Dr. Catherine Noske is editor of Westerly Magazine at the University of Western Australia, where she also teaches in Literature and Creative Writing. She has twice been awarded the Elyne Mitchell Prize for Rural Women Writers, and her current manuscript, the subject of a Varuna Fellowship, was shortlisted for the 2015 Dorothy Hewett Award. AWM recently sat down with Catherine to discuss Westerly, Australian writers, and how to navigate being both a writer and editor.
Who are some authors you’re particularly excited about that have been published so far this year in Westerly?
Westerly publishes two print issues a year, and our first just came out in August. It was a celebration of Indigenous writing and culture, and had some great writing in it from some very well known names – Kim Scott, Tara June Winch, Bruce Pascoe and Melissa Lucashenko, for example. It was a wonderful experience working with them. But sometimes the most exciting authors to publish are the people who are unknown, the emerging writers who produce something completely new. It is wonderful to see the response their work receives. In the last issue, we had work from Dermott Neach and Stevie Michael Hill-Kopp Jr., both thirteen years old. That was very cool. We also had work from Jannali Jones, Paul Collis and Alison Whittaker, which I loved. Now, I am excited to see what is coming in our next issue.
As both a creative writer and an editor of a literary magazine, how do you separate the two?
In some ways, it isn’t a question of separation. Working as an editor is very different from my own practice as a writer, but the two activities complement each other. I am constantly engaging with new writing, which is a great way to encourage me in continuing with my own work – I want to come to the party! And my experiences as a writer mean I am aware of the effort involved in submitting work, which makes me (I hope) a more sensitive and understanding editor than I would be otherwise. The most difficult part is finding time to write, but I am getting better at sectioning off time for my own work, and clearing my head-space to focus.
What kind of things do you look from in a submission? Are there certain things you want to jump out for you?
Reading as an editor, I am looking for a rich and consistent voice. I am certainly hoping things will jump out at me, but I am also trying to let the piece dictate how it should be understood. If I force my own voice and reading onto the work submitted, the work published will all be very similar. So really, I am hoping to find something which speaks for itself, has the power to make me consider life (and forget I am meant to be thinking editorially). I’m not necessarily expecting the piece to be entirely polished and perfected, but I am looking for a strength of voice which will outweigh any rough edges.
Is there anything you absolutely hate reading in a submission?
I hate reading work which clearly won’t fit for Westerly. It shows the author has not bothered to read the Magazine and engage with our style in writing. We publish quite a bit online and we have Online Special Issues which are free to download as well as our Digital Archive with open access material, so there is no excuse. I also hate seeing submissions come in which have been cc’d on to other magazines at the same time – there is very little respect in this. Develop work for a specific publication, and submit it there. If it is rejected, ask for feedback and develop again. But don’t assume every magazine wants the same thing.
Do you have a personal editing process when it comes to editing pieces that will go into the magazine for publication, but you want them cleaned up a little?
My personal process in editing a piece is very simple, and it is roughly the same process as I use for editing my own work. I tend to edit fiction more than poetry. I focus firstly on the parts which I think are particularly strong, and make sure the writer knows what I like about the work. (In reading my own work, I find it is easy to forget that editing is about what is good, not what is bad.) Next, I’ll look at the thematic elements, and ensure that the conceptual development of the piece is consistent. I’ll also look for points where a little more depth might emerge. And finally, I’ll look at syntax and edit for minor issues with sentence structure or style. This means reading the piece through quite a few times, which gives you more chance to understand it. On the whole, it is a process I really enjoy, and the conversations which come out of it are lovely.
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TJ Wilkshire is a twenty-something Brisbane based artist and writer. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Writing and English Literature and is currently studying the WEP Masters at the University of Queensland. Her work focuses on birds and she hopes to one-day turn into one. Wilkshire’s poetry has been published in Peril and Uneven Floor, and won the NotJack Competition.