We sat down with Cassia Gaden Gilmartin, arts extraordinaire and founding editor of Channel. Channel is a literary magazine born out of the climate crisis, publishing poetry and prose with an environmentalist perspective. Their goal is to provide a space for literary work that fosters re-connection with the natural world. They publish work from Ireland and abroad that displays and celebrates the relationships between plant and animal life, landscape and humanity.
Sinéad: What inspired your interest in literature and publishing, and what provoked you to set up your own literary journal?
Cassia: Writing and publishing, for me, have always been about connection – about finding ways to share parts of ourselves through language, even parts that aren’t fully articulable and are best approached aslant, through metaphor and symbol or through the sonic qualities of language. Publishing excites me because it’s a powerful space for shared reflection on challenges we face as local and global communities, and for co-creation of new ideas.
Channel came about because my co-founding editor, Elizabeth Murtough, and myself were both looking for a way to put our skills as creatives in service of the global struggle against runaway climate change and biodiversity loss. The title, ‘Channel,’ comes from the idea of a channel as always being something that connects – a conduit through which something, whether it’s water, electricity or a spirit, can flow towards something else. Our Channel exists as a passage for the circulation of stories concerning our own individual and collective relationships with nature, and of ideas as to how we might live in healthier relation with the world around us.
Sinéad: How do you feel it’s important to support artists, and how does Channel reflect this?
Cassia: Monetary support for artists is crucial to the development of a strong, diverse arts ecosystem, and we aim to reflect that through our payment policy. We’re continually trying to push contributor fees towards a level that better reflects the time and energy invested in creative work.
Beyond that, we aim to support writers in developing a sense of their own investment in and ownership over their work. Our website’s Submissions page includes clear information on rights and how contributors can expect their work to be treated. In our editorial process we always aim to respect the writer’s unique understanding of their work, its origins and its potential, and to keep in mind the power we hold as editors over writers who are eager to see their words in print. We always make clear that our editorial interventions are suggestions, not demands, and encourage writers to remember that, if for any reason we’re not seeing eye to eye as to the direction a piece is taking, they’re always free to withdraw the work and find a more suitable home for it elsewhere.
Sinéad: Why is it important for aspiring and emerging writers to keep literary journals in mind when building a career?
Cassia: Literary journals, I feel, have an incredible ability to bring writers, as well as artists in other forms, together in the creative community. An issue of a journal is a chance for a whole lineup of contributors, along with a cover artist or designer, to encounter one another through their work. When I say that, I don’t just mean that journals offer a chance for emerging writers to network, to get to know more established contributors in order to get ahead – I think the alchemy that happens when one person’s creative work touches another’s can be very powerful. Placing different voices together in a lineup has always been a joy for me as an editor. Launches are often inspiring communal events, opportunities for new ideas to form.
Sinéad: Do you think Irish literary journals could do more to help writers at an early stage in their career? Or conversely, what do you think we do well to help these writers?
Cassia: I think more transparency as to how we read and consider work, and what the editorial process will look like should a piece be accepted, would go a long way towards helping new writers feel supported. I’m grateful to see an increase, in recent years, in editors talking openly with writers about their working processes, and a related increase in conversations among editors about our ways of working – the invitation you’ve given me to take part in this interview being a great example. It’s wonderful to see platforms like Sonder working to make the rest of the literary world more approachable for writers, and more accountable to them.
Sinéad: Some writers may find gripes when submitting to literary journals, or they feel in the dark when it comes to the publishing side of things. Is there anything you’d like to shed light on that would help enlighten writers when it comes to delays, rejections, editorial, etc?
Cassia: My experience is that a lot of new writers aren’t aware of the sheer volume of submissions that journals receive – for Channel, we receive at least 1500 pieces in each submission window. We often reject excellent work simply because it’s not quite right for a particular issue’s lineup, or because we’ve published something similar in the recent past. And often, when we love a piece as a whole but are put off by one wobbly line or one scene that we feel could use development, there’s not time to send a personalised rejection telling the author that. So it’s important not to be put off by rejection, and to keep submitting to journals that you feel could be a good fit for your work.
The other thing I’d like to share is that delays and mistakes happen in editorial work, sometimes out of carelessness on an editor’s part but more often because the workload involved in making a journal is prodigious and life can get in the way. Most journals don’t earn enough to provide full-time jobs for their publishers; we have to fit our journal-making in around other commitments, and I don’t think I’ve ever met an editor who doesn’t feel overstretched at times. The relationship between writer and editor is one that needs to be built on trust, and it’s important both to have compassion for the human being on the other side of the table and to know when not to excuse bad behaviour – this, I think, is where the reputations we build and the messages we put out into the world through our websites, social media and publicity efforts come into play. We aim to earn our contributors’ trust not only through the way we treat them and their work on one occasion, but through our dealings with many writers over multiple issues and through the ways that we talk about our work.
Sinéad: Do you have any advice for writers when submitting to literary journals?
Cassia: I think it’s important to submit the right piece to the right journal. Often, knowing whether a piece might be a good fit for a platform isn’t as simple as just reading the submission guidelines. Editors’ tastes, and the unique styles of the journals they create, can be hard to pin down, and often the parameters of what a particular journal may accept for publication are either broader or narrower than a glance at its guidelines or subject matter might suggest.
We describe Channel, for example, as a journal dedicated to writing that fosters human connection with the natural world, but our output isn’t limited by the historical construction of nature writing as a genre. We like to think of all writing as nature writing, to the extent that all writing is informed by the relationships with our environment on which human thought and language are built – and we’re interested in publishing work that does something interesting with that universal relationship to nature as a source, whatever the apparent subject matter of a piece.
Sinéad: Following on from that, do you have any more general advice for writers who are hoping to build a career in writing?
Cassia: Know why you write. I think the process of writing and submitting – then facing rejection, then writing some more – is too gruelling to stick with just because it feels vaguely satisfying. A time is likely to come when, for a while at least, it won’t feel that way. For me, my work in writing and publishing is part of a broader sense of how I want to live my life; it’s one of my chosen ways of interfacing with the world, and when the work gets difficult my understanding of that choice is what makes it possible to go on.
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