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Mary Costello, The China Factory

We’ve just started reading Mary Costello’s The China Factory, recently longlisted for the Guardian First Book Award. From the off, it’s clear who Costello’s influences are: Alice Munro, Raymond Carver, Colm Tóibín and maybe even Anne Enright. In fact, in her review of the collection, Enright said:

Like Alice Munro, Costello is not afraid of a good car accident, a cancer diagnosis, the arrival on the scene of a roaring madman.

Costello’s style is clipped, to say the least, and in this first collection she shows the knack for saying a life in one sentence. This is the kind of economic writing of which we’re a fan. The gaps and holes are left up to the reader to fill and the reader’s imagination is nearly king over the writer’s desire to tell how it is or how it went.

Congratulations are due to The Stinging Fly, the independent publisher based in Dublin and run by Declan  Meade, who published Costello’s collection. A few years ago The Stinging Fly published the first collection of an emerging story writer called Kevin Barry. Barry went on to publish a novel (City of Bohane; currently undergoing redressing as a graphic novel and a playscript) and a second collection of stories (Dark Lies the Island) with Jonathan Cape. Barry also went on to win the Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Short Story Award 2012. Here he explains how he did it.

Here’s wishing Mary Costello a similar trajectory.

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Issue 3’s Sarah Bodil & Electric Literature

Issue 3’s cover artist Sarah Bodil, animated Seth Fried’s The Adventure of the Space Traveler for Electric Literature’s Single Sentence Animations. We couldn’t be happier about nabbing a creator connected to this most esteemed NY digital publication. Displaying the kind of collaborative canny we can only drool over, EL explain these projects thus:

In this video for Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading, a free fiction magazine, Sarah Bodil animates from The Adventure of the Space Traveler by Seth Fried. Music by David Rogers-Berry.

The sentence: ‘In the resulting explosion, Barington was thrown out like a dart into the vacuum of space at roughly five thousand feet per second.’

Single Sentence Animations are creative collaborations. The writer selects a favorite sentence from his or her work and the animator creates a short film in response.

We like!

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Rewriting Sheila Heti’s ‘How Should a Person Be?’

This interview with Sheila Heti was the first we found of her new novel, How Should a Person Be? one of the most popular releases this summer. We were intrigued to discover that the book first came out in Canada in September 2011 (published by House of Anansi Press) and that for the republication in the US, Heti rewrote certain parts of the book. Unusual and risky indeed, Heti saw the new edition ‘as a chance to finish’ what she felt she hadn’t really achieved in the Canadian edition. Not only that, the book charts the rebirth and self-discovery of a recently divorced writer, called Sheila Heti (it’s inter-autobiographical). Here Claire Cameron describes it as ‘a book about finding a way to move forward again’, after personal catastrophe, and she asks the writer about the differences between both editions and the process of purging and rewriting. Though it has received some mixed reviews, the context around the publication of both editions themselves is enough to peek our interest in its theories and acts of recovery.

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F. Scott Fitzgerald’s original North Shore

Before he got as far as the Long Island Sound, the genetics of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s literary heroines were mapped in his mind in 1915 when he first began a romance with one Ginevra King, socialite and member of the Big Four, Lake Forest, Illinois’ four-woman strong celebrity clique. Ginevra and her three inseperable friends, Margaret Carry, Courtney Letts and Edith Cummings, were celebrities in Lake Forest and around Chicago, coming as they did from old, old money. King and Fitzgerald had a two-year relationship, mostly recorded in letters and Ginevra’s diary, which no doubt fuelled Fitzgerald’s familiar theme of poor boy meets rich girl. Jason Diamond (of Vol. 1 Brooklyn) surmises in this Paris Review article, that The Great Gatsy‘s locations of West and East Egg, situated in a part of Long Island known as the North Shore, were based upon Lake Forest, which is just one of the group of lakeside cities in the Chicago area known as the North Shore. Jason writes lovely about visiting Lake Forest and imagining Gatsby’s characters partying near Lake Michigan bluffs, hanging out on the golf course and visiting at Kingdom Come Farm, the summer retreat once owned by Ginevra’s father and built by Chicago architect Howard Van Doren Shaw.

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Editor’s note issue 2

The South Circular | Issue 2

What is a stop-and-chat on a street in Ireland if it doesn’t contain a comment or sigh about the weather? As a nation, we are eternally optimistic and perpetually disappointed by the climate. Though this is the one thing the Celtic Tiger and its culling couldn’t change, when we relocate to sunnier, more reliant climes, as many of my peers have had to do of late, we continue to obsess, all be it in a less manic way.

What keeps us sane, so at the mercy we are of this petulant observer of soggy denim hems and ‘drownded’ up-dos, tights in June and wellington boots on holidays? Perhaps we could suggest that our nation’s literature, its vast and acclaimed output, is one way in which we choose to see through the fog, the hazy sunshine, the flash-flooding and the ‘minus at night’.

I’m talking in metaphors now, you understand. True too that the most successful of our literature which speaks of disappointment, loss, heartbreak, tumult, scandal, historical misadventure, mischief, does so with the lightest and often funniest of touches.

This is the reasoning behind our choosing the four stories for issue 2 of THE SOUTH CIRCULAR. The work of Andrew Meehan, Albert Moore, Sheila Armstrong and Paddy Doherty expresses a darkness and a sadness at the centre of their characters, worn with such humour and clarity so as to deflect from devastation and to offer a state somewhere in between.

My Design Things’ specially commissioned jacket uses a photograph of a headstone from a cemetery in Malmö as its background. The headstone is a carving of two lovers, seated and facing each other for eternity. Every time John passes the headstone someone has placed real flowers on the couple’s lap.

It is the pursuit of this balance then, of light and dark, of highs and lows, which engages all of us in life. Perhaps these four stories will go some way to fortify our readers’ as you go about this game of ping-pong.


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Editor’s note issue 1

Issue 1

As recently as two years ago it was put to me that short stories are a hard, if not impossible sell. In general, readers prefer novels and their expanse; agents prefer to talk up whole and intricate narratives; publishers can brand a novel simply and with one succinct tagline and foreign publishers and foreign readers can digest, interpret and ultimately translate a story of universal suffering or hope far easier than a varied and nuanced collection of similar lessons with multiple casts of characters.

At the time, I nodded in feigned belief and utter misunderstanding. In my naivety and perhaps my simplicity, I thought:

If you really like a bunch of stories, then surely you can communicate that and invoke others to feel the same.

Or at least you can encourage them to give the stories a chance where previously they had not been considered. I suppose at the time I decided that I could sell a collection of short stories with sheer enthusiasm, love for the genre and bloody-minded determination.

Now something has changed. There has been a shift in the length of time it takes to convince someone that their life might be enhanced by reading a short story or two. Why is this easier? Is it that the work is better? No, there have been good and excellent short story writers around (especially around these Irish parts) for decades. Is it that the publishers are interested again? Perhaps. Bloomsbury has named 2012 the year of the short story (planning to publish a collection a month until May). But there is evidence that there may have already been a year of short stories: in 2009, the American novelist Eric Puchner concluded that their popularity is cyclical rather than something brand new (Arminta Wallace, Irish Times, 25 February 2012). Have agents found the way to strike a deal? Hardly. There is no end to the ways in which agents will strike a deal. And finally, as is the natural conclusive question these days, does the internet have anything to do with it?

In the years and decades to come, we will decide that the internet had everything and nothing to do with the many shifts in behaviour at the turn of the twenty-first century. There is much talk now about diminished attention spans and the short story, being short, has been branded a fitting salve for this phenomenon. But there is a danger of forgetting, or never even knowing, the work that goes into creating a narrative full of perfect holes and for this reason, now more than ever, the short story must be hoisted above the parapets but defended against assumptions of simplicity and easy digestion.

THE SOUTH CIRCULAR passionately believes in the short story as an enhancer of lives. We are here because we want to be. Our duty is to that passion first and then to do these stories and their authors a faithful service in bringing their work to a wide and new audience.

The stories we have chosen for the very first issue of THE SOUTH CIRCULAR are, we believe, examples of good short stories. Eddie Stack, Eley Williams, Shane Hulgraine and Adrian Duncan are talented emerging writers. Their stories ask much of their readers; they have created contained little worlds with astonishing logic and surprising rules; they are moments of clarity in a world clogged with junk and we think they are entertaining enough to hold your attention for just a few minutes.

One of the motivators for us when we started THE SOUTH CIRCULAR was the opportunity to collaborate with creatives in industries other than publishing. Hannah Doyle of came on board just in time to create a handsome issue and a nifty website too. And as we’ve said elsewhere before, we are absolutely ecstatic that for the cover of our very first issue, Fuchsia Macaree agreed to create something original and true to the spirit of the journal: a shared discovery.

There is a song by Joanna Newsom, called ‘En Gallop’ which carries the lyric ‘… you unending afterthoughts …’ If we have one wish for the first issue of THE SOUTH CIRCULAR, it is that the stories contained in issue 1 spend just a little longer in your thoughts than the time it takes to read them.



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Issue 1 is in the pipeline!


If you signed up for our Newsletter, then you’ll already know a little about the progress of our journal. Issue 1 is in production and it’s coming along nicely.

We’re delighted to announce that issue 1 of THE SOUTH CIRCULAR will feature stories by Eddie Stack, Eley Williams, Shane Hulgraine and Adrian Duncan. And we’re just ecstatic that Fuchsia Macaree agreed to do a cover for us, with barely a brief to go on!

Way back in early January, we fretted quite a bit about the best publishing format that would best serve our desire to bring you, the readers, an exciting collection of stories. In fact, to be perfectly honest, this question had come up as early as May 2011 and went on until about August but we eventually put it away to concentrate on things like the website and the first round of submissions.

Throughout this process of development, we looked around, in as many nooks and crannies as we could find on our own, and spoke to many different publishing (book and magazine) and digital experts to see what the general feelings were about ebooks, Kindles, iPads, PDFs, Atavist, isssu … the list goes on and on. We also tried to predict the future, keeping a close eye on those busy developing games and educational apps for smartphones and tablets, as well as free online publications.

In the end (or should I say the beginning), we’ve opted for an EPUB format for iPhone, iPad (iBooks) and Android (Aldiko). We made this decision quite soon after Apple announced iBooks Author. Truth is, we felt that even after nine months of planning, time was now against us and we were torn between bringing issue 1 out when we had promised everyone we would and postponing it until we had conquered the obstacle course that is iTunes authorization.

One piece of advice I received very early on, last March in fact at the Banter session, ‘Young guns doing it for themselves’, was to ‘bootstrap’ wherever possible. Don’t spend money when you don’t have to. I’ve also interpreted this to mean, keep things simple until you can make them complex. We’re going to spend the next year working hard to bring you the work of excellent emerging writers, beautiful cover art by a hand-picked wish-list in a format that reflects the very latest in developments in digital publishing.

We won’t rest until we’re absolutely certain we’re on that track, every day, every way.


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To begin and to go on


The Dutch comics exhibition at BIBF 2011

It was at the stand of the Netherlands Foundation for Visual Arts, Design and Architecture (Fonds BKVB), at the 18th Beijing International Book Fair last September, that I met Gert Jan Pos, a Dutch comic strips promoter. He was so kind to give me a tour of the entire Dutch stand. The BKVB commissioned him two years ago to create a public exhibition at the Fair which would showcase emerging illustrators and comic writers working in the Netherlands today. So he asked a number of young artists to pick a canonical Dutch text and to represent it to a 2011 audience. The result was a dozen or so 6-foot freestanding blocks with prints on all sides displaying short, graphic versions of classic Dutch novels and stories. It’s clear that the style of Georges Rémi still weighs heavily on these artists but in themselves, each print was inventive, emotional and engaging.

The one that stood out for me and the one that has stayed with me since was the very first print. It took the first known text written in Old Dutch and illustrated it accordingly.

Hebban olla vogala nestas hagunnan hinase his, enda thu uuat unbidan uue nu.

All birds have started their nests except you and me, what are we waiting for?

Gert says: ‘It was written in the margin of a classic book/bible by an English or even Irish monk. He was trying his pen before starting the really serious text in Latin. This phrase is thought to be from a (folk) song. It sounds friendly.’

Marcel Ruijters, All-birds

The image (left) shows how artist Marcel Ruijters interpreted these words for the Beijing exhibition.

But, oh what a sentiment! Everyone else is doing it, what’s stopping us now? Why don’t we get started? What could possibly go wrong? It is impatient, romantic and leaves nothing and everything to the imagination.

I must confess that, last March when I finally decided to do something that would become THE SOUTH CIRCULAR, I was as impatient as the beggar in the song. Firstly, it seemed obvious to me that emerging writers would want to be published. It seemed obvious that if I was going to do anything it should be text/literature based. I had no doubt the format should be digital.

But what was less clear and not a little daunting was the kind of support I would need to make my idea a virtual reality. If I asked someone for help would they help me? If I needed to know something would I be able to find the answer? And more importantly, once I’d opened my mouth and said what I wanted, would I be able to sustain that desire with hard work, focus and the appropriate attitude?

I must honestly say that the last nine months have astounded me. From the Banter session, ‘Young Guns Doing it for Themselves’ in March 2011, through the many Skype and email conversations with industry experts and enthusiasts, to the mind-blowing reach of Twitter, the literary, design and artistic community that I have encountered (both here and abroad) has only ever been generous, interested, varied and inspiring. But then my amazement is just the blinking and focusing of someone who has entered the light that is the frighteningly creative environment of Ireland in 2011/2012. I am simply becoming acquainted with the spirit of local rivalry which sees our most imaginative encourage and compete with each other in equal measure.

These are the people I hoped to find, to foster, to present on a platform called THE SOUTH CIRCULAR. It is such early days and THE SOUTH CIRCULAR has yet to prove itself to you, but if nothing else, it has been a privilege to see creative Ireland at work.