And there we have it, folks! It’s the end of another publishing year for Verity La – and what a year it’s been! We’ve published close to one hundred poems, stories, artworks, interviews, editorials and reviews. We’ve established some important and innovative projects such as Discoursing Diaspora, Clozapine Clinic, and of course, our beloved Poetry Podcast. We’ve seen reader numbers soar, submission numbers treble, and welcomed new editors Laura MacPhee-Browne, Michelle McLaren, Ramon Loyola, Tim Heffernan and Alise Blayney. Plus, as a result of your generous donations, we’ve raised enough money to pay our writers (and buy our hardworking volunteer editors a Christmas tipple!) in 2017.
In light of this growth, our team need some time to catch their breath and prepare for the year ahead. So we’re signing off for 2016 a little earlier than usual, and will be closing our submissions portal on Monday December 19 through to 1 Feb, so we can get on top of all the brilliant work awaiting our attention and start 2017 afresh.
To help us in our endeavours, Alice Allan has bravely agreed to step into the role of Associate Editor. Alice’s writing can be found here on Verity La and in journals including Rabbit, Cordite, Plumwood Mountain, Westerly and Australian Book Review. She records the weekly podcast Poetry Says as well as our very own Verity La Poetry Podcast, while supporting her poetry habit as a freelance copywriter, editor and proofreader. We know she will be an AMAZING addition to our team and are over the moon she’s agreed to help out!
So that’s it from us. We’re proud of what Verity La has achieved this year and so grateful to YOU, our readers, for your heartfelt support, to our volunteer editors, and to our contributing writers for the gift of their words. Together, in 2017, we hope to continue making great things happen. Onwards!
On behalf of the editorial team
PS We’ve left you something under the Christmas tree (aka the Big Red Button). We hope it might help you negotiate this strange post-Trump world while we’re gone…
Yes, we need you. And your financial support.
Verity La was established in 2010 as a writer-run initiative. We publish some of the best writers in the country, alongside many new and exciting voices. All those involved volunteer their time because they’re committed to Verity La’s core mission: maximising a diversity of literary voices in Australia and helping readers connect with brave new writers.
We’re proud to still be going strong and thrilled at the quality of work we are able to publish. However, a core issue for us is lack of payment for writers. Exposure is important, but so is adequate financial remuneration — if we want literature to flourish, writers need to receive an income from their labour.
But as we all know, creating a sustainable economy around literature is challenging, if not near impossible. Government funding of the arts in Australia is currently in crisis and literature does not tend to attract philanthropic support.
So, we’re looking for supporters. Not subscribers (all our content will remain free to read online) — but supporters.
We publish up to 100 poems, stories, reviews and artworks each year. We are aiming to pay $50 for each contribution, which means we need to raise $5000 annually. (The editorial team will continue to operate on a voluntary basis, but if there is any money remaining after paying our writers, we’ll be buying each of our editors a well-deserved bottle of something delicious at Christmas!)
We aim to start paying contributors at the start of publication in 2017.
Can you help us? Either by donating and/or spreading the word? Our campaign is run through the Australian Cultural Fund and all donations are fully tax deductible. Our supporters’ names (unless they wish to remain anonymous) will be published on our website, and supporter and campaign updates will be publicised via our Facebook and on Twitter @VerityLa.
We hope that by supporting Verity La you will feel closer to the journal and its creative community. We believe that by helping us you will be making a significant contribution to the strength and diversity of Australian literature.
Managing Editor (on behalf of the editorial team)
IMPORTANT: The payment of writers is such a critical issue for us that should we not be able to raise sufficient funds by December 2016 we will have to give serious consideration about whether to continue publishing the journal beyond next year. So please DONATE to keep Verity La going! Share our flier, tweet us, like us and generally spruik the bejeezus out of us. The creative arts will (for once!) be the winner.
Yep, it’s nearly Christmas, and this weary editor is looking forward to lying screen-free on a beach for a few blissful weeks. But first, a HUGE thanks to all our amazing readers, contributors and volunteers — good lord, where, nay, what, would we be without you? After a year as Verity La‘s managing editor, I’m so relieved to have not run the damn thing aground, and so proud of what we’ve achieved together!
Of course we’ll be back in the New Year, but in the meantime why not press our Magic Red Button? It really will take you places you’ve never been before…
Six months ago, one of my poems, ‘Grand Mont’, was published in Verity La—I was chuffed. While checking out the site I noticed the journal was calling for volunteers to read submissions. ‘Why not?’ I thought, ‘no harm in asking’—so being bold, I did.
The (then) editor, Nigel Featherstone, was incredibly gracious and replied that he’d love a bit of help with the poetry subs. So fellow poet and friend Stuart Barnes and I happily joined up to trade opinions on the amazing array of poems that flow into the journal each week. It was (and still is) a lot of fun—agreeing, disagreeing, and occasionally agreeing to disagree on work written by some of the best in Australia and internationally. What an honour! I felt incredibly proud to be part of it all.
Then a few months later, another email from Nigel—after five years he was stepping down as editor of Verity La to pursue more of his own writing. Did anyone else feel up to the task?
I certainly didn’t. I was happy just to have a poem in the journal! I was happy just to be reading poetry behind the scenes! But it seemed that no one else felt equal to it either, and the journal was at risk of folding. So taking the advice of Richard Branson (‘If somebody offers you an amazing opportunity… say yes—then learn how to do it later’) I bravely (naively?) said ‘Yes!’, Nigel said ‘Great!’, and before I knew it, I was Verity La‘s incoming managing editor. Excitement soon gave way to panic, however—as I began waking in the middle of the night, hyperventilating with the realisation of what I had done—me, editor of Verity La? Preposterous!
Nigel, thankfully, was incredibly supportive, and patiently taught me the ropes; bit by bit I began to take over the editorial duties, and eventually was able to sleep. (Except, that is, late on Friday nights when, after pressing the publish button, I still lie awake imagining I’ve made all sorts of errors—should that be an en dash or an em dash? A colon or a semicolon? As I’ve discovered, an editor’s life is full of such pernickety, sleep-stealing concerns.)
But guess what? Apparently I AM now editor of Verity La, and so far so good—due, in large part, to the talented team that works behind me, reading subs, writing, reviewing, and generally putting in their two-bob’s worth whenever needed to ensure that the high standard Nigel set is maintained.
We’ve even dared to go further, and have some brave new things planned for next year and some brave new people to help us deliver them. We welcome Robyn Cadwallader as our reviews editor (I’d kiss the ground at Robyn’s feet if I could, so happy am I to have such a competent and talented lady at my side), and a slew of new reviewers including poets Robbie Coburn, Benjamin Dodds, Mark William Jackson, and journalist Amanda Hickey. We have emerging writer Rachael Nielsen stepping up to divine The Stars, and our new visual arts editor, photographer Leigh Backhouse, champing at the bit to view your art submissions. Plus we have an Emerging Indigenous Writers Program ready to roll out under the experienced mentorship of Dr. Phillip Gijindarraji Hall, and poet Janet Galbraith will be collaborating with us to establish a Writers in Exile project, focusing on the creative work of refugees. And our Travel Write Travel and Out of Limbo projects continue to expand as we scour the nation for travel obsessed writers, and writers from the LGBTI communities (or both!).
All we need now, dear reader, is you. So please like, share, and follow us, and subscribe to our weekly posts. We publish only one very, very fine thing each week, and it’s absolutely free into your inbox. And to those who have something to submit, I say—’Be bold, as I once was, and send us your creations!’ You never know where it might lead you… after all, as another wise man once told me—it’s always better to make the braver choice. Good advice, no?
As they say, it’s always better to leave at the time of your choosing than be pushed, so, with that in mind, I’m here to report that Verity La-la-land is currently experiencing some changes. After four years at the helm, trying to keep my hand on the sometimes (oftentimes) slippery tiller, navigating some choppy seas but also some of the most beautifully intoxicating seas imaginable, I’m swimming ashore, I’m finding a safe harbour, I’m heading for the hills. In other words, I’m standing down as editor. I’m leaving entirely.
It’s been an extraordinary trip; I had no idea that Verity La would become what it is today. Back in 2010, when, after knocking off a bottle of cheap verdelho, I came up with the concept of a ballsy little e-shaped journal for the literary misfits and almost-forgotten, I thought there’d be little interest and the whole thing would fall on its face within six months. But here we are.
Scanning the Vault’s list of published work is both exhilarating and sobering. Exhilarating because it never ceases to amaze me how many writers have been so willing to donate such astonishing work to our project. Sobering because this whole business of editing a literary journal is a delight but it also comes with a solid whack of exhaustion. All in all, I’ve very much enjoyed interacting with our writers, especially through the interview process, and it’s also been gratifying to facilitate reviews of books that often go ignored by bigger publications.
This current iteration of Verity La is the journal’s second, and, I think, there is a need to move to a third.
There are, however, some challenges.
The first is working towards a publishing model that might enable payment of contributors. Verity La is a labour of love: in our universe no one gets paid; money – for anyone – has never been an intention. I am somewhat relieved to read that the #paythewriters movement now recognises the value of projects like Verity La. Needless to say, writers working in commercial contexts MUST be paid and they must be paid APPROPRIATELY. For Verity La, is there a realistic way of doing things just over the horizon that might result in our contributors being paid and at the right levels?
I hope so.
Related to this, what is the impact of free-to-net journals like this one on the viability of publicly funded journals and/or commercial publications? Is it justifiable to flood the internet with free content – no matter how good it is – when journals that pay writers are dropping like flies? But there’s a flipside question: Do we want a culture where there are only a dozen or so government-funded literary journals? How would that be good for diversity and pluralism and accessible support? Shouldn’t there be a place in the Australian literary landscape for punk’s fuck-you spirit?
Every single publication in this country is trying to grapple with these questions. They are difficult questions, and complex, and they require considerable thought and energy and innovation.
Another key challenge for a contemporary journal is readership. As a prominent Australian literary mover and shaker rather brutally told me recently, ‘There is no hope for Australian fiction writers.’ As a small press told me, ‘We’re not going to publish poetry any more – it’s near impossible to sell.’ These are grim opinions indeed. It’s tempting to believe that social media is the answer. It’s part of the answer, but it’s also a false promise. Turning ‘likes’ and ‘retweets’ into subscribers and readers is a task and a half, let alone turning them into consumers of literature i.e. people who might actually fork out their hard-earned cash for published work.
Personally, I’m a pragmatic optimist: I would like to think that the digital age opens up many possibilities for writers, readers, and publishers. As always, it’s about putting the right people in the right jobs.
Which brings me to the most important announcement of all.
Afters some robust and reflective discussion amongst the Verity La team and our close associates, after looking at a range of options including shutting the journal down, it’s been decided that the ship will keep sailing – under the editorship of Michele Seminara. Michele brings to the role a first-rate literary intelligence, an open and inclusive approach, and, importantly, new energy and fresh ideas. Michele is acutely aware of the impediments that might come the journal’s way, but readers should have every confidence that with her guidance Verity La will continue to play a role in developing and exploring Australia’s literary worlds.
In the coming weeks and months, Michele will be making some announcements about further changes to the editorial line-up. Do bear with the team as the journal goes through this transitional phase.
HUGE thanks to all the writers, reviewers, editors, proof-readers, submission readers, visual artists, and site-technicians – what a very fine bunch of volunteers you are. And to our subscribers and readers: much gratitude.
See you on the other side.
If there is one part of human life that is completely and utterly unfathomable it’s gender. You would have thought that a 44-year-old resolutely gay man with three degrees under his belt would have a handle on at least this side of things, but the fact is it’s all a mystery to me. Despite the physical attributes of the human body (and even that’s not entirely black and white), what makes a man and what makes a woman? What does masculinity mean? Protection? No. Strength? No. Invasion. No, but potentially. And what does femininity mean? Softness? No. Warmth? No. Life-enabler? No, but potentially. I’m not a gender theorist, nor am I a sociologist or historian, but in the end, maybe, these words – male, female; masculinity, femininity – are nothing but words. Except there’s no denying it: these words have extraordinary power. The first thing we do when a baby comes slithering into the world is determine its gender, and from that point onwards identity and the opportunities and challenges are set, more or less in concrete.
Lately there’s been much discussion and debate in Australia about gender in relation to the production and promotion of contemporary literature, primarily because over recent years major awards have been dominated by male writers. Dig deeper and statistics consistently reveal that the lists of publishing houses large and small around the world comprise a majority of male names, as do the long- and short-lists of most literary awards. Is there some kind of systemic problem that results in the favouring of males? Some argue that in the realm of literature gender shouldn’t matter; only quality and contribution matter. If that’s the case, in an industry (personally I’m not fond of that word, industry, but be that as it may) where most literary workers are female, and most readers are female, why is it that books by male writers are the ones to bubble to the surface to claim the limelight? Indeed, in Australia, is there something dark and sinister embedded in our psyche that makes the creative work of males the priority? In a country were up until as recently as the 1970s single women weren’t allowed get a mortgage on a home, how can we argue that gender discrimination isn’t embedded in our society?
I don’t have the answers. Christ, I barely know what’s happening tomorrow. However, I do believe that Verity La, a steam-driven, volunteer-run, weekly publication that operates on the smell of the whiff of an empty Jameson’s Irish Whiskey bottle, should not be immune from reflection and investigation in relation to gender equality. So we have done some reflection, and we’ve done some investigation.
Shortly I will flood your screen with statistics, and not all of them are pretty, but first some context. Verity La has been publishing consistently since mid-2010. According to our readership survey held last year, the vast majority of our writers are Australian, as are the vast majority of our readers. Verity La was founded by a male (muggins here) along with an enormous amount of energy and intelligence from another male (Alec Patric). The website – and, in a way, its entire identity – was significantly re-visioned by two women (Karmin Cooper and Jacinda Jackson from New Best Friend). The current ‘editorial team’ (I use that word loosely as we live in different cities and states) comprise two women (Jas Shenstone and Callie Doyle-Scott) and a bloke (again, muggins-magoo). This makes it sound like a socialist collective where everyone strives to be equal, but frankly that’s not the case – in terms of the direction of the journal and what happens in its pages, it all comes down to old Featherstone here. For better or for worse.
So, to those stats. Note that in some cases the numbers are very small, which means statistically they may not be valid. However, the quantum of data does suggest a trend. Areas were males dominate are bolded. Buckle your seatbelts.
- Of our writers of short stories, 22 (58%) are male, 19 (42%) are female
- Of our writers of novel extracts, 3 (38%) are male, 5 (62%) are female
- Of our writers of creative essays, 3 (43%) are male, 4 (57%) are female
- Of our writers who’ve contributed work to our Out of Limbo (GLBTI) series, 2 (50%) are male, 2 (50%) are female
- Of our poets, 16 (50%) are male, 16 (50%) are female
- Of those writers we’ve interviewed through our Lighthouse Yarns series, 11 (58%) are male, 8 (42%) are female
- Of those writers we’ve interviewed through our Melbourne Review Interview series, 23 (52%) are male, 21 (48%) are female
- In terms of book reviews, 16 (62%) of the books reviewed were written by males, 10 (38%) were written by females
- Of our writers of reviews, 5 (56%) are male, 4 (44%) are female
- Of our visual artists, 6 (55%) are male, 5 (45%) are female
Things get even more problematic when we look at the statistics not by the proportion of authors but by the proportion of works.
- Of the short stories we’ve published, 33 (62%) were written by males, 21 (38%) were written by females – fuck
- Of the poems we’ve published, 29 (52%) were written by males, 27 (48%) were written by females.
Are men better at some forms of writing? Hardly. Are men better at submitting their work? Maybe they are. Are men better at producing more work i.e. do they have more time to write? This could be the case. When making the final decision on whether or not to publish a piece do I, as managing editor, consciously or subconsciously, or a disastrous combination of both, look at the author’s name, make a pronouncement of gender, and then say yes or no to pressing the magic button? Perhaps I do. In terms of reviews, are most of the publishing houses that send books to Verity La for review managed by men? Maybe they are. Of course, it would be fantastic to live in a world where the gender of a writer doesn’t matter. How good would it be if all literature was published anonymously – plain-packaging for novels and poetry anyone? But this isn’t the point. The point is it’s impossible to escape the fact that, overall, there does seem to be a systemic and insidious favouring of one gender over the other – here at your humble Verity La journal, and around the globe.
Editor, Verity La
It all comes down to this question: why ‘Verity La’?
Most regular readers will know that it’s an abbreviation of ‘Verity Lane’, a very dodgy back-alley in Canberra, Australia’s national capital (which turns 100 this year, just by the way), where the journal was born.
More importantly, however, we’ve received a very special email, telling us that the name now given to the lane also commemorates the birth there, in 1938, of Verity Hewitt’s, Canberra’s first serious bookshop:
In that pre-electronic age, this bookshop and its owner encouraged the distribution and intelligent discussion of literature in the otherwise bleak cultural environment of 1930s Canberra, perhaps comparable in some ways to your use today of the online journal. From a wider perspective, Verity was a remarkable example of mid-twentieth-century woman, independent, brave, and with a deep and creative interest in literature and people.
You may not want to take my word for this and instead look at the entry for Verity Fitzhardinge in the Australian Dictionary of Biography.
Please do check out the ADB entry, but a summary follows, and I’m paraphrasing from that source, which was researched and written by Suzanne Edgar.
Hope Verity Fitzhardinge, teacher and bookseller, was born on 12 December 1908 at Glen Innes, New South Wales, the eldest of seven children. As an adult, married and unhappy, loathing housework (who can blame her?), Verity opened a bookshop in East Row on 1 April 1938. From second-hand books, it expanded to sell new books, prints and artefacts, and to hold art exhibitions. Unsuccessful financially, it became a ‘pool of light’ for the book-starved community, reflecting the friendliness of its owner, who delivered library books by sulky. Her sister June took over when the Fitzhardinges returned to Sydney in 1945.
Diverse cultures intrigued Verity and in Sydney she studied Russian. Secretary of the Russian Social Club, she hosted Pushkin Circle meetings at her Pymble home. Unworldly and generous, she took in the homeless; two such, migrants, informed the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation that she was a communist. This rumour persisted but was not substantiated. She called herself a ‘fellow traveller’, a ‘romantic’.
In 1948 Verity travelled to Russia. In 1951 she and her husband resettled in Canberra. Helped by Russian migrants, she ran an orchard at Narrabundah while caring for family. ASIO kept both Fitzhardinges under surveillance. Undeterred, Verity learned Russian from, and taught English to, numerous officials, including Evdokia Petrov, at the Embassy of the Soviet Union. She also worked as a relief teacher. When her Canberra Grammar School pupils locked her in a cupboard, she was encouraged to resign. Her appearance grew weather-beaten and eccentric.
In 1963 Verity revisited Russia. At the Australian National University she investigated Russian contacts with colonial Australia and, later, the Anglo-Russian construction in the 1880s of the border between Afghanistan and the Russian Empire. There, in 1966, she walked the entire border, alone.
Verity died on 23 June 1986 in Canberra. An agnostic, she was cremated.
Who wrote the email mentioned above? One of Verity’s sons. And he concludes with this: Verity would have been sympathetic with your aims and pleased with your work.
So, Hope Verity Fitzhardinge: we honour you, and the collective hard work of us is dedicated to you. And it always will be.
In October 2012 we sought feedback on what’s working with this whole Verity La caper and what we could do better.
To this end, we designed a very simple, ten-question online survey. Due to the generosity of survey sponsor Text Publishing, respondents went into the draw for a set of ten Australian classics and new releases – check out our survey page for all the titles that were up for grabs. The winner of the book prize was Alex Finlayson from Queensland.
At the close of the survey, after a month of promotion and activity, there were 60 respondents. In the Verity La community, there are currently 156 subscribers (and rising), 184 followers on Twitter, and 93 have liked our Facebook page, meaning a total of 433 members. In this context, the respondents equated to 14% of our total community.
The main messages that came through the survey:
- 42% of respondents consider themselves regular readers (as the question rather cheekily suggested, they ‘can’t get enough’), and 45% consider themselves irregular readers
- 42% of respondents most enjoy short fiction, 29% poetry, and 13% interviews
- 24.5% would like to see more poetry, 18.5% more interviews, and 18.5% more short fiction
- almost half of respondents (47%) visit Verity La weekly
- the main way readers engage with us is through being subscribers (68%), followed by 28.6% through Facebook. 20% prefer to visit us whenever they feel like it. It’s interesting to note that while we have twice as many follows on Twitter than Facebook, only 16% engage with us through Twitter. Might Twitter be a good means of broadcasting news, but not a great way of actually engaging readers?
- in terms of the one thing we could do better, the majority of respondents simply told us to keep going. However, key issues raised included the need to pay contributors (more of this further down this list), enhanced website interactivity (don’t worry: we’re on the case), the need to positively encourage submissions, and a greater focus on new voices. But we can’t resist publishing some of our favourite responses: ‘I would like to see the name Verity La spread far and wide’, and ‘stay there when others disappear’, and ‘pretty hot’
- the vast majority of respondents – 77% – consider themselves both readers and writers
- 90% of readers are in Australia, with 10% being based overseas – it’s nice to know that we’re making inroads onto the international stage
- only 7% said they’d be interested in donating money to help pay contributors; 68.5% said ‘ask me again in 2013’, which we will
Please note that we specifically didn’t ask about age and gender, because we didn’t want to make judgements based on these arbitrary – and ultimately useless – characteristics.
A HUGE THANKS to all those who participated. We appreciate the time you took in replying to the survey and the frankness of your responses. We’ll consider all the results as we move into our third year and continue to grow and develop and adapt.
If you’d like to be a closer part of what we’re doing, please subscribe – it’s free, and you’re letting us know that what we’re doing is valued.
All of us here at Verity La HQ.
Miraculously, Verity La is heading into its third year and we want to hear your views about what’s working for you, adored member of the Verity La community, and what we could do better. To this end, we’ve designed a simple survey and would love it if you could spend a few minutes answering just ten questions.
What do you get out of being involved in our inaugural readership survey? Well, there’s the fact that you’re helping to set the direction for the next period of the journal’s development. But also, due to the generosity of survey sponsor Text Publishing, you will go into the draw for a set of ten Australian classics and new releases – we’ll be revealing the full list of books over the coming weeks. They’re beauties, they really are.
Be a part of the survey by clicking on this magic button. It will close on Friday 2 November, and the winner of the book prize will be announced shortly afterwards. We’ll publish the results of the survey.
Thanks in advance for your honest feedback.
Nothing stays the same.
Of all people, writers know that. In fact, it’s our bread and butter. Our job is to map change, to explain, as best we can, and to move people by our telling. Verity La isn’t immune to change, which has been made clear by the departure of Alec Patric as co-editor.
Almost two years ago, when the concept of Verity La found the light of day, Alec jumped at the opportunity – maybe literally. His energy, enthusiasm, and literary intelligence helped to take Verity La from idea to reality. This journal – which really is nothing more than an internet space where people donate their work for the enjoyment of others – has grown almost exponentially because of Alec’s involvement.
But now he’s stepped away.
What happens from here? Verity La will keep going, and growing. The journal will continue to publish the best writing submitted, and there’ll be more reviews and interviews, as well as social comment and photomedia. The mission has always been to publish brave writing that moves people. Be brave – yes, that’s the masthead motto. So the journal will bravely keep sailing. What about you? Keep subscribing, keep reading, keep submitting. There are uncharted territories ahead, which – it’s hoped, desired even – will be truly exciting for all concerned.
Verity La and its community wish Alec the very best for what’s ahead in his creative life. No doubt there’ll be more of his stories to read and enjoy and be challenged by. Some of them maybe, just maybe, you’ll read here.
Good luck, Alec, and thank you.