Making a killing: Reflections on The View From Here
Every story’s path to publication is a story in itself. In the case of Bright Eyed and Bushy Tailed, which went up on The View From Here website today, a small epic. I started writing it more than three years ago, in the early months of 2008. I had a sense when I’d finished it that it was a milestone in my writing career, in the sense that I had pushed my imagination into areas where I hadn’t dared venture before. And contained in that was the nagging fear that I might have overshot my limits and written something that was too clever for my own good.
I first submitted it to Chapman, a highly regarded print magazine based in Edinburgh. I was rewarded with the best rejection letter I’ve ever received – a page-long critique from Joy Hendry, Chapman’s esteemed editor, which concluded with a warm invitation to resubmit it. I spent a month revising the story, incorporating Joy’s various suggestions, including a radical change to the ending, and sent it off again, almost delirious with expectation. About four months passed. I sent off a polite query, received a polite reply (not from Joy) advising me to wait a bit longer, and then the trail went cold. But although that particular avenue turned out to be a dead end, I’m still grateful for Joy’s input, because the final story is indisputably better for it.
In the first draft the main character, Lydia, met with an undignified death at the hands of a bus driver. Changing the story made me appreciate how cavalier we writers can be with our characters’ fates. We blithely kill off people in a manner that would be considered psychopathic if we attempted it in real life, and kid ourselves we’re being gritty and edgy when, if we’re being honest, what we’re really doing is taking the coward’s way out. Imagining how people go on living after a traumatic or seismic change in their lives, however fantastical, is often a much bigger challenge than sticking the knife in. For me this was the great lesson that came out of writing Bright Eyed.
After giving up on Chapman I touted it round about half a dozen magazines and e-zines until it arrived at The View From Here, a lively, literary, diligently tended website which describes itself as “bohemian eclectic”. I couldn’t have wished for a better outcome (especially when I saw the photographs that Claire King sought out to go with the story). These days the best e-zines yield nothing to the top print publications in terms of quality, and The View From Here is an excellent showcase. So may I warmly invite you to get over there, read my story and have a trawl of some of the other excellent fiction on show.