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“I was told that every day you should write down something from the five senses,” says Craig Taylor, handing down this writing advice for me and other like-minded young writers, like a well-kept secret.


Craig Taylor is the editor of Five Dials, a literary magazine published online by Hamish Hamilton, a publishing house under Penguin. I spoke to Craig after the launch of the 28th issue of Five Dials, where Sheila Heti (or rather her dainty mother) pressed the button that sent Issue #28 to all Five Dials subscribers. To celebrate, Luke Davies read a shortened version of his featured piece, as did Melbourne-based writer, Josephine Rowe. Taylor himself read out another submission by Tom Basden, which was, essentially, four chapters of an incomplete book. Ridiculous and far-fetched, Basden’s action-packed stories triggered chuckles galore.

“A lot of people might sneer at Tom because he’s a TV writer. I can’t imagine some literary magazines publishing stuff that silly, but I love that. I love the fact that you can mix it up and there can be humour in these things too and I do think, as I said, it’s a terrible piece of writing but actually a really good piece of writing... he’s a very funny guy,” Taylor says.

So how did this literary magazine start? Craig tells me of his “social conversation” in 2008 with Simon Prosser (who runs Hamish Hamilton), where the idea of a literary magazine sprung to life. “We just thought, ‘How can we make a magazine that keeps going?’ and this seemed to be the solution. We wouldn’t print it out and bind it, we’d just allow other people to do that.”

Taylor’s passion for and belief in Five Dials is clear. “It’s just great to be able to show that there’s this brotherhood of people who like this kind of literature, all over the world ... I like the fact that in some ways it’s very ephemeral but in other ways, you have this moment where people gather and see it off into the world.”

Five Dials seems like the ideal magazine. It’s an online publication so it ticks the environmentally friendly box; it’s open and willing to incorporate all types of writing; and Five Dials is as encouraging of submissions by young, budding writers as it is of those by more experienced wordsmiths. On top of all of this, Taylor is doing something different and breaking journalistic conventions – he maintains flexibility is key. “Some of our issues are two pages long and some issues are 80 pages long, so it’s nice having this huge amount of flexibility. Because you know, magazines are changing and we can be part of that change... And I say to people that it is free, so don’t complain if it doesn’t come in on the 31st of every month,” he laughs.

When I ask Taylor about his advice for young writers, he emphasises the importance of research. He drew an interesting comparison between young and unprepared writers, to musicians who think they’re creating original music but haven’t – the reason being that they have failed to listen to their musical predecessors. “They’re your friends, they’re these voices from history that are basically saying, ‘We did this, and so can you’, and it’s a bar.”

Taylor says young writers should be filling journals with their own words, as well as getting involved in more accessible publications such as those on campus and smaller magazines around Sydney. He spoke about his youth growing up in the zine culture where he perfected the art of self-publishing (which is how his eventual book, One Million Tiny Plays About Britain, caught the attention of an editor of The Guardian and first became a column). Although Taylor admits the zine culture isn’t as prominent as it was back then, he says that magazines are still an important part of the literary scene in Australia, with a range of different magazines available. “The common though-line that runs through them all is that whoever is editing them wants to publish good stuff. You just have to work on it and get it out there.

“I think people think a publisher will come and touch them with the golden finger or something,” he says, with an elaborate hand gesture, “and I know from working in publishing that if we get a beautiful zine or a sea of blogs that someone’s done, and they’ve put the work into it, and they’ve worked hard on their writing – that’s the kind of stuff where you think, ‘Oh, maybe we should pay attention to this person’.”

Speaking to me and to all younger writers, Taylor says, “You’re going into a really tumultuous time: the journalism that you’re going to do in the future, isn’t going to be like the journalism in the past. It’s all changing and shifting but what’s not changing is the fact that it’s an excuse – and all of the great projects are excuses –to look into the world. That’s what you have to look forward to.”

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