Gutter Press

The newly launched Gutter magazine already looks like being a promising step for Scottish writing as a whole. Here's why.

Feature by Keir Hind | 28 Sep 2009

Gutter is a magazine for new Scottish writing, launched this past August. Issue 02 will be launched in February, but the submission deadline for this next issue is at the end of this month – 30th October, to be exact. It’s a prestigious affair – the Editorial board includes writers Kirsty Gunn and Alan Warner, poet Kathleen Jamie and agent Maggie McKernan. Get a hold of a copy if you can – it’s full of cracking stories and poems, by emerging and established writers, for whom it aims to provide a platform. The editorial of the inaugural issue mentions that “The need for a new magazine is further exacerbated by the demise of Cencrastus and Cutting Teeth, the infrequency of some titles and dominance of criticism in others”. Is it, therefore a noble undertaking? Maybe.

I asked editors Adrian Searle and Colin Begg how the magazine came about. Adrian said “Colin heard a certain Scottish literary critic who’ll remain nameless complain that there were no 'young literary turks' out there and we knew for a fact that the new writing scene in Scotland is bouncing”. With this in mind, they’re “particularly keen to give space to fiction and poetry that challenges the status quo, whether that’s personal or collective, real or imagined” says Adrian. “We also want to reflect Scotland now, not 10, 20 or 30 years ago. These days we Scots, whether by birth or by association, are an incredibly diverse and international bunch.”

The first issue of the magazine is stuffed with all kinds of new writing from (at my count) 42 different contributors. One is the established writer Ewan Morrison, who has previously written novels such as Swung and Distance. He reckons Gutter “has potential to be a bit like McSweeneys”, a very positive assertion. He also says “At the moment there is a very tiny self appointed elite who determine what is acceptable literature in this country, I'm talking about people who've got themselves into positions of power, and who may be able to determine who and what gets published in future. With so few people determining the arena of criticism and appraisal within Scot lit, this will ultimately lead to conformism and stagnation.” This being his assessment, he sees the magazine as a positive thing: “This is why I'm grateful for the existence of Gutter. It's a breath of very fresh air in what are now looking like some very stale corridors of power lined by the same portraits of the same old faces.”

On which note, two new faces who feature in the magazine are Patricia Ace and Fiona Rintoul. Ace, who has three poems in the first issue, says “It feels great and especially exciting to have work featured in the very first issue of a new magazine.” Rintoul, who contributes an extract from her novel Leipzig, expresses a similar sentiment “I'm delighted to have my work in the first issue of Gutter. It's a great-looking magazine and a fantastic read. And - crucially - it isn't pretentious.” The magazine does seem to have been set up with writers like Patricia and Fiona in mind. When I asked Adrian Searle about the aims of the magazine, he said “Gutter aims to provide a platform for the best established and new writers to publish their work side by side.” Patricia Ace seems to approve of this: “There was definitely a need for a new Scottish lit mag. and I'm impressed by Gutter's ambition to remain outward-looking and challenge the status quo.” Fiona Rintoul seems impressed too. “Gutter really is filling a gap in the market. There isn't another literary magazine in Scotland of this calibre. With so much good new writing around, Gutter is an exciting and much-needed new outlet. I expect it to have a very bright future.”

Speaking of the market, doesn't the fact that Cencrastus and Cutting Teeth have expired suggest the magazine is a risky venture? Adrian is confident it’s not. “I think it’s more about readership than market. Nobody ever got rich publishing a literary magazine… but there’s certainly an audience out there, UK-wide and internationally, ready to read high quality Scottish writing.” But how can he maintain that high quality? “Hopefully we will get into a 'virtuous cycle', whereby publishing good writing means that we get sent good writing. We will also be spreading the word as widely as possible to solicit submissions, reading everything we are sent, keeping our editorial policy tight and, as Gutter develops, directly commissioning more and more work.” His co-editor Colin Begg expresses a similar sentiment regarding the quality of poetry in the magazine “In our reading, we set a minimum quality level, as well as an indefinable 'Gutter Factor', so in the unlikely event of there being a limited number of suitable poems we'll simply publish fewer. I don't think that will happen though, as the very presence of magazines such as ours will hopefully serve as an engine to drive standards higher.”

Those standards are very high already. A personal highlight in the first issue was Karen Campbell’s ‘Baccalaureate Ecosse’. This work is an essay purported to have been written in an exam in 2028, about Scotland’s ‘recent history’, including a King Alexander Salmond and President William Connolly, and it’s fantastically inventive and humorous. It’s worth grabbing a copy just for that story – though it should be said that the others are really very good too. To get an idea of who they’re looking for, I asked Colin and Adrian who their dream contributors would be. Colin replied that “In terms of Scottish writers alive today, and if I'd any money to pay them, I'd love James Kelman, Agnes Owens, or Kevin MacNeil to contribute a new story, and Tom Leonard or Douglas Dunn a new poem.” Adrian took a more fantastic tack by answering “Financially, JD Salinger (although I don’t think he’s got any connection to Scotland!). Emotionally, Iain Macpherson who wrote Wild Harbour in the 1930s, a greatly under-rated Scottish novel.” Something for everyone there – it seems the only common factor is just damned good writing.

Things are going well for Colin and Adrian then, with Colin telling me “I'm very pleased. We received a phenomenal response in terms of submissions, which enabled us to select excellent work”. Adrian adds. "I’ve been delighted at the quality of work we’ve been able to publish and the feedback we’ve had across the board.” So, if you’re interested in contributing, what message does Gutter have? Adrian says: “Please send us your work! We read everything. If you’re unsure then subscribe - you'll get an idea of the style and tone of the magazine and see what we've published before, which will up the chance of your own work being accepted.” If you’ve any ambitions as a writer at all, Gutter could be just the place to exhibit your work. Get writing! [Keir Hind]

The Submission deadline for the second issue of Gutter is 30th October 2009.