JOE JOHNSTON: LIT RAGS

Continuity

I am often surprised by the way in which life pushes a person forward. Sometimes it happens so naturally that it almost feels like a passive experience, were it not for the excitement and enjoyment of living it, being part of it with others.

I picked up my first copy of Open Pen from News from Nowhere in Liverpool. Something in me made me email the magazine. I reckoned that I’d like to help out. It was right to see a group of people whose sole aim it is to publish others, though not in any way that could be deemed charity. I couldn’t say I was much help at first, though it did feel good to assist in my own small way. I contacted the odd bookshop, emailed the odd person who had submitted, read the odd story. Over time I have tried to increase my involvement as much as I can, and feel a great joy in seeing the words on paper. It was an abstract thing to do back then, as I didn’t know who was on the receiving end of all of this. I suppose that it will always feel this way with the readership, but to be unsure of whose endeavours I was aiding unnerved me. Perhaps this is apt, given the disconnect of the connected world.

It was over a year of my time helping out with the magazine before I ever met anyone involved with it, Open Pen staying true to its London-based credentials, and me staying true to whatever it was I thought I was staying true to by not liking London. It was unusual then that I moved down as soon as the offer was made by a friend, just a few weeks before the launch of The Open Pen Anthology. As it turns out, I did like the place. ‘Like’ isn’t the right word for a city so all-encompassing. Nor is it the right word for those in Open Pen’s sentiments towards writing, seeing how they revel in the processes of literature, enabling and witnessing the ambitions of many writers to be gratified.

I came to the book launch early to help prepare for the event, unable to put a face to a name. I sat down on my own and began reading a Michel Houellebecq novel. I looked around often to see who the chief architect of this whole thing was. I immediately knew Sean Preston when I saw him arranging some books and magazines on a cloth table with a consideration that only someone who cares has. ‘To love without being loved’, as Henry Miller said, ‘is the most difficult thing’. Though it is exactly this which begins the forward movement of art. Were these books and magazines several years older I could imagine Sean wearing white cotton gloves. Although perhaps not, considering the word ‘rag’ that he is so keen on using when talking about his project. We said hello to each other and began discussing our agreements towards Houellebecq with some guilt. We moved on with the night. Before long the readers and those giving the readings arrived. The bar contained more people than it was capable of filling. Sean introduced me to some writers and we drank.

Then the stories began. I could see that Open Pen was being loved.

Later we got drunk and went back to Sean’s. We talked about books and politics and people as though they were questions that could be answered. We’re still trying to answer them, with no conclusion in sight.

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JOSEPH JOHNSTON

is an Open Penner and writer/editor/reader. He has been poisoning the Open Pen editors for several years now and soon this empire of free fiction will be his and his alone.

He tweets very rarely at @JoeJJohn6

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