Toilet Reading: Magazine Writing

Tagline: ‘Helping you get published for 25 years’ (I’ll bet the editorial team agonised over the fact this tagline can be interpreted in at least three different ways.)

Price: £3.85

Who is this magazine for? Some people see writing as art, an expression of the aesthetic divine through words. To them a page of Dostoievsky or Joyce sends echoes through the soul like the contours of Rodin or symphonies of Haydn.

Others see writing as a craft. To them it’s about being good with your hands and whittling yourself a nice wooden spoon. As a rule Magazine Writing is for the latter. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

Magazine Writing is for aspiring writers who crave that warm feeling of seeing their byline, but haven’t quite made it yet. That might feel like an unfair assumption to make, but I would guess that really successful writers – those that make money and grace the pages of Your Chickens and Shooting Gazette – don’t have the time to read a mag for tips every month. The ugly truth could be that it’s actually more accurate to call the mag Magazine Readers.

Magazine Writing

Melvyn needs his hair back at the shop by 6:30.

But Magazine Writing is not for people who can’t write. Perish the thought. As the opening advice from editor Jonathan Telfer – a vaguely angry looking man who appears to have borrowed Melvyn Bragg’s hair – makes clear, 2015 should not be about getting better at writing. No, it’s time for a new project or new style. That style change could be from bilge to something good, for example.

And if you can’t be arsed with that, he says, why not try mucking in at a literary festival? As Jonathan sagely asks, ‘Are there events for children? If not, organise some.’ There’s really nothing that organising committees love more than a stranger demanding to take a hands-on role with small children as part of their event.

Just by the by, how meta is this? I’m, like, totally doing some writing about a magazine called Magazine Writing. Just imagine if I was doing some magazine writing about Magazine Writing in a magazine

Magazine Writing

Probably should have read this, for your benefit. Didn’t.

What did you get for your £3.85?  It’s not a huge surprise to find that Magazine Writing errs on the wordy side. As a general rule for this blog, I try to read the whole magazine before dumping on it. I have to admit I couldn’t manage that this time. Clearly I will never be a magazine writer.

In terms of word count value the mag over-delivers, with thirty odd articles, no filler pictures and squinty font. Read all of it and you’ll feel like a virtuous writer, even if the only thing you’ve written that day is a note informing your flatmate he’s a prick for eating your leftover curry.

The articles are broken down into multiple sections, with fiction, poetry and non-fiction all getting their own bits. There’s also plenty of competitions and a fair sprinkling of regular features, along with a separate section of literary festival listings.

Magazine Writing

Sad to see those trysts with Piglet coming home to roost.

Oddly, there’s also ‘Writers’ News’, an apparently separate publication wedged into the middle of the mag. Writers’ News is mostly full of writers plugging their recent tomes. It was my favourite part of the whole package though, purely on the grounds that it featured a council meeting in Poland that erupted into harrowed disagreement over Winnie the Pooh. Apparently, old Pooh’s ‘inappropriate clothing’ and ‘dubious sexuality’ raised questions as to his suitability for children, not least the clear anatomical evidence that suggested he could be a ‘hermaphrodite’. If Writers’ News continues to break this kind of story, you can sign me up right away.

Features: Bringing the Pooh-based enjoyment down a notch is the distinctly ‘having your cake and eating it’ Magazine Writing message. On the one hand, the guidance is clear: every writer must develop their own style and go their own way. On the other, the mag is full of modestly successful authors shamelessly flaunting their victories, with the strong implication you should listen to them.

A typical passage from an article on ‘the dating game’ of authorship:

‘I maintain a full writing CV that lists all my books published to date,’ says Suzanne, although she no longer lists every article published, because there are so many.’

Yeah, Christ, having to write down all your many successes in the ‘metaphysical, country and folklore genre’ (oh dear) must be such a bore Suzanne. This kind of puffery isn’t exclusive to Suzanne by the way. Humble brag seeps across the pages like fat on a napkin.

There’s also a sense that Magazine Reader’s writers generally consider the budding authors who buy their articles to be as thick as pigshit. In a long piece explaining how to get the most out of a writing course, Simon Hall recommends that nervous first-timers prioritise ‘knowing both the location and room’, ‘taking notes’, and ‘keeping in touch with people afterwards’.

Adverts: There are lots, almost exclusively for writing courses. Th of the kind where you have to pay considerable sums of money to a man in a flowery shirt who once got a short story published in an unpopular anthology.

I went on a travel writing course once. The teacher, who I’ll call Rodney even though that wasn’t his real name, spent most of the six evening classes complaining about Internet commenters who were dumping hard on his son’s Guardian column. ‘They keep saying it’s nepotism!’ he cried, failing to acknowledge that this was a) likely to be true and b) a fantastic learning experience for a young writer in the 21st century. If he can’t hack a load of strangers calling him a spawny twat, he may as well give up now.

Letters page: There are loads of letters in Magazine Writing, which proves if nothing else that procrastination is a big problem affecting readers.

Many correspondents bring to bear their grievances with self-publishing, which seems to be the great debate of the age. The tone of the letters finally kills off that old chestnut of authors yearning to ‘be published’. It’s a big fat lie. When you can publish your masterpiece for free, spilling your literary soul is a piece of piss, even if it is in 99.9999% of cases a matter of total indifference to the world. No, what authors want is attention and money. Does self-publishing achieve this? Very occasionally yes. Mostly no. You know, just like ‘publishing’.

Rating: 6/10

As I’m not going to pay to enter my unrhymed couplet in the magazine’s competition for the chance of a £150 prize, you can have it for free:

‘The stem of the flower leans gently in the breeze,

You can piss off if you think I’m paying five pounds.’

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