Category Archives: The Incidental

A recurring column written by @keirpratt.

The Incidental: Notes from a Small Editor (Part 1)

Red Pen

Photo: Jenny Kaczorowski (CC BY-NC-SA)

‘For Your Consideration’ is scrawled in blood red lettering on the manila envelope in front of the editor. He feels dread as he pulls the sheets from it, but there is excitement too. A sip of coffee, a chunk of muffin, a glance around at the other coffee shop patrons – he can’t put it off any longer. He glances at the title… Oh Jesus.

 There are a couple of things that you should know about Structo. The first is something we perhaps don’t say enough but which I hope is now evident. We are just a bunch of guys and girls with day jobs and a dream. We make no profit (it’s a good day when we break even), we are not from the world of publishing, and most of us are struggling writers just like you.

When you send a piece to Structo, there is a group of eight people who will read your work, independent of your name and cover letter. We read blind. At the end of this process, the votes are tallied up, and some stuff makes it and some doesn’t. It’s achingly fair and democratic. You could be a fourteen-year-old from Scunthorpe and make it or a Booker Prize longlister and not. Most of us have no idea who you are, what you have done in the past or what you intend for the future. It all comes down to the quality of your submission.

I have come to realise over time that this is the main selling point for Structo. As the magazine has grown and we have had the opportunity to delve a bit deeper into the world of literature, both authors and readers have praised the high quality of the work we publish. Now of course, we only have our authors to thank for that, but the process of sifting this work is tricky. We’re on issue nine now, I have read more than 700 pieces of work, and I’d like to think that I’ve picked up a thing or two about how to make a good submission in the process. But I’m not going to bang on about the usual tips and rules. I personally couldn’t care less about font or line spacing or whether you put the word count in the top right-hand corner. If your story is good enough, we’ll probably want it anyway. (That said, your read-through would not be off to a good start if we see you’ve completely disregarded all the submission guidelines.)

There are plenty of articles out there already about the dos and don’ts of submitting, we don’t need another one. This column is slightly different. It’s about what might turn your story from something that’s just okay into a piece we can’t ignore.

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The Incidental: Broken bindings and other heartbreaks

Photo: Kate Andrews (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

It’s a warm day in London. The sun is bright and I leave the office thinking about a lunch in the private garden and whether I should sit in the shade or maybe the sun. It’s only these simple choices which bother me today, not the big ones; today the big ones don’t matter. Because I feel good, I walk past the usual hovel where I buy my lunch and keep going down Marylebone High Street to a shop that sells quiche and salad for far too high a price but who get away with it because they say all the ingredients are natural – rather than those other synthetic quiches and salads you get which are made of plastics and polyester. Unfortunately (but not really because I had planned it all along) this means I have to walk past the Oxfam Bookshop, which is the best Oxfam I’ve found so far for second-hand books. I go in and browse, intending to buy nothing.

Then there it is: an unread copy of Cake and Ale by Somerset Maugham, one of the old 60s orange Penguin series. I snatch it like it was some old lady’s purse and run my finger over the binding (perfect) and check the corners (straight and razor sharp) and I hold it to my chest, cradling it, knowing it only costs £2.50 and that it’s all mine. I approach the counter, sure that the large lady behind it will tell me it’s reserved or to be burnt or something, and I’m checking the exits and wondering whether Oxfam spend any of their donations on CCTV. The large lady – wooden earrings, terrible floral dress – smiles and holds her hand out for the book and I peel it from my chest to give to her, the other already digging for my wallet. She opens the book to check the price and there inside is a Gift Aid sticker and barcode. I don’t resent this. Then, in what feels like slow motion, she picks up the scanner and proceeds to bend the front cover down the middle.

And I scream. I scream out in Oxfam.

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The Incidental: Kingdom Came

 Photo: Kim Aldis

A massive surge of adrenalin. War whoops. Class war whoops. ‘Whoops! Class War!’ A scramble for bricks. ‘I must have a brick. Where are the bricks?’ A hail of bricks. The cops are confused as they realise they are no longer in control. Puppets without a role. They look at us, at one another and around themselves. Them. Run. Away. Down Mayall Road, leaving their vehicles in our hands. In the twinkling of a rioting eye the vehicles are smashed up and turned over.

This is an eyewitness account of the London riots. Not the ones a month ago, but the Brixton riots of 1981. It appears in a report by the ‘We Want to Riot, Not To Work Collective’ in 1982. Despite that being nearly thirty years ago, we haven’t come very far. This isn’t a political piece, but in a fairly short period of time since the coalition came to power we’ve had the student protests, several strikes, a humungous trade union march and now… this. There are individual reasons for each of course, but five years ago, how many would have predicted such events?

Science fiction, with its many faceted sub-genres, is well-known for its attempts at clairvoyance – a position it occupied with some degree of success during the early days of the Space Age. The author as sage: sometimes predicting the bounties of technology, sometimes inventing that technology themselves. Arthur C. Clarke was at least partly responsible for coming up with the geostationary orbit for satellites, something which the world now relies on everyday for communication, but the world of intergalactic space battles and ray guns which was promised never materialised.

There was a small band of SF writers who came into their own just as these over the top space sagas were shown to be just that. J.G. Ballard was one of them and he distinguished himself as a prophet early on in the SF boom, albeit of a very different kind.

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