Oneworld editor and former Guardian journalist Richard Lea is heading a new web-based short fiction journal, Fictionable, which is aiming to raise £15,000 in the next month on Kickstarter.
The magazine startup has already lined up contributors such as Sarah Hall (pictured) — the only author to win the BBC national short story award twice — and Alain Mabanckou, writer and UCLA professor, to write new short stories for its first issue, due in June 2022. Other contributors for issue one include New Orleans-based author Ladee Hubbard, Owen Booth and the comics writer and illustrator Isabel Greenberg. Mabanckou will be translated by the novelist Helen Stevenson.
The literary quarterly will publish specially-commissioned short fiction from all over the globe with five short fiction pieces planned for each issue, one of which will be a story in translation and one graphic short story. The site will reach out to new readers with a blog and a podcast featuring in-depth author interviews. A standard subscription will be £20 per year for four issues but on Kickstarter there is an offer for reader pledges of £15 for the first year.
Its three-strong team will be headed by publisher Lea, who worked as a writer and editor on the Guardian books desk for more than 15 years, presenting the newspaper's books podcast and commissioning short fiction. He is now an editor at large for Oneworld. Writer and editor Rachel Aspden will act as senior editor while the audio producer will be Esther Opoku Gyeni, associate manager at Spotify.
Hall said: “I’m really excited about Fictionable, a great new platform for the short story. The form is so powerful and versatile, with diverse worldwide traditions, and it’s going to be thrilling to both contribute and read new work from amazing writers.”
Lea (pictured right) told The Bookseller why he wanted to launch the online magazine now, explaining: “It’s a project I’ve been thinking about for a long, long time but reading has surged in the pandemic and looks to have held up pretty well this year. We’re also getting more comfortable with digital technology, subscribing to things digitally, but also the short story seems the perfect form for capturing the fractured nature or feeling of our contemporary lives. So it seemed the best time to launch a quarterly short fiction journal.” He added that the “short story genre is in great shape right now” and soaring sales in recent years back this up.
When asked how he would distinguish it from other literary journals Lea said: “There are a lot of other excellent short fiction journals but one of the things that stands out about us is that we’re digital-first. We want to reach out to people all over the world. Also we have fiction in translation and graphic fiction at the heart of every issue. This is quite unusual amongst journals. I first started commissioning short fiction while I was at the Guardian but one of the things we found was that graphic fiction reached a different sort of readership, those readers interested in comics and visual storytelling. And the translation is a way of being open and curious and featuring the best fiction from all over the world and to reach out to readers in those places.”
Fictionable will showcase new writers alongside established names, Lea said. “We will be open to new writers and one of the things I’m most excited about is putting high-profile names next to new writers, finding the most exciting new voices, and calling for submissions and looking for writers not yet published in English.”
He is keen to promote a global ethos as much as possible, saying: “That outward focus and focus on high quality and the whole world is matched by the sorts of voices we’re hoping to find. We’re looking to find voices outside the English and American traditions, diverse voices that push forward a little bit. Being open and curious and global in feel. We also want to distinguish ourselves by the sorts of stories we feature.”
A major portion of the £15,000 from the Kickstarter project will go towards paying contributors. “The biggest portion of the money will be paid on the fees for the authors and the translators and then after that we need to build a website, a little on the production cost and a certain amount of fees that Kickstarter takes and a bit of contingency for web development wrinkles. In the team we’re trying to keep things very stripped down so we can prioritise our budgets to get the best writers and artists,” Lea said.
In terms of tech, the team are developing “an elegant, stripped-down design which will enable people to dive into the text”. Lea added: “The majority of web traffic is on phones so that is very important but we’re working on a responsive design so it will look good on a laptop or tablet as well, this is crucial so people can find us in whichever way they want.”
He is also keen for the podcast to play a major role in extending the journal's reach. "The podcast will play quite an important part of it because it’s a subscription-based site so people can only read the stories through a subscription but we’ll be reaching out wider with the podcast — an interview with one of the contributors — and a blog with issues coming to mind and we might have contributors from elsewhere too."
While he hopes the Kickstarter will be successful, he is also prepared to try other means if not. “We’re really passionate about the project so if this doesn’t work we’ll find another way — there is a lot of enthusiasm when we talk to people about it.”