by Ashley Lister
This is the story of my first time. Technically, it wasn’t my first time. It was something I’d done as a child at school. And I’d also done it on the letters page of my favourite comic. But this is about the first time I did it and got properly paid for it. The first time I saw one of my own short stories in print.
The school magazine was probably an indication that I had a desire to write. A short poem about birthday presents. Don’t worry. I don’t remember it now, so I’m not going to repeat it here. But I do remember how thrilled I was to have been published.
The letter in the comic was more of an indicator about the writer’s attitude I’d been born with.
BROTHER: They spelled your name wrong.
ME: That doesn’t affect the money they’ve sent, does it?
BROTHER: But it’s not about the money, is it?
ME: Not entirely. I’m also pretty pleased to see my words in print.
It wasn’t until much later that I got back into print. Appropriately, it was because of one of the UK’s top erotic magazines: Forum. I’d always been a big fan. There was something about the blend of eroticism and intellectuality that appealed to me. And there were pictures of naked girls. They also appealed to me.
Forum, always a big promoter of erotic fiction, had started a magazine called Erotic Stories. The editor wanted well-written erotic stories and I thought, ‘I wonder if I could write one of those?’
It turned out I could. My short story, ‘Testing Times,’ was written, submitted and duly accepted and purchased. I danced wildly around the house, delighted to be holding a letter from a publisher that didn’t include the words, ‘we wish you good luck with publishing this piece elsewhere.’
Sex is good. Wealth is probably great (I imagine). But I doubt there’s an experience on this planet that can compare to a writer’s first legitimate acceptance from a publisher. In some ways it’s an affirmation that all those years stooped over a typewriter or notepad had not been wasted effort. Technically, it’s a professional editor saying, “I think your story is so well-written I’m going to pay money for it and place it in my magazine.
I danced for about a week and, each time I danced, I finished my steps near the letterbox. The acceptance letter I received had mentioned something about a contributor’s copy. I was bowled over that the magazine editor was actually going to pay me AND send me a copy of the magazine. This was better than I’d hoped it could get.
But the magazine wasn’t there in that first week. And it remained not there in that first month. I speculated about what might have happened to the magazine. The editor might have changed her mind. Or the magazine might have folded. I considered the prospects of alien abduction, a fire in the sorting office, and a potential conspiracy against me. In the end, I re-read the letter and discovered that the magazine wasn’t due out for a couple of months.
Which meant, every time I went shopping, I was constantly watching the shelves to see if the new issue had been released. And, each time I saw a new issue of Erotic Stories sitting on the newsagent’s shelf, I had to go over and flick through the pages to see if my story had been included in that issue.
People say it takes a certain amount of bravery to flick through the pages of an erotic magazine in a newsagent. I have to admit, under usual circumstances it’s not something I would do. The next step is cracking one off in front of the newsstand. But this was different. This was me trying to find out if I’d been published.
And it was in the local newsagent where I first saw my name in print. I’d spied a new copy of Erotic Stories sitting high on a book shelf. I’d lurched over to snatch it down. And I’d hurriedly flicked through the pages. I won’t pretend that I wasn’t expecting to see my name there, and go on to say I was shocked and surprised. As soon as I grabbed the magazine I had a premonition that this was going to be the issue.
And it was.
I have to admit the issue was a good one. Aside from my story there was also fiction from Josephine Scott who later became the senior editor at Olympia Press, and a story by Delaney Silver, a bastion of Nexus Publishing who later went on to write for Black Lace under the name of Portia Da Costa. I was published and I was published in very good company.
I went to the counter, paid the cover price, and rushed home with a copy of a magazine that contained a story I’d written. I held that copy like I was carrying a fragile and delicate baby. I was excited, thrilled, jubilant and so many other good adjectives it would be tedious to list them all here. And, when I arrived home, I discovered my contributor’s copy was already waiting for me, along with the payment.
It was a perfect moment: made sublime by the fact that they’d spelled my name right – on the story and on the cheque.