroics it performs, it is at its heart a story about a girl, a story that makes the reader feel things she didn’t know she could feel, that puts the reader in the mind of the protagonist. These are feats (ones with which even many veteran writers struggle) more impressive than McBride’s unconventional prose. The form doesn’t distract or detract, because the reader is so engrossed with the story at hand.

The range of emotions McBride manages to induce in the reader is unparalleled by anything in recent memory. I can’t begin to list them, and many cannot even be named. To make the reader feel heart-ache, agony, physical discomfort, nausea, and so much more would be simply unbelievable if it weren’t McBride doing it, if it weren’t this story.

Reading A Girl is a Half-formed Thing is work. But it’s the type of work that one really enjoys, like spending hours preparing that difficult-to-make but perfect meal. It isn’t for the lazy reader; it’s for the one who is willing to work a little to be fully transported to another world, a world in which it is often difficult to be. The general consensus though, one with which I whole-heartedly agree, is that while it is a difficult read, it is one that must be read.

A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing – By Lauren Nettles

By Nick P Canty, on 17 July 2014

A-Girl-is-a-Half-Formed-Thing_largeOne of my favourite professors of creative writing at my undergraduate college once instructed the class not to write a story that has never been told, since that’s nearly impossible given the amount of writing already in the world. Instead, we were taught to tell a story in a way that it has never been told before.

In theory, I understood this advice, but it didn’t truly click until reading A Girl is a Half-formed Thing. At its core, Eimear McBride’s debut novel is the story of a girl growing into young adulthood in Ireland while struggling with her sexuality, complex relationships with various members of her family, and her older brother’s harrowing recovery from a childhood brain tumour. The trials faced by the narrator are not new topics in literature, but the way McBride tells the story is incredibly unique.

A combination of stream of consciousness narration, prose poetry, and textual impressionist painting, the broken sentence fragments take some time to settle into your brain, but within a few pages, the unnamed narrator’s voice is so clear that there’s little trouble determining the speaker or the events unfolding.

 A Girl is a Half-formed Thing is a challenging, knotty read that demands your full attention, but it’s hardly a chore to completely turn yourself over to it. The story alone is packed with genuine emotion, often disconcerting and even heartbreaking, but it’s the lyrical approach to narration that moves this prize-winning novel beyond simply a wonderful story to a breathtaking piece of art.


UCL Publishers’ Prize Winners!

By Samantha J Rayner, on 17 July 2014

UCL Publishers’ Prize inaugural winners announced
The team behind the UCL Publishers’ Prize have this week announced the winners of the inaugural award, which was launched earlier this year with the aim of discovering a new generation of literary talent among the current student body.
The Prize was set up as part of the MA in Publishing’s Publishing Project module, which requires students to work on their own book-related projects in small groups.
After drawing up a shortlist of just 20 stories from a submissions pile of over 120, the Publishing students were advised on the final decision by three guest judges from the publishing industry: fiction publisher Laura Palmer from Head of Zeus, literary agent Lizzy Kremer from David Higham Associates, and agent’s assistant Harriet Moore, also from David Higham Associates.
Competition was fierce for the first, second and third place spots, with the winners due to receive £300, £200 and £100 respectively. PhD scholars battled undergraduate students, flash fiction took on longer narrative and a variety of different genres vied for top place.
In the end, the winner was MA student Gwyneth Kelly for ‘MoodBeam SunSubstitute’, a speculative story about a sun-replacement salesman searching for authenticity in a world of artificial substitution. Lizzy Kremer called the tale “as finely wrought and fully realised as any short story by a professional writer”.
Second place went to archaeology undergraduate Lucy Smith for ‘Bud, Rose, Thorn’, a fairytale-esque piece about a newspaper reporter following a story of missing children to its chilling conclusion. Harriet Moore praised the story’s “charming and unsettling” narrator who “makes us aware of his own unreliability in a way that draws us in, seduces us even”.
Finally, third place was awarded to MA student Clematis Delany for The ‘Tale of Lena-Jane’, which opens with the narrator’s father dying… and then dying again and again. Laura Palmer called the story “morbid and blackly funny”.
Two further stories were highly commended: a second offering from Gwyneth Kelly entitled ‘Walker of Dogs’, and PhD student Kristen Perrin’s ‘The Rock Monster’.
The shortlisted stories will be published in an anthology which will be launched at an event in London at the end of September, where the winners will read from their pieces. Clays will print the anthology over the summer and the production will be managed by the MA students.
Supported by the recently relaunched UCL Press, the UCL Department of Information Studies and UCL’s Joint Faculty Institute of Graduate Studies, the Prize will be a continuing legacy and will be passed down to the next crop of Publishing MA students.
Project Manager Molly Slight said: “We were delighted with the reception that the Prize had in this, its inaugural year. Our aim was to get over 50 entries and we ended up with over 120! All the shortlisted authors should feel extremely proud, as they were up against some seriously stiff competition. We are grateful to UCL for their fantastic support and to our guest judges, who offered us useful industry insight into which stories they felt were most publishable, and which authors they would like to see more from. I am really excited by the talent we have uncovered and look forward to launching the book and, with this, hopefully launching the careers of some brilliant young authors.”
The full shortlist of stories to be published in the anthology is as follows:
‘The Fourth Floor’ by Nicholas Baines
‘The Boys I Mean Are Not Refined’ by Kathleen Bryson
‘The Tale of Lena-Jane’ by Clematis Delany
‘After Hours’ by Alice Dunn
‘A Run’ by Oskar Gordon
‘The Room’ by Elizabeth Harvey
‘The Party’ by Callie Hitchcock
‘Unseasonable Snowflakes’ by Naomi Ishiguro
‘Untitled 1′ by Bruno Kaapa
‘MoodBeam SunSubstitute’ by Gwyneth Kelly
‘Walker of Dogs’ by Gwyneth Kelly
‘Demand and Supply’ by Yohann Koshy
‘Anne/En’ by Heather Lee
‘Apples’ by Anna Opara
‘The Rock Monster’ by Kristen Perrin
‘Bud, Rose, Thorn’ by Lucy Smith
‘West Country Funeral Honours’ by Luzia Troebinger
‘At The Other End’ by Jonathan Tsang
‘E’ by Sydney Vickars
‘Back Home for Christmas’ by Jeremy Yang
For more information on the Prize, please visit www.uclpublishersprize.com, follow @UCLPubPrize on Twitter or email uclpublisherprize@gmail.com.

Desmond Elliott Prize – Lauren Nettles

By Nick P Canty, on 14 July 2014

By Lauren Nettles

Finalists D.W Wilson, Eimear McBride, Robert Allison

Finalists D.W Wilson, Eimear McBride, Robert Allison

“Debut fiction is the bravest, most exciting and purest form of the art,” declared judging panel chair Chris Cleave at the Desmond Elliott Prize ceremony last Thursday. The passion for debut novels and their importance in the world of fiction was tangible in Fortnum and Mason’s lovely Drawing Room as we eagerly awaited the announcement of the prize’s seventh winner.

The short-list was comprised of Ballistics by D.W. Wilson, author of two short story collections; The Letter Bearer by Robert Allison, author of an absolute stack of history books; and Eimear McBride’s A Girl is a Half-formed Thing, her first published work.

A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing continued its incredible year by adding The Desmond Elliott Prize to a pile of awards which already includes Goldsmiths Prize, Folio Prize, Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction, and Kerry Group Irish Fiction Award. After nearly a decade of rejections, A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing was picked up by Galley Beggar Press, an independent publishing house in Norwich, and proceeded to take the literary world completely by storm.

The Desmond Elliot Prize is doing incredible promotion for debut novels, but there’s simply no such thing as too much good press, and Cleave knows the best way to obtain it. “Publishers are much less able to take risks on unconventional first novels, so I believe that it is now up to established authors to seek out, champion and amplify the best new voices,” he stated. As someone just getting a foot in the door of the publishing industry, I hope that I will be able to watch the world of literature grow thanks to writers such as McBride, Wilson and Allison offering a hand to authors in the difficult position of being undiscovered amongst countless other titles as they once were.

If established authors take the time to support their fellow writers, the worst case scenario ends with more literature being recognised and appreciated. The worst that could happen if they don’t is much less enjoyable; as Cleave said, “Let this generation of writers give life to the next, or may we be damned as the ones who let literature be murdered on our watch.”

Further information on the Desmond Elliott Prize for new fiction can be found here.

Desmond Elliott Prize 2014 – Meg Tobin-O’Drowsky

By Nick P Canty, on 14 July 2014

Eimear McBride’s A Girl is a Half-formed Thing wins 2014 Desmond Elliott Prize

Eimear McBride

Eimear McBride

 I was honoured to attend the 2014 Desmond Elliott Prize ceremony on Thursday 3rd of July. Held on the fourth floor of Fortnum and Mason’s famous Piccadilly store, the place where Elliott (who arrived in London with £2 in his pocket; there’s hope for us all) did his grocery shopping, the whole evening was very exciting. While waiting for the announcement to begin, I found myself playing a classy game of ‘who’s who?’ and quickly discovered that every part of the book business was well represented, from librarians to academics, publishers and media to data aggregators and booksellers. Everyone was happily mingling and catching up, and for a night it was easy to forget all about the stressors that bookmaking weighs on everyone in the industry. Of course, we were all there for one reason: to celebrate writing, writing being one thing everyone in the room had in common.

Having had the great fortune of meeting D.W. Wilson, Robert Alison, and Eimear McBride a couple of weeks prior, I of course noticed them first upon my entrance and was immediately star-struck. The three of them have so many awards under their respective belts and boast such talent that I couldn’t help but be in awe of the company in which I found myself. And then I spotted Chris Cleave and added his list of awards to the pile, and I discovered I could swoon even further. Thankfully, I was rescued by a pair of librarians from Barrow-in-Furness who were also found wandering, lost, around the ground floor of Fortnum and Mason before the ceremony. They joined in my game of ‘who’s who’ and the instant camaraderie between us, attributed both to not exactly fitting in with the crowd and our collective love of books, is something that has stayed with me. I’ve found myself thinking about them every day since.

But on to the main event: the air was electric in the few moments before Cleave, Chair of the judging panel, took the podium. He introduced all three books with such passion and beauty, and succinctly described why the Desmond Elliott Prize is so valuable: “Debut fiction is the bravest, most exciting and purest form of the art, but today’s forces in book retail are lethal to new talent. Publishers are much less able to take risks on unconventional first novels, so I believe that it is now up to established authors to seek out, champion and amplify the best new voices.” Cleave provided the highest praise for all three novels and everyone in the room seemed swept away by his elegantly crafted words (no one could ever be fooled into thinking Cleave is anything but a writer). Appropriately, Cleave had lots of very high praise for A Girl is a Half-formed Thing, and I think we’d be hard-pressed to find someone in the room who disagreed with him: “It is the most untamed, most expertly crafted, most daring, most challenging and most moving human story I’ve read in years. Its language pulsates and adapts, disintegrating and resolving at will. Above all it is a seditious act of storytelling that does what only the greatest works of fiction do: irresistibly it pulls you in to the story, leans close to your ear and whispers you something true about yourself.”

After the announcement was made and McBride said a quick thanks, the champagne again flowed and everyone in the room continued to mingle and chatter, fully at ease. It was truly an evening I’ll always remember, and I’m so thankful I was given the chance to stand in the same room with so many incredible people, winners and otherwise.

‘By the Book’ Publishing Studies Conference

By Nick P Canty, on 25 June 2014

Villa Finaly

Nick Canty and Prof Iain Stevenson from UCL’s Centre for Publishing spoke at the By the Book conference in Florence last month. The conference, held at Villa Finaly an academic institution outside Florence and owned by the University of Paris, brought together scholars from the field of publishing studies to examine key issues around the digital transformation of the book, as well as to discuss the developing field of publishing studies. This was the first conference to bring together scholars and researchers of publishing studies from across Europe and beyond - there were presentations from ten countries in total including two from South Africa giving a truly international perspective on the subject.

Over the two days of the conference, 28 presentations discussed how digitisation was changing publishing, bookselling and even reading habits as publishing formats change as publishers innovate and experiment. The conference provided an opportunity for researchers and teachers of publishing studies to assess the implications this changing landscape has for us, our programmes, our students and the discipline.

Speaking on a panel on reading practices, Nick gave a paper on bibliotherapy with case studies on some ‘books on prescription’ schemes in the UK with examples of how bookshops can engage with customers through guided reading programmes such as those offered by the School of Life and Mr B’s Reading Emporium. ‘Books on Prescription’ is now a category in the Kindle ebook store. Iain gave a talk on his recent research in the Book Tokens archive. Dr Melanie Ramdarshan Bold, who is joining the Centre from Loughborough in September, discussed her research on regional publishing in the North of England and the North West of the United States.

The full list of presentations can be found here.





Cúirt International Festival of Literature

By Britt S Van Klaveren, on 15 April 2014

Last weekend, four students from the MA Publishing class visited the Cúirt International Festival of Literature in Galway, Ireland. Not only because of the many great authors that would be present, but also because one of the MA Publishing students, Philip Connor, had won the New Writers Prize in the fiction category! To read his brilliant story follow this link. Again, congratulations Philip!!

In addition to celebrating Philip’s success, we also visited two events. On Friday night we went to an event featuring Hollie McNish and Patrick DeWitt. I was unfamiliar with both authors, and after this event I fell a little bit in love with both of them. Smart, lovely, and incredibly funny they both caused the audience to cry with laughter. Especially a poem by Hollie McNish, ‘Mathematics’, stuck with me for the next couple of days, an honest and heartfelt poem on immigration. See the video below to hear the poem being read by Hollie McNish and experience it for yourself.

The next evening we went to see Eleanor Catton and Rachel Kushner. They both did a reading of their latest novels and were interviewed for an hour afterwards. Again – loved them. Having already seen Eleanor Catton at an Apple Store event shortly after she had won the Man Booker Prize 2013, we were familiar with her almost intimidating intelligence and charm, something that hadn’t changed in this interview. Picture this and add the witty Rachel Kushner – a formula for a brilliant event. Rachel Kushner’s reading intrigued me so much that I hurried to buy her book, ‘The Flamethrowers’, after the event, and was lucky enough to get her to sign my copy.

After these events we went to an after party where all the authors, book sellers, event organisers, and us as baby publishers/fan base wandered around. My first visit to Galway and the Cúirt Festival was a brilliant experience and I will definitely go back again.

Written by Britt van Klaveren

The Perfect Typeface

By Britt S Van Klaveren, on 24 March 2014

As future publishers, we are not only looking for great content, we also want things to look pretty… Here is a fun and handy guide to choosing the perfect typeface for any type of project, including books! Which fonts are your favourites?

Seen on Adobe InDesign’s Twitter page @InDesign on 24/03/2014.

Books Are My Bag – part 5

By Britt S Van Klaveren, on 16 March 2014

Bookshops Are My Bag
Written by Anneliese O’Malley

It was a pretty cushy assignment for the first week of UCL’s Publishing MA – to spend several hours observing and interviewing customers in independent bookshops. We got to know some booksellers, we got to know some readers, and both groups had interesting and complex views of the health and wellbeing of bookshops and print books.

My group’s experiences were marked by the fact that we visited specialist bookshops with a developed customer base. We began our day at French’s Theatre Bookshop, which not only sells books but also publishes scripts and sells rights to those putting on productions. Situated between RADA and the University for the Creative Arts, they are well-placed to take advantage of the local student population, and many of the customers we ran into were either current students or alumni. The shop also hosts a range of readings and events.

In terms of Books Are My Bag, posters and flyers were displayed prominently, but the shop had run out of bags days before our visit. The bags themselves had prompted a great deal of curiosity from customers, though many hadn’t heard of the campaign before visiting the shop. Of those we interviewed, all agreed that any campaign that supported independent retailers could only be a good thing.

This is where our day took a turn for the serendipitous. Roaming through Bloomsbury during the lunch break we assigned ourselves, we stumbled across a small bookshop flying the Books Are My Bag bunting proudly in their front window. We had found yet another specialist bookshop called Gay’s The Word, which has been serving the needs of the LGBTQ community since 1979. What quickly became clear was that this shop does more than just provide products; it also provides a safe space and a community for those who might struggle to find one elsewhere.

The member of staff who spoke to us gave the impression that the shop has been a lifeline in the past, and that it continues to be an important source of information. He was optimistic about the positive changes in recent years, that more and more young people feel comfortable seeking the shop out, and that they can bring their parents with them. To me this shop felt relevant and alive, with a steady flow of customers and plenty of conversation and recommendations flowing between customers and booksellers. The shop also hosts readings and has a weekly Lesbian Discussion Group, as well as having an active online presence. I’ve included a link to a youtube documentary about the shop that explains why it is so important to its community of sellers, authors, and customers:

Finally, it seems to me that independent bookshops need to know who their customers are and make the experience for them something that can’t be repeated by chains or online giants. This is what each of the bookshops we visited, in different ways and with differing levels of success, have managed to achieve.

Your next must-see museum: The Plantin Moretus Museum

By Britt S Van Klaveren, on 12 March 2014

Written by Meg Tobin-O’Drowsky

Ok, so the museum itself might be a bit of a trek (it being located in Antwerp), but believe me, it’s worth the trip. I recently visited the museum on a holiday that spanned four cities and what seems like hundreds of museums, but the Plantin Moretus Museum stood out miles beyond the rest.

The museum is located at Officina Plantiniana, which was both the home and the workshop of Christophe Plantin, and later the Moretus family, who inherited Officina Plantiniana from Christophe Plantin. The museum touts Plantin as the most important printer-publisher of humanism and the sciences in the second half of the 16th century and the first industrial printer in history. It houses a variety of old printing presses, including the two oldest working ones left in the world. It is a UNESCO world-heritage site not only because of the printing house and family residences, but because it holds so many company and family archives, which UNESCO’s Memory of the World considers to be an “integral part of European history.” (http://www.museumplantinmoretus.be/Museum_PlantinMoretus_EN/PlantinMoretusEN/PlantinMoretusEN-UNESCO.html)

When I walked into the first room, I was a little confused. The museum starts off in the residence’s salon, and is followed by other rooms containing original furniture. It was interesting and beautiful, but it was missing anything related to printing.

After taking in the beauty of the living spaces and bedrooms, a quick trip through the garden leads to the part of the museum that sprawls with publishing and printing paraphernalia. The museum is seemingly a massive collection of everything Plantin and the Moretuses ever touched.

Plantin ran a bookshop out of the front of the publishing house:


The bookshop / Type / Seven printing presses and workshop tables

The two oldest working printing presses in the world today

First Dutch dictionary, commissioned by Plantin in 1573 / The Gutenberg Room with the 36-line Bible (before 1461) / The first atlas, 1570

Discussing Plantin’s presence at the Frankfurt Book Fair in the 16th and 17th centuries.

As you can see, the museum is filled with type (many of it unopened and unused), libraries, books going back as far as the 1400s, printing presses, workshops, and so much more. It’s a veritable time capsule. Of course, I’m biased: being a publishing student made the Plantin Moretus Museum all the more interesting to me. But if you have any interest in the development of humanity, the dissemination of information, or the evolution of reading, writing, and printing, you will fall in love with the Plantin Moretus Museum, just as I did.