Arachne Press has run Solstice Shorts Festival since 2014 - a one day TIME themed festival of specially written short stories and poetry, and (traditional and original) music, performed by professional actors and musicians. Everything happens on the Shortest day of the year (the winter solstice), 21st December.
The festival is asignificant event in our calendar, both financially and creatively. We use the festival to talent scout for writers, many of whom have since been published repeatedly by us, and some have gone on to publish full collections of poetry or short stories with us, but mostly it is a celebration at the darkest time of the year.
Here are some of the contributing authors introducing themselves and their work
Although Arachne Press is based in Lewisham, the festival originated in Greenwich on the Prime Meridian (of course). Since 2017 we have branched out with events across the UK, all happening at the same time, or in the case of our Dusk event, overlapping as the sun set across the country. Again, since 2017 we have livestreamed to Facebook.
This year, times have been pretty dark throughout, so the winter solstice, a time for reflecting and looking forward, lighting flames against the cold, and above all telling stories, is all the more important. Just as we were ready to put out the submission call for material, lockdown struck, and a quick change of plan lead to a Corona-tinged theme. We are working on the assumption that the festival will have to be on line, but if we can do something on the ground, we will.
We now have the material: 14 stories, 9 poems and 3 songs all of which respond to the 16th Century poem Tymes Goe by Turnes by Robert Southall. We chose this poem for its acknowledgement of hard times and better times ahead, the wide variety of images it gave writers and musicians to play with, and because I personally have found it comforting!
A small crisis grant from Arts Council England allowed us to get this far, but as it only covered a few months it can't be used to produce and promote the festival, or create the book of the material.
We will create a book from the stories and poems and we already have a designer, Kevin Threlfall, working on the cover.
Previous books from Solstice Shorts Festival (these are available as rewards!)
We've just started contacting actors to find out who has facilities to video their contribution, and some of the authors are also up for videoing their own work. We haven't yet decided whether we will video live - probably on Zoom (risk of internet collapse) or pre-record and premiere it on Youtube and Facebook (loss of spontaneaity and sense of ocassion). We have a survey on the go, asking people what they prefer, so if you have an opinion on this, do please put in your thoughts (closes 30th September). We might prerecord the more complex pieces and do the shorter poems live...
I don't like not knowing exactly what we are doing, nor do I like trying to fund from a position of uncertainty, but that's Covid-world for you.
One of the lovely things about Solstice Shorts is the community of writers and musicians it brings together and their commitment to the project - which even includes providing rewards for the crowd fund! We couldn't offer one of the suggestions - a weekend in a holiday cottage, because of potential lockdown issues, (but thank you Jackie!) We also decided it wasn't sensible to offer the traditional solstice cakes that editor Cherry makes, so she's offering writing critiques instead - not quite as tasty... we also have coaching sessions for writers from author Neil Lawrence,
a suncatcher from author Patience Mackarness, (This has GONE)
personalised poems from poet Laila Sumpton,
badges & t shirts designed by Cherry Potts,
New T shirt design and prints from cover artist, Kevin Threlfall.
hand crocheted shawl by author Karen Ankers
poetry collections from Claire Booker, Jane Aldous and Ness Owen, all of whom are poetry contributors to the festival.
So hopefully you will be as keen to support our festival as our writers are. Thanks for reading!