By James McConnachie
Many authors I know have been struggling of late with feelings of triviality or even irrelevance. First it was Covid. Then Putin, with his murderous war in Europe. How can authors justify what we do while our colleagues in the east – authors, journalists and artists, alongside a population of 40 million people – are fleeing their homes? When they are starving in basements? When they are being shot and shelled? The Ukrainian novelist Andrey Kurkov answers that question for us. ‘People cannot live without water, without air or without culture’, he says. ‘Culture gives life its meaning... It is the invisible armour of the human soul.’ Ukraine’s culture is the source of its resilience, and so it is for all of us. We armourers must keep hammering away.
We rarely publish poetry in The Author, but I have made an exception for these exceptional times. To quote Oksana Maksymchuk, who introduces two poems in this issue, poetry expresses ‘anger, pain, grief, longing, gratitude and hope; making sense of the broken, mutilated world; affirming life.’ We feature two of Ukraine’s leading poets, Serhiy Zadan and Lyudmyla Khersonska, alongside the Ukrainian illustrators Masha Foya, who designed our cover, and Sergiy Maidukov.
Kurkov’s article, you will note, bears the provocative title ‘Culture War’. This may be misleading: he is talking about a real, deadly culture war; I have no intention of publishing writing designed to seduce readers into reacting to contentious issues chosen largely on the basis of their divisiveness. Authors, I think, have the privilege of taking the longer and deeper view, and I want this journal to be a place where light is brought into deeper places rather than one in which overheated air gets recirculated into existing conflagrations.
That said... this Summer issue includes a piece on Jerusalem. I hope Matthew Teller’s article neither divides nor inflames. The underlying issue, in any case, is intensely relevant to anyone writing about anything nowadays: how should authors approach topics that invite polarisation? How can we protect ourselves against having our words misrepresented without retreating into silence? How can we be armoured but not defensive? For a lighter take on not-unrelated matters, I recommend Maggie Craig’s article on readers outraged by her characters’ ‘foul language’.
Also contributing to this issue are Ed Douglas, the editor of the Alpine Journal (a publication even more venerable than The Author, with its first issue dating back to 1863); he introduces Alfred Wainwright’s little-discussed career as a superstar self-publisher. Rhiannon Tise offers a practical guide to writing audio drama. Mathew Lyons reviews Emma Smith’s wonderful study of the material life of books. Richard Smyth explores the diversions and commercial deviations that pepper the oeuvre of so many writers. Dawn Finch considers how authors should protect themselves when answering fan mail from children.
I want to draw particular attention, though, to Colin Grant
, who receives the baton for our new column, ‘Noted’. I’ve admired his potent and thoughtful writing for many years, and I’m proud to publish it here. I also want to highlight Claire Wade
’s article introducing the SoA’s Authors with Disabilities and Chronic Illnesses network. The ADCI plays an utterly valuable role, and I recommend any author living with sickness or disability – so many of us are – to get in touch, via the SoA.
I hope readers will consider Wade’s suggestions for how to be an effective ally. And I hope members will consider standing for election to the SoA’s board. In times of cultural anxiety and economic distress, the SoA’s strategic direction and leadership matters more than ever. Put on your invisible armour, and put yourself forward!
Cover Art by Masha Foya
Masha Foya is a freelance illustrator from Kyiv, Ukraine. Her work has been commissioned by a wide range of Ukrainian and overseas clients and publications, including The Guardian Weekly, The New York Times, The Republik, Esprit Magazine, Affinity Creative Group, Yomi Studio, Reporters, Suspilne:UA, Portal, Knigolav, Old Lion Publishing, Nash Format, Vydavnytstvo, Vivat, Crocus, Yappi Business English School, Gifty, AIN.UA and Netpeak Agency.
The culture war – Andrey Kurkov on Russia’s attempt to destroy Ukrainian history and culture
Words for war – Oksana Maksymchuk introduces poetry from Ukraine by Serhiy Zhadan and Lyudmyla Khersonska
Quirks and compromises – Richard Smyth on the author’s oeuvre
Ask an author: Daljit Nagra – James McConnachie talks to the poet and broadcaster
Curses! – Maggie Craig on fictive expletives
Between mute object and full humanity – Mathew Lyons reviews Portable Magic by Emma Smith
Peak bagger – Ed Douglas tells the story of the first self-publishing megastar: Alfred Wainwright
No excuse for going back – Claire Wade on barriers and opportunities for disabled authors
Dear author… – Dawn Finch on responding to fan mail from children and vulnerable adults
Opportunities in audio – Rhiannon Tise surveys the audio drama landscape
Writing in difficult spaces – Matthew Teller on writing that has the potential to polarise
Noted – Colin Grant picks up the pen for our regular column
FROM THE SOA
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