Category Archives: Publications

Ongauns.

Couple of things I’ve been up to which are surfacing in the next wee while:

The current issue of Gutter includes some Scots translations of mine, this time from Kafka. They are some short-short stories which I translated before starting to work on “Metamorphosis”, as a kind of test run. Plus there’s always plenty of good stuff in Gutter, and this issue is no exception.

That’s out already. Plus, upcoming: next month’s issue of Nutmeg has an article I’ve written about football culture in the heartlands of rugby. Wee sneak preview below:

Bordering

Start-up Magazines and the Borders Writing Scene.

I’ve been writing and thinking a great deal about poetry magazines lately, and part of the reason for that is we seem to be going through something of a literary Golden Age as far as literary journals go. Certainly up here in Scotland, anyway, where there’s been a real proliferation of magazine start-ups attempting to cater to a different sort of audience. I’m thinking about mags like The Grind, The Poets’ Republic and The Write Angle, magazines with a DIY ethic/aesthetic, superb writing and, most interestingly of all, a definite regional identity. By this I don’t mean simply that they’re ‘parochial’ – what I’m getting at is that these kinds of magazines are at the heart of a particular local scene, whether it’s that of Falkirk, Glasgow or Stonehaven.

That interests me, principally because no such magazine exists in the Borders, or ever has, as far as I know. There are many possible reasons for that, most of which are too depressing to contemplate, but what I’d be most interested to find out is which way round these things are apt to happen – does a thriving local literary scene bring about the existence of a magazine, or is the magazine itself the prerequisite for bringing together a viable writing community?

This is not, by the by, a rhetorical question. If there’s anyone out there who has some thoughts, I would love to hear them. You see, I’ve been having a wee think lately about setting up a Borders equivalent to the kinds of magazines I mentioned above, and the idea, to me, seems like a good one. There’s definitely a ton of great writing out there which is currently going unpublished – I don’t think for one moment that the market is saturated quite yet. But a magazine would also be a great conduit for linking up the Borders writing scene with that of the rest of the country.

The Borders has a great deal to offer Scotland, in literary terms; there are some fantastic individuals writing out of here. And there’s a lot going on, albeit in an often piecemeal kind of way. But there isn’t really much in the way of overall cultural structure or strategy. A literary magazine could not only serve as a kind of focal point around which to cohere a community, but it would also open up the two-way conversation we need to be having with the rest of the country (that’s you guys out there) about what we could be bringing to your party, and what you could be bringing to ours.

So, that’s the plan. You’re probably safe to go away now and get on with a few things. Do the washing up. Get the mould out of the windowsill. But, you know. Somewhere along the line. Watch this space.

On Starting Out.

My first poetry pamplet, Intae the Snaw, comes out this month, and it seems like this is the point at which to start giving it the whole it’s-been-a-long-road shtick, talk about how deep into theIntaeTheSnaw fibre of my bones I’ve had to dig to excavate these poems, the editorial to-and-fro. But, in fact, the whole process has been relatively disappointing, as far as personal psychodramas go. From first contact to final product the entire business has taken nine months, and as far as editorial conflict enters into it, all that’s happened is that I’ve been very gently schooled by my editor, the fantastic Meirion Jordan, in the difference between putting together an actual collection and just jamming an armful of manuscripts in a tattered suitcase and jumping up and down on the lid.

So, in a sense, I’ve really got exactly zip to say about the process of putting together a pamphlet. I imagine the production of other collections in other places have been rather more fraught affairs, but that’s not my experience. My experience has been fun. Maybe Gatehouse Press are doing it wrong, or something. My suspicion is that I’ve been somehow short-changed, that there ought to have been more shoutings-at, more tears.

The main thing I’ve taken out of the process is the value of reading and submitting to poetry magazines. When you’re first starting out, you get this advice rammed down your throat, and it just seems like a pretext for other poets to bilk you out of your money whilst telling you how rubbish you are. Which it is. (No, not really.) There are a load of reasons, as a writer, to engage with the magazine scene – track record, peer feedback, yada yada – but the reason that many folk who are starting out submit to magazines is because they kind of hope something might come of it.

Which is not, by the way, an ignoble thing to wish for. It’s not even unrealistic, so long as you don’t expect anything to happen the first time you get into a magazine, or the fifth, or the five hundredth. If there’s something to what you’re writing, someone will notice, eventually. The problem is, you don’t know who or where those people are, never mind what magazines they edit and/or read.

In the beginning it’s easy to have the feeling that the whole of “writing” is one vast cohesive bloc which is leagued entirely against newcomers, i.e. you. Conversely, when you do manage to get something published somewhere, it’s very difficult to understand why news of your success hasn’t spread like wildfire across the entire literary scene. Once you’re in, you’re in, surely? But somehow, The X Journal don’t care that you were in the most recent edition of Y Quarterly. As in Kafka, the door that you were trying to get through, and the doorman you were wheedling your way past – they just lead to another door, another doorman. The party that’s happening somewhere within sounds just as distant as ever.

And all of the above, by the way, being best case scenario – which is to say, that you’re committed to writing and to improving as a writer. If you already think you’re the finished article, you probably gave up on reading this a few paragraphs back. You didn’t like hearing that your inevitable fame might take time or hard work.

For time and hard work will certainly be involved. Even if you one-hundred-per-cent enjoy writing one-hundred-per-cent of the time, you’d have to be some kind of masochist to enjoy submitting to magazines, and being rejected; sometimes kindly, more often facelessly, occasionally even, in a bizarre Hitchcockian nightmare, under the wrong name, for stuff you never even did. And yet submit you must, widely and often, to have any hope of finding readers who get what you’re on about.

I had no particularly good reason to send my stuff to Lighthouse, Gatehouse’s literary journal. Scots translations of Chinese poetry; that’s pretty niche, and not necessarily what you would expect to go over well with a relatively new literary journal based in Norwich. But it was a really good magazine – I enjoyed what they were publishing – and it was worth a spin that if their editors and I liked the same kind of poetry, my poetry might also be the kind that they liked. Without reading Lighthouse, I would never have submitted there, never have been published there, and never have wound up with a pamphlet being produced there.

Which is to say, reading magazines shouldn’t be a chore. No matter how disenchanted you might think you are with the poetry scene, there are magazines out there whose editors are on your wavelength. Finding them, submitting to them, hopefully being published by them – these are hugely exciting things. Reading a magazine you don’t enjoy – well, that bites, but it’s better than submitting to that magazine blind, getting back an impersonal rejection letter, and then being furious at being turned down by a magazine you now realise you don’t even like.

Submitting to magazines can feel like going to them cap in hand, but it needn’t. Sending something you wrote to a journal is the sincerest form of flattery you can give what are (no doubt) its hard-working and underappreciated editors. I like what you are doing and I want to be part of it. And it’s in your power to give. Whether your writing is ready yet or not, your support and interest is worth a lot to any magazine. Just make sure and give it to the right ones.