Zine Machine

Annelise Atkinson joined me at the Nottingham Writers’ Studio on the 18 January for a discussion on zines. Annelise runs the Caribou Caravan, a specialist boutique that makes and sells zines, cards, reconditioned typewriters and my personal favourite, cups with moustaches. The caravan is currently situated in Hopkinson’s Gallery but will soon be leaving to visit various arts and craft fairs up-and-down the country.

I invited Annelise to the studio for two reasons. Firstly, she’s an independent business and so needs as much support as possible. Being aware of various literature organisations and marketing herself more specifically to writers and readers could be essential for her survival. I’ve since been in contact with Ross Bradshaw to see if we can hold a similar discussion at Lowdham Book Festival. At first, I think Annelise was a little bit sceptical and thought I was after some kind of introduction fee for helping her out. Quite simply, I think what’s she’s doing is fantastic and I’d like to try and support her as much as possible. Independent businesses are closing down at an alarming rate in Nottingham – Lilly and Pinks being the latest – so unless we all pull together in whatever way we can, we’re destined for a bland city centre comprising of Tescos, Tescos and Tescos.

Secondly, it was an appropriate discussion for the studio as zines are a really viable option for writers at various stages of their career, something we tend to forget in the digital age. Zines offer collaboration with artists, encourage writers to be focussed through niche and specific topics, give experience of production and publishing, are accessible and affordable, can be used to promote work through spin-offs (thoughts from a character in your latest novel/poetry collection/extract from book etc) but most importantly, offer the opportunity of publication.

I was bought a Kindle for Christmas and I hate it. Functionally, it can’t be knocked. It holds loads of books and you can quickly search terms and phrases which are useful for research. But it’s an ugly brute. There is nothing magical or beautiful about it. Zines, on the other hand, are produced with love. They conjure the aura and essence that Walter Benjamin wrote of and are a reminder of the importance of the physical relationship we have when reading. Texture, touch and smell are just as important as words. That’s why we judge a book by its cover – and the kindle cover is generic.

Generally speaking zines take ages to make, any profit is negligible, they are produced in small runs and are read by a small niche audience. There’s something gorgeously futile about them – at least in relation to today’s values. But it would be a mistake to see them purely as an antidote to the Facebook generation as a lot use social networking websites for submissions or to promote work. Flicking through the zines reminded me of childhood and the excitement of waiting for my comic to come through the letterbox at 7am on a Saturday morning. You just don’t get that excitement with digital technology. You may have the world at your fingertips but there’s nothing tangible in your hand. That’s why there’s going to be a resurgence in zines. I hope.

Read an interview with Annelise Atkinson







LeftLion 44: When the music’s over, turn out the lights…

LeftLion 44 is dedicated to music. This is because we have a thriving music scene at the moment and one of our many bands is on the cusp of finally making it big, not because one of our editors is a music junky. This has meant that literature is conspicuous in its absence, although we still have a thematic presence. Tony Hill was commissioned to do a piece on the Grey Topper, a nightclub in a pit village that was once the best music venue in Notts. The Jackdale hosted the likes of The Bay City Rollers, The Specials and Simple Minds in its time, reminding us that there used to be more options than Rock City. Rather than do a Q&A, Tony was asked to use ticket stubs, posters, and flyers from the period to sketch a historical picture of this much-missed venue and promote his book The Palace and the Punks.

Our WriteLion page features a poem from John Micallef, offering an updated version of Gil Scott-Heron’s The Revolution Will Be Televised. Aly and I heard John read at the Oxjam spoken word event in Beeston in a Barton’s bus depot (the glamorous world of poetry I here you say) and knew it was the perfect poem for this issue. We often find content for the page through chance encounters such as this, so get reading in public. The poem was originally going to be illustrated but then Nigel Pickard suddenly died at the age of forty-five and so we rightly decided to illustrate one of his poems. The poem we chose was Fog which is incredibly sad but beautiful. Our third poem was Lions by Viv Apple which we’ve had on hold for half-a-year but was perfect as it lightened the mood. Viv said ‘the poem was partly inspired by my personal history.  After Dennis had proposed to me 53 years ago at a Nottm Uni ‘hop’ in the Portland Building, I said I’d let him know next day, so we met as usual by the left lion, and I said ‘yes’.’ Unfortunately there wasn’t room for Lord Biro’s Jim Has kicked it – because it was too small and looked out of place on the page. He’ll be back though…

The editorial to the books page of WriteLion reads ‘At last, we hear you say. A page in the magazine that’s not about friggin’ music.’ One thing I love about writing for LeftLion is nobody takes themselves too seriously and so this internal kind of bickering enables the kind of tongue-in-cheek humour we hope readers appreciate. And of course, I meant it – but more of this later.

The page saw Rebecca S Buck’s first magazine review for us and not before time. She’s done an outstanding job promoting lesbian fiction online and giving our literature pages some much needed balance. Another debut reviewer was Megan Taylor – and her younger daughter Lola – who reviewed a Children’s History of Nottinghamshire. I thought this dual review was a really novel approach to critique and worked really well. We also celebrated the 70th anniversary of the Nottingham Poetry Society and ORE, the latest anthology from the MA Creative Writing students at NTU. My review was a self-published book about Pat Tobin’s chaotic life. Overall we covered a good range of genres and subjects.

The final two features on the WriteLion page were Katie Half-Price giving a twitteresque run down of this year’s Booker shortlist (the one criticised for its ‘readability’) and a feature on the Caribou Caravan. The latter is currently residing in Hopkinson’s Gallery and is the best thing to happen to Notts since Cloughy. I’ll be interviewing the owner Annelise Atkinson at the Nottingham Writers’ Studio in January and hopefully at Lowdham Book Festival, so watch this space.

I finally managed to get a review of John Marriott’s The Little Typists in to the music reviews section. John is a snarling, dead pan, sarcastic, hilarious performer who’s helped us out at Shindig! events. He’s one of the best performers in Notts and has you waiting on his every word. I described him as ‘MC Pitman with a synthesiser.’ Need I say more?

This issue threw up a lot of contentious issues. Firstly, if you’re having a music issue then you’re going to piss off anyone who isn’t interviewed and possibly open yourselves up to accusations of favouritism. There’s no easy solution to this but one thing we wanted to avoid was bland Q&As. Personally, I’d have liked a wider interpretation of ‘music’, such as the noise currently being made by the Occupy movement in Market Square. It was also a missed chance to help promote local businesses who could have done with a Christmas push. I’d have liked, for example, to have seen a ‘literature guide to shopping in Notts’ and similar for other departments. But this is far too long a debate to recount here. It does, however, raise the question of the purpose of LeftLion. I’d like to see a more fearsome roar. Nottingham is very angry at the moment and it’s our job to record this. The battle will continue into the next issue.