Ed#466: Scribble, Scribble, Scribble

29 August 2014 Alan Attwood

Ed#466: Scribble, Scribble, Scribble

The work of writers is not always appreciated. The celebrated English historian Edward Gibbon, for example, found that out in the late 18th century when he presented a volume of his famous history of the Roman Empire to the Duke of Gloucester. Who is said to have responded: “Another damned, thick, square book! Always scribble, scribble, scribble, eh, Mr Gibbon!”

The Duke, I suspect, would not have properly appreciated this milestone magazine – our 10th anniversary fiction edition. It represents the best of the work of a lot of scribblers – 401 entries received; 12 made it into print. Given the popularity of keyboards, I doubt that many of these stories were actually scribbled onto paper in full. Few writers still work by hand – though Tim Winton is one. (He is not in this collection, so no more will be said about him).

About the fiction edition itself, however, there’s much to say. Since the first one appeared in 2004 (Ed#219), it has become an annual landmark not only for The Big Issue but also for all Australian writers and readers: it is now one of the biggest-selling fiction magazines in the country. Every edition has been different to its predecessor. We’ve had fiction magazines featuring well-known writers; magazines presented as summer specials and winter warmers; magazines celebrating young writers; magazines (like this one) open to absolutely everyone.

Every year the question arises: how will we illustrate the stories? Solutions have ranged from one illustrator for most of the stories, to different photographers for every story, to one photographer whose series meshes with the theme of an edition (as in last year’s ‘Make Me Smile’ magazine). This year we showcase the work of Michel Streich, a NSW-based artist who has also written several stories for us. Michel is the man I have called upon for the big assignments, such as illustrations for Felix Clark’s 12-page ‘Clouds Over The Desert’ story in Ed#294 and – two years ago – Martha Brown’s account of eating disorders in Ed#418. Michel has a way of seeing the essence of a story and depicting it in a strong but simple manner. Like Gibbon, incidentally, he still likes to works with pen and pencil.

Just as Michel is a TBI stalwart, it’s wonderful to acknowledge the work of other fiction edition veterans. Andrew Weldon, who created the first fiction edition cover (which became a story in itself), is still part of what we are. Former Deputy Editor Anastasia Safioleas, who guided that debut edition to the printers, proofread this one. Associate Editor Melissa Cranenburgh, a legendary writer-wrangler, did much of the heavy-lifting for this edition and also several of its predecessors. Our unflappable Editorial Coordinator, Lorraine Pink, somehow kept track of all 401 entries, which were read – every one of them – by Books Editor Thuy On and former Film Editor Rochelle Siemienowicz. They cast their votes for the final selection, as did Contributing Editor Patrick Witton and Staff Writer/Editor Katherine Smyrk. It’s a team effort, and what we end up with – a bigger Big Issue (16 extra pages) – is assisted by generous support from the Copyright Agency’s Cultural Fund.

Most of all, we should acknowledge the writers whose stories appear here. They have made it through a long and difficult process: heeding our call for entries; pondering the deliberately open-ended theme (hmm, Take Me Away… Travel? Fast food? Escape?...); surviving the multi-staged selection process, with every story read ‘blind’ (meaning no information about the authors); then participating in an intense (though caring) editing process. And now, after all the straining and, yes, scribbling – notes, thoughts, ideas – they are ready for you to take them away.