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Stories are Grist to Michael’s mill
Yorkshire writers Simon Armitage and Joanne Harris have agreed to judge two writing competitions in a forthcoming annual literary magazine.
The first issue of Grist, backed by Huddersfield University, is due out by the summer of next year.
Between now and then the magazine's editor Michael Stewart, Bradford-based playwright, artist and university lecturer, hopes that poems and short-stories will roll in for consideration.
The more people who enter - £3 per short story and poem - the greater the cash prizes and money available to pay contributors.
"In terms of selection I am the editor so I have the final say in what goes in. But I will have a team of other readers who have other specialities and interests to help me judge. It won't be well-rounded if it's just my taste.
"Magazines of new writing are synonymous with young writers. I don't want that. I am not just looking for young writers: I want all ages from all backgrounds.
"I mark scripts for the Open University and come across writing by students in their seventies," he says.
Interesting so far, but hardly breathtaking. What is going to make Grist different from any literary magazine, especially those that claim to be avant-garde or cutting edge?
Michael says: "It's backed by Huddersfield University, not the Arts Council, and I hope it will generate its own revenue.
"It's going to be a standard-size paperback of about 200 pages, costing around £8. The only remit is that it will contain the best new writing in the world right now; it's international in scope but based in Yorkshire.
"The philosophy of putting emerging writers with established writers can only be beneficial to both. I am hoping that the money that comes in from the competitions will allow me to commission Alice Smith to write a story or Carol Ann Duffy to write a poem.
"There are plenty of literary magazines out there, but they don't receive much publicity. The idea of having established writers in the mix means that Grist will generate its own publicity, its own market."
Not being dependent on Arts Council funding is also of critical importance, although Michael did not mention this. The fact is, however, that the funding of many small presses and magazines such as Shoestring, The London Magazine and Ambit has either been withdrawn or severely truncated as the cost of the London Olympic Games in 2012 continues to rise and consequently makes inroads in arts funding.
What about the magazine's name?
"The roots of the word grist' are Yorkshire and Huddersfield is, or was, a mill town. Grist is another word for getting the fruit of the seed.
"Writing is about rewriting and finding the good bit. The first draft is just ten per cent of the writing. It takes hard work and graft to get there.
"This is against the golden nugget theory - that great writers are born. My philosophy is about learning the craft and honing your skills," he adds.
When Michael first outlined the idea of Grist he said he had in mind a Northern equivalent to Granta, but with a significant difference.
"I have read Granta over the years and a lot of it is intellectual writing. I am not interested in clever ideas for their own sake. I am into feelings and emotions.
"Quirky stories for the sake of being quirky or avant-garde don't interest me. Stories should offer the reader an emotional journey," he says.
He is pleased that Joanne Harris, best-selling novelist of Chocolat and Five Quarters of the Orange, and the multi-prize winning poet Simon Armitage have agreed to judge the short story and poetry competitions.
Their presence in the first issue strikes just the right note he is after for future editions.
Michael, who designed the cover and the logo, hopes to sell thousands of copies of Grist through Borders and Waterstones as well as institutions of higher education.
- To enter the Grist short story and poetry competitions go to hud.ac.uk/grist. The closing date for entries is November 30, 2008.