CO-PILOT Grace Kelley, co-founder of new teen and YA literary journal Paper Lanterns.
A new quarterly literary journal for teen and YA (young adult) writing and writers has just been launched, and a Westport native is one of the three Irish women at the helm.
Paper Lanterns aims to be a platform for the publishing and promotion of young writers and artists from Ireland and around the world. While its content is designed for a teen and young-adult audience, it should also prove a real draw for fans of teen and YA writing of all ages, as well as teachers, librarians, parents and youth workers.
The journal is founded by Amy O’Sullivan, who hails from Dublin, Ruth Ennis from Kildare, and Grace Kelly.
Grace grew up in Westport, attending Holy Trinity National School and then Sancta Maria College in Louisburgh. After completing a degree in English and Drama in Trinity College Dublin, she completed postgrad training at the The Oxford School of Drama before returning to TCD to study for an MPhil in Children’s Literature. It was at the start of this course, in September 2018, that she met Amy and Ruth.
As her studies progressed, Grace was struck by the real need for a YA-literature journal like Paper Lanterns.
“During the MPhil year, there was a particular discussion about the lack of funding (or rather lack of content that could potentially get funded) for teen and YA audiences. This was mostly related to Irish films,” she tells The Mayo News. “It made me question what was missing in the Irish arts industry for this age group.
“While there are many excellent teen and YA writers coming out of Ireland, there seemed to be a space to claim for writers who were themselves teenagers and young adults. And that was my main focus which kept me holding on to this idea.
“I had the idea for the journal around this time last year but didn’t want to act on it while I was in the middle of my studies. Once we finished the course, I gave it more thought and shared those thoughts with Ruth and Amy – fortunately for me, they had the time and certainly the interest and passion to commit to this project.”
And so Paper Lanterns was born. The journal is divided into three sections, each managed by one of the three founders – Creative Writing is Grace’s section, while the Features section is edited by Amy and the Review section is Ruth’s domain. Its pages also feature artwork and photography, as well as poetry and interviews (the first issue includes an interview with Sarah Crossan, Laureate na nÓg 2018-2020). The journal runs a seasonal book club too.
The first issue of Paper Lanterns was launched on April 22. While the pandemic meant that the launch party had to be cancelled, an impressive online launch was held – opening with Grace speaking from her back garden in Dublin, where she now lives, and featuring a selection of contributors reading excerpts from their pieces.
Launching in lockdown has presented other challenges too.
“Pandemics were not covered in our business plan at all. We had come so far by the time the world turned upside down, we were determined to carry on, but allowing for some flexibility with our deadlines,” Grace explains.
“We had a lot of interest and support from bookshops, and many were going to sell our journal. So when every bookshop in the country closed, we had to have a rethink. We’ve been selling solely online for the moment, but as restrictions loosen, we’ll be delighted to get the journal into bookshops soon.”
As for the launch, a real world one has not been cancelled – only postponed. “We can’t wait to have an actual launch and be able to meet some of our contributors and readers in person.”
For now, the entrepreneurial trio are busy working the second issue, submissions for which closed just last week. “All going to plan, we’ll go to print at the end of July, at which time we’ll also open up submissions for Issue 3.” Keep an eye on the Paper Lanterns website, paperlanternslit.com, for dates.
Encouraging writers to send their work, Grace acknowledges that it can be hard starting out in the packed YA-lit arena. “I think there’s probably a lot more competition now more than ever. There are so many writing courses, writing festivals, writing workshops, which is amazing, but that could also deter some people from ever even dipping their toe in the water. I would like to believe that good work finds its way onto a page, it’s just a matter of perseverance.”
Her one piece of advice to writers? She is unequivocal: “Read!”
Simple advice, but sage. “No matter what, whether you have writer’s block, a pile of rejection letters, a day-job that takes up too much of your creative time, read. It’s brain food. And don’t just read the genres you want to write, expand your literary tastes – know your industry.
“And submit your work to journals, be proud of those rejection letters because they are proof that you were brave enough to send your writing out into the world. Rejection is part of it, it doesn’t reflect the quality of your work, it often means your piece just wasn’t the right fit for that submission.”
Let those paper lanterns fly.
To buy a copy of Paper Lanterns (€10) or find out more about the journal, visit paperlanternslit.com.