Open Pen Summer Party 2

Last year’s Summer Party from Open Pen featured readings from established writers such as Irenosen Okojie, as well as up and coming writers found in the pages of Open Pen, the free short fiction magazine stocked in indie bookshops around the UK. There was jazz, there was comedy, and there was a party.

Slightly further down the Commercial Road in East London, this year’s Open Pen Summer Party is set to promise all that and more (mainly pizza). The child friendly event takes place on Sunday, August 12, and is an all day affair, hosted by The George Tavern. Cheapo tickets (£5) are available now over on Eventbrite.

Already announced to read throughout the day is Fernando Sdrigotti, Mazin Saleem and Xanthi Barker, reading from their forthcoming novelettes to be released by Open Pen, as well as Miggy Angel, London Short Story Prize winning Maria Thomas, and Max Sydney Smith.

The George Tavern is located close to Whitechapel and Shadwell stations. More details and more to be announced over on the Open Pen events page.

Open Pen Releases Twentieth Issue

Hitting a handful of London bookshops way back in early 2011, Open Pen has just released its twentieth issue and can be found in bookshops around the country now. The free short fiction journal is stocked in over forty bookshops these days, as well as bars, pubs, cafes, universities and writers’ centres. It even has a stockist in Cuba.

Twenty issues of Open Pen has brought the magazine close to a hundred short stories from almost as many fiction writers. The red and black coloured issue sees Louisa Adjoa Parker, Dan Coxon, Jim Gibson, Jonnie McAloon, Katherine Orton, Simon Pinkerton, Elissa Soave, Dan Ayres, Gary W. Hartley, and Gerard McKeown join the fold. Their fiction is varied and yet bound together by their relevance, as has become a part of the identity of Open Pen. As always, regular contributor N Quentin Woolf is on hand to deliver the killer blow. that just leaves editor Sean Preston to deliver a nutshell report on the thrills and plentiful spills of the first twenty issues.

You can subscribe to Open Pen here, but why pay when you can get to a bookshop and get it for free? As has always been the mag’s hope, why not pick up a book whilst you’re there? Something different, something you wouldn’t usually go for. Something with bite. That’d make Open Pen happiest of all.

Three of the stories from Issue Twenty live online over on the mag’s website. Check out The Thursday Club by Elissa Soave, Handjob by Dan Ayres, and Of Course by Gary W. Hartley.

Here’s hoping there’s another twenty issues ahead.

The Open Pen Anthology – Out today

To celebrate five years of Open Pen, and in association with publisher Limehouse Books, Open Pen magazine has released The Open Pen Anthology today, a lovely paperback collection of 26 short stories (that’s 13 stories from the Open Pen archive, alongside 13 new stories from each of those authors). As per every issue of Open Pen, the collection offers a real eclectic mix of fiction that is only ever similar in its Open Pen Anthology covermenacing demeanour. Will Ashon, Peter Higgins, and Darren Lee, offer blackly comic tales that are in turns rich with flavour and anxiety inducing. Tasmania’s enfant terrible in Tadhg Muller returns with his maniacal prose. The foreword from How to Be a Public Author‘s Francis Plug (AKA Paul Ewen) describes the collection of stories as “like drinking absinthe over lager,” and that’s certainly true of Xanthi Barker’s stories old and new. They move at a nauseating pace, and do little to settle the stomach of the reader in their passing. That’s true too of the stories from Kate Ellis, Ben Byrne, Jo Gatford, and Max Sydney Smith. These young misfit writers care not for holding back, their stories are brutal, unflinching, honest, and absorbing. Open Pen is as known for the endemic humour of its published tales as much as anything else, so it’s great to see wit serve so prominently here. Mat Woolfenden writes with the earnest zeal of a tickle-obsessed uncle. His two pieces are an absolute riot, and should be heard live at an Open Pen launch if you get a chance to pop along. Ian Green is another such author with a grasp of the importance of humour to the short fiction form. Editor and founder of Open Pen Sean Preston once said that Green’s “Verve for humour is as apparent as any writer we’ve published, albeit understated and salted into narratives so poignant that you won’t believe how fresh-faced this Scotsman is.” Interestingly, you’ll also find Anna Harvey and James King in the pages of this anthology. Harvey and King are the first two cover authors of Open Pen. It’s testament to the affection Open Pen’s following carry for the magazine (that turns five years old this month) that Harvey and King are now permanent fixtures of the Open Pen team.

The paperback book, with its short stories segregated by microfiction from other Open Pen faces from the last five years, is more than just a collection of short fiction, it’s also a much larger story (a three-hundred plus page story): The story of Open Pen finding its feet, discovering itself, and growing in confidence as a purveyor of fiction that longtime contributor N Quentin Woolf called, “Unpretentious, edgy, and utterly readable.”

The Open Pen Anthology is available to buy for £9.99 at, or from an independent bookshop near you.

If, Then – Excerpt from The Open Pen Anthology

On March 10th, Open Pen magazine launches The Open Pen Anthology, a 300 page paperback with a whopping 26 short stories (13 from the archive, 13 completely new) by some of Open Pen’s favourite authors from their first five years in print.

Jo Gatford is one of those writers. First published in Open Pen Issue Eight back in April, 2013, with If Then, and as is the case with many of Open Pens authors, Gatford has since published her debut novel – White Lies (Legend Press). It’s only fitting then that Gatford appears in the anthology and is in blistering form with the new short story Take Off Your Shoes, a fitting bedfellow for If, Then, published here exclusively for Shortstops as an excerpt to The Open Pen Anthology.

jo gatford if, then cover flat
The road below looked more like an ejaculation of silly-string than ‘ribbons of light’ or whatever the guidebook said. The book called the cathedral towers ‘thrusting’ and the river ‘a meandering reflection of the hillside’. What he saw was black and grey and steep and dark. He left the book on a rock and the engine running, digging his hands into his pockets as though he were trying to burrow through to the other side of the world.
He began as long distance drivers do; pulling in at a dirt lay by, groaning at the aches in his lower back, taking two minutes to wander no further than it takes to find a good bush to pee behind. But after twenty steps the moist ground buoyed up his pedal-tired feet and told him to run. The hill dropped down past the gradient at which the highway agency had to stick up triangular signs to warn motorists. The hillside was punctured with rabbit warrens, clods to trip on, undiscovered burial mounds and overgrown fence posts. His ankles squealed in anticipation and dread as his jog-on-the-spot became a forward movement.
In the car, she leaned on the horn, flicked a cigarette butt onto the gravel and yelled something that ended in “-king hell!” but the momentum had taken him and he couldn’t stop. He heard other shouts but they were as indecipherable as most of what she said to him lately. He rarely understood what she wanted any more – everything carried some sort of clause or bargain – “If you would only do X then I would feel Y and when you say Z I just want to…” They skirted around each other in the hallway without acknowledgement. They synchronised their turning in bed so as to naturally avoid the drape of an arm or the nudge of a knee against a backside. On the drive back, if his hand brushed her thigh when he changed gear, he apologised rather than adapting it into a squeeze.
His arms stretched out either side of him and his legs moved simply to continue their own existence. He leaned back to try to stay vaguely vertical but the hill took him faster and further and the thuds of his heels resonated the little hammers in his inner ear, blasting his sinuses clear, filling his eyes with briney water until his left shin gave a shotgun rebound and he found himself lying still, face down, his eyelashes brushing blades of grass.
His lungs attempted only to breathe out for a few moments, perhaps with some innate knowledge that inhaling would be infinitely more painful. When he did finally take a breath in, he let it out again almost immediately with a cracked vowel somewhere between an A and an U. Maybe she heard – the horn sounded again. He looked down at his leg, which no longer had the straightness of a leg, and then back, upside down, up at the crest of the hill where she sat parked. She flashed the headlights twice but he had no way to reply aside from another howl.
He waited, trying not to move. The pulsing of his blood around his shin bone, forced through the skin, became the heartbeat of the world, turned the sky blue-pink, the grass into an ocean, the craggy rocks into ancient faces, the towers into jagged knives that sliced into the clouds and let through the glory of whatever lay above. He was unable to doubt anything as he lay there, not God, not her, not fate. The world was simplified into ifs and thens, and he understood her need for balance, for reason, for fairness. He listened for the next ‘if’. Either the death of the engine, her approaching feet, her sighing throat. Or the scraping of tyres on loose rock, the silence and the night. It was no longer up to him.
“Have another cigarette,” he told the hillside, “Think about it.”
   *     *     *

Pre-order The Open Pen Anthology

Look out for Open Pen’s launch nights in London:


The Open Pen Anthology Launch – Brick Lane Bookshop, London


The Open Pen Anthology @ Yurt Salon – Yurt Cafe, St. Katharine’s Precinct, London.


The Open Pen Anthology South London Launch – Clapham Books, London.

Open Pen to publish Anthology book

To celebrate five years of publishing up-and-coming writers, Open Pen are to publish an anthology of their favourite stories so far in a paperback collection befitting the style and splendour of their print magazine. Alongside those stories, the book will feature a new piece of fiction from each of the corresponding authors. There’s a kickstarter campaign launching soon to support the project. Those who pledge will receive the anthology (in paperback – you may have noticed they have a thing for paperbacks). Those who pledge higher amounts will be rewarded with various collections of impressive art and fiction from their writers and illustrators, including a one-off zine featuring 15 flash fiction stories (if you’re a writer you can submit to that here). The rewards include: the George Orwell Reward (£3), the Bronte Sisters Reward (£5), the Jane Austen Reward (£8), the E.M Foster Reward (£10), the Virginia Woolf Reward (£25), and the highest pledge of £50 will get you the Charles Dickens Reward: a foil-blocked box-set containing some very limited bits and bobs indeed.

The Open Pen Anthology – Paperback

Sean Preston, Editor of the magazine, said, “We’ve really enjoyed the last five years. It’s been such a privilege to work alongside some incredibly talented writers of fiction. It’s these writers that have made Open Pen what it is. It’s exciting to think we’ll have so many of them in one collection. It’s going to be a joy to read through, old stories and new.”

The Open Pen Anthology is scheduled for release in March 2015, and will be released simultaneously through Limehouse Books.

To pledge, visit:

Open Pen LIVE at the Jamboree, London

This Wednesday, August 19th, Open Pen Magazine is LIVE at the Jamboree, Limehouse.

Tickets are £5 (available here or on the door), and doors open at 7pm (the show will start at 8pm, and finish around 10pm).

Open Pen February Jamboree


Ben Byrne and his short fiction have appeared in Litro magazine and Writer’s Hub, and now on the cover of Open Pen Magazine. His first novel, ‘Fire Flowers’ was published by Europa Editions in the UK & US in February 2015.

Offbeat Tasmanian writer Tadhg Muller is finding his unique style of writing in high demand. He has been published in several literary journals, and in the short fiction collection Transportation: Islands and Cities.

Darren Lee is a storytelling stalwart. He has been published twice in Open Pen, and has had his short stories published in several books, including FUGUE (Siren Press).

There are few spoken word performers as jarring and amusing as Mat Woolfenden. His fiction is often performed live, and a taster can be viewed here.


Henry & the Hoorays play a mix of folk and humorous songs, some self-composed and quite a few covers, including ‘The Mary Ellen Carter’ by Stan Rogers, a fabulous tale of ships, storms and the strength of men with a common goal.

Plus the Open Pen Beat Jazz Duo (piano and spoken word) will be in attendance, as per usual.


Transportation Takes a Look at an Island in the City

Fully crowdfunded and landing in book form this Winter, the short story collection Islands and Cities is inviting writers to write about what they know when it comes to islands, and when it comes to cities. Over the last few months the Transportation website has seen London editor Sean Preston write about a coup in the Isle of Dogs (over two parts), Tasmanian editor Rachel Edwards on the first published Aussie book, a three-part love song to Tasmania by author John Bryson, Scott J Faulkner on arts consumership in Tasmania, a comment on the island that is Cuba, a short piece of fiction from American author Tom Badyna, as well as many others and more to come from authors selected for the short story collection itself.

N Quentin Woolf, Will Ashon, Ben Walter, Tadhg Muller, Susie Greenhill, and Adam Ouston are joined by new writers that were selected during a submission process. These writers include Ian Green, whose short story Audiophile was broadcast on BBC Radio 4. The story can be read here.

Transportation: Islands and Cities is set for release this Christmas and will be available to pre-order soon.

Transportation islands and cities

Transportation: A young ‘Islander’ and the boats of Tasmania.

Open Pen Issue 10 & Onwards

Firstly, Issue Ten is in shops this weekend, Saturday 18th January. As always, you can find out where to pick up your copy by checking out our list ofStockists.

This issue sees Peter Higgins adorn the cover with his uniquely witty story of a chance encounter in a library in Smoking In The Library. Rhuar Dean’s mentally unhinging, mentally unhinged piece Reverse Solicitation is no short of fascinating and classy. If you want a sneak peak at Rhuar’s work, check out some of his previous short stories on his website. Stylistically, GC Perry’s In The Age Of Nicotine is charming, sleek, and sexy, as one particularly blushful Open Penner put it.

All in all, it’s writing with something to say, well said. Exactly the sort of fiction we wanted to send out into the world in print. We’re proud of the uniqueness and range of writing we’ve been able to publish in our first ten issues, and Issue Ten is no different, how could it be?


Here she is in a familiar orange. Can you guess what publishing house our editor pines over?

Our favourite “gravelly-voiced writer” N Quentin Woolf  (not our words Mr. Woolf, the words of The Daily Telegraph) is back with a poignant piece in his regular column about writing and London. And editorSean Preston pops his head round the door to tell you about a bookshop you haven’t visited that you should have. You’ll also find a darkly tongue-in-cheek guest editorial from Will Ashon, author of Clear Water (2006) and The Heritage (2008), both from Faber & Faber. Christ, at least we hope it’s tongue-in-cheek.

Secondly (and lastly,actually, now we come to it), what else have we got in store? Well, a few things. And by ‘few’, I mean loads, without bragging. Loads and loads and loads. But we’re not telling you anything yet. What marketing wizards we are. That said, you can of course expect a live event very shortly, it would be a poor showing of us not to want to wet the head of Issue Ten and sink a few to the fortune of ten more. More details on that soon but you’ll find the usual compote of new and exciting authors, old and unexciting Open Penners trying to be funny without being too Filthy, and a microfiction tournament.

As always, any questions, send us an email. Submissions are open, they always are. And a reminder that our Little Printer publication provides a platform for writers that like their stories shorter.

A big thanks to all our readers, the wonderful bookshops and bookshop-minded non-bookshops, and of course to all of you that have submitted and continue to submit to Open Pen. We like to think we’re willing to take a risk where others dare not. The first ten issues have been a pleasure to work on, and we know the next ten will be just as enjoyable.