Kill Your Darlings: Issue One
Kill Your Darlings has a lot to live up to. In its inaugural issue its editor, Affirm Press’ Rebecca Starford, says the journal’s mission is to "reinvigorate and re-energise" Australia’s literary scene. She quotes editor Rob Spillman as saying that most journals are "good for you, but they taste awful." Kill Your Darlings intends to redress this—to shake up the medium and "publish literature that bites back." A big, bold statement.
First let me say that I love the title of this attractive new journal. It is an apt reference to the advice that writers are so often given. The bit you love the most is the bit that has to go. Editing your own work is a ruthless business, and cutting your ‘baby’ up can feel like murder. So, Kill Your Darlings is a perfect choice of title that is edgy and attention grabbing, and therefore sure to help with marketing. Moreover, the cover design is striking, the layout clean and readable, and the standard of editing (so often lacking these days) is high. In short, it’s a pleasure to curl up on the couch with.
The journal opens with Gideon Haigh’s biting (yes, they’ve succeeded there) assessment of the current state of reviewing. I suspect some may view this essay as deliberately provocative, but he makes some valid points about what he describes as the generally "lacklustre" fare on offer characterised by "its sheer dullness and inexpertise." He attributes much of the problem to timid reviewers who fear future retribution when their own work comes up for review, but also to newspapers and magazines who pay poorly (if at all) for reviews and begrudge the space they occupy. The critique has already sparked debate, which can only be a good thing.
On finishing reading this essay I, of course, turned straight to the review section at the back to see how Kill Your Darlings' measured up. There are two brief reviews, which surely for their length alone would paradoxically be lambasted under Haigh’s criteria (he quotes George Orwell’s opinion that 1000 words should be the "bare minimum" for any worthwhile review). Nevertheless, snappy reviews do serve a purpose and it’s good to see them included here alongside two much longer reviews. Starford’s consideration of Mary Gaitskill’s Don’t Cry certainly falls within Orwell’s ballpark, and makes a serious attempt to examine this latest offering within the broader context of her body of work. And there’s a lengthy review of The Wire, which Anthony Morris claims is "the best television drama series ever made." (I’m not convinced.)
But back to the ‘commentary’ section. I found Tracy Crisp’s reflective story about the elusive nature of inspiration and the difficulty in trying to write and mother simultaneously compelling. How to be the kind of writer she wants to be and the kind of mother is a conundrum to which I can relate. Then there’s Clementine Ford’s wryly amusing article on internet dating, and Paul Mitchell’s moving and funny account of guiltily bonding with his tweenage daughter over shopping despite his anti-consumerist principles.
It’s great to see an article by former Canberran Justin Heazlewood (aka The Bedroom Philosopher) featured. His commentary on the death of the album and his dad-like resistance to it makes for entertaining reading. The desire for musos to hold their own album in their hands (and not just on their iPod) is surely one to which many authors can relate (the desire for a beautiful object not just a file on an eReader). Ultimately, though, resistance will surely prove futile.
The only disappointment was Georgia Gowing’s commentary on the derby phenomenon. As a regular roller derby-goer I wanted more. For me, it didn’t entirely capture the electric energy and drama of a derby match and, other than a few interesting soundbites from the girls themselves, it failed to offer any fresh insights. Perhaps delving into links to punk culture and third wave feminism might have afforded it greater depth.
The fiction section includes seven short stories of which Patrick Cullen’s is the standout. "Carver’s Unkempt Lawn" imagines a meeting between four famous American writers in the home of Tess Gallagher and Raymond Carver, who is dying. The subtle elegance of this beautifully crafted story had me captivated. I also admired "Clinching" by Emmett Stinson, which throws us into the futile struggle of an emotionally disconnected couple—characters who leap boldly and vividly from the page. And then there’s Chris Womersley’s "Theories of Relativity," which opens with an arresting first line and just gets better from there. It is an unsettling tale of a dysfunctional family seen through the eyes of its youngest child who doesn’t discover the shocking inner world of his family until his twenty-first year. Womersley reveals the story in layers, masterfully leading us towards the final brutal punch. I haven’t read his first novel, The Low Road, which won the 2008 Ned Kelly Award for Best First Fiction, but I’ll certainly be seeking it out now.
I must confess that I was initially skeptical about whether Kill Your Darlings could live up to its own hype. Well, dear Reader, I was wrong to have doubted. Issue one is a damn fine read. I look forward to seeing what the next one brings.