Throughout March, Open Pen will be running a series of features with our favourite journals and zines. Sean Preston caught up with Martin Appleby, the editor of a lit zine that has really caught his eye, both in content and ideal.
Martin Appleby is editor of literary publication PAPER AND INK ZINE. He is almost twenty-eight years old, but, in his own words, still thinks he is nineteen.
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Sean: PAPER AND INK is on its fourth issue now. But let’s go back to the first issue, and even before that: What made you start PAPER AND INK?
Martin: Several different things, but the main one being that I just love fanzines and the whole D.I.Y approach to publishing. There are no gatekeepers, nobody to tell you “No, you can’t print that”, and they’re not reliant on sales figures. If you’ve got something to say or a story to tell, then you can tell it, and if people are interested, great, but if not then it doesn’t matter.
Are you a writer yourself? I’ve found my own writing has been put on the back-burner since starting Open Pen. Do you find that to be true of your own writing?
Actually, the opposite has happened with me. I started out in screenwriting, that’s what I studied at uni. I had always dabbled in a bit of poetry here and there but since starting the zine it has inspired me to take up fiction writing too. Starting PAPER AND INK was never about giving myself a platform to share my own work, I just wanted to publish the kind of stories and poetry that I like and that I would want to read. I always feel a bit weird about putting my own work in it, as I worry that people will think I’m just shoe-horning my own work in there just because I can, even if it sucks.
-That’s interesting that your own zine inspired you to write short fiction yourself. Do you find that your own writing is consistent with what you look for in other peoples writing? In other words, do you write fiction with yourself as the reviewer on the other end of it?
Yes, I’d agree with that. I am definitely more critical of my own writing than I am of anyone else’s. I’m still trying to develop my own style, “find my own voice” as they say. It’s still early days.
-You’re four issues in. Each has been themed. Are you keen to carry on in that way?
Absolutely. I like having that set parameter in place and it is always interesting to see how people interpret the themes. I have themes lined up ready for the next four or five issues, some more light hearted than others and I am excited about all of them.
What do you look for in submissions? What’s style of prose catches your attention?
I like concise, succinct prose. Anything that has heart and balls. It has to speak to me, it has to have a truth to it. A little spite goes a long way, too.
What is “Punk Rock Literature”? I feel like there’s a real market for this sort of authentic and unabashed style of prose. But how would you describe it?
I don’t know if it’s a particular style of prose, per se. It’s more about content and attitude. Writing that is ignored by major publishing houses, for whatever reason. I’m not really a fan of the term ‘working class’ but I guess that’s what it boils down to. Writing for everyday people, by everyday people.
I think that’s what turned my head with PAPER AND INK. There’s a sincerity there and an indifference to what is largely a book publishing world that is quite simply cut off to every day people. The world of publishing has of course always had this about it, but it appears worse than ever in this country. But maybe that’s where the popularity of a zine like yours comes in, no? As Marketing would call it, “a hole in the market.”?
I don’t know how accurately I can judge that, to be honest. A lot of the books that I read and the writers I like are independently published through small or ‘niche’ presses, so I don’t really pay attention to what is going on in mainstream publishing. I guess that speaks for itself. I’m not in this to make money or be some kind of martyr. I just do it because it’s fun and I enjoy it, and if I can help writers gain more exposure along the way, that’s good enough for me.
What sort of stuff do you read in your own time?
I am a big fan of Bukowski. His writing opened me up to a whole world of literature that I had no idea existed. I was never majorly into reading as a kid, I read the odd sci-fi novel here and there – Star Wars expanded universe stuff, Iain M. Banks, that kind of thing. When I discovered Bukowski it was like somebody turned a light on. Right now I am reading Chump Change by Dan Fante.
Outside of literature, what else are you into?
I love live music, so I try to get to as many gigs as I can (punk, mainly – didn’t see that one coming did you!?). I love movies, especially horror movies (which I blog about at nerdsdielast.com) and I’m a big fan of boxing (watching, not participating).
You describe PAPER AND INK as being for people that “stare at screens too long”, amongst other things. What effect do you think our constant laptopping is having on us culturally?
One thing that really irks me about the world we live in is that no matter where you go – pubs, restaurants, trains, buses, the tube – all you see is people staring down at their phones – zombified and oblivious to everything going on around them. It’s not healthy. My disdain for e-readers was one of the contributing factors in creating the zine to begin with. Technology may win out in the end, but I think people are beginning to get wise to it. Somebody told me that vinyl record sales in 2014 were the highest they have been since 1996. Maybe it is just nostalgia, I don’t know, but I think people like having something real, something tangible, not just another cold, lifeless slab of plastic.
I started Open Pen for a similar reason. I wanted something that was paperbacky and foldable and easy. Something you could read on the train. As time went on, it felt almost impossible to carry on in this way. We’re still primarily a print magazine, but we’ve had to do more than that now as well. Which in many ways is a shame. So it’s great to see lit zines coming through that are doing just that: believing in print, making it work. It only works if people want print and it appears that they still do. One thing I’ve often felt the presence of is that the Underground will soon enough have WiFi everywhere, you’d imagine. Is the omnipresence of the internet the final nail in the coffin of print literature, outside of a few stubborn paperback enthusiasts like us?
It’s a double-edged sword for me because without the internet I wouldn’t have such a large sales platform. We’re not currently stocked in any shops so without the internet I’d just be flogging them to my mates down the pub. Not to mention all of the fantastic writers that I have connected with and the awesome people I have met through it. I think the printed word will always exist, even if it ends up just being a niche, specialist industry.
What makes you go “Ugh, yuck, no thanks”, when reading a submission? What turns you off in literature in general?
One thing that bugs me, before I even get to the submission, is when people open up an e-mail by listing all of their previous publications and awards they have won, or nearly won, or whatever. I don’t care about what you’ve done before, let your writing speak for itself. That isn’t a deal breaker, but it annoys me. The thing that does turn me off straight away is people not adhering to the theme. I am all for loose interpretations but when it is clear that they have not even read the criteria at all it is an instant “No”. As for the writing itself, basic spelling and grammar errors turn me off. And flowery, pretentious wank. Keep it simple, people!
How does PAPER AND INK work? Is it a one-man show?
It is indeed a one-man band. I am the judge, jury and executioner. I have never claimed to know what makes writing good or bad, I just pick the things I like. I’m basically just making this all up as I go along. So far, it seems to be working.
Would you ever accept help with the magazine, if someone wanted to come in and read submissions with you, that sort of thing? Or do you like things as they are? “UNLIMITED POWER”?
For now I like things the way they are, but as the zine grows in popularity, the more submissions I get, so I wouldn’t rule out help, even if it to just weed out the rubbish. I like to reply to every submission as well, which takes time. I know some magazines don’t do that, but I don’t like to leave people hanging one way or the other.
OK, finally, going back to something you said earlier, “A little spite goes a long way, too.” I think I know what you mean by that. Spite, outside of the work of the very few Houellebecqs of this world is scarce in writing. What is so enticing about spite? Or angry writing in general?
I think people tend to be at their most honest and passionate when airing their grievances with the world, and with that comes a vulnerability that I like. The theme of our next issue is shitty jobs, so by its very nature it’s going to be jam-packed full of spite.
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Paper And Ink Issue #4 is out now, utterly jam-packed with spite, personality, authenticity and talent. You can pick up a copy from the Paper and Ink website.