Waltham Forest to host year-long celebration of Moomin creator Tove Jansson, opening June 2021 with exhibition and outdoor trail

Walthamstow Wetlands and the William Morris Gallery are pleased to announce a unique collaboration that will see them host a year-long celebration of the Finnish artist Tove Jansson (1914-2001), starting with an enchanting indoor exhibition and outdoor trail opening to the public in June 2021 at Walthamstow Wetlands. 

Known to many as the creator of the much-loved Moomins, Jansson was a painter, cartoonist, satirist, writer and a ‘genius’ (Philip Pullman). The project is supported by Jansson’s family and estate.

The Woman Who Fell In Love With An Island will draw on the parallels between the island of Klovharun in the Finnish archipelago, where Tove Jansson spent her summers immersed in nature, and the scenery at Walthamstow Wetlands which is Europe’s largest urban wetlands and has eight islands of its own.

Visitors to the Wetlands will be able to enjoy:

  • an exhibition about Tove Jansson’s island home and the inspiration she took from nature, featuring beautifully rendered and displayed facsimiles of photographs taken of Jansson on Klovharun, quotes, and her own work including her nature studies and descriptions of birds 
  • a family trail with an interactive map
  • a unique downloadable audio piece from multi-instrumentalist and composer Erland Cooper, which includes field recordings from Klovharun and a new reading of Jansson’s essay ‘The Island’ by her niece Sophia Janssson

Erland Cooper said: “Tove Jansson was an inspirational creator and cultural icon. To be able to score an exhibition and retrospective of her work is a great honour. I have a fondness for London’s Walthamstow Wetlands and so to try and transport a listener through that world and into hers, over to the tiny island and cabin on her remote, treeless Klovharun where she created a timeless body of work, is a joy. She seemed like a child of nature and I’ve tried to bring that gentleness into a score to support this exhibition. To me it feels almost like a soundwalk through her creative world, across the seas and back again into a city where local sounds of birds may interact freely with those of the score itself. She seemed to have such grace and affection towards her surroundings, and I hope this meditative score touches on just a little bit on her magic.”

The Woman Who Fell In Love With An Island will run at Walthamstow Wetlands from June 2021 until January 2022.

It will be followed by a second exhibition which will open at the William Morris Gallery in 2022 (date tbc). This landmark exhibition will bring together personal objects, photographs and archival material to tell the story of Jansson’s life and development as an artist through the lens of her deep affinity with nature, which is something that she shared with William Morris. The exhibition will invite visitors to consider Jansson’s most famous creations – the Moomins – as creatures in touch with the environment and connected to nature in a powerful way.

The year-long celebrations are being curated by Alison Williams and Mhairi Muncaster on behalf of the William Morris Gallery. 

Alison Williams said: “We are delighted to bring Tove’s island, the inspiration behind the Moomins, all the way from the Baltic Sea to London. Walthamstow Wetlands Nature Reserve is a very special place – it has the same conservation status as the Amazon and the Nile, right here in Walthamstow! These exhibitions will explore how island life, the weather and an ever-changing landscape informed Jansson’s work, which still captures the imaginations of children and adults alike, and share some thoughts on what we can learn from the Moomins when it comes to ecology, conservation and the climate crisis.”

“There are more similarities between Tove’s archipelago and our Wetlands than you might think – from the islands and their rich ecosystems to the fact that Finland and Walthamstow both have a history of pioneering social progress. After a year filled with challenges, we’re looking forward to safely welcoming visitors to a pair of exhibitions that will inspire, delight and offer new ways of looking at the natural world. And you don’t have to be a visitor to enjoy Erland and Sophia’s piece – fans from all around the world will be able to download it and enjoy the magic of the island wherever they are,” added Mhairi Muncaster. 

Leah McNally, Director of Strategic Projects & Engagement at London Wildlife Trust, said: “London Wildlife Trust is delighted to host ‘The Woman Who Fell In Love With An Island’ exhibition and outdoor trail at Walthamstow Wetlands, we can’t wait for visitors to explore and experience the new show on site, learning more about Tove Jansson’s love of nature and linking that to conserving London’s nature. Walthamstow Wetlands is a special place, designated as a site of Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), a Special Protection Area (SPA) and internationally designated as a Ramsar site, as well as being an operational Thames Water reservoir.”

Representing Wales: Developing Writers of Colour: “Much needed intervention” to champion diverse voices within Wales’ literary culture launched by Literature Wales

New professional development programme addresses “historic lack of representation” to create a diverse writing culture that “flies the flag for Wales’ varied communities”

Literature Wales, the national company for the development of literature, launches its first ever professional development programme for writers of colour today, Tuesday 27 April 2021. Developed to improve representation within the sector, Representing Wales: Developing Writers of Colour is an important step in Literature Wales’ efforts to transform the country’s literary culture into one that is truly reflective of Wales’ diverse communities and to establish a pipeline of diverse Welsh talent that will be recognised across the UK and beyond. 

The 12-month pilot programme, funded by the National Lottery through the Arts Council of Wales, will provide development opportunities for those looking to write professionally across literature, playwriting and screenwriting. It has been designed in consultation with communities, writers and consultants from Literature Wales’ extensive networks to address existing barriers within the sector. It will initially support 12 writers in developing their work through financial assistance and mentoring, as well as by demystifying the writing profession and providing networking opportunities and masterclasses with established writers and commissioners. 

The launch of the programme comes in the wake of major reform to the Welsh Curriculum, following the acceptance by the Welsh Government of all recommendations from a landmark report by Professor Charlotte Williams OBE, addressing racial inequality in the Welsh education system and setting out ways to improve the teaching of themes and experiences relating to Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities. It also follows the Arts Council of Wales’ recent appointment of an Agent for Change, a new role created to identify and call out barriers that prevent fairness and inclusion, lead a process of cultural change within the Arts Council itself and work to influence the transformation of opportunities across the wider cultural sector. 

The first cohort of writers were selected by a panel of five industry representatives, chaired by author and academic Sandeep Parmar and including: President of the National Eisteddfod Court, Ashok Ahir; poet, performer and novelist, Patience Agbabi; writer, artist and editor, Sadia Pineda Hameed, and literary agent Natalie Jerome.  

Lleucu Siencyn, Chief Executive, Literature Wales, says: 

“For too long the teaching and advancement of our literary culture, in both languages, has been homogeneous and not truly reflective of the range of voices and experiences within Wales.  Amazing individuals and grass-roots organisations in Wales have worked extremely hard to ensure real progress in recent years, but we must do more to platform and promote the exciting diverse talent we have so we can be proud of a vibrant writing culture that flies the flag for Wales’ varied communities. We are very fortunate to have a rich variety of writers in Wales, telling our own stories in our own languages. The historic lack of representation is changing. This important new programme will shine a light on exceptional, diverse voices representing the best of modern Welsh culture, and each one has the potential to transform our culture for the next generation.” 

Sandeep Parmar, Chair of the assessment panel and Professor of English Literature at the University of Liverpool, says:

“This programme is a much-needed intervention aimed at opening out national and regional literature to new, and newly-vital voices. Myself and fellow panellists were overcome by the vision of these writers – the ways they point us forward to another fuller canon. Their success proves that Wales harbours immensely talented writers of colour who are more than worthy of support and indeed deserve celebration. The complexities of their work, of their handling of Welsh language, culture, landscape, heritage, and all of the diversity of Wales is hugely inspiring.”

Phil George, Chair, Arts Council of Wales, said: 

“If we are serious about seeing a fairer and more equal Wales then we have to do more than pay lip service to improving cultural diversity. It is vitally important to open up opportunities for talent to develop and programmes such as this one give under-represented writers a platform to express and develop their creativity and to present readers with poetry and prose that will stimulate, challenge and entertain.”

Applicants to the scheme were asked to share an example of their best creative writing and were assessed based on the quality and potential of the writing submitted, the originality and freshness of ideas and voice demonstrated in the work, and the suitability of the programme for the career stage of individual applicants. 

Aged between 21 and 61 and based in Wales, the first cohort of writers are at various stages of their careers and include: teacher Marvin Thompson, who recently took first place in The Poetry Society’s 2020 National Poetry Competition and is looking to deepen his understanding of Caribbean poetics in a Welsh context; BAFTA Children’s TV award-winning performer Emily Burnett, who is looking to move into scriptwriting, and Carl Connikie, a former Intelligence Analyst for Gwent Police who is keen to pursue a move into documentary writing, inspired by his photography-based interview series about the Windrush Generation in Newport.  The writers are committed to producing at least one piece of content, or story, which can be shared publicly to communicate their experience of the programme. They will use the year to work towards three ambitions that are bespoke to them. Some aim to complete works in progress for publications, some wish to gain a deeper understanding of the literary and publishing industries and others hope the programme will develop their confidence to see themselves as the writers of tomorrow. 

Representation and equality are key strategic priorities for Literature Wales, which has invested in writers of colour, at all career stages, to deliver targeted and authentic change. This pilot programme will build on the success of other schemes including: Platforming Under-represented Writers: A funding scheme that offered the right support at the right time to empower and nurture new voices to create a culture of risk-taking and artist innovation; and The Rising Stars Wales Awards: an initiative to identify talented children’s poets from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic backgrounds based in Wales. Alex Wharton, the winner of the 2020 Award, received a publishing deal as a result of the award becoming the first ever poet of colour in Wales to publish a poetry anthology for children. 

To deliver the programme, Literature Wales is collaborating with organisations and individuals from across the arts and literature sector in Wales and the UK, including Creative Access, Lucent Dreaming, Ledbury Critics Programme, Black History Wales, Poetry Wales, S4C, Race Council Cymru, Lumin Press and Speaking Volumes. Further partners will be announced and included as the programme develops throughout the year. 

Matt Haig hires Riot for personal PR brief

Matt Haig (c) Kan Lailey

International bestselling author Matt Haig has appointed Riot Communications to manage his personal PR.

2021 is a particularly exciting year for Haig. Hot on the heels of the success of The Midnight Library comes the eagerly anticipated The Comfort Book. Published by Canongate in July, it’s been described as a ‘collection of little islands of hope’, written by the author during the past year. It follows Haig’s non-fiction hits Reasons to Stay Alive and Notes on a Nervous Planet and features his trademark mix of philosophy, memoir and self-reflection, building on the wisdom of philosophers and survivors through the ages, from Marcus Aurelius to Nellie Bly, Emily Dickinson to James Baldwin.

A Mouse Called Miika – a spin-off adventure story from a favourite character in A Boy Called Christmas – will be published by Canongate in October, before the global release of the movie adaptation of A Boy Called Christmas in the run up to Christmas. Co-written and directed by Academy Award nominee Gil Kenan (Monster House), A Boy Called Christmas features an all-star cast – including Maggie Smith, Jim Broadbent, Sally Hawkins, Toby Jones, Kristen Wiig and Stephen Merchant – and will be released in cinemas by StudioCanal and on Sky Cinema and NOW TV in the UK & Ireland, whilst Netflix will release in the rest of the world.

Riot will work closely with Haig’s agents, as well as UK and international partners across publishing, film and TV, managing his media and event appearances.

Preena Gadher, Riot MD said: “I’m hugely excited to be working with Matt again, over 10 years after we helped him and his publisher Canongate launch one of his early novels for young adults, The Radleys. Matt was one of the first authors we worked with when we set up the agency and at the time, we were both at the start of new adventures and got on well. Since then, Matt’s career has gone stratospheric, and I’m delighted that we have the opportunity to now work together again.”

Matt Haig said: “It’s so comforting to feel in safe hands with a company who understand you as a client. They are great at having an intelligent approach to the media rather than having a yes to everything attitude.”

Image credit: Kan Lailey

Debuts from independent presses celebrated on Desmond Elliott Prize longlist 2021

The National Centre for Writing (NCW) has today announced the 10-strong longlist for the £10,000 Desmond Elliott Prize, which will be awarded to the most outstanding first novel of the past 12 months. 

The Prize – which is presented in the name of the late, acclaimed literary agent and publisher Desmond Elliott – has longlisted six titles from independent publishers, including Faber, Granta Books, Saraband, Scribe, and Tramp Press. Crowdfunding publisher Unbound makes the longlist for the first time this year, with Crow Court by Andy Charman. The longlist also features strong contenders from Orion, Little Brown, and Penguin Random House imprints Viking and William Heinemann.

The 2021 Desmond Elliott Prize longlist in full (alphabetically by author surname):

  • The Manningtree Witches by A. K. Blakemore – Granta Books
  • Crow Court by Andy Charman – Unbound
  • Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan – Weidenfeld & Nicolson/Orion Publishing Group
  • How We Are Translated by Jessica Gaitán Johannesson – Scribe
  • Rainbow Milk by Paul Mendez – Dialogue Books/Little Brown Book Group
  • Castles from Cobwebs by J.A. Mensah – Saraband
  • Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson – Viking/Penguin Random House
  • A Ghost in the Throat by Doireann Ní Ghríofa – Tramp Press
  • little scratch by Rebecca Watson – Faber
  • The Liar’s Dictionary by Eley Williams – William Heinemann/Penguin Random House

The longlist features two works of historical fiction: Andy Charman’s Crow Court, which chronicles the lives of the residents of a Dorset market town in the mid-19th century, and The Manningtree Witches, from poet A. K. Blakemore, which plunges readers into the fever of the English witch trials of the 17th century.

Self-discovery emerges as a theme; in A Ghost in the Throat, a fluid hybrid of essay and autofiction, Doireann Ní Ghríofa tells a tale about finding your voice by freeing another’s. Castles from Cobwebs, by University of York lecturer J.A. Mensah, follows a foundling’s transition from innocence to understanding as she is called to Accra after the sudden death of her biological mother, while Naoise Dolan explores the experience of a young woman leaving her home in Ireland in Exciting Times. Writer and photographer Caleb Azumah Nelson provides an insight into race and masculinity in the love story Open Water, while voice actor and performing member of two theatre companies, Paul Mendez, explores race, class, sexuality, freedom and religion across generations, time and cultures in Rainbow Milk.

How We Are Translated, by bookseller and activist Jessica Gaitán Johannesson, questions identity through an exploration of language. Similarly, The Liar’s Dictionary, by Royal Holloway lecturer Eley Williams, follows a character who aims to discover the secret to living a meaningful life through words. 

Rebecca Watson, Assistant Arts Editor at the Financial Times, rounds out the list with little scratch, which tells the story of a day in the life of an unnamed woman processing recent sexual violence.

Peggy Hughes, Programme Director at the National Centre for Writing, said: 

“We’re delighted to announce a longlist that asks questions of us, with this year’s debut novels exploring themes of self-discovery and language, as well as the nuances of British history and culture through the lens of female and Black experience. We’re looking forward to hearing Lisa, Chitra and Simon’s thoughts on these captivating and thought-provoking debuts.”

This year’s chair of judges, and winner of the 2016 Desmond Elliott Prize, Lisa McInerney, said:

“It is a personal delight to chair the judging panel of the Desmond Elliott Prize five years after Iain Pears, Sam Baker and Katy Guest chose The Glorious Heresies as their winner. So we can keep literature in rude health, a writer who finds success should never pull the ladder up after herself, and this is one way for me to hold that ladder for emerging writers, to pass on the welcome and encouragement and assistance I’ve been so lucky to get from my peers. This is why I was so pleased to hear of the inclusion of a programme of support from the National Centre for Writing — what a positive and important expansion to the prize. I can’t wait to see what’s in store for Chitra, Simon and I.”

McInerney will be joined by journalist and author Chitra Ramaswamy and book reviewer and broadcaster Simon Savidge. They are together tasked with deciding which novel to crown as the best debut of the last 12 months. A shortlist will be announced on 1st June and the winner will be announced on 1st July.

The Desmond Elliott Prize is run by the NCW as the flagship in its Early Career Awards portfolio. This also includes the UEA New Forms Award, worth £4,000, for an innovative and daring new voice in fiction and The Laura Kinsella Fellowship, also worth £4,000, which recognises an exceptional writer who has experienced limiting circumstances or whose voice has been underrepresented in mainstream literary fiction. The winners of all three awards will be announced on 1st July, and all will benefit from a tailored programme of support from the National Centre for Writing, supported by Arts Council England. 

Riot x Fane

Fane Productions has appointed Riot Communications to lead its PR efforts. The production company has been an exciting challenger in the live events space in recent years, working with a variety of talent, many in the publishing space, to produce high-profile and high-quality live shows. In the past 6 months, Fane successfully launched a powerful online events arm, already boasting over half a million visitors to their site a month, and 60,000 new online subscribers, many of whom have never attended a literary event before.

Working with Riot, Fane will showcase the organisation’s capability to work with publishers and talent of all sizes in a mutually beneficial way, continuing to deliver exciting and engaging events to a broad audience.

Preena Gadher, Riot MD, said: “Live events has had a radical shake-up since COVID-19 and I have been very impressed with how Fane, already known for delivering polished events, reacted and adapted to meet the challenges of the new world. To me, that shows great leadership and tenacity, and a business with its finger clearly on the pulse. That makes Fane an exciting client to partner with.”

Alex Fane, Founder and MD of Fane, commented: “We’re delighted to be working with Riot on the next chapter for Fane. They delivered a vision that was both challenging and innovative which fits perfectly with how we run the business. Having become an independent company and launched our online programme there is a huge amount to be talking about and we can’t wait to get started.”