Declan Meade is the founding editor of The Stinging Fly. The magazine celebrates twenty years of publishing this year, and Declan will join us alongside current editor Sally Rooney and a host of contributors to mark the occasion at our opening night event, The Stinging Fly 20-Year Celebration. A commemorative short story collection, Stinging Fly Stories, was released earlier this year.
Here, he talks Stinging Fly history, the growth of the Irish magazine scene and what it takes to make a good submission.
How did the idea for The Stinging Fly magazine come about?
I had moved to Dublin in 1995 and I was trying to write short stories. I did a couple of courses at the Irish Writers Centre and I joined a couple of different writing groups. I met a lot of people who were frustrated at the lack of places that were publishing work by new writers. Around the same time, my friend, Aoife Kavanagh, had done the Masters in Literature and Publishing in Galway and she was looking to gain experience in publishing. The idea for starting the magazine came out of various conversations we had throughout 1997. It was Aoife who came up with the name. We edited the first two issues together and then she went off and became a teacher.
Twenty years on, what do you feel has changed in the Irish literary magazine scene, and what would you like to see happen next?
What I didn’t realise back then was that it just happened to be a particularly quiet time for literary magazines in Dublin. There were a couple of magazines operating outside of Dublin and there were also a couple in Dublin, happily plugging away, doing their thing, working somewhat under the radar. I think what’s changed, particularly over the last five years, is that there are a lot of magazines around now and they are a lot more visible and more active. Printing is less expensive than it was. That makes things easier. There’s also social media, which makes it possible to spread the word and build up a wider following and readership. And we all seem to have decided that we still value the printed magazine or book, which is great.
What next? I’d like to see this variety of magazines and journals survive and thrive. I think we need to continue supporting each other to make that happen, but also work on building up the support system/network. It would be very easy to take it for granted that there are all these great little magazines now – and to forget that it can be bloody hard work to continue producing a magazine over time. We might present ourselves as being slick and efficient publishing operations (which of course we are!!), but we are also people who (willingly) make big personal sacrifices to work in what is still a very under-resourced area. Writers and readers – everyone in other words! – should appreciate a good thing while they have it.
This year, The Stinging Fly marked its twentieth anniversary with the publication of Stinging Fly Stories, an anthology of forty stories from across the magazine’s lifespan. What have twenty years of such diverse contributions taught you about the short story form?
Well, first and foremost, I have learnt to be wary of making any big pronouncements about the short story or about writing in general. I’m still no closer to defining what makes for a good short story. Hopefully I’ve recognised good stories as they have come along. What was interesting for me, working on Stinging Fly Stories, was having Sarah Gilmartin come in as co-editor and getting her to read through the nearly 400 stories we had published in the magazine. I wanted that fresh perspective on the stories and Sarah has been reviewing new fiction for the Irish Times for the past four years or so. We ended up agreeing about most of the selections – although we each would have given different rankings to individual stories. In the magazine, I think we always try to represent and celebrate different approaches to the short story. Reading through submissions, you have to judge every piece of work on its own terms anyway.
What’s the best advice you can give to a new writer submitting to journals?
I think new writers should take their work seriously. And once they start doing that, they’ll soon figure out that they should only send out their best work – having put in the necessary hours, getting it right – and they will send it out to the best place – having researched which of the journals should be the best possible fit.