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Going Down Swinging still going strong (1989)

17 May

First Published in Editions Issue 2 September 1989

Going Down Swinging Issue 9, 1989

Distribution has always been a problem for small literary magazines. The eco­nomics of producing a literary magazine means that, in most cases, editors would have to pay one of the mainstream distribu­tors to take on their products. Most maga­zines, therefore, rely on direct sales to a handful of more or less sympathetic book­shops and subscribers. Even here, howev­er, things are not all they should be. Bookshops will generally take between 25% to 40% of the retail price of the magazine and, as most bookshops will only take mag­azines on a ‘sale or return’ basis, the editors only get paid for the number of issues sold (or so the theory goes). Building up a sub­scription list can be just as daunting.

Without the funds for effective publicity campaigns most magazines are forced to rely on ‘word of mouth’ and mentions or free ads in other magazines to attract poten­tial subscribers.

There have been various attempts to change this situation by setting up co-oper­ative based small press distribution net­works and small press publicity campaigns. But to set up such a project costs money and the funding authorities, for the most part, seem content to hand money out to a handful of magazines on an individual basis rather than to build up an  infrastructure which would help all magazines.

Recently a group of six magazines com­bined resources to produce what they call ‘The Small Press Package’. This scheme is essentially a sampler: for $21.50 you get the current issues of all six mags. Presumably, once you have a copy of all the magazines you can then decide which ones to sub­scribe to.

The six magazines on offer are Going Down Swinging ‘a prose and poetry maga­zine that publishes the writing of new, unknown, and/or young writers’; On the off beat ‘a publisher of women’s short sto­ries and a focus for continuing support of good contemporary women’s fiction’; Studio a Christian literary journal ‘publishing poems, short stories and articles from established, new and aspiring writers’; Brave New Word  ‘a publisher of contempo­rary Australian short stories and poetry, and sometimes interviews related to Australian writing and publishing’; Writing ‘a magazine coordinated by the Victorian Community Writing Committee. Writing gives preference to unpublished, or as yet unpaid writers, and to writing groups’; and The Famous Reporter ‘a short story maga­zine publishing the work of both new and established writers in a wide range of styles and themes’.

One of the most ‘established’ of these magazines is Going Down Swinging which has just published its ninth issue. It was established by Myron Lysenko and Kevin Brophy in 1980 and has produced an aver­age of one issue a year since. Like many magazines it seems to have been born out of a feeling that the existing magazines were ignoring a section of the writing and reading community. In the editorial for the ninth issue Brophy and Lysenko, along with Associate editor Nolan Tyrrel, make the point that it is through magazines like Going Down Swinging that many writers make their first contact with editors. The comment and reaction they receive can be the first steps away from keeping their work to a small circle of friends’. Going Down Swinging has therefore always had a policy of ‘reacting specifically and personally to all submissions’.

Probably as a result of this policy Going Down Swinging has become one of the more innovative magazines in Australia, consistently publishing original, interesting and non-mainstream work by new and/or unknown writers. Issue number nine is a good example of the success of this policy. The work in the issue ranges from the real­ism of Leah Nischler’s opening piece ‘Barbara Cartland does a bunk’ to the fast-moving prose in Doreen Sullivan’s ‘Johnny Fish-Face’ and the measured emotionalism of April Phillips’ (I’m sure that’s a pseudonym) ‘Cage, manger, rack’.

There is also some impressive poetry in this issue. Colleen Farrell’s seven poems stand out. Her opening lines are constantly a particular highlight, an example being the Plath like opening of Ten Tulips’:

‘Do you know the dying stages of a

tulip? I do I’m learning.’

I also liked Rosanne Musu’s descriptive poem ‘Ship building’ and Christine Lindberg’s ‘All that jazz’

It’s interesting to note that the majority of work in this issue of Going Down Swinging is by women. Their confident experimentation is in contrast to the gener­ally ‘safer’ more literary work by the male contributors.

Another strength of Going Down Swinging has always been its reviews and interviews. Over the years it has contained interviews with writers such as Peter Carey and Murray Bail. In this issue there is a very interesting interview with Adelaide writer, performer and, most recently, chil­dren’s verse writer, Jenny Boult. Boult, who has been a long-time champion of small presses paints a gloomy picture of creative writing in the late 1980s: The sixties and seventies were boom years for poetry but the late seventies and eighties have put the lid on it to a great extent… publishers .are tending to publish much more mainstream, popularist kinds of poetry rather than tak­ing risks with new people and different styles of writing.’

If you’re interested in writing outside of the mainstream then Going Down Swinging number nine will provide you with an enjoyable introduction to a range of new(ish) innovative writers. Or better still choose from a cross-section of small liter­ary magazines from the Small Press Sampler.

Going Down Swinging is published once a year and a subscription costs $10.00 for two issues from PO Box 64 Coburg, Victoria 3058. For more information on the Small Press Sampler contact Walleah Publishing, PO Box 319 Kingston, Tasmania 7051. (All six magazines cost $21.50, any five $18.50, any four $15.50, any three $12.50).*

Mark Roberts is an editor  of P76 magazine and has had wide experience in small press publishing. He will be writing a regular col­umn on small presses and magazines for Editions.

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*NOTE: The contact details and prices above are now out of date.

  • Going Down Swinging is still very much in existance and can be contacted through it’s website: http://www.goingdownswinging.org.au/
  • Brave New Word is also still around – though it will fianlly end publication later this year. It can be contacted through Walleah Press  http://walleahpress.com.au/
  • Interesting to note that Walleah Press were responsible for the Small Press Pacakage.

Peter Carey’s First Novel

17 Nov

Review of Bliss, By Peter Carey, University of Queensland Press, 1981. Going Down Swinging Issue 5 Spring 1982.

Peter Carey’s first novel, Bliss, must have been one of the most eagerly awaited books of last year. Its publication was preceded bu profiles of Carey in both The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, both of which later gave the book good reviews. But even before the literary establishment began its fanfare I was suspicious of Carey’s novel. I have never been able to fully reconcile his role in advertising with his reputation as one of Australia’s leading younger writers. Despite this I enjoyed his first two books of short stories, though at times I doubted his motives. As a result I approached Bliss in a critical frame of mind. It lasted twenty pages. Once again Carey won me over in spite of myself.

The novel is basically the story of Harry Joy who, like Carey, is in is late thirties and involved in the running of a moderately successful advertising company. Harry, however, suffers a heart attack and lies in his backyard, clinically dead for nine minutes. During his ‘first death’ he discovers:

“That there were many worlds, layer upon layer, as thin as filo pastry.”

For a time he is completely at peace, but the possibility that a corresponding world of terror may exist sends him fleeing back to his body as it is being carried out the front gate. The rest of the novel is concerned, min the main, with Harry’s response to his new found insights into the evil and hypocrisy which everyone else takes for granted. To add to his confusion Harry actually believes that he has died and the new world which he is discovering is, in reality, hell.

Bliss adopts a far more rigid moral and political stance than any of the earlier stories. Of course Carey’s work has always been political in a sense, one only has to look at the title stories from The fat man in History and War Crimes for evidence of this. What I am suggesting, however, is that in Bliss Carey  is being more directly political than before, and, particularly in his portrayal of the advertising industry, manages to make quite strong moral judgments.

One of Harry’s most disturbing discoveries in Hell is the fact that many of the products he has been involved in advertising are strongly carcinogenic. Worse still, he realizes that he was perhaps the only person who wasn’t aware of it. Carey also hints at a cancer epidemic which, we are told, will sweep through the West and most of the industrialised East within a few years.

It is interesting, while still on the political aspects of Bliss, to look at a comment Carey made in an interview with Kate Ahearne, Stephen Williams and Kevin Brophy (Going Down Swinging No. 1 1980). When questioned about Craig Munro’s doubts about his role in advertising, Carey answered that it had given him a chance to work with other people, and also that it had given him a solid political education. It is possible to apply this statement to Harry Joy, though perhaps his ‘political education’ is a little sudden. For most of the novel Harry has to struggle with his political consciousness, his desire to produce a ‘good ad’. The conflict is only finally resolved when Bettina, his wife, finally gets the chance to fulfill a lifelong ambition of designing and producing her own ads. She is blind to everything but the beauty of her ads and her desire to break into the big New York ad houses. Her dreams though, are shattered by her discovery that she is suffering from incurable cancer, probably as a result of long term exposure to petrol vapours. Bettina turns against the petrol company for which she has been designing ads, destroying both herself, and the entire Board of the company with a petrol bomb.

Despite the ‘political realism’ of Bliss it is, in the final instance, far more optimistic than most of the stories. Carey himself admits (GDS, No1, 1980, p.46) that his early stories are, essentially, fatalistic. In the second collection, War Crimes, stories such as “He Found Her in Summer”, and “The Puzzling Nature of Blue”, are at least moving towards a position where the possibility of optimism is admitted. Bliss, however, concludes on a note of ecstasy. Carey refers to the unqualified happy ending to Bliss in the interview by commenting on Harry’s development from total innocence to a point where he confronts “the shit out of the world and comes to some real positive conclusions about it.” I agree with Carey when he says that this represents a big development (movement is probably a better word) on his earlier work.

Bliss, both in its language and content, is a very crafted novel. Although primarily the story of Harry Joy, all the other major characters dominate sections of the novel. This I had a feeling that hidden within the novel were a number of individual stories, cut up and distributed carefully throughout the book. Or perhaps this is coincidental, a result of the method of narration that Carey has employed. We learn, in the last lines, that the narrator’s voice in fact belongs to Harry and Honey’s children, who have obviously grown in a up in a tradition of storytelling, a profession that Harry adopted after his arrival at Bog Onion Road. So finally the novel turns a complete circle. Harry finds that the Bliss that was suggested in his ‘first’ death finally in his third death, after he has returned to the childhood memories of a guru-like father. The ending maybe, as some critics have noted, simplistic and contrived; nevertheless it still managed to move me on the two occasions I read it.

Of the many diverse influences on the novel, perhaps the most surprising, as far as I was concerned, was the apparent debt Carey owed to Tom Robbins of Another Roadside Attraction and Even Cowgirls Get the Blues fame. The major areas where this becomes obvious is in the method and style of narration and the character of Honey Barbara. In both of Robbins’ early books one of the minor characters later identifies himself as the narrator, explaining both the insights and the asides which characterize the narrative style. In Bliss, the revelation of Harry and Harry’s children as narrators can perhaps help to explain a similarity between Carey’s and Robbins’ narrative voice. The character of Honey Barbara also appears to owe much to Robbins. The similarity between Honey and many of Robbins’ female characters is particularly noticeable in small details such as the way she walks and her often impulsive, but enlightened dialogue. This became for me the weakest aspect of the novel, perhaps because the flaw was so unexpected and because Honey Barbara is the bridge between the cancerous city world and peace of the alternative life-style at Bog Onion Road. This Honey, who eventually becomes the most important character after Harry Joy, becomes, at times, almost contrived, and disrupts the smoothness which characterizes the rest of the novel.

The publication of Bliss came at a time when Carey’s earlier stories were being published overseas in a variety of different forms. It remains to be seen how many readers in America and England will react to the Carey novel. For me, despite a few flaws, the hype that surrounded its publication and my own doubts about Carey’s 9decreasing) role in advertising, Bliss was one of the more impressive novels I read during 1981.

Mark Roberts 1982