NWR Issue 100

Boing The Gong, We're 100!

MTV's recent travesty of post-industrial life, reality bonanza The Valleys, shows the danger of following the money when it comes to feeling Welsh. So does the BBC’s documentary series broadcast this spring, Great Welsh Writers, as its obsession is with mass markets. Both illustrate the ‘distorted [outsider] image’ or mirror lamented in my last editorial. Here I also took issue with ‘the mirror’s size, how shiny it is... and why we just keep looking in it.’ New Welsh Review is a mirror. On a meagre budget, we buff a sheen fit to distract readers from free online, mass- and social- media glitter. Malcolm Ballin’s study of our sector, Welsh Periodicals in English, is published in June. But Alyce von Rothkirch’s review on p122 got me worried in places. In April, recommendations will be made following the review of Welsh Books Council English-language magazines led by Tony Bianchi. WBC’s Publishing Grants Panel will announce their response to those recommendations in July. My nascent paranoia pricked to the fact that von Rothkirch is on that panel. She writes,

The trajectory of Ballin’s book... can... be summed up by the phrase ‘follow the money’. The early magazines were usually independently funded by wealthy individuals who tended to exert a considerable influence on editorial policy as editors and/or owners. Contributors were not usually paid and neither were editors. Magazines were thus often short-lived.... Later, the more significant magazines became increasingly dependent on public funding.... Nowadays, the question of which magazine receives public funding can be contentious and... there is clearly a trade-off between financial security and editorial independence. What all magazines... have in common, though, is the struggle to create an audience and to retain it, something which Ballin points out has never been easy despite the... over-optimistic hopes of enthusiastic editors. The challenge will continue as the more enterprising periodicals reach out into cyberspace.

‘Follow the money’ was the phrase here that grabbed my throat, closely followed by ‘contentious’ and ‘short-lived’. In my own reading of Ballin’s book, he underplayed the design and visual aspects of magazines, indubitably one of New Welsh Review’s strengths over the hundred issues that we are celebrating today. I hope the WBC panel doesn’t make this same mistake when allocating pies this summer. Those aforementioned mirrors don’t come cheap. In this context, Ballin’s attitude to ‘enthusiastic’ amateur or low-paid editors over the nigh-on century and a half of his study seems naïve, particularly when he pits voluntary projects against professional outfits: ‘rival productions, often relatively short-lived little magazines, challenging the hegemony of the longstanding periodicals,’ the latter akin, he suggests, to a ‘protected species’.

Von Rothkirch concludes, Welsh Periodicals in English ‘is in danger of replicating one of the central problems of the periodicals themselves. Ballin writes... that “[t]here has always been a risk that the appeal of the magazines [seems] limited to a restricted, intimate part of the public sphere... dominated by intellectuals, educators and academics.”’ But surely this ‘intimate... public sphere’, which pioneers such as Owen Morgan Edwards and Keidrych Rhys created in the wake of nineteenth-century nation building, should be today measured by depth not breadth, by influence, perception, judgement, by those economically valueless but participatory intangibles such as social media reach, author tours and festival presence? By its – dare to say it – educational importance, its filtering of ideas, taste; its filtering out the crass, the untrue, the ignorant and the lazy? Ballin remarks, ‘Cyril Connolly’s famous dictum on Horizon, to the effect that the life of a magazine was similar to that of a dog (maybe ten to eleven years) does not seem to apply to periodicals that have the advantage of generous public funding.’ But our books industry, thanks to post-devolution public funding, is only just creeping out from a blanket of amateurism. Do we want to hoist book publishing on its feet only to return our magazines to the days of burnout; poor editing, exploitation of authors and staff, shoddy production, disregard of design, and ignorance of issues such as conflict of interest and rights? May WBC return our journals to kitchen table fare because they favour spreading butter thinly (ever the democratic preference) over supporting fewer bodies better?

But set paranoia aside! Follow the example of our cover boy MG car- owner circa ’69. Pump up the hundredth balloon! We’re celebrating twenty-five years since Belinda Humfrey’s first edition by looking way beyond Ballin’s ‘intimate... public sphere’ and indeed beyond our own pages. This spring we toured Australian poet Mark Tredinnick to six venues. We’re running a microfiction competition, Flash in the Pen, for a story of one hundred words. This will be judged and presented by novella maestro and Sunday Times Short Story award nominee Cynan Jones at a NWR 100 party at Hay Festival on 28 May, following Cynan’s event with myself and Lloyd Jones. Our second Hay event is 2 June, where I will be talking to Prof Julian Preece and novelist Chris Keil about the European student movement, terrorism and the novel. Within this, our hundredth print edition, the flash fiction strand continues, led by Cynan Jones and Rhian Edwards. An Argentinian fiesta is headed up by Foreign Fiction prize nominee and international literary star, Andrés Neuman. Neuman’s memoir explores the power of his own borrowed surname to bestow luck across generations, saving two ancestors, as far apart as Tsarist Russia and 1969 Buenos Aires, from military service. In ‘New Man, Neuman’, subterfuge plays its part, as does football, a stolen passport and a concern for keeping body parts intact, however imperfect they may be. Memoir is also given central stage in Jayne Joso’s architecturally attuned ‘Tokyo Steps’; in the family biography which inspired Francesca Rhydderch’s Hong Kong-set novel, The Rice Paper Diaries, which we preview here, and in Julia Forster’s look at six Welsh and international memoirs where she probes the theme of absence.

Photos trail a blaze through NWR 100, sparking off with Roger Tiley’s artificially lit industrial coastline, views which challenge the postcard’s idea of pretty. Also Penny Simpson’s essay on Vivian Maier’s street-bound immigrants and Diane Arbus’ twisted-domestic NYC portraits. ‘Twisted- domestic’ also sums up Rachel Trezise’s ‘Boa Constrictor’, a story of fake blood and boobs from the dramatist of this autumn’s Tonypandemonium. Meet 2013 Terry Hetherington awardwinner João Morais’ bodybuilding bro’ in ‘The Anatomy of a Beating’. And last words go to Forward nominee and poet Rhian Edwards who, alongside Neuman, Morais, Lloyd Robson, Niall Griffiths, Crystal Jeans, Rachel Trezise and Jonathan Edwards, boings the gong for humour in this too-oft solemn ‘intimate... public sphere’. Carwyn’s telegram can wait: Penblwydd Hapus New Welsh Review.

Foot fetishism begins with that early calibration by the Clarks woman: the placing of the socked foot gently on the gauge and the coasting of the wooden marker down through the ages until it hits the big toe. And as the foot size creeps incrementally up the ruler, another rite of passage is born...
Rhian Edwards (‘My Mary Jane’, p22)


previous editorial: Swinging Our Beads on Caroline Street
next editorial: Aurora Irrealis


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