Books

Seed author Joanna Walsh on collaborating with Belfast's No Alibis Press

David Roy chats to author Joanna Walsh about the new print edition of her acclaimed 2017 digital novel Seed, which has just been published by Belfast's No Alibis Press

Joanna Walsh at No Alibis in Belfast for the launch of Seed. Picture by Hugh Russell

ORIGINALLY published as a groundbreaking digital interactive app by Visual Editions in 2017, Seed by Joanna Walsh finally became available in print form last week thanks to No Alibis Press in Belfast, who are now offering this poetic and compelling 1980s-set coming-of-age story to readers as a standard paperback and also a lovingly hand-assembled 'book box' limited edition.

Both versions feature new original artwork by the Dublin-based English author, who worked as a professional illustrator for many years before embarking on an acclaimed writing career which includes Seed and six other titles, the most recent being 2018's novel Break.up.

"The book has been so beautifully produced by No Alibis," enthuses Walsh of Seed's new print editions, which she launched last Thursday evening at the No Alibis shop on Botanic Avenue with a live-by-Zoom author reading and Q&A session hosted by author Wendy Erskine.

"I've worked with quite a few publishers and I don't think I've had such a beautiful edition as this - it's really gorgeous."

Set in 1988, Seed's narrator is an 18-year-old girl enduring the long summer between the end of school and starting at university. Stifled by an emotionally repressed home-life and an almost total lack of intellectual/cultural stimulation from which to construct a satisfying identity, the ever-present spectres of Aids, CJD and nuclear war/disaster further fuel the narrator's malaise as she longs for experiences beyond the patriarchal mundanity of home in a 'non-place' on the urban/rural outskirts of a small town in a verdant English valley.

Seed by Joanna Walsh

The excitement/confusion of newly awakened longings for her beautiful friend Rosemary provide a focal point as she tries to navigate an increasingly claustrophobic environment, the natural and man-made elements of the industrialised countryside described on the page in a highly sensual, tactile manner.

The narrator's impressive knowledge of local flora and fauna flows throughout Seed and has informed the artwork of both its digital and print incarnations. Illustrations of various plant life by Charlotte Hicks were used as navigational waypoints for the intentionally non-linear version of the Seed in the 2017 app version (still available for free at Seed-story.com), while Walsh's own very different artwork for the new No Alibis editions is also rooted in nature.

"I hadn't done any illustrating in ages as I got a bit burned out doing commercial jobs and started focusing my creative energy on writing instead," explains the author, who will be appearing at the Belfast Book Festival tomorrow evening and whose online #ReadWomen initiative helped to highlight female writers between 2014 and 2018.

"So it was nice to re-visit that because it was quite free-form for me and I wasn't responding to a brief. I was really just trying to think about some of the things in the structure of Seed: the idea of natural growth, wild growth and parasitic growth, things that self-generate and link."

An autobiographical element to some elements of the book's story combine with the author's expert eye for period details greatly enriches the story at hand, making Seed an authentic anti-nostalgia time capsule for a specific moment in the late 1980s.

The material physical world has changed so much and also the world of identity and 'discussable' topics. I feel a certain sort of duty to record this history as a kind of warning

Joanna Walsh 


Walsh explains: "The plot is constructed, but I think I've had virtually every experience in the book.

"I tried very hard to focus on that particular year [1988] because I wanted to focus on the things that were in the news - CJD, Aids, Chernobyl - these kind of ideas of bodily threats, where if you breathed in, had sex, or ate the wrong thing you could be risking your life.

"I was also thinking more generally about the way we encountered objects in a pre-internet age, the way material things like records and cassette tapes were very important to you, how we used old fashioned telephones with the dials. I was very interested in revisiting that physical world."

As for what younger readers born into an age of digital convenience might make of such antiquated matters, Walsh says she is looking forward to finding out.

"I'm very excited to hear," she tells me.

"The lovely owner of the brilliant Review bookshop in Peckham said she was going to recommend it for YA [Young Adult] readers. And I thought 'will they like it or will they just find it really weird and not identify with it?' - both because there is a lot of stuff about repressed sexuality and also repression of what girls were allowed to talk about in terms of the whole discourse around sex, bodies and weight. That was very much repressed in my experience anyway, compared to what it is now.

"So both the material physical world has changed so much and also the world of identity and 'discussable' topics. I feel a certain sort of duty to record this history as a kind of warning about what things can so easily be like."

It seems entirely appropriate that Seed should now be available in a physical format as well as its original digital incarnation, something Walsh says she always hoped might happen one day.

Joanna Walsh with David Torrans at No Alibis in Belfast. Joanna will be appearing at the Belfast Book Festival on June 10

"I had vaguely thought about making the work into a book because I quite like to work across media - I'd already made it into a half-hour performance piece for amateur speakers at Shakespeare And Company in Paris and Smock Alley Theatre in Dublin," she says.

"Apparently it was Susan Tomeselli at Gorse Journal in Dublin who suggested to David at No Alibis that it was something they should do, so I'm very glad that he though it was a good idea.

"People should definitely buy it, not just to support me, but really to support No Alibis who are a highly principled independent press who don't sell through Amazon.

"You might pay a couple of Euros more but they're such a fantastic enterprise and their production standards are so high that I think they're utterly worth supporting."

Seed by Joanna Walsh is out now, published by No Alibis Press. Buy online at Noalibispress.com or in person at No Alibis, 83 Botanic Avenue, Belfast. Joanna Walsh and author Naoise Dolan will be in conversation with chair John Self on Thursday June 10 at 8.30pm as part of Belfast Book Festival. Tickets £3, available from www.belfastbookfestival.com 

Joanna Walsh at No Alibis in Belfast for the launch of her new book Seed. Picture by Hugh Russell

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