The Story of Us Linky

To celebrate the publication of our latest book, The Mother’s Milk Books Writing Prize Anthology 2014: THE STORY OF US we’re having a blog link-up on the theme of ‘The Story of Us’ (in a family context). So if you’d like to share some poetry or prose, or if you’d like to write about one of the pieces in the book that has touched you in some way, we’d love to have you involved.

All we ask is that (technology-allowing) you insert the image/badge below at the bottom of your post and then click on the blue froggy linking button and add your link. And if you could comment on the other bloggers’ posts that would be very welcome. (Also, why not tell us about it on Twitter? We are: @MothersMilkBks.) Many thanks for taking part!

Gratitude, Our Birthday and Free Verse: The Poetry Bookfair

Since I wrote our last blog post a lot has been going on. Those of you who receive our monthly newsletter will be more up-to-date than those who don’t but still, I always seem to be behind with relating all our news and all too often I don’t manage to get my (seemingly important) reflections on publishing onto the page and onto this blog. So in this post I’m going to try to change that. First, I would like to once more express my deepest gratitude to all those kind folk who bought books, cards, prints, made donations and sent me good wishes and offers of help after I sent out our SOS newsletter. It helped us get through a real difficult patch, and although finances are still an issue (they’re always an issue with a small press) fingers-crossed we are staying afloat *just* and looking forward to the future. Hooray!

Second… we managed to get through the summer busyness and unexpectedly found ourselves in September with our annual Writing Prize once more welcoming submissions, a brand new book to launch (the excellent, and fast selling out – The Mother’s Milk Books Writing Prize Anthology 2014: The Story of Us) and a visit to Free Verse: The Poetry Book Fair. So I kind of overlooked the fact that Mother’s Milk Books has turned four! We will celebrate with a Facebook giveaway very soon (and perhaps a nice cup of tea for me and Helen) and then it’ll be back to business as usual.

Turning four is actually quite a big thing. In that time I have published eight books and my son has gone from being one to five (he turns five this weekend – how did that happen?!). It is his chubby baby hand in the above photograph on the cover; nowadays his hands are a lot less dinky. Sob! I have been an at-home mother for those four years and only now have I found myself occasionally mentioning to people that I publish stuff as well. What stuff? they ask. And it’s then that I realize that I’m much better at writing about the books I publish than talking about the books I publish. But hey, that’ll come…

Anyway, so we’re four and it’s a big deal really since I do the business side myself (accounts, admin, website etc.) the majority of the publishing stuff (commissioning, editing, typesetting, proofreading, cover design) and all the bookselling too (marketing, social media management, advertising, visiting independent bookshops, packaging books, cycling to the post office to get books sent out…). So I can’t help but feel proud at what I’ve achieved – particularly as it’s mainly been done late at night when my children are asleep. So I’ll silence the voice that’s saying ‘But, but, but…’ and which likes to tell me that I should be doing more. ‘Sssh!’ Anyway, here’s to the past four years and (hopefully) to another four more years (going from being in the red to being in the black would be a bonus too!).

So on to Free Verse. This was the first time that I was there with my Mother’s Milk Books stall. There was a great buzzy atmosphere and it was fantastic to see (and meet) so many people enthusiastic about poetry (though, unfortunately, that enthusiasm didn’t always spill over and translate into actual book sales!).

Teika Bellamy behind the stall. Photo courtesy Sarah James of V. Press

As I don’t think I can expand on what others have written about the event I’ll just list a few things that impressed on me: (forgive me my cheesy overuse of the word ‘glow’ – it’s a nod to yesterday’s National Poetry Day; the theme being ‘light’).

1) Catching sight of the welcome glow of Sarah James’s hair at the far end of Conway Hall when I first arrived and felt a bit nervous.

Sarah James behind our joint stall

2) Chatting to the legend that is crime writer (and poet) John Harvey and introducing myself to him as the publisher of Oy Yew (author Ana Salote met him at Lowdham Book Festival). Later on, rather fantastically, he bought a copy of Oy Yew. Warm glow inside. 🙂

3) The sheer number of publishers, poetry lovers, poets, *potential* buyers and beautiful books on offer. Conway Hall was fairly glowing with poetry.

4) Seeing Angela Topping’s poem ‘Empty Nest’ in the Free Verse Programme. Warm glow inside (again).

5) Listening to Sarah James reading from Hearth and Jacqui Rowe reading from Ransom Notes (V Press). “Great Grandpa’s fireside” from Sarah’s poem, ‘Hearths’, glowed in my mind’s eye.

Jacqui Rowe reading from Ransom Notes (V. Press)

6) Meeting and talking with other publishers, who were fairly glowing with poetry enthusiasm. (As the day wore on, though, the glow did lessen as fatigue took hold.)

7) The legend that is Ross Bradshaw of Five Leaves Press wandering past and saying hello to me as though it was completely natural for us to both be here in this crazy melee of poetry right in the middle of London 130-odd miles away from our Nottinghamshire homes. Happy glow. 🙂 (Five Leaves Bookshop, in the centre of Nottingham, is run by Ross if you didn’t know. We are very thankful to them for stocking our books and cards.)

8) Catching up with ‘lost poet’ Ben Johnson (and founder of Ravenshead Press) whose poem ‘Kids’ featured in Musings on Mothering. Another warm glow. 🙂

9) The colourful glow of the multi-coloured tablecloth on the Bloodaxe poetry stall.

10) The sight of so many kind volunteers helping out during the day and packing up at the end of the day. Warm glow of gratitude for those kind souls.

Photo courtesy Ben Johnson of Ravenshead Press

I would have loved to speak to all the publishers but really, there wasn’t enough time. However, I did get to speak to the following, and as ever, I was impressed by their beautiful poetry books and enthusiasm.

Sarah James of V Press, Nadia Kingsley of Fair Acre Press, Sam Smith of The Journal, Camilla Nelson of Singing Apple Press, Steven Hitchins of Literary Pocket Books, Jan Fortune of Cinnamon Press, Adam Craig of Liquorice Fish Books, Lawrence Schimel of A Midsummer’s Night’s Press, Tony Frazer of Shearsman Books, Martin Parker of Stonewood Press, Helena Nelson of Happenstance, Alwyn Marriage of Oversteps Books, Krishan Coupland of Neon Books, Jamie McGarry of Valley Press, Emma Wright of The Emma Press, Sarah Miles of Paper Swans Press, Jane Commane of Nine Arches Press, Neil Astley of Bloodaxe Books, Ross Bradshaw of Five Leaves Press and Adam and Michael Horovitz of New Departures/Poetry Olympics.

Apologies if I have left anyone out – my memory’s not as good as it used to be. For more on ALL the fabulous publishers who were there at Free Verse, there is a list of them here.

And finally, a huge thank you to Chrissy Williams and Joey Connolly who made the whole crazy-poetic shebang happen (as well as the Arts Council for funding – Long live the Arts Council!).

I will look forward to next year.

June Newsletter and SOS!

This is the first time that I’ve shared my publishing struggles in our newsletter so I decided to post this here in the hope that it’ll reach even more people. Thanks!


Dear Supporter,

As I’ve probably said countless times, running a small press is hard work. There are a small (but goodly) number of us publishers, founders, editors, fools, visionaries — call us what you will — across this small island and each individual brings their own unique identity to the press that they run. So the press, and the books that it publishes, is a reflection of, or perhaps a conduit for, its founder’s voice (political or moral), artistic taste and literary leanings.

All of us founders are so very different… (I’m the breastfeeding mama if you want to label me thus. Or you might know me as the one who’s got a Ph.D. in chemistry. Or the one who is mad keen on fairy tales and whose name means ‘fairy tale’ in Latvian. Or the one who pours far too much double cream into her coffee and wonders why her hips are swelling in her age-old tracksuit bottoms.)

But one commonality between us is that we’re either poorly paid or not paid at all (I fall into the latter category) and that we’re vastly, eminently, amazingly passionate about the books we publish.

Recently, two articles by fellow publishers (whom I greatly respect) – Helena Nelson of Happenstance Press and Sam Jordison of Galley Beggar Press – made a deep impression on me.

In Helena’s Poetry Campus pub chat interview, when asked, “Do you make any money from publishing?” she answered: “The right question would be, ‘How much do you lose?’”

And in Sam’s newsletter/SOS, he wrote:

“We’ve brought quite a few new and glorious novels into the world and really don’t want much more than that. Although we’ve had it….

….Yes, this is a begging letter.”

He then proceeded to explain in great technical detail about the state of UK publishing:

When Sam wrote, “Although we’ve had it.” I admit, I shed a tear or two. I think that he unwittingly prodded an emotional wound in me. You see, I’m no longer as youthful, energetic and optimistic as I used to be; I’m very, very tired as a result of fitting in the work of the press around family life; and the financial debt that we’re in is a constant strain. There are many days when I want to say, “Enough!”.

And yet, and yet… I’m still just as passionate about the books I’ve taken on and am going to publish. These books absolutely deserve to be out there, and I so desperately want readers to find them.

But I can’t produce and market these books without sales and pre-orders. The press simply won’t be able to survive and take on new authors without people buying/pre-ordering our stock, reading our books and recommending them to others.

So to quote Sam, “Yes, this is a begging letter.”

If you’ve only got a couple of quid to spare, you can help us out by buying a card or two. Or a beautiful pamphlet of poetry duets or an almost-sold-out Writing Prize anthology.

If you’ve got a couple quid more you can pre-order/order Oy Yew. This is not a book only for children, it’s a book for all ages, which is absolutely up there with what I consider to be the greats: His Dark Materials and Harry Potter.

Or for the same-ish amount you can buy a gorgeous print to frame and hang on your wall.

Or you can buy a book of fairy tales for an adult audience, or a collection of poetry by one of these two well-loved poets: Angela Topping and Cathy Bryant.

Or you can buy our bestselling and critically-acclaimed anthology Musings on Mothering.

Or you can invest in a unique handbound copy of Musings on Mothering or Letting Go.

Or if you’re feeling particularly generous, you can make a larger donation. (You may need to scroll to the bottom of the page to find the donate button.)

Femininity. Empathy. Normalizing breastfeeding. I want to keep on producing books on this theme. If you’d like to help out, or know a person or two who’d like to help out, please do spread the word.

With many, many thanks for taking the time to read this,
best wishes from Teika (and Helen, who’s been my absolute cheerleader throughout) xxx

And p.s. if you’re in Nottinghamshire this Saturday (27th June) don’t forget that we’re launching Oy Yew at the Lowdham Book Festival, 11.00 – 12.00. Come along and say hello. Or buy me a coffee with plenty of cream in it. 😉
p.p.s. and yes… I know that this newsletter is going out ridiculously late for some of you to catch the last-minute reminder about Lowdham, but I had to see a man about some books today… (Photo courtesy my little son.) [Russell Press are our fab printers by the way.]

Interview with Wendy Orr, winner of the Mother’s Milk Books Writing Prize (poetry category)

As we approach the publication of the summer issue of the inspiring natural parenting magazine, JUNO in which the pieces of the Mother’s Milk Books Writing Prize winners will appear, I’m delighted to be able to share this interview on the blog. A big thank you to Wendy for taking the time to share her thoughts on motherhood, writing, and what it means to win this prize.

Wendy Orr and daughter (photo courtesy Wendy Orr)

1. Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I live with my husband and our 8 year old daughter Mathilda, in the beautiful East Neuk coast of Fife. I have a background as an English teacher and consultant in secondary education. Over the years, I have studied: Literature and Language, Deaf Studies, Secondary Teaching, Educational Leadership. The latter, was a Masters that I was doing whilst pregnant and completed when Mathilda was very little. Motherhood made me much more practical about “getting things done” in the spaces. Since moving back to Scotland recently, I spend most of my time taxiing Mathilda about between school, friends’ houses and activity clubs and settling us into a new home.

2. How, when and why did you first start writing?

I have always been drawn to poetry. When I was a child and half-asleep one evening, I saw my dad leave a beautiful, illustrated edition of R. L. Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses at the end of my bed (my sister got fairytales). I felt it was a magical moment and I used to copy out the poems and draw from them. My mum would sing nursery rhymes or The Beatles’ lyrics and we used to say little bedtime prayers as a child too. All of this was a kind of early poetry, for speaking aloud. I just loved the beauty of words behaving in extraordinary ways and my mother’s voice beautified words. Later, I used poetry as a type of self-consolation or working through life, a type of journal although much less systemised. I wrote with a personal purpose but without technical discipline but it became increasingly part of me and I found I wanted it to be clearer, better.

3. How often do you write?

I now write every day but this is a very recent development. I love to do it and I may only find 10 minutes here and there but I find it more and more necessary to my wellbeing and sense of fulfilment. Eavan Boland has commented on the efficiency of writing for 10 minutes – it’s amazing what you can achieve. I also try to write for an hour before everyone is awake – it’s the first thing I do if I can get away with it but I’m not a clockwork type so it’s all quite random and chancy. I like late night writing too but have to rein this in otherwise I’m useless to the world the next day!

4. What made you decide to enter the Mother’s Milk Books Writing Prize?

I love blogs, small presses, anything that centres on women’s writing and the experiences many women have of fitting in work and creativity with caring roles and other commitments. I found Mothers Milk Books through the Mslexia website and ordered Angela Topping’s collection, Letting Go, which explored daughterhood and grief, which chimed with a personal experience. MMB seem to highlight the experiences of bonding through breastfeeding and by coincidence, I had been working on a poem which considers this and also draws on the experience of just holding my daughter in everyday life. I saw that the competition deadline was tantalisingly close enough for me not to over-think it – so I closed my eyes and pressed send!

5. How did it feel when you’d heard that you’d won?

I was writing very early in the morning and it was still dark. I just checked my email and saw the word “winner” and “Mother’s Milk” and had this very unusual moment of dreamlike calm. I wasn’t fully awake so I had to check the message several times to make sure I hadn’t invented it. I was delighted.

It has actually become an important milestone for me because it has brought such unexpected encouragement and validation from other writers and a heightened awareness that writing which centres on motherhood and other female experiences, is very much valued. Some recent friends who are very fine, publishing poets let me know that they were already watching out for the competition results and highlighted to me the significance of such a win, for working poets. It has been a remarkably positive experience and feels all the more meaningful because the poem was about my daughter.

6. Can you tell us a little about your winning piece of writing?

The poem started off as a much shorter lullaby-like lyric for Mathilda, which she loved, about the physical experience of holding her and feeling held by her. It developed into memories of breastfeeding (which had its complications for me following neck surgery). It made me feel that we needed each other to make it work – that she was also physically supporting me with her own strength and that I was being gifted a kind of reawakening and realignment through her; a reciprocal nourishment. It made me more acutely aware of Mathilda’s emerging personhood (even as a new baby) and her power seemed to free me, in those close moments. But I couldn’t have articulated any of that until I wrote the poem.

7. Any future writing plans?

I am enjoying writing whatever comes naturally from everyday experiences and observations. I do instinctively seem to write using the imagery of the coastline and there is a kind of darkness to the way I encounter the natural world, which I want to further explore. I also write about family and want to delve a little deeper into the histories of long-gone family members who have become almost mythical in the left-behind detail and lack of detail. Collaborating with another poet or artist would really interest me too in the future. I love the idea.

8. Any tips for writers?

Read. Read as much contemporary poetry as you can get your hands on. It’s very readily accessible online and keeps the eye and ear fresh. I believe you begin to absorb and filter and appreciate what’s meaningful to you by reading a wide range. Libraries such as the Scottish Poetry Library are amazing (you can order online from there). You can also get an immeasurable amount of sustenance from poetry events and readings such as at the STAnza Poetry Festival in St Andrews, to which people travel from all over the world. I found poets there to be open, collaborative and welcoming people – it’s great fun too. Find the nearest one and immerse yourself!

Wendy’s winning poem ‘We Are Sleeping’ will first be published in the summer issue of JUNO (out June 2015) and then in the Mother’s Milk Books Writing Prize Anthology 2014: The Story of Us which is to be published this September. 

Launching ‘Hearth’ at the Cheltenham Poetry Festival

Last Sunday, Sarah JamesAngela Topping and I arrived at The Playhouse in Cheltenham to launch their pamphlet of poetry duets, Hearth. Although we had a small audience (the clash with Wenlock Poetry Festival no doubt decreasing numbers) they were a great audience. They listened to Sarah and Angela’s poetry reading with appreciation, and then afterwards the Q&A discussion about creative collaboration, motherhood and how to find time to write amidst busy family life was lively; in fact, we nearly ran over our allotted time slot!

As the publisher of Hearth (and as a reader for one of the parts of their collaborative poem, ‘Crow Lines’) I got one of the best seats in the house – right beside the poets. For me, it was brilliant to actually hear these poems being read by their creators. As the publisher, editor and typesetter I knew these poems well on the page, but when they were read they somehow flew and further life was breathed into them. And when I heard two of my favourite poems from the pamphlet, ‘The Washing Line’ by Sarah James and ‘Hooam’ by Angela Topping being read, I felt a tingle of magic running up and down my spine.

The Washing Line

The sister I never met hangs out my sheets,
pairs socks, dries my husband’s shirts
— sails smoothed towards the sun.

Sleeves brush against sleeves;
their unfleshed white flutters free.
Dropped pegs scatter on the grass.

I clip three together: a plastic family.
That’s Mum, Dad and me;
pinched tight without her.

She has polished the kitchen surface.
My unwashed potatoes
are peeled moons in her hands.

Her cheese soufflé rises from liquid velvet.
Always ready, the ghost of her absence
blurs my face from our photos.

Her dead baby lungs filled with water,
my chest aches where they buried her smile;
its sickle scrapes my ribs.




Childlike, I danced in a dream;
Blessings emblazoned that day;
Everything glowed with a gleam;
Yet we were looking away!
                      Thomas Hardy

Me mam’s clatterin in ower kitchen
me dad’s at work. Am on me tod
playin in living room. Fire’s in.
Ah sit on floower, spread farms
on carpit, cows n pigs n sheds
all mine t’ rule ovver an all.

Now ah’m grown, owen haaus to rule ovver
me dad’s gone, so’s me mam.
Bring em back, yem days, gimme back
yon carpits, gawdy nick-knacks,
an brassoed stuff, fireplace an all.

Gimme dem days back, ‘ow it was
an me not seein it were passin.



After our event I was busy with our bookstall – all those in the audience came to buy a copy or two of Hearth, which was really lovely. Then, the poets for the next reading came in to set our their books and to mingle and chat. There was a lovely, friendly atmosphere – with many of the poets being firm friends and I must admit that I felt quite at home!

Sarah, Angela and myself then attended the next event – a reading by poets Adam Horovitz and David Morley. This was pretty packed, and I sensed a crackle of excitement in the air. Adam and David, very different poets, were absolutely riveting. And just as with Angela and Sarah’s reading, their poems seem to fly off the page and swirl around the room, coming to rest in the audience members’ hearts and minds.

I am absolutely convinced that anyone with an interest in poetry would love to come to an event like this. These poets showed me that poetry is very much alive and well, and absolutely itching to be discovered and shared.

After the event and packing up the bookstall, Angela, Sarah and I (as well as Angela’s lovely, supportive husband) enjoyed a pizza and talked more about poetry. All in all, it was a great day, and I am already looking forward to the next time I get to go out on a poetry ‘junket’!

We currently have a limited number of copies of Hearth (18 at the moment) that have been signed by Sarah and Angela in our online store. Do snap them up before they all go!

p.s. I’ve already got an eye out for another brilliant pair of poets to come together for another pamphlet of poetry duets. Please do check out the submissions if you’re interested. And if you’d like to suggest any pairings, please do leave a comment on this blog post. Thank you!

The origins of The Forgotten and the Fantastical

Welcome to ‘The Forgotten and the Fantastical’ Carnival This post was written especially for inclusion in ‘The Forgotten and the Fantastical’ carnival, hosted by Mother’s Milk Books, to celebrate the launch of their latest collection of fairy tales for an adult audience: The Forgotten and the Fantastical. Today our participants share their thoughts on the theme ‘Fairy tales’. Please read to the end of the post for a full list of carnival participants.


I haven’t written anything new for this blogging carnival, and yes, I’m aware that potentially it may look as though I’m taking a little creative holiday… but right now my creativity has been called elsewhere (I’m currently designing the cover for our next publication – a pamphlet of poetry duets by Sarah James and Angela Topping called Hearth) so I thought that in the absence of fresh words I would fall back on some ‘older’ ones. I read an extract from my Introduction to The Forgotten and the Fantastical at the launch of the book at Nottingham Writers Studio on World Storytelling day (20th March) and as it seemed to go down well then, I thought I’d do the same here.

I would like to add though, that I was really pleased with how the launch went. There was a lovely, friendly atmosphere, and the glow from the dimmed lamps and fairy lights made for a cosy environment. I’d put together a slideshow of some of the images from the book (each image was accompanied by a quote from the relevant story) and what with the wine, cake and fabulous readings from Becky Cherriman and Lisa Shipman (as well as gorgeous music from The Green Children on the DVD player) all in all it was a rather magical evening… Thank you to all those involved who made it possible. And not forgetting my wonderful children and husband (and mum) who supported me throughout those moments when I was a rather cranky and super-distracted person!

Becky Cherriman, me and Lisa Shipman

I hope that gives you a flavour of the launch and I hope you enjoy the rest of the carnival! Oh, and don’t forget that we’re open for submissions for the next in the series of The Forgotten and the Fantastical too…


I have always been fascinated by fairy tales, particularly when I learnt that my name, Teika, means ‘fairy tale’ or ‘legend’ in Latvian. I loved everything about the classical fairy tale books I knew as a child: the intriguing titles of the stories, the short, pacy narrative, the characters and the happy endings… I adored too the beautifully-drawn illustrations that accompanied the stories – the heroines and heroes were nearly always dressed in incredible finery. I had to wonder if clothes so beautiful could exist in real life. No doubt inspired by these books and my love of all things fantastical I set about making my own collection of fairy tale books.

            The first book I remember making consisted of a small wodge of thick, shiny pieces of paper that were stapled together and illustrated in felt-tipped pen with pictures of characters from Star Wars. (Young as I was, it was clear to me that Star Wars was basically a fairy tale set in space. It had a princess, for goodness sake!) On the reverse of the pages there were images of computers that controlled paper-making machines; my father worked for a company which manufactured these futuristic-looking machines, and the paper must have been advertising material. On each page I’d drawn a character accompanied by a few wobbly-looking words. I even threw in the odd joke. I must have been about five or six years old at the time.

            Fast forward thirty-three years… I still had this passion to produce a marvellously fantastical book. Thankfully, other writers shared my passion for the fantastical too, so my call for submissions for the first ever fairy tale collection to be published by Mother’s Milk Books was met with great enthusiasm!

            I was, as ever, humbled by the quality of the submissions. What I love about this collection of stories is the depth and range of writing on show. I feel that these diverse voices, each with their own unique style, complement each other beautifully, giving the reader an insight into the storyteller’s psyche. For it is in the nature of fairytales to connect with their audience on an emotional level. There are some powerful connections to be made here.

            What I love, too, about this collection is the fact that there are no passive princesses here. Strong women, real women, are a feature of the book and although there may not always be a happy ending for them, we can at least give witness to their trials and learn from their tribulations.

            I really enjoyed putting together this collection, so much so that my intention is to publish a series of these ‘modern fables and ancient tales’.

            We are all in need of a little magic these days, and I sincerely hope that this book will provide some escapism; a flight, if you will, into the world of… the forgotten and the fantastical.

Teika Bellamy, Spring 2015

Taken from The Forgotten and the Fantastical 2015

The empty storytelling chair at Nottingham Writers’ Studio


The Forgotten and the Fantastical is now available to buy from The Mother’s Milk Bookshop (as a paperback and PDF) and as a paperback from Amazon.

It can also be ordered via your local bookshop.

Any comments on the following fab posts would be much appreciated:

In ‘Imagination is quantum ergo fairies are real’, Ana, at Colouring Outside the Lines, explains why we should all believe in fairies and encourage our children to do the same.

‘Wings’ — Rebecca at Growing a Girl Against the Grain shares a poem about her daughter and explains the fairy tale-esque way in which her name was chosen.

In ‘Red Riding Hood Reimagined’ author Rebecca Ann Smith shares her poem ‘Grandma’.

Writer Clare Cooper explores the messages the hit movie Frozen offers to our daughters about women’s experiences of love and power in her Beautiful Beginnings blog post ‘Frozen: Princesses, power and exploring the sacred feminine.’

‘Changing Fairy Tales’ — Helen at Young Middle Age explains how having young children has given her a new caution about fairy tales.

In ‘The Art of Faerie’ Marija Smits waxes lyrical about fairy tale illustrations.

‘The Origins of The Forgotten and the Fantastical — Teika Bellamy shares her introduction from the latest collection of fairy tales for an adult audience published by Mother’s Milk Books.

Writing Prize update and other news

It seems to have been a very long time since I managed to write a post for this blog, but as most of you probably know I’ve been very, very busy! The busyness has been very positive though – some of it has been to do with the Writing Prize, and some of it has been to do with the new website (I hope it looks sufficiently stylish?!) and of course some of the busyness has been to do with the next book we’re publishing: The Forgotten and the Fantastical.

With regard to the 2014 Writing Prize I’m delighted to be able to say that after much deliberation, the two judges, Cathy Bryant and Milli Hill, have made their final choices. The winners will be announced next week, right here on this blog. If all goes to plan, Wednesday 4th March will be the day of the big reveal…

Although of course I can’t say much about the winning and commended pieces, I CAN say that we had an increased number of entries compared with last year – in particular, there was a huge amount more prose sent in. The quality of the writing was simply outstanding, with both judges being in turn humbled, moved and delighted by the poetry and prose on offer. They had to make some really tough decisions, and I certainly didn’t envy them their difficult task. The good news is that because we had an even greater number of entries this year the judges were able to select even more commended pieces. So I’m already looking forward to putting the book together and getting it published this September! In other news, our new book-to-be The Forgotten and the Fantastical is ready to be pre-ordered. If you’d like to get £2 off the RRP of £8.99, then why not pop along to the store and get it today? Pre-orders really, really help us. They give me a better idea of how many books to print, meaning there is less money trapped in unsold books. Mother’s Milk Books only just about keeps afloat through our sales (and of course the work of all us volunteers!) so if you want to support us, please do consider pre-ordering a book, making a donation, or buying a stack of greetings cards… We’re going to have a big old sale next week (2nd – 8th March) so it’ll be a great time to buy a ‘something’ in time for Mothering Sunday.

Lastly… if you’re about in Nottingham on World Storytelling Day (that’s the 20th March), please do consider coming along to the launch of The Forgotten and the Fantastical. There will be storytelling, drinks, and lots and lots of fairy cakes! The launch will take place at the Nottingham Writers’ Studio (of which I’m a member) and it’ll start at 7 p.m. It’s free to enter, and anyone interested in stories (or cake!) is very welcome to attend. And p.s. we’re also open to submissions for our follow-up to The Forgotten and the Fantastical. Details can be found here.

Interview with Helen Lloyd, our new Editor

Helen Lloyd is a Bath-based writer, editor and technical accountant. She has had something of a lifestyle shift since having her two sons, and now makes her living with a portfolio of work that uses all her skills, while spending her days with her family and seeking out spare minutes to read and to pursue an unrealistically long list of interests.

1. Please can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your family.

I live in Bath with my husband Huw, and two small boys, Isaac and Aneurin. Before I had Isaac we were living in London and I had a very busy job working in technical accounting. After I gave birth to Isaac I quickly realised that going back to my busy job wasn’t going to work for me and Isaac! I surprised myself by becoming (what I considered to be) a hippy parent — breastfeeding for much longer than I’d expected and finding that I couldn’t think of anything more important than being at home with my son.

So I left my job and found work that I could do around my baby by working every evening and every time he slept. Thrillingly for me the work was mainly writing (albeit about accountancy) and, for the first time, someone was paying me to write! (I now have two accounting books to my name, with another on the way.)

I trained as a breastfeeding counsellor with La Leche League so I fit that around my part time job, some freelancing with real spreadsheets (once an accountant, always an accountant), and now, of course, my work with Mother’s Milk Books.

I’ve been lucky to have the chance to edit LLLGB’s members’ magazine Breastfeeding Matters too – it’s hard work but is giving me lots of editing practice.

To make sure I keep writing, I blog at about all sorts of topics, with a bias towards books and babies.

2. So… you’re now working for Mother’s Milk Books as an editor. How did you first come to hear of Mother’s Milk Books? What was it about the press that held your interest?

I think it was when I first became involved with LLL – I saw a call for submissions for the book that turned out to be Musings on Mothering. I thought this might be just what I needed to get myself writing, so I contacted Teika but I’d missed the deadline. It made me aware of the press, though, and I bought the book as soon as it came out.

I loved the idea of a press that’s focused on these topics that had suddenly became so interesting to me: mothering, and breastfeeding, and all with a sense of warmth that didn’t come at the expense of intelligence or intellectual curiosity.

3. What will you be doing as an editor? And can you explain a little bit about how editing works?

At this stage I’ll be working pretty flexibly doing whatever’s most needed at the time! I’ll be reading manuscripts and debating their merits with Teika, as well as acting as a general sounding board; I then love the process of performing a detailed review and giving feedback for authors on what is and isn’t working.

From my own experience of writing, too, I know that everyone needs an editor. When you’ve laboured on something it’s really hard to be objective enough about what works and what doesn’t. This might be at the very high level of which viewpoint is used, or the large structure of a piece, or it might be in the detail, whether it’s repetition, paragraphs that don’t flow, or something else. I’ve had a few pieces edited myself where my first response has been total dejection because it’s covered in red pen – but actually, it’s incredibly valuable to have someone helping you work out what could be rearranged, clarified, or cut – even if it does feel as though they’re pulling apart your baby.

4. When you read a manuscript what gets you excited, and equally, what makes you nod off?

I think the thing that really pulls me into any kind of manuscript is honesty. This doesn’t just apply to non-fiction, and it means so much more than telling the truth. When a piece is written from the heart, and the author has been careful to listen to their own inner voice and to be true to it, it always pulls me in. I don’t mean that I particularly love confessional memoirs, but I really do dislike pretentiousness, false tone, or anything that seems like an attempt at cynical manipulation of the reader. I am also an automatic proof-reader and it does trouble me when anything has basic spelling or grammatical errors in it. It seems to me that one way of showing basic respect to a reader is to ensure that this sort of error just doesn’t appear.

I read a fiction manuscript recently that Mother’s Milk Books will be publishing next year (note from Teika: Helen is talking about the incredible Oy Yew) and I loved pretty much everything about it, though what’s really stuck with me is the authenticity of the main characters. The author clearly knew them as she was writing about them, and this glows through the work, and leaves the reader frantically rooting for them because they feel so real.

5. Can you tell us what some of your favourite books are?

This is such a hard question! My best way of answering it is to give you a couple of examples across a few genres, with the caveat that I’ll almost certainly have forgotten to mention something I love.

In fiction, if I need to be sure of reliably escaping from the world for a while, it’s Dickens every time, with Bleak House winning. I do enjoy a lot of modern fiction, too (though I’m impatient with even more of it) – I could single out Everything is Illuminated (Jonathan Safran Foer) just because it came back into my mind recently, and is such a perfect example of a consistent voice (in fact, more than one) and of idiosyncratic language use that is genuinely funny and touching rather than irritating.

In non-fiction, I must have read Naomi Stadlen’s What Mothers Do at least half a dozen times. It’s genuinely shaped the way I think about my mothering and myself, and has given me rich reserves of ideas to draw on.

Then, and arbitrarily limiting myself to a small number, I have to mention Stephen King’s On Writing. Whether or not King’s novels are your thing, his advice on writing is provocative and stern and sensible and accurate and, most of all, inspiring. If you read that, and Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing, and Francine Prose’s Reading Like a Writer, and you’re not immediately overwhelmed with the urge to shut yourself away with a pen and a pile of books, then I’m going to suggest that you’re not quite human!

6. Some of your favourite authors?

Again, where do I start, and where do I stop?

In no order: Marilynne Robinson, Charles Dickens, Lorrie Moore, and Hilary Mantel. If I had a shelf full just from them then I’d be able to stay in one room forever.

This is based on a very personal idea of a favourite author being someone whose new work you would buy regardless of its title, described content, or critical response. I suppose Dickens fails that test, as he’s unlikely to produce anything new, and I can’t imagine I’ll ever read Pickwick Papers to the end, but he’s a reliable safe place, and bears infinite re-reading. With someone like Hilary Mantel, her voice is so eerily hers, despite the massive range of topics her novels and stories have covered. I hungrily seek out interviews with her, just to get a fix.

7. Any thoughts about the kind of literature being published nowadays?

It seems to be so hard for any book to make a mark. To my mind, this means we’re seeing a lot of low-risk literature being published, in the sense of covering areas or themes that have already been addressed again and again.

There’s still room for bravery and innovation, but it’s hard for publishers to take a leap where a work can’t be easily categorized.

I also have a personal bugbear about books that just aren’t edited enough. There has been flab in a lot of the modern fiction I’ve read recently, sometimes with whole sections that do nothing to move a story forward, or just with a general tendency to overwriting. In some cases I imagine this to be left in there through editorial fear of offending the writer, and it irks me. An editor should be able to be honest enough (and trusted enough) to be able to point out this kind of excess, because writers are usually too close to their own work to be able to be sufficiently ruthless.

8. Are there any up-and-coming authors we, as readers, should be watching out for?

I mentioned above reading a manuscript that I’d loved pretty much everything about. Ana Salote’s Oy Yew will be published in Summer 2015 and I’m so excited about it. Ana’s writing is so fresh, and although it’s a children’s book, it’s subtle and complex enough to have kept this adult enthralled – and it’s the first of a trilogy! I’m hoping to invoke some kind of editor’s rights to grab the manuscript of the second one the minute the ink is dry.

9. Now that the benefits of breastfeeding are better understood is there a need to publish books that celebrate femininity and normalize breastfeeding? i.e. is there still a need for Mother’s Milk Books?!

I do think there’s a very real need for this sort of book, still. The benefits of breastfeeding are well documented, but I’m not sure they’re fully understood yet, and there’s definitely not enough out there that celebrates the joy of breastfeeding (as opposed to the health advantages and so on).

Some people are embarrassed about celebrating the mother-baby relationship, worrying that it reduces women to their reproductive skills, but this ignores the possibility of rich transformation that motherhood brings. Mother’s Milk Books has a place in recognizing and valuing this.

10. What kind of books would you like to see Mother’s Milk Books publish?

I’m not unbiased here, since I’ve loved everything Mother’s Milk Books has published so far, but I do hope to see more straight non-fiction books celebrating the joys of mothering. (Note from Teika: Helen, your wish has been granted! more on that later…) The anthologies so far (Musings on Mothering and Parenting) have been packed with fantastically written short pieces – so many of these have themes that could easily grow into a book! I have a couple of particular hobby-horse ideas of my own, but I’ll keep them close to my chest while I nurture and develop them.

It would be great too to see Mother’s Milk Books printing fiction where breastfeeding is casually present, as it were – not a theme, or a preoccupation, but a natural and unremarkable part of the picture. Apparently, Baby X by Rebecca Ann Smith which is being published in 2016 fits this remit so I’m eagerly waiting to get my hands on this too!

11. Can you share any tips for aspiring writers wishing to be published? Or tips for how to get creative when you’re a busy mum?

For those hoping to be published, I’d say keep working on it. Write as much as you can, and read as much as you can, and work out why you love the things you love, so you can try to do it for yourself. But bear in mind that producing work that you’re proud of is only part of the battle, and be prepared for rejection and disappointment along the way. It may take a while to find a publisher who is a good fit for you.

As for creativity, I wish I managed this better myself. The best tip I’ve had, though, is to stop hanging on for those lovely great swathes of uninterrupted time that you used to be able to carve out for yourself in your life pre-children. Realistically, it will be years before this sort of luxury is available, so train yourself to work whenever you get any time at all, even if it’s only ten minutes as you hide in the kitchen while the pasta’s cooking. It takes strength and mental discipline to get good at using these slivers of time, but they really can add up – and besides, they are all that you’re going to get, so make the most of them.

12. If someone would like to support Mother’s Milk Books, what should they do?

Buy some books! Obviously there are other great things a supporter can do, such as sharing their love widely with friends and family and all over social media, but ultimately the way a business keeps going is by making sales – and this is a business that is worth keeping going.

13. Where do you work? Do you have a picture of your workspace that you’d like to share with us?

I’m in the smallest bedroom of the house, which comes complete with fitted wardrobe. I’d like to say that the picture is of my space on a messy day, but in reality this is as tidy as it ever gets. You can see that I have no separation of my interests/work streams except in having two computers so I can kid myself that everything’s under control.

One day I’ll have a long desk, the length of the room, with a work end and an art and craft end, with enough drawers underneath, enough shelves over, and a functional but pretty chair. Until then, it will be the folding dining table, spare dining chair, and books piled up wherever I can make room for them.

14. Final bit of frippery… tea or coffee? Milk or no milk?

Coffee, strong and black. I cut it with decaff at the moment, but there is just no joy to compare with that first cup of the day.

Cue long pause and me thinking… (the random thoughts of a publisher)

When a friend recently asked me what was involved in publishing, it took me a fair while to reply.

Cue long pause and me thinking…

We’re all consumers, in one way or another. When I eat my toast, I don’t think about how it got on my plate. I’ve got a vague idea about wheat being harvested, flour being milled and then voila! it’s bread and it’s in a bag and then it’s on my plate…

Rather like consumers of food, it’s not often that ‘consumers’ of books consider the book-production process.

Before I became a publisher I had no idea of what was involved in the making of a book. The writer writes, right? And then the publisher does some talking to the writer. And then the printer prints the book and voila! the book is now in my hands and I am free to criticize it endlessly, with not a thought for all the effort that has gone into its making.

Now I know. I really do truly know what goes into publishing a book because I’ve overseen every step of that process. And although I haven’t counted the number of steps involved it’s probably about a fifty-step process! (And that’s not even including all the work of the author, by the way.) There’s simply so much involved. It can (roughly) be split into: 1) book acquisition 2) editing & proofreading 3) book production i.e. typesetting, cover design, printing 4) marketing, promotion & advertising i.e. getting the book known, and 5) book selling. Number 6) is the whole business end, which includes the writing of contracts, long-term publishing plans, selling rights, finances, accounting, website maintenance. And of course there’s all that reading to be done…

Although I pretty much like all the aspects of publishing, the one thing that really excites me is this: reading a manuscript that I fall head over heels in love with. I also get pretty excited about getting just the right image for a book cover (pairing art with words is my thing!). And planning which books I’m going to publish in the coming years is also very exciting, but much more fun when you’ve got someone else to discuss it with.

So after I’d considered all the above, I finally gave an answer to my friend, and probably rather bored her with all the details!

Recently, I had to admit that I was becoming overwhelmed by the amount of ‘to-dos’ on my to-do list. I really needed someone else to be involved with Mother’s Milk Books. It was time (and this is where I get to feel very grand) that I got an Editorial Assistant.

So today, I am welcoming my new Editorial Assistant, Helen Lloyd who, as you can imagine, is passionate about breastfeeding and great literature. I am incredibly delighted to have her on board.

Over the coming months I’m going to be shining a light on all those wonderful folk involved in Mother’s Milk Books, from the incredibly important tea boy to the Editorial Assistant, as well as all the many, and varied, fabulous authors whose books I am going to publish in the coming months/years. Some of you may be familiar with them already as Mother’s Milk Books authors and some of them will be new to you. So welcome, Sarah James, Angela Topping, Ana Salote, Rebecca Smith and Alison Lock. I am super-excited to be working with you all! So if things seem quiet, in reality they’re not. I’m either busy actually doing the things on my to-do list, or conversing with Helen, or drinking tea and chatting to the lad who makes my tea.

Thanks again to all those who support Mother’s Milk Books. If it wasn’t for the readers (or should that be book consumers?!) who actually part with cash to buy our books we wouldn’t be able to keep this whole show on the road.

p.s. there is also the brilliant book of fairy tales taking shape in the background (more on that later!) and

p.p.s. I’m also running a giveaway on Facebook right now. Why not pop along to our Facebook page and enter to win some lovely (and new) greetings cards?

Photos of poetry in action, and a new book

Although I wasn’t able to make it to Cathy and Angela’s poetry readings at 8th Day Coop in Manchester last month it looks (and sounds!) to have been a great event, with an appreciative audience (and they were particularly happy to buy Cathy’s new book Look At All The Women. This is good news for me as a publisher!). And just a reminder, you can still get Cathy’s book, and Angela’s wonderful collection of poems Letting Go at a discounted price in our store at the moment. I thought I’d share some photos of the event, hopefully encouraging anyone who’d like to perform their poetry, to give it a go! Sarah Miller and Rosie Garland were also there, giving fine performances, so thank you to all who attended and made it a night to remember.

Angela Topping
Cathy Bryant

And another couple of lovely photos to share: the cover of our new book, and a box of the new books hot off the press!

It’s not too late to get £2 off the discounted price by pre-ordering from our store. The Writing Prize Anthology is officially published this Tuesday (30th September), so it’ll be shipped out to those organized folk who have managed to pre-order. And every copy of the book bought pays for one entry ‘fee’ to the 2014 Mother’s Milk Books Writing Prize. Bargain! Go on, why not write your own ‘Story of Us’ and send it to me. It’ll make me very happy.