The Pig’s Back: Exploring the World of Literary Journals by Alex Cregan

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Alex Cregan

By Alex Cregan

Alex Cregan was awarded an emerging writers residency by the Waterside Theatre and Arts Centre during their recent ‘Spread The Word’ Literary Festival in February 2024.

On a wet and cold Friday evening in February, I was lucky enough to dodge through the rain like a bullet hell game to the warm escape of Void Art Centre. The place is usually renowned for its inability to hold heat, but by some magic (or maybe by the fact I’d been running) it was perfect. A few minutes late though I was, I was kindly ushered to a space to sit. There, I caught the all too familiar eyes of a few folks I knew and sighed in relief, glad to have made it.

Despite the chaos that had ensued in arriving, I settled into my seat and into the discussion taking place. The Pig’s Back team were enthralling the entire night. The panel consisted of two of the journal’s editors (writer/poet Emily Cooper and writer/editor Dean Fee) alongside two of the journal’s featured writers (writer Ella Gaynor and poet Lucy Holme) immersed in dialogue regarding literary journals as a whole, the submission process, and the supports in place for those of us living on the island of Ireland.

The night started gently, with each speaker covering their individual writing journeys and how they got to where they are now. While some came from more academic backdrops, studying literature at university, many expressed that their journey began as mine had — blindly submitting to any journal that would take them. While Ella remarked on her rather frantic nature in the past, submitting to anywhere and everywhere including publications and literary prizes which charged for submission, a discourse emerged regarding the culture around paying to submit for journals and if it is as valid and sustainable as it has been postured to be. ‘My mum used to say it like: “Think of it like you’re betting on a horse but the horse is you” […] None of my horse bets really paid off’.  This rung true with my own experience and maybe is why the panel sticks out to me so much. The casualness and honesty with which the speakers delved into these topics resonated with me, as it did with the whole crowd who hmm’d and nodded, scribbling down the fragments that jumped out to them.

One of the most heartening things for me in the entire talk was the transparency regarding writer’s pay, and advocacy for writers receiving a fair and equal wage. This is a rather tender subject to some individuals, however all this really does is encourage an unfair economy for writers, editors and artists alike. It led to a few honest comments regarding the cultural expectations of creatives to ‘work for the love of it’ rather than the true acknowledgement of the fact that it is a profession like any other and should be recognised as such. The Pig’s Back is part of Match In The Dark’s #saywhatyoupay initiative, one of the first of its kind on the island. Everyone involved in the panel seemed to be incredibly enthusiastic about this initiative, and likewise the crowd seemed to echo this feeling. From aspiring writers scribbling away to seasoned professionals and everyone in between, the whole audience appeared to be in some kind of supportive agreement. Perhaps it was as if this was some unspoken truth which we all had come to realise in our time writing and publishing. Maybe every writer came to similar conclusions, but figured they were better left unsaid.

While all of these writers worked across the border one editor, Emily Cooper, was originally from the city. Through her we were able to connect the common threads that weave our shared experiences as writers in the North. She remarked on funding disparities across the border, with the Republic of Ireland trialing the Basic Income for Artists scheme and providing almost 4 times as much funding per capita to the arts in general. Despite this discouraging fact, we were made aware of the resources that are available both with regards to funding and the places that have collated submission opportunities. Some examples of such places include: Match in the Dark, the Irish Writer’s Centre, and Angela T. Carr’s Wordbox. Some resources were more specific to each genre, for example poetry, or non-fiction.

Regardless, this event showed itself to be a wonderful evening, both interesting and incredibly educational. For me, personally, in the midst of a rough period of writer’s block I had been having, it reminded me of a key part of the writing puzzle I held so dear but had forgotten about – community. I had been missing this piece for a long time, how long exactly I wasn’t sure. Having an opportunity in the midst of a hectic week to slow down, to take a breath, and to listen to four other writers talk to me and others like me on my level, giving tips and advice but also acknowledging the rocky path along the way to publishing. Seeing the publishing process by way of journals stripped bare by those so intimately involved with them was what appealed to me about attending the talk. However, looking back it is not the heart of what I will remember about it. Instead, I will remember this: four people who love writing, speaking to a room full of people who love it too, handling the topic with the utmost compassion and transparency.

(c) Alex Cregan

Instagram – @flo.raldisaster

Spread The Word Literary Festival is a multi-disciplinary, multi-platform, multi-age, cross-community literary festival that highlights the importance of reading, writing and literature hosted by the Waterside Theatre & Arts Centre which ran from the 6th-11th February 2024.

www.watersidetheatreni.com

About the author

Alex Cregan (he/they) is a trans writer and poet from Derry. He is a recent graduate of English at Ulster University and he has been published in journals such as The Paperclip Vol. III and Motherwort + Rose’s Grieving as Shapeshifting zine.
Alex was awarded an emerging writers residency by the Waterside Theatre and Arts Centre during their recent ‘Spread The Word’ Literary Festival in February 2024.
Instagram – @flo.raldisaster

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