Interview: Gina Maya on Writing

Gina Maya is the creator of Edinburgh Trance, a website comprised of articles on cinema, books, theatre, and her life in Edinburgh. Gina has also published a novel, Utopia in Danzig, and completed an MSc in Creative Writing from the University of Edinburgh in 2016. Over the course of her life and career, Gina has lived in countless countries and cultures, which have informed both her fiction and nonfiction writing. In an article on her website, Gina describes herself as follows: “First of all, I’m me, made up of lots of pieces. Gender is the very important interface I use to engage within society. I sometimes think I’m trans, and other times non-binary, and perhaps most of the time I don’t stop to think about my gender at all. There are, in fact, several elements to my personality, varying by the second throughout the day.”

 In this interview, The Ogilvie’s Assistant Editor Angela Hicks speaks with Gina about her writing–fiction, essays, and analysis–and asks where these fields intertwine, as well as what lessons Gina has learned from her writing career thus far.

 


 

You set up your website, GinaMaya.co.uk, in 2016. How did you decide what topics and areas to cover?

I originally overloaded. I thought I would cover a broad sweep of the art scene in Edinburgh: music, theatre, books and cinema. Then I realized the only thing I could afford to do, given how broke I was becoming, was go on a weekly trip to the cinema. It evolved quickly after that into the two things that I do in my free time: I exist, and I watch movies. So what emerged was diary and cinema.

Having said that, for one month of the year, when the Edinburgh Festival kicks in, my theatre reviews emerge like that desert flower, the Rose of Jericho. Then die again.

 

Did you have much experience of writing reviews, personal essays and other nonfiction pieces prior to your website? 

No, but I’d just finished my Masters in Creative Writing and it was really a question of ‘now what?’ I wanted to keep writing, and I thought it might be useful to keep an online diary about my transitioning, as I’d only come out as trans some five months earlier. Reading other people’s online accounts of transitioning had been useful to me, so that was a motivation.

 

I imagine it can be daunting and draining to write so prolifically, particularly when the subject matter is your own life. Do you feel writing about your personal experiences helps you, either as a writer or just as a person?

It’s interesting, on the issue of it helping me. When I started transitioning through the National Health Service, I thought I would have counselling to help me adjust psychologically. But that hasn’t transpired at all. Perhaps the NHS don’t have the resources, or don’t think I need it. But I think writing about stuff does help, although I don’t write about everything–there are one or two no-go areas that I might write in a private diary, just for me. I wonder if I hadn’t written my diary posts, if I’d be loaded with more mental baggage, more anger or bitterness.

On whether it’s helped me as a writer, I think recording stuff is useful. I remember occasionally writing something down around 2014-2015, on feelings of being in the closet. I was able to return to these perspectives on the Creative Writing course. I hope my current website posts can be useful to me when/if I write another novel.

 

On a more specific note, I notice that Tintin pops up in both your novel and on your website (the chapter “The Killers and the Wrath of Tintin” and the article Is Tintin Transgender? respectively). Is there something particular which draws you to that character? 

The Tintin thing goes way back; I grew up loving the storybooks and did wonder about Tintin’s dark side, and imagined a ‘dark’ Tintin adventure focusing on the possibility of Tintin being transgender. I explored the idea in the novel, then a few years later thought it wouldn’t hurt if I returned to the idea in a posting.

So that was something quite specific to my life, a gentle obsession. Gentle obsessions: I’m sure I have several of them, appearing in my conversation, or mused about in a diary posting, or played out in a novel. My novel is full of gentle obsessions–I think that’s what drove it.

 

Let’s talk a little more about your novel. When did you first begin writing Utopia in Danzig?

 A long time ago. Around the end of 2007, I began writing a script about a magical hotel where the guests never left. It was meant to be performed, a kind of dark comedy. At some point around 2009 it had become another obsession, not so gentle this time, and I didn’t know what to do with it, so I turned it into novel form. From there, I wrote whenever I had the time and had it finished by around 2015. That’s a long time; from when it became a novel that’s six years of off-and-on writing. Whatever the novel’s merits, I guess it’s where I learned how to write prose in a much tighter manner than would otherwise be the case.

 

You self-published the book in 2016. How did you find that process?

It’s a kind of wilderness. I tried to do the right things. I got hold of The Writer’s Yearbook and looked up the agents who might be interested. I wrote to about twenty-four, and got rejected every time. I think at that stage I was ready to self-publish just to move on. I turned to a professional editor who gave me lots of feedback and nice support, which looking back was obviously the thing I should have done first. I got in touch with people to design the cover and the text layout, and finally uploaded on Amazon.

I have a section about it on my website, but otherwise I haven’t marketed it. I don’t know how I feel about it, and haven’t read it since the upload. It records a time in my life that I wanted to put out there, but I don’t have enough confidence in it to do anything more.

 

When you finished the book, did you feel that there were characters and concepts from it which you wanted to explore further?

Yes, originally. The country in which it took place was fictional and the way it finished was open-ended. I did imagine future scenarios. Part of me would love to return to the main characters. But the adventure was so surreal and layered in fantasy–as a means of expressing myself in a way I couldn’t in real life. Now I’m out, maybe I should write in a less surreal, fantastical way. I don’t know. I’ll only know when I write the next novel, but on my Creative Writing course, after I’d finished writing the novel, I’m conscious that I didn’t touch surrealism or fantasy, although I love those genres.

 

You’ve drawn inspiration from some of the places you’ve lived and from some of the people you’ve known in your writing; at the same time, the story’s setting is distinct from our world, and it exists in an alternate history. How much of Utopia in Danzig is based off of lived experience, versus imagination?

It’s based in a fictional European country which is an amalgam of Poland, Russia and Germany, and I have lived and worked in all those countries. I felt confident as such, but in making it a Jewish State, I wasn’t confident. It was actually my way of writing about being Welsh, from a Welsh-language community. I researched Yiddish culture, but emotionally, it was really about being from a culturally embattled minority, and of having a mixture of pride and defensiveness on the one hand, but also a yearning to not be involved in the survival of a culture that seems always to be struggling for its existence.

 

As you were writing fiction, were you also writing nonfiction like personal essays, or did you ramp up your personal writing when you started the website?

My fiction acted as personal essays. I convey quite personal stuff when I write creatively, either literally or emotionally. I also think writing fantasy can be deeply personal. In some ways, the website feels less personal. I don’t reflect much with the postings; I write one draft as a reflection on something, then upload. I think they’re the literary equivalent of busking: something comes into my head and I write without too much reflection or creativity. I wish I spent more time on the website uploads, but if I did, I might stop writing regularly. I guess that’s the trade-off.

 

True–you clearly spend a lot of time writing between reviews, fiction, non-fiction, and your doctorate studies. Do you find it hard to switch off from wanting to write or review?

It’s funny that you ask that; I had a Christmas break of not posting anything, partly due to circumstances, but I’ve found it difficult to get back into the swing of things. I’m not sure that I want to write on my site in the way I’ve been doing forever. Answering your questions like this, it does make one reflect on the future. So to answer your question directly, perhaps the switching off is happening now, as I’m writing this. I’m sure I’ll continue using the website, but perhaps it’s time for another project?

 

Speaking of new projects, do you have any writing planned for 2018 which you’re able to talk about now, or is it all still being kept secret?

There are no secrets, no big unveiling. A few days ago I applied to be mentored and funded for a literary project relating to LGBT identity, and it would be great if I got it. As with this interview, it made me reflect on how I haven’t tried to write creative fiction since 2016. I think that will change soon. I can feel another gentle obsession developing.


You can find more of Gina’s writing on her website, GinaMaya.co.uk. You can follow her on Twitter; her novel Utopia in Danzig is available for Kindle.

Discussion: Reflecting on a Year at The Ogilvie

Angela Clem, Angela Hicks and Calder Hudson began The Ogilvie in February 2017. At the end of the magazine’s first year, they took the opportunity to reflect on the past twelve months and to discuss their thoughts on the website.

The opinions expressed in this piece are those of the authors, who coincidentally are The Ogilvie’s entire staff.

 


 

Discussion: Reflecting on a Year at The Ogilvie

 

CH: So, we’re at the first anniversary of The Ogilvie–the Ogilversary, as it were. How are we all feeling about the magazine? Any particular highlights anyone wants to mention?

AH: Honestly, I’m still kind of impressed that The Ogilvie’s a thing. When Calder said that he wanted to start an online literary review, I mainly agreed because I thought it wouldn’t happen–I’d get friendship points without actually having to do anything. But then there was a site, and a Twitter page, and after that contributors–some of them even people we didn’t know. It’s been exciting to watch an idea become (virtual) reality.

AC: Exactly. I’ve never helped build something like this from the ground up. Like Angela Hicks (whom we lovingly refer to as Britangela so I can be Americangela), I was wary of putting too much hope in a project like this. But I’ve never been happier to be surprised.

CH: I’m shocked by your lack of faith, but, yeah, I get where you’re coming from. I was confident we could do this, but I didn’t anticipate the positive reception we’d receive. Before we launched, we hoped to start the website with five pieces, but we went live with nineteen, which was super motivating. Since then, we’ve got to watch the site gain momentum, which has been enormously rewarding too. Still, all that doubt from both of you is alarming; I may have to dock your pay for it.

AH: You don’t pay us.

CH: That’s neither here nor there.

AC: From a more personal point of view, working on The Ogilvie has also given me the opportunity to dabble in running a public social media page. It’s been fascinating to drive the social media bus, promoting our authors across digital platforms and helping them reach a larger audience.

CH: I couldn’t put it better myself; I wanted to start a magazine in large part because I knew a lot of talented people with a lot of drive who wanted a platform, and providing such a space for their work has been an absolute thrill. It’s been great to see both our contributors and our audience grow over the last twelve months. As Americangela says, being digital has really helped us on that front, so well done for doing such a great job with that, Americangela.

AC: Any other positives you’d like to mention, Britangela?

AH: I feel bad now; my highlight of the last year was going to be getting business cards. I feel so fancy and professional when I’m at a lit event and I can present someone with my card. But I guess helping people share/read amazing pieces has also been rewarding.

CH: [laughs] Yeah, on a less serious note, I’ve enjoyed getting to review TV shows for our workshop pieces. I don’t think it’s too much of a spoiler to reveal that our reviewing process is predominantly made up of drinking a lot of wine while arguing.

AH: Shh, trade secrets.

AC: On a new topic, does anyone want to talk about the more difficult parts of running The Ogilvie? Any things we hope to do differently this year?

CH: Managing the workload has been challenging at times. Outside The Ogilvie’s purview, we all work full-time, or near full-time, and it can be tough to balance work commitments with magazine commitments. We end up sacrificing sleep when we’re short on time. With that said, I don’t plan on changing my sleep schedule anytime soon–it’s well worth it.

AC: For me, the biggest difficulty has been the long-distance aspect. I moved back to the States just before we launched and the six-hour time difference has been a pain when scheduling meetings, as has imperfect video-calling technology. It would be nice if the whole team could sit down over coffee and discuss The Ogilvie, rather than parsing together what we can from lagging video and poor audio quality.

AH: True; I feel like a lot of our problems would be solved if Americangela moved back to Edinburgh. We just need to find a rich patron of the arts to sponsor her…

AC: We can hope.

CH: Let’s go back to the positives before we get too sad about our fragmented team. Another nice thing about running The Ogilvie is that it encourages me to keep creating–seeing the wonderful pieces from our contributors really motivates me to write. Is it the same for you guys? Do you have any ongoing writing projects?

AH: I tried to do National Novel Writing Month last November, writing a YA novel. Admittedly I was 10,000 words short, but I’m still further into a first draft than I’ve ever been before, which is exciting. I’d really like to complete that draft by the summer so that I can spend all of August going to Fringe shows (and Book Festival events) and not writing at all. Then, full of regret in September, I shall work extra hard all through the winter.

CH: My aim for 2018 is to start fewer projects and to complete more. In the past few months I’ve been reading a lot of nonfiction; possibly as a result of that, I’m currently working on some personal essay pieces. I’m really enjoying that mix of writing and reflecting, so it’s going well right now. I’m also doing a lot of editing currently and I’ve got some Ogilvie-specific stuff cooking which I shouldn’t mention just yet.

AC: I don’t have the same strong creative writing background as you guys, so with The Ogilvie I’ve mainly been excited to read and edit so many amazing pieces. Having said that, I’m often inspired by what our contributors submit, so maybe 2018 will see me stretching those creative writing muscles!

AH: You can do it! Go writing! And also go reading, because you’re right, that’s a great part of editing The Ogilvie–getting all those sneak-previews of pieces before we publish them. I’ve also found that editing an online magazine has encouraged me to read more stories online. Is the same true for you guys? Any non-Ogilvie pieces you read last year that like to recommend?

CH: I’ve always been big on digital, which may be obvious given The Ogilvie and all, but I think good stories are easier to find than ever these days thanks to digital publishing. My stand-out short story from last year was Cat Person by Kristen Roupenian; that probably isn’t a shocker, as it quickly accrued acclaim after it was published, but it absolutely deserves those accolades. I feel like it reflected a lot of the social and political climate of 2017, and it prompted and furthered many important discussions. The current hard-copy books I’m reading are by Robert Graves and Roxane Gay, and I’d recommend both of those authors too!

AC: One of my favourite creative non-fiction pieces that you can read online is The Things I’ve Lost by Brian Arundel. It’s not recent–I think it was published in 2006–but it’s a great essay which I can’t recommend enough. Its simple style weaves together themes of material, emotional, and abstract loss, inviting readers to pause after every item on the list to imagine what it was like to lose that thing. Just beautiful.

CH: How about you, Britangela–any pieces you’d like to mention?

AH: Well, both of your recommendations sound great, but I think we can all agree that one of the greatest pieces of online fiction ever was published last year and we do need to mention it: Harry Potter and the Portrait of What Looked Like a Large Pile of Ash.

CH: [laughs] True. I was going to go on to talk about what The Ogilvie’s planning on doing in 2018, but really I think that’s the perfect place to finish. All that’s left for us to say is thanks to everyone who’s helped make The Ogilvie happen over the last twelve months, whether it’s by contributing your work, or by reading the site, or by accepting business cards off us when we foist them on you. You are all amazing and the magazine wouldn’t exist without you!


All three Ogilvie editors can be reached via their respective Twitter accounts: @Angela_A_Clem, @MS_a_hicks, and @CMA_Hudson. Or you can email us at theogilviecontact@gmail.com!

Personal Essay: Going Home by Jonatha Kottler

Having previously worked as a university lecturer in Albuquerque, Jonatha Kottler now lives and writes primarily in Europe. Jonatha teaches at ECAS and was one of Edinburgh’s 2016 Story Shop writers; she has also contributed to the Dangerous Women Project and to Edinburgh’s Write Like a Grrrl community. Her work has also been published by The Guardian and by 404 Ink in their hit collection, Nasty Women. She is presently writing her first novel, and one of her essays is slated to appear in an upcoming collection entitled No Filter.

The opinions expressed in this piece are those of the author and not necessarily of The Ogilvie editorial staff.


 

Going Home

 

It’s three flights home. Edinburgh to London, London to Dallas, Dallas to Albuquerque. It takes almost twenty-four hours. Multiple trips through security. What country am I in? Do I take off my shoes? IPad out? Obligatory millimeter wave examination, my socks fitting into the foot shapes that thousands of people have stood upon, my arms raised, like a hostage in a video game, while someone examines an image of me. A view of myself I will never see, more intimate than most doctor’s appointments. I feel that they should inform me if everything is okay in there. Any tumors? I mean, besides the ones that this barely-tested technology is probably causing? I bristle at the short line of people who have paid extra money to not be subjected to this. I bristle at the latex-gloved woman whose job it is to give me a public breast exam in the name of airport security. I see out of the corner of my eye a man lifting my son’s long hair to look beneath it. My mind shouts, “Yes, of course! We are terrorists who have cleverly hidden a two-part doomsday device—half in his hair, half in my tits!” But my mouth is silent; I believe I may actually have thanked the women at the end of her perusal, before setting off to pick up my iPad, phone, backpack, coat, holding up the end of the conveyor belt because my trip to second base with this stranger has slowed everything down.

When I land in America after a short flight to London and a hot bus to the terminal in Heathrow, and more security, and the flight to Texas, I have already endured: humiliation; heat; other people’s coughing in recirculated air; a chicken and mashed potato dinner and a breakfast item that was for some reason half chorizo pie and half lemon drizzle cake; a perpetually in-use bathroom; four feature films; six apple juices; and a trip through the first-class accommodation that has me contemplating revolution. I have to collect my bags and walk through customs with them into the USA, where, overtired and anxious, I prepare myself to answer questions about why I have been away so long. How dare I live outside the country? Don’t I love America? How did I vote in the election? I haven’t been home for a while.

I stepped on an airplane on 21 December 2012, leaving America just one week after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. I left a stunned nation in the hands of a president I admired and had just voted for, on the day the Mayan calendar said the world would end. And in many ways the world did end for me—I left my large house, two cars, a job as a university lecturer, and moved to Europe in my forties because I wanted my teenage son to see how people in different places lived and saw the world. So many things have happened since then, in our lives and in the world. A new president, one I definitely didn’t vote for. Now, almost five years later, I am afraid of returning home on almost every level I can imagine.

But the US Customs Agent just says, “Welcome home,” and jokes that he really likes shortbread. I am disarmed by how friendly he is, how chatty. He puts me at ease, checking our passports and telling us that unless we have $800 worth of shortbread in there we are good to go. The airport in Dallas is wide, expansive. Our departing gate is two away from where we’d landed. The bathrooms are huge and there are paper towels to dry your hands on (I know, I’m sorry Planet Earth, but I have used exclusively public transport for the last five years, so give me a break and let me have dry hands for once!) We order burgers while we wait for our final flight and a tension I was barely aware of, but I always carry with me, disappears. I am where I don’t have to explain Trump, apologize, disavow (I happily do those things on a daily basis in the UK). Where I don’t announce where I am from upon speaking my first words. Burgers are great, mustard is yellow, and there is no brown sauce in sight. Fries are fries and chips come in a bag. A frisson of otherness ceased.

A short hour flight and then the lights of Albuquerque come into view–well-known lights in grids that I recognize as the different parts of town, the West Side, the University, and then the blackness of the mountains. As soon as we are off the plane and walking (our airport is tiny, the gate I used to think of as so far away is near) there’s gorgeous Native American art all around me and the air feels right. Picked up, hugs, luggage into the car–the summer air smells like the heat going slowly out of the day, the cement wet from sprinklers watering the grass, clean mountain breeze.

Being home. It’s hard to articulate. A cloak of strangeness has been lifted off my shoulders. I can drive to any place you name here without consulting Waze. I know these streets, irrespective of a new store here and a leveled restaurant there. I know them from being in the passenger seat my whole childhood, and learning to drive here in my teens. I belong here in a way I haven’t felt in such a long time.

Still, I’m afraid. What if I have changed too much? What if living in Holland, in Scotland, has made me too other? What if they hate me here? What if I hate it?

Gradually, one meal at a time, I find my balance again. My friends are still my friends. I am happy to see them and they are happy to see me. The gulf existed only inside of me, and it closes.

But just as I become whole again, I find I must split into two selves, because while one of me is eating chicken tacos, sopapillas smothered in green chile sauce, drinking The Red Stuff at my favorite local hang Flying Star, embracing the people that I love, seeing how children have grown, laughing at old jokes and catching up on how much we hated Batman v. Superman, the other one of me is aware of the news of day-to-day America. Every day the President causes a year’s worth of scandal. What would once have been a season’s worth of legislative surprises happen in a week, and all of it erodes what I believe my country is about. So Jona A had a wonderful trip home, and Jona B tried to keep up with the news. Here are three weeks in two lives in America:

 

 

Date Jona A’s Fun Vacation Jona B’s Crushing Reality
July 23 Jetlag, American breakfast, shopping at Target! Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci’s first day
July 24 Fun times with my husband’s family Trump makes his speech to the Boy Scouts, mocks Obama and news media
July 25 More family fun times–breakfast with green chile cream gravy US Senate votes to open heathcare debate
July 26 Fancy tea with my beautiful friend Jennifer at St. James Tearoom Trump vows to ban transgender soldiers from the military
July 27 Lunch with my favorite college teacher where I gave him a book I was published in

Red Stuff at Flying Star

Dinner with cherished gaming friends

Boy Scout Chief apologizes for Trump’s speech

 

 

July 28 Shopping at REI

Green chile lunch with friends

Plane to California

Trump replaces Reince Priebus as White House Chief of Staff
July 29 Starbucks, Wendy’s, American hotel!

Spending time with my mom

Trump attacks Republicans for failed vote on Obamacare repeal
July 30 More time with my mom and sister; bringing home my father’s flag from his military burial New White House Chief of Staff encouraged to “reign in the chaos”
July 31 Reunion of kids I taught for ten years Anthony Scaramucci is fired from position as Communications Director
August 1 Flying Star (again!) Trump asserts, “We will handle North Korea”
August 2 Lunch with a writer friend, Dinner with our former comic book artists. (More green chile, more Flying Star. Hmmm… I’m seeing a trend here) Trump endorses a “merit based system” that would cut legal immigration
August 3 Lunch with an amazing former colleague

Fancy tea with former students–all grown up and paying for stuff!

Trump tweets: “Our relationship with Russia is at an all-time & very dangerous low. You can thank Congress.”

 

August 4 Visiting the Meow Wolf art installation in Santa Fe with a dear friend, a night of roleplaying with the best group in the world! North Korea threatens to send “unexpected gift packages” to USA
August 5 Breakfast with our fabulous French teacher, lunch with lots of old friends US Air Force General Silva warns that America cannot let its nuclear arsenal slip
August 6 All-day board game day with Trader Joe’s snack fest. Lots of tears when saying goodbye Three marines lost after a US military aircraft crashed off Queensland coast
August 7 Lunch with our high school English and Drama teachers–these women are amazing and taught me so much Trump tweets: “How much longer will the failing nytimes, with its big losses and massive unfunded liability (and non-existent sources), remain in business?”
August 8 A sunny goodbye to two dear friends (at Flying Star)

Last-minute shopping at Target

Trump threatens “fire and fury” against North Korea
August 9 Flying home, so many goodbyes, so many tears FBI raided Trump’s ex-campaign manager Paul Manafort’s home as part of the Russia investigation
August 10 Mostly in the air, the plane’s movies are broken but Logan and I watch eight episodes of Jane the Virgin New Orleans declares emergency as threat of flood looms

Trump declares the opioid crisis a national emergency

 

My holiday back home is longer than an entire “the Mooch” White House career. Some of this I followed while I was there, or rather it followed me, relentless CNN on screens in restaurants, newspaper, and social media headlines. And some of it I willfully ignored, catching up only so that I could understand Stephen Colbert’s monologues back on my own couch.

It makes me shake my head as I write it. What has happened? How did my home become the Biff Tannen dystopia from Back to the Future II? And how to go on from here? How to protect my “column A” self and yet be a participating part of my democracy? Going forward, I actually just end up casting my mind back. Back before Trump, before moving, before even being an adult. Sitting cross-legged in kindergarten, singing “This land is my land, this land is your land, from California to the New York Islands, from the Redwood forest, to the Gulf Stream waters, this land was made for you and me.” (Already, now-time me is butting in–the land in question didn’t originally belong to the people singing the song. Set it aside for now. I’m setting aside, too, the knowledge that the songwriter, Woody Guthrie, lived in a slum owned by Trump’s father.) I’m thinking of myself, with red, white, and blue ribbons braided into my hair, singing past baby teeth and celebrating the USA’s bicentennial. There are things that I believe in, down deep, that are still there. My giant, beautiful country filled with natural splendor, that welcomes the tired, and poor, and huddled masses. That we are entitled to speak freely, and have a free and independent press, and not be expected to share a national representation of God. That there are opportunities for people who have dreams, and that it is our responsibility to help each other, to provide opportunities for others when we see that we ourselves have them. That I should be able to have non-crêpe pancakes at any time of day or night.

Going home was beautiful, complicated, and powerful, and having lived in other countries I returned very much aware of how others see us in America. There was something essential to it, too. I don’t know how long I would have to live here before being here feels like wearing the most comfortable pair of jeans. Of being the most me.


You can follow Jonatha follow on Twitter. You can read her previous essay, Dear Body, here.

R by Snigdha Koirala

Snigdha Koirala has previously been published in The Inkwell and Unknown Magazine. Born in Nepal and raised in Canada, she is currently living in Scotland, where she is pursuing an English Literature degree at the University of Edinburgh. 

 


 

R

 

Arms bending, there was dirt
stuck to the inside of your elbow.

My thumb itched to trace
its spirals over you,
to fold your blond paper skin
into the damp pocket of my coat,
and hear your knees click flat against the
bridge of your nose.

But your limbs–untied–
swinging around skinny metal bars,
and your blues under chiffon lashes
s p r a w l i n g
through the place,
looking for something,
through and around me,
like in that theatre,
your air filling up
all the spaces I could feel–
I lost and lose control,
dizzy,
heavy,
foggy breath–
I imagine–
along the lines of your hands,
over the crooks of your bones,
your veins–

I imagine–
settling above that piece of dirt,
coaxing it into the calm,
blowing it away–

I imagine

seeing you bare.


Snigdha can be reached via email, koiralasnigdha@gmail.com.

 

The Graduate by Samantha Emily Evans

Samantha Emily Evans is a poet and writer living in London. She has been published in the Moorpark College Review, the Inklight Poets Anthology, and [Insert Title Here]. She has studied at the University of St Andrews and the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics. She is a member of the European Beat Studies Network and works at SAGE Publishing.

 


 

The Graduate

 

‘The smell of home’–which home?
23424 home? Or St Andrews home?
Grandma and Grandpa’s home?
New home? Mother taught me,
To make the house smell like fall
Boil cinnamon.

Leaving tastes like a huge apple,
The first bite the acid.

Daddy, always Daddy and the pick-up area
Of LAX, the smudge of blue and all that gray,
Fumes of hello and the nervous chatter of six months.


You can read more of Samantha’s work at www.literarypixie.com.

First Snow by John Lysaght

John Lysaght is a writer of fiction and poetry from Long Island, New York. John began his formal writing while attending the University of Scranton, graduating with a BA in English and Latin in 1968. Mr. Lysaght has had a rich work history as a teacher, counselor for at risk youth, therapist, social worker and probation officer. His work has appeared in Esprit, Poets’ West, Avocet, The Greenwich Village Literary Review, Nomad’s Choir, Calliope’s Corner, and October Hill.

 


 

First Snow

Autumnal caravan
Palette of browns
Draped with fleece, with flannel
Of spiced cider and maple syrup
Haystack and harvest,
Turns and fades
Into memory.

Aloft,
Vanilla pregnant puffs
Birth virgin downy hexagonals
Dressed in white lace–
Angel-crafted from above.
Alabaster-jeweled
Geometric masterpieces
Flutter as they parachute
Downward to join their brethren,
Snow man antecessors
Decorating the landscape face below.

Solitary galosh imprints
Mark where I’ve been
And question where next to go.
With upturned face
And supplicant palms
I catch in an instant
Transmutant wonders
Returning to origin
Replicating the continuum
Of renewal.


John can be reached via email.

St. Andrews by Katharine Macfarlane

Katharine Macfarlane’s lyrical poetry is rooted in the history and landscape of Scotland. Katharine has recently performed with Flint & Pitch and Sonnet Youth and hosted her first solo show, Home Words, at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2016. Her work has appeared in Untitled, The Grind and The Ogilvie and has been translated into German as a feature piece in the novel Die Rückkehr der Wale by Isabel Morland. 


St. Andrews

I held on to relics;
An arm turned to bone by my heart,
Pearls at my throat
The virtue of St Margaret
And scallop shells, pressed to each palm:
Imprint stronger than divination
Replacing head, heart, life, fate.

Yet, when I see you on the road
I think that maybe
You have always been in my heart,
Even before it was beating.

The weight of the ancestors is at your back,
Their breath warm on my cheek.
I lay down arms
And smiles pour from my eyes.


Katharine can be reached via her Facebook page, Home Words. More of her poems are accessible here.

The Niskala by Lexie Angelo

Lexie Angelo is a Canadian writer and poet. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in Communications from Royal Roads University and completed a literary residency at The Banff Centre. She moved to Edinburgh to pursue her postgraduate degree in Creative Writing and is currently working on her debut novel.

 


 

The Niskala

 

I see it clearly now. I didn’t before. Stringy, matted black hair. Captain Willow. She snuck up on me. Ooooh I hate her eyes. I want to gouge them out with a spoon. Suck on the lenses and feel the tension of each orb explode between my teeth. I want her dead, dead, and dead again.

I mustn’t lose myself. I am a stowaway. Yes, that’s it. If I’m found, I’ll be dead before I see my Niskala again. I am sick for her. I would rather die at the bottom of the sea tethered to her weathered planks than live a thousand years without her. She knows I’m near. We are connected by blood and vein and sinew. I can taste this familiar sea. The weather is a witch’s brew of squid and rotten snails. The clouds are so thick I could eat them. But I want to eat those wicked beady eyes instead.

My crew is dead. I watched their limbs fall into heavy waves. No, you fool, they are putting up a good fight. Guns crack. Smoke curls into the mist.

“Kill as many as you can, Snake!”

“Orda, it’s twenty souls or the locker for you!”

Harhahrhar!

“Save Captain Willow for me. I’ll slice off that fine head of hers. Her stringy black hair will make a fine wig for Pug.”

“You hear that Pug?”

Harhar!

“You’ll get new eyebrows from the hair I’ll be pulling out of my teeth.”

We’ll be at port soon, Niskala. Willow hung from the gibbet. A thousand more kegs of gunpowder, I’ll order. And haul more treasure from the sea. Curse you, Willow! My knife, if I had it, would be plunged ten inches through your back. The first snap of your spine will be the call to dinner. The second snap, the call for wine!

Someone is coming. They say I was captured. Lies! I am aboard a vessel now. I’m hidden under cotton, wheat and iron ore. Choking down rats, and urine and sea. I lost the Gunsway, the Merchant, and the Eastern Revenge. But I won’t lose you, Niskala. She snuck up on me. I thought she was the Greynest. The flags were green. Gannet shouted. “A Clipper! Three masts, a square rig, and forty gunners.” The wind turned easterly when the flags went black. I’ll eat your heart, Gannet. I’ll eat your heart for losing Niskala.


Lexie can be contacted at www.millionsofpages.com.

Festina Lente by Julie Barker

Julie Barker lived and worked in South Africa as a scriptwriter and story producer for television. In 2015, she completed an MA in Creative Writing for which she wrote a novel called Other People’s Countries. From 2013 to 2016 she worked in the TV Drama department for BBC Scotland as a Story Editor, and worked on River City. She produced a short film, The Hide, which won Best Drama at the 2017 Women over Fifty Film Festival in Brighton. She is currently working on a series of memoir pieces; Festina Lente is one of those extracts.

 


 

Festina Lente

 

Dear Archibald Knox,

In 1903, sixty-three years before I was born, you made a clock. It is silver, with a round face. Instead of numbers there are letters enamelled in blues and greens with the Latin phrase, Festina Lente, which translates into Make Haste Slowly, or the more common phrase More Haste, Less Speed. The hands have red enamelled hearts at their ends, and the face rests on a rectangular column. The column has art nouveau flowers engraved on it, which remind me of Charles Rennie Mackintosh. If you look at the clock from any angle, the flowers appear to move because of how their shape was sculpted on the reflective surface.

Somewhere in my distant and forgotten past, a set of parents, or even grandparents went to Liberty’s of London to buy a present. I suspect it was for a wedding, but I will never know.

On a South African winter’s evening when I was about seven years old, I became aware of an unusual silence while sprawled in front of my grandfather’s fireplace. As if a devoted heartbeat had ceased, and all that was left was a hollow absence, devoid of sound. I looked up at the mantelpiece and noticed that the small silver clock had stopped. My grandfather showed me how to hold it. The clock stood upright on my lap, cold but not too heavy. He gave me the key and taught me to wind it so that I would not overextend the mechanism.

My grandfather was a man who took excellent care of his possessions, and was concerned with–some may say obsessed by–the contents of his will. He explained that, as the firstborn grandchild, I was entitled to inherit his large mahogany grandfather clock and the family bible. However, because I was a girl, this could not happen. Both items needed to be carried down the male line. He was a colonial man who had old-fashioned notions of gender. He was deeply apologetic. He assured me that one day I would receive the silver clock instead, as it was more suitable for a girl.

I’m sorry, Archibald, but at that point clocks–large or small–did not impress me.

When my grandfather died, he kept his word. By this time I had grown to love old things. I placed the clock on my mantelpiece and continued to wind it up when needed. It became a stationary compass of sorts, a link to the few quietly secure moments of a tumultuous childhood while pointing to a future ripe with hope. I breastfed my first child staring at it, numb with lack of sleep. It starred in a short film once. Occasionally people would admire it–not many though; it was humbly unobtrusive. It moved with us from house to house, always occupying a mantelpiece, and sometimes became the object of conversation.

I moved to Glasgow in 2013. After three months, a massive house pack, a content purge and transportation of the cherished family cat, my husband and children arrived with the clock in their hand luggage. We began our new life.

In May of 2016, I encountered an adaptation of William Morris’s Utopian novel, News From Nowhere, published in 1891, in which a character from the present visits the future. You have probably read this book more than once; in fact, you could have been the inspiration for the central character, William Guest, who wakes up one morning to a transformed London. Although it is clearly in the future, the thrumming pulse of that huge city has been transformed into a lush and rural landscape. People don’t work, there is no such thing as money, and the beauty of art and craft is everywhere. In this Utopia the central premise is the celebration of beauty; in limited possessions, natural surroundings, and flexible emotional attachments. It is a world where humanity is living the highest ideal of itself. In the end, William learns that this life needs to be fought and won in his present reality. So he returns to his old life to do just that.

Later in 2016, I lost my job. It was a devastating blow as I was the primary earner in my family at the time. I spent three months applying for every job imaginable, probably close to a hundred. I received very little response and five interviews. With each interview my confidence faltered. I signed on for benefits. Fraught with anxiety, diminishing savings and escalating credit card debt, I took to walking in forests and meditating while trying to find a way to earn a living. On one particularly dark day I got lost and lay down, spent with fear. It occurred to me that my usefulness to my family and the world had come to an end. When the damp earth seeped into my back I realised I had some power left, namely the ability to damage my children for the rest of their lives. I got up and kept walking. Not all powers are wanted. The ones I needed, like self-respect and courage, I would have to fight for and grow.

I came home to an empty house. I found a letter from the Department of Work and Pensions arranging a meeting to discuss my benefits. I sank into the sofa and through the burning blur of tears stared at your clock, gracefully adorning a Glaswegian mantelpiece.

The following week I polished and wrapped it carefully in a cloth bag. Our lack of money was critical. I had reluctantly decided to get the clock evaluated. I went to my first appointment of the day, a meeting with the Department of Work and Pensions. A cadaverous young man was hunched over a keyboard with missing letters. After an unsubtle interrogation, he accused me of benefit fraud. I had delayed in declaring my husband’s recently acquired six month contract because he wasn’t earning enough to cover our bills. The young man told me I would no longer qualify for benefits, and I would have reimburse the total sum I had been paid. His delight at my misfortune was contaminating; I too began to believe that I deserved poverty and would never know anything else again.

I crept out of the job centre and drove to the auction house. A tired nicotine smelling man watched as I hauled out my clock. His demeanour changed when he examined the markings on the underside. It was quite possibly the most animated he had been that year, judging by the thin and arched eyebrow of his associate. I looked at your clock on the stained tablecloth and realised it deserved better.

I learnt that the clock was designed by you, Archibald, a prominent influence in the Arts and Crafts movement, and one of the most far-reaching design movements of modern times. It began around 1880, and grew from a concern about Industrialisation. Not only did it break down divisions between architects, and craftsmen, it believed that design owed its inspiration to nature and real materials. That every day things should be made with love and celebrate beauty. It worked to change the dehumanising effect of Industrialisation and also strove for equality. For the first time, women were embraced as architects and artisans.

I sent photographs to a London auction house and allowed them to process the clock for auction. Six months later the hammer settled on a substantial amount of money, enough to dig my family out a bottomless hole of debt and start again. The first time I’d ever heard your name I was raw from the wounds of my own failures. Your clock had been an enduring companion, its silvery reflection a landscape of my changing life. Finally, at just the right time it could also become my saviour. These are the things dreams are made of; this is what the presence of the divine means.

I imagined you, a solitary child roaming the Isle of Man, your artistic mind absorbing those intricately ancient Celtic Crosses. And in your design heyday for Liberty’s, those same eternally intertwined patterns pouring out like a primeval inspiration into molten silver. How the designs echoed the seemingly fluid permanence of a precious metal. I wondered at you working in the alien detention centre on the Isle of Man during the war, after such a successful career.

Then I visualised you after that, a bearded and self-effacing man with a pipe clenched between your teeth as you brushed watercolour on paper. Until you were exhausted, and would sit back to view your roughly hewn strokes, which became the ruggedness of an old Elm tree or an island coastline. Your paintings were also a spontaneous coupling of nature and design. I read that your grave’s inscription says: ‘Here lies Archibald Knox, humble servant of God in the ministry of the beautiful.’ I felt you reaching towards me through the grace and splendour of your clock and I heard you breathe: ‘beauty changes lives.’

Liberty’s never acknowledged the designs in your lifetime. Did you realise that your work would become so valuable? Festina Lente. Well, you did take your time. The clock was never really mine, as it belongs to the ideals of the Art and Craft movement. However, I was lucky enough to know it for a substantial period of my life. But more than anything, Archibald, who you are and how you created beauty has given me a new way of being.

Yours Sincerely,
Julie Barker


You can follow Julie via her Twitter, @burningsky6.

The White Crag Cartel by Joseph Sax

Joseph Sax is an American currently living Dubai, UAE, where he works for a political risk consultancy. While Joe’s professional interests revolve around the politics of the Middle East and international affairs, he has long been burdened with an overactive imagination and a juvenile love of make-believe.

The original concept for this story derives from a stint shovelling snow for neighbours in the late aughts.

 


 

The White Crag Cartel

 

In middle school, my parents gave me five dollars a week. I could buy the weekly Aquaman comic, a bag of Skittles, and two Airheads. In the winter, when park benches, cars, and houses became misshapen lumps in the great white snowscape of my hometown, I would trudge home, sit in the kitchen, read through the comic book, and eat the candy. “Give him an allowance,” thought my parents, “but not too much. Teach him the power of money, but also teach him its limits.”

At first, it was thrilling to have money. My parents were no longer the gatekeepers between me and all the comic books and sweets in the world, and the Aquaman-Skittles-Airheads bounty became a staple, but when I started bringing back five comics a day, with a big pile of candy, it was immediately obvious that something had changed. My mother later told me that it was this shift in my buying patterns that tipped her off about my second income. I suppose it didn’t help that I obfuscated the reality of the situation to the best of my thirteen-year-old ability. It must have worried the poor woman sick. “Prices went down,” I told her once, mouth full of Skittles, nose buried in Watchmen. Did she buy it? Was she worried for my safety? Did she assume that her son might be dealing drugs, or worse?

Obviously, I wasn’t dealing drugs. I was up to something more ambitious.

 

I was thirteen at the time that all this took place, and living in my hometown: White Crag, New Hampshire. The eponymous white crag is Mount Washington, whose internationally renowned poor weather gave our tiny town what little communal prestige we had, but also profoundly shaped the local economy. Whiteout blizzards were a seasonal occurrence. It was understood that the young and fit helped out the old when everyone got snowed in. So it was that, one December, I was conscripted by my loving but unsuspecting parents to shovel the sidewalk and driveway.

Shovels in White Crag occupied the same niche as the family Brown Bess in the pioneering days of yore. It symbolized man’s attempt to keep nature at bay. Something about the pioneer glory of the smoothbore musket was lost in the transition from guns to shovels, but the local shovel vendor’s slogan tried to capture the nostalgia: “when Jack Frost knocks, we knock back.”

Shoveling snow in one of White Crag’s howling blizzards is about as much fun as it sounds, but tricks of the imagination make it more pleasant. All that snow gear is probably the closest any adolescent in New England can get to wearing a suit of chivalric plate armor. The ten or so minutes you spend putting on long johns, pants, then snow pants, then the coat, then the gloves, makes you feel like the squires are getting you suited up for battle. Thick gloves become gauntlets, snow-pants are greaves. This stuff is the bread and butter of the male imagination until they discover alcohol and sports. The lucky ones never do.

It was a lot of snow, but the biting cold made it a fine powder. Every shovelful kicked up a swirl of glittering, razor-sharp flakes that the driving wind blew straight into my face. I was not working without compensation, mind you. My parents were paying me a couple of bucks for my troubles, which could yield an extra comic if I gave up the Airheads. Eventually, I spent so much time thinking about different permutations of comics and candy that I ran out of snow to shovel. As I hefted the shovel over my aching shoulder and began to head home, someone called my name.

“Eric! Eric, young man, come here.”

We lived next door to the Klabers, an elderly couple. Rudolf Klaber, whose personality was every bit as German as his name, was waving to me from his front porch.

I waded through the pristine snow to the porch, where he was waiting in a light fleece and comically oversized gloves. “Listen, Eric,” he said, “we’re just too old to shovel all that snow. How about I give you a dollar and you shovel it for us?”

That was it. That was when I realized that White Crag’s snow was not a curse, it was a bounty. That was when I began to build my empire.

“How about five?” I asked.

Looking back, this was an obviously cheeky move, but old Rudolf Klaber seemed amused. “Five it is. Go get to work.”

 

Klaber paid me five dollars to shovel the next snowstorm off his driveway, too. It was easy enough to leverage this against my parents the next time they offered two dollars to shovel. “Rudolf Klaber pays me five,” I said. After some protest, so did they.

The next step, of course, was to expand the operation. I landed two more shoveling gigs after Klaber put in a good word at his weekly bridge club. My folks were aware of the Klaber arrangement, but I never told them about the others. This was when they noticed that my expenditures were much higher than what they thought was my income.

Meanwhile, I was reaching capacity. Spending snow days shoveling for old people had great novelty at first, but was exhausting, boring, and solitary. It was with great pain at the thought of dividing my winnings that I brought on Bert Brown, a close friend. He required no maintenance other than half the earnings and some hot chocolate after a day’s work, and did not interfere in the management side of the operation at all (of which I was greedily protective). I didn’t own a computer back then, so I kept simple records on a Microsoft Excel file on the family desktop. It wasn’t sophisticated stuff, just a list of each house I had shoveled, how much they paid, and how many houses I could hit on a particular day.

Neither Bert nor my parents ever saw this file. I put it in a folder labeled “Age of Mythology Saved Games.”

 

While working with Bert made the jobs easier, the real payoff for having him around came after we snagged his family’s snowblower. Most houses in White Crag had small sheds in the backyard, some serving as literal armories; all my parents put in ours were gardening tools and a modest barbecue grill. Bert’s shed was home to the venerable snowblower his family used every winter. I’m convinced to this day that Bert only ever agreed to join my operation because he couldn’t use his own yard as a springboard for his.

The heist took place on a moonless Friday night, with significant snowfall predicted for the next day. At two o’clock in the morning, I slid out of bed and crept downstairs to the closet, where I hurriedly dressed myself. I had a moment of complete paralyzed panic in front of the bathroom mirror, stuck over the decision of whether I should try to camouflage myself against the black of the woods or the white of the snow.

In the end, it didn’t matter. I wanted to stick to backyards and the treeline to avoid detection, but the knee-high snow made for slow going, and my socks soon became drenched. Fed up, I took the sidewalk most of the way to Bert’s house.

Bert had already opened the shed by then, and had the snowblower sitting in his driveway.

“What now?” he said.

I have to admit, I hadn’t thought this part out. When the big weekend storm was first forecast, I did some highly questionable math and decided that having the snowblower would let us hit three additional houses. I factored the additional revenue into my weekly buying plan, resolved to set some aside in Eric’s Lego TIE-Fighter Fund, and worked out that I would be able to buy one in three weeks’ time.

But I hadn’t thought about what to do with the snowblower between that night and the storm the next day.

In the end, we pushed it all the way back to my house, which was unpleasant. The streets of White Crag at night were poorly-lit, cold, and utterly silent. Bert told me during the walk that he had asked his folks for permission to borrow the snowblower that weekend, which left me relieved, but slightly disappointed. We stashed it in the shed in my backyard, which my parents hadn’t touched since the first big snowfall.

Why such secrecy? Why go to such obsessive lengths to plan as much as possible, then reveal those plans to no one? Even as an older, more mature version of myself, I have no explanation. It just felt so satisfying at the time to bury the complexity of my little empire in secrecy. I can still recall that satisfaction.

 

The rest of the winter went pretty smoothly. Bert and I dictated prices, which we set at a flat 10 dollars per yard. Old man Klaber always paid 5 bucks, which I suppose was a sort of loyalty reward.

That summer, my parents enrolled me in economics classes at CTY. I should have just spent the summer playing Monopoly. I spent three months drawing graphs and falling behind on Aquaman, and learned nothing. Come the beginning of eighth grade, I was thrilled when the next blizzard season started early, burying White Crag in gossamer snowdrifts. Bert and I hit five houses. Liz Akgun, a neighbor around my age who was in my CTY class, did three with her older brother, James. I panicked when I first heard we had competition. Bert was (and is) made of calmer stuff, and managed to set up talks at the local Dairy Queen. The atmosphere was very cordial, and the Akgun group agreed to set their prices equal to ours.

Thus was born the White Crag Cartel. For one winter, we owned the town, charged what we wanted, and got rich.

 

You could be forgiven for thinking, from the way I’m telling this story that I hibernated away springs and summers and autumns, and lived only for the planning and scheming and shoveling of White Crag’s near-polar winters. I think of it more the way a dedicated one-season athlete thinks about their sport’s season. That time of year is special. For those few months, everything else steps aside and the athlete becomes a different person. For the rest of the year, one feels bottled up and sluggish, itching to return to top form.

But my secrecy and obsessive monopolization of the planning process was simply not sustainable. I put a piece of myself into the planning and organization of the Cartel, and met at least twice with Klaber to discuss the public relations image he would present at his bridge club. Everyone else was losing interest in shoveling snow and taking instructions.

At the end of that winter, in line to buy tickets at the movie theater with Bert and Liz, I showed them an annotated map of the neighborhood I had made in Microsoft Paint. They exchanged a hesitant glance that at the time I interpreted as a sign of their burgeoning romance (they would go on to be each other’s prom dates in high school), but which I now realize was each one waiting for the other to tell me that they had moved on from the Cartel. Bert was kind enough to tell me that night that he wouldn’t be shoveling the next winter. “Sorry, man,” he said. “I’m pretty into this music thing, and I’ve got this band now, so…”

I hate it when people end sentences with “so.”

 

In autumn of freshman year, I did some yard work for old man Klaber. White Crag’s trees, in the fall, were stunningly beautiful kaleidoscopes of color for all of about ten minutes. Afterwards, all that beauty and spectacle became a carpet of rotting plant matter that needed to be disposed of.

That September afternoon, I sat on Klaber’s back porch drinking hot apple cider, gazing out at the neat bags of leaves. Raking was no substitute for shoveling. Snow was a renewable resource; a leaf could only fall once.

Klaber brought out a tuna sandwich and set it on a small table next to my chair. He put it down and clapped a hand on my shoulder.

“So what’s the next step for the family business, sport? Corporatizing? Opening an East Asian division? When can I start trading stocks on the market?”

I took a sip of the cider. “I don’t know if I’ll be doing that again this winter, Mr. Klaber.”

Klaber sat down. He sat down in that elderly way, exhaling and gingerly dropping himself into the chair. I could almost hear whining hydraulics and grinding gears as his ancient joints bent.

“So what’s the problem, hmm?”

I told Klaber about Bert’s doubts, but that I still planned to keep the cartel running.

“Sounds like you need to think about why you do all that shoveling, Eric. You’re too smart to do be doing it because you like hauling snow. Is it really just all about the money?”

For whatever reason, at the time, I said yes.

 

The next year, when the big storms started, nobody showed up to the meeting I called at the DQ. I don’t remember their excuses.

The Cartel ended where it all started: Rudolf Klaber’s front yard. Liz Akgun was traveling with the debate team and Bert Brown had a rehearsal with his prog-rock garage band. The snow was so wet and dense that day that it felt like I was hauling shovelfuls of molasses. After the job was done, Klaber handed me the five-dollar bill like he always did. But this time I somehow didn’t want to take it.

It wasn’t my aching back and arms, or that I didn’t feel the need to work for another Lego TIE-Fighter. I just felt no connection between the work I had done and the money I was being given for it. It was too automatic, too simple.

“Keep it,” I finally said to him.

“What, you’re shoveling for charity now?” he said with a grin. “Take it. You earned it.”

He was right, for the most basic meaning of the word “earn.” I had moved some snow and he was willing to compensate me for it.

But I hadn’t put a piece of myself into earning it. There had been no artistry into the planning of execution of that job, instead of another job. It hadn’t been fun. It hadn’t been brilliant.

It was a guy paying some kid to shovel his yard. That’s all.