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Naomi Alderman | Sara Wheeler Alex Clark | Bernardine Evaristo | Jane Mackenzie Kitty Fitzgerald | Cathi Unsworth | Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin | Rachel Trezise

Issue 44 Jan / Feb / Mar 2010 £5.50

SIX REINCARNATIONS We’ve redesigned the entire magazine six times since the launch issue, and tweak the line-up of contents every year, to make sure we stay up-to-date with what’s happening in the world of writing and publishing. The next reincarnation’s due next year. What will we do next?

When asked for a cash-flow projection, I produced a profit-and-loss table. I agreed a quote from a design firm for a 48-page magazine that had swelled to 60 pages by the time of publication – and was aghast when their fee swelled accordingly (cue domino three in the cascade that nearly closed us down). Thinking I was appearing on a radio programme (what sleep-deprived planet was I on?), I turned up at the BBC’s Newcastle studio to discuss the Orange Prize with Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight, dressed in a tee-shirt and trackie bottoms – and ended up borrowing a jacket and makeup from Look North newsreader Wendy Gibson.

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Ageism challenge Then there was the time I garbled a live Today programme phone interview about the ageism of certain literary awards – because my (aged, dementia sufferer) mother was phoning me repeatedly on re-dial wanting to know when the interview would be broadcast. It was a perfect example of the issue I was talking about: how women’s caring roles interfere with their careers and disadvantage them in awards with an upper age limit. (Afterwards I wondered whether there was a ‘black book’ at the BBC for iffy contributors – because I wasn’t invited back on the programme again for 15 years…)

And lord knows what damage we did to our reputation with our spoof press release claiming that some ancient handwritten papers wrapped around crockery in a Scottish attic ‘proved’ that Robbie Burns’ poems were written by his wife. We were hoping to publicise a cheeky short story Carol Ann Duffy had selected for Issue 8, but we were besieged by phone calls from press, TV and radio competing for exclusive access to our ‘source’.

Come to think of it, it’s amazing they took us seriously at all back then. What we fondly refer to as Mslexia Towers was originally two little rooms in the attic of a run-down house-share. There were just three of us – me, plus two stressed-out half-timers doing marketing and admin. We kept bumping our heads on the sloping ceilings. There was no internet to speak of in those days, and few people had email, so most of our business was done via telephone, fax (remember faxes?) and snail-mail to a PO Box behind Newcastle Central station.

First contact And it was via that PO Box that women writers started to get in touch. I’d been wondering how to fill the Letters page in the launch edition. Who on earth would write to us if they hadn’t even seen the magazine? I needn’t have worried. As soon as we put out a call for erotic poetry and short stories for Issue 1, and submissions about death for Issue 2, the letters came flooding in.

‘I’m writing a book about two bisexual cops who meet up. One’s rich and gets abducted by aliens in broad daylight,’ one early correspondent informed us, adding, ‘Why are there only male aliens? Aren’t there any woman or gay ones?’. ‘I’m going to attempt to write about death,’ wrote another. ‘What do I know about eroticism? We’ve only been married for 24 years. Give us time.’ Then there was the woman who confided she’d written her deaththemed story in ‘a fit of vodka-fuelled depression’, and went on to explain dourly that ‘I’m never short of inspiration, as I find myself in many a Kafkaesque situation on a day-to-day basis’.

And there they (you) were – every bit as clever and witty and batty and bolshie as I hoped you would be. The Times reporter didn’t get the joke about our name, but you did. And you subscribed too. In fact over 2,000 of you who signed up in our first year are still with us 20 years later (see sidebar on p7), providing a bedrock of opinionated and creative support that has helped keep our feet on the ground and the wolves from our door – thank you! – while we grew the circulation around you.

Many of you have gone on to achieve amazing things. Not just book publications – though there have been lots of those – but also blogging and live performances, running venues and community groups, plus a myriad other ways you’ve found to spread your love of the word.

Three cheers You might fear that your submissions drop into a black hole of indifference when they arrive at the office, but we read and record and reply to every one. And we notice – and cheer – when someone who’s been sending us her poems for years is finally longlisted, then shortlisted, then actually published in the magazine.

Nearly 100,000 different women writers have sent us their writing or bought one of our magazines or books over the last 20 years – and 22,000 have actually taken out a subscription. They include Paula Hawkins, whose novel The Girl on a Train dominated the bestseller charts for the whole of 2016; and Emma Healey, whose amazing Elizabeth is Missing won the Costa First Novel Award in 2014.

I could have picked out many more – poets, memoirists, short story writers, novelists – who at our first board meeting I served champagne cocktails – but no report papers or management accounts far more important than the type of writing women do, is the fact that we are doing it at all mslexia Mar/Apr/May 2019 5

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