Thursday, 2 October 2014

Hot off the press…

Here at Phoenix Writers we haven't been paying much attention to our blog of late but that's because we've been too busy putting together an anthology of our work instead. Below Daniel Ribot interviews the movers and shakers behind the project.

I am standing not far from Phoenix Square in Leicester with a gaggle of my favourite fellow writers who have just put together the Phoenix Writer's first ever anthology. It's a good-looking book, packed with excellent stories and my task is to bring you the story behind this remarkable little publication. Around me, in an elliptical formation, are Sally Knight, Wayne Kelly, Leah Osbourne and Maria Smith (who is the driving force behind this project). If I may, I will start by asking Maria some questions and you can chip in where appropriate. OK?

(murmurs of partial acquiescence follow) 

Right, let's get on then!

1. How did the idea for the Phoenix Square anthology come about?

Maria: About twelve months ago, I glanced out of the window during one of our critique sessions and to be honest the idea came to me fully formed. It was one of those rare moments writers get when an idea forms in the mind. I just thought wouldn’t it be a good if we all wrote a short story about a character that, either lived, worked or was somehow connected with Phoenix Square. And wouldn’t it be great if we could put all the stories into an anthology, which we could then sell to raise money for a local charity. It was a simple plan.

 2. Why did you decide on Phoenix Square as the name and theme?

Maria: It seemed fitting to call the anthology Phoenix Square because of the content, and I’m a big believer in keeping things simple.

Why I decided on the theme? Honestly, it just popped into my head. Once it came, it snowballed, and I put the idea to the group the following week. I wasn’t sure how they would react, as we had never collaborated or done anything like it before. I suggested that when our stories were written we should publish them in an anthology, which we could, if the group wanted to, sell, and ALL profits would go to a charity chosen by the group.

The response was overwhelming, and without exception, everyone wanted to take part and contribute to the project. They also fully supported the idea of donating the proceeds from sales to a local charity.

3. How were the contributing stories chosen?

Maria: I gave everyone the guidelines, which were simply, to write a 1000 word, or less, short story, about a character who lived, worked or was in someway connected with Phoenix Square. Enthusiasm for this project has been amazing, in fact its been infectious. I set a deadline that everyone had to have their story the best they could make it by January 2014.

Within a week of explaining the idea, and getting a decision on the spot from my fellow scribes, stories were presented the following week for critique! Everyone was on board from the start, and got on with writing the story they wanted to tell. Each writer had their own idea, on what they wanted to write, and that was fine by me as long as the story met the brief. Our critique sessions were full on as everyone wanted to contribute their best work, and everyone wanted to help each other to that end.

As the deadline approached we all knuckled down to get our manuscripts ready for the next stage. All stories were sent to the ‘Grammar Police’, better known as Leah, Mary and Tom, who advised any corrections. After that, the stories went out to a professional editor.

Sally: I’d previously worked as a graphic designer and volunteered my services as typesetter. I was asked for costings and set about getting quotes from printers. At that initial stage I had no idea how many pages the book would make but since all the stories were going to be a thousand words I was able to make reasonable estimate.

Once the stories had been sent out for editing the book was typeset and members were given proofs of their stories to check. I also did a couple of cover designs, one of which was accepted by the group. When the books finally went off to print I had a nerve racking few days waiting to see what they looked like but in the end they didn’t look too bad even though I do say so myself.

4. What has been the best thing about putting this anthology together?

Maria: I can answer that easily. The enthusiasm and passion of the members of Phoenix Writers, who generously, between them, wrote the stories, designed the cover, and put the anthology together. They also donated the cash to buy the print run, so that ALL the monies from the sales of the books could be donated to Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Rutland Air Ambulance, the charity chosen by the group.

5. And the worst?

Maria: Keeping all the balls in the air. Making sure things were moving forward. At times it seemed like nothing was happening, but I can tell you, behind the scenes there has always been something going on to further the project. We are all busy people, with commitments outside of the group, and everyone has been eager to get the anthologies in our hands so that we can raise some funds, and have a party to celebrate!

6. Any plans for future Phoenix Writers Projects?

Maria: There has been talk of running a writing competition...

Me: Ah, yes. That was Wayne's idea wasn't it?

Wayne: Was it? Ok – I was taught to never turn down credit when it’s offered. Yes, it seems like the logical next step for our little group, and a great way to raise our profile and connect with other talented scribes.

Another idea currently being mooted is the creation of our own ebook imprint to release more anthologies as well as individual stories and any other exciting project that stokes our creative fires.

Maria: People enjoyed collaborating on this project, I can see us getting something else going in 2015.

7. Where can I get hold of a copy?

Maria: Print and digital copies will be available on the launch evening.

Wayne: The launch evening takes place on the evening of October 21st, in the atmospheric surroundings of the cellar room at Exchange Bar in Leicester [] three professional actors will perform a selection of the stories, books will be available to purchase and it will be the perfect opportunity for other like-minded creatives to meet for a chat in the heart of Leicester’s Cultural Quarter.

So come and meet the authors and enjoy an evening of storytelling!

Maria: Also Leah is in charge of the digital version.

Leah: I have contacts from my own self-publishing projects and figured it would be crazy not to take advantage of them. Especially since e-books are such a vast part of the market, why not utilize the digital magic out there and create something that people could enjoy on an e-reader? Karen Perkins of LionheART Galleries was wonderful enough not only to proofread our anthology and donate her fee to Air Ambulance, but to do the same with the fee for formatting the file reading for uploading to Amazon. She's kindly donated £60 to our charity, enabling us to reach a global audience through taking advantage of Amazon’s distribution channels. Rock on.

Maria: Summing up – None of this would have been possible, without the hugely talented Phoenix Writers. Apart from the writing, the creativeness of the group is amazing. We may come form diverse backgrounds, but everyone has pitched in and bought their skills to the project. Its been a fun!

Me: Well, there it is. Have to go now. The wind is getting high and we need to get back indoors. Just got to mention that you're all invited to the launch of 'Phoenix Square.' See you 7.30 at the Exchange Bar Rutland Street on October 21st. It's £3 per copy and all proceeds to charity. See you there!!

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