Neon Books A Literary Magazine And Chapbook Press Thu, 15 Feb 2018 19:44:50 +0000 en-GB hourly 1 Neon Books 32 32 116276687 Interview: Esteban Rodriguez Thu, 15 Feb 2018 11:00:32 +0000 We talk to Esteban Rodriguez – whose poetry appeared in issue forty-five of Neon – about abandonment, theme parks and the uncanny nature of mannequins.

Your poetry in issue forty-five of Neon revolves around abandoned places and things: the theme park that’s oddly empty, the scarecrow alone in a field. Is this a constant theme in your work? What do you see in abandonment? Is somewhere that’s empty of people peaceful or a place of fear?

Abandonment is definitely a theme that figures prominently in my work, especially in poems where the imagery and narratives are more surreal. For poems that contain aspects of my personal life (specifically related to my upbringing in deep south Texas), I tend to place the speaker at the periphery of an event or occurrence, as a witness to something that can’t be easily accessed, despite repeated attempts. In a way I see this too as a kind of abandonment, but instead of being neglected by the landscape and people that occupy it, the speaker is forsaken by time and memory, which considerably dilute any endeavor to reconnect with that experience.

It might be cliché to say that abandonment is a double-edged sword, but that’s perhaps what I like about it; it can provide solace and at the same time provoke a sense of loss and fear, enough to make one examine who they are, or who they think they’ve always been.

Your poems all seem to belong in similar worlds. I particularly liked the presence of hollow, unreal bodies in each of them: the scarecrow, Zoltar and the piñata. What inspired these poems and images?

I’m particularly fascinated by mannequins and their uncanny nature. I remember going to the mall with my mother when I was younger and staring at the mannequins by the front windows (in retrospect, I gazed at them for an uncomfortable amount of time). For me, they embody a lot of what people are: lifeless, silent, always attempting to portray (at least through the garments they wear) some form of perfection to the world. For this reason, I’m attracted to objects (such as the scarecrow, Zoltar, and the piñata) that can be used to represent something larger than their intended purpose, however important or trivial that purpose may be.

I’d like to ask specifically about theme parks, as they’re something that interests me. They’re often a fascinating mix of artifice and reality. They can be places of fun, but just as often are portrayed as strange and menacing. Do you enjoy theme parks? Do you have any favourites or any which are particularly important to you?

I grew up in the Rio Grande Valley, the southernmost region in Texas. Every year, the Livestock Show and Rodeo would come down and stay for a week. I remember the rusted lights, the fragrance of cattle, the carnies shouting for the next contender. Even when the roller coaster operators looked bored out of their minds, the environment felt quite welcoming, and I had the freedom to navigate a space that was completely different from what I was used to. Although it wasn’t a theme park in the strictest of senses, it did and continues to serve as inspiration.

In your biography you mention your MFA. Do you feel that this course had a significant impact on your writing? Was it a productive time, and would you do it again given the chance?

It was definitely a very rewarding experience. I majored in Latin American Studies and Anthropology as an undergrad, and like most graduates fresh out of college, my future was unclear. I dabbled in writing somewhat and when I later found a program that I thought could hone what writing skills I possessed, I applied and was fortunately accepted.

It’s something I would do again, especially now knowing how the details of the program work. I’m well aware of the larger debate (at least here in the States) regarding MFA programs and the ways in which colleges and universities have attempted to commodify creative writing. It’s a debate worth having, but it shouldn’t deter potential students from wanting to be a part of a community of writers that are there for the same reasons they are.

Who are your favourite poets, or some poets or writers who you find particularly inspiring?

Although I try to read as much contemporary poetry as possible, I find myself returning to collections by Bob Hicok, Dean Young, Daniel Borzutzky, and Valzhyna Mort. In my mind, however, no other contemporary writer creates such poetic (and often nightmarish) landscapes as Cormac McCarthy. I could spend a lifetime rereading his novels and still discover something new and meaningful about the world I had never considered before, which is what good writing – regardless of genre – is supposed to make its readers feel.


Esteban Rodriguez holds an MFA from the University of Texas Pan-American. His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in The Gettysburg Review, Notre Dame Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, New England Review, Puerto del Sol, and Zone 3. He lives in Austin, Texas.

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The Big List Of UK Writing Competitions Thu, 08 Feb 2018 11:00:12 +0000 When it comes to getting your work noticed, there’s very little that’s better than having won or been shortlisted for a writing competition… and the odds of that happening may not be as long as you think. Every competition listed below produces one or more winners each and every year, as well as numerous honourable mentions and shortlisted writers. Being selected isn’t as unlikely a prospect as most people think.

But in order to be selected, your first have to pick a competition to enter. Thus we present our list of excellent writing competitions based in the UK. To appear here a competition must run at least once a year, and must have a prize that justifies its entry fee. Not only that, but we screen out any scams or vanity publishing schemes for you. You can enter the competitions listed here with confidence.

Oh, and just because the competitions listed here are based in the UK, doesn’t mean writers from all over the world can’t enter. If you want more international options, though, we strongly recommend Literistic. Can you think of a competition that we’ve missed? Just get in touch and let us know and we’ll add it ASAP.

Alpine Fellowship Writing Prize

Top Prize: £3,000 | Categories: Short Story / Poem | Deadline: March | Fee: None

Awarded for the best piece of previously-unpublished writing on the topic of “Childhood” – the theme of the 2018 Alpine Fellowship Annual Symposium. In addition to the main prize, the winner and two runners up will be invited to attend the symposum in Venice.

Bare Fiction Competitions

Top Prize: £500 | Categories: Short Story / Poem / Flash | Deadline: October | Fee: £5 – £8

A yearly set of competitions administered by the literary magazine Bare Fiction. There are 1st, 2nd and 3rd prizes in each category, and the winners are published in an issue of the magazine. Different guest judges are bought in each year to select the winners.

Bath Short Story Award

Top Prize: £1,200 | Categories: Short Story | Deadline: April | Fee: £8

An international competition that welcomes stories of up to 2,200 words on any theme or subject. Stories must be previously unpublished. The prizes available are £1,200 for 1st place, £300 for 2nd place, and £100 for 3rd place, as well as a special award for the best story by a writer who does not yet have any publications.

BBC Short Story Prize

Top Prize: £15,000 | Categories: Short Story | Deadline: March | Fee: None

One of the most significant short story competitions in the UK, this prize is awarded yearly by the BBC. Entrants must have a prior record of publishing creative work in the UK. Stories up to 8,000 words are accepted, and may be submitted by the author or by their agent. Shortlisted stories are awarded a prize of £600.

Bridport Prize

Top Prize: £5,000 | Categories: Short Story / Flash / Poem | Deadline: May | Fee: £7 – £8

A prestigous annual competition with different strands for short stories, flash fiction and poetry. As well as the first place prize money there are several supplementary awards, including one for writers based in Dorset. Selected stories are published in an anthology.

Bristol Short Story Prize

Top Prize: £1,000 | Categories: Short Story | Deadline: May | Fee: £8

 An international short story competition opened to published and unpublished writers anywhere in the world. In addition to the main prize, all shortlisted writers are published in an anthology distrubuted by Tangent Books, and receive £100 in prize money. Stories must be under 4,000 words in length.

Commonwealth Short Story Prize

Top Prize: £5,000 | Categories: Short Story | Deadline: May | Fee: None

A competition run by Commonwealth Writers, designed to reward and promote the best new writing from across the Commonwealth. Prizes are awarded for the best stories overall, as well as the best stories from a given region. Stories must be 2,000 – 5,000 words in length and previously unpublished.

Costa Awards

Top Prize: £30,000 | Categories: Novel / Short Story | Deadline: July | Fee: None

A series of book and short story awards for authors from the UK and Ireland (previously known as the Whitbread Book Awards). One of the only UK awards open to children’s books as well as adult. The short story strand is narrowed down by judges and then decided by a popular vote.

Encore Award

Top Prize: £10,000 | Categories: Novel | Deadline: November | Fee: None

This prize is awarded annually for the best second novel published in the UK. The organisers say, “The award fills a niche in the catalogue of literary prizes by celebrating the achievement of outstanding second novels, often neglected in comparison to the attention given to promising first books.”

Forward Poetry Prize

Top Prize: £10,000 | Categories: Collection / Poem | Deadline: March | Fee: None

The largest annual poetry competition in the UK, this prize rewards the best collection, best first collection, and best single poem in the UK each year. All works put forward for the prize will also be considered for publication in The Forward Book Of Poetry, a yearly anthology. Entries must be published works, and individual poets cannot enter their own work.

Kent & Sussex Poetry Society Open Competition

Top Prize: £1,000 | Categories: Poem | Deadline: January | Fee: £4 – £5

Run each year by the Kent & Sussex Poetry Society, this competition offers a top prize of £1,000 and several runner-up prizes. Poems can be in any form or style, but must be previously-unpublished and under forty lines in length. Postal and online entries are accepted.

London Magazine Competitions

Top Prize: £500 | Categories: Poem / Short Story | Deadline: July / November | Fee: £10

The London Magazine‘s annual competitions seek to recognise new talent, and promote unpublished poems and stories from around the world. Winning entries appear in the magazine, and authors and poets are invited to a London-based networking drinks reception.

Magic Oxygen Literary Competition

Top Prize: £1,000 | Categories: Short Story / Poem | Deadline: December | Fee: £5

This prize awards up to £1,000 to the best story and the best poem submitted. In addition the organisers have pledge to plant a tree in Kenya for every entry received. Stories may be up to 4,000 words and poems up to 50 lines, and entries are accepted from writers anywhere in the world.

Manchester Writing Competition

Top Prize: £10,000 | Categories: Short Story / Poem | Deadline: September | Fee: £17.50

Each year this competition awards a prize of £10,000 for the best short story and best short portfolio of poems submitted. It is run by the Manchester Writing School at Manchester Metropolitan University. The compeition is open to anyone over the age of sixteen.

Mogford Food And Drink Short Story Prize

Top Prize: £10,000 | Categories: Short Story | Deadline: January | Fee: £10

This annual prize is open worldwide. Sponsored by the Mogford Hotels And Restaurants Group, it seeks to reward the writer of an unpublished short story not longer than 2,500 words which revolves in some way around food. The winner is announced at an annual prize-giving event.

Moth Prizes

Top Prize: €10,000 / €3,000  | Categories: Poem / Short Story | Deadline: December | Fee: €12

These international prizes are open to everyone over the age of sixteen, and awards a top prize of €10,000 for the best poem and €3,000 for the best short story submitted. It is run by The Moth Magazine, with winners published in the magazine and invited to special prize-giving events.

RSL Ondaatjee Prize

Top Prize: £10,000 | Categories: Novel / Book / Collection | Deadline: December | Fee: None

An annual award administered by the Royal Society for Literature which goes to the work of fiction, non-fiction or poetry that judges feel best evokes the spirit of a place. All prize winners also receive a paperweight clock, which they are awarded at a celebratory dinner.

Sean O’Faolain Short Story Competition

Top Prize: €2,000 | Categories: Short Story | Deadline: August | Fee: €12

Winners are published in Southword. Previous prizes have also included a week-long residency and an expenses-paid trip to the Cork International Short Fiction Festival. The organisers say, “The Sean O’Faolain Short Story Competition […] is dedicated to one of Ireland’s most accomplished story writers and theorists, sponsored by the Munster Literature Centre.”

Stroud Book Festival Writing Competition

Top Prize: £500 | Categories: Poem / Flash | Deadline: July | Fee: £5

In addition to the main strands of poetry and flash fiction, this competition also has a mainstream fiction category, which seeks a synopsis and extract from a longer work of mainstream fiction. The prize for this category includes a five-day writing retreat.

Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award

Top Prize: £30,000 | Categories: Short Story | Deadline: October | Fee: None

One of the most valuable short story prizes in the UK. “The Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Award honours the finest writers of short stories in the UK and Ireland. Worth £30,000 to the winning author, it is open to anyone with a previous record of publication in creative writing in the UK or Ireland.”

TS Eliot Prize

Top Prize: £20,000 | Categories: Collection | Deadline: August | Fee: None

Awarded annually for the best collection of verse published in the UK or Ireland that year. One of the most prestigious British poetry prizes. This prize is administered by the Poetry Book Society and supported by the estate of reknowned poet TS Eliot, after whom it is named.

VS Pritchett Memorial Prize

Top Prize: £1,000 | Categories: Short Story | Deadline: December | Fee: None

An annual prize administered by The Royal Society of Literature for the best unpublished short story of the year. Winners are published in Prospect online and the RSL Review. The prize was founded to commemorate writer and critic Sir Victor Sawden Pritchett.

Wasifiri New Writing Prize

Top Prize: £300 | Categories: Short Story / Poem / Memoir | Deadline: July | Fee: £5 – £6

This newly-established prize (first run in 2009) is administered by British literary magazine Wasifiri, in which the winners of each category are published. The competition is open to anyone worldwide who has not published a complete book in their chosen category.

White Review Short Story Prize

Top Prize: £2,500 | Categories: Short Story | Deadline: March | Fee: £15

This annual short story competition is aimed at emerging writers. It awards £2,500 to the best piece of short fiction by a writer resident in the UK and Ireland who has yet to secure a publishing deal. “The judges will be looking for short stories that explore and expand the possibilities of the form. We encourage submissions from all literary genres, and there are no restrictions on theme or subject matter.

Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook Competition

Top Prize: Arvon Course | Categories: Short Story | Deadline: February | Fee: None

A free-to-enter short story competition, with a first prize which includes a place on an Arvon Residential Writing Course (valued at approximately £1,000) and online publication. Entries must be original, aimed at adults, and no longer that 2,000 words in length.

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Interview: Simone Martel Tue, 06 Feb 2018 11:00:11 +0000 We talk to Simone Martel – author of the short story “Urban Terroir” in issue forty-five of Neon – about growing food, playing games and writing across a variety of forms.

Your story takes place on an urban smallholding, and you mention in your biography that you spent some time working on a farm. Setting aside the more supernatural elements of the story for a moment, how did this experience contribute to the genesis of “Urban Terroir”?

As any farmer or gardener knows, growth inevitably leads to death and decay. Compost happens. Nothing really ever goes away. There’s a certain beauty in that. But not if it’s pollution that’s sticking around. In California’s Central Valley (near the city of Stockton), where my farm was located, the pollution from agribusiness is so pervasive that I began to doubt my ability to grow anything sustainably or organically. The pollution is in the water, in the soil, in the air. There came a point where I simply saw it everywhere. A neighbor had developed a brain tumor from drinking the well water. Some of your British readers might recall the horror of mad cow disease. I felt surrounded by that sort of taint, of corruption spreading within the soil, the plants and animals. And then, of course, in my story it’s within the unnamed protagonist himself. Seeing this corruption, this rot and decay all around him, he must finally acknowledge it within himself too. He fears what we all fear, the quiet horror of death itself lurking within us. We carry death with us, just by living.

I enjoyed the sense of a budding nightmare that grows stronger and stronger as the story develops. It felt a little like a pre-cursor to a post-apocalyptic story, or perhaps even a strange animal-centric zombie tale. Do you enjoy this kind of fiction?

I’m not sure where the idea came from, but I have to admit something about zombie squirrels appeals to me. I suppose zombie fiction is about a literal confrontation with death, and the popularity of post-apocalyptic or dystopian narratives shows a preoccupation with the social order falling apart. I generally prefer realistic fiction, but speculative fiction can reveal emotional truths effectively. I’m a fan of Margaret Atwood’s work, and also of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s. I love that the characters in One Hundred Years of Solitude are not themselves aware of the oddness or impossibility of what’s occurring. It’s a way to make metaphors come to life – the difference between saying something is like something and saying something is something.

“Urban Terroir” involves a fear of transformation, also a big part of speculative fiction. These stories of alienation and otherness can explore the fear of being an outsider, a freak, a monster. Think of Frankenstein. What is Mary Shelley saying? I think it’s interesting that a woman created the monster, to have written that when she did, as a woman living in a time that did not respect females as wholly human, equal beings. My novel, A Cat Came Back, published last year, is about a young woman whose near death experience traps her in the body of a cat. At one point she asks herself, “Did I leave my body so easily because I never belonged there, because I never felt at home in that human, female form?” Speculative or horror fiction allows us to explore our deepest fears. Being seen as not quite a human being is one fear, feeling alienated from yourself is another. Both are pretty terrifying, I think.

You write in a variety of different forms. Do you find yourself in a different headspace with, for example, memoir and non-fiction than with short stories and novels? Do you have a different approach to different forms?

Writing non-fiction taught me a respect for “particularity.” In my memoir, The Expectant Gardener, I tried to accurately and vividly represent the technical nitty gritty of plants and landscaping. I learned a lot about writing description, and that helped me with fiction, too. In “Urban Terroir” the descriptions of planting seeds and growing seedlings are based on fact, though it all quickly starts going wrong.

At the same time, memoir is always made up to an extent, the dialogue especially. When I wrote the book I tried to distance myself from the material by thinking of myself as a character named Simone; someone who is not only more consistent than I am, but probably more consistent than a character would be in a work of fiction… if that makes sense. Fiction’s more complex. When I’m writing fiction I get excited when I find myself making unexpected leaps and connections. I probably use language more adventurously, too. Sticking to facts constrains a writer from getting at what the story’s really about, below the surface.

The narrator has some pretty dark moments, and there’re hints that he’s exercising his more violent tendencies through video games. What are your thoughts about video games, and particularly violence in video games? Cathartic, dehumanizing, or something else?

Not cathartic! From what I’ve observed, the urge for violence isn’t satiated or spent by game playing. The player always wants more. I played a variety of video games with my son when he was younger, as a way to stay connected to him—from Super Smash Brothers to World of Warcraft. At worst they were a waste of time. Some were educational, and a few were gorgeous, aesthetically. First person shooters bother me, though. In “Urban Terroir,” gaming is a way of capturing the character’s loss of himself. It’s more than a diversion, more than an evasion, actually a vehicle for his transformation from a person into a sort of non-being. He loses the thread of his own story, his reason for being. So, dehumanizing? Perhaps. I think sometimes game players are trying to step out of themselves. But how can disconnecting from their own humanity help them cope with their unhappiness? The killer at Sandy Hook never found a way to step back. That’s a scary thought. These angry young men out there, slipping away, transforming themselves into monsters in our midst.

Can you tell us a bit about what you’re working on now and where readers can find out more about your work?

My website is I’m working on a novel about that farm near Stockton. A memoir would be more straightforward and easier to write, but I want to look at the whole community, not just the idealistic, solitary and somewhat self-absorbed young farmer. There’s a hippie commune, petering out. Wealthy realtors grabbing land. The farmworkers and down-and-outs living on the margins of big, polluted commercial farms. For a while, when I was focused on writing short stories, I was able to experiment with point of view. So, in this novel, I want to take many different points of view, even a pit bull’s. A Cat Came Back is short, intense and internal. I’m excited to be working now on something bigger and messier.


Simone Martel is the author of a novel (A Cat Came Back), a memoir (The Expectant Gardener), and a story collection (Exile’s Garden). After studying English at UC Berkeley, Simone operated an organic tomato farm near Stockton, California. She’s working on a new novel based on that experience.

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Neon’s 2017 Best Small Fictions Nominations Thu, 18 Jan 2018 11:00:11 +0000 Each year Braddock Avenue Books collects together the best “small fictions” published in the previous year for their aptly-named anthology The Best Small Fictions. Several stories which first appeared in Neon have been reprinted there, including Lydia Armstrong’s “The November We Are Fifteen” and Claire Joanne Huxham’s “Correspondence“.

As ever, we’ve put forward a handful of our best pieces of prose comprising less than one thousand words for consideration. Here are our nominees for the 2018 edition of The Best Small Fictions

“By An English Sea” by Thomas Evans

“Signals Of Fear And Uncertainty” by Eric Shattuck

“I Am Speaking” by M Durand

“Daytime Television”by Jake Ristic-Petrovic

Best of luck to all of them. If you want to find out more about The Best Small Fictions, you can read all about it (including the impressive roster of judges for this year) on the Braddock Avenue Books website – where you can also order previous editions of the anthology.

Interview: CS Mierscheid Fri, 12 Jan 2018 11:00:41 +0000 The following interview originally appeared under the title “In New Fear” in Polyglot 141, who have been kind enough to allow us to republish it here in advance of the release of our 2017 chapbook Fears For The Near Future by CS Mierscheid.


It had been Polyglot 141’s intention that this interview take place via Skype earlier in the year. However, upon learning of Professor Mierscheid’s aversion to internet telephony, the meeting was delayed until a visit to her offices could be arranged. Happily, this coincided with the preparations for the publication of her current pamphlet, Fears For The Near Future. Interviewer Natalie Tate met with Mierscheid in her office at Miskatonic University, Massachusetts, where she is Professor of Modern Psychologies.

When did you first become interested in the study of fears and phobias?

Very early on. I was a nervous child and developed a number of anxieties and paranoias – only a few of which remain with me now – but I was also curious; enough to want to know why the things that frightened me did so.

What sort of anxieties?

Any number of minor – and very common – childhood fears. Parental abandonment. The dark. Clowns. Tall people. A constant terror that the world as I knew it ceased to exist when I closed my eyes. For a long time I was convinced that my brother wasn’t real; that he was a fictitious character created for the amusement of others. Most of these fears were either overcome or receded of their own accord.

Most of them?

Some remain, yes.

Would you mind if we discussed them? For the purposes of background, context. Your disinclination for this interview to take place via Skype, for example. Does such an aversion have a name? It’s not – to the best of my knowledge – covered in your forthcoming pamphlet.

If it has a name – I don’t personally give it one – then I’m not aware. But the fears, phobias, conditions discussed in my pamphlet are documented, researched, diagnosed. My aversion is not something I’ve explored fully because of the discomfort it brings me.

What are the roots of this particular aversion? Your most recent work – and that for which you’re most noted – focuses on anxieties and phobias arising from developments in emerging technologies and cultures. Is there a connection between your condition and your field?

As I’ve said, the matter hasn’t been explored fully, for the reason already given. But I suspect that the aversion itself may be connected to a longstanding dislike of having my photo taken, a characteristic I share with my brother (the German politician Jakob Maria Mierscheid – Ed.).

You say “dislike”, but I understand that it’s more than that.

Yes. As with the aversion to videophony, it’s not something that has been clinically diagnosed–

Scopophobia might the closest approach…

Perhaps, although I’d demur on the connection, personally. Scopophobia has its roots in shyness and social anxiety, whereas my aversion – and if it’s of interest, I would actually characterise it as a deep and soul-wrenching dread – is more to do with an irrational-yet-uncontrollable fear that in having my photo taken, some intangible-yet-integral part of me is removed.

Is that not a fear with its roots in technology?

Perhaps. But it’s far from an emergent one.

You’re a scientist of course, and yet appear to display no shame or embarrassment about this particular fear.

It is what it is.

But the Skype thing. It’s different from having your photo taken, yes?

The aversion has its roots in my dislike of having my photo taken, but it is distinct and separate, that’s correct. With videophony, I find the disjoint, the disconnection between conversing parties incredibly disconcerting.

I’m not quite sure that I…

So if this conversation were to be held via a medium such as Skype, for example – just the thought makes me shudder – we would be looking at each other, but not making eye contact. For us to do so, we would both have to be addressing, looking at directly, the webcam, which is mostly always positioned above the screen. Which would, of course, defeat the point of the visual element of the conversation. Instead, what tends to happen, is that the conversing parties see images of each other looking slightly below the face, never at.

And this is off-putting for you?

It’s almost as though the other party is ignoring me. Which itself is related to another personal anxiety, although not one connected to emergent technologies.

That brings us round nicely to the reason we’re here. Your new pamphlet, Fears For The Near Future: Towards A Diagnostic Manual Of The Peripheral Phobias is a primer, I suppose, on the sorts of fears and anxieties we can expect to see more of in the future.

Yes. My team and I conducted surveys and interviews and identified many repeated occurrences of previously undocumented phobic phenomena. Given the increasingly accelerating nature of culture and technology this was hardly a surprise, but it was fascinating nonetheless. The pamphlet is far from comprehensive – we are in talks to secure funding for a more thorough study – but hopefully it provides a good introduction to – and overview of – the peripheral phobias.

Being your neologism for the subject.

In order to acknowledge their previous marginalisation as phenomena worthy of study.

And the sub-heading. Towards A Diagnostic Manual…

Is my attempt to mainstream the same and also the rationale behind the more user-friendly presentation of the work. It is aimed at the general reader.

Yes, I wanted to ask you about that. The style of Fears For The Near Future is a marked departure from some of your publications. I’m thinking particularly of your previous appearances in Polyglot 141: “Analysis Of The Correlation Between Anxieties And Technophobia In The Alberton, Ohio Region” and “Anxiety Or Aversion? A Worrier’s Guide”, both of which were subject to criticisms for their, in the words of one critic, “wilfully impenetrable, almost solipsistic approach to language.”

It’s true that some of my earlier work may have conformed a little too rigidly to traditional academic styles, but I’m far from being a solipsist. Besides, the almost opposite has been said of some of my other works.

We’re talking about your collaboration with the writer JL Bogenschneider here, I think. The qualitative study Four Phobias, published in Ambit, a literary magazine. Not where we’d expect to see your work appear.

Yes. And being the reason that particular collaboration – as well as another, earlier example – went uncredited to me. Prior to publication I felt that being associated with a literary journal might damage my reputation as a serious academic. Of course, it’s no longer a secret [the tabloid Popular Psychologist published a now infamous exposé on Professor Mierscheid’s literary collaborations under the headline “Prof’s Drop To Lowbrow Rag Shock” – Ed.] but my fears – excuse the pun – appear to have been unfounded.

Your current pamphlet strikes an appropriate balance, I feel. You’re currently working on a full-length manuscript on the same subject: In New Fear.

Yes. The book is more discursive, more narrative, an approach with which I’m comfortable, now. It contains more case studies that we were able to include in Fears For The Near Future and incorporates elements of memoir, something I was loathe to do. But I understand the form is undergoing something of a resurgence and it was at the publisher’s insistence.

You don’t care for the personal touch?

As an academic, a scientist, it has never been in my interest to personalise the impersonal. However, the experience was not unenjoyable. There is something to be said for incorporating one’s life into one’s life work. Although whether or not my brother sees the value in my dissection of his pathological fear of lumberjacks is a matter for our next family reunion…


Fears For The Near Future: Towards A Diagnostic Manual Of The Peripheral Phobias by CS Mierscheid will be published by Neon Books in 2018. Natalie Tate is a regular contributor to Polyglot 141 and the author of Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Psychologies (Sokal Press, 2011).

Neon’s 2017 Pushcart Prize Nominations Thu, 07 Dec 2017 13:09:07 +0000 Each year we put forward six pieces from the previous twelve months of Neon Literary Magazine to be considered for the Pushcart Prize. In case you’ve never heard of it, the Pushcart Prize is intended to celebrate the very best of the small press world by collecting together the finest works of fiction and poetry published in literary magazines and anthologies in the previous year.

Selecting just six pieces out of the dozens we’ve published was a near impossible task, and reading back through each issue of 2017 was a joy. After much deliberation, then, here are our six nominees:

“By An English Sea” by Thomas Evans

“Signals Of Fear And Uncertainty” by Eric Shattuck

“You Invent This Invention” by Molly O’Brien

“A Heavy Scene” by James Hodgson

“Daytime Television” by Jake Ristic-Petrovic

“Toni’s Party” by Erica Mosley

We wish each of them the very best of luck, and will be looking forward to the announcement of the selected pieces in 2018. In the meantime, if you want to read all of the nominees, you can still get hold of issue forty-five in print form, and issue forty-four is available to download for a price of your choosing. We hope you enjoy their work as much as we did!

Our 2017 Chapbook: “Fears For The Near Future” By CS Mierscheid Tue, 05 Dec 2017 11:00:32 +0000 It’s been a long year… but just in time for Christmas we’re finally ready to announce the title of our 2017 chapbook. Fears For The Near Future by CS Mierscheid is a brilliant guide to the postmodern disorders of the present day. Think you might be suffering from GPS Directive Disorder? Or perhaps you’ve come down with a touch of Pornography Paranoia? Either way, we’ve got you covered. This incisive pamphlet will help you put a name to that looming sense of dread you’ve been feeling. Finally.

You can read a little more about the chapbook and its esteemed author on its dedicated page. Want a copy? Pre-orders are still open for both physical and digital copies of the chapbook. Order now and you can expect to have it in your hands by the end of January 2018. Stay tuned for an exact launch date, as well as an interview with Professor Mierscheid, and some sample chapters.

Review: “Brief Eulogies For Lost Animals” by Daniel Hudon Thu, 30 Nov 2017 11:00:38 +0000 Publisher: Pen And Anvil | Author: Daniel Hudon | Buy: Amazon USA

Most readers will be able to picture, with some degree of accuracy, a dodo. These flightless birds disappeared from existence sometime shortly after 1660, and are known now only through paintings, sculptures, and displays of their preserved remains. Popularised by various cultural cameos, they now serve as a shorthand for extinction: “dead as the dodo” being one commonly-used aphorism.

But the death of the dodo is just one in thousands. Can you picture a Glaucous Macaw, a Tecopa Pupfish, or a Hawaiian Rail? Probably not… but that’s because you’ve yet to read Daniel Hudon’s Brief Eulogies For Lost Animals, a collection of touching, minutely-observed elegies to species which have been wiped clean from the face of the earth.

The book is comprised of one hundred short pieces of creative nonfiction, each one dedicated to a different extinct animal. The entries are organised according to region, beginning with “Lost Animals Of North America” and ending with “Lost Animals Of The Indian Ocean”. There’s also an appendix which groups the featured species by taxonomic classification, and a second one that supplies a series of interesting notes, along with sources for further background reading.

Does that description make Brief Eulogies For Lost Animals sound somewhat like an encyclopaedia? It’s not. Hudon askes, in the introduction, whether the stories of extinct animals are being told – and concludes that in many cases (high-profile extinctions like the dodo and the passenger pigeon aside) they are not. The book is an attempt to redress that, and it is very much the story of the creatures memorialised here that is the focus, rather than their taxonomic classification, their measurements, their biological facts.

The real power of these vignettes, then, is to render these animals real. A monstrous extinction rate is an easy thing to ignore when you can convince yourself that the thousand species lost last year were probably mostly insects, and probably mostly quite dull anyway. To be faced with a hundred short, vital, often beautiful narratives of the lost creatures, on the other hand, makes their absence a much more difficult thing to shake.

This is all the more the case because of the sheer poetry of Hudon’s writing. Entries range in tone from the dejectedly factual to the keeningly poetic. Quotes are mixed with statistics, vivid descriptions with history. Startling observations await on every page. We are treated to visions of groups of Caribbean Monk Seals basking on atolls “like old men, feeling the warm breeze on their whiskers”, or Huais “flying and leaping in succession to some favorite feeding place far away to the silent depths of the forest.”

The pieces compiled in Brief Eulogies For Lost Animals leave you with a real appreciation of the sheer variety and vibrancy of what has been lost. There’s a bittersweet tang to the beautiful prose and arresting descriptions. As the introduction says, these animals exist only as recordings now. Each and every one is exactly as dead as the dodo, and they’re not coming back.

Five Seriously Creepy Horror Stories To Read This Month Tue, 31 Oct 2017 13:13:22 +0000 When it comes to horror, the short story is the perfect form. Its brevity allows for a swift escalation into madness, but it’s not so short that it’s over before discomfort has had a chance to mount. With the advent of Halloween, we’ve compiled a list of five excruciatingly creepy short stories which you’ve likely never heard of before. Settle in, dim the lights, and be prepared to jump out of your skin if the phone happens to ring at just the wrong moment…

“Wild Swimming” by Elodie Harper

When curating a list of horror-related anythings the temptation to default to Stephen King is a powerful one. We haven’t entirely given in. This epistolary short story by Elodie Harper was the winner of a Guardian short story competition judged by King, and in terms of feel it does certainly have about it the robust creepiness that marks much of his work. When wild swimmer Chrissie ventures to a remote town in rural Lithuania in search of the perfect spot for a dip she ends up waking something that would have been far better off left undisturbed. Gorgeous.

“The Third Bear” by Jeff Vandermeer

The residents of the tiny village of Grommin have already seen off two bears this year, but this third one is something altogether different. It is clever. It is cunning and twisted. And it seems almost to be playing with them. Jeff Vanermeer’s short story begins dark, and proceeds to slowly ratchet up the tension and gore until the narrative is pervaded by a sense of starving desperation. There are no heroes in this tale, no happy endings, and certainly no salvation for the victims of the bear – or whatever else it may turn out to be.

“The Price” by Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman has written so much brilliant horror that it’s hard to pick just one story of his to include, but this one has always been a special favourite, if for no other reason than its featuring of one of the all-time best ever fictional cats. “The Price” starts off innocuously enough, as the narrator takes in a stray cat that happens to wander by their home. Something, however, is clearly amiss, as every night the cat returns to them savaged half to death. This is one of Gaiman’s least gothic and initially mundane-seeming stories, but the slowly building tension and brilliant ending make it well worth the read.

“One Foot Underwater” by Joey Comeau

Ducks are scary animals, but for all their violence and inhumanity they rarely feature in horror fiction – perhaps due to their inherently absurd appearance or cartoonish associations. Joey Comeau addresses that deficit in his haunting, sad, weird short story “One Foot Underwater”, which follows teenager Melanie as she deals with a somewhat unusual haunting in the wake of a terrible accident. If you’re looking for a story that has equal potential to make you laugh and cry, this one is probably for you.

“Ted The Caver” by Ted (The Caver)

Ted The Caver is the stuff of urban legends. It’s less literary than the other entries on this list, and veers into the territory of creepypasta, but it does so with such convincing style and grim patience that it certainly deserves to be read. What begins as an entirely straight-faced caving diary soon makes the subtle transformation into something altogether more supernatural as the narrator and his friend brush up against something strange and terrible deep beneath the earth. This tale comes complete with photographs, hand-drawn maps, and an authentically awful Angelfire website straight out of the 1990s.

Interview: Cheryl Pearson Thu, 19 Oct 2017 10:00:15 +0000 We talk to Cheryl Pearson, Neon alumni and author of the poetry collection Oysterlight (Pindrop Press) about writing myths and legends, and organising poetry collections.

Oysterlight is a rich collection of poems underpinned by a variety of themes. Myth, legend and nature seemed to me to be powerful elements throughout. What would you say was the main theme or unifying idea behind the collection?

Myth, legend and nature are definitely recurring themes throughout the collection. The unifying theme, I think, is that of transformation. I wanted to explore how things change, how we change – because of time, or love, or weather, or what have you. I’ve always been fascinated by mythology, particularly Greek/Roman mythology, where women are turned into swans, or trees, or spiders in a snap, and the undead can be resurrected, albeit changed. I wanted to explore that, and touch on the consequences of transformation, both “good” and “bad”.

Although there are narrative threads and recurring images running throughout Oysterlight, I felt as though it was a collection that could be picked up and opened at any page. This made me wonder about how you read poetry collections. Do you tend to read from cover to cover, or dip in and out?

I’m so glad you picked up on that as it was exactly what I wanted to do with the collection! When I was putting the collection together, I remember having a very clear image of it as a necklace – where something cohesive was made of a connected string of individual but similar pieces. Where each poem was its own pearl, if you like, and it didn’t matter which one you looked at first. Having said all that, as a reader, I do usually read cover to cover rather than dipping in and out, if only so I don’t miss anything.

Can you tell us a bit about the process of assembling the collection? Were there poems that didn’t make the cut? How much did the shape of the collection change during editing? How did you go about ordering and arranging the poems?

There were definitely poems that didn’t make the cut. Some of the poems I originally included just didn’t stand up under scrutiny, and others didn’t quite hang together with the rest of the collection, so out they went. The shape of the collection didn’t change too much during the editing process – I had assembled the poems originally depending on tone and length rather than along a theme, although I always knew I wanted Railway Station, Platform Two to be the last poem in the book for those who would, like me, read a collection in order. I wanted to end the book with a note of magic, and a sense of changing, of rising out of the ordinary – the darkness becoming a fox, the girl’s breath turning into a hummingbird. I like that it’s not a poem with a definitive ending. I didn’t want a poem that acted like a full-stop.

This is your first full-length collection of poetry. What did you learn from working on a manuscript of this length? What was the editorial process like, and did you spend more time refining individual poems or shaping the collection as a whole?

In terms of editing, the focus with Oysterlight was definitely more on individual poems rather than the shape of the collection as a whole. I was really lucky to be able to work with Sharon Black at Pindrop Press for my first collection. Sharon is a poet herself as well as an editor, so she’s not just looking at the mechanics of a poem but the heart of it. She really worked hard to make the poems as strong as they could be, and a lot of the changes she suggested were ones I hadn’t even realised the poems needed. I was really grateful for that guidance. I hadn’t expected to enjoy the editing process – I thought I’d find it hard to make changes as the poems were all really precious to me. But when you have a good editor, you come to see really quickly that it’s invaluable to have that critical eye. My poems definitely came out of the editing process stronger for it.

How did you settle on “Oysterlight” as a title? Oysters crop up again and again throughout the manuscript, but they’re one of several recurring images. What made you identify them as central, and where did the word “oysterlight” come from?

Once I’d identified transformation as the underlying theme of the book, I knew I wanted a title that would reflect that. I’d been to the beach with my partner just before I sent the manuscript to Pindrop – we  were strolling along, picking up shells and bits of pebble as you do, when he found one perfect half of an oyster shell. He was tilting it in his hand to catch the light, and it was gleaming with that lovely, pearly wash of colour – pinks, and blues, and lavenders, and golds. And the word “oysterlight” came to me, then, and when we got home afterwards, I wrote the poem, “Beachcombers”, which is included in the collection.  Although the word “oysterlight” didn’t end up in the finished poem, I knew I wanted it for the title of the book. Oysters are the ultimate symbol of transformation for me – an irritant gets in, usually a grain of sand or a parasite, and the oyster defends itself by producing a fluid to coat the irritant. This builds up, layer on layer, until a pearl is formed. I love that – and it’s exactly like how I build a poem! A thought or a word starts niggling away, and then I start adding other bits to it, and layering sentences over that, and eventually (hopefully!)  I end up with something beautiful.

Several of your poems revolve around myths, legends or historical figures of some renown. I wondered if you had any advice or thoughts about writing about existing characters like this? Do you find it easier or more difficult than poems which have no footing in history or legend?

I sometimes have to temper my urge to write about mythological and historical figures, because otherwise that’s ALL I’d write. I wouldn’t say they were easier or more difficult to write about than anything else, but they’re very different. A lot of my poems are based on personal experience, or real-world news, so with the mythological and historical ones, I get to put on a different hat. It’s that storytelling aspect I love, where I get to take an existing character or figure and imagine myself into them. I think my only advice when writing this sort of poem is to find something new to write about, or let us see a well-known character from a different angle. In my Medusa poem, for example, Medusa isn’t this monstrous woman who turns men to stone – she’s lonely, and her heart hurts, and she wants what we all want, which is to be loved. I like to humanise characters like that – I want to empathise with them, and find common ground. I like to make them real, I suppose.  I actually  just wrote a new poem, about the emperor from the old fairytale, “The Emperor’s New Clothes”. Only in my version he isn’t vain and silly, but a man who is tired of his responsibilities and all the trappings and fineries that come with it. And so he chooses his nakedness, he chooses his freedom.

Do you have a favourite poem from the collection, and – if so – what is the story behind it,  and why is it your particular favourite?

Ohhh, tough question. I love all the poems for different reasons, but if I had to choose a favourite, it would probably be “Mam Tor”, which is the first poem in the collection. I like the poem itself, but it’s special to me for the memory that inspired it as well. I hadn’t been dating Chris very long then, and we’d gone camping for the weekend, pretty much in the shadow of Mam Tor. It was also the first poem I wrote to ever win a prize (it placed third in Bare Fiction magazine’s 2016 poetry competition), which gave me such a boost of confidence. I don’t think I’d imagined until then that I could do this seriously, and I still credit that poem and that prize for setting me on the path that would eventually lead to Oysterlight.

Who are your poetic inspirations? What poetry do you tend to read, and did any of these influences help create and define Oysterlight?

Ohhh, so many! I have my staples, like Alice Oswald, and Jean Sprackland, and Ted Hughes, and Sylvia Plath, but I love finding new poets and poems. I read constantly, and subscribe to four or five poetry journals. Twitter is an amazing platform for finding new poets, particularly American poets – writers like Kaveh Akbar, Paige Lewis, Nicole Sealey, Ruth Madievsky, and Lindsay Lusby are doing amazing things with language. I’m completely obsessed with Ocean Vuong, and have followed his posts on Tumblr for years, so it’s lovely to see him now getting the recognition he deserves. In terms of UK poetry, there are SO many poets I’m obsessed with. Helen Mort, Kim Moore, Judy Brown, Liz Berry (who is probably my favourite poet to see read live, she’s just mesmerising)… I could go on and on. I think every poem I read, even the ones I don’t like for whatever reason, influences how I write. I’m interested in what makes a poem work, so untangling a particular poem definitely affects and shapes how I’m thinking when I come back to write myself. I love that about poetry – how it’s perpetually shifting and changing, and how every poet feeds into its evolution. It’s a beautiful thing.


Cheryl Pearson lives and writes in Manchester. Her poems have appeared in publications including 14 Magazine, Tincture, and Skylark Press. She won third prize in the Bare Fiction Poetry Contest in 2016. Oysterlight is her first full-length poetry collection, published by Pindrop Press.