Q&A on Fiction Edition

9 July 2013 Thuy On

Q&A on Fiction Edition

We received 291 entries this year for the annual Big Issue fiction edition, which will go on sale in August. At the half-way mark in the selection process, we caught up with the edition’s first-round readers, Thuy On (Big Issue books editor) and Rochelle Siemienowicz (freelance writer and former Big Issue film editor) to talk about story selection.


What stage are we now at with the submissions?

Thuy On: We are now down to the top 20, with a further 30-odd stories in reserve. Big Issue Editor Alan Attwood will have the final say as to which stories will make it into the magazine.


What are the challenges of reading so many submissions?

Thuy On: Trying not to feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of entries. It’s important to approach each new story as a potential shortlist title, instead of more reading work!

Rochelle Siemienowicz: It can be a challenge to work outside your own particular tastes for certain styles and genres. The task at hand is to have an interesting mix. It’s also tricky to know when to look past a few grammatical or spelling mistakes (sometimes even in the title!) to work out whether there’s a little gem that just needs a bit of polishing.


Did you find that the two of you agreed a lot? Did you disagree on many entries?

TO: We actually agreed on 20 stories, which is a great result, I think. I tend to like satirical stuff and was very conscious of picking stories that adhered to the theme, whereas I think Rochelle was more interested in good writing first and foremost, and was particularly drawn to relationship-based stories. Humour is obviously a very subjective criterion for selection. There were several stories we disagreed on. (That’s why Alan is there as the adjudicator to break up any squabbling!)

RS: We both agreed on a number of stand-out stories. We do have different senses of humour, though. There were times when Thuy would say, “This one really made me laugh!” and I would say, “You’re kidding!” We’re very good friends and respect each other’s tastes, though, so we were able to move on without too many arguments.


Were there many common or recurring themes in the submissions?

TO: I’d say that about half stuck to the theme. Several read as though they were chapters of novels in progress. And there were quite few that featured poo (both of the animal and human variety). This perplexed me. I don’t necessarily equate a ‘make me smile’ theme with excrement humour, but it seems that many writers do.

RS: There were a lot of stories about dogs! I don’t know why. Obviously, writers really love their dogs. There were quite a few stories even written from the point of view of the dog. There were a number of stories set in the literary world, too. Obviously writers are told to write what they know, and there were some funny stories about the process of writing, being published and some intriguing treatments of literary gossip. There were many stories about homeless people, perhaps because writers thought we might favour such themes at The Big Issue. Another recurring theme was street performers: mimes, clowns and human statues. Who would’ve guessed?


How did submissions approach the theme ‘make me smile’?

RS: A number of the stories used that exact line within the text. Many approached the brief very obliquely or even ironically. There were still a lot of sad, tragic stories. There were also some very sweet and melting moments.


Any tips for emerging writers who regularly submit work for consideration to publications such as The Big Issue fiction edition?

TO: Stick to the theme (if possible), if one is required. It doesn’t have to be a literal interpretation, but try and sneak in some reference to the theme. Try and see it from the readers’ perspective: the judges have to read dozens of submissions. How can you make yours stand out? It’s a short story competition, so ensure there is a beginning, middle and end; that there is some sort of narrative trajectory.

RS: Edit, edit, edit. Read and re-read your work before you submit. A slapdash approach really shows. Let your imagination roam free, but preferably away from dogs and excrement. As a reader, I love to be taken to a new world, or be given a really fresh and original take on the world I’m living in.