In this ongoing series, we shine a spotlight on Irish literary journals. Here, we speak to Elizabeth Reapy, founder and editor of wordlegs.
You started wordlegs in early 2010 to “provide a platform to showcase young and emerging Irish writing talent.” Do you feel that this is a group that are under-represented in terms of publishing opportunities? Do you think this has changed at all over the last few years?
I did feel that it was an under represented group when I started wordlegs. I think young writers need to be given opportunities to develop their raw talent. I didn’t think there was something in place for young Irish writers and being a young writer myself, I saw a gap there to try start something new. We did a good job, I think. We were the first journal with user friendly software. We were nominated for web awards. We gave some writers their first publication and their first opportunity to read publicly. We collaborated with podcasts.ie and the 10 Days in Dublin Festival. We had launches and readings at some of the top literary festivals and venues in the country, got featured on RTE Arena and BBC NI’s Arts Extra radio shows. We founded a young and emerging writers’ festival, released two ebooks which then were converted into a print book featuring young Irish writers. This went on to get selected as a Paperback of the Week in The Irish Times (30 under 30 in association with Doire Press, available here).
We haven’t had and still don’t have any funding but we’ve a great team, including Cathal Sherlock (artistic director), Karen Maloney (events manager) and Donal Fenwick (software developer).
Yeah, I think there are more publishing opportunities for younger writers now. One reason is there are a lot more journals and stuff happening online now so there are a lot more places and competitions to submit to. On the other hand, a lot of more ambitious younger writers are focusing on developing their craft from a younger age (the recession may be a big factor in this) and so they get more publishing opportunities the better they get.
You published the ebook 30 Under 30 in 2012, which showcased the work of young, emerging Irish fiction writers. This was followed by a print version from Doire Press. Was it difficult to select the thirty featured writers and do you have any plans for a follow-up book?
It was tricky enough. By making it for writers under thirty, we had a marketing hook but we also had a limiting factor in choosing the writers. Some that I invited were a little older and some that I invited declined. In my ideal version, if the initial writers asked had agreed, it was 16/14 male to female but it ended up 19/11 which I was disappointed about as I think young female Irish writers are very strong.
I have no plans for doing a follow-up book at the moment. It was a good experience which led to even better experiences and I’m extremely grateful for all of those but I put an enormous amount of work and energy in it and I’m probably still recovering from that! Once the hard parts of compiling and editing and promoting an anthology have faded from my memory, I’ll probably try it again.
Although beginning as an online journal, it seems wordlegs has branched out over the years. What was the motivation behind events like Post Tiger Stories and Speed Connecting?
Speed Connecting arose from an idea to give likeminded people around Dublin quick introductions. The thing in common would be literature, whether they were writers or readers. It was a fun, slightly mad get together but both times we ran it were enjoyable and memorable. I think a lot people connected too.
Post Tiger Stories was something I proposed to the 10 Days in Dublin Festival. There was a space for capturing some new writing by new voices and then give them the chance to be part of this unique summer festival. We gave prompts in the lead up to submissions which got a good response and the pieces in the issue give such fresh and varied views of live lived in Ireland 2013.
The Shore Writers’ Festival, now in its second year, is another groundbreaking project – a free festival taking place in Enniscrone, Sligo from November 1st to 3rd. How did the festival come about last year and what can people expect from it this year?
I was working long hours in a fruit factory in Australia and the idea of running a young writers’ weekend in Ireland when I got back came to me. It was only an idea but I was doing these monotonous shifts of building boxes and packing oranges and I used to pass some of the time visualising the festival. After I finished up there, I was the Exchange Irish Writer to Varuna Writers’ House outside Sydney. I had this four week residency and there I spoke with Australian writers and contacted Irish writers back home to get their opinions on if it was a good idea or not to try organise a festival. I got invited perform at the National Young Writers’ Festival in NSW and it confirmed for me that we needed something similar in Ireland.
We had no money to put it together but I wanted it to happen so I put a call out anyway. At worst, it would be a few of my mates and me somewhere on the west coast for a weekend writing and partying so even if no-one else joined, we’d still have good craic. But the response was massive; writers, actors, musicians, readers, photographers all offered to volunteer.
The Ocean Sands Hotel gave us a great deal for the weekend on accommodation and free event room hire and so we just went for it.
Karen MC’d the event, Cathal kitted out the venue and it looked amazing and Donal was a sound engineer. It was a great success.
This year we’re trying to build on last year. Though we’re still without any budget, we’ve a full programme for the weekend featuring some of the best young and emerging writers in the country. If it is anything like last year, it will be an unmissable weekend in Enniscrone.
If a writer is interested in submitting their work to wordlegs, is there anything they should bear in mind – would you say you have a particular stylistic preference?
I like unpretentious writing. We receive a lot of submissions where flowery language is used badly. If the writer is going to have heavy sentences and ideas, they need to execute a lot of control over their words and style and unfortunately, a lot of new writers haven’t mastered that yet. It can be off putting and boring to read a story where the writer wants you to know how clever he/she is too. So keep it simple. Give me a good story with strong characters. I used to base what I chose on the strength of the story, the fresh use of language and the overall originality of the piece. If two out of three were present, then it would have a really good chance. Nowadays though, we get so many submissions that the pieces have to be extremely tight to get selected.
Finally, wordlegs has accomplished an amazing amount in a very short time and seems to be constantly innovating and evolving. What can we expect from you next?
There are a couple of ideas that I’d like to see to fruition, like offering some workshops, having some more literary events with a twist. I’d love to get the ‘Books for Hospitals’ thing done too but there are too many hygiene restrictions. Maybe electronic books are how to go with that one. It’s an idea on the backburner but it’s by no means forgotten, just need to figure out how to implement it. I find that if I don’t see an idea through it kind of haunts my brain until I do, even if it fails.
We may do another print book, a ‘Best Of’ type compilation though I’m reluctant to commit to it just yet.
There’s something very interesting happening in Issue 16 with Mark Noonan – the guest poetry editor for that issue – but you’ll have to read it and see. We’d love some more festival appearances and creative collaborations to happen before it all ends. All suggestions are welcome from within the creative arts and elsewhere.
Finally, we’ve decided to finish up on Issue 20 (November 2014) but we’ll have a farewell event at next year’s Shore Festival. Hopefully it’ll all run smoothly and productively until then so we can create more spaces and push some more boundaries from our little corner in the Irish literature scene.
Keep up-to-date with wordlegs on facebook and Twitter (@wordlegs). To read more of Elizabeth (EM) Reapy’s work, you can check out her website and follow her on Twitter (@emreapy). The full programme for the Shore Writers’ Festival is available here.