Ships, salt and a social conscience

Seaborne Magazine, Issue 1 (May 2021), eds. Adriana Ciontea & Kevin Woodley


The inaugural issue of Seaborne Magazine is a treasure trove of writing and artwork inspired by the sea. Beautifully crafted, the magazine celebrates the maritime in all its glory: the editors’ and contributors’ love of the sea makes every page sparkle. This passion is punctuated only by pressing messages surrounding the threats facing Earth’s oceans and seas. The co-existence of awe and warning is apparent in the magazine’s spotlighting of the Cornish Seal Sanctuary, to which 15% of Issue 1 profits are being donated.

The sea is a timeless theme for literature. In Carolyn Stockdale’s powerful story, ‘High Tide’, the reader notes its power to unite disparate time periods. The spatial contradiction of the sea, which both connects and separates land masses, is reflected in the temporal bridges it builds and disrupts. The pregnant narrator provides the connection between three generations and represents the cyclicality of sea and stories. Likewise, Nicole Kelly’s poignant micro, ‘The Last Keeper’, emphasises this bond between humans and the sea, and portrays the devastating impact of its rupture.

Today only one word is written in the ledger: Decommissioned. He puts his pen down. His swim in the waves today will be his last.

‘The Last Keeper’

This changeability is approached through a cerebral lens by Roberta James. Her poem, ‘After the Memo’, embodies the shifting patterns of the waves: words are washed in and out again in a different order. Paired with Amy Corcoran’s stunning artwork, the poem reminds us of the sea’s unpredictability. Such a message can be frightening: ‘It seems all has turned fish, but she is gill-less’.

Faith Paulsen offers a wry yet worrying glimpse at the extent of plastic pollution in the sea. Her poem takes the reader to the depths of one of Earth’s most remote locations, which has nevertheless been unable to resist the scourge of human contamination.

They call it a record-setting dive,
a great exploration. Still, it turns out,
like Leif Erikson, a stray Dorito bag
got there first.

‘Letter to Mariana Trench’

This warning connects the wonderful poetry and prose to the issue’s social engagement. In an important interview, Jana Sirova (General Manager of the Cornish Seal Sanctuary) educates the reader on these incredible animals and the dangers they face. The threats are commonly wrapped up with their charm: ‘Netting entanglement is also sadly a very common injury with seals… Seals are naturally very curious animals and will investigate and play with anything they find floating around’. Opening the issue from a conservationist perspective guides the reader to link their love for the sea with the harm they might inadvertently be causing it.

The difficulties of representing the sea are brought to life in Natalie Hart’s ‘Writing the Ocean’. ‘I do not know how to write about the ocean’ she writes, before beautifully capturing the complexity and beauty of these vast expanses. Similarly, Linda Hibbin’s delightful descriptions in ‘The Living Canvas’ depict the beauty of the sea, whilst also expressing frustration at our failure to do it justice: ‘How long before these pebbles are grains of sand? How many grains of sand are in the world? More, or less, than the stars in the sky?’

These two pieces embody the battle of the intellectual and emotional. Born in the sea is a deep connection, something that bypasses words and sentences and paragraphs. Ultimately, for Hart, everything can be reduced to the touch of the water.

Close your eyes, push your hand
into the waves,
touch this water with me,
and tell me it is not worth protecting.

‘Writing the Ocean’

Seaborne Magazine intersects and blurs lines. Folklore sits side by side with tangible present-day threats; scientific perspectives infuse the literary, and literary flair explains the scientific; messages in bottles float for centuries unread, and we read impossible messages from the depths of the Earth. As Gill McEvoy writes, many pieces seek ‘that spot/ where the haze of sea and sky are one’ (‘Sea Captain’). Such unity seems achievable by the sea. Indeed, the editors’ greatest achievement might be combining disparate strands of maritime literature into one memorable and distinct reading experience.


Seaborne Magazine, Issue 1 (May 2021). Available here.

Reading Challenge 2021

Photo by Polina Zimmerman

A new year beckons and bookworms around the world will be eagerly planning their 2021 reading, scribbling new additions to sprawling lists, and stacking piles onto piles onto piles…

We’ve got an additional offering to help structure your New Year reading: the annual Briefly Reading Challenge. There are 12 categories which we hope will extend and enrich your 2021 page-turning. The aim is to open you up to new opportunities, genres, styles and themes; these aren’t the sorts of prompts that will restrict and limit you to specific or arbitrary selections.

Use this list as you wish: read one book from each category, in order, reverse order, or no order at all; read two, three, four or more books from one category that really takes your fancy; or skip straight to the bonus prompts if you’re feeling rebellious!

Whatever you choose to do, good luck and happy reading in 2021!


The Briefly Reading Challenge 2021

  1. A book made into a film (if you’ve seen the film and not read the book!)
  2. A book to heal the generational divide
  3. An epistolary novel
  4. A book about mental health
  5. A book you can read in one day
  6. A book about cooperation
  7. A book you’ve owned a long time and (still) never read
  8. A book written in or about prison
  9. A book that was banned
  10. A book that teaches lessons from history
  11. An author from your hometown
  12. A book set somewhere you want to travel

BONUS:

  1. A book about a dystopian future
  2. A book that offers hope

Don’t forget, you can follow @BrieflyWrite on Twitter to stay up to date with all things Briefly!

Kickstart Your Reading with this Four-Week Challenge

With so many “must-reads” out there, which should you pick first?

Most of us have more time on our hands at the moment. And reading is one of the best ways to make the most of it.

If you’ve fallen out of love with books, it’s time to get the reading bug back!

Get the stats working for you

Like many bookworms, my reading has often been sporadic. I will read any book in any form: fiction or non-fiction, horror or romance, paperback or e-book, classic or contemporary. It’s rare I don’t have at least four on the go at any one time.

I would guess that I finished more than 50 books in 2019. But since I didn’t record them, I have no idea what percentage were written by women, or how many different cultures I explored.

Similarly, I would struggle to say whether I read more first- or third-person narrators, and whether I spent more time in the past or future.

Of course, you may wonder why you should be interested in this data. After all, you read in order to enjoy a good book not so that you can create pie charts.

This is the argument I repeated to myself for years to justify not tracking my stats.

To be clear, I firmly believe reading is about feelings not maths. It boils my blood when I see an article like “Ten tricks to hack any book”, invariably written by some “self-made entrepreneur” who would sell his grandmother’s kidneys if the price was right.

Reading is a pleasure not a commodity. But having a greater awareness of your preferences allows you to enjoy reading more.

Keeping track of your books isn’t just statistical. Here are four major benefits of recording your reading:

  • It helps you read more widely and therefore experience more cultures, genres and styles
  • It opens your eyes to subconscious prejudices that may be creeping into your choices
  • It makes it easier to remember everything you’ve read
  • It motivates you to keep reading!

Picking the right books

Reading opens the door to new cultures, new experiences and new ways of thinking. And the best way to do this is by making an effort to include writers, themes and viewpoints you might (unintentionally) be neglecting.

There are an overwhelming number of challenges available online though, bizarrely, many seem to restrict rather than extend your reading.

This should not be the case. Categories like ‘A book with the letter X in the title’ or ‘A book about the medical profession’ are far too arbitrary and won’t help you become a better reader.

These sorts of challenges dictate to you, rather than help you make more informed choices.

The following four-week challenge was born out of this frustration. Its six categories are open ended enough not to constrain you, whilst still offering a framework to guide your selections.

The Challenge

How many categories can you tick off in four weeks?

  • A “classic” you’ve not read before
  • A book with a child narrator
  • A book recommended by a friend or relative
  • A book that’s been sitting on your shelf unread for a long time
  • A book set in a location significant to you
  • A prize-winning book

Here’s what I’ll be reading:

  • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  • Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha by Roddy Doyle
  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou (recommended by my sister)
  • Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (has been sitting on my shelf for at least ten years)
  • Yuki chan in Brontë Country by Mick Jackson (set in Haworth, West Yorkshire)
  • Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders (winner of the Man Booker Prize 2017)

What books have you picked? Leave a comment below!