Manifold Press

Aiming for excellence in gay fiction

Historical Novel Society review of A PRIDE OF POPPIES
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Dear Readers, we are absolutely delighted to find that our GLBTQI WWI anthology A PRIDE OF POPPIES has been particularly well received by the good people at the Historical Novel Society (HNS).

It's a short review, but every word of it is a gem. It's tempting to quote the whole thing here, but we'll restrain ourselves to the conclusion:

Entertaining, emotional and thought provoking this not only fills a gap in WWI literature, it is also a very moving and stimulating read with plenty of original ideas.

Not only that, but the book has been selected as Editor's Choice, and is long-listed for the HNS Indie Award 2016!

Anyone choosing to give this volume a try will of course not only be putting broad smiles on our faces, but will also be benefiting the military charity the Royal British Legion, to which we are donating all proceeds.

Thank you to Christoph Fischer, Helen Hollick and the HNS for such a thoughtful appraisal!

Two new books released today!
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It's the first of August already!  How does that keep on happening with such amazing regularity?!

Casting hysteria aside, once more we're proud to bring you two new books by two of our favourite authors:

In SMOOTHIE by Jane Elliot, the first in what we hope will be a new line of female-female adventures, we meet Heather, not the sort of girl you’d really look at twice, who reveals some unexpected qualities when she’s kidnapped and bundled into a series of high-octane adventures in the Florida Keys at the side of the mysterious - and devastatingly attractive - Natalie;

Over in Liam Livings‘ new title WRONG ROOM, RIGHT GUY we’re introduced to Simon, who’s struggling to be something he isn’t – conventional, boring, and an English teacher – when inside he knows he’s really a writer.  Blundering into the wrong room at his local Village Hall, he ends up with a group of recovering cocaine addicts rather than the creative writing group he was looking for – and that leads on to a whole series of misunderstandings which threaten to undermine the start of what could be a very promising new relationship…

These books both have a delightfully light-hearted quality, without skirting some of the more serious issues they both raise, and they each have leading characters who are flawed and struggling to overcome challenges life has thrown at them.  Watching them deal with their separate troubles will keep you thoroughly entertained and amused!

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MANIFOLD PRESS is once again in the throes of moving to a new - and this time, we hope, permanent - home; our delicious year of exile at the sea-side is coming to an end, and we'll shortly be relocating to our new premises in sunny Ellesmere Port.  If we're a little quiet for a while, therefore, we hope you'll understand why; normal service will be resumed as soon as humanly possible!

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From today, in this semi-regular slot, we're going to be bringing you a series of blog posts by authors looking back at their previously-published titles with MANIFOLD PRESS; we've asked people to write about any subject directly associated with the book in question, so we reckon we can expect a wide variety of responses. Here, to start us off, is Adam Fitzroy with some of the background behind DEAR MISTER PRESIDENT.

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To start this new series of retrospective blog posts I've been asked to cast my mind back to the first book I ever had accepted by Manifold Press, which was DEAR MISTER PRESIDENT.

I was very lucky in that I knew everyone involved in the founding of Manifold Press, so right back as far as that famous conversation in the café they were already counting on me to submit a book or several whenever I could - and in fact DEAR MISTER PRESIDENT was ready at an early enough stage for it to be the 'guinea pig' book for all the processes and decision-making that followed, which is why it also received the Press's first ISBN. In fact, it was a book which - one way or another - had already been many years in the making.

I'm of an age to have been enchanted by the golden dream of 'Camelot' which heralded the election of John F. Kennedy as President of the United States back in 1960. He was glamorous and charismatic, and - although nowadays his legend is a little tarnished - it was impossible, at the time, not to be swept up in the excitement of it all. I'm not sure how much notice I took of the election itself, but I could definitely tell that the world was changing - a new 'pop group' from Liverpool had started making exciting noises, men were growing their hair long, women were wearing shorter and shorter skirts … everything that was stuffy and old-fashioned and reminiscent of post-war austerity was being swept away in favour of the bright, the loud, and the extremely colourful.

That was the start, for me, of a life-long love-affair with the glamour of the Presidency. In the years since, I'm afraid few of the real-life individuals who have occupied the post have been remotely attractive to me in terms of their looks, their personality or their politics. However there have during the same period been a wonderful array of fictional TV and film 'Presidents' who have often served as vessels for hopes and dreams of what an ideal President might turn out to be. To name but a few, there's Harrison Ford's President Marshall in 'Air Force One' who hot-wires a 747 with a table-knife; Jamie Foxx's President Sawyer in 'White House Down' who gets hands-on and joins in the mêlée when his home is invaded; Kevin Kline's Dave Kovic standing in for President Mitchell in 'Dave'; Bill Pullman's President Whitmore inspiring the troops with his very own Agincourt speech in 'Independence Day'; Morgan Freeman's President Beck in 'Deep Impact' and Presidents Bartlet, Walken and Santos from 'The West Wing' (Martin Sheen, John Goodman and Jimmy Smits respectively) who are all shown as decent men doing difficult jobs in difficult circumstances. (My all-time favourites, I think, are probably former Presidents Kramer and Douglas - Jack Lemmon and James Garner - who go on the road-trip from hell together in 'My Fellow Americans'.)

It's always seemed to me that fiction gives us Presidents we would like to have, men we feel we can rely on to take care of the nuclear launch codes, and at its most basic that was the game I wanted to play; create a fictional President and his world, and find a way of showing that although he may be flawed and dealing with his own personal demons he is still worthy of being entrusted with the safety of the planet. The fact that he would end up falling in love with a man was a given from the start, but it brought with it a couple of fascinating questions; first of all, what sort of individual would be capable of attracting such a man - and secondly, how would the other party react to finding himself the love interest of the most powerful man in the world? The answer, as far as I was concerned anyway, was that he should be capable of seeing the man rather than the title - which presented a further set of challenges of its own.

Watching 'The West Wing' enabled me to absorb a lot of background and ambience; which situations would require the presence of Secret Service/bodyguards, for example, and who would serve the President his coffee? This sort of thing has a long and illustrious pedigree; Martin Sheen, in interviews, reported having to learn how the President goes through a door, and 'The West Wing' is full of such small and unobtrusive details which are at least as interesting as the storylines. I also have a number of books about life at the White House dating back as far as the Truman reconstruction in 1948 which shed a certain amount of light on the way the establishment is organised; so much information is available - albeit in some cases not especially up to date - that it really wasn't necessary to make much up.

The difference between the hereditary concept of royalty and the more immediate but shorter-lived power of the Presidency is also intriguing to me. People of royal blood understand almost from the cradle that they have a certain position in the world and they are brought up to it, with expectations and preparations very carefully aligned. An aspiring politician may have eyes on the White House from a similarly early age but there's never any guarantee he (or she) will get there - and, if they do, their term is limited by law. Unlike being royal, therefore, the Presidency is something that can happen to (virtually!) anyone, and there's a 'before' and an 'after' as well as a 'during', which allows a series of contrasts to be explored. How does anyone prepare for a role involving such massive power and responsibility? How does it change them during their term of office? What are their hopes and ambitions for the remainder of their lives? William Howard Taft, for instance, was President for four years and later Chief Justice for nine; he regarded the latter as the more important post, and used to say that he sometimes forgot he'd ever been President at all. He sounds to me very much like the hero of Kipling's 'If' - capable of meeting with triumph and disaster and treating the two impostors both the same. This is the sort of resilience I would personally be hoping for not only in a President but also in a sane and well-balanced human being, which is what I'd really like to think a President might be!

New titles for 1 August announced!
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We're a little early announcing our new titles this month but we're not going to have access to the Internet on 1 July so here - a few hours in advance - are the details of the two new books we'll be publishing on 1 August.

We're delighted to welcome back Jane Elliot, one of our most stalwart authors, who in an exciting departure for Manifold Press brings us what we hope will be the first book in a new line of female-female adventures.  In SMOOTHIE we meet Heather, not the sort of girl you'd really look at twice, who reveals some unexpected qualities when she's kidnapped and bundled into a series of high-octane adventures in the Florida Everglades at the side of the mysterious and devastatingly attractive Natalie ...

And over in Liam Livings' new title WRONG ROOM, RIGHT GUY we're introduced to Simon, who's struggling to be something he isn't - conventional, boring, and an English teacher - when inside he knows he's really a writer.  Blundering into the wrong room at his local Village Hall, he ends up with a group of recovering cocaine addicts rather than the creative writing group he was looking for - and that leads on to a whole series of misunderstandings which threaten to undermine the start of what could be a very promising new relationship ...

Both of these books have a light, fresh touch, and they take us on intriguing adventures with characters who are completely out of their depth; join us to see how, in their separate ways, Heather and Simon make sense of the bewildering situations they accidentally find themselves landed in!

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This month's guest blog comes from Manifold Press team member Heloise Mezen, our resident fact-checker.

Oxford, the Great War - and me ...

It's hard to imagine how different Oxford was one hundred years ago.  For those of us who attended Manifold Press's Queer Company event,the abiding memory of the town - as opposed to the jollity within the walls of the Jam Factory - is probably of road works, crowds and traffic. 

But we are in 1914 now: there is almost no motor traffic, for a start. William Morris has a motorcycle factory in Longwall Street, and has purchased the former Military College in Cowley to use as a car factory; but it has been commandeered for the manufacture of mine-sinkers.  Of the colleges, four - Lady Margaret Hall, Somerville, St Hugh's and St Hilda's - and one Society, the Home Students (later St Anne's College) are for women, but their intake is strictly limited. Women will not be admitted to be full members of the University until 1920 (beating Cambridge by 27 years).  Most of all, by the end of 1914, the university - and town - have been emptied of young men.

Some of those young men are famous now, although they weren't then.  In 1915, J.R.R. Tolkien (Exeter) graduated, and was commissioned into the Lancashire Fusiliers.  C.S. Lewis (University, 1916) had to postpone his studies when he was gazetted into the Somerset Light Infantry.  Robert Graves was on his way to take up a place at St John's when the war broke out; he too joined up, despite being half-German and a pacifist.  Edmund Blunden had been offered a scholarship to Queen's, but went to war instead, not taking up his place until 1919.  T. E. Lawrence, on the other hand, had already graduated from Jesus and in 1914, thanks to an award from Magdalen College, was working for the British Museum at a dig in Carchemish, poised and ready for his war-time activities in the Middle East.  John Buchan (Brasenose, 1895) was commissioned into the intelligence corps, while Balliol graduate Hardit Singh Malik (1912) in 1915 became the first Sikh pilot in the Royal Flying Corps.

The Town had its part to play in the war too: there was a Royal Flying Corps training aerodrome on Port Meadow to the north, where flyers practiced bombing with bags of flour and the grazing cattle had to be moved every morning to clear what passed for the runway.  At the Oxford University Press, May Wedderburn Cannan, daughter of the Press's manager, had trained as a VAD (Voluntary Aid Detachment) nurse in 1911, and went out to Rouen in 1915; she wrote of her childhood and the war years in Oxford in Grey Ghosts and Voices (1976).   

On the Gown side, many of the university buildings were so empty of young men that they took in guests: the Exam Schools on the High Street housed the 3rd Southern General Hospital; Keble College became the base for an Officer Training Corps; St John's College welcomed Belgian refugees; from 1915 Oriel College, only 10 of whose 133 undergraduates were still in Oxford, housed some of the young women of Somerville College in St Mary's Hall ('Skimmery'). Somerville itself had been taken over as a hospital for officers by the Radcliffe Infirmary next door.  One of those officers, in 1917, was Robert Graves; another was Siegfried Sassoon, recovering from gastric fever, who described his lodgings as 'very much like paradise.' 

Paradise it may have been, but Constance Savery (1897-1999, Somerville 1917) recalled seeing a notice in the dining hall to the effect that "Officers are requested not to throw custard at the walls", while Somerville's most famous Great War alumna, and arguably Oxford's most famous VAD, Vera Brittain, thought that Somerville made a better hospital than it did a college.  By this time, half of Somerville's young women were in 'Skimmery' and the other half in lodgings.  Vera was already planning, as described in her Testament of Youth, to suspend her studies in order to nurse.  (For a recent blog-post on the death of Vera Brittain's brother, see here).

The War cut deep into Oxford: of the 14,792 University men who served, 2,716 died - just over 18%.  At Corpus Christi College, the death rate among the men who served was one in four.  New College had more of its alumni killed in action than any other Oxford college.  After the war, against considerable opposition, the College Warden, Dr Spooner (yes, that Dr Spooner, of the spoonerism), insisted that the college's German dead should have a memorial in the college chapel along with the English dead.  It was the 1920s before the tablet was unveiled, but the German scholars have their memorial too.

New College.jpg

So: there is Oxford, there is the Great War: what about "me"? 

My first recorded connection to Oxford in the Great War begins with Cicely Williams who, in 1916 aged 23, came to Somerville from Jamaica to take up the place that she had deferred for family reasons.  She read medicine, a subject recently opened to women thanks to the dearth of young men available to take the course.  Then, in 1918, the Armistice was signed.  Soldiers and nurses returned from dangers that would have seemed unimaginable four years ago to a regime where the men were expected to be in college before the ten past nine curfew, and the women were chaperoned on every possible occasion.  In Skimmery, only a wall separated the Somerville women from the returned and exuberant Oriel men.

The Somerville log-book records that "On the night of Thursday June 19th 1919 certain members of Oriel JCR expressed their desire to return to S Mary Hall in a somewhat unusual but practical manner. After prolonged bombardment on the intervening wall a breach was effected through which several undergraduates jumped into the quad."  Somerville’s Principal, Emily Penrose, arrived on the scene promptly; after consultation with the Provost of Oriel, Somerville’s Senior Common Room agreed to "guard the hole throughout the night" in hour-long shifts.  One of the students who flanked Miss Penrose in her chair was Cicely Williams.  I know this, because, when I met her in 1982, Cicely told me herself (she was a remarkable woman who lived to be 98, no mean achievement considering two-and-a-half years of captivity in Changi Gaol).

I met Cicely because we were fellow-alumnae of Somerville, although I matriculated some sixty-four years after she did.  Somerville has been digitising its archive, and among the photographs and papers is this one. 

By kind permission of the Principal and Fellows of Somerville College

The College lawn looks more overgrown, and West Building considerably more ivy-covered, than it did in my day; but the nurse on the far left is quite clearly resting her hand on the windowsill of what, for three years, was my room.  It is oddly unsettling to look at this picture and remember myself on the other side of that open window; as if I were being haunted in reverse.  History lies deep as time at Oxford, and sometimes taps on the glass.

New review of A PRIDE OF POPPIES
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As A PRIDE OF POPPIES finds it way out into the wider community the reviews are coming thick and fast - and sometimes from review websites we hadn't previously been aware of.

For example, there's a very fine response from a reviewer named Astilbe over at Long and Short Reviews, which singles out some of the stories for individual praise and ends with these words:

A Pride of Poppies: Modern GLBTQI Fiction of the Great War is a beautiful collection that I’d recommend to anyone who has even the slightest interest in World War I or GLBTQI fiction.

Also, although it's not a formal review in quite the same way, we're especially proud of a wonderfully detailed appraisal on Goodreads by author Bryn Hammond who gives it five stars:

It’s hard to rate anthologies: you’d never give five stars if it has to be for every story, and that isn’t fair on anthologies; I think my five means, this is an outstandingly strong collection.

Thank you to both Astilbe and Bryn for taking the time to express their opinions of our work; we really appreciate it and are grateful to you both for helping to spread the word!

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Delightfully, Julie's BUTTERFLY HUNTER is still making new friends out there in the big bad world. This time it's come to the attention of the Joyfully Jay review site and has been featured in an unusual review for their 'Throwback Thursday' blog - we presume on Thursday 21 May.

Dave must teach Nicholas everything he knows about how to survive in the Outback as the search takes them through uncharted territory as the butterflies remain elusive. The men work well together and Nicholas makes it known that he is attracted to Dave. Dave cannot wrap his head around what he feels for Nicholas as the sight of the man’s many smiles and long pale fingers calls to him. Just as a butterfly transforms and changes, so will Dave as Nicholas becomes a need for him that he cannot live without.

On the whole, it sounds as if the book wasn't the perfect fit for reviewer Michelle, but she has some very nice things to say about it nonetheless; maybe we can find something that suits her better next time!

New review of A PRIDE OF POPPIES
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Over at Sinfully (formerly Sinfully Sexy) our friends Mark and Sally have joined forces to review our new anthology A PRIDE OF POPPIES - which they've done by reviewing and rating each story individually, the average being a fraction less than four stars out of five. In addition, they've made some lovely and perceptive comments about the separate stories, and if we quoted one we'd have to quote them all; suffice to say that they've absolutely done us proud, and in particular have likened the book to 'a box of chocolates' which as chocoholics ourselves we're definitely going to take as a compliment.

Thank you, Mark and Sally, we're thrilled to know that you had such a high opinion of our work!

Special offer: UNSPOKEN by R.A. Padmos
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For the next few days we're running a special offer on R.A. Padmos's acclaimed World War II title UNSPOKEN, the tale of Stefan and Adri and their individual struggles in the unforgiving climate of Nazi-occupied Europe.

"Stefan and Adri’s love is heartbreaking, without chance and often tragic. But it’s a story that many should read, cause beyond the bittersweetness, you could taste also the authenticity and strength of it."

Review by Elisa Rolle 6 January 2014

UNSPOKEN will be available from now until the end of the month at the bargain price of $2.99, so this would be a great opportunity to grab it while it's hot!

New review of THE PEACOCK'S EYE
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In a 'Recent Release Review' over on Love Bytes, reviewer Vicki has given us her response to Jay Lewis Taylor's new title THE PEACOCK'S EYE:

Wow… What a beautiful book! Slow and gentle.

I really want to say this isn’t a romance novel, it certainly doesn’t follow the traditional pattern of boy meets boy, stuff happens, they fall in love and spend the whole book together, until at the end they live happily ever after. But it kinda does follow that pattern, just in a really round about way.

We love this comment! Jay's story is definitely one in which the journey matters just as much as, if not more than, the destination; the rich detail of the characters' lives is what keeps us enthralled along the way!

Thank you, Vicki, and we're really glad you liked the book!


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