Tuesday, 28 September 2010

It’s a wonderful job

In the thick of production here and annual reporting, to boot. Sometimes it seems that the panther-like stalk that administration has on me will never end. I am also in reflective mood. Just two more issues of New Welsh Review – including the forthcoming one – and I move on in spring 2011. It’s startling how fast time has gone since I started the role. Truly.

I’ve been wondering what I’ll miss – and what I’ll be glad to leave behind, despite the inevitable difficulty of letting go of such an intense working life. Perhaps my observations will prove useful to my successor. Perhaps not.

So, the highlights.

Sending out an acceptance letter to the fair unknowns – those writers that you just know are going to go somewhere. Being among the first to discover them is a privilege and has never ceased to excite me. Completion of production hell. If I was Tina Brown I’d probably toast it with a dirty Martini. I’m not, so a modest glass of Pinot (paid for by my own purse) usually suffices. The arrival, four times a year of the outcome of the blood, sweat, tears and the odd sleepless night: the magazine. I would say it’s like Christmas each quarter. I touch it, turn it over in my hands – though it’s a gift unopened. For one, I know the contents by rote and for another, if I did, I would be sure to open the pages and happen upon the typo that eluded me. That’s the unwritten law of all publishing for editors. Never open it once it's arrived back from the printers. Creating and promoting something that so few people in this world now care about or value: the literary magazine. It’s humbled me. Humbled me likewise, the people who do care and stop to tell you so with a kind virtual or in-person word at precisely the moment when you wonder what lunacy ever possessed you. So: there is light in the darkness – where I’m usually to be found, whistling. All the talented authors I’ve met in person and via email. Their commitment and dedication to their art. How nice and modest so very many of them are and how pleased I am that so many still value being a part of literary print magazine tradition in the twenty-first century. I think their antecedents would be pleased, too. The wonderful events I’ve been a part of, watching new writers and more established ones play to a crowd that appreciates what they do in this disposable culture that seems to dominate now. Being the steward of something that will outlive me and, maybe, forget me. That's the humbling part again. And a useful check for someone who's also a writer. The excitement and the pressure. The show must go on.

I can't say I'll miss the rejection letters. It's rather like breaking up with someone you never even met. The pain on the other end is similar. I know – I've been there, too. And: I've been depressed at the way people send out to a magazine without ever having picked up a copy. Other editors moan about the same thing all the time. A great deal of anguish and frustration could be spared writers (and editors!) if they did and a lot more success prevail. So many people forget that the talent is in the choices. Do your research. Find a place where you belong or, better still, be ambitious and find the place where you want to belong, someday. I should know – I learned that myself the hard way when I was starting out. I now have a badge for it which possibly qualified me to write this.

Recently, in the middle of a minor crisis, one of those fair unknowns I was talking about contacted me to let me know that their showcase in the magazine had led to something bigger for them. Their journey was now really beginning. Sometimes, it feels good to be George Bailey at the Building and Loan with your suitcase full of NWRs.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Dylan Thomas Prize shortlist announced

The full 2010 University of Wales Dylan Thomas Prize shortlist has been announced:

Caroline Bird, 23 - Watering Can (Carcanet)

Elyse Fenton, 29 – Clamor (Cleveland State University Poetry Center)

Eleanor Catton, 24 - The Rehearsal (Portobello Books)

Emilie Mackie, 27 - And This is True (Sceptre)

Karan Mahajan, 26 - Family Planning (Harper Perennial)

Nadifa Mohamed, 28 - Black Mamba Boy (Harper Collins)

My tip? Caroline Bird. Her second shortlisting for the prize – and a poetry collection has yet to make it all the way. From a personal perspective, I'm rooting for her. I remember Caroline when we were both young poets shortlisted for a Poetry Review prize back in the mists of time. Well, I was young (but poet-young), while she was actually young: just 15. And yet she acquitted herself like a true pro, delivering her work before the audience with confidence and panache. Neither of us won. But we both smiled.

Good luck to all the listed. The prizewinner will be announced in December.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Bursaries from Academi 2011

If you've ever wondered just how you'll manage to finish that novel, collection of poetry or creative non-fic while negotiating the burdens of the day job or childcare, consider applying for an Academi bursary to 'buy time' for writing – applications are now open. The process is a competitive one – weighing up need with talent – but bursaries are available for unpublished writers, as well as those who are well established in the field. The scheme has an excellent track record for spotting and supporting talent, with many past recipients going on to publish acclaimed works as a result. You must be permanently resident in Wales for the proposed duration of the bursary in order to apply. Visit the website here to find out more.

Writers' Plaques

A new website resource has just been launched from Academi and the Rhys Davies Trust. The resource pinpoints writers' plaques across Wales. Visit the website here.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Kathryn Gray in conversation with Tyler Keevil

I'll be in conversation with the brilliant young novelist Tyler Keevil, discussing his debut from Parthian Books, Fireball, at the Aberystwyth Arts Centre on 21 October at 6pm. Please do join us if you can for an evening that promises lively chat, readings and, of course, the obligatory launch party Pinot.