Paper Lanterns Journal for Teen and YA (young adult) literature launched last year, in the most unlikely of circumstances. The journal aims to publish four times a year and seeks to promote teen literature and teen voices.
Paper Lanterns was born from a desire to address the lack of printed journals in Ireland dedicated to teen and YA literature. Founders Grace Kelley and Amy O’ Sullivan, who met as students on the MPhil in Children’s Literature programme in Trinity College Dublin, gave their views about Paper Lanterns’ first year and their incredible efforts to adapt in a time of crisis.
During her studies, Kelley noticed there was a gap for the publishing of teenage voices. “Ireland had a thriving Young Adult literature world, and a thriving literary journal scene,” she says. “But the two spaces didn’t intersect. We started the journal to provide a platform for people who loved YA literature – readers, writers, artists, reviewers, photographers.”
At the heart of the journal are two things: the first is the generous support of the Arts Council, which enables the journal to compensate their contributors fairly. The second is the platform for teenage voices. The journal aims for at least half of all contributors to be 13-18 years old. “Often YA writing is by adults, for a teenage audience. We wanted to make sure teenagers could share their own stories.” The journal publishes short fiction, poetry, non-fiction essays, book reviews. The journal also seeks features – articles that discuss themes in teen and YA literature, an interview with an author or organisation, a review of a literary event, or something similar. They also accept essays and ideas on film, theatre, and art.
Before March 2020, Paper Lanterns held two in person events, a fundraising quiz and an open mic night, before having to move online in March 2020. “It was certainly an unexpected challenge! It meant our website was extra important for sales and visibility,” the founders told the Munster Express. “We’re really grateful to be stocked by some fantastic bookshops, which has helped.” The bookshops carrying Paper Lanterns are Woodbine Books, Dubray Books, Halfway Up the Stairs, and Tertulia, which recently won the Irish Best Independent Bookshop of the Year.
Every issue launch to date has been entirely online. Contributors put together a two-minute video reading of their work, which are then uploaded to go live on YouTube. The founders have found some silver linings in the online launches. “It’s wonderful seeing the buzz online,” said O’ Sullivan. “An unexpected bonus is people can read at the launch, and tune in, from all over the world. The videos stay up on our YouTube after, so people can watch at their leisure, which is wonderful because it gives the launch a longer lifespan. Kelley also noted the adaptations the journal made as a business: “instead of being able to meet up as a team, all our meetings are online. It works quite well, but I can’t wait to be able to celebrate an issue (or any of our achievements) together at an actual venue.”
The founders both have fond memories of their MPhil programme where they met, and where Paper Lanterns was first imagined. For O’ Sullivan, her tutorials were a particular highlight, “with both the lecturers and our year group making them a really interesting and valuable experience.” She also highlighted her project work on the Pollard Collection of Children’s Books housed at Trinity College Dublin, where she and two other students examined inscriptions in the books of the collection, which allowed them to trace the lives of the children who owned the books in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. “We were able to go to Toronto to present our work,” she adds. “Back when travel was safe!” O’ Sullivan focused her dissertation on the works of E. Nesbit under the supervision of Dr. Jane Carroll. For Kelley, the seminars and discussion groups brought lively discussions and new perspectives. “Our class war a particularly chatty one, I think,” she says. “It was almost like being part of a book club.” It was here that Kelley discover her love of ‘literary pirates’ and focused her studies on the texts of Treasure Island and Peter Pan with Dr Padraic Whyte, another Peter Pan enthusiast.
Despite the challenges on the pandemic, there have been stand-out moments for both founders over the last year. Seeing the finished product in print is always a highlight for O’ Sullivan. “Each piece is fantastic in its own right, and our graphic designers bring the writing and art together beautifully. Fiachra Johnston designed the first two issues and Eleanor Brayden designed issues three and four. Kelley manages the creative writing submissions for the journal. “I’m always amazed by the high standard, and equally gutted when we can’t print everything we love,” she said. “It’s been eye-opening reading the work by the teen writers – they have a lot to say. There is so much talent out there, and I’m just so happy that we’re on their radar.”
Going forward, the founders are excited to continue with their pandemic-specific plans to brighten the lives of readers and artists alike. The funding from the Arts Council has allowed the journal to expand and publish more contributors, and the journal has increased its efforts to interact with readers directly. This started with a change to the way the Book Club was run – for issue four, the book club pick is The Crooked Mask by Rachel Burge, who has written a piece for their first ever Author’s Corner. A Discord channel was also set up for anyone interested in signing up on their website to join and read along with them, and they are planning on launching a writing competition for their audience. “I hope our online book club will bring people together, especially while we’re all separated,” says Kelley. “It’ll be a hub for readers to connect, engage with authors, and hopefully feel part of a community, even if that’s a digital one.”
Both O’ Sullivan and Kelley have an eye towards the post-Covid future and can’t wait for the time when they can safely meet readers and contributors in person, for “a cup of tea and a chat!” Kelley is most looking forward to the day when the journal can host launches in bookshops and connect.
The journal has already had an impact on local writers. Rowan Beddows was accepted for the upcoming issue for a piece of flash fiction and has emphasised Paper Lanterns’ effect in nurturing new talent and new passions. “Paper Lanterns has encouraged me to write more and has helped me improve my writing. It also led me to discover my love of writing poetry and a new style of writing that I adore. I am more passionate about writing since I started submitting pieces to them.”
“It’s been an honour writing for this journal,” says Aoife in Blarney, Cork. “YA literature is crucial in fostering a love of reading into adulthood but frustratingly, it’s often neglected, looked down upon or labelled ‘not real writing’. Publications like Paper Lanterns shine a much-needed spotlight on hidden gems which would otherwise go undiscovered.”
Both founders have been consistently blown away by their submissions. “We’ve been really lucky,” says O’ Sullivan. “We receive more every issue, and the quality is outstanding. We run out of space for everything we would like to publish. Sometimes, we see a theme come through. This issue, unintentionally, turned out to be full of mythology, fairy tales, and fantasy. Kelley notes the diversity in the submissions: “I’m always stunned when I see the international submissions. It’s incredibly knowing people around the world are reading about Paper Lanterns. We have received submissions from writers and artists across Europe, as well as South Africa, India, Indonesia, North America. We’re also conscious of including and publishing diverse voices, such as writing and art from the LGBTQIA+ community, people of colour, and people with disabilities.
Their latest launch went live on YouTube on March 25th, for which the reviewers, artists and writers lined up some wonderful readings and sneak peeks. The journal is very hopeful that there will be an in-person event before the end of the year, once it’s safe, and until then, they are very much enjoying being able to foster connections with readers and writers online, all over the world.
The founders had a few words of encouragement and advice for any young writers who’d like to submit to the journal; the most important thing when submitting is to ask yourself whether your work is created with a teen audience in mind. “We’d love to get more non-fiction essays and ideas from teenage writers. We’re interested in hearing about hobbies, causes you are passionate about, your favourite series, film adaptations – anything you want to write about!” Kelley adds that they would love to see lots of art submitted too, which is considered for the cover. “You don’t have to be a professional artist either,” she emphasises. “The cover of issue two was a collage by a 13-year-old girl in Poland! We accept work from international artists and writers.”
SUBMISSIONS: Paper Lanterns are delighted to accept art and features all year round. They are currently seeking teenagers from the island of Ireland to become book reviewers (and yes, they will supply the books!) They accept a maximum of two short stories of 2000 words, three flash fiction samples of 400 words, and three poems of 40 lines ahead of every issue. For more details on submissions, or to sign up to become a teen book reviewer, you can visit paperlanternslit.com.