The landscape McStorytellers operates in is an infinite one. The world wide web. The internet. Cyberspace. Infinity and beyond. The digital revolution offering opportunities for all. For those who like stats I can also point out that McStorytellers has published some 600 stories by 80 odd writers (some odder than others) online and also has 40 print publications under its belt. (and counting) And all of this is due to the sterling work of Mr McStoryteller, Brendan Gisby, whose vision of getting writing out there is beginning to really take root.
Of course there are those who get all sniffy about the concept of ‘free’ and fiction. But think of McStorytellers as a modern version of the oral tradition and perhaps you will change your mind. Why should you pay to be told a story? It’s true that because publishing today is a big business we’ve all been brought up believing that somehow you have to be a creative genius to write a story (once you’ve left school that is). But publishing is just another example of a hierarchical system maintained by a small elite who have a supremely vested interest in which stories get told. Does that make you see things differently? McStorytellers is many things, but one of them is a way of redressing the balance. Sure, a lot of people would like to be well paid for writing their thoughts – but that’s not the way it works – some people are well paid and the rest aren’t. And if you aren’t in the elite, your voice remains unheard. It’s this iniquity that McStorytellers stands against. McStorytellers suggests that the telling of a good story is not the province of the elite – while at the same time reminding us that the reading of a good story shouldn’t be the province of those who can pay either. It offers a challenge to some of our dearest (and most foolishly held) beliefs about ‘story.’
I wasn’t really that bothered about the short story form when I first encountered McStorytellers. Having actively engaged with the site for some years now, I think I’ve gained an understanding of what is unique about the Scots short story. Of course all the stories aren’t in Scots, nor are they all recognisably Scots, but what I have found is that the way Scots folk ‘tell tales’ isn’t the way that the literary elite would have us believe.
I have to admit I was a bit sceptical of McStorytellers when I first encountered it. I had issues with the Mc instead of Mac. I had issues with it being male and urban centred. I had issues with it being free. I got over myself. I have grown and so has it. I realised that being sniffy about this only serves to prevent a lot of unappreciated talent to go to waste. In the infinite world, the odds on getting a publishing ‘deal’ worth anything have probably reached the proportions of the Lottery. But McStorytellers is building a community of interest which gives rather than takes. This is about story, but it’s about much more than story too. It’s about our relationship to creativity in the form of the written word – and reclaiming that for ourselves.
What price free? Free is a scary model for ‘the marketplace.’ And it’s a brave move to decide to stick with free (and cost of production for ebooks and print works) in a world which wants everyone to pay for everything. You stand accused of debasing and devaluing the ‘product’ or of not having high enough standards of ‘quality.’ And you get right up the noses of people who feel they should be paid handsomely for their thoughts.
When you look at the ‘outcomes’ in terms of McStorytellers ‘output’ you can’t deny that 600 Scots short stories in five years leaves all other Scottish fiction outlets standing. None of the institutions can lay claim to this level of achievement. And it’s not just monkey’s typing Hamlet. You’re getting heart and soul Scots writing. You won’t like all that you read on McStorytellers, but there’s something for just about everyone in the 6oo stories. It really is a free for all.
And how about the ‘capacity building’ exercise for some 80 folk who have gained confidence in their own writing; who now have an audience to appreciate their work, previously denied them by the hierarchical structures of mainstream publishing. That’s got to be something to write home about?
McStorytellers gives people hope. It gives new writers a place to cut their teeth. It gives jaded writers a place to regain self-respect and self-belief, and most of all it offers readers a cracking set of stories to read. And with the introduction of the McSerial, there’s a constant stream of new Scottish writing being generated - without fear, favour or funding.
I won’t say McStorytellers saved my life, but it certainly changed my life. It changed the way I looked at what I write and why I write and how I write. And I’m sure I’m not the only writer for whom it’s been a transformational experience. I, and the many other McStorytellers, owe a huge debt to Brendan Gisby. He’s taught us the value of free speech and given us a platform to share our voices.
It’s impossible to give favourites or even highlight from the huge pantheon of prose that is available on McStorytellers. So I’ll just say – go fill yer boots.
A McMillion thanks to one and all McStorytellers.