Two Years of The Canary Press: Arts grants, Beagles and Lap Swimming

June 22, 2015
The Canary Press has been running for more than two years, without government funding or financial backing or anything so sensible as a savings account. For two years we plundered stationery from universities, where our siblings had access to office supplies. We washed dishes to pay contributors. People worked part-time so they could come in days, or worked full-time and came nights. One of our staffers crashed three separate cars on the way in to work trying to bring the rest of us fresh lasagne for lunch. (This is true, except for the freshness of the lasagne, which suffered somewhat from all the delays.)

When you start a magazine like this, you can put out one, maybe two issues on raw energy and enthusiasm alone. But that can only carry you so far. In your charge across no man’s land, suddenly you start to flag. A deep fatigue sets in. People who join for kicks early on lose interest and drift away. What a surprise then, when I looked around and saw that everyone was still right there with me. Most of them, and new ones too, are with us still.

It is a handsome magazine. When you’re holding it in your hands, it can be hard to imagine what goes into a thing like this. Our new intern, Caitlin, assumed I was some sort of baron, funding the magazine from a collection of family jewels. At the time, I was sleeping in my swag at the local cricket club.

We were working on issue 7. We had signed a distribution deal (which would be great for the long term, but would delay our cash flow), increased our print run again and increased our contributor payments. I was sleeping rough and trying to cover the difference with rent money.

The real problem was showering. I was still going on dates (especially, and extra-hopefully, on rainy evenings) and being invited to formal literary events, which I attended enthusiastically, not least for the free wine and canapés. I started paying $4.10 to shower at the local pool. (This is where the economics of homelessness get kinda interesting, but that is a story for another time.) The staff at the pool were getting suspicious about seeing me wet-haired and dressed again so soon after buzzing me in, so I had to start bringing my bathers in. Pretty soon I was swimming laps and laps to keep up the charade. It was relentless. And together with my run-in with the beagle (also a story for another time), one of the main reasons I ended up finding more closed-in accommodation.

Running a magazine (or any other business) with so few resources, is like driving a car with its suspension shot: you feel every goddamn bump like it’s your last. When it all gets too much, you hide under the covers and write resignation letters, but you have no idea who to send them to. I sent one to my mum once. She said she liked the characters but didn’t understand the ending.

It can be hard to remember, what with the whole lap-swimming saga and so forth, but this magazine is a success story. The Canary Press now has a national distribution. Our circulation has tripled to 3,000. You should see the readership that has rallied around this little magazine. It is because of your support and enthusiasm that we were (and are) willing to do what it takes to keep this thing going. My dream is to one day kiss you all on the forehead.

But we want to do better than to just scrape together four (albeit swashbuckling) issues every year. We think there is potential to engage a much wider audience, and to connect better with our existing readers; to have a thriving, national short story magazine – hopefully one whose office doesn't keep descending into Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels every time a print bill comes in. We just need the resources to reach these readers properly. And so, on March 3 we applied for an Australia Council grant.

On 29 May we got an email back. It was just words and numbers at first, and it was only when I could share the news that the meaning of it sunk in, and the feelings came tumbling out. We had been running on so little for so long. It said we had been awarded the entire sum we applied for – something to the tune of $29,000 – to help with the production of a year's worth of The Canary Press. On that Friday afternoon I stood in the middle of our beautiful, piece-of-shit office and wrote to all of those who had given so much over the last few years, to say: congratulations. And thank you.

And now we'd like to thank the Australia Council, for investing in the future of our magazine. And we'd especially like to thank you. This magazine stands on its own feet because of its readers. We couldn’t do this without you and we wouldn’t want to. The Australia Council grant makes the ground we stand on a little firmer. So let’s dance.

(Photo credit: Andrea Hauksdottir)