Claire King


Posts Tagged ‘The View From Here’

A Belly Full of Fiction

Posted on: March 4th, 2012 by Claire - 26 Comments

At the end of last year I stopped accepting submissions of short fiction to The View From Here. I’d become quite overwhelmed, every day several more stories to read, and something strange was happening…

Of course some of the submissions only took a quick look to see that they weren’t for us – wrong style, not the right level of writing, wrong genre (novels, children’s stories). And the odd one would still stand out immediately. But many of them, many more than usual it seemed, blurred together, indistinct from one another. The writing was good but I have to admit I’d lost interest.

I think I had run into fiction fatigue.

After a two-month break I’ve re-opened to submissions and the new stories are flooding back in. The quality is good, and I’m enjoying reading them again.

I’ve decide that I get a diminishing return when reading short fiction. Like drinking a cold beer – the first one is wonderfully refreshing, the second is good too. The third is simply because you like the taste and the fourth is pure gluttony. It’s the same with tapas. Even if the whole menu looks delicious, you can’t taste everything. Even if you had the budget, after the first few different tastes you’ve already had a belly-full.

I’m talking about food as an analogy, but it works in other areas too:

Have you ever been into a perfume counter, shopping for a gift? After the first three or four scents, everything seems to smell the same. And when I go to an art gallery I only ever want to see one or two rooms. There’s just too much to take in otherwise and I find myself glancing over paintings which deserve more consideration. Sensorial saturation.

But if this is all true, how does one get through an ever expanding inbox of short-fiction submissions – or for that matter, if you are an agent, a slush pile of novel queries –  giving each one the time and consideration it deserves?

Answers on a postcard please.

Is this how The Fairytale goes?

Posted on: December 16th, 2011 by Claire - 2 Comments

This week I had the privilege and the pleasure of interviewing Stephen Kelman for The View From Here.

I loved Pigeon English, Stephen’s debut novel. It’s the story of Harrison, a Ghanan immigrant, as he acclimatises to life in his new home on a London housing estate. It opens with the knifing to death of a local schoolboy, possibly the victim of local gang culture although the police are unable to prove anything. The novel is unusual, bold and challenging and for me, it’s the ending that really makes it. The final sentence still sticks with me. Stephen Kelman proposes a simple truth of humanity that fits perfectly into the story’s end…and you will just have to read the book to see if you agree!

If you hadn’t heard, Pigeon English was shortlisted for more than a handful of literary awards in 2011, including the Man Booker. I’ve read various interviews with Stephen, talking about his ‘humble’ origins, and the ‘fairytale’ of the 12-publisher bidding war for his debut novel. But there’s always more to these fairytale stories, you know. The endings may be all ‘happily ever after’ but for the most part, children are abandoned, eaten by wolves and stolen by witches. Spells are put upon innocents and the path through the forest is dark and set about with danger.

You can read the full interview here. Only there will you find answers to questions like:

  • “How much tenacity did Stephen really have to show before his destiny finally showed up for dinner?”
  •  “Does Stephen type out text messages using proper, full words?” and
  • “What is the relationship between Stephen and a man whose best friends kicked him 47 times in the testicles in 90 seconds?”

Interview with Mike French

Posted on: October 16th, 2011 by Claire - 6 Comments

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.

*Author and Managing Editor of The View From Here Literary Magazine.

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.

CK: You took the decision earlier this year to move TVFH to online only. Why?

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.

Mike blogs here, and you can buy his book in ‘all good bookstores’ and also online, here.

The View From Here is a wealth of resources for writers online, and short fiction is currently being published every Friday at The Front View.


Thoughts from the Fiction Editor’s Desk

Posted on: June 3rd, 2011 by Claire - 13 Comments

As many of you will know, I recently took over as Fiction Editor at The View From Here literary magazine. The first issue featuring the stories I selected has just been published. I promise you that it is entirely coincidental that this is also the last printed edition of TVFH. From now on it’s all digital.

I don’t know if that is a sad thing or not, the evolution to digital. I do know that many literary magazines are making the same decision. Run by people who do it for love rather than money, even so the costs of small print runs can make the price of the magazines prohibitively expensive. Not all though – the excellent Words with Jam just launched its first printed edition! Meanwhile the online literary scene is vibrant and booming. There’s a good article here by Kirsty Logan on finding the balance between online and print.

So you can now read the first four stories that I chose (see below for details on how to get your mitts on them) and I wanted to explain why these stories made it in when many many more did not. Unfortunately I’m not in a position to make personalised responses to writers whose work I turn down. But perhaps knowing what made me choose these stories could be interesting?

When I started to read submissions, I didn’t know exactly what I was looking for. Just that I thought I would know it when I saw it. Something that was a delight to read, something fresh, exciting…that elicited an emotional response. It had to fit in with the ‘style’ of TVFH and if all that wasn’t enough, I also knew I wanted the stories I chose to be complementary – to fit together in the issue they would share.

I read around 100 submissions, which included a very high standard of writing. So why did I choose these particular stories?

The writing stood out from the crowd. It’s very hard to describe how that works, except to say that upon opening the stories, by one paragraph in I was no longer ‘filtering submissions’ but reading a story that had pulled me right in. The writing that attracted my attention tended to be bold, tight, and unrestrained by ‘The Rules’. Also it had to be well edited, because aside from a few editorial suggestions, I’m afraid I don’t have the time to go through a piece correcting typos etc.

I was very fortunate in that the stories that stood out for me last month had a common thread that pulls them together:  I ended up with four male protagonists, all searching for something inside themselves. The themes are rather dark, although admittedly this was a general trend across all 100 submissions. I also felt the stories both complemented each other and contrasted, because they were crafted in very different ways:

Bone Fire by A.J. Ashworth

Written in second-person, present tense, a tough feat to pull off, but delivered seamlessly. Here, the characterisation is deftly and tightly woven into a relatively short story. It instilled a kind of panic in me as I read it.

Yellow Fingers by Michael Saul

I found the voice of Joe Jack in this both authentic and unusual. Reading the unforgiving descriptions accompanied by the rough dialect felt a lot like rubbernecking. The imagery is ugly but it held a strange fascination for me.

Man Answers Ad by Anthony Spaeth

Reading this story for the first time was like being seated front row at some kind of absurdist theatre. ‘Waiting for Godot’, perhaps. But unlike some writing which seems to be trying hard to be ‘different’ or ‘unusual’ this seemed entirely natural. The bizarre narrative held up throughout the whole story and I wondered where it was going. I loved how, in the ending, the reader is nudged gently towards a conclusion.

I’m already gone by James Lloyd Davis

A piece of flash fiction that could easily be part of a bigger story. This hints at such a complicated backstory, and then invites the reader to fill in the character, his past, his future, his wife’s future…stretching out your imagination like ripples on a pond.

If you’re a TVFH subscriber, I would be really interested to hear what you think about this issue and the stories I chose. If you are not, well The View From Here can be ordered here, either in printed format or, for your e-reader or computer in digital format for only $1 or £0.69

This is (sniff) our last printed issue. We will continue publishing the best fiction we can find up at The Front View and you are cordially invited to send your words for consideration.

UPDATE: SUMMER 2014 – I handed over the editor’s baton last year to Kate Brown, after my writing commitments left me with little time to read submissions. Kate has picked some cracking stories over the last few months, you should go and read them. 

UPDATE: END 2014 – The View From Here has closed it’s doors, sadly. But all the stories and interviews are still archived and available online.  

The Other Side of the Fence

Posted on: March 2nd, 2011 by Claire - 11 Comments

I find myself sitting on the other side of the fence. Rather than writing and submitting my own fiction, today I’m reading short story submissions for The View From Here literary magazine, where I am now Fiction Editor.

This is a recent development, and making the shift of perspective has not been easy. I now have an inbox full of submissions and more coming in each day. I need to read each story carefully, and then choose around three per month to be published in the magazine.

The first week I read slowly. Wanting to be certain of my decisions, I agonised over each piece and often went back to re-read them, to see if this time I’d ‘get’ them more than on the first reading. Meanwhile the backlog of submissions continued mounting up. Needing a confidence booster I went back and re-read this blog post from Tania Hershman, who single-handedly read and judged 849 stories in two months. Tania’s concluding advice to writers is “Write what you want to write, and don’t be disheartened (if your story doesn’t make it) – send it out again”

Just keep swimming.

There’s the thing. Having a story rejected from a literary journal or a competition is not like getting a bad mark at school. Rejection doesn’t necessarily mean your work isn’t brilliant. As someone making the decisions on which pieces to publish, I had to remind myself of this, because we receive, quite simply, many more great stories than we have space for.  I also went back to read this blog post by Nik Perring where he makes the very same point – even really excellent stories get rejected.

So how do I choose? The truth is that in the pieces that I’ve selected for publication, there’s something about the voice that grabs me from the first paragraph. Something vibrant, something new. These are the pieces that, if I’d read them in a book, I’d be calling my friends to say ‘hey, you must buy this.’ And I’m starting to realise that I simply know this when I see it. So the reading process is getting faster. I still don’t like sending out a rejection, but for many I have confidence that if they are sent back out into the world they will surely find an editor for whom the story resonates.

On the subject of rejection, I’m using a standard rejection. I’m sorry, really I am, because I would love to write personalised notes of thanks and perhaps explanations to each writer. But unfortunately there aren’t enough minutes in the day. This is something I am doing out of a passion for good writing. It’s not paying the bills, contributing to the family or advancing my own writing. So whilst I take the time to read each story properly, I’m opting to save time on the responses.

If you have found this page because you received a rejection from me and wondered why, I hope this helps. And you are always welcome to contact me for more information.

PS: Here is another interesting piece on editing a literary magazine.

PPS: If you would like to submit your fabulous short fiction (up to 5000 words) for consideration, the flavour of the publication is “Bohemian Eclectic”… read more about that and the submission guidelines here.