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The Moth – Rebecca O’Connor

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Rebecca O'Connor

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If we’d really thought things through, we might have concluded that there was no room left in the publishing world for yet another literary magazine. But we didn’t give ourselves time enough. Once we had the idea, we were too impatient to worry about competition and such like. And as it turns out, there is still a need, particularly for the printed word. The Moth (www.themothmagazine.com) came about because of two things – a sense of starting out, and a return to what we love best – art and literature, and the process of bringing those two things to an appreciative audience, whoever they might be.

My husband Will and I left London to return to my home place in rural Ireland in the winter of 2008. We had a six-month-old son and no job prospects, and we were living in a very cold, damp farmhouse. Will had been working in the art world in London, and I was a commissioning editor, now trying to strike out on my own as an editor and writer. The plan was that this move would allow us more time – Will to paint and me to write. But it wasn’t long before we were drawn to this idea of creating a magazine, which wasn’t, by any stretch of the imagination, born of necessity. I’m sure we could have figured out a better means of eking out a living. In any case, the first issue, which was a mere sixteen pages long, was launched at the Flat Lake Festival in Co. Monaghan in May 2010 – with portraiture, poetry and absinthe.

We wanted to get away from the stuffy and intimidating corridors of academia too much associated with ‘literary journals’ and to do away with this idea that what was popular or commercial must therefore be dumbed down. The Moth publishes literature and fine art – and makes no bones about it. And yet one of the first people to contact us to say how much they liked the magazine was not an academic or an artist or a published writer, but a woman who’d bought a copy in her local newsagent because she liked the look of it.

I worked in publishing in the UK for years, starting out in a literary agency, then moving on to the trade department at Oxford University Press before finding myself commissioning international literary fiction for Telegram (www.telegrambooks.com), for whom I now commission on a freelance basis. We published such writers as Dubravka Ugresic, Alberto Manguel, Mischa Hiller (winner of the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize First Book Award) and Bi Feiyu (winner of the Man Asian Literary Prize). What I learned, among other things, is that a book can be, and in some cases ought to be, judged by its cover. We’re buying the whole package, after all – particularly nowadays, when e-publishing is becoming the norm – and a book or magazine represents an artefact, something we can keep. So why not try to create something beautiful?

My experience as a writer and Will’s as a painter meant that we both knew only too well what it was to try to find a voice, to grapple with a subject, and to reach an audience. There’s so much pressure on young writers and artists to produce a body of work before they’re thirty, so that they still look fresh-faced for the press photos, and it’s that that we wanted to get away from. So we steer well clear of publication dates and the brouhaha that surrounds them, we don’t include bios, reviews or comment, and we just interview who we like when we like, and include work we think will excite our readers because it excites us. It’s nice to come across work that doesn’t look like it was created just with publication in mind, but because itneeded to come into the world. That’s what we’re looking for.

And so far it seems to work. We’ve featured a range of people in the magazine, from Booker Prize winners to people being published for the first time, and it comes from such places as Hungary, Iceland, Spain and the Faroe Islands, as well as Ireland. This year saw the launch of the inaugural Ballymaloe International Poetry Prize, in association with The Moth (judged by Matthew Sweeney, with prizes of €2,000, €1,000 and €500), and the Moth-Altun Short Story Prize (judged by Christine Dwyer Hickey, with one overall prize of €1,000).

We’re also about to launch a series of miniature poetry books, featuring selections of work by Dermot Healy, Kate Dempsey, Ciarán O’Rourke and Ted McCarthy, with more to follow in the spring of 2012. And while the magazine allows us the opportunity to showcase poetry, fiction and art, we’re also doing the same with theatre. Earlier this year we took Shane Connaughton’s play The Pitch on a national tour which culminated in a week-long run at The New Theatre in Dublin, and will tour GAA clubs in the winter.

We’ve had launches at the Winding Stair in Dublin, Jimmy’s in Soho in London, and Shakespeare & Co. has invited us to Paris on 31 October. The magazine is distributed throughout Ireland, in Easons, newsagents and many independent bookshops, and it’s in such diverse places as the Memorial Library in Wisconsin and Tate Britain in London. In other words, it isn’t hard to find (a copy will only set you back €4, an annual subscription €16, available online).

And while all this has been going on, Will has managed to find the time to convert the second floor of a former bishop’s palace in Cavan into a spectacular new studio space for local and national artists, with regular weekend courses, life-drawing and studios to rent. So after a year or so working in the back bedroom upstairs, we’re moving to our new headquarters at the Second Floor Studios (www.secondfloorstudios.ie). We’ll be having an open evening on 23 September – with poetry, music and portraiture – so please do come along and join us to celebrate Culture Night.

About the author

(c) Rebecca O’Connor, September 2011


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