Elliot J Harper
A Brief Chat with Idle Ink
Idle Ink is an online publisher of curious fiction, poetry, and essays, edited and curated by J.L. Corbett. The press looks for genre fiction that’s too weird to be published anywhere else, articles that poke fun at modern life, mesmerising artwork, challenging personal essays, and book/film/TV show reviews full of unpopular opinions. If it’s strange and questionable, Idle Ink wants it.
Hello, J.L. First things first, the impossible question. Who is your favourite author?
It’s too difficult to pick just one. Different writers offer different things! I’ve got the same ultra-famous favourites as every other writer. Neil Gaiman, Margaret Atwood, Steven King, you get the idea.
What is your favourite book?
Again, I can’t pick just one, but if I list them all, we’ll be here all day. I’m a big graphic novel fan. Of course, I love the classics; MAUS by Art Spiegelman, Watchmen by Alan Moore, and Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. Neil Gaiman’s Sandman is one of the best series I’ve ever read – I almost cried when the Netflix adaptation came out last year. Fun Home by Alison Bechdel is also very good.
In terms of “normal books”, there are a few I keep coming back to. I’ve read The Martian by Andy Weir several times. I also love Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut, mostly because it’s a chaotic blend of time travel, war, and stark realism. Last year, I read Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman, which isn’t the type of book I usually go for, but it was incredible.
What made you start the press?
It was 2017, I was 26 years old, and my life was in flux. I’d finally gotten the guts to quit my shitty retail job, only to end up on a conveyor belt of boring temporary office jobs. I was writing a lot but struggling to get any of my stories published, probably because I was burnt out. I was directionless.
I saw an advert for an upcoming creators’ fair in Hull (my city) – a few local bands would be playing, and there would be stalls where creatives could sell their artwork, CDs, crafts, etc. I was desperate to be a part of it, but I had nothing to sell. Without giving it too much thought, I contacted the organiser and requested a table, telling him that I could sell copies of my zine (which did not exist yet). I then wrote a weird sci-fi story called “She Outruns the Humdrum”, convinced a few of my writer friends to contribute stories, got my then-boyfriend (now-husband) to design a cover, spent a long time hogging the printer in Hull Central Library, and finally I had a zine: Idle Ink issue #1, a small anthology of four stories.
I sold barely any copies at the creators’ fair, but it didn’t matter – I’d fallen in love with publishing. I sold that first issue at a few different zine fairs across the North of England, created issue #2, and then moved Idle Ink online. From there, it just kind of snowballed into the magazine that it is today.
So, I guess I started Idle Ink because I was feeling unheard as a writer and wanted to take matters into my own hands. Once it took off, my perspective shifted from myself to other writers – my favourite thing about being an editor is getting the opportunity to publish weird stories from writers whose work doesn’t fit into a box, the type of writers who might struggle to get noticed by some of the more rigid magazines out there.
What is the best advice you can give people who are considering submitting work to Idle Ink?
I’m open to any type of story, as long as it feels real to some degree (interpret that in whichever way you wish). I’m looking for unique plots told in unexpected ways.
Perhaps the best advice I can give is to fully commit to whatever you’re doing. If you want to go weird, go balls-to-the-wall, unapologetically, chaotically weird. Don’t start writing a story with a magazine in mind. Just write the story you want to write and think about where to send it afterwards. If you’re writing a story in the hopes that a specific magazine will publish it, it’s going to come off bland and inauthentic.
If your story is good, there will be a magazine out there that will publish it, no matter how weird it might be. You’ve just got to have the resilience to keep sending it out until you find its home.
Thank you, J.L., for answering those questions.
Idle Ink publishes new work on the first Saturday of each month, and you can guarantee that there will be something in there to make you think, laugh, and on occasion, possibly shed a tear. J.L. accepts all types of fiction, so if there are writers out there with something odd on the shelf that you aren’t sure what to do with, head over to Idle Inks Submission page and send it! I’ve been lucky to have three pieces of fiction published in Idle Ink, so I can vouch for the press's love of peculiar stories.
Thank you for reading this month’s Brief Chat.