In the about section of your website you describe the magazine as “running shambolically,” and say you don’t know where it will end up, but you’ve got to have some vision for what this thing does. What made you think “yep, the world needs another lit mag”?
Well, we didn’t really. But me and Andy needed a magazine, and we looked in all the bookshops and we couldn’t find it. We were living in adjacent rooms and trading short stories in the hallway every night. It bothered us that our friends, who (with the exception of Dave) were creative and intelligent people, never read short stories.
Most short stories in Australia appear in fairly academic journals. They look, from the outside, like serious business. The first story in our first issue was about a storm trooper who kept getting bees stuck in his helmet. Where would a story like that fit into the Australian literary scene?
There are things that our literary journals do very well: often there is beautiful writing, and a strong sense of Australia as a place, but we don’t really care about all that. Give me an 11-year-old girl living in Coburg who’s obsessed with Kanye West and keeps her malignant mole as a pet, give me a guy that smuggles burrowing owls across the border to cheer up his depressed girlfriend. We like strong narratives, we like humour, we like vivid imaginations. All of this is hard to find in Australian fiction.
We want to bring literature to the cheap seats. We even considered a centrefold, in the early days. For a long time, Playboy magazine was publishing the best stories around. That’s what we’re looking for – a story that’s so good you want to read it even though there are boobs on the next page.
The Canary Press is very pretty. What’s your relationship with the designers like? How does it work? What’s the 411?
It works shambolically. Like everything else. I don’t know what a 411 is. Are they important? We probably don’t have one.
The illustrations are pretty damn special, and they are one of the most enjoyable parts of putting the magazine together – I love talking very seriously with Gustavo about cover ideas – about whether the cowboy should be riding in on a possum or a fruit bat. Leith works in our office and she’s a magician. Every time she goes to the toilet we run over to her desk and sneak a look at what she’s working on. James, for a time, was working for a politician – drawing for us at night in his hotel room and sending us scanned illustrations from parliament house. Generally me, Harriet or Gustavo convince extremely talented illustrators to do something for atrociously small amounts of money/watermelon, and the results are incredible. I hope this can continue.
You make a statement about not using university funding, so how do you do it?
Gosh, we make a lot of statements, don’t we? It’s easy to be idealistic when you don’t have any money.
We are getting by (just) on sales and subscriptions. We have hit the small time! Dishwashing helped for a while too, but I got fired I think.
Someone has to make a business out of this. That’s my feeling. I don’t know if it’ll be us but we’re having fun trying.
We don’t have any university funding; partly because no university has offered us money – let’s be honest here – but also because of the sort of magazine we want to be:
I don’t think fiction should be an academic exercise.
As a publisher, as a writer, you shouldn’t be thinking of the critics or the funding bodies or your university backers, or the literary merits or the goddamn academic merits of what you’re making. You should be thinking of the reader. Always the reader.
When deciding on a story I sometimes think of my friend Manoli, or give one to him to read. He knows nothing about the literary scene in Australia but he is no slouch. I’ll find him outside sometimes, sipping tea and staring off.
I’ll say, What are you doing?
He’ll say, Just thinking about a sentence I read.
Most people outside the literary scene have very good bullshit detectors.
If you’re a young writer, take some time out. Go and hang out with musos and wineos and accountants for a while. Try to find (and it’s not hard) a bunch of people that don’t know or care about the small world of Australian literature. Then try and pin their ears back with a story.
Charles Bukowski once said that his stories are read both by university professors and street-walking prostitutes. I like that. I hope one day we can say that about our magazine.
Are there any bells and whistles you’d add were money no option?
No bells and whistles! Maybe a hat. I want to give our canary a hat. Otherwise the bells and whistles strike me as a waste of resources. What Australian writers need most, I think, are readers. That’s what we would use money for (and sweet Jesus, it would help). We’d get the magazine into cafes, high schools and train stations; beautiful women with false moustaches would sell back issues in alleyways; you’d be able to buy short stories in vending machines on the way to work; we’d send them out with your Saturday paper.
Obvs your current contributors are pretty ace, but what big names would you want to publish if they hadn’t been discovered yet?
I am in love with Raymond Chandler at the moment. That man can throw down a sentence. His novels roar along. They are funny and tough and beautiful. I want to kiss him on the forehead.
If all the lit mags in Australia were characters in a TV show, which show would it be and who would The Canary Press be? You can also tell me who everyone else would be if you like.
The nativity play; we would be the donkey.
How many times have you been told that the dude on the cover of Issue One looks like Nigel Thornberry?
What’s your favourite YouTube video? Mine is this:
Our friend Leslie made this for us some time ago. We finally worked out how to get it from Vimeo to Youtube. I would be remiss not to mention it here:
Is there anything else you would like to say that hasn’t been touched on in this last string of novelty questions?
Yes. There is a goat living in our office. It turned up a few weeks ago. No one knows who it belongs to or how it got there; or if and what we’re supposed to feed it. It seems to like chequebooks. If it’s yours, please be in touch.