We Were Always Here: Inside a showcase of Scotland's queer talent
- Lynsey May
- 13 February 2019
The editors of a new anthology of work from Scottish LGBTI+ talent give us the lowdown on the project that made it possible
Bringing together work from writers from throughout Scotland, We Were Always Here: A Queer Words Anthology is a bright, bold book packed with a variety of different viewpoints. Starting as a planned outcome as part of the Queer Words Project Scotland (a mentoring programme for writers), the book contains the work of the selected mentees, their mentors and a variety of prominent writers from around the country. We chatted to editors Ryan Vance and Michael Lee Richardson for a little peek behind the leopard spots (the cover is gorgeous, and the writing just as good).
The book is a result of the mentorship programme, how did you curate or collect the pieces?
RV: There were two stages of submissions – one for the mentoring, one for the book – and each had a long-list and a short-list. The mentoring was very tricky to judge, as we were looking for writers who already knew the basics of their craft, but who could also with a little help achieve something much greater. Whereas for the anthology, we were simply looking for exciting work that was confident in its queerness, where the writer understood they didn't need to justify queerness before being taken seriously.
What inspired Queer Words Project Scotland in the first place?
RV: Rejections are part of the game as a writer, if you aren't getting rejections then you're not putting your work out there. But I think if you come from a marginalised or misunderstood community, there's always a voice in your head that reacts to rejection with an urge to hide the thing that makes you different. Queer Words Project Scotland was an attempt to sway the balance in our favour – everyone involved in the selection processes and mentoring was queer. Removing that one barrier hopefully made it easier for folk to believe their creative work was important, and that they didn't need to de-queer it for anyone.
Are there common themes or threads in the book or is each piece distinct?
MLR: Time and history are big themes throughout the collection, particularly the idea of queers rewriting ourselves into histories or narratives we've been left out of, so I'm really pleased we've been able to get the book out in time for LGBT History Month. Garry Mac has written a fantastic foreword which draws some of those themes out, and that's been getting a really great reception from readers.
RV: Historical figures pop up, there's a few speculative sci-fi stories in there, characters openly talk about where queer culture has come from and where we'll go, and much of the poetry battles with the feeling of always being on the knife-edge of the present, reckoning with what it means to be alive now, when so much is changing so fast. Jumping around these ideas like you're clinging onto the side of a time machine on the fritz makes for an exciting read!
Any authors you are especially pleased to feature?
RV: Oh jeez, all of them? That's a cop-out answer, but it's also true! We were so lucky to work with the mentors (Rachel Plummer, Jo Clifford, Harry Josephine Giles, Kirsty Logan, Shane Strachan) all of whom we respect and adore. All the mentees (MJ Brocklebank, Christina Neuwirth, April Hill, Eris Young, Etzali Hernández) blew us away with their final submissions. I could go through all 34 writers and gush about why we picked their pieces, but that would turn into a complete book in itself!
MLR: I would definitely echo Ryan in saying that I'm excited about all of the writers we're featuring! One of the first pieces I read that I got really excited about was Heather Valentine's 'Projector', a story about a filmmaker putting together a montage of old film footage for LGBT History Month, and finding it lacking. It's the first story in the collection for a reason, because it really set the tone for what we were trying to do, widening the margins a bit and making space for stuff that's maybe a bit saltier or a bit stranger. This bit in particular really sums up what the anthology is about, for me: 'What she's looking for isn't here. What's here is two handsome men, two pretty women, being gently queer.' And she's sure there are ways in which that is still radical, but not with her. That's the starting line to her. Watching nice films over and over again isn't her. Watching films just for their representation isn't good enough. She wants to feel the ground break beneath her feet.
We Were Always Here is published by 404 Ink and is out now.