Róisín and James from Tower Magazine talk about Ending and Beginnings

Róisín and James from Tower Magazine talk about Ending and Beginnings 

By Angelique Fawns


Something disruptive has emerged out of Ireland. James Hudson and Róisín Byrne have created a stunning digital anthology magazine with unique and structurally explosive content. Focusing on the themes of sudden upheaval, abrupt endings, chaos, and disaster, these editors are bringing art and writing together in a way they call “nuanced, uncomfortable, or otherwise has bad vibes.” 

The theme for their first issue was “END.” 

They purchased my series of comedic, dark reality show scripts “The Survivor House Promos” for this inaugural first issue. They are using ITCH.IO for delivery.  All in all, working with this team was an uplifting and fun experience. 

Tower is opening for submissions on July 1st for the theme of “HOLE.”

They are looking for pieces in all genres, but prefer horror, sci-fi, fantasy and erotica. Here is the ask:

“HOLE will be themed on holes in all senses; holes in the body, holes in the ground, mental and spiritual holes, and more. What makes a hole, its walls or its absence? Who makes a hole? What goes in the hole? Who owns the hole? How does a hole make you feel? How does a hole feel? Can I go in?”
Some inspirations:

  • The rabbit hole of Nick Drnaso’s “Sabrina”
  • The holes in women’s minds and bodies in Alison Rumfitt’s Tell Me I’m Worthless
  • The reverse-tower hole in Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation
  • The meeting of early internet rabbit holes, moral vacuums, sexual obsession and open wounds in Dennis Cooper’s The Sl*ts
  • The ur-type hole story, Junji Ito’s “The Enigma of Amigara Fault”

AF: Tell us more about the inspiration and creation of Tower?

RB: It basically came about from James and I talking about the kind of fiction we enjoyed reading and how difficult it was for those kind of short stories to get published. Literary magazines can shy away from genre fiction and SFF publications weren’t including the darker subject matter we were interested in. James had been saying for ages we should start our own magazine and I would be like “haha yeah, sure” until he eventually said “No, I’m serious”.  And that was it, we started brainstorming from there.

JH: In my experience, my guard goes up when a publisher–especially a horror publisher–has submission guidelines that include “no gratuitous sex/violence” or “no transphobia”. How does a writer know what an editor considers ‘gratuitous’? Will any description of trans or non-normative sex be ‘too much’? How does a submitter know if the editor will understand that a brutal depiction of a hate crime or a rape is written out of sympathy, love or catharsis? How do we write horror, or any authentic fiction, if we feel ashamed or embarrassed writing f*ck(ng and bleeding and cumming and dying?

I would never ask another editor to change their guidelines, and many writers have made waves in self-publishing. But this was a huge drive in starting TOWER, for me; not because a magazine is more legitimising than self-pub–hence our storefront using itch.io!–but to put those isolated works in conversation. “Yes” to gratuitous sex and violence. “Yes” to writing about rape, abuse and miscarriage. “Yes” art about transphobia. People are already making this art. It just deserves a chance to come together.


AF: Why “END”?

RB: If I recall correctly, END was the first theme we suggested and we both immediately thought it was funny. Like, faux-ironic, “really makes you think”, starting-at-the-end way. That was it for me anyway and I hope people got the joke. 

Really though, we stuck with it because it was such an open theme, there was so much possibility for the kinds of submissions we’d receive. Death, obviously, but the end of a relationship, the end of a tv show. We really wanted people to run with it.

JH: It was a happy accident–early on Róisín and I had planned on alternating between unthemed and themed issues, but fairly close to launching the magazine we decided to theme every issue. By then we had our amazing cover art by Amy Louise O’Callaghan (amylouioc.com) so we retroactively had to find a theme we sincerely liked that didn’t clash with Amy Louise’s amazing art.

END came out of that brainstorming kind of tongue-in-cheek; Amy had created this vivacious little skeleton party, ‘END’ had clear ties to the darker themes and sensitive subjects we wanted to publish, but it also felt like there was a bit of humour in starting at the end. Yes, we want difficult work, but we want to convey humour and affection and humanise these topics too.

That felt really important when launching a new magazine–when you have no established presence and you’re asking writers and artists to trust you with work that might have been rejected or derided elsewhere, every little bit you can convey about yourself as editors feels like it matters. It was a funny, roundabout way to come to the theme, but I’m so happy we wound up using it and starting off with such a raw and thrilling collection.

AF: What do you look for in the story/art/stuff that you buy? 

RB: Character. I think a lot of people get bogged down in world-building or creating a situation but if I don’t feel like that situation is happening to a real person, I’m going to lose interest.

JH: In genre terms: blood, sex, horror, erotica. I like work that’s unabashedly visceral and intense, that makes me feel a physical sense of discomfort or excitement. I love art where you can see an artist just going all in, pulling no punches. 

In subject terms: I want to talk about things we feel like we can’t talk about. For example, I really hoped for VOL. 1: END that we’d get art or writing about the end of a pregnancy. Abortion and miscarriage are subjects I rarely see in art or writing unless I’m specifically seeking them out, but they’re things that happen every day, to so many people, in both mundane and traumatising ways. We didn’t wind up receiving any submissions about abortion, which is a shame, as that’s a very current subject in Ireland specifically. But Leah Mueller’s essay “A Weight Too Heavy” and our conversation with Saoirse Ni Chiaragain both touched on miscarriage, and I was really thrilled. You know, I could miscarry someday. It can happen. And now, for the first time, I have a history, like an antibody, of the emotions that might come with that. I feel more equipped for the life I might have with my body, more human. Whether it be through heartfelt essays or grimy erotic horror, I want work that will give a reader that experience.


AF: What advice do you have for creators?

RB: The most common issue in the stories we rejected was pacing. We received a lot of stories where nothing happened until the last paragraph. The “something” happening doesn’t have to be a big action scene or high drama. Lenny Burnham’s “Don’t Email My Wife” is a very introspective story. The majority of that story is the main guy thinking to himself and reflecting on his relationship with his wife. It comes back to character again, he feels like a real person. You want to write a shocking twist but no one is gonna get that far if you hoard all the plot til the end.

JH: I guess it depends what kind of ‘creator’, I don’t use that word a lot.

There’s no f*ck*ng money in art and/or writing so if you are lucky enough to be able to make art while living comfortably, donate to your local mutual aid fund so writers and artists with less means than you can live a little more comfortably and have a little more time and space for their craft. You already know the general advice–make the art you want to make, sit down and do the work, find people with your passions, etcetera–so my advice is to materially support other writers. (And if you are a writer in need, to not shy away from mutual aid funds or worry you’re ‘not broke enough’ to use one. They are there for you.)

I worked with a writer who, when I asked for their payment details, requested that their fee be anonymously donated to whatever other writer on the same project was the newest in publishing. If you can afford it, my advice is to do that.


AF: What was the reception to issue 1?

RB: Extremely heartening. We hit 200 downloads in the first week. It’s been so fun to see our contributions sharing it online and talking about it. The feedback has been great from friends, but to be selfish I would love it if readers commented on itch.io. I wanna know what people who don’t have to be nice to us think!

JH: People seem really excited, and it means so much for both us and the contributors how people have singled out their favourite pieces for praise. It shows a really genuine connection with the work and means the world to the writers and artists. 

On a selfish level, I was so flattered by the love for the layout and design that I put together. I love visually exciting design, but I’m also very digitally DIY. Both TOWER and my previous anthology VERY ONLINE were designed exclusively using Google Docs and free online image editors–even if I had access to InDesign, I don’t think I’d use it. I don’t want to learn it. I like the crafty process now, it feels like collage. So, I’m thrilled when contributors like how I’ve presented their work or when readers are engaged by the visual design, it’s really rewarding.

AF: Will there ever be a print version available. (I loved the issue so much I want to physically OWN it.)

RB: Sadly, it’s not looking likely. It’s a hefty volume and printing and distribution are beyond our capabilities for the moment.

JH: Christ no. I’m not even sad about it. To be clear: I work with the Small Trans Library Dublin, I understand the importance of physical books and the fragility of digital archives, I’m not a book burner. But in the specific context of this magazine, no, I see very little advantage in printing. 

You have to remember we’re based in Ireland. If we did a small print run of 100 books, after the cost of printing would be the cost of shipping, largely to the American readership that dominates SFFH, which would be exorbitant. As editors we’d have to spend dozens of (unpaid) hours studying the print trade to then spend hundreds of euros–out of pocket–on a small print run.

Or we could just stay digital, use that same money to just pay contributors, and reach two or three times as many people. (The cost of printing often precludes a simultaneous digital release to incentivise selling the print stock and recouping costs.) We don’t even pay market rate, but when so many magazines pay nothing at all, I really care that we can pay that small fee by staying digital.

Someday we’ll probably be looking into outside funding, and that might change my answer! And we’re looking into a kind of print-at-home distribution in the zine tradition. But for now, no. I’m really happy that using PDFs means this is an extremely manageable project for Róisín and I, which means we can do a better job for longer, which is what writers and artists deserve most from an editorial team.

AF: Is there anything you will do differently in issue 2?

RB: Time management is the big one for me. I was honestly intimidated when we started receiving submissions, so I put off reading them. I put myself under a totally unnecessary time crunch.

JH: Definitely a lot of little internal admin things will run smoother now that we’ve been through one volume. Our submission form for VOL. 2 is going to look a tiny bit different. Like, we forgot to put a “Title” field in the VOL. 1 form, so we practically memorised every submitter’s name because we didn’t have the title of their pieces listed in our spreadsheet. We’re goofy as hell for that one.

AF: What sort of art/writing do you create yourself?

RB: Very little at the moment! I write poetry but that is mainly for myself. 

JH: I’m a speculative fiction writer, focusing on queer horror. Getting a little grosser and hornier with every story, as is my god-given right. I’ll save everyone my tight five and just say that I’m at townmice.com/@townmice on Twitter and that I’m a good writer.


AF: What is in the future for TOWER MAGAZINE?

RB: The immediate future is VOL. 2: HOLE. We’re excited about the theme because, like END, there’s such a range of possibilities. A hole can be spiritual, salacious, a 90s grunge band, you can fit so much in a hole. Submissions will be opening on July 1st so keep an eye on our Twitter.

Beyond VOL. 2, we really don’t know. Our plan is to continue TOWER for as long as it’s enjoyable for us. 

JH: IT’S HOLE TIME BABY! Like I mentioned earlier, VOL. 1 was originally going to be unthemed, so HOLE was the volume theme that we had planned from the start. I’ve been so excited to get to it. I think it’s a theme that could go so many ways, but at the same time, I really hope we get some submissions that stick to the classics and give us great erotica or erotic horror. 

We have a couple of pieces already that were submitted to END but we requested to publish in HOLE instead, and I’m so excited by them. Two stories with simmering homoeroticism, facial wounds, camera lenses, and one poem meditating on experiences in sex work, another underserved topic I hope to see more of in submissions. You can read excerpts from these at the back of VOL. 1: END and read more about VOL. 2: HOLE on our website.





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