Most weeks in Melbourne there’s an art or literary event of some description going on. Recently named one of UNESCO’s seven Cities of Literature (an office will be opening soon) Melbourne is happily saturated with writers and literary publications.
Robert Skinner, with his old classmate Andy Josselyn, started The Canary Press in November 2012. The pair wanted to publish short fiction that would capture any reader. “Really, we just wanted to make the sort of magazine we wanted to read,” says Skinner. “There was some good stuff around, but not the stuff I was really craving.”
“I think we had a sense that it was a bad idea,” Skinner admits. “But simultaneously I think our experience has been that the magazine has been wildly more successful than we ever imagined, but also the realities have been much more dire than we expected as well.”
In response to an article by Robyn Annear in the Monthly which criticised government funding for literary journals, Skinner wrote a letter to her that made clear The Canary Press intends to survive solely through the support of its readership. Annear was so impressed by the response that she forwarded it to the Monthly for publication and she bought a subscription. The Canary Press has made a small amount of money from advertising revenue and over the past 12 months it has released four issues without any funding from arts bodies. “It’s growing still, which we hope will do the trick,” Skinner says, “We have so many ideas, but if you’re scraping every inch of the way, it becomes hard to execute things properly.”
Despite its young age, The Canary Press sports an impressive list of contributors: well-known American author and teacher of creative writing Jim Shepard, American writer, children’s book author and novelist (whose short fiction has been published in The New Yorker), George Saunders and Australian writer and slam-poetry champion Maxine Beneba Clarke. “Jim Shepard’s one of our heroes and we’re already talking to him about another story,” says Skinner.
The magazine itself is presented beautifully. Its covers are illustrated by illustrator and graphic designer Gustavo Ortega Rojas and the pages are typeset simply, but with class. The magazine’s next issue will feature works of genre fiction, perhaps stemming from Skinner’s fondness for Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep. “There are not enough stories like that going round these days. Roald Dahl is another example. We want to be gripped by stories like we were by Roald Dahl’s stories when we were kids!” he says. Where many independent magazines of the past have failed, the future of The Canary Press remains optimistic. “We’re not fighting for other people’s readers – we want to create more. We’re just trying to get Australia excited about stories where things really happen.”