Northern Soul

Less Ginsberg, more Battenberg: Henry Normal writes for Northern Soul

July 25, 2022 Arts, Authors & Reviews, Books Comments Off on Less Ginsberg, more Battenberg: Henry Normal writes for Northern Soul

I was checking my latest book was available online to pre-order recently when something caught my eye. Each book on Amazon has a ranking in terms of its sales.

For example, my recent book of new poetry, The Distance Between Clouds, was said to be the 1,163th bestselling poetry book on Amazon. I was a little taken back. I said to my wife, Angela: ‘I can’t believe there are 1,162 better selling poetry books than mine.’ To which she answered: ‘Is that in the world or East Sussex?’

When it comes to competing with the big names in poetry, I’m less Rupert Brooke more Rupert Bear, less Basil Bunting more Basil Brush, and less Edgar Allan Poe, more Twinky Winky and Po.

In the audiobooks I noticed that my collection Staring Directly at the Eclipse was 41st in the category called ‘Death, Grief and Loss Poetry’. There was me thinking it was a fairly cheerful book. Less Emily Dickinson more David Dickinson.

But who makes up these categories ? The same book in Kindle is 820th in ‘Love Poems’.

My worst showing is Travelling Second Class Through Hope, which is 70,206th in Travel and Tourism Books. Not surprising as it’s just a book of poetry like all my other titles. If the category was ‘Nottingham Poets that travelled through the village of Hope on the train to Manchester from Sheffield, wrote a poem about it and decided to call their poetry collection the same title’, I’m hoping it would make the top ten.

The audio book for The Beauty within Clouds is 49th in the ‘Inspirational and Religious Poetry’ category. Why this is ‘Inspirational and Religious’, but ‘Staring Directly at the Eclipse’ is ‘Death, Grief and Loss’ I’ve no idea. Maybe it’s just the title alone. If I called a book Joy Unbound and filled it with poems containing so much pain and suffering you’d slash your wrists with the pages, would it still be under ‘Inspirational’ because of the title?

My latest book is Collected Poems Volume 2, available to pre-order but out August 1, 2022, so no ranking yet. I should have called it Very Popular and Brilliant Verse to get it into the right categories.

Early beginnings

The first poetry book of mine to be was published goes back to when I attended a writers’ group in Nottingham around the age of 20. It was called Is Love Science Fiction? and was published by a local poetry group supported by East Midlands Arts. It contained 19 poems. I was so excited, even despite the flimsiness of this stapled booklet and its short print run. Less The Wasteland, more Poundland.

I took five copies to the local independent bookshop ‘Mushroom’ and they were kind enough to put the copies in their poetry section. Standing back to observe, the books were almost lost among the more professional books with their bound, printed spines. But there I was – as pitiful as this might seem in the grand world of literature – a published poet. Less E. Nesbit more Rab C. Nesbitt.

I read somewhere that Byron self-published and the initial print run was only a couple of hundred. Being a romantic from Nottingham, I identified in some small way with Byron although I never slept with my sister. Less Lord Byron more Gnawed Biro.

I was already performing short sets at poetry events and cabarets back in the 80s, so most of the print run would have been sold at gigs. Once I moved to Chesterfield, I toured with Sheffield indie bands like Pulp and pamphlets and fanzines were very much part of the DIY new wave scene. Less Ozymandias more Ozzy Osborne.

A lot of my books are still sold at live events. I have a credit card machine these days, but for members of the Royal family I do accept large carrier bags full of money.

I can’t remember exactly why, but Is Love Science Fiction? is printed with the poems handwritten. They were carefully copied out by my friend Dids (David Hayes) to whom the book is dedicated along with Tracy Holly. I shared a rented house with Dids and Tracy, who were a couple at the time. Our landlord was an undertaker’s wife, which gave rise to the couplet in one of my early poems: How can the mortician fill dead bodies with formaldehyde/then go home and make love to his wife?

The book has taken on a new significance recently. On the cover is a photo of me and my girlfriend at the time, Diane Yates, who I was very much in love with and to whom some of the poems were written. I have just the one copy of this book left. I was told only recently that Diane had died in April. This is the only photo I have of her.

In some ways Is Love Science Fiction? seems a lifetime away.

Several books later and with more poems, spines and harder covers, I entered the 1990s with a book published by the prestigious publisher Bloodaxe entitled Nude Modelling for the Afterlife. I never really liked the cover suggested by Bloodaxe, but I went along thinking this was all part of the package of being with a leading poetry publisher. I have a couple of copies left which I keep to annoy poets who are easily impressed by such things. Less Kubla Khan more Kubla Cant.

Flapjack Press

After 25 years of not writing poetry during my TV and film producing adventure, I returned to poetry five years ago. Since then I’ve released 12 books through the Manchester-based Flapjack Press. Paul Neads, who runs the press, does such a brilliant job that I’ve ignored those in the poetry establishment who tell me I need a prestigious London-based publisher to get in with the poetry elite. I’m content to be less W.H. Auden and more WHSmith, less Wordsworth more Woolworths, less Edmund Spencer more Marks & Spencer.

Do check out the Flapjack Press website. It’s good to buy books direct from small presses like Flapjack. Also, if you can buy your books from independent bookshops, I believe that it’s healthy for the diversity of literature in this country. But I realise that these things are not always possible.

I’ve got two more books planned with Flapjack Press, those being the third volume of the Collected Works next year and a new book called The Fire Hills, out just in time for this Christmas. Less D.H. Lawrence more DHL.

I still find that there is something quite satisfying about seeing my poetry in a book. I love seeing my son’s paintings on the front cover, too.

The audio version of the book I wrote with my wife, Angela, about our son Johnny entitled A Normal Family is seventh in the ‘Parent and Adult Children Relationship’ category on Amazon. Pretty good seeing as it’s been out four years. In ‘Fatherhhood’, it’s 17th and in ‘Motherhood’ it’s 31st. Does that mean that my bits of the book are more popular than Angela’s ? Or is there more competition in ‘Motherhood’?

Another thing Amazon tells you is what people ‘also bought’. With A Normal Family when it first came out, they also bought a hat. A hat in the shape of a chimney with Santa’s leg sticking out of the top. That’s my readership.

What do they say?

There are very few customer reviews on my poetry books on Amazon and very few people leave ratings. If you find any of my books enjoyable, please do leave a review or a rating. If you don’t enjoy my books keep quiet – nobody loves a moaner.

A Normal Family has 87 global ratings 98 per cent favourable. So basically all favourable bar one. There’s a single one star review from a chap called Derrick. In his review he admitted he was not autistic and had no family who were autistic, but said the book was ‘crap’. Well, he’s the expert.

Of course, the whole point of A Normal Family is that I want people to accept my son the way he is, so I have to accept each person I meet the way they are and I have have to accept Derrick the way he is. He’s out there somewhere doing his best, in his chimney hat.

I’m content to do my own thing even if people view me as less Milton more Stilton – in that, I’m from Nottingham, my poetry stinks, it’s hard to swallow, and it’s got blue bits in it.

I realise that, in the category of ‘lucky bastards’, I’m quite high in the rankings.

By Henry Normal (and his friends on Facebook)

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