Pushing Out the Boat: Our Blog
- Introducing Lily Greenall, the new POTB Editor (Martin Walsh, posted 5 Mar 2020)
- An Appreciation of Gerard Rochford (Judith Taylor, posted 6 Feb 2020)
- Coordinator/Project Manager opportunity (POTB Team, posted 13 Nov 2019)
- FROM THE ARABIAN NIGHT PATROL TO POTB (Ian Thewlis (aka Peter Sheal), posted 14 Oct 2019)
- POTB needs your help! (POTB Team, posted 19 Sep 2019)
- Pushing Out the Boat at Aberdeen University Mayfest (Roger White, posted 31 May 2019)
- Launch of Pushing Out the Boat Issue 15 (Martin Walsh, posted 29 Apr 2019)
- A Seasonal Bouquet from Pushing Out the Boat (Roger White, posted 19 Nov 2018)
- Editing POTB: a peek behind the scenes (Roger White, posted 1 Aug 2018)
- Pushing Out the Boat Reading Event at Books and Beans (Roger White, posted 2 May 2018)
Introducing Lily Greenall, the new POTB Editor
posted on 5 March 2020
The following is a Q&A with incoming Editor Lily Greenall by retiring Editor Martin Walsh.
Note from the POTB team: we are delighted that Lily has joined us, and we wish her every success in her new role.
I know I speak for everyone in the team when I say how pleased and honoured we are to welcome you aboard. Could you tell us when and how you first heard of POTB and what were your initial impressions?
I first heard about POTB from my PhD supervisor, Wayne Price. He recommended it as a good place to submit some of my work and, following his advice, I sent in my short story ‘Frank,’ which was accepted. I came to a POTB event at the Aberdeen University May Festival and was really impressed by the quality of the work read out and the friendly atmosphere among the team; this encouraged me to apply when I heard that the Editor’s position was available.
I believe that, like me, there is a little bit of Kent in you? If so what brought you to Aberdeen?
Yes, my mum’s side of the family are from Kent – I’m going on holiday there in March to visit them. I grew up on the Isle of Lewis though. We used to visit friends in Stonehaven a lot and come to Aberdeen to do our Christmas shopping, so I have nice childhood memories of the place. I came to live in Aberdeen ten years ago to start my Undergraduate Degree. After this I stayed on to do an MLitt at the uni and this led into doing my PhD here. I’ve always liked living in Aberdeen – I’ve lived in flats all over the city now! I think it’s a nice size of town for someone from a small place and I like being near the sea.
You are amazingly well qualified for this job, with your experience of editing Causeway, your PhD in Creative Writing and your own story-writing skills. Does it concern you that in generously taking on this (voluntary) job you will be reducing the number of hours you can devote to writing and/or earning a wage?
Thank you! I think it’s going to be a challenge at times, but I’m not overly concerned. I got used to doing Causeway – where the responsibilities for every stage of production were often shared between just two of us – alongside my PhD and the other responsibilities I had while I was studying, so I’m used to juggling my time. I’m also currently working as a freelance writer and, although I have lots of deadlines to meet, my schedule is very flexible because I can set my own hours. Hopefully I’ll be able to keep doing this and POTB will fit in well. In terms of my own writing, I think its always inspiring to read good fiction submissions and it keeps you motivated to write. Overall, I see POTB as a great opportunity to broaden my skillset in a way that I think will be very helpful to my future career, no matter what I end up doing.
What/who was the subject of your PhD?
I did my PhD on the figure of the Devil in Scottish fiction and folklore. Originally I planned to do it on folk tales from the Isle of Lewis but, as I discovered, there aren’t a huge amount of written tales about the Devil from there (although there is a very lively oral tradition), so I broadened my topic out and it ended up being a lot to do with Borders folktales and with Walter Scott and James Hogg.
Alongside this I wrote a collection of short stories that featured different takes on ideas about the Devil and the supernatural in Scotland. I was quite open-minded writing the stories so not all of them ended up featuring a Devil character, or even really fitting this theme. I think it was a cohesive enough collection overall, though, and it was great experience writing it.
When did you first develop a love of literature, which writers have most influenced you and do you have a favourite genre?
I always wrote stories and loved reading, but I didn’t really take it seriously until I was finishing school and deciding whether I wanted to go to university or not. What really made up my mind was, when I was about sixteen, I got really into a series of books called The Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice, which are these very Gothic historical novels set in the 1700s in New Orleans. I loved reading them so much that it set me off reading all sorts of other things and I started seriously working on my own fiction. I decided to study English at university and, once I started, I just wanted to keep doing it. Even one of the freelance jobs I’ve got just now is writing literature study guides.
I feel like I’m influenced by whoever I’m reading at the time, but I definitely have writers who always make me want to write and whose style really resonates with me. I really like Angela Carter and Shirley Jackson. At the moment I’m reading a lot of Doris Lessing. I love the way she writes, it’s very precise and observational – she makes you feel that there’s loads going on under the surface even when, seemingly, not much is happening.
My favourite genre is definitely Gothic fiction, even when it’s a bit silly and melodramatic. I just think it’s so fun. I love classic Gothic novels, like The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Wuthering Heights, but I like a bit of modern horror as well. Stephen King is good – his novels are very vivid. James Hogg’s Confessions of a Justified Sinner is probably my favourite Gothic novel.
You had a story, ‘Frank’, in the last edition of POTB. The writing was spare and so beautifully observed. How on earth do you manage to get inside peoples’ heads, both sexes, so convincingly?
Thank you very much! I actually really like writing from the perspective of a man, although I haven’t been doing it so much recently. I used to write almost exclusively from the point of view of men. Partly, I think its fun just to imagine an experience which isn’t your own. I think men and women sometimes have a very different social experience and it can be fun to play at being someone who can do certain things that you wouldn’t do, or to imagine being someone that people would react very differently to or expect different things from.
I think a lot of it comes from the writers I’m reading as well. I think, just by accident, I used to read more male writers (or women writers who wrote from the perspective of men) and, recently, I’ve been reading more female writers so maybe that makes a difference in how I write.
How would you like to see POTB develop?
For the moment I’d like to focus on keeping the quality of the submissions accepted at the same high level and, given my own connection with the university, perhaps build some more links there. I think it would be great to see more submissions from young writers or student writers as they’re often looking for places to send their work and get their first publication. It would be great to emphasize that POTB is a friendly place where young writers can send their work.
And finally, tell us something surprising about yourself, literary or otherwise?
I quite often listen to terrible electronic club music when I write. Something about the rhythm of it gets me energized to keep writing. The only problem I find is that, because I’m listening to this, I always end up writing scenes set in nightclubs. It wasn’t so bad when I used to go to nightclubs a lot, because I’d write about things I saw there or things that happened on nights out, but now I hardly ever go to nightclubs so it doesn’t really work as well.
Many thanks Lily: so good to learn a little more about you. I’m sure our readers will feel the same.
An Appreciation of Gerard Rochford
posted on 6 February 2020
Distinguished local poet Gerard Rochford died late 2019. He will be much missed. Indeed, as a key member of the original team of volunteers who kept POTB alive when Aberdeenshire council discontinued publication in 2005, we are proud to acknowledge his contribution with this Appreciation by poet Judith Taylor.
Gerard reading his work at a POTB Retrospective in the Blue Lamp in 2016.
It would be difficult – maybe impossible – to write a full appreciation of Gerard Rochford: life led him into so many spheres. He was an academic psychologist and a therapist; a beloved husband, partner and family man; a lover of music and the countryside; a man of deep thought and of wicked, deadpan humour. And he was not only a poet but someone who opened doors into poetry for many others, myself among them. This is the Gerard I want to speak of here.
I first met Gerard, as I first met so many poets, in Books and Beans on Belmont Street. In 2003 he, Doug Gray, and Eddie Gibbons began to look for a place to perform their work to the public. Books and Beans had newly opened and owner Craig Willox invited them to start a monthly poetry night there. And so Dead Good Poets (as it was then called) started, on the last Thursday of the month, with an invited guest or guests headlining and an Open Mic space for all who wished to get up and read.
Initially all three founders shared MC duties: but with Doug and Eddie working outside town the traffic was often a problem for them, and Gerard gradually assumed the mantle by himself. He was a courteous encourager of all comers – I was one of very many poets to take their first public steps in Aberdeen when I took a deep breath and put my name down for Open Mic – and the atmosphere of listening and support he fostered still endures, while his moving but unshowy readings of his own work set a standard to which we all aspired.
Encouraging poets into print was also part of the Dead Good Poets’ ambition. In 2004 they brought out a joint collection, Three Way Street, with Doug Gray’s Koo Press (which he had founded in 2002), and also became more involved in the running of the press, with Gerard editing or co-editing many of the collections, and Eddie contributing artwork and design. Koo Press gradually broadened out its operations, showcasing the work of new poets from the local scene and beyond: in its 10 year existence, it published some 38 chapbooks, many of them first collections, as well as anthologies and even collections of poetry and recipes. All of them were meticulously edited (Gerard’s motto “Delete, delete, delete!” still whispers in my ear when I come to revise my work) and beautifully produced. It’s a record to stand beside that of any small press in the country, and a roster I’m proud to have been part of.
While this was going on, Pushing Out the Boat sent up a flare. An important showcase for North-East writing and art, it had been published by Aberdeenshire Council since its foundation by then Writer-in-Residence Magi Gibson; but the Council was ceasing to support publication, and Magi’s successor, Mindy Grewar, wanted to ensure it continued. Gerard knew its value (he had a poem in the very first issue, as did Eddie and Doug) and was one of those who stepped forward, chairing the poetry selection panel for Issues 5 to 7 under the editorship of Martin Walsh, and contributing his painstaking skills to the copyediting process. As part of that early team he helped to set the high standards that the magazine has sought to maintain ever since.
Gerard’s own poetry very much reflects the man himself: meticulous and spare in its choice of words, but rich with feeling; curious, probing, and open-hearted; light in touch even with tough subjects; and always leaving the reader wanting more. He was a poet above all of the human heart – of love, of loss; of those he knew and those he wished to know better. His work of bringing poets forward into the world continues. And although we have lost Gerard the man, his voice remains with us in his poems, and his work will endure.
Links to poems:
A Poem About Li Po (Li Bai)
My Father’s Hand
Poems by Gerard Rochford can also be found in issues 1, 2, 3, 4, 8, 9 and 10 of Pushing Out the Boat. Those in issues 9 and 10 can be read in the online versions of the magazine.
Coordinator/Project Manager opportunity
posted on 13 November 2019
Following on from our post of 19th September, we’re delighted to report that Lily Greenall has joined the POTB team as Incoming Editor. Lily is an accomplished writer with experience of editing a literary magazine and will be a great new addition to the team.
But we are still looking for a new Coordinator/Project Manager. Might you be interested?
We are a team of volunteers based in and around Aberdeen responsible for Pushing Out the Boat, North-East Scotland’s magazine of new writing and the visual arts.
This role involves project management of both team and the tasks needed to produce our regular magazine.
You would be joining us along with our new editor in time to help manage an entire production cycle from the commitment to go ahead through to publication and launch of a new edition.
Our coordinator/project manager assigns and coordinates tasks with team members, compiling a schedule of tasks critical to the agreed timetable, and ensuring those tasks are completed timeously.
While an interest in the arts would be a bonus, experience in coordination and project management are more important to fulfil this role successfully. We are a friendly group and the work of the editor and coordinator/project manager is supported by a wider team at and between regular committee meetings.
You can read more about us on our website, especially the About us page. If you’re interested and would like to learn more, please contact email@example.com. After a first chat, the next step would be for you to meet our current coordinator, who can brief you about what the role involves in more detail. She will also be available to help hand over the work to you in a phased way.
FROM THE ARABIAN NIGHT PATROL TO POTB
posted on 14 October 2019
The opening chapter of my political thriller, Arabian Night Patrol, was published in Pushing Out the Boat 14 in April 2017. I’d been researching and writing the novel for several years, but it was still only partially complete, still a rather tender sapling. I’d previously had textbooks and business books published by Longman and Kogan Page, but fiction is even more competitive and with less assurance of publication, can be a dispiriting enterprise. Publication in POTB therefore was encouraging and I’m grateful for the confidence it gave me to carry on and complete the novel.
The POTB extract, The Candlelight Patrol, introduced my setting, a desert oil camp in Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War and the genesis of what became known as the War on Terror. It also introduced the main protagonist, Rob, a middle-aged engineer, who’s volunteered for the night patrol guarding the camp perimeter. As fighter jets screech overhead, air raid sirens blare over the call of the muezzin, and duels between Scud and Patriot missiles illuminate the night sky, he wonders what to do next with his life. His wife wants him to come home, but he’s tempted by a more exciting future when he falls for June, a free-spirited American artist. Yet her husband, Rick, is the camp’s powerful security boss, armed and dangerous. As the battle for Kuwait and terrorist attacks intensify, Rob must fight for his own survival.
Arabian Night Patrol, published under the pseudonym of Ian Thewlis, is based on my experience of working in the Saudi oil industry during the 1980s and 90s. Although I had that ‘lived experience’ to go on, as a Western expat, mine was inevitably a partial view and I wanted to give a fuller picture of the Gulf War. Consequently, I explored the conflicting perspectives and loyalties of a variety of Arab characters – including a Saudi detective, a young Islamist technician, an Egyptian manager – under the pressures of war and the threat of terrorism. In a sense the war puts everyone and their relationships to the test.
Reviewers on Amazon have commented on the contemporary relevance of the Arabian Night Patrol. One writes that ‘the novel deals with themes which continue to haunt the Middle East today.’ Another suggests that the novel is, ‘required reading after the recent drone strike against oil facilities in Saudi Arabia.’ Certainly, the geo-political issues haven’t gone away, and the power struggles continue for control of the Arabian/ Persian Gulf and the Middle East oilfields which still power much of the world’s economy.
Arabian Night Patrol was published by SilverWood Books earlier this year and is available in Kindle and paperback editions from Amazon.
POTB needs your help!
posted on 19 September 2019
Volunteers sought to keep us afloat
The Trustees are anxious to ensure early recruitment to these key roles, not only so that decisions can be made about a further edition, but also to maximise the handover period. For that reason, we are now reaching out to the creative community to help us find those new recruits asap.
POTB’s main aim [ie magazine production] is supported by an umbrella project which is a Scottish Incorporated Charitable Organisation [SCIO]. We function in a non-hierarchical, mutually cooperative way, directed by a Management Committee of elected Trustees who carry ultimate responsibility for the project. Alongside them, the Editor, Coordinator and Sales Manager share many of the decisions pertaining to the project and the magazine production and it is for these three positions that we are seeking new volunteers.
Everyone who works on POTB is a volunteer: the individual roles carry an element of autonomy, but use approved methodologies, agreed targets, and close involvement with those in associated roles. POTB has no business premises, the Team Members work from home, online, with occasional meetings in or near Aberdeen. Further background details on what we do and how we operate can be found on our About POTB web page.
The role of EDITOR
This person primarily deals with editorial issues within the team and with outsiders. During the production of a new edition of POTB, the Editor helps recruit, then supports our Selection Panels [Prose, Poetry and Art]; and oversees the team of Copy Editors, working alongside our specialist Scots/Doric Editor and the Consultant Editor [our arbitrator]. The Editor liaises with colleagues eg on the magazine content, the Launch event, etc; and is usually the Chair of Trustees.
The role of COORDINATOR
This role involves project management of both team and tasks. The POTB Coordinator helps assign and coordinate tasks with Team Members. Also, during magazine production, compiles a schedule of tasks critical to the agreed timetable, and ensures those tasks are completed timeously. The Coordinator works closely with both the Editor and the Webmaster to ensure the smooth running of the project.
The role of Sales Manager
The Sales Manager handles the sale and distribution of magazines, and oversees the financial status of the project. To date this role has included building and maintaining relationships with vendors; and maintaining records of magazines [current and previous]; also liaises with regional sales team and the PR/Marketing team.
Of course, this is just a summary of the many and varied responsibilities of these tasks. The role-holders interact and communicate with the Trustees, all the other Team Members, and with outside bodies, as required at various points throughout the magazine production cycle – indeed, throughout the whole project. Ideally, all three are Trustees of the SCIO.
Getting in touch
Would you be interested in joining the POTB team or do you know of someone else who might be? Then do please get in touch with us by email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Or, if you would like further information about these roles and the operations of POTB, then don’t hesitate to send us an email with your queries.
And, if you have any constructive comments on the future of project and directions it might take, please share them with us using the ‘Comments’ link below.
We look forward to hearing from you.
Pushing Out the Boat at Aberdeen University Mayfest
posted on 31 May 2019
Pushing Out the Boat held its first post-launch event for Issue 15 at Aberdeen University’s May Festival on Sunday 26 May with a programme of readings from our latest edition.
A hardy audience braved the rainstorm that nearly sunk the University grounds to hear the afternoon kick off with Sheila Templeton’s poem ‘The Iceberg that Sunk the Titanic’ written in her native Doric, a short piece to be cherished for a number of reasons, not least its giving an outing to one of my favourite Scots words – fantoosh.
Poems spanning a range of emotions and themes followed from Al McClimens (‘Yuri Gagarin Stole My Wife’), Helen Steadman (‘Quiet Sisters’) and A.C. Clarke’s intriguing ‘Poems I Don’t Want to Write’.
Interspersed with the poetry were extracts from short stories by Lily Greenhall (‘Frank’), Donna Rutherford (‘The Pack’), and Bruce Gardner (‘Rebel Angel’). The constraint of the festival format meant there was only time for extracts, but what an incentive to go away and find the full texts.
The readings ended with one story that there was time to hear in full – Richie Brown’s ‘A Shaggy Dog’. Richie described it as his party piece and short of having to issue a spoiler alert the only clue about its content must be that its title is not merely metaphorical. It was a good piece to round off a varied programme and send us away with a smile and a chuckle.
The programme for the event was devised by Issue 15’s guest editor Martin Walsh. Apart from Martin, readers included MC Judy Taylor and Eleanor Fordyce. Lily Greenhall, Bruce Gardner, Helen Steadman and Ritchie Brown read their own work. Our thanks to them all.
Footnote: audience members staying on from the previous session in the University’s Multi-Media Room will have seen a wonderful selection of images from Anke Addy’s new photographic essay, The Living Cairngorms. Anke is a member of the Pushing Out the Boat team, serving on the Art Panel for Issue 15, and kindly took all the photos at our recent launch.
Launch of Pushing Out the Boat Issue 15
posted on 29 April 2019
Sunday 7 April 2019, Phoenix Hall, Newton Dee Village
Great to see so many folk at this year’s launch (we counted 82) – some well-kent, many new and all welcome. Once again the event was held in the inspiring space of the Phoenix Hall, Newton Dee, handily situated for both City and Shire. Fittingly, both Aberdeen’s Lord Provost and the Provost of Aberdeenshire joined us to celebrate the occasion, hosted by our wonderful patron, Dame Anne Begg. And something unannounced on the day: all three editors, since the magazine became a fully voluntary organisation in 2005, were present and helping.
The main focus, as always, was the chance to hear the contributing writers read from their work and to see original images by the selected artists. Issue 15 Contributors had come from far and wide (even Australia!), to meet and mingle with invited guests and the team of volunteers who had worked so hard to bring this latest edition to fruition.
Judith Taylor, one of the three editors, convenor of this year’s poetry selection panel, and talented poet in her own right, presided over the afternoon’s readings. Ian Stephen, award-winning writer from the Western Isles, master-mariner and this Issue’s foreword writer, set the ball rolling with a tribute to the high standard of this edition’s contributions. Then came the readings themselves, with their broad range of genre, mood and dialect. There was Doric in abundance, Scots, Shetlandic, rural USA, and even a hint of old Norse – oh yes and some English too!
The readers led us on a journey, beginning with that first wondrous step into a book-filled space; then the comic sparkle of a young North-East quine on a holiday visit to Fife; onto the rescuing of a stranded turtle. We heard memories of a herring quine, and the sharp observations of a talented sixteen-year-old poet. Then to a riverbank in China and the menace of what might lurk within its murky waters; the poignancy of letting go a loved one; then to the undaunted spirit of an undersized quine confronting adult abuse. And last but not least in that first half: the tall tale of North-East man spotting the iceberg that sunk the Titanic (though several months later).
After the interval [with more meeting and mingling] came the memory of a past life touchingly woven into the fabric of the new; and an escapee from Rosehearty who couldn’t quite evade her roots. Then to the image of ‘a long line of Harleys ridden by portly Dutchmen down a glen’. A wild girl from rural USA – ‘Ma said she’d grow up to borrow your husband if you weren’t careful – with her pet quetzal bird. We heard, too, of learning to speak Doric at your Granma’s knee and of the magic of a boy’s first excursion to his favourite football team’s stadium; finally, from the smeddum in the tiny body of a dunnock, to the hilarious climax of an ardent terrier.
An afternoon filled to the brim with quality and pleasure; the first-time published standing proudly alongside POTB ‘old-timers’.
For more photos of the launch, check out the launch photo gallery.
A Seasonal Bouquet from Pushing Out the Boat
posted on 19 November 2018
‘ Whatever the weather, wherever you are, make sure you are accompanied for your pleasure and entertainment by North-East Scotland’s very own Pushing Out the Boat.‘
– from Frances Walker’s Foreword to Pushing Out the Boat Issue 12
Elizabeth Waugh [lino print]
As I write this, an October Indian summer has already hurtled downhill past a delayed North-East autumn to the long haul of winter. It’s a time to be reminded of the seasonal riches that lie in past issues of Pushing Out the Boat, our not-so little magazine of new writing and the visual arts now as old as the century – it first appeared in 2000 in, yes, autumn. Our wonderful contributors may forgive me if I slice and dice their precious work to pick out some seasonal gems. Selected extracts only hint, of course, at the deeper issues and bigger stories in their complete poems and stories. You’ll find a full listing of their work and the magazine issue it appeared in at the end of this article.
As autumn approaches, some of our authors sense the softer side of autumn, like Beate Allerton’s
temptation in the autumn mists,
the spices of soft and moist earth
and Angela Arnold’s
… hails of swallows and
then all that black bird-snow of starlings.
Of course, at 57⁰ North of the Equator (Aberdeen) or more, our contributors from hereabouts also know what the seasonal weather brings us, from Robert Ewing’s
and Fiona Russell’s
On a nor-easterly
gathering like a foul temper
That bastard ice wind
to Mary Johnson’s harsh reality that
For sax lang months norland fowk
Thole dreich, dark days and jeeli nichts.
It’s also not surprising in our largely rural area that birds and beasts attract attention. Jean Atkin writes that
In this endless winter at the end
of short afternoons
the sheep know
when I go out to cut holly
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
On ice heave ground I squat to watch
how their brown eyes are split
by horizontal yellow bands, and
I ache for green.
In more comforting mode, Maggie Wallis retrieves one of her hens ‘perched in the rosemary again’:
As I crunch a track over the snow
she makes a sound; that low
contented sound of hens.
I tuck her in closer.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
So many miles we have hiked
this same journey every night.
I and a white hen
Tramping over moonlit snow.
The imagery provides a reminder that not all is harsh in those ‘dreich, dark days’. Christine Laennec records
the soft gentle darkness
of my street in mid-winter
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
my neighbour waving to us
from her golden doorway
a moment’s greeting
before the clicking lock
returns her to the warmth of the fire.
After the excesses of Christmas and Hogmanay many of us, at least in Scotland’s North-East, feel the need like Jen Cooper to clear our minds with a New Year walk by the sea or up a favourite hill
We emptied our thoughts
off Oxen Crag today,
wind froze them to snow.
Finally, we know there’s a long way to go before spring but like Kris Erin Anderson we cope
Fields without flowers,
matted grass, trees too tired
to fight against the wind.
We are not at a beginning
but the middle – grey and silent.
We bury thoughts
beneath blankets and braid
our legs into one.
Whether or not you get to braid your legs into one, Pushing Out the Boat wishes you for the season all that you wish yourself.
Many back issues of Pushing Out the Boat are still available to buy. If any of the work featured here stimulates your interest, you can order copies online here.
This is the work cited in this article, arranged alphabetically by surname of author (and artist). Issues 9 – 13 are available to read in full online.
Beate Allerton, Woman on the Seasons, Issue 6, page 59
Kris Erin Anderson, January, Issue 11, page 5
Angela Arnold, Autumn Move, Issue 9, page 8
Jean Atkin, White, Issue 10, page 6
Jen Cooper, New Year, Issue 11, page 69
Robert Ewing, Drawing oot, in, Issue 6, page 47
Mary Johnson, Winter, Issue 6, page 87
Christine Laennec, Winter Lights Within, Issue 9, page 41
Fiona Russell, Ice Wind, Issue 9, page 28
Frances Walker, Foreword, Issue 12, page 1
Maggie Wallis, Night Walking, Issue 13, page 83
Elizabeth Waugh, Winter [lino print], Issue 9, page 30
Editing POTB: a peek behind the scenes
posted on 1 August 2018
Today’s blog post is an interview with the Guest Editor of the next issue of Pushing Out the Boat – Martin Walsh.
We’re talking to you today, Martin, as Guest Editor of the next edition of POTB but it’s certainly not your first involvement with the magazine. It’s about to go into its fifteenth issue, quite a remarkable record really for a regional writing and arts publication. When did you first get involved and how?
It must have been around 2003/4 that I first heard of the magazine. I liked the look of it and submitted a story. To my astonishment and delight it was accepted, my first ever publication in a high-quality literary journal. That was in Issue 4 (2005). Over the next three years the magazine transitioned from one financed and run by Aberdeenshire Council to a project run entirely by volunteers. I shared the Editor role for Issue 6 (2007) with the previous incumbent and then took over as the first volunteer Managing Editor for Issues 7-9. To be frank, I never felt very easy with the title but we are very much a team and my own deficiencies in the role were more than made up for by the quality and assistance of those around me. So taking on the role again is not quite so intimidating this time. NB I’m also the Sales & Finance Manager, and have been Treasurer, Publicity, and Prose Panel Convenor [as well as general dog’s body!]
And what have been the high (and for balance, low!) points over all those years?
The high points are always those moments when you hold a new edition in your hand for the first time: the culmination and justification for a lot of work and worry. And then there are the Launches when the Team and Contributors come together to celebrate the publication. To see the joy of the newly published contributors [especially those first-time published] is a reward in itself. The low points are probably those of any volunteer group: worrying about how and where to find the volunteers and the energy to keep the whole operation going.
I guess each editor of POTB since Issue 1 has brought their own overall approach to the task. What’s yours going to be and what do you see as the main challenges?
We have now evolved a pretty well-organised system, thanks to the talent within the Team, so that my job is now fairly minimal. I used to worry a great deal about whether we would receive enough quality writing and art during the call for submissions. But, touch wood, that hasn’t been a problem in recent years as we now have an extensive network, not to mention our wonderful website and improved publicity.
OK, so I submit a piece of work for POTB 15. It goes to one of your Selection Panels and is evaluated ‘blind’. How does that work and what’s your role in the process?
Our Panels (prose, poetry, art) are made up of three or four Panellists with a proven reputation in their field. We try to mix age, gender and background in each panel to provide a balance of viewpoints. We also try to refresh each panel regularly. It doesn’t matter to us if you are a famous writer/artist or if this is your first ever submission, the Selection Panellists won’t know who you are so your work will be evaluated on a level playing field. We’re delighted when we accept pieces by first time submitters – and we have rejected works by well known writers. My role is to recruit talented panellists, explain how the panels work and how they should approach the process – then not interfere in the selections other than offer advice.
If you had to give your own personal tips for a submission to get selected for publication in the magazine, what would they be?
That’s a hard one. I have a particular liking for the unusual and for humour but the panels act independently of my preferences. As a general dictum we do ask our panels to select as wide a variety as possible e.g. light/dark, local/global, Doric/English, humour/pathos. To achieve an ideal balance we sometimes have to reject good pieces where we have more than one on a similar theme, a point mentioned in the comprehensive guidance we have evolved – see our Submissions Hints and Tips.
So the Selection Panels have done their work, you’ve got all the prose, poems and artwork the editor wants to put in the magazine. What are the remaining essential steps to getting the magazine printed and how will you be involved in them?
After the selection process, the Panel Convenors, along with our Designer and myself sit down to agree the page-ordering and layout of the magazine. This is an important stage in the production cycle, our aim being to produce a magazine in which the juxtaposition of prose, poetry and artwork [i.e. the running order] provides maximum impact, also one that is pleasing to hold and to look at. The written pieces are then forwarded to our Copy Editors, who put the work into our House Style and may suggest minor changes to the authors. As Editor I am there for counsel, if necessary, plus we have a Consultant Editor as a final resort. Once we have received brief biographies from all the contributors, our layout team prepare the magazine, using a desktop publishing tool. The written pieces are sent to the authors for final proofing, then the whole magazine is transmitted to our printer. The last task, in which several of us participate, is to check the final galley proof.
I know POTB likes to launch each issue at a special event. Any thoughts on how and where you’d like POTB 15 to be launched and when do you expect that to happen?
The Launch will take place in the spring of 2019, most probably in late April, but we don’t yet know where. Ideally we’d like to return to the beautiful Phoenix Hall at Newton Dee, whose community ethos we share.
Finally, not all readers may know, but you’re a writer yourself. Do you have any projects on the go and will the editor’s job leave you any time to work on them over the next few months?
Yes, I am working on three different projects: a fictionalized memoir of my time in Africa; a collection of Latin-American short stories; and an assortment of magical realism tales. There will be moments when my own writing has to take a back seat, but the Editor’s job is not hugely time consuming given our task-sharing structure. There are other wonderful volunteers within the group who bear heavier workloads – they are the unsung heroes of our team.
The interview with Martin was conducted by POTB’s new(-ish) PR manager, Roger White.
Pushing Out the Boat Reading Event at Books and Beans
posted on 2 May 2018
Q. Where can you find poets from California, North-East Scotland, Bulgaria, the Yukon, Edinburgh, South Yorkshire, Texas, Mull, London, Shetland and Shropshire all in one room in Aberdeen?
A. Upstairs at Books and Beans in Belmont Street, Aberdeen.
Well, OK, the answer’s a bit of a cheat. It’s not so much ‘can’ as ‘could’ since they were assembled at Pushing Out the Boat’s latest evening of readings, on Thursday 26 April. And, no, the magazine hadn’t paid expenses for a stellar international cast to assemble for just one day. But they were all there in the way that’s most important for poets – through their words. More remarkably (to this first-timer) all their poems, with a leavening from one or two earlier editions, came from the latest edition, No 14, available, as they say, at all good retail outlets and online.
If you can’t get all your poets along to read their work, you corral the ones you can to do the deed. Which is why those present heard a team of seven excellent readers, all published in POTB, perform not only their own poems but those of other absent contributors too. Being eased into the secrets of magazine production and arts events (your author is a new team member helping POTB with its PR) gave privileged access to organiser Martin Walsh’s programming skills and how to get a good mix, not only of poetry, but of readers too. Authors might be surprised to find their finely crafted work reduced to a single word in the program eg … landscape, dark, realist, humour, poignant …’, but their juxtaposition is a necessary discipline to keep an audience engaged and make an event flow.
And flow it did, from Tobi Alfier’s opening Planting Level (an echo for me of Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath with her ‘honor your wife with Rose of Sharon …’) to Martin’s closing New York Dialogue (no, I haven’t witnessed a squirrel and a humming bird having a blether about nuts in Central Park either). Having picked out the two works that book-ended the evening it’s disingenuous to invoke the old cliché about how invidious it would be to highlight individual contributions, but that’s what I’m doing. By way of compensation, the full programme follows this brief article. You know where to find the poems if you want to read any for the first time or perhaps refresh your memory of old friends.
A final surprise for me: this being Books and Beans, two halves of readings were divided by their usual open mic session: nothing to do with the magazine of course – except up popped Olivia McMahon to read a poem, My Uncle Sonny’s Jacket, from the very first edition of Pushing Out the Boat, published at the turn of the century. That in turn led me to discover later that Aberdeen poet Eddie Gibbons (not read on this occasion sadly) had work in both the first and most recent editions of the magazine, a unique distinction.
Oh, and that first Pushing Out the Boat was sub-titled ‘New Writing from the Northeast’. How far it’s spread its wings in fourteen editions.
The evening’s poems:
Toby Alfier – Planting Level
Jean Atken – Near Todleth
John Bolland – The Retention Bonus
Bernard Briggs – Anchored
Richie Brown – My Family Tree
Jim Conwell – Like a Fist
Seth Crook – Santa Was Assassinated
Yani Georgieva – Grief Walks into a Cafe
Lily Gontard – Okanagan
Mandy Haggith – Joke and Longannet
Ian McDonough – Oratorio
Thomas Rist – Ward (Again)
James Sinclair – Differential Equations
Judith Taylor – Ship to Shore (from Issue 13)
Loretta Walker – Different
Martin Walsh – New York Dialogue
Louise Wilford – Child
Catriona Yule – Guitar (from Issue 7)
With thanks to the evening’s team of readers, all naturally with work in editions of POTB:
John Bolland, Bernard Briggs, Richie Brown, Thomas Rist, Judith Taylor, Martin Walsh
And, of course, to the wonderful Books and Beans for hosting the evening.