Cover illustration by Nevena Katalina
The most bizarre thing to emerge from the Surreal issue, aside from the strange twists of the stories and imaginative turns of the poetry, turned out to be the surprising lack of literary non-fiction wending its way to Shooter.
While I was delighted to assemble an issue full of comic takes on religious myths, unlikely circumstances, and human emotions explored to metaphorical extremes, I had hoped writers might also examine mental illness and everyday sexism, perhaps, or personal experiences of supernatural encounters, dreams and nightmares. Although I wasn’t looking for obvious essays on Surrealist artists, 2015 marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of seminal TV show Twin Peaks; I would have welcomed a piece to do with David Lynch. The director’s signature magnification of the ordinary, the way he hones in on the weirdness in the everyday, represents the most compelling kind of surreal artistry.
The lesson appears to be that non-fiction must be commissioned, perhaps because of the greater legwork of research or reportage involved. Maybe non-fiction writers require greater reassurance that readers would be interested in their work. There are certainly fewer forums for essays, memoirs and creative non-fiction in the UK than in the US, where there are about fifteen times as many print publications showcasing such work, according to Duotrope. Shooter will go a small way toward redressing the balance.
Thankfully, I did find a great deal to transport and surprise readers in this issue’s submissions of fiction and poetry. Some of the strongest innovation came from the poets, with intriguing plays on subject and form made by Sara Backer, Mary Petralia and Ariela Freedman in the first three poems.
In his hilarious tale “The Cat Licked Its Paws”, Nick Burbidge conjures the hallucinatory consequences of literary madness, appropriately enough, in the context of a creative writing class. João Cerqueira and Sharon Eckman twist Biblical themes in comic style in “Eve’s Backside” and “Dinner for Four”. Sophie Sellars and Mark Charney play with more secular concepts of heroes in “Macramé for Beginners” and “The Origins of Biodegradable Man”.
The most overtly surreal takes on the theme can be found in Mi L Holliday’s celestially strange poem “A Mother’s Concern” and David Hartley’s sci-fi fantasy “A Time Before Horses”, in which time-travelling steeds confront a terrifying creature. A pair of stories, Die Booth’s “In Hope” and Larry Lefkowitz’s “The Ultimate Collector”, depict the search for a perfect partner, while Pam McWilliams’ heroine in “The Fandango” resorts to extreme measures to escape her decidedly imperfect husband. Finally, a single girl on the threshold of thirty awakes, in Anne Summerfield’s “Finding Herself”, to a metamorphosis far more outlandish than that of man into bug.
If shy non-fiction writers need to be courted, it’s appropriate that I came by this issue’s sole non-fiction piece courtesy of dating website OK Cupid. I was grateful that Thomas Percy Hughes agreed to let me publish part of “Two Years a Tramp”, a true account of his extraordinary recent exploits, which saw him careen thousands of miles across Europe, mostly on foot, with unusual sexual encounters, police brutality, prison and homelessness as waypoints. If Charles Bukowski and Hank Moody had a literary lovechild, they might have spawned Hughes; the rawness and black humour of his piece make for a riveting read, proving once again the truth of the adage that fact is stranger than fiction.
Order a copy of the Surreal issue here: www.shooterlitmag.com/subscriptions.