Help Write the Future of Understorey Magazine

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Since the launch of Understorey Magazine in 2013, we have published over 200 new and established writers and artists. We have created nine issues of the magazine, formed a partnership with Mount Saint Vincent University and received funding from the Canada Council for the Arts.

What’s next?

We are looking for new editorial board members to help write the future of Understorey Magazine.

We are inviting queries from all who identify as female and

  • support the magazine’s mandate;
  • live in Canada or are Canadian and living abroad;
  • have experience in at least one aspect of running a magazine (editing, marketing, fundraising, graphic design, website design, community engagement, running a non-profit organization, working with underrepresented groups etc.);
  • may be interested in a larger role within the magazine should our budget increase;
  • above all, have a passion for the arts and the time to create and share ideas.

Board positions are currently volunteer. Please send us an email for more information: [email protected]

We look forward to hearing from you.

Book Review: Tell by Soraya Peerbaye

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It took me four days to read Soraya Peerbaye’s Tell: Poems for a Girlhood (Pedlar Press, 2015). By day three, I wasn’t sure I could follow through, so acute was my fear and respect for the tide of pain and loss on nearly every page.

Tell honours Reena Virk, assaulted and murdered by her peers in 1997; she was 14 years old. I was 14 in 1997, as well; our birthdays are only weeks apart. Perhaps “I’d have been her friend” (“Trials,” 10). In Grade Nine, I didn’t know any girls from South Asian families, but I had girlfriends who loved clog boots, who wore pleather jackets; girls who shouldered rumours, reputations, and threats too heavy for their age, their hearts and bodies—girls, in many ways, like Reena.

Peerbaye’s brilliance—and yes, this poetry is transcendentally brilliant—is her commitment to image as memory, and memory as empathy. Each poem quietly prepares you for the next with its own “silt, shells, bottles, trash, eelgrass” (“Silt,” 9)—its own traces of oncoming violence. This evidence hides away in your shoes, sticks to your skin, does its work of cutting and chafing as Peerbaye goes on to ask you, gently but insistently, to consider the specifics of Reena’s pain and death: how it is that her clothes became “saturated… soiled” (“Current,” 4), her skin “slackened, sloughed” (“Washerwoman,” 11), and what it means when pathologists find stones in the mouths of young women drowned.

Perhaps Karine Guyon’s beautiful cover art is a warning: its splintered, tangled, spiralling web of shadow, descent, moonset. But like the whorl of white paint across the top half of Guyon’s There is Light, Tell’s hopeful and forward-looking core shines through for the reader who perseveres. In the section “Who You Were,” Peerbaye’s poetic speaker gives us another facet of Reena by reflecting on her own girlhood—her own experiences as a South Asian teen growing up in Canada. There is “pain, depression, sleep” (“Safety,” 6), and the “verdant grief of girls” (“Tremor and Flare,” 13), but also “sweet water, sweet stones” (“Lagoons and lakes,” 10)—the redemption of debris.

And in the book’s final poems, we find resplendent parting gifts: the Lekwungen story of Camosun; the persistent “life in these waters” (94); bones, tools and fragments “four thousand years old” (“Tillicum Bridge,” 11). These are traces of history and healing, and Reena’s call to rest in the land.

Tell won the 2016 Trillium Book Award for Poetry and was a finalist for the 2016 Griffin Poetry Prize.

See also “Reena” by Carole Glasser Langille.

Seven Years, Five Editors, Four Publishers: How I’m Writing My Novel

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Ever wonder what it takes to write, edit and sell a novel? While there are a few overnight-success stories, most authors work very hard to produce a manuscript and get it noticed. Annette Martin published an excerpt from her novel-in-progress in Understorey Magazine in 2014. But she started writing long before that—and she’s still working to revise her manuscript and find a publisher. Here’s one woman’s story of writing and selling a novel.

Many years ago, after retiring from the school system, I had the gist of an idea for a story. I doodled at it here and there but had no real plans for publishing or even finishing it. I just enjoyed writing. Always had. But seven years ago I got a bit more serious.

By 2012, the story was finished. Almost 500 pages. What to do with it? The Writers’ Alliance of Newfoundland (WANL) gave me a list of editors and said they’d pay half of the editing fee. I contacted one of the editors.

In 2013, that editor sent me a very long list of suggestions. I revised accordingly and sent it to another editor through WANL. This second one sent the manuscript back with another long list of recommendations, one of which was to “save some for the sequel.” I figured this meant I rambled too much. My story (I had trouble calling it a book) was too long.

In 2014 and 2015, I got even more serious. I chopped pieces out, twisted things around and found I really liked revising. I thought I’d like to have it edited by someone in Nova Scotia as that’s where I now live. I contacted the Writers’ Federation of Nova Scotia and found another editor. She did three readings. Many revisions later, I was ready to try some publishers.

I sent sample chapters to three publishing companies and the whole manuscript to another publisher, all in Newfoundland as that’s where the story is set. (But then, I enjoy and relate to books from Sweden, Norway—love Jo Nesbo—and other places so why did I think that way?)

Of these Newfoundland publishers, I never heard back from one (I later learned that they never received the manuscript). Many months later, a second said no, flat out. But then—a ray of hope. In April 2015, Creative Publishing emailed to ask if they could give the manuscript to an outside reader. In August, after I phoned to check in, they sent the reader’s comments to me by email. There were many good suggestions but he or she suggested I find yet another editor! The reader thought I should work on aspects like the inner thoughts and voice of the characters.

I sent the manuscript to an editor in British Columbia (I was really branching out). It was August 2015 and I was working in a more disciplined way. After two readings by this editor—and more chopping—I sent it back to Creative. They responded in June 2016: The manuscript was improved but still not ready.

Somewhere along the way, I also sent it to a publisher in Nova Scotia. They said, “It doesn’t fit with books we have in mind at this time,” or something like that. I am really not sure what that means.

Back to the revisions. I’m getting really good at revising and still enjoy, it by the way. (Teachers have the correcting gene.) I emailed another editor, the fifth, and last July her comments arrived. She wondered if I might reverse the order of a few chapters. I thought about this and decided it wasn’t necessary. She also said the opening was weak and I have to agree. I’ve changed it many times and I’m still not happy.

The manuscript is now down to 325 pages. I figure I’ve discarded enough characters and plots and pages for two more books. I do appreciate the many things I’ve learned from all the editors. (Who knew you have to leave quotation marks out at the end of a paragraph if the same person is speaking in the next one? I’ve read thousands of books and never noticed that.)

I plan to fix the beginning and send it off to a few more publishers. If nothing happens, I’ll self-publish. Or I’ll throw it in a barrel and set fire to it….