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  • Writer's pictureCarrie Etter

Grief's Alphabet Is Launched!

April 8 was the official publication date of Grief's Alphabet, and these last four weeks have been more full and surprising than I could have imagined. The unofficial kick off was a relatively last minute addition: when I wrote to Hannah Copley to invite her and her students to come to my London launch, she said she'd be launching her own new book, Lapwing (Pavilion, 2024), in Liverpool that night, but would I read with her on her London 'soft launch' at the Soho Poly Theatre on 11 April?

When she mentioned 11 April, I was delighted: that's my adoption birthday, and indeed, the opening poem in Grief's Alphabet is titled 'Birthday as Adoption Day.' The event on the 11th was a delight, with the 50-seat theatre left standing room only. In the opening set I read with Anita Pati, whose work I'd taught at Bath Spa but whom I'd never met, and Kate Graham, and following a break, Hannah gave a fantastic reading from Lapwing, which I can't wait to read.

Left: me reading at the Soho Poly. Above: me excitedly showing my new book!

A week later on 18 April was the event I'd looked forward to nearly a year, the home launch of Grief's Alphabet at Topping's Books, Bath. So many of my people were coming: former Bath Spa colleagues, current Bristol colleagues, former students, current students, my best friend Claire Crowther, and even one of my neighbours!

Done up to launch!

L: Matthew Leigh, friend and Topping's manager, introduces me; R: a view from the gallery of my reading

Oh, the Bath launch was glorious! Around 70 people were in attendance, and the bookstore sold out of the 55 copies they had ordered! I managed to read as well as I'd hoped (without mistakes, etc.), and I celebrated with many afterwards upstairs at The Huntsman.

Saturday the 20th took me to the Cheltenham Poetry Festival. Anna Saunders has long been tireless in her efforts for poetry in Cheltenham, and she has an amazing group of volunteers, including Zoe Brooks, supporting her. That afternoon I taught a workshop on simile and had a break before reading with Tim Relf and having a conversation with him and the audience about my poetry and writing about grief. I was moved to hear others relate their experiences of bereavement and mourning to mine.

Two days later, Monday, 22 April, came my first surprise. I visited the Waterstone's in Bath to see if they might be willing to carry my book, what with my being a local author and having received a good review in The Guardian (which actually happened two days before publication! Hurrah!). I've never seen my books in Waterstone's before and had felt a little saddened visiting Waterstone's in the past and knowing I wouldn't find my work. Anyway, I walked up to the front desk and explained I was a local author with a new book out, and the bookseller looked it up and said, 'Yes, we've received five copies today. They're not out yet, but will be soon.'

Agog, I walked out of the store and quickly emailed Simon Hicks, Seren's Sales and Marketing Manager, to ask if Bath's order was a one-off or whether other Waterstone's carried it. When Simon responded to say that the distributor had pitched the book to Waterstone's HQ and Waterstone's had subsequently taken 50 copies, I wandered around Bath as my eyes welled.

Throughout these weeks I've received so many social media posts and messages of congratulations and support: photos of favourite poems for the collection, remarks on people's experiences reading the collection (so many have said they read it straight through, which is great!), and a poet I greatly admire even called the book 'a wonderful achievement'. Gracious!

On Thursday, 25 April, I received my second big surprise beginning with an email from Darran, the manager at Bookhaus, saying he couldn't get any more copies of my book and asking if the print run had sold out. Sold out? 800 copies less than three weeks after publication day? I scoffed and wrote to Simon at Seren to see what was happening. Over the day, I learned that Seren had staggered my print run to spread out the cost, and the first half of the run was either sold or en route to bookstores. Oh, and the print run wasn't 800 this time but 1000 copies, so 500 copies were sold or en route to bookstores less than three weeks after publication. Trev and I shared a baby bottle of prosecco that night with dinner.

On 27 April, I took an early train to Manchester to read on the Poets & Players series at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation. I was excited to see old friends Scott Thurston, Alec Newman, and Steven Waling, as well as hear Anita Pati read again. I'd also never met Peter Sansom or heard him read, and having heard praise for years, was keen to hear his work myself.

Top two photos: the audience at Poets and Players on 27 April; last photo: Grief's Alphabet as fashion accessory

All the readings were engrossing, and Adnan Safr's performance on several Iranian drums was mesmerising. It was great to see Kim Moore, however briefly, and linger with my friends and Anita Pati over a drink after the event (as well as tell Tom Jenks how popular his work was with my prose poetry students!).

Amid all these events the school year was wrapping up at the University of Bristol: on the 23rd I delivered the last lecture for the first-year Approaches to Poetry unit at the Victoria Rooms and met some lovely students, and on the 24th I held my last MA Short Story workshop and celebrated with the entire MA cohort at the Highbury Vaults afterwards. I can't say I've been sleeping much....

Next I had my London launch at Burley Fisher Books on Thursday, 2 May, with fellow readers Julia Copus, Inua Ellams, and Annie Freud. Originally Mary Jean Chan was supposed to be reading with me, but when she informed me she was unwell, I recalled Annie had said she'd bought a ticket and asked her if she could fill in.

me, Inua, Julia, and Annie horsing around before the reading

I couldn't have asked for better co-readers--they were all excellent. I loved the intimacy of the venue, which made it easier for me to connect to the audience as I read. There were old friends, including Francesca Francoli and Simon Avery, both of whom I've known since 2003, as well as other writers--novelists Jessica Moor and Sophie Mackintosh, to name just two--and friends. Afterwards, a friend of Francesca's led a group of us to a wonderful wine bar with the improbable name Weino Bib, where I wish I'd thought to get a selfie with former student Armando Allen, now studying poetry at Oxford. I lost count of how many times he hugged me.

First thing Friday morning, I headed back to Bath for a quick stop before heading to Bristol. The first-year English students' year-end party and open mic started at 4, and I'd agreed to read. Perhaps because there was pizza, wine, and beer, perhaps because everyone needed a break with assessments due, perhaps because they love poetry, there was a good turnout--sixty or so students?--and they were the most attentive, appreciative audience. Some of the first-year students I'd met after my Approaches to Poetry lecture were there, and as we talked afterwards, I invited them to come along to Bookhaus.

When I checked my messages after the first years' event, I received a veritable flood of apologies from people saying they wouldn't be able to attend. I'd already heard the previous day of one adored colleague who couldn't make it, and over the course of Friday I received another dozen apologies, most of them two hours before the start time. As I walked to Bookhaus, I worried that after all the to-do about the event being sold out, no one would be there. I began to panic.

When I reached Bookhaus, there were only a few people, and a staff member showed me to the back room to leave my things. I stayed there and drank the glass of wine I'd been offered. I remembered the same thing had happened at the home launch for The Weather in Normal--apologies all day long! When friend and fellow reader Matt Bryden arrived, he found me in the back room, and I said I was hoping to make happen what had happened at Topping's: I had been in the back of the shop signing copies till introduced, fearing the worst, and when I walked out, there was a full house.

It worked.

Photos of the audience at Bookhaus

Matt Bryden and Suzannah V. Evans gave lovely readings from their work, and my amazing colleague Noreen Masud kindly introduced me. And look who also showed up!

Selfie with some of the wonderful first years at Bristol

Four weeks after publication, with readings in Bath, Cheltenham, Manchester, London, and Bristol, Grief's Alphabet is well and truly launched! Later this month I have readings at the Bath Festival and the Cardiff Central Library, then thankfully my schedule lightens over the summer. My thanks to everyone who's attended an event, bought a copy, posted on social media, posted reviews, messaged me their thoughts on the book--I'm so deeply grateful to you all!

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