Only two issues in and The Alarmist has drawn quite the following! With the kind of first-rate writing and the distinctive aesthetic style that they’ve carved out and made their own, it isn’t surprising that The Alarmist has a readership that spans the length and breadth of the country. Nick Murray met up with Gary from Leeds and Mansour Chow, the creative duo that birthed The Alarmist, on the eve of the issue two launch to talk about being less stuffy, hidden genius and nihilistic publishing techniques.
Nick Murray: You came together to form the Alarmist, but how did it all start? What are you doing individually? Like, I know you’re a poet Gary…
Gary from Leeds: Yeah, sort of, it’s not a paid occupation! Yeah I’m a poet. What do you do? [to Mansour]
Mansour Chow: I write and do a bit of stand-up comedy. I put together the odd art project –
GfL: but mostly you’re a lover [laughter].
NM: How did the Alarmist come about?
GfL: Mainly it was Mansour pestering me! We know each other from playing five aside football together. I don’t think the Paris Review was set up that way! We had been talking about putting together some kind of literary project and how magazines work, and one day Mansour said ‘Do you want to do it too?’ I said yeah before realising how much it bankrupts you!
NM: So, this is the second issue –
GfL: Yeah, we’re loving it. Seeing the second issue in print just make me want to see how far we can take it.
NM: Where do you want to take it?
GfL: Mansour has the vision!
M: I just want it to open doors. Open doors for people, who are in the magazine itself, so they get opportunities that they might not get otherwise. Through the art, illustration, graphic design and the writing itself, readers will see the work and see that it’s a great publication. Every so often you see writers who don’t get a chance to see their work published and so don’t know how it fits in. By being in a magazine like this, hopefully they see it and realise ‘oh yeah, maybe I am pretty good at this’.
GfL: And I think that what we’re trying to do really is give that to people who might get overlooked by more mainstream literary publications. I hate the words ‘mainstream’ and ‘alternative’, but they fit for this description. There are a lot of people who we’ve published in issues one and two who haven’t been published before in the most part. What is it about them that means that we’re the ones getting their first publication?
M: I don’t think it’s necessarily anything new to get first-time published writers, as you see it a lot in the various literary magazines out there. However I think the actual content itself is what makes the difference. It’s less stuffy! I use stuffy all the time, but it really is. I hope that means it’s more interesting and more entertaining to read.
GfL: There’s also a lot more sex and death that other publications!
NM: I hesitate to use ‘alternative’ now –
GfL: Feel free.
NM: A lot of the alternative poetry and literary magazine that are coming out at the moment are pretty lo-fi or lo-tech. You guys have gone for a real high aesthetic with The Alarmist.
GfL: Yeah, yeah. It’s probably foolish considering we’ve got no money. We want to get it out there though regardless of the cost. We’re pretty nihilistic like that!
M: Also, so few magazines seem to have ambition. They pretend they do and say what they aspire to do, but they don’t always prove it. I feel that by putting it together like we are, we’re showing that we put our money where our mouth is.
NM: So, the launch is set up for tomorrow. How’s it all coming together?
GfL: We like to make these events into an enjoyable shambles. If it’s too regimented you don’t get that lively feel to it that I think events like this need. Basically I book people that we like and admire. Like all the acts on for the launch have work in the magazine that is incredible. We try to only publish work that we think is the best.
M: Sure, that’s not to say that all the stuff we reject is total shit. It’s often just not what we’re after. We have to reject some-
GfL: I ‘m the brutally honest one.
M: But it’s not shit. Well some of it is fucking awful, but most of it just isn’t suited to the magazine.
GfL: Yeah, every so often we get passive aggressive poems about flowers, and ex-husbands and wives. Not really our thing.
M: It’s easier to say what we’re not after than what we are.
NM: Have you got any favourites in the upcoming issue? What’s really stood out to you?
M: There’s one girl who we’ve actually had to cut out, whose work is really good, I think.
GfL: We had a bit of a disaster. The magazine is in alphabetical order and we needed to get the pagination down. This poet’s name is Xinobi, with an X, and so we had to sub from the bottom. Sadly she had to get cut. We’re putting her into issue three though. We chatted to her and she’s cool about it. She’s got her own magazine over in America so she’s not too put out. But anyway, back to best pieces, there was a piece that we nearly rejected for issue one. This guy had written a series of short vignettes all about insects, written in the language of a child. It’s talking about the kid’s parents’ breakdown, but through this insect collecting project. It was way too long for issue one so we sent him away to edit it. We weren’t sure how it would come back. Even when it came back reasonably right, we were still unsure. Now, seeing it on paper and seeing what our designer Chris has done with it, I think it’s our star piece in issue two. Any others?
M: I’m trying to think-
Gfl: we’ve got a genius who had never submitted anything in his life before this, but decided to submit for us because we sounding like the kind of arseholes he would like. He submitted for issue one and we genuinely think he’s this undiscovered genius. A guy called Wesley Cooke. He’s had a very interesting life and has been writing stuff that he shows to no one-
M: And burning it!
GfL: actually burning it!
M: Literally burning it before anybody can read it. He’ll be there [at the launch].
GfL: I think he’s one of the only people who’s in issue two that was in issue one. Is he?
M: Yeah, he’s the only writer. Other than that we’ve got a couple of great illustrators who have joined us again.
GfL: I think we’re trying to credit ourselves with a discovery here, but he’s done it on his own.
M: Though actually, I like to think we help out a bit. Him and his girlfriend actually met at the first launch!