First Friday Club is our monthly, members-only interview with a guest speaker from the writing industry. Our October meeting featured Bronwyn Mehan, founder of the Australian short fiction press Spineless Wonders. Program Officer Dan Hogan chatted with Bronwyn about the origins of Spineless Wonders and the value of multi-platform publishing.
Bronwyn looks for innovative ways to connect Australian authors with new audiences, collaborating with artists and organisations engaged in multi-media and performing arts. At Spineless Wonders, she publishes brief fiction in all its forms, from short-short stories to novella. Later this year, she will spend a month in New York City as part of a Copyright Agency Cultural Fund fellowship.
Bronwyn Mehan’s journey to Spineless Wonders began when she was an English teacher living in Darwin and had her own short story published in The Age. She remembers the excitement she felt when, that one Saturday morning, people across the country opened their double-page spread and read her story.
Bronwyn wanted to help other short fiction writers enjoy that same buzz, but quickly realised that the publishing industry had little room for short fiction. Publishing houses and literary awards almost always wanted novels.
Armed with the desire to fill this gap in the industry, Bronwyn took a short course in InDesign and started learning more about publishing. Spineless Wonders was born soon after.
Multi-platform story publishing
Since its beginnings in 2011, Spineless Wonders is now a prominent publisher of short Australian stories in print, digital, and audio formats. It is also responsible for the Carmel Bird Digital Literary Award for short fiction collections and the joanne burns Microlit Award.
Spineless Wonders’ many formats include the Slinkies Under 30s platform for younger writers and a print-only anthology series named Microlit. They also feature longer short stories of 7,000 to 10,000 words as digital singles. Bronwyn reflected on the merits of publishing this type of work: ‘Have they sold? Not really. But is it a great thing to put on your CV? Yes. Is it great to see your work published? Yes. But no, [you] won’t be retiring from this…’.
In the Little Fictions program, short stories are read aloud by actors at the Knox Street Bar in Chippendale. Despite having read the stories many times before, Bronwyn never fails to be moved when she hears them again in this context. ‘They feel afresh in the mouths of these talented actors,’ she said. Little Fictions is now also a half-hour fortnightly radio show.
A tale of two cafés
Bronwyn explained the origins of the two major prizes awarded by Spineless Wonders.
The Carmel Bird Digital Literary Award is an annual award for short fiction collections up to 30,000 words, and is online only. Bronwyn contacted Carmel Bird and asked her to meet at a café in Canberra. ‘I know you’re not dead,’ Bronwyn said, ‘but would you mind if I named an award after you?’ Bird’s response was enthusiastic, and now she sometimes helps to judge the award.
The joanne burns Microlit prize, which is awarded annually in conjunction with the Newcastle Writers Festival, has similar origins. Bronywn met with joanne burns at a café in Newtown. Bronwyn’s passion was microfiction and joanne’s was prose poetry; they merged the two into the concept of microlit. ‘And so we created a new genre in that coffee shop,’ Bronwyn laughed.
Despite its many activities, Spineless Wonders remains a small outfit. Bronwyn mused that she is ‘running a publishing company from [her] laptop.’
This is part of a broader movement of small-scale publishing in Australia. ‘We need large publishing houses,’ Bronwyn explained, ‘but there is so much value in small publishing houses.’
She named Subbed In, Kill Your Darlings, Seizure, and Going Down Swinging as some of the exciting contemporary players. These organisations present fiction across platforms, less as conventional publishers and more as purveyors of stories. In Bronwyn’s view, this is the way things are evolving in the Australian publishing landscape.
Words of advice
Bronwyn encourages writers to enter as many competitions and awards as possible, mentioning the age-old adage, you’ve got to be in it to win it. Whether or not you make it onto the shortlist or longlist, someone has read your work, and there’s a chance that one of the judges might be a publisher interested in taking it further. ‘It happens,’ said Bronwyn. ‘I did it.’
Bronwyn also warns against sticking to one genre. If you are working on a novel and have done a character writing exercise, try publishing that exercise as a short story.
The world stage
For Bronwyn’s next project, she will travel to New York City to research and learn from the many multi-platform writing events happening there. ‘New York is fabulous and big,’ she said, ‘and you can learn a lot from a big city like that.’ The trip will be funded by a Publisher Fellowship from the Copyright Agency Cultural Fund.
‘Events help bring people back to books,’ Bronwyn explained. ‘And, if not, at least they will still have had a fun night!’
To find out more about Spineless Wonders and the many projects they run, visit their website: https://shortaustralianstories.com.au/ or follow them on Twitter at @SpinelessWonder. You can find Bronwyn Mehan on Twitter at @b_mehan.