Summer Reading – a look at online literary magazines

It wasn’t that long ago that the summer holidays involved taking a long car ride, replete with a range of reading options; books, magazines, newspapers and perhaps even the odd journal or two. A particular favourite of mine was the summer edition of The Bulletin a weekly magazine that was published for over 130 years.

Print media days of old - The Bulletin

Print media days of old – The Bulletin

The ten hour interstate car ride afforded me (when I wasn’t the one driving) the opportunity to make up for lost reading time, investing in reading long form articles, book reviews and the like.

With the demise of many print forms of media, I’ve decided to do a bit of a reecy into the magazine market today, with a particular focus on the online literary market “scene”. My aims are several – to locate a source of great writing for reading purposes, to chart what is out there and provide a record of this as well as looking to see where my own writing might be (appropriately) submitted for consideration. My being a “gen X-er” means that, while familiar with Digital publishing and content, I am not as conversant with it as I might like to be.

Of course, part of the pleasure in those bumper summer editions of the magazines of old was the tactile value, the feel of the paper, initially fresh but soon becoming worn with familiarity, as one swept back and forth over multiple sittings. One might add an olfactory value of the paper to part of the overall experience . To this end, the ‘e’ version of magazines hasn’t quite worked this out… yet.

In writing this, I’ve done a little bit of research. My first introduction came by accident, via a tweet discussing an article by Chelsea Bauch at Flavorwire - a post looking at 10 compelling online literary magazines. The interesting thing about this is that being four years old, several of the magazines are no longer available. This led me to do some active research and, at the same time, consider what Australia, as my “local” market, has to offer. To this end, Alice Grundy’s article for the Sydney Review of Books, Nimble Innovators, was an excellent place to start. This was published in March 2014 and, as I discovered, even in this time some publications might have folded (higher arc appears to have had their account suspended, as I type this).

My first foray, via the Grundy article, was Cuttings. This had two distinct advantages as a first port of call. Firstly it was available via download (iTunes/Android) and, (at present) it is free. While I’m looking to do some subscribing as part of this process, it is nice to be able to have a look at a mag before committing to a purchase or a subscription.

Cuttings - the first three issues thus far

Cuttings – the first three issues thus far

There were three issues available, all of which I tapped on. My internet speeds being what they are, Issue 1 arrived first, followed by Issue 0. Issue 2, the latest, took a considerable time to ‘arrive’. Even though I clicked on Issue 1 first, I gave it only a cursory glance, feeling a sense of latent guilt that I wasn’t doing them in orderCuttings holds mostly short form, dynamic writing and, in this regard, is an excellent example. It is interesting to see how it has developed. Issue 3 took a substantial amount of time to download. The reason for this became apparent when opened, as the addition of a number of original  music tracks (that both accompany particular stories, as well as being ‘playable’ at other times) filled out its download size. This feature was certainly novel, providing an engaging way to to connect with the writing and perhaps countering the lack of ‘tactile’ feel of print media through the audio addition. The use of image and layout is similarly sumptuous.

While representing a good place to start, there are two reasons why Cuttings is probably not for me. Firstly, the writing is predominantly short-form. Pert and snappy, it does an admirable job yet in terms of long-form writing, leaves one feeling a little underfed. The second reason seems a larger concern. The magazine is supported by a tumblr journal; this highlights the lengthy timeframes between issues (issue 0= April 2013, issue 1= October 2013, issue 2= October 2014). In an age where the expectations for content frequency and delivery are high, the ‘downtime’ between issues just seems too long.

So a good first start, but much more investigating to do. Next up I’m exploring Seizure, Tincture and Kill Your Darlings.

Reflecting on Foyle’s War

It’s that time of year where the offerings on broadcast television are uninspiring – repeats or shows of indifferent quality. My wife is currently indulging on the boxed set of Anthony Horowitz’s Foyle’s War, a wedding anniversary present from me some years ago. An episode or two are viewed per night, with this being the third time through for both of us. The fact that we are seeing multiple seasons (and years) over several nights, only serves to amplify the narrative.

There is a gravitas to this show that works on so many levels. In 2005 I was fortunate enough to take students on a school tour around the battlefields of Belgium and France. The effect of the service at the Menin gate in Ypres was profound. For the boys who had ventured all the way from Australia, the idea that the service, performed by the fire brigade, had occurred every night since the conclusion of the First World War, was compelling.

For me, the show taps into this in a visceral way. The idea that a generation could fight in WW1, only to see the next generation, their children, old enough to fight in WW2 is devastating. The added imposition of the Great Depression only adds to the pathos.

As an English teacher, I have taught a number of texts that touch on the topic of war. Wilfred Owen’s poetry has been a staple of the senior English course and, only in the last few days, I’ve managed to finish Pat Barker’s Regeneration. Likewise, Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front. has been studied in Year 9 since I arrived at the school over a decade ago, providing a levelling account from a German perspective.

Michael Kitchen as Christopher Foyle by Lemon Casting. Image rights belong to ITV.com

Michael Kitchen as Christopher Foyle by Lemon Casting. Image rights belong to ITV.com

Of course, part of the marriage of the show, for the viewer, is Michael Kitchen’s commanding presence. I would love to know the extent to which he has taken the script, and direction, and invested something more to make it his own. Foyle’s sense of reservation, understatement, observation and economy are dynamic. At times, running the school’s boarding house, I found myself emulating Christopher Foyle when faced with students who had, euphemistically Got Up To No Good. In my case, it ran along the lines of ensuring that I had one piece of information. By presenting this as a statement, rather than a question, I was able to get to the bottom of most of the shenanigans. Those moments when Foyle would turn in profile to correct the suspect with “how things really are” were a masterclass for me.

Finally, there is the writing. Normally, I would acknowledge this first but, I am doing this last, by design. My reason for this is that it is, simply, just good writing. I recall a time when I watched Arthur Miller’s View from the Bridge and marvelled at the playwright’s ability to allow the audience to empathise with every character. While watching, I believed that every character was doing the right thing under their own terms; a rare occurrence in writing, where archetypes and stereotypes prevail. Horowitz, for his part, is a master on these terms. For the purposes of this Post, I refer to the first show in Season Two, entitled Fifty Ships. By the end, I felt for everybody. The man who discovers his wife is German and disowns her, the wife who loves her husband beyond all else, the war that takes a patent idea away, the honour between a policeman and a German spy. I felt for everybody, in their own way.

In closing, there is so much to love about Foyle in Foyle’s War and I’ve barely scratched the surface. Suffice to say, that one should not be surprised how one man could appear so tired, yet invigorated, as the war grinds its way through this series. My desire now would be to see another series – perhaps Foyle Between the Wars – looking at a man coming to terms with the horrors of World War One, while he find his own feet as a policeman, widower and father, in this twenty year period.

I know you are a busy man Mr Horowitz… no pressure. Just a thought in case you are looking for inspiration when the other fifty projects that call upon your time come to a conclusion.

 

Re-Reading “Something Wicked This Way Comes”

For a person who has always enjoyed the ability to recollect things, my ability to recall books from my boyhood has started to slip. With little more than the memory of it being a wonderful read in my teenage years, I have started re-reading Ray Bradbury’s book Something Wicked This Way Comes”.
In the intervening years, I have read a lot of books. And, of these, a lot of books would owe something to Bradbury’s work, that sees a sinister Carnival of ‘freaks’ enter a small town. Certainly texts such as Darren Shan’s Cirque Du Freak

come to mind, particularly in terms of the two-boy protagonists as part of the set up.
The other thing that has struck me (and I am about 60% of the way through) is how my own place has moved from being reflected in the character of William Holloway, to that of his father, Charles Holloway. The later is in his early fifties at the time of the novel and is perceived as being old ahead of his time. While I am not suggesting that I am venerable, my world view, having been married, had children and been a teacher for over 20 years, has certainly shifted more towards a more grounded connection with the world.
These observations aside, I’m loving the book. It is set in “no time” – it could be anywhere between the 1930s and the 1980s and Bradbury’s imagination and description resonate for me to this very day.

Episode 2 before Episode 1

Normally I wouldn’t advocate watching the second episode before the first, but a recent mistake proved notable. Having taped the first few episodes of the Fargo TV series, I thought I’d catch up on my viewing. What I didn’t realise was that the TV station decided to show two episodes back to back and that my recorder had split the files when recording. So I got a coffee, settled back, and unwittingly watched the second episode.

It proved interesting… not too confusing, with nice elements of mystery.

It was only when I went to watch the “second” episode (i.e. the third) that I noticed the first episode on the recorder. I was grumpy at myself for overlooking the episode but decided to go back and watch the first episode anyway.

The result was amazing. I won’t give anything away, except in general terms that there are a number of murders that occur in the first episode. What was interesting is that my view of several characters changed dramatically. My impression of one suspect in episode 2 (my first episode) was completely challenged when I went back to watch the original episode.

As I said, I wouldn’t normally suggest watching the second episode of a new TV series first, but in terms of how we perceive characters and their idiosyncrasies, it worked a treat.

Now for episode three… the real episode three…Image

susurrus… Word of the Day

I’m going to have some time away from George. We’ve spent a lot of time together lately, and I’m not sure how healthy that can be for me.

It all started with some spare time and the thought that I might tackle something a little bigger. Something that would take more than a few days to chew through. I didn’t quite realise that I would chew through 2001 pages in less than a month.

2001… A George Odyssey. It seems apt as I headed out into uncharted territory, picking up first A Clash of Kings and later A Storm of Swords from the Game of Thrones saga at many plenty moments of the day or evening. If you’ve read this far, fear not, there will be no spoilers in this Post, which, as it happens, is my first in quite a while…

Anyway, it’s been good with George, if a little intense at times. The 3rd book (Storm…) I read on the Kindle and sees me move away from the TV show, where I have only seen the first two seasons – thus my imagination has some chance to take flight. The Kindle has its disadvantages and advantages. It’s a pain to look up the maps, so much so that I used Clash, which was a paperback, as my “reference tome”. The advantages… it’s light (so no GRR Martin wrist/forearm workout in reading a doorstop edition), you can see how far you have to go in the chapter or the rest of the book (disconcertingly so when it advises you early on that there are 31 hours left in the book… ha!) and you can use the Dictionary and Highlight functions.

Book 2 and, on Kindle, book 3

Book 2 and, on Kindle, book 3

The former is a funny process in itself. I have the Oxford Dictionary of English loaded into my Kindle and it balks at quite a bit. Direwolf is a case in point as I highlighted the first word I came to in writing this post to check which Dictionary I had installed. No Definition Found. But, it does demonstrate how rich Mr George’s writing has been, in terms of Thesaurus-like range of language he deploys. All of the weaponry, the clothing, the food. He has it covered.

And, he sometimes uses words that are, simply, wonderful. My favourite (and this is where I used the Highlight) function, meaning that I could find it again later, is susurrus (to murmur or hum, according to the Kindle’s Oxford) as he described characters coming across the river of the Green Fork. Lovely.

So, having mainlined two books in a row, my head is full of George. I gave the 4th book 4 stars on Goodreads… it’s epic, but as a friend said, in need of an Editor to give it a good trim. 1128 pages could probably benefit by losing 10% readily enough.

The fourth book is waiting, on the Kindle…. but first I’m going to read a book that I borrowed from the local library: Sara Gran’s City of the Dead, a detective novel set post Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. And at only 273 pages, should, by George’s standards, be a breeze!

In Awe of Good Writing

I have just finished Peter Temple’s The Broken Shore. This was a book my mother bought for me a few years back and, having watched the excellent tele-movie of it recently, I was spurred on to read it in place of other “next book” contenders.

It is compelling reading. What is more, it has highlighted some of the facets of good writing that work for me. 

For the benefit of overseas readers, The Broken Shore is a crime novel, set in Southern Australia, along a windswept part of the Victorian coastline. The main character, Joe Cashin, is a broken man himself, both physically and emotionally. 

An Idyllic spot for an Ideal book

An Idyllic spot for an Ideal book

As mentioned before, Peter Temple is a consummate writer. In addition to being a wordsmith, he is able to get me to replicate certain actions that are observed in the text. Thus I find myself, having read a character description of action, silently mimicking it to weigh its movement, as if I can test its validity. It is not so much a question of whether it is valid in the first place, it is more that Temple has so effectively painted the description with words, that I actually make any movement in the first place.

At the same time, there is a mix of language economy in marriage with carefully observed description. Thus, his itinerant work Rebb, often makes observations without using personal pronouns, particularly when referring to himself. This shorthand works brilliantly in capturing that laconic, perhaps bordering on larrikinism, that seems to be part of the Australian population, even if this might be a little stereotypical. Meanwhile, the landscape is its own character, invested with its own energy and emotion. Even the way that Temple depicts Cashin’s relationship to his two standard poodles, as they bound around the countryside, is worthy of consideration. 

I don’t often give five stars for books, or even write about them in blogs, but this one is a worthy contender. The fact that it has done more to tell me about the things I value in writing, in addition to telling a good yarn, seals the deal.

An Art Course – Allowing Space to Reflect

I’m in Week 2 of my beginner course in painting and drawing. The last time I did this was 2002 and, considering I loved it, it seems a shame that I’ve done virtually nothing in over a decade. I should emphasise that I’m very much the novice. I’m not aiming to produce saleable works. I’m just happy when I’m happy with what I’ve managed to do. Each session goes for three hours and time seems to become elastic, pliable. I love the idea that you become so immersed in the task and detail at hand that you become mesmerised. One moment it is 9:50am. Seemingly only a few minutes later, it is nearly 11am.

Still Life Effort 1 - using Olive, White and Black Acrylic

Still Life Effort 1 – using Olive, White and Black Acrylic

Another thing I love about the course is how it helps me to see how things appear and, perhaps more interestingly, what they are not. Things like shadows and light. The fact that clouds are not white… that shadows are not just grey or black… that water is not merely clear or blue. I’ve enjoyed viewing the broader world around me in fresh ways.

At the moment we are working on Still Life, gaining some concepts about light and perspective. Last week we started with drawing – something that I thoroughly enjoy working on – before moving on to working with black and white acrylic paints. This week we did the same thing, introducing one additional colour into the process. So my first effort of a wine bottle and apple were done with the addition of olive acrylic. The second – just the apple this time – saw me use red.

Still Life 2 - using red acrylic this time

Still Life 2 – using red acrylic this time

The intervening time between my doing a course in 2002 and now has seen some interesting changes in how technology can help too. The advent of the smart phone – suddenly you can take a shot of a possible subject at any time. Next week we will be working on self-portraits, using how phones to capture one’s likeness and using this to help guide the process.

I also like the idea that there is a “gang” of participants who continue to return each term, just so that they are guaranteed the time and space to continue working on something that generates such a degree of pleasure. It’s early days, but I’m hoping to do the same thing myself, so as to build in the chance to keep it going.