A few weeks ago I picked up a copy of 'First Edition' magazine: issue 08 October. I was so excited to see a magazine of short stories and poetry on sale in W H Smith that I instantly bought it without even looking through it. The cover looked professional enough - the only dubious aspect being the big orange 'sticker' on the front that said 'Get yourself published for FREE!' which I thought was a bit iffy to say the least.
Anyway, have you heard of the saying 'If you don't have anything nice to say, then don't say anything at all'? Well, if you agree with that phrase, you better not read on.
I'm afraid to say that I have only read half of the magazine. And that's because after reading the first half, I simply didn't want to read the rest.
The first thing that struck me about the magazine while flicking through it was the odd little bright blue 'Did You Know?' boxes. Did I know that the collective noun for ladybirds is a "loveliness"? No, I didn't. But I didn't see what that had to do with the coffee-shop story on the same page. Do the editors really not have enough confidence in the stories they have chosen that they have to fill the magazine with these bright, child-like boxes of unrelated trivia?
As for the stories, this magazine has obviously endeavoured to publish the previously unpublished, or little published, writer. Nothing wrong with that. In fact, that's good. There are plenty of talented writers out there that haven't had much published. It's just a shame that the magazine has found so few of these writers. It's an even bigger shame that the editors haven't made the effort to advise a few of the writers of minor changes or tweaks to their work which would make all the difference - or perhaps they didn't know how. Things like removing repeated phrases or words in close secession, or removing redundant phrases. Some of the stories by international authors could have done with a bit of light editing to smooth out some of their phrases.
I couldn't finish one story because not only did the speech have too many exclamation points in it for my liking, but the narrator of the piece used several exclamation points too. As well as this, there was the double exclamation point (!!) and even the question-mark-exclamation-point (!?) - I don't much like having stories shouted at me, but at least they could try to be grammatically correct. This is something the editors should have caught.
Another thing that greatly annoyed me was the un-uniformed way that paragraphs were presented. Some stories had line breaks, and some had indented paragraphs. There really should be a house style to the magazine. It would have made everything fit more visually together.
The presentation of the magazine didn't seem overly professional on closer inspection. The justified text was often stretched to fit the line, especially when each word was on a new line to wrap around an image. And the pixilated advert on the back cover didn't look so sharp either.
Overall, the writing wasn't that great. There were a lot of tell-tale signs that these were inexperienced writers. I'm not claiming to have the greatest experience as a writer, but I noticed quite a lot of the following:
+ Semi-colons where there should be colons.
+ Commas where there should be full stops.
+ Many stories were comprised of too much 'tell' and not nearly enough 'show'.
+ Too much back story - some stories didn't really get started until the middle of the text.
+ Unnecessary detail.
+ Cliched subject matter - yes, there was a story about writers block. There was also a story that seemed suspiciously based on the Watchman premise.
These were the main things I picked up on. I could write more specific things about each story, but I don't think it is needed.
The magazine is also dotted with poetry. I am a fan of poetry, but I'm afraid I didn't much like many of the poems that I read. The editors seem to have favoured rhyming couplets, even when the subject matter is serious. Using rhyming couplets for a somber poem is very hard to do well because of the contradictory 'sing-song' nature of the rhyming structure. Saying that, I did enjoy a poem called 'Thingymebob' by Vincent Pryer.
A few of the stories I really enjoyed. I thought 'Burnt' by Joel Williams was very well executed. I also enjoyed the observant yet engaging prose of Brian Lockett in 'Ken, Doreen and Bernard'. 'Beautiful Jeanette' by Vanessa Woolf-Hoyle was pleasantly wacky, and a few other stories I thought had merit too.
It is a shame that not all of the stories were quite of the same standard. Nearly all of the stories had potential. But potential isn't a finished story. And I want to read a magazine that is full of great, polished stories.
As the title of this post says - these are just my first impressions of the magazine. I have spent a good few hours reading it thus far. I'm in two minds as to whether or not I will finish it.
I find it a shame that with so many great short story magazines out there, this is one of the only ones I've seen on the shelves of a mainstream store.
If you want to read some great short stories, I recommend you try this magazine:
Greatest Uncommon Denominator
At the moment they are promoting a great offer on all the PDF versions of the magazine where you can set your own price. Oh, and unlike First Edition magazine, GUD don't make you pay to submit your work to their electronic version - which I found out about over at Nik Perring's blog. Nik also posted First Edition's editor's response to this issue.
I hope I haven't offended any of the writers - that was never my intention. I simply feel that some of these stories may have been prematurely published.
In my opinion, First Edition could do with some redrafting. Perhaps a Second Edition is in order?