The South Circular is a quarterly e-journal of short stories by emerging authors. The journal is downloaded directly from our website (www.thesouthcircular.com) to iPhones, Androids and tablets. Each issue costs just €3.00 and features a jacket image by an illustrator/designer/photographer/artist of our choosing. Issue 1 was published on 26 March and carries stories by Adrian Duncan, Shane Hulgraine, Eddie Stack and Eley Williams and the jacket image was illustrated by Fuchsia Macaree, a regular contributor to Totally Dublin. Issue 2 is due for publication in June.
I set up The South Circular in March 2011 to provide a digital publishing platform for young, non-establishment writers from the English-speaking world; to bring short stories in from the ‘cold’, so to speak, to shake off their elitist reputation without diminishing the quality of the work we publish; to place short stories alongside other digital, mobile content like music and news; to collaborate with extraordinarily talented artists; to make a positive contribution to digital publishing in Ireland; and finally, to teach myself how to produce a quarterly e-journal in 12 months. My reasons come in no particular order and I won’t claim them to be a blue-print for setting up a digital journal in the morning.
It can take a long time to become a good writer. But all writers must begin somewhere. I wondered where really young writers get their very first opportunity. I wondered what kind of platform they might like to be published or exposed upon: an anthology, a showcase, a festival, a quarterly journal read by their peers? I was interested in meeting emerging writers who showed a flare and a confidence evident in some of the non-fiction/journalistic writing already available here (e.g., Blow, AU Magazine, Totally Dublin and before that, Mongrel). Anyone would like to be published in a journal that includes an extract from Colm Tóibín’s next novel but I began to think it might be interesting to introduce a new opportunity on a platform understood and used by the youth: digital.
I read my first collection of Alice Munro stories when I was about fifteen. I then read every bit of writing by her I could get my hands on. Her voice accompanied me through the most tortuous tumults of adolescence. The gaps and cul-de-sacs in my school relationships were not half as interesting as the troubling actions of the characters in Munro’s stories. These stories made ‘un-sense’ in a way that life never did. Continuing into my college days, I read collections like William Trevor’s Oxford Book of Irish Short Stories. JD Salinger’s Glass family stories coincided with a burgeoning interest in all things retro and Stateside. Later still I read Raymond Carver, Claire Keegan, Kevin Barry. Finally I found Donald Barthelme via Dave Eggers’McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern. I’m not exaggerating when I say that McSweeney‘s altered my life. It wasn’t just the quality of the work that astounded me. It was the look, the feel, the care and attention that had gone into making each bunch of stories a thing to be played with, carried around, proudly positioned on the couch’s armrest, and of course, to be read, monumental cover to monumental cover. It was a surprise in my letter box every three months; I had no idea what it would look like, what size it would be, what colour, what smell, what theme it would have. And every quarter I wondered how they could get it so right. AND it was published from San Francisco!
Eventually I began to admire Eggers’ gall for producing something so anti-commercial and utterly consumable. It was clear that he had people breaking down the door to work for him, people whose attitude, freshness and skills-set were (and still are) perfectly suitable to a publication of this sort. But it was his vision and downright conviction which inspired me to think of the publisher as a vital gatekeeper of culture and experience.
For me, short stories have never been elitist. A good short story is like the pilot episode of a new HBO television series: each character has a history, known to its creators, which informs their every move; every prop, piece of furniture and item of clothing is important to the story being told, frame by frame; characters’ behaviour will have a cause and effect not yet known to the viewer. When the story is read, the deeds done, the end revealed, the reader is left to knead with the reasons, results and realities.
In resolving to work with short stories, I wanted to impart this passion to those who consume music, media and games unceasingly from their phones or their tablets. I wanted to say, ‘Hey, why not read a story on a stuffy bus on your way to work?’ Likewise I feel that short stories being short, can be a salve for our so-called shortened attention spans. I truly believe that a good story will enhance a reader’s life. And I believe that that moment of clarity and friction, just after finishing a story, can be made even more electric when the reader is exposed to the possibility of feeling an art while surrounded by a distracting humdrum.
By March 2011, when I set up The South Circular, I had worked in and around the publishing industry in Ireland for six years. I had also acquired a Technicolor group of friends which includes musicians, graphic designers, producers, filmmakers, artists, gallery owners, fashion designers and sellers, promoters and venue owners. At the same time as the gloomy, debt-ridden rhetoric was being exported from Ireland every day, along with our best and (possibly) brightest, these creators were keeping their heads down, working away as they had been all through the boom of which they never got a taste. Their work ethic was intoxicating and considering the way that McSweeney‘s produced a journal with a distinct signature every quarter, it was easy and obvious to include the possibility of showing the work of visual artists on the front jacket of every issue of The South Circular. That each issue might become associated with the respective artist would be a bonus and one which I determined to treat with the utmost of respect. And I’m very lucky to work with graphic designer Hannah Doyle, who is tireless in her energy and enthusiasm for solving the challenges of delivering an aesthetic digital reading experience to our customers.
The conversation surrounding digital publishing at this time was everywhere and mixed. It was clear that unless the big houses learned to adapt very quickly, they were going to be outshone and outsmarted by smaller, more flexible presses with a lot less to lose. I was interested in the idea that for both models to succeed, print and digital publishing were going to have to separate, their path was going to have to split so each could realise their own new (not better or worse) futures.
At the same time, what was happening in the DIY publishing sphere in Ireland was interesting. In the first month of The South Circular‘s life, I attended a Banter session in Twisted Pepper, called Young Guns Doing it for Themselves which addressed the exciting and challenging job of setting up a company all by oneself; The Sunday Times Culture magazine ran an article about small publications cropping up in Dublin, included Blow, a printed photo quarterly (still going), Punt Magazine, a magazine of narrative journalism (not sure where it is now) and Oh, Francis, a non-fiction online magazine. After much lauding of the home music studios, the art collectives and the pop-up venues around the city, the wind seemed to be blowing in the direction of a literary start-up. I wanted to be part of the positive conversation about digital publishing; a small player in an exciting revolution.
My journey this year has brought me into contact with the most generous and talented of souls, from graphic designers to bookshop owners, from web developers to clothes sellers, from online magazines to copyright experts. What these people hold in common is a singular belief in the ability of vision to create something beautiful. They are driven by a confidence necessary to survive on their own, to nurture and to listen to their craft. That they might be considered entrepreneurs or pioneers is of secondary importance. And so, I didn’t set out to be a businesswoman in any sense. I set out to teach myself how to publish a digital quarterly journal of short stories in one year. That this might be considered ‘innovative’ never even crossed my mind. If there is only one advantage to working in the ether that is digital publishing it is thatThe ‘newbie’ South Circular can become anything I want it to be, hopefully with success and joy along the way.