Planning the South Downs Way zines

The South Downs Way is a series of zines containing short stories that I’ve been publishing since March 2020. The individual stories combine into longer narratives about the lives of their characters. I released the fourth volume in January 2022, Weird Tales of the South Downs Way, and the fifth (A Foolish Journey) comes out in July.

I always loved the idea of telling a huge story from a set of smaller stories. One of the inspirations for this is Geoff Ryman’s 1998 novel 253 which is made up of the interconnected stories of passengers on a tube train. Another inspiration is comic books, and the way that huge stories might be hinted at in brief references.

The South Downs Way contains a load of different characters who sometimes encounter each other including a tarot reader, a physicist, and a guidebook writer with a broken leg. There are also ghosts, giants, and the Devil himself, who tangles himself in the lives of the people he encounters on the Downs.

For some reason I had the figure of 200 short stories in my head, of which I’ve published 56, with the fifth volume just about to be published. I’m over a quarter of the way through my arbitrary target, and I recently stopped to take stock and see where I am going.

Things have definitely sprawled a bit with the writing I did in 2021. When I counted things up early in 2022, I had sketches for 146 stories and about 23 different booklets. Not all of these will be viable, but I easily have enough material to produce my 200 stories. In fact, it looked as if I might produce something longer than I had planned.

All these stories need to combine with the other pieces to produce a coherent whole. I’ve been doing a lot of work since on shaping and linking the sketches I have – and I’ve already introduced a lot of elements and characters that need resolving. I also decided to make the upcoming zines more clearly themed so they stand more independently.

The biggest change to the project since starting was selling issues on etsy. I was excited by the fact people were buying copies, and it got me thinking about how to make the future volumes work better. How do I make the stories easier to sell/promote? (Which is not to say I’m changing anything about how I write, more thinking about how I make what I do as appealing as possible).

This project will continue over some years – I don’t want to focus solely on this. . I’ve got one volume with the printers (A Foolish Journey) and two more nearly finished (Stories of Sussex Folklore and Once Upon a Time in Brighton and Hove) so I can take a more leisurely pace for a time. I’m going to try to get one more volume out this year, with the others coming out every six months after that.