Introduction to the Winter Issue

 

John Lavin

New Lonely Crowd 3 Front Cover

We did not set out to make this a themed issue, and indeed it is not one. As a rule, The Lonely Crowd, will not publish themed issues because we are interested in publishing a diverse range of work, distinguished by quality alone. Yet, for all that, there can be little doubt that the season which gives this third issue its name has spread its icy presence throughout the 218 pages that we lay before you. Many of the pieces presented here are bathed in a winter light, whether it be short stories that take place directly in the season, such as 2015 Jerwood Prize-winner Jo Mazelis’s 16th Century-set, ‘The Twice-Pricked Heart’, Fred Johnston’s Joycean ‘The Beautiful Daylight Has Gone’, or Jamie Guiney’s delightfully gentle-hearted, festive tale ‘Christmas Eve’. Or if instead, it be in the kind of psychological winter that is explored in Camillus John’s ‘The Assassination of Enda Kenny’ and Shauna Gilligan’s ‘Miraculous’, two stories which deal with the trauma and horror of sexual assault.

As with our previous issues, we are pleased to be able to present a mixture of already highly acclaimed writers alongside a selection of outstanding new talent. Two such new talents are the poets Doireann Ní Ghríofa and Chris Cornwell. Ní Ghríofa’s debut English language collection, Clasp, was published this year to much acclaim in Ireland and it is easy to see why – the book is an exceptional work, full of arresting imagery and hard won revelation. We feature two brand new pieces by the poet in this issue, each of which – with their talk of ‘November ocean[s]’ and ‘black smoke, like lengths of plastic torn from silage bales’ – crackle and glow like a fire suddenly lit in a long neglected house.

We featured a marvellous poem about the Ottoman general, Omar Pasha, by Cornwell in our first issue and we are now delighted to feature two more pieces taken from a longer work that the poet is working on, set in the Cambridge Fens. These poems, concerned with workers on the land and the rhythms of their year, are stark, bleak pieces, which, nevertheless – much like the work of Ní Ghríofa – are illuminated by a sensuous and serendipitous ability with language which serves to somehow fashion something entirely unexpected and unlooked for. Cornwell writes of

 

[…] men

Bleeding a chicken against a silvery sky

while the winter fruit blets in the frost like

the leathery bloodshot cheeks of the weary

aunts and uncles

who return home from work, finished

and fall down on their palliasse hoping to die

opiated,

blunt in the sheath.

 

and in doing so he manages to summon a highly idiosyncratic poetic landscape but one which, nevertheless, deals in universal truths that are highly pertinent in this current climate of ideological austerity, as we prepare for what forecasters are suggesting will be the worst winter in half a century.

If that proves to be the case, then it is a winter that you feel will be hard on Ren, the eponymous hero of Gary Budden’s quietly magical short piece about homelessness and the secret places where wildlife flourishes in the beautiful but unkind winterland of London.

Rebecca F. John recently won the PEN International New Voices award, while her debut collection, Clown’s Shoes, has deservedly been collecting a great deal of plaudits. In ‘A Knowledge of Bats’, John looks at a relationship that has long since gone stale with that same forensic eye for detail that those who have read her collection will have noticed and admired. William Trevor has suggested that the short story should represent ‘the total exclusion of meaninglessness’, and John is a writer who understands this concept fully. There is not a wasted word in this tightly packed, philosophical story.

Jenn Ashworth’s first novel, A Kind of Intimacy, won the 2010 Betty Trask Award, while BBC’s The Culture Show named her as one of the twelve best new novelist’s in the UK upon the publication of her debut novel in 2011. Here, Ashworth contributes a contemporary, feminist retelling of the Daughters of Lot that more than confirms her burgeoning reputation as an important talent. Ashworth’s short stories, with their combination of concise structure, allusive imagery and part-austere / part-sensualist prose style, can come very close to poetry and indeed almost seem to feel a stylistic kinship with the poems that I have already mentioned – as the following, exquisitely well judged sentence demonstrates:

 

Anger was a virus that ran rife in the city we had left and without meaning to, we caught it, inhaled it like yeast, and let it make us grow.

 

The acclaimed poet and short story writer, Tania Hershman, is another writer that sees a fluidity between the two forms and we are very pleased to include two playfully allusive prose poems that serve to add a dancing-light-like quality to what can be, at other times, a particularly dark issue of the Crowd.

Staying in this sunnier terrain; Ruby Cowling, winner of last year’s inaugural London Short Story Prize, presents us with the delicious epistolary satire, ‘Superfar’; while Gary Raymond follows the success of his recent debut novel, For Those Who Come After, with a darkly humorous sideswipe at the film industry, ‘The Anecdote’. Likewise, Rhian Elizabeth (whose excellent debut, Six Pounds, Eight Ounces was very well received here in Wales last year), contributes a satirical look at small town mores in Lido di Venezia. Noel Regan, a promising new Irish writer that has already received several literary accolades, adds to the laughter in the dark with wry jealousy drama, ‘Hoax’.

Another Welsh writer with an acclaimed debut novel under her belt is Carly Holmes (The Scrapbook). ‘Alter’ is a vivid piece of magic realism in the tradition of The Bloody Chamber, and like the stories in that collection it serves to act as a metaphor for strong female sexuality. Staying in Wales, we feature three poems from Terry Hetherington Young Writers Award winner, Glyn Edwards. Edwards is a young poet already exhibiting considerable technical accomplishment, as this extract from his own windswept, deeply personal take on Wuthering Heights suggests:

 

You allowed the wind to undress you,

let it press blue roses from your gown like petals,

cast them around the grey grasses, the wet white sounds,

until your colours could be found everywhere.

 

Our final selection of poetry in this issue comes from Christina Thatcher and Richard King Perkins II. Cardiff University PhD student Thatcher was recently shortlisted for Best Debut Collection by Bare Fiction, and here contributes three minimalistic poems concerning the drama of the every day. ‘I imagine you did this too, / at your worst’, she winces, with a convincing, hard won gravity. Meanwhile Pushcart nominee Perkins II, takes us into ‘a winter of muted wolves’ and first love, and to a ‘squirrel frozen / to the back railing which we slowly warmed back to life’. Reminding us that winter can be a kindly and romantic time of year as well an austere and barren one.

The Scott Prize-winning Tom Vowler contributed one of the highlights of our inaugural issue back in April and returns here with a poignant meditation on the situation in Gaza, showing all of the characteristic subtlety and empathy that we have come to expect from this writer. Zoe Ranson was recently nominated for the Novella Award for her The Year of the Horse; in ‘Clue’, she contributes a story about chance encounters and romantic opportunities not taken. Meanwhile, ‘Fixator’ by former Bridport Prize winner, Ashley Stokes, explores the relationship between reality and the imagination during the course of a long illness, the thick January snow seeming to further confound these boundaries:

 

White smothers the hospital grounds. The only unwhite things you can see from the window by your bed are the soft grey silhouettes of other wards. They look like the snow-lashed outbuildings of an Arctic base.

 

Moving back into more wintry terrain, Jane Robert’s flash fiction piece, ‘Are We There Yet?’ chillingly brings to life the repercussions of a car accident, while Anna Foley’s ‘Goggles’ deals with the intense mental pressure experienced by a wife trying to live with a husband’s crime. Finally, in David O’Neil’s ‘The Toolboxes of Child Soldiers’, a man looks back on his life via the stories surrounding the physical scars that he has received.

The Photo Essay in this issue comes courtesy of writer and photographer, Susan Maiermoul (winner of last year’s prestigous Sean O’Faolin prize). For ‘Fountain’, Maiermoul has taken a series of photographs of tourists taking photographs at the fountain in Washington Square Park, and treated them in such a way that a sense of hyper-reality, or perhaps it would be better to say a sense of hyper-unreality pervades them. Using quotes from artists that have particularly influenced her own work and her own way of seeing, as well as historical data relating to slavery in the US, Maiermoul shows us the layers of context that exist in a single place, and at how the history of a piece of land interacts with how we behave – and how we are able to behave – on that piece of land. It is a fascinating, multilayered piece of work and to my mind, an important one. Look out for a discussion piece about ‘Fountain’ on thelonelycrowd.org in December.

To add to that, as with our previous two issues we will be regularly publishing short essays by several of the authors from Issue 3 throughout December and January on our website. As ever these pieces are free to read and constitute unmissable glimpses into the creative process of the authors concerned.

We hope that you enjoy this third issue of The Lonely Crowd and that it serves as both a pleasure and a challenge throughout the coming winter months. From everyone involved with the magazine, I would like to thank you for your continued support, and to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

John Lavin is the founder and editor of The Lonely Crowd. He has a doctorate in Creative Writing from Trinity Saint David as well as an MA in the Teaching and Practice of Creative Writing from Cardiff University. He is also the Fiction Editor of Wales Arts Review and edited their anthology of short stories, A Fiction Map of Wales. He is also the co-founder and former Editor of The Lampeter Review. His own short stories have appeared in various places including The Incubator, Spork Press, Dead Ink and the recent anthology, Secondary Character.

You can buy the Winter issue of The Lonely Crowd here.

Words and design © John Lavin, 2015. Photos © Jo Mazelis.