Last week Jon McGregor held a launch at UoN for his new literary journal ‘The Letters Page’. Impact Arts went along to speak to him and find out a bit more about his new venture.
The Letters Page is an online journal which combines poems, short stories and essays from various contributors each handwritten and posted to Jon McGregor. The first issue includes letters from Magnus Mills, Gerard Donovan and Ann Hull. McGregor received around 60 submissions for this first issue, some of which were from creative writing students but no student managed to get their work into the journal this time round.
“Initially, the plan was simply to set up a general interest ‘literary journal’,” McGregor told us. “Publish some short stories and poems and essays, spend a lot of time hustling people into submitting work and a lot more time hustling people into reading it.
“I knew the project needed to be something different to have any real energy, or to be of interest to readers, and from somewhere the idea of basing it on letters and letter writing popped into my mind. It struck me as being something that writers and readers could quickly latch on to, and as something that would be of interest to a wider reading public (as has been demonstrated by the level of media interest in our launch week).
“It also struck me as something that could be used as a starting point for bigger discussions about the nature and purpose and function of creative writing, of publishing, of the conflicts and overlaps between print and digital culture. It also seemed like it might be fun.”
“It struck me as being something that writers and readers could quickly latch on to”
Jon McGregor’s fame as a novelist and Britain’s second best short story writer (in the BBC National Short Story Award 2013) the launch of Letters Page was greeted with a great deal of interest from national and local press. McGregor appeared on the BBC Breakfast show and the launch was covered in the Independent.
The Vice-Chancellor attended the launch and, after praising McGregor’s work in the School of English, he pressed the button to launch the first issue – or rather, he clicked ‘send’ on the computer and the first issue went whizzing off to 394 subscribers.
McGregor believes that handwriting letters is a dying medium, but holds out hope for a revival: “Email is convenient, quick, cheap, etc etc. But I think people do instinctively understand that a letter has a different aesthetic and cultural value to an email – most people would send a letter or card of condolence, for example, rather than an email or text. So I think people will move to using letters for particular instances”.
“I think people do instinctively understand that a letter has a different aesthetic and cultural value to an email”
“I’m interested in the way that the tools and contexts of any writing process influence the end result – but it’s kind of a minor point,” says McGregor, “this isn’t any kind of a campaign on behalf of handwriting, or letters-by-post; and I hope it doesn’t come across as an exercise in nostalgia. It just seems like an interesting form, and a fun framing device for a literary journal”.
At the moment, there are four 3rd year students doing project-based dissertations on the journal, and they’ll be working in editorial, online, production, and publicity. There will also be a larger group of students taking on the tasks of any editorial office.
The opportunity to get involved is aimed mainly at English students, and Creative Writing students – although in the future there may be opportunities for other students with particular skills/experience to join in. Anyone who’s interested can email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The first issue of The Letters Page can be downloaded from http://www.theletterspage.ac.uk/letterspage/index.aspx
Eve Wersocki Morris