-Reviewed by Cath Barton-
Bare Fiction is a literary magazine available in print and digital formats, but the magazine is only one part of what Bare Fiction represents. Its founding and managing editor, Robert Harper, is an actor and a producer and director of theatre and TV as well as a poet, and these preoccupations are reflected in the way he has established Bare Fiction. He describes it as being set up ‘to promote new writing in all forms through performance, digital representation and publication’. It seems to me, having read Issue 2 and material available on the website, that it is the interweaving of these three elements which makes this magazine stand out and gives it an archival value which magazines that are only made up of the written word cannot replicate.
There is nothing new or exceptional about a launch event for a magazine, but Bare Fiction is going further. As well as having authors read their work, it is making recordings of some of these readings available as Podcasts. Using both Soundcloud and its own YouTube channel, it is cleverly doing two things – giving people who have bought the magazine a chance to hear some of the work read aloud, and, by making the audio work freely available, encouraging those who hear it through visiting the Bare Fiction website to buy the publication and so read more. So, for example, there are Podcasts available of two short stories from Issue 2 – Tania Hershman’s flash ‘Missing My Liar’, deep beyond its word-length, and Carly Holmes’ story of fanciful childhood imaginings ‘Eating the Moon’, in which at night the moon:
…crept through the worn cloth and scattered across the girl’s bed. It slithered inside her ears and tangled in her eyelashes, and she dreamt dreams that were star-shot and bumpy.
Going further still, there is a Podcast available of Rachel Trezise reading. She too has a story in Issue 2, ‘Say Porthcawl’, not the sort of tale you expect from beyond the grave, and the reading gives us more of her vibrant work – an extract from her collection Cosmic Latte.
The three writers I’ve mentioned are all already widely-published and respected, and have no doubt been included in this early issue of Bare Fiction Magazine quite deliberately to give both readers and those submitting work for consideration for future issues a clear message about the standards being set. But, in fairness, the editors have included work from less-known writers, and in the fiction section I particularly enjoyed the very different contributions of J L Boganschneider’s experimentally-structured tale of everything coming down, ‘Caliban Taciturn’, and Thomas McColl’s wry look at one of the unfortunate but inescapable realities of publishing in the digital age, ‘The Plagiarist’.
More than a quarter of this issue is poetry, an eclectic mix. I’m someone who needs a helping hand with poetry, and hearing Bethany W. Pope’s Podcast in which she not only reads her poem ‘The Quality of Mercy’ (included in the magazine) but also explains the background to writing it – when she was working in a drive-in restaurant – and also that its form is a double acrostic sonnet, made the poem mean so much more to me than it would have done otherwise. I would have appreciated it if all the poets had included a sentence or two to introduce their poems.
A couple of the poets have links to visual art – Bethany Rivers’ poem ‘Barred’ is described as being inspired by Sian Rhys James’ painting The Black Cot, and Isobel Dixon’s delightful word pictures of crab – ‘River Mother’ – and ‘gog-eyed alien’ bug – ‘A Missionary in Neon Green’ – are part of a collaboration with artist Douglas Robertson. I was able to find links to images by the artists by searching on-line but I was sorry that there weren’t illustrations in the magazine to illuminate the poems.
Plays are under-represented in literary magazines, and Robert Harper’s inclusion of short theatre pieces in Bare Fiction is a welcome addition to the usual mix of poems and short stories. Each of the four pieces included in this issue is a gem in its own way and I hope there may be Podcasts of some of these available in the future. I especially relished the musical flow of Niki Orfanou’s mini domestic drama ‘Knock-Knock’, an updated ‘I’m okay, You’re okay’ tussle, and welcomed the inclusion of a piece from the early days of Wales-based Dirty Protest Theatre Company, Othniel Smith’s ‘The Naked Major’. Such small-scale experimental theatre pieces often easily disappear without trace and Bare Fiction is here potentially helping to create an important archive.
Finally, the magazine included a couple of reviews and an interview. Far be it from me to review reviews of work I haven’t read, but I particularly welcomed the inclusion of Adam Horowitz’s thoughtfully poetic reflections on poetry – as, for instance, where he says of Lisa Panepinto’s collection:
On this Borrowed Bike has an alluvial feel to it – ideas and images silt up as the poems rush past… a book best read in snatches, aloud, with the scent of outdoors in your hair.
There is much scope for cross-fertilisation in Bare Fiction – a competition promises to attract new voices, Podcasts are being released weekly with readings from the launch event for Issue 3 undoubtedly coming soon, and I look forward to reading and listening to much more from this stable.
Reviewed by Cath Barton — Cath Barton’s prize-winning novella The Plankton Collector (2018) is published by New Welsh Rarebyte and her second novella, In the Sweep of the Bay (2020), by Louise Walter Books. Cath is also active in the on-line flash fiction community.
Photo © Toril Brancher