Dear Readers, Writers, and subscribers to The Letters Page,
Thank you for your patience. Issue 4 will be hitting your screens and printers in little more than a fortnight’s time. We’re sure your relief must be palpable. But in the meantime, here’s the Call for Submissions for the following issue:
ISSUE 5: The Protest Issue
Letters of complaint, letters of objection, letters of furious indignation; eyewitness reports from street protests around the world; recollections of recent and not-so-recent protests and sit-ins and camps and campaigns; reflections on the meaning or purpose of protests, and on the use of the letter as a political tool; letters to and from and between protesters and protest sites. These are the letters we’re looking forward to reading in our next issue. We’re looking for letters with a sense of urgency. We’re looking for some news from now.
500 words, approx. Handwritten, and sent in the post to the address below. £100 for each letter published. Submission deadline is 29th October 2014.
We look forward to hearing from you.
The Letters Page, School of English, University of Nottingham, NG7 2RD, UK.
Hello. Those of you who haven’t given up even glancing at this page may have noticed that we’ve been rather quiet over the summer. Since April in fact, which was when our bright-eyed student assistants were lost to a world of assessments and deadlines and graduations. We waved them goodbye, tearfully, and waited for a new batch to arrive.
While we were waiting, we got down to work on our next issue: Issue 4, the ‘Summerhouse Issue’, on the theme of dividing one’s time. We’re pretty excited about the submissions that came in, and the submissions we went out looking for. (One was handwritten on a coach trip through Croatia; another was pushed under our hotel door. It’s been quite a summer.) It’s been a lot of work putting the issue together, and we have neglected what is supposed to be our thriving online presence. There are only so many hours in the day.
But listen; those footsteps coming down the corridor? Those are the new students, ready to bring the The Letters Page editorial office back to life. They’ll be introducing themselves soon, and we will be a hubbub of activity once more. Soon, we will teeming with thoughts on letters and letter-writing, correspondence, reading and writing in the digital age; all that stuff. Soon. Just give us a few more minutes. Meanwhile, put October 17 in your diaries. That’s when Ali Smith will be launching Issue 4.
Last year I worked on The Letters Page as a young and impressionable Opportunist. I have to admit, I was a bit naive going into the journal business. In fact, I keep discovering just how naive I am about a lot of things in this life. For instance, if you asked the fifteen year old me how many books there were in the world, I’d have probably answered with a shockingly low number, something along the lines of 20,000 or whatever. In the same vein, if you were to ask me a year ago how many online journals there were, or journals in general to be honest, I’d have answered very conservatively with several thousand or so. But how wrong I was about both. Did you know that there are more books on this planet now than you or I or the entire audience of this blogpost could read in a lifetime? Likewise, there are so many journals out there, we couldn’t possibly name them all, let alone read them. With the internet thriving as it is, even if we started listing all the journals in the world right now, we would find ourselves forever adding to that number - the list would continue to grow as more and more journals enter the fray on a daily basis. There is so much written now that we’ll just never be able to read it all.
And yet, that’s such a wonderful thought, is it not? You and I are never going to run out of things to read. Yeah some of it is absolutely pants, but some of it really isn’t. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you’ll stumble across something - a poem, an article, a story, a letter - that takes you, that points its fingers at you and says to you ‘You, yes you, I’m talking to you.’ You’ll listen to it too, and when it’s finished you’ll just sit there, unable to move. When you do get up, you’ll get up slowly, and for days you won’t get it out of your head. Isn’t that worth hunting for?
I want to find these texts, and I want there to be more of them. There will never be enough of them.
I remember last year while still working on The Letters Page there was an individual who asked us what we were doing, why were we setting up another journal, after all it’s not like we were offering anything particularly novel now was it. To that person I say pants. I want to hunt for that something, and if it takes a million journals to find it, then so be it; there’s bound to be that one thing that makes you tick in all those millions of texts. The wonderful thing about online journals is that no matter what, you’re going to find something there that’s right up your alley, it just takes a bit of digging.
The second instalment for our Journal of the week is Bard College’s literary journal Conjunctions. Conjunctions is a biannual anthology consisting of fiction, poetry, and nonfiction. The magazine is published every May and November and the book-length print issue is available in bookstores and by subscription. For this week’s blog, I am reviewing selected pieces from Conjunctions 6:1, A Menagerie which was released in November 2013, co edited by Benjamin Hale & Bradford Morrow.
The theme for this issue in particular was the domain of beasts and consisted of various writings on nonhuman creatures. The issue has a large number of contributors including Russell Banks, Sallie Tisdale, Susan Daitch, Rick Moody and Joyce Carol Oates. Some of the work is of significant length and even audio tracks are available on the website.
One of the pieces that stuck with me was Rick Moody’s Conversion Testimony, in which he explores a protagonist’s journey to vegetarianism. Moody’s evocative descriptions of meat as food and the reactions to its consumption are fascinating. The language Moody uses in his descriptions is almost enough to make any meat-lover consider cutting back. The protagonist’s voice resonates throughout the text and I mentally took the journey with him. Moody writes with surety; so much so that I felt as if I was listening to a lecture delivered by the character– an interesting one at that!
Conjunctions balances new writers with those well-known and yet the fiction and non-fiction I read was equally satisfying, no matter who the writer.
Conjunctions also has a free weekly online journal on Web Conjunctions which showcases the work of one writer each week who didn’t quite make the cut for the theme of the magazine issue. They also make a for an interesting read.
Although our starting point here at The Letters Page is always the handwritten letter-in-the-mail, we do also enjoy correspondence in any form. And through such correspondence (the electronic mail, the ‘tweet’, the web log posting) we have built links with more and more fellow lovers of the letter and of the written word. All of which is by way of lengthy preamble to telling you about this event, hosted by one Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam of Texas, who was good enough to recently feature The Letters Page on her own site.
Arts & Words, which takes place at Art on the Boulevard in Texas on the 27th of September, is an appreciation and collaboration of spoken word and visual art with a new twist.
Writers and artists can submit work from anywhere and you do not have to be able to attend in order to submit, although anyone can attend and all pieces will be displayed at Art on the Boulevard for a week. The interesting point is how the event brings the artists and writers together… a dozen spoken word pieces and a dozen visual arts pieces are selected and then each have to choose one piece from the opposite genre to inspire a response, a new work directly derived from the combinations of art.
This year will be the third of its kind and if it seems like a project you’d like to get involved in Arts & Words are currently accepting submissions for this year’s event. So whether you are a poet, fiction, non-fiction or visual artist you can apply as long as you’re up for the challenge! It’s come a long way from when it began in 2012 as a Kickstarter project, the interested in gained proved that this is a project worth keeping an eye on.
Becoming a part of The Letters Page team really fascinated me because of its celebration of handwritten communication, and I’ve since learnt that letter writing is a very precise art form. In this light, making a case for the redeeming features of emailing appears daunting. What my role as Production Manager at The Letters Page has taught me is that emailing is in fact as essential as letter-writing. Rather than rallying to champion one form of writing over the other, it’s important to understand why one sustains the other and vice versa.
The ways in which I came to accept this literary yin-yang stem from my fascination with the actual processes involved in publication and production. This ranges from when a person first decides that the words in their head really deserve a record in ink and paper, to what makes others decide that their writing really deserves a wider audience, and gathering all that writing in the conceptual and physical space of a journal then distributing it across the world. Read simply: creation, appreciation, publication, distribution.
On one side of me there’s the editorial team: Jon, Paige and student volunteers, doing a lot of the reading and getting excited about some incredible pieces of writing (see Paige’s blog last week). On the other side there’s our publicity and online team waiting for the next issue to materialise so they can start telling the entire world how wonderful it is. My job at The Letters Page falls right in the middle of that process: the final selection is passed on to me, and I get in touch with the writers via email, let them know how much we liked their piece, send them a contract, request details in order to process their writer fees, request biographical information and footnoting, and a few other things. Once this information is all gathered, the writing can be collated and formatted and made into a part of a whole new thing. Which is pretty satisfying
Emailing is essential to this. It’s free, it’s instant, and it has a significant global reach. It means we can communicate with and publish writers from all over the world. It allows us to reach hundreds of readers and writers, encouraging, generating and publishing more writing that interests us and our readers (have I mentioned reading and writing enough, yet?). It’s important to us that all the submissions we receive are in the form of a handwritten letter, but from that point there’s so much we want to do and not enough time to do it via post. Helping to produce the journal is how I learnt to appreciate the role that email plays in an environment which champions the written word.
I also think that emailing has lessened the pressure on letter writing and given it more space to breathe as a form of art. By doing a lot of the more boring stuff online, from bank statements and contracting to booking confirmations, the things we put down on paper and send in the post have more meaning, and more deliberation. A lot of my friends still get excited at the sight of a handwritten envelope addressed to them falling onto the doormat, and it’s not because they’re expecting a handwritten “Claim your free iPad and $250 cash now!!!” advertisement. It’s because it’s something aside from the everyday, that’s meant for them and only them. If someone puts their thoughts on paper and sends it to you, it’s significant. It’s personal, artistic and unusual. It’s why we get excited about letters, and it’s why The Letters Page gets excited every time there’s a letter to us waiting in the post box on the other side of our office door.
The first journal to grace our new Journal of the Week feature is Five Dials, published by Hamish Hamilton. Similarly to The Letters Page*, Five Dials is a literary journal available as a free download. Despite the electronic distribution, the reader is encouraged to print it out and take it away from the screen. The issue I am reviewing is Number 30, the Camus issue. Interestingly, the issue only has three contributors, Curtis Gillespie, Deborah Levy and Albert Camus; however, great care has been taken in selecting these pieces - they follow a natural order and take the reader on a journey.
Gillespie’s piece, presented first, provides background knowledge and current opinions on Camus: A Stranger Again offers context - not only about his literary achievements but more importantly his relationship with Algeria, the place and the people. The thorough and colourful background that Gillespie writes creates the perfect introduction to Camus’ text. Reading A Summer in Algiers with Gillespie’s piece fresh in my mind gave more meaning and depth to his romantic account of the natural landscape, the magic and liberation of living in what he describes as a place contrary to the civilised society of Europe.
The final piece, Levy’s A - Z of the Death Drive is an alphabetical exploration of the sensuality and tragedy of automobiles, including references to celebrities such as Princess Diana and fiction such as Ballard’s Crash. Throughout the issue, the elegantly designed typography is interrupted and supported by black and white illustrations, by Zoo Project. Intriguingly, some of these illustrations are spread across a page break in such a way as to make them more coherent on the screen than on the printed page; perhaps a concession on the part of the editor that more people will be reading on screen than on paper?
Over its 30 issues, Five Dials has established itself as an innovative and imaginative literary journal; the focus has always been on the quality of writing it can put out, and the editor has been able to use the PDF format to maintain a flexible approach to the layout, size, and timing of each issue (the Cork Short Story Festival, for example, was featured in Issue 25 and 25b (‘Cork Harder’), a move which gestured nicely towards the abundance of fictional wealth the festival had attracted).
We’ve long been fascinated by writers who talk about ‘dividing their time’ between two (usually glamorous) locations. How does this work, we wonder? How would you know where to be at any one time? How do your friends know where to find you? And most importantly, where does your post get sent?
For our next issue, which will be produced while our students divide their time between home and the beach, we’re thinking about living in more than one place. We’re thinking about cabins beside lakes, about Tove Jansson’s summer island, about the dacha and the summer residence and the holiday caravans of Mablethorpe. We’re thinking about people who have two houses when many people have none. We’re wondering if anyone still uses Poste Restante. We’re thinking about the divided self.
Full submission guidelines, and the address to send your handwritten letters to, are available here.
This has been a busy week for The Letters Page: for four and a half hours on Wednesday, the team formed a conveyer belt of readers along which letters for our third issue were passed. As letters moved between us (in between mouthfuls of Fruit Polos for some of us - or maybe just one of us - which was irrefutably me), and as each letter routinely came up for discussion, I had a revelation: that each one of us had a different selection criteria pocketed away in our craniums. We were all looking for different things, but ultimately, that quest meant finding the same thing. Not sure where I’m going with this? Worried I’ve eaten too many Fruit Polos? Stay with me.
In discussion, a plethora of different comments were made, all analysing various aspects of the same letter, until we were awash with a sea of different opinions. If this worries you, dear reader/contributor, fear not, for it means that your letter has been read thrice, perhaps four times, before being passed on to a different reader, who will also read it thrice, perhaps four times, before passing it on to the next reader. And so on and so forth. All of us looking for different things. Imagine your letter is a body. You wouldn’t have a cardiologist examine you if you thought you had done something to your leg, would you? And so the same kind of rigorous, systematic care is given to each letter. Some readers favour the overarching plot or subtext; others examine the letter’s form in relation to its content; other readers (*coughcoughmecoughcough*) are neurotic about the nanoscopic details, such as syntactical decisions, intentional grammatical idiosyncrasies, unusual lexical choices etcetera. The point is that each reader will go through your letter with a fine-toothed comb, deconstructing and dissecting it in different ways, before any letter is accepted or rejected for The Letters Page.
So, if you want me to establish what good writing is, I cannot. If you want me to devise a formula of its main constituents, I cannot. All I can tell you is that a good letter can be judged on the reader-reaction it achieves. Have I got so excited about a letter that my mouth has become motorised and I’ve started speaking at a rate of 200 words per minute? Yes. Have I got so excited about a letter that I’m willing to plead its case for its inclusion in the issue? Yes. And did I win? Oh yes. (I’m nothing if not very persuasive. It’s the Derbyshire in me). Has Jon got so excited about a letter that he’s already siphoned it away for the ‘yes’ pile? Oh, absolutely.
Paige Richardson, Submissions Editor at The Letters Page
We are now into the second year for The Letters Page and everyone at the office is so pleased that we ended last year on such a high with the successful launch of our second issue, the Pen Pal edition. We are really grateful for everyone that came and showed support for the journal in Nottingham at the event and I hope everyone enjoyed the wine and mince pies. I think that I may have eaten a few too many!
After reading through all the wonderful submissions for the Dear Santa… competition, reminiscing about a Christmas that seems so long ago already, I’m pleased to present the winning entry by Rachel Sykes.
That winter, after we’d met for the first time, you sent me a letter. I’m sorry it has taken me so long to respond. I guess I was surprised that you didn’t remember me, or the Sega Megadrive I so patiently waited for.
It’s only now, after ten or more years, that I remember enough to respond. We met that first time on a station platform, where my step-dad had driven me aboard a steam train that he and his friends had rescued and refurbished. It sounds weird now, doesn’t it, to remember elves and locomotives. But it’s why I found your letter so jarring. When it arrived, it came like magic, without stamps or a post man, just an unmarked envelope with an initial for me, but with no recognition of previous magics, of our meeting the winter before.
Still, I’m sorry that I took this long to respond.
And the first runner up: Sue Barsby.
Look, I think the easiest thing to do is pretend it never happened. You were clearly drunk and embarrassed and I was just lonely and pathetic. I do think you ought to be more responsible – I mean this is your big night. Once a year, it’s not like millions depends on your or anything. But I guess that kind of pressure is tough.
Anyway, I’ll go to bed early or something next year to try and avoid bumping into you again. Cowardly yes, but you’re probably hoping I’ll be sensible like this. I’m not sure I believe your “I’ve never done this kind of thing before” protestation.
Second runner up: Hannah Murray
Well it’s been another year and still no sign of that Mermaid Barbie I asked for when I was 7. All I ended up with were ‘educational’ toys; I think my parents must have written competing letters to your for all those years. But I’ve been really nice this year and not naughty at all. So hey, do me a favour: for my present this year I would really like it if I could hitch a ride on your sleigh and you could drop me off in Melbourne. Sorry to use you like a taxi service, and I know it’s a bit of a detour, but flights to Australia are so expensive this time of year and I’m desperate for some sunshine. Just land on my roof about midnight and give me a holler. I’ll bring mince pies and some carrots for Rudolph. I’ll even help you deliver presents! I think I can fit down a chimney…
Hannah (Age 25 ¾ years)
Now that we are into the New Year we all busy in the office preparing the next issue, the travelling light edition. I’m looking forward to this issue as the theme allows for such a broad scope of creativity. As students here at Nottingham, a lot of us have to travel away from those we love, often spending a lot of time flitting back a forth on long train journeys, on cross-county motorways, some even leaving their families behind in different countries. In this age of movement we are all too familiar with traveling far and wide, for work, for education, or maybe just for an adventure. Even though it’s almost too easy to stay in touch – only a call or text away – nothing helps to bridge the gap of distance more than receiving a letter. A little piece of home can be sent in an envelope, in handwriting you recognised instantly from the address on the front. I hope that this next issue really brings to light the power of the letter, and I think this theme will inspire work you won’t want to miss!
Well, I believe it is safe to say that the launch event was a success. The Letters Page team whirred and flapped as the time approached, hoping that our time and effort reflected in the evening’s activities.
Impatiently waiting for our first guests to arrive we stood with wine at hand (for the guests - of course) ready to greet our wonderful subscribers and supporters. Amongst the first to arrive were two of our contributors to the second issue, Ruby Cowling and Ruth Gilligan. It was fantastic to finally put faces to names, and to the wonderful letters they had written.
Once all of our guests had arrived, the venue was abuzz with cheery literature-lovers alike, all discussing the wonderfulness of The Letters Page Second Issue. Propped in pride of place were the hand-written, successful submissions surrounded by tutors, students and writers happily reading and observing the beauty of the penmanship.
A strict no postcard, no mince pie rule was in place; however, after seeing our guests’ faces light up at the sight and smell, several mince pies were given to all. All our addressed postcards were posted through our very own hand-made The Letters Page post-box and will be stamped and sent to their lucky addressees by The Letters Page team.
We also held a Dear Santa… letter writing competition and have already read some brilliant entries. The winner will receive a free year’s print subscription to The Letters Page and a well-deserved mention on our webpage. (Stayed tuned for the announcement)
We were lucky enough to be present for Ruth and Ruby’s readings of their letters, both were fantastic and well-received – definitely one of the highlights of the evening to see the letters brought to life in the spoken word of their authors. I was even lucky enough to speak with Ruby and Ruth later in the evening and very much enjoyed listening to the meaning and creation of their letters. I hope to keep in touch with both writers, perhaps via letters?
[Editor’s note: Print subscriptions are not yet available, but will be coming shortlyish.]
I’m Paige, Submissions Editor here at The Letters Page. So, a day in the life of our journal… where to begin? As the job title suggests, I’m predominantly involved with submissions at the journal; I read through your submissions, all of which make for a mighty stockpile in the office. Seriously, who needs to climb Mount Everest when you can stand next to a letter-pile almost as big as it? (Disclaimer: this is somewhat of an exaggeration. But the submission pile might be somewhat equivalent to the size of your average adult-sized human.) (Disclaimer for the previous disclaimer: That was another exaggeration, albeit slightly less hyperbolic than the first.)
In all seriousness, there is no greater accomplishment than reading your way through the submissions for each issue. Granted, it might not have the same athletic requirements as actually climbing Mount Everest (example: I can sit and eat chocolate hobnobs whilst defeating the letter-mountain. You can probably eat chocolate hobnobs as you saunter up the side of Everest, but I imagine it isn’t advised.) What my paper-made alp requires is something of an entirely different nature: a critical eye. To be able to grapple with the notion of what constitutes ‘good writing’ as swiftly and directly as if it were a bear or a snow-lion. (Do they have these perched at the top of Everest? I feel like they might not. You might be able to tell that I don’t actually do any climbing at this point.) To be able to pinpoint exactly what it is that makes a letter good or great. What it is and why. This is a complex question in itself, first and foremost because each individual letter-writer tackles this dilemma differently.
In the next couple of posts, I will hopefully be able to shed some light on what it is that we’re looking for in a letter (not that there is a single, unified thing that we’re looking for), as well as some of the roles I have at The Letters Page: presenting a case for letters that I feel should be included in the journal (as if I were starring in a literary version of Legally Blonde), writing personalised rejection letters for those letters that don’t quite make the cut, and well as proof-reading the initial drafts of the new issue.
We’re thinking about travel, and travelling, and being away from home. We’re thinking about the song, ‘Travelling Light’, from the second Tindersticks album, but that’s probably just us. We’re thinking about being away from home, and writing home, and writing away. We’re thinking about how distant you can really ever be in the digital age. We’re hoping that our correspondents will interpret this thematic starting point in as loose or associative or casual a way as they see fit. We welcome your letters - essays, fiction, poetry, memoir, travelogue, criticism, illustration - which in some way refer to the idea of travelling light. We look forward to hearing from you. Deadline for submissions: January 15th, 2014.
We pay £100 in actual money.
You can find the standard submission guidelines here, but in essence your letter should be handwritten on a single side of A4 paper, in an envelope with your name and address on the back, and sent to the address below.
When the Wall Street Journal wanted a pithy remark about the current popularity of the open letter format, to whom did they turn? Yes, your friendly editors at The Letters Page. We’re disappointed they didn’t use the line about open letters being ‘the stage-whisper of the epistolary form’, but perhaps it was a bit much.
They also left the bit out about Issue 2, featuring letters from George Saunders, Kevin Barry, Eimear McBride and many more, being out on December 9th, but you knew that already didn’t you?
We hope you are excited as we are about to launch the second issue of The Letters Page.
Join us as we send the second instalment of The Letters Page in the general direction of our subscribers’ inboxes and post-boxes. There will be mince pies, obviously, and drinks, and fine literary/correspondence conversation. There will also be a team of postmasters and postmistresses available with stationery supplies to help you write that long-intended card to a friend or loved one. Plus mince pies. Did we mention those already?
With a playlist of letter-themed songs, and a special guest on hand to press ‘launch’ at the pivotal moment, this is highly likely to be one of the parties of the season. RSVP now on our Eventbrite page to make sure you don’t miss out.