OPEN PEN

Issue Eighteen

a free short fiction magazine – home of open literature featuring

The Jungle by Josephine Bruni, Answering Zeus by William Kraemer, Way To Go Donald by N Quentin Woolf & London Short Story prize winner Oh No!, A Bank Robbery! Fuck! by Foye McCarthyDCb2tdCUIAQ7eFJ

I have a special dealer who keeps my Open Pen fix topped up. I’ll be waiting a while for Issue Nineteen but not too bothered as Issue Eighteen has been floating in my bag for those advantageous, peaceful moments to pause. Open Pen editor Sean Preston gives guest editorial duties to author of The Many, Wyl Menmuir. He starts off proceedings with much heart and passion on the political landscape that currently floods our psyches with that uneasy feeling and the distorted reflections one has been forced to endure of late. “We need fiction that reveals us deeper truths than those of which the news is capable” He sees the strength and conscious changing power of writing stories “Writing is about the closest thing we have to telepathy” There are plenty of stories around when we need to escape and even more to help us connect again in these complex times.  If I am looking for the latter, I know I can find it inside the the pages of Open Pen.

It took a park bench in the sun to hold me still enough to finally finish The Jungle by Josephine Bruni in one hit. Previous attempts where stifled by life’s regular interruptions, trying to find solitude at work, being distracted by a lit up android. My imagination well whetted – I think I read the intro six times – each page brought one deeper and deeper into the mind of Subhashini and her stoner enhanced neurosis and love of African Violets. So absorbed, she has become a creator, a little god in her world of black velvet, notched wavy flowers and purpley edges with “leaves perfectly heart shaped like a love song“. An offer of stronger genes in her family from Violets from outta space via an offer from an online chat room changes her world. Josephine writes with exquisite pace and empathy, that lets the reader enter her world of obsession and devotion.

William Kraemer has come up with a hoot of a fiction about a guy who makes up the titles of fake books for movie sets. These empty tomes are his triumph, a meditative fantasy world of amazing possibilities. Pensive Gout by Louis Cardel and A Thousand And One Inches Of Twine by Elissa Dal Santos a couple of favourites.

Way To Go Donald talks of the connection with the POTUS and potentially dying in a fairground accident. It is an uncanny metaphor, having myself escaped from a broken seat belt on the wild mouse unscathed, I get his drift. The only thing you can do is white knuckle it, and consider what might have happened later and how on earth it got clearance to be there in the first place. Part of the furniture at Open Pen, N Quentin Woolf’s pieces are always a mind blast.

Taking the finale of yet another wonderful issue is London Short Story Prize winner’s brilliantly funny Oh No! A Bank Robbery! Fuck! by Foye McCarthy. An Irish kid named Sean loves stories about people who shoot each other. The high expectations and literary selections of his mother are being quashed by the “pew, pew, pew, pew, tshhh” books he wants to write. This delves into another fantasy that gets caught up in a real life adventure, giving him the plot and ending he so desires, gaining answers of the warm and fuzzy variety. Much fun inside his fevered thought processes.

Look out for Issue Nineteen which should be out any tick and at a stockist near you (UK residents have the best chance) or subscribe via Open Pen

 

 

Open Pen Reviews

Joseph Ridgwell – Mexico

Ridgwell and Pig Ear Press join forces again and produce hand-stitched beauty.

Time to check in on authors who regularly get radared here at Urban F HQ. I’ve had this little burgundy book for a while now. After six weeks off work it’s amazing what you find in your notes and hidden journals around the place. A sketch of a volcano, lists of strange encounters, overheard conversations, personal dreams and a short paragraph on Joseph Ridgwell’s, Mexico.

Having been familiar with Ridgwell’s classic road novel Burrito Deluxe, also set within a Mexican backdrop, I couldn’t resist this little gem on offer from Pig Ear Press. A kind of mini Burrito… with less chili. Shaped like a British passport, its gold embossing tells of hearts belonging – at this particular moment – somewhere else, somewhere exotic, somewhere away from the fuzz. Back on the Beach Of The Dead, our favourite miscreant Ronnie is waxing astronomical with wads of philosophy between sips, snorts and swings. “It’s like everything’s dead, even the stars are stillborn“. Back on the prowl, the boys begin looking for more fun before Armageddon, in which, Ronnie & Joe experience some tender and unlawful moments.

Mexico is another taste of the writing style and stories you’ll get from a Ridgwell release. The difference between this and other snippets and short stories is the sexdefying splendor of the print job. All this artisan book binding, handmade paper, embossing and personal touches has this printer’s daughter weak at the knees. It ain’t long, but its quality counts for more. If you are a supporter of the small press revolution, then seek out similar gems from this publisher, if you are new to this rebel lit fiend caper, than this would be a great start to your collection and the many adventures of Joseph Ridgwell.

Book Review Joseph Ridgwell Reviews

Worse Things Happen At Sea

selected poems by Martin Appleby

There was a moment of disappointment when I missed the first run of Martin Appleby’s Worse Things Happen At Sea. An extra five poems in this special edition though has me feeling right chuffed and glad I got in on the second chance run instead. Martin has been slogging away with his lit zine Paper & Ink for many, many issues now. Ten if you’re counting. In fact, he has cemented himself well and truly inside the ‘lit zine trail blazer’ category. It is still lo-fi, full of real heart and unique edge skaters of the literary underground. It has been such a pleasure to get each issue all the way down here in Sydney, opening up the great curtain to new writers and friends all over the world.

Martin has a coy approach to selling himself, though proud and strong when championing all the new voices in Paper & Ink, but he shouldn’t be worried. This is fun, straightforward and passionate. A few of the poems here have snuck inside some P&I classics, so it is a treat to get this cache of thoughts in a well stapled bundle. Dedicated to all ex girlfriends, past and future, After You Left is a fitting start. Stale cigarette smoke and yearning. There is loads of chat on cider, his dreams, regrets, bands, his love of Bukowski, the perils of being a vegetarian via his classic poem Don’t You Miss Bacon and of course boxing.

There are hints of unresolved childhood melancholy but that only seems to have shaped the writer into the strong, resilient man he has become, that strength revealed in Everything. Martin is a rebel who quickly senses the rebellion in others, especially writers. Half way through you start to feel some of the accumulated years of experience shed and drop to the floor. Ten Years is a ripper of regrets he would never have missed. Martin’s humour is dry and honest and extra cute at times with gems like Poetry Is Hard With Kittens, Rejection, Shit Jokes and another fave I’ve spied before Dreams.

worse

There is the awkward beauty of Nights Like Those about ‘silent sex so that my parents didn’t hear‘ that just makes you smile and reminisce in the wake of similar scenarios. The title poem means a lot to Martin. You can tell, ’cause it’s permanently inked on his wrist, Self deprecating, a reminder, its meaning he will never outgrow. There’s been plenty of rumbles like Why Is Your Moustache Shorter Than The Rest Of Your Beard, another story in his ‘war against myself‘. The one poem that truly reaches me and makes me so happy to have had Martin cross my path is the wonderful The Only Religion I Need. “I have danced on sticky floors, in shitty pubs with bands playing solely for me” mate, we pray at the same altar.

Worse Things Happen At Sea is available here. Check out the back catalogue of fine releases while you are browsing the shelves. Look out for calls for words for the next Paper & Ink Zine release, one that will surely be up many of your dingy back alleys, PUNK! Get scribbling. Submissions here.

Martin Appleby Paper And Ink Zine Poetry Reviews Zines & Journals

Strungballs by Mike Russell

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Ordered and mesmeric. This family’s interactions can pause to an extent that almost becomes non existent. Do they exist only if all is involved in the conversation? An eerie language that connects time, memories and moments described to the second. So aware of time, of measurements, the foundation of their lives. This seems to be all they have except for Strungballs. One can hear the buzz of boredom in their ears. What do they have besides every boys dream. The most sort after accoutrement with all its status, dangly strings and models. So coveted one must remove a piece of flesh for, again and again until nothing really holds you together.
Reading this short story has one’s imagination suffering as we plod through the minimal and awkward silences that is their lives. We peer into it and can’t help being pulled into its trance and rhythm. It sounds unpleasant but that is good storytelling.
Ten year old Sydney is undergoing a rites of passage, done with a beautiful vision on the perils of materialism and human conditioning. His leap into a different spirituality that he discovers via room 333 and new friend Albert is a beautiful awakening. Where the body and his fears are non existent, triggers the spark for knowledge and realisation of his individuality. Unknown king of the inquisitive, he very quickly questions doctrine and all the whitewash and begins the great unlearning. Sydney is on the search to find himself.
All cultures are full of strange stories, telling them is in our dna. This sci-fi dystopian fable is a gem. I wanted it fatter though, a little more filler could of helped us hold onto its message more. So although, it is a quickie, I enjoyed the imagery. The proud father whose dreams of his son selling or promoting Strungballs is paramount, the melancholic suppressed mother in a backdrop of tears and fears, white, black and red, flesh & robot nurses is vivid. The slow minimalism perfectly empty. The reproduction anatomy lesson in the middle jarred a little, though amused enough. If that particular imparting of fact was extended into a psychedelic touchy feely fun parlour I would of enjoyed the trip a little more and a little longer. Overall, I got to know Sydney and wanted to see how his quest would end, so this taste of author of Mike Russell has me prying into his world. Strange days indeed. You can purchase Strungballs and check out many more stories and Mike’s empire via his website StrangeBooks

Mike Russell Reviews

The Secret Life Of The Novel by Dean Cavanagh

Spent days trapped in a world where words are alive. Four to the beat, smashing symbols. Thousands of characters born into an idea. An alchemy of the beautiful, the lost, confused and nasty finding some way to gel, to become real. In starting this book, one might think it is full of typos. My mind was glitching, electronic aspic playing tricks in the formatting. A few quizzical frowns later it hit me. Once attuned to the author’s rhythm something wonderful happens. Extraordinary notes fall beats between words missing, then discovered with stealth ear, the ampersand as proper noun. Well it was once held in high esteem, brutally taken away from the alphabet and now the ultimate character in this extraordinary piece of art.

When one smiles two pages in, you kinda know you gonna dig the beast ahead. The power of language, ideas and worlds that smash into your own and form our illusions of reality, our lives just one big novel filled with a ‘remix of superstition, fear, confusion and hearsay’ Sharing his life of information -duration spent in fresh air with a good dose of cathode input – Dean shapes and spits antecedent memory, breathing inside our disjointed fragments. This book is its own attempt to understand itself.

The narrator comes alive. A big buttinski that appears like the hand of god, her finger pointing in his ribs. The prose moves in and out of its own subconscious, or just loses its train of thought, bored, goes for a smoke, who knows. But it does regroup and old friends come back to haunt me. It triggers again and again inside an ether filled handkerchief. Biblical re treatments, fantastical celebs make guest appearances, a mishmash of identities as philosophical theorems get a workover in a post post-modern cut up that makes perfectly feasible nonsense, controlling theories of our chaotic magick awakening. ‘She’s placing wagers on Ouija boards again, speculating on the outcome of man made disasters body count and collective trauma’ these moments hold you in your tracks, his opals of unmined walls.

A psychick doll of stories taking great swipes at the self-promoting super sceptics. Could this be a book without a point? Each page gets more farfetched, crazy ideas spiral out of control. Words that you will only see in deep search for synonyms appear like cities from a power beyond. Pages and pages of extreme depravity, word wizard pushing his own limits, knocking off lists of despicable acts, degenerate visions that would make the horror gods tear up their manuscripts or push wads of money down his breeks because their minds couldn’t match the scenes pulled out. You keep reading, trusting in the author, that it will all make sense and if it doesn’t you will be seduced by the information dumps. You will definitely get a good chuckle out of it, maybe even help one dig out of their stagnant mind-well. The detective work is done by the reader, a chart where everyone takes their own route.

c3edpytumaa0y3gFusing novel with essay, with dream, with review, with stories, when Ampersand enters the chapters all hell breaks loose. It switches from hard boiled in a blink. I adore when he goes noir on our asses, the cigarette smoke and sweet tea scenarios drift through the senses. This is more than one event it is a line of binary in parallel universes triggering mind hops and tangents for the dimensionally jarred. Always struggling to join the dots, chastised and tormented. Puns, rhyming slang, sayings, the dance of language rolls through the words, a manic, Tourette stylee. A rapid fire white patois rap of inner monologue gets quite scary in that it won’t stop. The ability of letters to transform into accents, missing letters become ghost limbs, all is understood, phonetics are a secret language. Will he achieve all he set out t say, *errrr grimace and spasm* I reckon he does, though many will run out of cuticle from scratching their heads. I found it intelligent, exciting, sexy, violent and inspiring. One can only adore the chaos, the tricks to reveal his truth.

Get your mirrors out cause he really loses it. This book is physically draining, a tongue workout while you chase the author round the white space expecting him to shed his straightjacket at any time. Totally fucking wild. Unedited word tanties, god I love this book’s total gaga gobbledegook cut and paste brilliance. Though at times, wading through the mess has you drooling on your desk. I feel you experience the ride more empathising with the author himself and the struggle it can be at times to get the story out of your head and onto the page. Some paragraphs feel they have been written after eating a bad curry. Dean Cavanagh has an unlimited supply of different ways of communicating wavelengths and if you can’t keep up then this book will leave you at the bakery, a snappy ride, where-to-next finger clicks. My only advice is to open your mind and hold onto the hand that is dragging you into this.

A friend leaned into my kindle

“it looks like word art”

“Yep it is”

“lots of swearing in it too”

“Yep there is”

I’ll leave you with an extract from a review written in 2026 with Dean Cavanagh who chats about his book, The Secret Life Of The Novel…

I saw my relationship with the reader as a sort of sexual one. But now it seems more like a late-night conversation with really good friends, when the bullshit stops and the masks come off

We are the words not uttered.

You can grab a hard copy of The Secret Life Of The Novel via amazon, also available on less satisfying circuitry devices. Connect with Dean on twitter  and Goodreads.

Dean Cavanagh Reviews

MORTON

Poetry & Photos by Lorne Johnson

morton

I’m into heightened experiences. Often going to great lengths to get the most out of my book selections. Thrills like reading Sautet in a coffee shop in Paris, Bourdain in Vietnam to simply sitting on a tree stump in the wondrous Southern Highlands of NSW reading Lorne Johnson’s poetry chapbook Morton in Morton National Park. A bridge too far perhaps? Never!

Gunnin’ down Sheepwash Road, one is taken aback by the scenery, especially wondrous for us stuck in the city. The Bowral-set in their vintage boy racers hold up traffic with time travelers. Stories of old timers that come to light later like Sassafras 1903 & A Gold Miner At Yalwal, 1933. The history of the place is a great study of internal explorers and identities of colonial NSW, the dispossession of traditional country of the Yuin People with many significent sites of Aboriginal mythology and culture. No stranger to the area, older generations of my family where evacuated to Exeter during the war. It’s a small town in the Wingecarribee Shire close to Morton. Loads of stories of the bush and encounters with its wildlife relayed to me by my mother. This is what may have triggered my curiosity.

On Saturday, I was the first to arrive. Good idea to start early. Nature is on the move as the day warms up and the walking tracks get busy on the weekends especially at my entry point of Fitzroy Falls. The area Morton covers is huge. It contains 200,000 hectares of unique species of flora and fauna found in the area. It is a birders paradise. It took a while for the buzz from these city ears to open to the quiet. You stand and wait to hear where the whistles land, look up and scan the trees for birds you’ve never seen. There are trees for special diets, fussy rare birds. As one walks, the occasional look down is welcomed, for unsuspecting lizards sunning on the edges of the tracks are often too blissed to notice walking boots. Twisted branches are used to dart from. Morton is a tangled mess and aftermath of storms and fire. Branches weighed heavy with wind splinter, wildflowers, insects and human interference. I can see exactly where the poems come from.

Lorne’s poetry is another way to discover Morton and its guide to secret destinations and his love of birds. I know I will find Honeyeaters, Satin Bowerbird’s that are partial to ‘Smurfs‘ and ‘Ansell wrappers’ to swoon the hearts of potential mates. His anthropomorphic and humourous scenarios say a lot about himself, ‘sipping grog from a gumnut’ and ‘diggin’ Miles‘. Musical tastes beat fresh in a few stanzas, meeting his reflection in anothers nest. Superb Lyrebirds actions hints at a city boy’s eyes. Macleay’s Swallowtails and the unknowing help of a common wombat during one of the areas fires, just a few of the beautiful observations you’ll discover.

Inside Morton, one is secluded in nature but surrounded by bustling country towns, some with dubious environmental agendas. Coal mines, polluting factories and hunters. A Reaction to a 2012 Hunting Proposal poem is met with a level head, reading the personality of culprits and possible problems that may occur. If this poem was read out at the council meeting, the NO’s would be unanimous. You won’t be bored with Yet Another Poem Featuring Gum Trees, Lorne knows these guys inside and out, he has such a beautiful take on things. He has a very colloquial heart, written in a different language but that’s because no where in the world, other than here, would you encounter a Dusky Antechinus or a Greater Glider, in places like Billy Bulloos Canyon or Dungeon Creek. You have to know what a wobbegong is to understand all the treasures here. I especially have never heard a Swamp Wallaby described more perfect.

Lorne’s poetry is a medicine, a timeless message to explore and find yourself in the beauty of the bush. My close encounter with these poems, honeyeaters, parrots, wildflowers, waterfalls and a fork in the trail certainly enriched my weekend.

You can find Morton via Pit Street Poetry. They have done a sublime job in the design and print quality of this beautiful chapbook. The pictures have that lovely real gum haze, Lorne’s photographs remain true to eyes, simple compositions and taste of Morton’s jewels. If you want to connect with Lorne you can visit his blog and also on twitter

Lorne Johnson Poetry Reviews

LOVE SPELLS

I have a powerful zine in my hands. Love Spells by Lillian Cuda or Lilly C as I was introduced to her at the Sydney Zine Fair. Voted by me as cutest stand in the multiverse, Lilly stood out in in a blaze of black and pastels, an emanation of beautiful energy, honest and humble. Her work is from a personal perspective, what has worked for her. I bought these to pass on to some younger family members but actually can’t seem to part with them. Still get a kickin’ buzz and inspiration from her work so haven’t had the heart to hand them over just yet.

czjj5okuoaapft9Hand drawn and coloured crystal identification charts starts our first lesson. Red garnet is an amazing stone as I discover ‘it is the embodiment of love and when worn it helps to revive feelings, stir sexuality and aids to control anger and self destructive behaviours’ – look out! Kunzite is fascinating as it is a mending stone for us broken ones. There are drawings of Flowers For Love, Spells for Self Love. This page includes some fascinating steps from writing  ‘I deserve love’ in beetroot juice and holding blooms of Ranunculus when you doubt your awesomeness. This zine comes with a double page of hand drawn stickers to pop on things as reminders of positive love energy. We can bend, mend and banish love in simple steps. This zine is a gem for just that. Her shop for Crafty Witches & Magical Babes can be found here with links to all her ‘awesomeness’.

Reviews Zines & Journals