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Transmission

6 May 07 words: James Walker
Why would LeftLion be interested in promoting another magazine you might be asking yourself? Have we finally gone insane?
Why would LeftLion possibly be interested in promoting another magazine you might be asking yourself? Have we finally gone insane? Fortunately we have not, well not all of us at least. The occasional hair may sprout out of the palm of some of our editorial team but generally we are in good mental health. So what’s going on then? Well like most things in life it’s pretty simple really. We have decided to broaden our literature department by promoting magazines and organisations whom we admire and who may be of benefit to all those pen scribbling geniuses across the region. James Walker took Transmission founder Graham Foster for a walk up the Trent to discuss all things literary.

Leftlion promotes itself by putting calling cards inside telephone boxes or shaving our name into the tramlines of disenfranchised youth who congregate in slab square. How do you spread the word of your publication?
The internet has been our greatest friend, and it’s probably foolish for anyone setting up an independent endeavour to ignore its power. We have really worked on our website, and set up an online shop so people all over the UK can get hold of the magazine. Distribution is very difficult, and it can be very costly – especially for young, independent magazines. We have tried to tackle this by having a strong online presence, and concentrating on shops in and around Manchester for now. We have also pestered the larger press, with mixed results, but we have been featured in the Guardian and on BBC Online. It is a constant struggle.

So you’ve taken the traditional route then?
I wish I could say I had skydived over Manchester while scattering leaflets into the wind, but I would crumble into a heap of nerves and faeces before I even left the ground!

We get the picture. When did you start up then?
We started Transmission while studying on the Creative Writing MA at Manchester Metropolitan University. I began talking to one of my fellow students, Dan, about the selection of fiction/literary magazines available for young, up-and-coming writers. We were horrified at the lack of opportunity. Remember this was about 3 years ago now and, while there were some good titles, I think there has definitely been a boom recently.

Like Granta etc?
Yes, while things like Granta and the TLS are very interesting reads, and very professionally put together, there is a whiff of the establishment surrounding them – they are quite conservative. We wanted to create a literary magazine that was both in-depth and intelligent, but also fun and attractive to look at. The first question we asked was, ‘why can’t those two things go together?’

Leftlion only employs insomniacs as it’s the only way we can get the magazine out on time. Does this sound familiar?
I think insomnia is the default state for anyone operating in this business, isn’t it?

And who are your editorial insomniacs?
Currently on the Transmission team we have myself, Jo Phillips who is the designer, Susie Stubbs who is the Editorial Consultant and Steve Ireland who is our web designer. As the magazine is a non-profit and voluntarily run publication we have a slim team of people who are happy to dedicate their time. It probably takes the best part of six months to plan and produce an issue. We do three a year and we are constantly working on it, all of us doing our main, wage-slave jobs too.

With so many internet based writing websites and of course the obvious economic benefits of electronic publication it must have been a bit tempting. Why did you plump for a print publication?
Yes, it was tempting, but everyone has seen the internet – with such a great freedom of speech, there is always some dubious quality control. I think there is a lot of promise for the internet, but there is nothing to rival a print publication, having the magazine in your hands. It’s quite a special thing for the writers and artists too, not just having their work represented as yet another series of ones and zeros. I think everyone would say that reading off paper is much more satisfying than the screen, and I also think the limitations we are faced with stop us becoming lazy, we are forced to be creative.

Why should we buy Transmission and not other writing magazines?
Transmission has something for writers, as we publish short fiction and writing advice, but I would also hope that people who maybe don’t write, but love literature, would also enjoy reading it as we have interviews, articles and reviews. We try and present all of the stories in a way that is enjoyable to look at, not just black text on white paper, so I think artists and designers would get something out of reading Transmission too. Jo, our designer, is passionate about promoting new artistic talent. If writers are serious about getting published, they really should try and read as many independent magazines as possible and find the ones that suit them the most – that is something that is not said very often. There’s nothing worse than a writer who complains about how the big publishers and the big booksellers are destroying literature, but who doesn’t support independent publications. There is a thriving scene in this country – all the way from Dave Eggers’ McSweeney’s to the smaller lit mags such as Mslexia or Citizen32.

Talking of writers, who have you interviewed that you particularly admire?
Douglas Coupland was a massive thing for me. He is a writer whose work I have loved for years. He managed to connect with what I was feeling in my teens so perfectly, but then he still manages to do so even now. Coupland really turned me on to the possibilities of fiction, something that was very far removed from what we are told in the dusty classrooms of our youths! I was really excited about our interview with Sarah Waters, and especially as we had managed to catch her as she was embarking on a new period of her career. And of course, Nottingham’s Jon McGregor in our last issue. McGregor is going to be absolutely huge, especially as he’s still so young!

Yes, McGregor is up there with Sillitoe as Nottingham’s finest. Anyone whom you haven’t interviewed who you would like to?
I would have loved to speak to Hunter S. Thompson – he’s a very influential character for me. Paul Auster is a particular favourite of mine, reading his novels is an amazing experience. Each one seems to be linked, creating a huge world that expands with every new novel. I have a passion for North American literature, but as for British writers, JG Ballard has had an amazing career, and Martin Amis would be a very interesting person to interview. Unfortunately, though, most of my favourite authors are dead!

What kind of qualities do you look for in stories?
There is no specific thing. It’s a very instant reaction, a gut feeling. It’s probably easier to say what we don’t look for in stories. Stories that build up to a twist can be awful, especially when the idea for the twist has come but no consideration has been put to the rest of the writing. People are scared to put themes and textures into short stories. I don’t know why. If a novel can have subtext, then why can’t a short story? The best short stories have been slaved over, and every word matters. In my opinion, the most important thing for anyone to do before they even consider writing a short story is to read as many as possible. As an editor, it’s very easy to spot someone who has not done this – they have not got a sense of what makes a really tight short story. You wouldn’t think of writing a song without learning an instrument, would you?

Any short story writers you could recommend?
If people want to see really great short stories they should look out for Amy Hempel, who has an amazing talent to create short, minimalist stories that are amazingly moving. Also, Denis Johnson’s collection Jesus’ Son is inspirational. These two writers get as close as is possible to the perfect short story.

Why should local writers submit and what do they need to do?
We accept submissions from all over the UK. Writers who are interested should check out our submission guidelines at www.transmissionhq.org. We have a theme for each issue, that is in the guidelines too.

Have there been any success stories with authors you have published?
Yes, but I’d be big-headed and utterly wrong if I claimed that they had had success because of Transmission! Ray Robinson has had his fantastic debut novel, Electricity, published by Picador and who, despite being published, will always submit his writing to little independent magazines such as us. Another contributor, David Gaffney, has recently published a collection of short stories called Sawn-off Tales. Both are fantastic, very hard working writers.

How much is Transmission and where can we buy it from?
Transmission is £4 and, outside of Manchester, it can be bought at our website: www.transmissionhq.org

Why ‘Transmission’ as a title?
I have to come clean here. Transmission is the laziest title ever. The first issue was done for a piece of coursework on the MA at MMU. This coursework was called the ‘Transmission Project’ as it was about the transmission of fiction into different media. But now, three years after the magazine was named, it seems to sum up perfectly what our aims are. We want to transmit the work of new authors to as many people as we possibly can! It’s also a word that has a strong connection with Manchester, with the Joy Division song. I wish I could say that was intentional, but I’m afraid I can’t!

Transmission Magazine website

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