Tag Archives: writing

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 Writing gives preference to unpublished, or as yet unpaid writers, and to writing groups’; and The Famous Reporter ‘a short story maga­zine publishing the work of both new and established writers in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.

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Finola Moorhead Remember the Tarantella Primavera Press 1987

23 Apr

Finola Moorhead Remember the Tarantella Primavera Press 1987. First Published in P76 Issue 5, 1991

NOTE: Remember the Tarantella rereleased in a new edition by Spinifex Press in 2011 with a new Afterword.

Finola Moorhead’s Remember the Tarantella attracted some interest when it first appeared towards the end of 1987. It was briefly reviewed in a number of the major papers and was the subject of a number of lengthier articles in a handful of journals. It did not, however, go on to be nominated for any of the major awards, or indeed attract the sort of attention that Kate Grenville’s Joan Makes History received during the bicentennial year.

The failure of Moorhead’s novel to attract major critical attention says much about the current state of publishing and criticism in Australia. Remember the Tarantella is one of the few major Australian novels of the past decade. But while the Australian publishing industry continually trumpeted its own praise while at the same time at threatening to devour itself in a frenzy of takeovers and buybacks, it was left to a Primavera Press, a relatively small publisher, to pick up and run with Remember the Tarantella. Primavera did an admirable job launching the book, and they probably did as much as they could to promote it. The fact remains, however, that for a book by a small publisher to gain the important column centimetres in the major Saturday book pages, the book has to be extraordinarily good – or the publishers have to rely on the old girl/boy networks.

The reviews that did appear seemed somewhat guarded in their response. One had the feeling that while they recognised the importance of Moorhead’s novel they also felt that there was something about it that pushed it off to one side of the mainstream.

What was it then that led to this undercurrent of ‘unease’ among ‘serious’ reviewers. The answer, I believe, can be found in the opening of Moorhead’s ‘Author’s Notes’ to Remember the Tarantella.

“Perhaps Remember the Tarantella started with Christina Stead’s challenge to me – it’s very difficult to make an interesting novel with no men in it.”

While much has been made of the ‘success’ women writers have ‘enjoyed’ in Australia over the past decade or so, there still remains a number of institutionalised barriers to certain   kinds  of  womens’ writing. The literary mainstream has long used literary genres as a tool to defend ‘literary standards’. If something can be pushed into a category such as ‘community writing’ or ‘Black writing’ then it ceases to be a threat to ‘real’ literature. It can be examined in terms of its own genre which, it is understood, is inferior to real literature. Such a response is not of course, always conscious and it would appear that it has, to an extent been part of the baggage that many   reviewers   have brought to Moorhead’s novel.   Overall,   critics in Australia have appeared reluctant to see Remember the Tarantella as part of the mainstream of Australian writing. Rather, they  have   argued, its complexity and scope  make   it   one  of  the major achievements of the women’s writing movement in Australia. Such mariginalisation is unfortunate because,  by marginalising some of the more dynamic forms of contemporary writing, these critics eventually marginalise literature itself.

Remember the Tarantella is a great, swirling novel. Like the dance from which it takes its name it seems, at first, to be out of control rushing back and forth, spinning wildly, even somersaulting. But all these movements are part of an overall pattern, the steps of the dance, and in the same way that the movement of a dance may be unintelligible if you are in the midst of it, Remember the Tarantella demands  that you step back and ponder the structure of the dance/novel.

Moorhead hints at one pattern in her ‘Author’s notes’. Besides men in fiction Moorhead also discussed mathematics with Stead and as a result there is the “daring to make a novel out of geometry”. In fact according to the author, the first draft “was a series of diagrams and nouns. No sentences”. This geometry provides the novel with its structural depth, it also sets up an almost unconscious rhythm to the narrative. The novel concludes with a highly structured dance which brings together a number of structural features of the novel. The 26 women in the dance are identified by letters of the alphabet. There are also  26 major characters in the novel – from Arachane through to Zono. The dance itself is highly structured. It forms geometric shapes which dissolve and reform. One feels that there are many years of research in front academics in relating the structure of this final dance to the overall structure of the novel.

There are also other structural elements running through the novel. The alphabet is obviously central to the work , as is numerology and astrology. There is also an international network of women which provides numerous anchoring points for the narrative. Each woman in the novel affects every other woman in the novel. The result is that Remember the Tarantella becomes a highly structured network of crisscrossing webs.

In the end we are left with what Moorhead has called ‘everywoman’ – the 26 different women, different aspects of the ‘everywoman’, united in their network yet often contradictory, even hostile. This web or network, is the dance, the tarantella the collective memory that can only be realised by bringing the 26 women together in the final dance.

But while the structure of Remember the Tarantella is no doubt challenging, its strength lies in the number of ways in which the novel can be read. While it is easy to become overwhelmed by the swirling structure – caught in the web if you like – it is also possible to read Moorhead’s novel as a vivid representation of the lifestyle of 26 different women during the early eighties.

Moorhead’s novel then, is a major achievement by anyone’s standards. Its expansive scope and its complex yet intricate structure sets it apart from much of the more mundane mainstream literary activity in Australia during the late eighties. It is to be hoped that the next few years will see it receive the recognition it deserves – both in Australia and overseas.

– Mark Roberts

Literary Magazines Turn Full Circle at Word Festival (1989)

2 Apr

‘Literary Magazines Turn Full Circle at Word Festival’. Published in Issue 1 of Editions: The New Monthly Australian Review of Books, August 1989

Collected Works Bookshop as it is now.

Tom Shapcott, speaking at the Australian National Word Festival in Canberra earlier this year, claimed that a major concern facing the Literature Board (apparently now renamed the Literature ‘Unit’) when funding literary magazines was knowing when to ‘kill’ a magazine off. Although Shapcott was referring to the larger literary magazines which have become dependent on their annual injec­tion of Australia Council funds to keep afloat, such a comment coming from the director of the Literature Board must have been greeted with some irony by those in the audience who have been involved in the production of a small magazine and whose major concern was how to keep a magazine ‘alive’.

The literary magazine debate at the 1989 Festival had indeed come full circle. Four years ago editors of small magazines virtually invaded the 1985 Festival. They held a meeting with the Literature Board (which included both funded and non-fund­ed magazines), ran their own very popular session at the Festival and sold small press publications in direct competition to the Co­op Bookshop stand.

In the months leading up to the 1985 Festival a group of predominately Sydney editors had attempted to create an Australia-wide lobby group of magazine edi­tors and workers and small publishers. This group, known as Small Magazines And Presses (SMAP), did have some early successes. A number of articles on small literary presses appeared in the arts pages of the major dailies and the ABC radio pro­gram Books and Writing produced a special report on small presses. In Sydney Neil Whitfield, former editor of Neos (a maga­zine devoted to publishing creative writing by writers under 25) set up a small press stand at Harkers Bookshop in Glebe.

Shortly before SMAP took off in Sydney, Collected Works Bookshop opened in Melbourne. Collected Works attempted not only to be a small press bookshop but also to distribute Australian and international small press publications. Although not directly related to SMAP it is possible to see Collected Works as port of a ‘small press push’ in the early to mid eight­ies. A push which, for a while, seemed as though it was going to force the literary establishment to take notice.

Despite promising so much at the 1985 Word Festival SMAP eventually died a slow death. The problems that plague editors of small magazines were compounded with SMAP. The main movers behind SMAP were magazine editors who suddenly found themselves not only juggling employment commitments, editing, funding, producing and distributing a small literary magazine but also attempting to set up an Australia-wide lobby group of small presses and even examining proposals for a national small press distribution network. In retrospect it is not a surprise that SMAP collapsed, but that it got so far along the track, with virtu­ally no support from the federal or state arts bodies, before the wheels fell off.

So, was it worthwhile? Well there were some spin-offs. Contacts were made, a net­work was set up between magazine editors in different regions and, for a period, liter­ary magazines and journals gained at least a little of the literary spotlight. SMAP also kept careful records and if, in the future, small magazines and presses are in a posi­tion to lobby collectively for a better deal from the literary establishment, much of the groundwork will already have been done.

The whole area of small cultural maga­zines is, with a few exceptions, is virtually ignored by the major newspapers and radio programs which claim to have a cultural bent. SMAP attempted to change this, and for a short while perhaps it did. Even when the literary or cultural establishment does make a concerted effort to acknowledge the existence of literary journals, it is generally a very blinkered, conservative acknowl­edgement. A good example of this occurred a number of years ago when Books and writing introduced a regular literary maga­zine segment. Almost exclusively the reviewer concentrated on the established, Literature Board funded magazines like Meanjin, Island, Quadrant and Overland.

Over the coming months in EDITIONS I will attempt to do something quite differ­ent. To fully appreciate the importance of small magazines and publishing, one has to look beyond the established magazines to the diversity that exists across the whole range of literary and cultural publishing. So while I will be following the creative and critical writing appearing in the major jour­nals, I will also be searching out the innova­tive, outrageous or merely interesting among the smaller, and often more vibrant, magazines. At the same time I intend to highlight the politics of small press publish­ing and to look back at some of the more influential literary magazines of the past twenty years in an attempt to understand the context in which contemporary maga­zines are operating today.

While Harkers Bookshop closed some years ago Collected Works Bookshop is still going strong in Melbourne. After a number of moves they are now on the 1st Floor of the Flinders Way Arcade, 238 Flinders Lane Melbourne 3000 (03 654 8873).

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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Please note that the address and contact details in the above article date from 1989. COLLECTED WORKS BOOKSHOP is still going strong some 22 years later. It is now at Nicholas Building, Level 1, 37 Swanston Street, Melbourne, VIC 3000. Phone 03  396548873. It is on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Collected-Works-Bookshop/175023895845165