When we launched AMW to little fanfare back in May 2018, the only outlet we had for the magazine was our coffee shop. It was here that the idea was born and I’ve discussed this on the blog before but what I haven’t told you was the reaction of some of our customers. For the benefit of your patience and my memory, I have merged some of the conversations into one sparkling exchange.
A stack of newly printed copies lies invitingly on the counter, displayed next to a printed stand-up advertising A Million Ways: A New Fiction Magazine.
“Oh, what’s this?” they’d ask, picking it and immediately turning it over, as if the answer was on the back, which it wasn’t.
“It’s our new fiction magazine, we’ve just launched it, would you like a copy?” we’d invariably reply, as if wasn’t really obvious that it was a magazine.
“So…’ flicking through the recently printed pages, ‘It’s just stories…?” looking up for more reasons to buy it.
“Yes, it’s a fiction magazine with stories from local and not-so-local writers…we produce it, and this is the first issue. Only five pounds…” we would pitch, explaining all, but really intimating that to really understand it what it was about, you’d have to actually buy one and then actually read it. There is a pause, and a puzzled look from the other side of the counter.
“So…’ looking at me, and then down again at this thing in their hands, turning it slowly over thinking they might have missed something, ‘It’s just stories?” with emphasis on the just. I think I may have sighed, and it wasn’t the only time. I’d start again…
But it got me thinking: What was it really about? What if that question was the question, the one I hadn’t asked myself when I had spent all those late nights developing the idea and making prototypes…all that lost sleep, all that excited potential of what this little magazine could be.
What is it about?
Lets break it down, now that I’ve had time to reflect upon the question posed by several customers, none of which bought a copy.
In AMW.1. the OLD/NEW issue, we have several stories that really show what we wanted to be about. It was our first issue and we wanted to get the balance of stories right, as well as giving a good example of the ideology of the magazine. One our early straplines, AMW / Stories with Substance, is a great example of what we wanted to be about. Not flim flam stories that you can read in Readers Digest or small town community magazines, but about the big stuff, the things that matter. Things like
Life & Death and everything in between. Its about the things that happen in our lives, the decisions, the choices, the paths we take or don’t take…it is what happens to us that defines us. It is what makes us all the same and all unique.
‘Feeling Atoms’ by CS Mee is about a woman who is sitting, enjoying the sunshine and spilling lemonade, activities we have all enjoyed. I’m often invited to a good old fashion spilling. The story moves into thoughts, ponderings and suppositions about Atoms, about the very things that make us and about the very existence of life itself. The lemonade-spilling main character ponders her own existence whilst sat in a deckchair, ruminating on the larger plans around us.
‘I’m dissolving, here in this deckchair; my particles are fizzing away. I’m porous; my atoms are as sparse as the stars in a galaxy. I should feel light as air, or lighter. I could lift and dissipate. Or I could tunnel, slip through the chair, through the earth beneath, and then where would I stop?’
But we are made of much more than that, than mere atoms.
(Atom joke: Never trust an atom. They make everything up.)
‘Branham’s Elephant’ by James Hatton examines a man trying to find his place in a world in a period of change, in turmoil, in evolution and, having avoided taking part in the wars that have claimed many lives, looks within himself to save the life of an animal that can’t defend itself. He is aware of his own acceptance of his cowardice, both in enlisting and in telling the woman he so desires how he feels, before losing her to another world, a world he has no place in. It is a discovery of his mettle, of what makes him the man he is that enables him to act, to do what is right and he faces an uncertain future with the elephant he has come to care for more than anything else, in the one world that they both understand.
Decisions and choices form the path for the character in ‘Everybody’s Waiting’ by Rhys Timson. Families are a complex organism, and when part of that entity makes a choice and goes one way, invariably it will affect the other parts. No families work in permanent perfection and, like atoms, split and divide and create new families, new directions and new lives. But no matter how hard we try, or how little, we cannot avoid the certainty of death being present at any time of our lives. It is the one thing we have to accept will affect us at some point, and it is one that we have little or no influence over, suicide excepted. Even the death of the gregarious cousin, discovered in a bath by a cleaner, was a decision he made somewhere unmentioned, off page, but the consequence is still the same. Death takes us all, he’s just waiting.
But there are other influences that make us who we are and our parents make the biggest impression on us in those formative years, until we become able and confident enough to make decisions for ourselves, and form some of the strongest memories we’ll ever have. Daniel Ross discusses the memories he has of his father, of days out in the car, of holidays and the music and songs that is ever present in those memories. You don’t really remember the details of holidays when you are kid but a song heard years later can take you right back in an instant. Our parents make us who we are, just as much as the atoms, and our inherent integrity, or choices. Daniel has positive memories of his childhood and his parents but not everybody is so lucky.
Richard, the main character in ‘Just A Spoonful’, has had his life determined by the decisions of his parents to move from England to Tanzania, years before the story even begins. His father, thwarted by his own weakness and inability to face up to his problems, finds the solution at the bottom of a bottle, taking out his anger and disappointment on his family, culminating in a an event Richard only half remembers, lost in the fugue of his own muddled memories. The death of a loved one pushes Richard to try and be a better man, to live beyond the disappointments of his father, to move beyond the world he has been born into. He looks inside, sees the opportunity and the desire but he is unable to, anchored to the past by alcohol and family history.
The lack of parenting, or a father figure, can be as detrimental as bad parenting and in ‘Hard Graft’ by Richard Nicholson, sees a grandfather forced to open his life up to his family following his wife’s death. Spending time with his grandson, he starts to influence the boys direction by imparting knowledge and showing him that life is everywhere and it can be manipulated into whatever we want, it just takes a little effort, and little love. The boy is shown a glimpse of a different time, a different past and a different future.
All these stories are all about things that we all have in our lives, topics we have pondered long into the night, when the world is at its darkest and life seems bleakest. These are the same things that unite us all, that define us in similar and different ways and make us who we are, and what we are made of. And I don’t mean atoms.
And so, these stories show you what we are made of, what makes A Million Ways the same and very different to all the magazines out there. The stories and points of view that we choose to publish are the stories that we want to tell and that’s the magic of stories. That the writers of these stories have sat down and described our lives, events that have happened to us, and choices that we too nave been faced with.
So, these are not ‘just stories’ but they are life and if one thing unites us as humans, it is life and our experiences, be it solo or shared, become the stories that make up our lives and what is more important than that?
‘Our first ideas of life are generally taken from fiction, rather than fact.’ Arthur Schopenhauer.