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.
Dear Verity La subscribers, readers, visitors,
The Sydney Morning Herald recently acknowledged Verity La as an ‘increasingly influential’ literary journal, and indeed, Verity La has been evolving since its inception eighteen months ago. We’ve published 100 writers, interviewed scores of eminent writers, artists and thinkers, and achieved the attention of the National Library of Australia.
The next step is an upgrade of our site. Verity La is now a domain, which means less limitations and more creative freedom in how we bring you content.
Our aim is to keep what’s great about Verity La – a clean but eye-catching site that maximises readability – while making the right improvements so we stay fresh and vibrant. The next few weeks and months will see Verity La explore design possibilities, integrating video content, and personalising all elements of our presentation.
Verity La will continue to develop as a forum for writers dedicated to bravely pushing online literature forward, and we hope you’ll come along with us. As we improve and expand we are looking to include more creative input, so if you think you’d like to contribute to Verity La as a designer, writer, or indeed as an involved reader, we’d love to hear from you.
Alec and Nigel
Now that Verity La is up and running, and 2010 is careering to its end, we thought it’s probably about time to introduce ourselves as co-editors of what has become – we hope – a place on the internet where you can find words that are alive. Rather than both of us produce an editorial, we thought we’d take things a little further by sharing with you a conversation, because conversations – in the broadest definition – is what we’re on about: dialogue between writer and reader, engagement with ideas, maybe even a conclusion every now and again. All in the context of what our mast-head calls being brave. So let’s do it.
Alec, it seems hard to believe that Verity La has only been going for six months (the first post, a poem of yours, was on 20 June 2010). What made you want to become co-editor of an on-line creative arts journal?
You can’t fight evolution. Extinction starts nipping at your ankles if you try. Books might get to be like dinosaur bones, bought only in specialty stores. I work in a bookstore so I’m not as insouciant as I might sound. Just yesterday I vowed to never buy a Kindle, iPad, etc. but I made a similar promise to stay faithful to records when CDs first came out. I suppose I’m just another dodo looking for better wings. I started a blog about a year ago, but before that, the internet was Disneyland. I was more than happy living with Guttenberg’s toys. I could point out that a book already is a kind of technology and that it took hundreds of years to develop and perfect, but who’d listen? We’re all rushing towards online air, and so far, I’m reveling in the new skies for my dodo wings.
To answer your question more directly: it hadn’t occurred to me to be an editor of anything, online or otherwise, until you asked me to join you on this lil’ flight of fancy Nigel. I’d been intensely involved with Overland, blogging for Sparrow & Co. a few times a week for six months or so, and Verity La was a natural progression. More to the point, I should ask why you wanted to start an online journal and why ask me to join you?
I too am reveling in these new skies for my own ‘dodo wings’. Up until last year I didn’t even have the internet at home and was more than happy not being connected – sometimes having your head in the sand is quite comfortable. But then, in 2009, I spent a month as an artist-in-residence at Bundanon, Arthur and Yvonne Boyd’s gift to the Australian people, and I saw first-hand how other artists had engaged with the on-line environment. I committed myself to at least getting the internet put on, and then within six months I had a website and then a blog – it was an e-avalanche!
After blogging for a year (I never set out to be an actual blogger; I just wanted to post pieces I wrote for other media, mostly newspapers), one night I was happily watching High Fidelity – great book by Nick Hornby, good movie – when I thought, wouldn’t it be good to be able to foster other writers, potentially through free blogging software. Twenty-four hours later I had the name (it’s a laneway that up until recently I walked past on a daily basis), the basic concept of the thing, the on-line format, but wanted this to be much bigger than one person. I’d interviewed you for a piece for the Canberra Times on blogging and appreciated your thoughtfulness and honesty, and decided that I might have found a potential co-editor. I purposely didn’t over-think the whole caper, because I knew that if I thought about it too hard I wouldn’t go ahead with it at all. I’m glad we did: just scrolling through the contents page gives me a warm inner-glow: here’s a stack of writing and thought and creativity that might not otherwise have seen the light of day. Perhaps more importantly, it’s rewarding to be involved in this DIY movement: writers doing it (sisterly) for ourselves!
We’re six months into this Verity La journey (love how that word is a cousin of ‘journal’), what are you getting out of being co-editor?
Some writers spend a long time in exile. This can begin early and last most of a lifetime. That’d be the tone of my bio up until the last year or two. I grew up in an environment where a literary life was something glimpsed between commercials, in a distracted reference on some tele-movie about a sporting hero – the mad uncle that was a writer. Entering the workaday world you hear about writers being a dime-a-dozen, but that was far from my experience. Of course, there are those people you run into that dream they’ll one day write a biography or novel, and might have written a poem or two while on holiday in Bali, but for me, writing came with the daily devotion of religion, and I wanted to find people who had that kind of sensibility and commitment. If I’m now a part of literary culture, through Verity La, blogging or publishing, there’s that sense of exile that renews the experience for me constantly.
Six months of Verity La has been filled with poetry, prose, visual art, and interviews. What have been the highlights for you?
That whole creativity-and-exile thing is interesting, isn’t it. The more I create and write and persist with what at times – often – feels like a completely ludicrous activity the more it feels like a peripheral activity. Each time we decide to spend some hours writing, it does feel like a disconnection from the world, a running away, a push to the edges, except really it’s the exact opposite, it’s a burrowing down into truth and reality.
So rarely is the act of writing – of creating anything – properly valued. Going to the gym is valued. Going to the movies is valued. Spending an evening at the pub is valued. But locking yourself in a room to write? That’s what a crazy person does. And society exiles crazy people. So I think you’re right that it’s all about finding a community. I’ve never been interested in book clubs, nor have I been interested in writers groups (I did establish one which ran for a year, but the rule was that we absolutely couldn’t bring our own work to discuss – our discussions had to be broader than the stories we were working on).
What Verity La offers is a space – a place – for work to appear; in some ways it feels like an intersection of practice and outcomes, of hopes and realities. Every time I receive a submission – as you know they come almost daily – I realise how there’s a hunger for work to be read, particularly good work, and by good work I mean writing that’s been edited and put aside and edited some more and put aside again and then, finally, when the writer is absolutely convinced it’s ready for airing, it’s finally submitted, a process that can take years rather than months. It’s a highlight every time I open a submission and I feel engaged and then, ultimately, moved. It’s a highlight when a writer accepts the feedback provided, works on a story, and submits it again. It’s been a highlight to interview established Australian writers – invariably they’ve been generous with their time, very open, not stuffy in the slightest.
What’s ahead for Verity La, do you reckon?
I’m a believer in necessity. We value that which is most necessary to us. So I think Verity La will grow into what our literary community needs it to be. If it’s actually superfluous, then it will evaporate like most of the other content on the internet. Well, since we’ve been archived by the National Library of Australia, we know that everything on Verity La will be protected in perpetuity now, but its continuing relevance is still that necessity. I know that sounds grandiose, but I was sincere when I said that the questions central to literature are religious to me. I don’t mean in relationship to some kind of divine meaning, but that there is indeed an element of life and death at the core of what we do. Something worth investing our entire lives in and worth the sacrifices we all make simply to be a part of Literature. An example of that necessity is in the interviews you and I have made a core feature of our journal. Verity La has become one of the few places where local writers are able to come and talk about the central elements of their writing lives and the most vital aspects of their craft. The Verity La reader is a Writer, and he or she will find our content, to greater or lesser degrees, necessary to wherever they are in their careers.
How do you see the future of Verity La, Nigel?
I like that ecological idea that important and necessary things survive, while the superfluous and irrelevant wither away. So the key will be to not be superfluous or irrelevant. I’m not sure I ‘see’ anything for the future of Verity La, because I barely know what’s going to happen in my life tomorrow let alone see anything in particular for a little on-line journal that thinks it can. I do, however, have some hopes. I hope Verity La continues to develop as a place for brave writing, and by ‘brave’ I mean writing that challenges.
Only this week I was reminded of Oz and what it set out to achieve back in the 1960s, which was to be a ‘magazine of dissent’. Whilst I don’t see Verity La going anywhere near of what Oz achieved, perhaps it would be good if we could shake things up a little more, because we’ll be relevant and important and necessary if we’re dangerous – if what we collectively produce is a matter of a life and death. I’d like to make it very clear that by dangerous I don’t mean ‘adventurous’ or ‘experimental’. Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho isn’t adventurous or experimental, but it is dangerous. Timothy Conigrave’s Holding the Man isn’t adventurous or experiment, but it is dangerous. They are dangerous because they tell the truth. And if writers must do anything, it is to tell the truth. Bring on the writers of truth!
I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all the poets, writers and artists of Verity La. I’ve been stunned time and again that so many people have been willing to give fistfuls of their hearts with such grace and generosity. If Verity La has come to occupy a space within the shifting spectrum of the internet and to find a place within Australian literature and art, just six months ago it really was nothing more than a statement of intent; just one more blogish shape in a computer-generated wasteland. It’s because of these initial contributions, all of them acts of faith, all openhearted gifts of time and talent, insight and passion, that a vibrant identity has emerged, not to mention a lasting cultural artefact.
Thanks to all our contributors. It really has been an honour and privilege that I’m most grateful for.
Australia-based creative arts journal Verity La is a work-in-progress.
Keep your ears open for news of the launch,
which should be sometime very soon.
Actually you might need to cross more than