Jan 7, 2011

10 Questions With Jan Fortune-Wood - Welsh Author & Publisher

Jan Fortune-Wood is a Welsh author and publisher. She has published four novels and is the proprietor of one of Wales' most innovative and dynamic independent publishing houses. AmeriCymru spoke to Jan about her writing and her future plans for Cinnamon Press.

AmeriCymru: You are both an author and a publisher - which came first and did one lead to the other?

Jan: I’ve written all my life. My creative writing took a back seat for a long time while I was home educating my children and working (I was a Church of England minister), but I did write books on home education and alternative parenting during this time. About ten years ago i was seriously ill and we moved to North Wales. When I was beginning to recover I went back to writing poetry and had an offer from a small press to publish my first collection. A bit later I did an MA (masters degree) in novel writing and the same publisher took my first novel. By this time I’d began to dabble with publishing via a small press poetry magazine and I was also realising that in my MA I particularly had editing skills that I could use so Cinnamon Press was born.

AmeriCymru: Your novel 'Standing Ground' is set in a future time dominated by the despotic E-Government. But it is replete with references to mythical Arthurian characters. Can you tell us a little more about the book?

Jan: I’ve written four novels and The Standing Ground was far and away the most fun to write. It was aimed at older teenagers, but seems popular with adults too. The ideas came when home education in the UK was under attack from government moves to dictate more of the content of education at home and have more invasive policies into family life. At the time there were also wider moves to introduce ID cards for everyone which my older children were involved in opposing.

The Standing Ground imagines a not too distant future in which the benefits of technology are magnified, at least for the affluent, but the price of this is an all pervasive controlling government that no longer trusts parents to raise their own children, but instead removes them to ‘pods’ attached to schools with minimal parental contact and a restricted curriculum, no history or philosophy, for example). One of the main characters is Luke, a fifteen year old who is pushing against the system, partly because he senses that his own father is different and not so tied into the system. Nazir, Luke’s father, is a famous artist, but also seems to have privileges that Luke can’t quite understand. Despite this connection Luke’s freedom is threatened when he begins to ask too many questions and it seems likely that he will be sent to a draconian correctional facility to be made to conform.

Online Luke has met the other main character of the book, Alys. She claims to live outside of E-Government in a corner of Wales (present day Gwynedd) that has resisted and maintained a small population of free people. Luke has no idea if Alys is real or just an online fiction to trap him, but he has decide whether to take drastic action to try to reach Alys in The Standing Ground.

Alys’s family have their own problems – within The Standing Ground there is a fierce debate as to whether this fragile free area should use their resources to try to communicate with the wider population and break the control of E-Government (Alys and her mysterious maths mentor, Emrys Hughes, have their own project to break government encryptions) or whether they should use the European parliament to gain recognition as an independent state, giving them more security.

I’ve always been fascinated by mythology and the archetypes it gives to stories. The Arthurian legends speak of Arthur returning at dark times to bring freedom and living in North Wales. The landscape is steeped in the legends of the Mabinogi, including the stories of Artur (or King Arthur). So in this story the characters slowly emerge as modern representations of those archetypes and their power of maths and technology also contains older powers that converge to stand against the darkness.

AmeriCymru: What are your future writing plans?

Jan: I have a new novel out this month, Coming Home – a novel about a man who abandons one family only to later abandon another, returning to Wales to try to pick up his life and written from the perspective of himself and the women in his life.

I’m currently working on two new books. The first is a poetry collection centred on a village in the mountains above my home called Cwmorthin. It was once a large slate mine with barracks and houses and chapel and mine workings, a harsh industrial place known as ‘the slaughterhouse’ because of the high death rate of the miners working there, but also a thriving community with ‘cabans’ in which the men met daily to discuss politics, religion, philosophy and to sing. Now it is a place of picturesque ruins and utter tranquillity, but the culture has gone. I’m examining the emotional landscape of the place through natural landscape and architectural ruins in poetry sequences.

The second is a novel that deals with issues of transformation, centred on three characters who undergo major life changes in traumatic circumstances and whose stories interweave. It’s set in England, Wales and Zimbabwe and covers periods from the Zimbabwean bush wars to the present day. It’s involved lots of research and lots of getting to know the characters, but I’m hoping the writing will come together over the next year and then the editing can begin.

AmeriCymru: When was Cinnamon Press founded and what tempted you into the publishing business?

Jan: Cinnamon Press was five years old in 2010 so we’re still relatively young. I was looking for a new direction after major illness and life change (I had a series of severe work place assaults in my parish work) and started a magazine to keep my brain ticking over. Then, doing the MA, I realised I had a knack for editing so Cinnamon began as a very small scale tentative project, but the success of early books helped it to snowball. We are still very much a small press and run on a shoestring with a lot of voluntary input, but the books have gone from strength to strength.

AmeriCymru: What does Cinnamon Press look for in a work for publication or an author?

Jan: Our tag line is ‘independent, innovative, international’ We’re really looking for distinctive voices whether in poetry or prose – books that have something to say and say it with skill. We put a lot of care into editing, but we don’t have the resources to take on books that are really not ready to be published so authors need to be sure the book is of high quality before they submit. In simple terms we want good writing that engages us.

AmeriCymru: In addition to publishing, Cinnamon Press provides a range of services and competitions for aspiring and established writers. Care to tell us a little more about this aspect of your work?

Jan: It’s often hard to get started in writing and small presses can be good places 
to get that first platform. The competitions run twice a year. The novella/novel competition and the poetry collection competition are for first time authors in those genres from anywhere in the world. The competition leads to a full publishing contract for a first collection or first novel/novella and the books that have been published in this way have done very well, including being short listed for some prestigious literary prizes. The short story competition is open to any story writers and the winning story appears in an anthology named after the story along with the best runners up from the story and poetry competitions. We’ve also gone on to take single author collections from two of the authors who’ve done well in the story competitions.

We offer other services to help writers, both beginners and more experienced writers. These include several writing courses that run through the year and a mentoring service that I run with two other Cinnamon Press writers.

AmeriCymru: Cinnamon Press also publishes Envoi magazine, can you tell our readers about that?

Jan: Envoi is the oldest poetry magazine in the UK, now in its 54th year. It’s a large format, perfect bound magazine with a good range of poetry from new and established poets, reviews, articles and features such as guest poets or poetry in translation. Envoi receives an enormous amount of submissions so it’s very competitive to get into, but this means that the quality stays high.

AmeriCymru: Where can people buy Cinnamon Press titles online?

Jan: We have a dedicated website at www.cinnamonpress.com with all of our books available and postage rates for international customers set up there. Books are also available at www.inpressbooks.co.uk an Arts Council site promoting small press books and at the Welsh Books Council site, www.gwales.com The books are on Amazon in the UK and the Book Depository in the UK, but our own site or Gwales or Inpress are the recommended ones.

AmeriCymru: How do you see Cinnamon Press developing over the next few years?

Jan: We started with poetry collections and then added full length fiction. Over the last couple of years we’ve published some unique and exciting nonfiction of cross genre titles and we will be continuing to develop this area of publishing. We’ve also just published our first single author short story collection and will be developing this genre further. Another new area in 2010 was a book combining poetry and imagery – I Spy Pinhole Eye by Philip Gross and Simon Denison won the Wales Book of the Year award and this year we have our second imagery and poetry collaboration, a very exciting book that looks at issues of ecology, Where the Air is Rarefied by Pat Gregory and Susan Richardson. With such wonderful books my main development aim is to get the books out into more arenas – these books really deserve to be read.

AmeriCymru: Any final message for the readers and members of AmeriCymru?

Jan: Welsh publishing generally exists on tiny budgets and our readers really matter. Do support the books in any way you can and if you’d like to be added to our monthly mailing list with news of new books and offers send me an email – jan@cinnamonpress.com

Thank you for reading and all the best for 2011.

Interview by Ceri Shaw Email

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