Exciting new literary magazine

I am very excited to tell you about a new online literary magazine that launches tomorrow. It’s called The Forge and it’s pretty blooming special. I am one of the editors so yeah, I’m bound to think that, but seriously, it really is going to be good. We launch with a story by Janice Galloway – that’s how fucking cool we are. We have pieces by Roxane Gay, Emma Jane Unsworth, Kevin Barry and other superb writers coming your way. We want your submissions too. It’s free to sub to us and we pay. Didn’t I tell you we’re amazing?

We are an international group of literary writers who work together in an online writing group (The Fiction Forge – natch). Our leader is John Haggerty, a writer who makes me laugh more than any other. Twelve of us are going to rotate in pairs as editors and each of us will choose our favourite stories. John and I are first up. I was asked to write a wishlist of what I would most like to read which I’m sharing here:

Please send me the writing you are proudest of. I don’t want to read the piece that might do, I want the one you know means you are a bloody brilliant writer.

I like fiction that rings with truth and non-fiction that reads like it’s made-up.
I like stories that surprise, but don’t hinge on a twist.
I like darkly funny and dislike punchlines.
I like flash and longer form.
I love words and look forward to reading yours.

So, read us, love us, sub to us, “like” our Facebook page, follow us on Twitter, share us, enjoy us.

literary_fiction_nonfiction

 

 

An Untamed State by Roxane Gay

Roxane Gay’s short fiction has appeared in many of the literary journals I’ve read over the last eight years or so. She’s editor of the mighty PANK. She writes a wonderful blog. Her non-fiction has appeared in many esteemed publications. She basically rules Twitter with her always interesting observations. She has a very clear, authoritative voice and I have long had a complete writer crush on her. Her collection of essays “Bad Feminist” has just been published in the UK. It’s currently number 13 in the New York Times non-fiction bestseller list. Roxane Gay is really successful now which is amazing and fabulous and so bloody well deserved. 

A collection of her stories – “Ayiti” – was published in 2011 which I reviewed here. Interestingly the passage I quoted from “Things I Know About Fairytales” features in her debut novel “An Untamed State” which continues exploring the chasm in Haiti between the rich and poor and contrasts it with life in the US. 

Mireille Duval James is a young woman from Haiti who lives in America. She is smart and feisty, an attorney married to an American man, Michael. They have a baby son, Christophe. Returning to Port-au-Prince to visit her wealthy, successful parents, Mireille, Michael and Christophe set off for the beach when their car is surrounded by a group of violent criminals who abduct Mireille, demanding a huge ransom. Her father, Sebastien, refuses to pay, believing that negotiating with the kidnappers can only endanger other members of his family.

Once upon a time, in a far-off land, I was kidnapped by a gang of fearless yet terrified young men with so much impossible hope beating inside their bodies it burned their very skin and strengthened their will right through their bones.

     They held me captive for thirteen days.

     They wanted to break me.

     It was not personal.

     I was not broken.

     This is what I tell myself.

    

What follows is a difficult read. Gay’s powerful prose explores the brutality and violence that is inflicted upon Mireille day after day. I flinched from the words. This is not a book I could look forward to reading. It’s a depiction of a woman being abused in every way imaginable. The first part weaves stories from Mireille and Michael’s relationship with time from her imprisonment. It’s necessary to have the relief the memories of their courtship offer. The second part deals with the aftermath. How does a woman survive such atrocities? Tortured, gang raped, imprisoned, how can Mieille possibly move forwards? 

It’s a novel about family: Mireille’s parents and the compromises her mother makes, her father, her sister, Michael’s parents, their son, Christophe. It’s also about personal endurance, self-preservation, the political implications of poverty, violence, domination, hope and courage.  It’s an impossibly dark read. And very powerful.

When I finished reading I googled to find out more about Port-au-Prince and kidnapping. The UK government issues a warning that they will not negotiate with kidnappers believing, as Mireille’s father does, that it only increases the likelihood of more kidnaps. The BBC warn “No one is safe from kidnapping, regardless of occupation, nationality, race, gender, or age.” 

Horrifying.

 

End of year thing

I feel like there should be an end of the year post but I have such a lousy memory I can’t recall all the things I liked best. I listened to Nicki Minaj a lot  and I have much love for her. “Did it on ’em” was a song that actually made me go “What the fuck is this? What is she saying?” and then “Oh my god, it’s amazing. She’s amazing. This is perfect.” I’m so glad there is a woman more than equal to the top guys in the field, and that she is recognised as such.

I have sadness that there’s still “top guys in the field” instead of top people. It’s true all over – TV, comedy, writing, whatever. There are the successful men and then the select women who are deemed of rare enough quality that they get to hang there too. Even on twitter amongst the people who tweet about lit stuff it seems there’s a boys club (with separate UK and US branches of these in the blog world too) and only a few honorary women. Anyway, a massive cheer for Caitlin Moran who somehow managed to write a clever, funny, brilliant, best selling (number one on the list for weeks and weeks) book about feminism (even if it is mainly a biography) How To Be a Woman.

Favourite novels of the year are The Canal by Lee Rourke and The Coward’s Tale by Vanessa Gebbie. Fave short story collections are Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned by Wells Tower and Ayiti by Roxane Gay. Speaking of Roxane Gay, it’s been a pleasure to read her intelligent, articulate thoughts online in a wide variety of places (HTML Giant, The Rumpus, and her own blog to name a few.)

Fave TV show was Sons of Anarchy. Compelling viewing that just kept relentlessly building. We’re a season behind the US here and I am so looking forward to watching Season 4 when it airs. I also loved The Mentalist. I want to be Patrick Jane, and date Cho.

Film of the year? No idea. I saw Thor yesterday though and really enjoyed it. Home and Away boy has done good! And learned how to open his eyes. How buff? More fun than I expected too. I appreciated the Shakespearean swagger and am really looking forward to Whedon’s Avengers.

Scent of the year – Amazing Grace by Philosophy. Absolutely gorgeous. Fresh, clean, non-cloying.

Meal of the year was in the Fork and Field where I tasted the best pasta I have ever had. Seriously so good that I couldn’t stop smiling. It was Gratin of Macaroni with spinach, parmesan and fresh truffle and was perfection.

Book-selling hurrahs were realising we’d sold over 100 copies of Janice Galloway’s Collected Stories, and selling out of Kuzhali Manickavel’s Insects Are Just Like You and Me Only Some of Them Have Wings yet again, selling heaps of The Best British Short Stories, and ordering in goodies like Roxane Gay’s Ayiti and Breece D’J Pancake‘s Collected Stories. I get a real thrill introducing people to damn good writing and I’ve never had anyone come back and complain about a recommendation I’ve given so I hope that’s a good sign.

More personally, my family have struggled through hellish times this year but emerged stronger. I pack the sad, angry, bitterness down inside me and carry on. What else to do? One of my boys made up a song – “I’ve got an arch of love for you” – and he sings it, complete with arm gestures, to me. I congratulated my other son on how well he dealt with an awkward situation – “I model myself on you,” he said. There is nothing more precious, more wonderful, than my twins. My resolution for 2012 is the same as the advice I give to my beautiful boys – “Be the best you that you can be.”

Happy new year y’all.

Ayiti by Roxane Gay

Ayiti, published by Artistically Declined Press, is the debut story collection from Roxane Gay, each story concerning Haiti and its people.

The first story you arrive at announces itself with the block capitals of MOTHERFUCKERS. And wow can this small story carry a great weight. Wonderful opener.

In “Things I Know About Fairytales” the narrator says “At a dinner party once, with some of my colleagues and some of Michael’s and lots of wine and music and excellent food and pretentious but engaging conversation, talk turned to Haiti. Everyone leaned forwards in their seats, earnest in their desire to be genuine in their understanding of the world. One of my colleagues mentioned a magazine article he read about how Haiti had surpassed Colombia as the kidnapping capital of the world. Another colleague told us about a recent feature in a national magazine. Soon everyone was offering up their own desperate piece of information, conjuring a place that does not exist.”

I wonder if this is non-fiction as it reads so true, and I suppose I recognise that earnest desire to be genuine, and the failure of real understanding that so often accompanies it.

In “In the Manner of Water or Light” the narrator says “We are the keepers of secrets. We are secrets ourselves.”

Roxane Gay may well have secrets, but she is also a fearless truth teller. Her stories work beautifully in showing us truths without screaming them. Sometimes it is that which remains unsaid that resonates strongest. Her writing is beautifully empathetic, powerful, and often painful.

In “Cheap, Fast, Filling” she makes me sympathise, despise, and then care about her character in just 3 pages. Yeah, that skilled.

And she’s funny too (see “Voodoo Child” and the Primer in “There is No “E” in Zombi Which Means There Can Be No You or We” – in which she slides from amusing to disturbing ever so smoothly.)

She has an utterly distinctive voice of her own. There are many examples of her words online as she blogs, writes articles, and fictions (you can find her at I Have Become Accustomed To Rejection) and whatever she writes carries that assured, intelligent, calm, witty voice.

Rejections

Being rejected is part of the writing life. Yeah, yeah, we know that. But it can sometimes really drag me down and I have been known to indulge in a big ol’ sulk. Other times I have a nano sulk and let the rejection bounce right off. Acceptances are joy – they validate and elate. Whoo hoo for acceptances. However nobody, no matter how shit hot a writer, is going to be accepted every single time. Not unless they are a “name” – one of those elite who carry so much weight with their history that whatever they write, no matter how shonky, is published. (And the reader who questions the merit may feel that it is their own lack that stops them comprehending the genius.)

When I am rejected I often hate the rejected story. I re-read and what once seemed good, solid prose can appear tatty, flimsy, pedestrian, unbaked. (I have a couple of stories this is not true of. I remain deluded convinced that they will be huge successes one day.) I may ignore the rejected words for a while, or edit, or fling ’em straight back out hoping they will find a loving home. There’s no strict routine, it depends on how my mood is.

Roxane Gay wrote a post about rejection etiquette on the PANK blog the other day.  I always find Roxane’s posts there, and on her personal blog, fascinating. In this particular blog post I was struck by the comfort to be found here:
“If you are only looking for a “Yes,” you’re perhaps not cut out for the publishing game. More often than not, the answer is going to be no because any magazine can only publish so many writers. We’re basically full through October online and about 90% full for our next print issue. The majority of the writing we receive is great but we, like most magazines, are in a position where we can only publish the writing that really grabs us, that really makes us fall in love, that really moves us.”

This post was written on 31st May and already PANK are full for the next five months. I know this is the way things are with them as I had an acceptance from them a couple of months back that won’t go live until July. They receive untold amounts of submissions, they are chock full, when they say no, it’s not always going to be that the words sucked arse or that you’re not good enough. And it’s not just PANK is it? It’s all of the quality magazines and journals. This makes me feel so much better. I know how many talented writers are out *there* in internetworldwidewebland. I want my stories to shine and stand out, and sometimes they do. That’s bloody brilliant.



Tired, bitchy, drunk…race, women, writers…

I haven’t written here for a while, 2 and a half weeks ish – it’s hard to find time lately and it seems that when I do write I always seem to be tired, bitchy, or drunk (or as of right now, all three.) Oh, whatever, it’s not an exam, it’s just my blog. On with the blethering!

I am loving PANK right now. Love Roxane Gay, love some of the work she’s choosing, love her blog. She recently began a debate on “Awkward Stuff, Race, Women, Writers, Editors”
which was fascinating. I rather wanted to join in but was ensconced in an Oxford hotel that deemed blogs, facebook and twitter as unacceptable!

I have been to a few literary events and found them to be uncomfortably chock full of white, middle class British people and then realised that actually I easily pass as just that. I can fit in there. I won a short story competition whose prize was complimentary tickets to a very expensive event held in grandiose halls and surrounded by lush countryside. There was only one black woman there; she came from my area (East London) and we struck up conversation. One very tweedy woman asked her where she came from, and when she replied “Leytonstone” the woman said “No, originally.” The response “Erm, West London” had me spluttering with mirth, embarrassment, anger, incredulity.

Not sure what this tells you.

I think writing should be about anyone, anywhere, communicating with words. And an editor can’t see if you are young, pretty, black, gay, dyspraxic, whatever – so if the words are what count then why aren’t there a more diverse group of people being published. Is it down to economics? Education? Expectations?

I helped out at my twins school for a while, trying to teach/encourage reading. I think reading is the foundation of everything else and yet many of the kids I sat with came from backgrounds where books weren’t part of day to day life. Seeing little children learn to sound out words and garner meaning from the bizarre mish mash of shapes on a page is a triumph. But it’s with practice that confidence comes.

Personally I get pissed at the whole cool boys club I see sometimes. I deliberately seek out fabulous women writers that I can aspire to, but also I just soak up good words which is how I am able to admire the work of some men who are sometimes utter twunts. I’m not sure if I am going to manage to make a point here (the whole bottle of wine thing) but I shall try. I like words, all words. I will use the word “cunt” as I enjoy its power to shock. It’s just a word, and I subscribe to the Germaine Greer idea that it is kinda quaint that one of the few remaining words with the power to shock is actually merely a vulgar word for a vagina. Who has the power now boys? Dick/cock etc just doesn’t pack the same punch! What I hate though is the mysoginistic “I’d like to stick a carrot in your vag” attempt at edgy literature that I have been seeing rather too frequently. Not edgy, clever, subversive at all guys, rather it’s tiresome, insulting, juvenile and lazy.

So, erm, the point I was making is…sigh, not sure, gonna go and sleep this off…

; )

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