I was rummaging about in a wardrobe in the back bedroom and found myself getting distracted by a large box full of small press publications from the early noughties.
The indulgent nostalgia was multiplied by the realisation that pretty much of all of them have since folded. Mostly A5, some immaculately printed, others rough bedroom-printer jobs, there’s a huge variation in editorial and authorial talent, but these played a role in what was a very formative time regarding my own writing.
My favourite has to be Wicked Hollow from Blindside Publishing, a card-stock becovered magazine the size of a wallet that could be slipped into the back pocket to be read on the bus or during a quick break at work. Professionally finished and crafted, the last issue was #9 in 2005, and I see that the website still lives but hasn’t been updated since. It’s somewhat sad when a magazine folds without announcement and the site is left to moulder. I just revisited some quality tales from Simon Strantzas and Anderson Prunty, and it was here that I made my first paid sale with “Snuff Club” back in 2002. Reading that email acceptance from editor Jon Hodges was quite a moment, and to describe it as euphoric is no exaggeration. No writer ever forgets their first.
I enjoyed the sf horror of Burning Sky, edited by Greg Gifune, and discovered writers such as Darrell Pitt and Tim Curran. The exceptionally thoughtful Fusing Horizons introduced me to the likes of Gary McMahon and John Llewellyn Probert, both who have since become favourites. Editor Gary Fry very politely rejected me several times, and rightly so given the quality of these earlier scribblings, before he went on to greater things with the fantastic Gray Friar Press. I was also quite fond of the ultra-small press Dark Angel Rising. A monochrome and endearingly wonky zine from Cornwall in England, it had had real heart, editors who were a delight to correspond with and was my first taste of Amy Grech, Eric S. Brown and Rob Dunbar.
Talebones, run by Patrick Swenson for many years, was one of the more glossy offerings with quality artwork and reader’s letters. Hit and miss was Andrew Hannon’s Thirteen which has the occasional gem and took an early flash story of mine. I never managed to get hold of that final issue unfortunately, and I believe the magazine folded after a flood at the editor’s office.
I have quite a few issues of the Australian pulp-fest Dark Animus, edited by James R. Cain, which aimed to showcase new writers and featured the early tales of many prolific scribes like Michael Arnzen, Cat Sparks and poet Christina Sng. This also taught me that rejection isn’t necessarily the end of the world – and also to aim high – as one of mine that wasn’t to the editor’s taste went on to be sold for a professional rate elsewhere.
Others include the wonderfully titled Whispers from the Shattered Forum by Cullen Bunn of Undaunted Press, Flesh and Blood, Frothing at the Mouth and Black Satellite, and I’m thankful to them all for fuelling my love of writing. It was a fun time, discovering that there was much more to the genre than what high street bookstores had to offer, and also that it was possible to get my own work published without an agent or approaching the terrifying giants of the industry. And although some of these were token or “4-the-luv” markets, which attract a lot of heat, it’s how a lot of us started out. Born out of passion rather than an expectation of riches, these digests are gone but not forgotten.