A kind of modern point of view

Soraya Moeng

Recovering from the flu and an all-nighter,Charlotte Raven,the editor of The Modern Review, still managed to be a friendly and refreshingly down-to-earth interviewee. Sitting patiently while her photographs were being taken (no mean feat), and obligingly posing in front of a postcard of Tony Blair sporting improvised devils’ horns, as well as with four mini blow-up dolls of the Spice Girls, she proved to be seriously normal and approachable. Which probably makes her the complete antithesis of the Spice Girl for whom she was standing in for in the line-up- Posh Spice. It’s important to make this statement, for two reasons: firstly, I wish I was that accomodating and articulate when I’m feeling that under the weather/hungover/both, and secondly, considering my previous conception of the world of literary journalism, I’m forced to concede that literary journos aren’t all male, smug, and over the age of forty (and I’m being kind with that figure).

Maybe I’ve been immersing myself in the worst kind of literary magazines, but The Modern Review has forced me to seriously reconsider my snobbish literary prejudices. Initially launched at the beginning of the decade by Toby Young and the infamous Julie Burchill, it aimed to examine and celebrate popular culture in a highbrow intellectual publication. Rather a tall and pretentious order, one might say, but it was relaunched in 1997 under the editorship of Charlotte Raven and is once again established as a serious contender in the literary publication stakes. Perhaps more importantly, it is aiming to attract younger writers and readers to provide a truthful and topical perspective on what’s going on in the culture-obsessed world of the last decade before the millenium.

Keeping the same name is bound to make those who remember the first incarnation shudder at the associations, but Raven is clear about the reasons for deciding to keep it: “It’s a powerful name-and conotates all sorts of different things -it no longer has to adhere to a specific agenda like that of Toby’s magazine.” That agenda is now accompanied by a concerted effort to provide a place for what Raven terms “motivated, controversial and non-conformist young authors, writing articles which challenge the traditional pieces in broadsheets and magazines.” As helmed by Raven, its contributors reads like a Who’s Who of respected columnists currently occupying by-lines in the daily nationals-top of the list being a certain Ms Burchill. Whilst many of them are journalists for the quality newspapers, publications like The Modern Review give them the chance to flex their authorial muscles and expostulate their theories about popular culture in a glossy magazine, together with all their chums.

This is a trend Raven is keen to keep in check: “Most of our contributors are already media professionals-I want fresh voices to redress this imbalance and break out of the media loop.” The magazine is launching a promotion on March 23rd which will be advertised in The Guardian, looking for young writers to send in their articles with a possibility of getting their work published in the magazine. This is no ordinary run-of-the-mill competition with a prize and the expectation of that old hoary chestnut of work experience at The Modern Review’s offices-the quality of the publication means that any article will have to be extremely good before it graces the contents page, which can mean many young writers getting in, or none at all. There will be no clear ‘winner’. Raven is genuinely interested in finding out the point of view of a whole range of young people. And before you indignantly cry ‘That’s so patronising’, just bear in mind that Raven herself is only twenty-eight. The youth and outlook of The Modern Review made me realise that there is no literary magazine which seriously rates the perspective of people under the age of thirty. Think of a literary magazine or any publication concerned with culture, and I think of academics raving on about obscure journal articles about seventeenth century noblemen who have a sideline in pornographic poetry, or worse still, crusty ‘old people’ thinking they have the pulse on what’s ‘going down’ with the ‘yoof’ generation. As Raven said: “People talk about young people all the time, and yet no-one knows what they really think.”

So how did she herself fall into journalism? After doing her first degree in English and American Studies at Manchester University, she went on to do a Masters course in Critical Theory at Sussex University, at a time when it was at its most persuasive in the world of literature. Perfect background for an aspiring literary journalist, one might think- a knowledge of obscure French twentieth century structuralists has to come in handy sometime. But for any one who thinks that the next logical step to getting a foot in the door of such a competitive profession is to go to journalism school or spend years toiling around covering the village fairs for the local paper, then think again. Raven spent a very brief time at journalism school, but “hated it. I couldn’t do shorthand.” So there is hope for ambitious would-be journalists- although there is a serious point attached: “It’s not true that you have to go to journalism school, despite what your careers office says.” Raven wrote to the then editor of The Modern Review, Toby Young, asking for work experience, and ended up typing up several issues. Her first articles were, by her own admission, ‘impenetrable. Stuff about post modern theory. I certainly wouldn’t print them now’. From there she landed a job as a feature writer for The Observer, and, well, you know the rest.

In searching for new and young voices, The Modern Review competition has three broad criteria: it’s looking for writers to come up with original ideas, display an ability to analyse things, and most importantly, show a refreshing level of wit and humour. The judges will be Charlotte Raven, Julie Burchill, John Mulholland, Editor of the Monday Media section of The Guardian, and Roger Alton, editor of The Guardian’s tabloid pull-out, G2. Look out for details of the competition in The Guardian, and in the meantime get scribbling. You always knew that Foucault and Kristeva were going to come in useful sometime, so now’s your chance. With any luck, Charlotte Raven will take a leaf out of the book of Toby Young when she wrote to him, and print it. Everyone has to have a lucky break sometime.


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