New journal offers penny for literary thoughts

At its launch in Cork’s Roundy Bar, writer William Wall said new literary journal, The Penny Dreadful, “could be the next Paris Review or ‘Granta’.”

Wall, who was long-listed for the 2005 Man Booker prize for his novel, This is the Country, has two satirical prose pieces in the journal.

If the two editors of The Penny Dreadful can maintain the high writing standard of their first issue, then maybe Wall’s prediction won’t have been grandiose. The Penny Dreadful contains work by Theo Dorgan, Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin and John W Sexton, and poems translated from Irish by Alan Titley. There are 24 contributors, and an interview with Roddy Doyle, by Marc O’Connell, one of the editors.

O’Connell, like his co-editor, John Keating, is from Cork. He has returned to education at UCC, where he is studying history and classics. Keating is an arts graduate of UCC, with a degree in English literature and Latin. The Penny Dreadful is humorously named after the cheap, serialised, popular publications of Victorian England. It’s a high-minded venture “that takes writing seriously, but doesn’t take itself seriously,” says Keating. “We used to describe the magazine as ‘high brow litter’, so we do try to bring humour into it.”

One evening, O’Connell and Keating were discussing the difficulty of writing. They agreed to each write a story, photocopied and stapled together in an anonymous pamphlet “and to just deposit the magazine around coffee shops, libraries and other cultural venues. We also included an email address, on the back of the magazine, for comments and queries.”

O’Connell and Keating received unsolicited submissions. The journal was born. “What we really want to do is to publish the best magazine we can, featuring a wide range of voices; established writers, emerging writers, Cork-based writers, Dublin-based writers, international writers, experimental writers and more formal writers. As long as the work is of a high standard, we want it in our magazine. Having said that, subjective taste is always going to be the deciding factor. This is unavoidable, but we try to remain flexible and open to new ideas.”

The editors are committed to print. “Despite the dour predictions, we don’t think print is going away. There are lots of fantastic online journals in Ireland, at the moment. We just like print and believe that print journals have a place alongside digital publishing. We have plans to release a digital edition, so we definitely don’t feel any need to choose between them. The avenues for writers to get their work published are expanding and that can only be a good thing.”

The cover of the magazine, featuring a slightly blurred picture of a young woman, is part of a project by artist Michael Keating. “He took photographs of 50 women and layered them so that the finished person doesn’t resemble one woman, but becomes a new person, born out of the women’s shared features and experiences. There’s a good metaphor for literature in there, somewhere.”

The Penny Dreadful will feature an artist in every issue, and an interview. “The interviews won’t necessarily be just with authors. While our focus is on the literary, we would like to bring in artists from other disciplines and find out how literature influences them. So, we’ll have musicians, painters, actors — the whole lot.”

Buy at Plug’d Records in Cork, Books Upstairs and The Winding Stairs in Dublin, Charlie Byrne’s Bookshop in Galway, and libraries in Ireland and the UK (€6). The next issue is in May. The deadline for submissions is Mar 31: www.thepennydreadful.org

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