Kole Fulmine, The BitterSweet Review
By day, Kole Fulmine is a personal trainer in East London, co-founder of Pecs Education and founder of Queer Running Club. At night they’re a a writer and researcher at Queen Mary University of London, completing a creative writing PhD researching trans athletes.
Tucked between these two activites, Kole is one of the editors of queer literary platform The BitterSweet Review, a publication that began online during lockdown and emerged as a beautiful piece of print last year.
What are you doing this Monday morning?
Currently gathering my books and research notes to take to the British Library, which I use as an escape from my desk at home. I’m in my final, writing up year of my PhD in creative writing at Queen Mary University of London. My research is practice based which means I spend half of my working day in the library or at my desk and half of it in the gym working as a personal trainer and running coach, I'm writing about transgender athletes. I am trans masc and many of my clients are queer or trans masc, so I gather as much information as I can from our experience in the gym and write about it.
What can you see from your desk/ through the window?
I live on a quiet estate at the bottom of Chatsworth road in Clapton, East London, so I can mostly see directly into other people's houses from my window. Which is both comforting and voyeuristic.
Which magazine do you first remember?
The first magazines I remember avidly collecting and obsessing over were The Illustrated Ape and AdBusters. I was doing my art foundation at Chelsea College at the time and one of my tutors recommended going to Magma bookshop for inspiration. I remember going in and getting so overwhelmed, there was just so much to look at and read, it was a graphic design and book worm heaven!! I loved it so much that I applied for a job and after being rejected I was employed at Borders bookshop in Charing Cross working in their maagzine department. Those two magazines never made it over to Borders unfortunately but I will always favour the indie, underdog over the bigger more established magazines.
Which magazine matters to you the most this morning?
I’ve just had a piece of writing published in Tissue Papers first issue, Making, which is an anthology of trans writing that has been edited by Sam Moore and Donna Marcus Duke. I always prioritise reading the work of trans writers and creative writers and this issue does not fail to deliver, it features some super exciting, avant-garde creative minds.
Describe The BitterSweet Review in three words.
Queer literary platform.
Tell us about the name
The name was heavily inspired by Anne Carson’s ‘Eros the Bittersweet’. She argued that the boundary disintegrating experience of erotic love is akin to the experience of encountering the written word. We started The BitterSweet Review online, it was a reading workshop on zoom during lockdown. I think what we were all experiencing back then was a sort of disintegration, the anxiety inducing separation from our queer community—lovers, friends, writers, performers was quite unique. And so, we decided to use that sensation as the title for the space we gathered in and that evolved into the naming of our publication.
The first issue arrived fully formed and finished. How did you manage that level of polish?
As I mentioned we initially formed The BitterSweet Review online in 2021, after several workshops we then decided it would be great to be able to publish some of the writing we were engaging with, however, both Benoit and I were both studying and completing our PhDs so we didn’t have a huge amount of money to publish the magazine. We decided to try out a Kickstarter campaign having heard a lot of success stories.
We launched that in January 2022. We managed to raise enough money from the campaign to be able to pay our contributors, designer and print the magazine which was all we needed to get the first copy out there! All credit for the look and feel of the magazine goes to the super talented John Philip Sage who we have worked with from the very beginning to bring our editorial dreams to life.
We’ve seen a lot of new queer mags launch recently; what does The BitterSweet Review offer that is different?
There has been a surge of late that is true, but I think when we were establishing the magazine there weren’t many platforms for queer writers to be featured in. The BitterSweet Review offers an insight into lesser known writers and gives voice to those on the fringes, we work closely with our contributors and we are hugely conscious of diversity and representation within the queer community. It sets out to celebrate queerness in every sense and I think that really shows in the editing and the attention to detail we strive for.
Louis Shankar, Kole Fulmine and Benoit Loiseau
You are one of two editors. How do you and Benoit split the job?
I’m actually one of three. There’s Benoit (Loiseau) and Louis (Shankar)—who I met at the Royal College of Art. We studied on the Critical Writing MA programme together, they came onboard as a sub-editor on the first issue and now they co-edit with us. The magazine started with Benoit and I at the helm, we met at Queer Running Club. Benoit lives part time in Geneva where he is completing a post-doc and writing a book. The rest of the time he lives just down the canal from me, and Louis is close by living in London Fields so it's really easy for us to find somewhere to meet.
Between us we all have very different skill sets and divide the work accordingly. When it comes to selecting contributors and editing we divide that into three and we each take on a set number of contributors. However, the organisational side of finances and printing is all Benoit, I look after distribution and marketing and Louis has successfully launched the website, online store and the Instagram reviews.
What one piece of advice do you have for someone launching their own magazine?
Never underestimate how much time it takes to put together one issue of a magazine! We initially wanted The BitterSweet Review to be biannual but, especially when it's not your full-time job, it can take so much longer to get the issue together, printing in itself can take over a month.
What are you most looking forward to this coming week?
I’m learning to handstand, it's taken me about three years so far!! But I look forward to it every week. So I’ll mostly be in the gym and in the library this week, my two favourite places.