This week I’m joined by Mike French*
Claire King: Mike French, who are you?
Mike French: Is that a psychological question, because if it is then I’m still working on the answer to that. On a good day I think I’m a writer and editor, don’t ask me about the bad days.
CK: Tell me about the bad days? Why have you only got half a face?
MF: Is this one of those David Frost style interviews? No, no comment.
CK: OK (I’ll get you later). Tell us about The View From Here literary magazine then, how and why did it come about?
MF: It started with a small group of four of us and now there are over 25 on team from all across the world. I wanted to create something that was fresh, vibrant, something that looked visually strong and built around the people in it rather than squeezing them into a predefined shape. I think that’s been one of our strengths in that who’s on the team shapes the magazine which has meant it’s grown organically, which is a bit risky but far more exciting.
CK: There are some wonderful contributors to TVFH – novelist Elizabeth Baines, literary agent Simon Trewin and publisher and author Scott Pack to name but a few. How did you manage to pull such a strong group of people together from across the world of writing and publishing?
MF: I gathered a dossier on each one and said look no-one needs to know about this as long as you come and help me change the culture in the publishing world. The bigger names responded very well to that type of blackmail. Although I think the real trick is to recognise what people’s talents are then give them an opportunity to bring those gifts to the magazine, to support them and encourage them to flourish.
MF: That was a tough decision. We’d been in print for three years and run out 36 issues, each one a labour of love. However we had to end it for two reasons. The first was that we were running on a small loss and finding it hard to break into the bricks and mortar shops. The magazine world, much like the book world, is dominated by the big players and distributors who want to deal in large orders. You’re only ever going to make it by getting an advertising agency to buy in big time into the magazine and unfortunately literary magazines are always going to struggle with that. That tied with our policy not to promote self publishing and therefore most of the advertisers who may have been interested, made it very difficult.
We did get into one Waterstones which then promptly closed down.
We also tried a distributor who got us into some stores in New York but they kept wanting us to send stock at our cost with no money coming back our way.
The other reason was the amount of my personal time it took in getting each issue to print; I was doing all the graphic design. When I got my publishing deal, moving to online-only gave me the opportunity to give some time to my writing again and finally get down to writing the second novel.
CK: What conclusions have you come to about the life of a literary magazine purely online, as opposed to print?
MF: I think online literary magazines on the whole only survive because of the passion and drive of the people creating them and that often as people move onto other things or their own careers take off they fade and die. I’d certainly see them as transient creatures unless they’re linked to a university or publishing house or some other external support system.
CK: What is happening at TVFH now?
MF: Well I’ve just gone through the above thought process for TVFH now my own writing has taken off, in that we’ve asked the question, is it now time to call it a day? However after much thought we’ve come to the conclusion that it’s important to foster a culture of a co-operative environment so that our creativity isn’t just channelled into promoting our own work but also helping others realise their creative potential. It’s a check against becoming absorbed in self-promotion which whilst important is dangerous if that is where all your energy is going. So we feel it’s important to keep The View From Here alive and vibrant both as a place for aspiring novelists and those already in the business and for ourselves as a check against becoming narcissistic. We’ve new blood coming into the magazine team at the moment and I’d love to see us still around in ten years’ time, certainly I plan to keep her alive and well however well my own writing career goes.
CK: That’s great news. I certainly get very excited by the talented work I see in our submissions pile for The Front View short fiction section. So, now I know I still have a job I can congratulate you on the publication of your debut novel! Tell us about ‘the ascent of isaac steward’?
MF: Thanks. Well she’s a strange fish full of wonder and the frailty of our minds as we seek to impose a narrative on the chaos that we call life. It follows one man in particular called Isaac Steward whose life is unravelling and his journey back to the love of his life, Rebekah.
CK: How was your journey to publication? Tell me about the bad days?
MF: It was hard, as it is for most writers, although a lot of people when I say it took six years tell me that’s nothing and I’m lucky! Fortunately I avoided all the traps that lie out there for a new writer like vanity publishing, agents wanting money etc – although each tried their hand. Overall it was emotionally exhausting. It’s like standing out in a storm trying to make yourself heard to someone standing ten miles away or asking someone to hit you in the face with a large stick all day. The hardest moment, when I finally thought I’d done it a few years ago, was when a publisher was interested. They asked for the full ms and then wanted to meet me at The London Book Fair – I think understandingly I took that to be a very good sign and that a possible contract was on the table but it never happened and I read too much into the meeting. That was very hard to come back from, but I’m glad I picked myself up and kept going as here I am today all published and grinning like an idiot!
CK: And what is it like finally being published? Is it as you expected?
MF: It’s wonderful. When you’ve created something you really want to see it out there and not sitting in some drawer starving to death, so I was so excited to see it published. When I found out it was such a relief. When you want something for so long it’s like being surrounded by it – like the possibility forms a bubble around you – you hope it will burst and you’ll see it come to life but over time the bubble just gets bigger and you feel smaller and smaller within it until you’re not sure you can even see the bubble anymore. And yes it’s pretty much as I expected having seen many others walk the same path from my vantage point of magazine editor although there have been some nice surprises that I hadn’t expected.
CK: Such as?
MF: Being nominated for the Galaxy Book awards for New Writer of the Year and the old fashioned type of relationship I’m currently enjoying with my publisher.
CK: What next?
MF: I’ve just finished my second novel, Blue Friday. It’s set in a dystopian society in the future where working hours are strictly controlled by the government and follows Leviticus, the leader of the Underground Overtime Network who fights for the right for people to choose when they can work. I’ve really enjoyed getting back into writing again and after pouring so much into the first novel wondered what I had left for the second. It’s quite different from my first and quite short at just over 30 thousand – although Julian Barnes latest is short so I’m not too worried about the length.
I think people are obsessed with labelling things as novels, novellas, etc which I find a little strange. Is Animal Farm a novel or a novella or a novelette?
I think people who worry themselves about such things probably would feel at home in some middle management somewhere going to meetings about how long a piece of string should be.
CK: Thanks for coming over to my blog. Good luck with your novel, and indeed with your second.
MF: A pleasure! Thank you.