One of the latest releases from queer publishing house, Inkandescent, is MAINSTREAM – an anthology of new work featuring stories from the edges.
Contributors to the anthology include established writers such as Kit de Waal, Paul McVeigh, and Kerry Hudson, alongside emerging voices such as Golnoosh Nour, Chris Simpson, Iqbal Hussain, and Keith Jarrett.
Also featured in the anthology is a story by Ollie Charles. I caught up with Ollie to talk about his work.
What was the creative process you followed to respond to the brief for the Mainstream anthology?
The brief was a writer’s total dream and utter nightmare – write whatever you want, to a specified word limit.
Well, where do you start and what did I want to write about? The amazing team at Inkandescent were open to all kinds of stories, told from the point of view of underrepresented writers, but what did I want to present to them for consideration for MAINSTREAM?
In the case of Dilated Pupil, I actually had two separate stories that I’d worked on over the last five or so years – one was a performance piece that I’d written whilst on the Platform scheme with writer development agency, Spread The Word, and the second was a short story inspired by an incident that happened to a friend on a night out.
The performance piece started in a club. It was a tense, descriptive bit of writing that saw my narrator leave the club, wander through a city filled with men hanging from trees, get drawn into a café where he was pulled into an alternate reality through a bathroom mirror. The second piece, a short story, was inspired by a friend’s drug-fuelled experience at a nightclub. I always loved both pieces, but they never quite felt complete, until I got the brief for MAINSTREAM and then the real work began.
There were similar themes across both pieces – desire, abandonment, betrayal, questioning. Plus, both started in a nightclub and – having been stuck inside during lockdown last year for such a long time – it was interesting to picture an atmosphere so full of bodies, so different to what we were all experiencing at the time. Plus, both had mirrors, looking back at oneself, trying to understand and acknowledge a sense of shame, perhaps, or a need to find a new route in life.
These were all things I was feeling and interested in exploring further, so I stitched the pieces together and wrote an entirely new third act and ending.
How does it feel to see your work published in a collection such as Mainstream?
I’m not exaggerating when I tell you how excited I was to receive the email.
I have been working on my writing for a long time and have had a number of poems published online and in another anthology which was so exciting, but to get a short story published in a book that features a huge number of both established and emerging writers that I love, admire and find hugely inspirational, well that was awesome.
Writing is generally a pretty long and arduous process and it’s filled with a lot of rejection, but to be given an opportunity like MAINSTREAM – well, that legitimises what I feel I’m trying to do.
To be featured alongside writers like Kit de Waal, Kerry Hudson, Paul McVeigh and Golnoosh Nour is something I’m still pinching myself about.
Mainstream showcases the work of underrepresented writers, which is something that you’re also doing through the Untitled: Voices series. Is this a crossover or a collaboration?
Outside of the work that I do as co-founder and editor of Untitled, I’m also a writer just trying to get his own work out there. Untitled and UNTITLED:VOICES flourished out of my love of working with writers and developing their work, creating a network, and promoting much needed voices in the world.
I know I come from a specific place of privilege, so it was always important to me to use that privilege to help create whatever space I can for those who don’t but should have one. Inkandescent do the same thing.
The way I see it is the more people running these organisations and working together to create opportunities, the better.
Is Mainstream (and Untitled: Voices) an example of how underrepresented writers can sidestep barriers to publication by creating their own platform and finding their own paths to connect with an audience?
It’s about finding your people, discovering opportunities, making room, giving and taking space. MAINSTREAM and UNTITLED:VOICES are two examples of space that has been created for writers not heard traditionally in the mainstream.
The more spaces created, the more writers published, the more a variety of voices that are given a spotlight, the higher the chance that both independent and popular mainstream publishing will notice the importance in the diversity of representation and the promotion of the incredible writing that is out there.
If someone was passionate about writing but not sure how to take it forward, what advice or guidance would you give them?
Write because you’re enjoying it, because you know that’s what you need to do.
Find your people. My writing world is completely different now to a year ago because I found people through things like Twitter, and people like Justin and Nathan at Inkandescent.
Don’t be worried about what your mum, or partner, or best friend will think of your writing. Normally you can’t control what turns up on the page.
Submit to journals and anthologies and websites, but only when you’re ready.
Have a thick skin, accept the rejection, swallow it, and move on. It’s never nice but when you get the acceptance email, it’s so worth it.
How do you hope that people feel when reading your story that’s featured in Mainstream?
Moved, scared, intrigued. I want people to be left with something to discuss or talk about after you read the final sentence.