Katie Marsden is the founder of DNA Magazine UK – a new quarterly digital magazine celebrating true tales of ordinary people. She’s a recent Creative Writing & Publishing graduate from Bath Spa University and won the university’s 2016 Creative Writing & Digital Media award for a non-fiction project called Redacted.
What got you interested in writing?
I was – and still am – a weird child. My parents moved me to a different school to get me away from a bully when I was 8 and I struggled to make new friends there. Every lunchtime saw me sat outside with a new book. I’d re-write books to make the characters do what I wanted them to do when I disagreed with the author. From there, I started to write the books I wanted to read that I couldn’t find in the library or in a bookshop.
Tell us a little about your chosen genre.
I always thought I would be a fiction writer, but got swept into the world of non-fiction having read The Things They Carried and If I Die in a Combat Zone by Tim O’Brien. I’m curious by what it means to be a human. It’s estimated that there have been approximately 107 billion people who have lived on Earth. That numbers staggers me. That’s 107 billion unique lives and an incomprehensible number of personal experiences.
This pushed me into founding DNA. It was my protest, if you like, against the results of the Brexit Referendum. I’m part of the 48% who got told to shut up and put up with the new status quo. That my experiences are invalid because they align with the majority. That is dangerous territory for a democracy to enter. You can’t have a debate if there is only one opinion. Society works best when policies compromise to improve the situation for everyone involved. I want DNA to remind people that every life is a valuable and that voices with different viewpoints cannot be silenced. Condemned, yes. Silenced, no.
What are your happiest memories in your writing career?
I’m yet to be published but the response to the first two issues of DNA have been incredible. The support we’ve received from the writing community has been invaluable. I’ve got to talk via email to some incredible writers. I was recently approached by Mslexia about featuring DNA in their 2018 Independent Presses and Publishers brochure. That my little magazine is on their radar after 2 issues is still something I’m struggling to comprehend.
How do you handle success and failure?
At 27, I’m still not sure how to handle success. The minute I get too comfortable with something, karma has a way of throwing me a curveball. I try to keep things in perspective and be grateful when things go well.
Failure is easier for me to deal with. I’m stubborn and at my happiest when I have something to improve or get better at. It still sucks to get rejected or receive bad feedback. But giving up is not something I can do – unless it’s a mathematics module through the Open Uni. There’s too much to learn from when things going wrong.
What makes you write when you’re exhausted and your fingers ache?
Running DNA means I haven’t had as much time to write as I’d like. There are moments when taking the magazine from a university assignment into a long-term project feels too hard a challenge. Days when answering emails between trying to start my career takes up every minute of the day. But when I see work which encapsulates everything DNA stands for in the inbox, it gives me renewed confidence to keep going. With work like that coming in, how could I not want to carry on with it?
What is your advice to young and new writers?
As an editor, my advice would be don’t take rejections to heart. That’s easy to say but so hard to practice. Take whatever feedback you’re given, edit where needed and keep submitting. There are a whole host of reasons why your work was rejected and it’s not that you’re a bad writer or that your stories are terrible. Your piece might not be right for that publication or be ready for publication. Not everything submitted can be published and it’s hard to make the final selection. The hardest rejection emails I’ve sent are for great pieces of writing that didn’t make it because other pieces covered the same topic better.
As a writer, I’d say write as much as you can but always know what you’re trying to capture in a piece of work. Why are you writing it? What emotion are you trying to invoke? What do you want the reader to take away from it? I want everything I write to have a purpose – capturing a memory, highlighting a different perspective or entertaining the reader.
Print or Digital
Print for the written word and images. I like to run my fingers over the different paper types and smell the ink. For stories that need video or call out for some interactivity, digital all the way. I’m fascinated by some of the work done by Anna Gerber and Britt Iverson at Visual Editions. They’re exploring how digital books will look in the future and published a great piece called Entrances & Exits by Rief Larson. In it, readers navigate the story using a 3D Street view. As much as I love print, this kind of storytelling isn’t possible on soft-touch laminated 300gsm paper.
Issue 3: Locations of DNA Magazine UK will be out in December. Check out the website or follow them on Twitter (@DNAMagazineUK) for more details. If you want to follow Katie on Twitter, her handle is @KatieNonPenguin (a reference to Death and the Penguin by Andrey Kurkov rather than an attack on the publishing house).