Saturday 14 September 2019

Interview with co-editor Regina de Búrca

For the occasion of our fiftieth issue, we’re joined by TFF associate editor Regina de Búrca, who looks both back and forward, as we do at milestones like this. We’re having this chat to think about where we have come from, and what social-political and speculative fiction might be in store for us. Regina’s been co-editing for about ten years now, so she knows where a lot of the bodies are buried…

Regina de Búrca is a writer and editor from the West of Ireland. She is interested in feminist speculative fiction, especially for young adults. She's currently experiencing a resurgent Gothic literature phase and is working her way through the works of Ann Radcliffe for the second time, after a gap of twenty years. Her biggest influences remain Ursula le Guin and Isabel Allende but in relation to TFF stories loves to see authentic and strong voices, coupled with fresh ideas. She can be found procrastinating on Twitter @Regina_dB.

TFF: How did you first get involved with The Future Fire magazine and Publishing?

Regina de Búrca: In 2009, I started a job in Dublin where I met then TFF co-editor Leoba, and we quickly bonded over our love of speculative fiction. Leoba introduced me to TFF and I enjoyed reading through back issues. Before long, Leoba asked if I’d like to help out with the slush pile. At first, I was a bit daunted by the idea; back then I was writing for kids but had little commercial success—who was I to judge anyone else’s writing? But I think it was because I took the submissions so seriously that Leoba and Djibril wanted me on board. The first story I gave feedback on was Frank Ray Ard’s “Wings So Foreign” for issue #16. Since then I’ve read through hundreds of stories; and have been rooting for their authors. Speculative fiction, in the broader sense of the term, is a tough genre. There’s nowhere to hide when you have to craft new worlds, as well as structure compelling plots and create engaging characters. There’s nothing like the feeling of identifying a powerfully resonating story and then watching its journey from my inbox to the magazine. It’s been a privilege to read authors’ hard work and I’m enormously proud of TFF’s high standard.

Illustration for “Wings So Foreign”, © 2009, Arianna Ciula

Has editing, revising and slushreading had a measurable impact on your own writing in the meantime?

RDB: Not so much. I think it’s because I work in very different genres. There is a connection between my writing and the work of TFF writers, though. My own adventures in writing and submitting impact my approach as an editor. I’m often on the querying side of the equation, and like most of our writers, I work full time while trying to improve my fiction. So, I know firsthand how much work is involved in crafting stories and what if feels like to put your writing and hence yourself out there. I understand what it’s like to be limited to writing in short bursts while on work breaks or commutes or whatever. I get it! Because of that, I’m a slow reviewer. When I get pieces to review that don’t immediately resonate but I can see what the author is trying to achieve, I tend to err on the side of ‘maybe—let’s find someone to take a second look’, rather than ‘didn’t do it for me, let’s pass.’

If you could run a themed issue or anthology, what topic or slant would you pick?

RDB: I’d really like to see an anthology with a considered and sensitive focus on common mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. It would nicely counteract the media’s portrayals of people experiencing issues—research shows that’s at least one in four of us!—that depict MH experiencers as dangerous or weak. I think an exploration of issues would be very interesting in a speculative fiction framework: how much does discrimination and inequality in society impact our cognitive wellbeing? How much does politics? Economics? I reckon this theme would make a super interesting speculative fiction anthology. I’d love to see what our writers could come up with—the level of innovative thinking that I’ve seen from our anthology submissions is staggering.

You also collect rare books. Do physical books, especially old books, have a particular life that can never be replaced by any other medium (audio, e-book, even film)?

RDB: There will never be a digitized / digital version of a rare book that excites me as much as the original. Sorry! (*Ducks and runs from digital humanities community*). It’s the tactile, multisensory experience that makes reading a rare book far more pleasurable for me than spending time on its digital equivalent. I also find the story of the physical book itself interesting—where it started from, whose collection it belonged to. It’s rarely possible to trace these histories, of course, but I do marvel at how some of these works have survived. I’ve often bought a book for its journey as much for its content. Inscriptions, doodles, newspaper clippings—all things I’ve found in rare books that have taught me something, given me a glimpse into someone else’s past. Also, on a more prosaic level, I spend most of my time staring at a screen at work, so I don’t find the idea of engaging with screens in my spare time very appealing.

What else are you working on at the moment?

RDB: I’m in between drafts of a novel for adults that explores complicated friendships at the moment. My story has had four beta readers and I am at the point where I am not sure whose feedback to follow in the broader sense of theme. Clarity always emerges eventually between drafts eventually, though. As my story progresses, it gets harder to stay motivated. My absolute favourite part of writing is the first draft, the one only I ever see, where I get to call the shots!

Thanks for joining us, Regina!

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