20 per cent time and the seven year itch

Work/Life by Vinegar & Brown Paper. I've promised myself a set if the Ernest Journal launch goes well...

Work/Life by Vinegar & Brown Paper. I've promised myself a set if the Ernest Journal launch goes well...

Just before Christmas, I incorporated Uncharted Press Ltd - a new independent publishing company to produce Ernest Journal, which I hope to expand in a number of other directions (more on that another time). I spent much of the inbetweeny bit in the middle of Christmas and New Year listening to the sound of hail fizzing on a campervan roof and pondering exactly what sort of company I’d like to run. Knowing how much energy is needed to launch a magazine, I wanted to establish some work/life ground rules lest I become a shed-bound recluse, only to re-emerge blinking at the end of summer with the social skills of a hermit. It wouldn’t be the first time.

I’ve always been fascinated by stories of people who’ve established unconventional attitudes towards their work/life balance. One of the most inspiring comes from graphic designer Stefan Sagmeister, who closes his entire design agency every seven years to pursue his own creative adventures. You have to watch his incredible TED talk: The Power of Time Off.

In the talk, he thinks about the nature of work whereby we spent roughly 25 years learning, then the ages of 25-65 working, before retiring around 65. Finding this lacking, he decided to cut off five of those retirement years and intersperse them amongst his working years, taking every seventh year off. Of course, he’s not idle during those 12 months - although he does relocate to Bali and learns how to meditate - but mainly he explores his own projects, inventing a table made from compasses and teaching monkeys how to spell (watch the video).

It’s an awesome idea but, in practice, I’m notoriously bad at taking time off. The last time I took a sabbatical it didn’t end as expected - I took three months away from Countryfile magazine with the idea of walking sections of the South West Coast Path, pottering in the garden, learning how to sew properly and getting chickens called Shpongle and Dunkelbunt. But, bit by bit, the 2-3 days of week of freelance I’d set up to keep me in bread and cheese expanded and within 6 weeks I’d been offered a full time job on Pretty Nostalgic. Not a bad turn of events for sure, but not the break I'd planned for.

Another approach is 20% time, which is famously put into play at companies such as Google, Facebook, LinkedIn and (reportedly) Apple. Google offers its software developers the equivalent of a day a week to pursue personal projects, while employees who impress through LinkedIn’s Incubator project could be offered up to three months in a year to develop their ideas (that’s 25% time maths-fans). Of course, 20% time is often taken up on an ad hoc rather than a formal basis, but it’s a sure fire way of getting the most from restless and determined employees.

So, in the spirit of Stefan Sagmeister, who suggests that when planning something like this you should tell as many people as possible so you can’t chicken out later - I’m going to attempt to stitch 20% time into Uncharted Press. Following the launch of issue one, I’m going to spend a day a week pursuing related but separate creative projects – I’m already mulling over a few ideas from inventing a board game to collaborating on a series of Ernest-related events. And, although she’s freelance at the moment, I’m also going to extend the offer to Ernest’s features editor Abi, as I know she has a couple of project’s she’s dying to explore.

So watch this space and I’ll let you know whether 20% time takes off or winds up the same way as Shpongle and Dunkelbunt (I really ought to buy those chickens).


Introducing Ernest Journal

So here’s a little more on my new independent publishing venture. Meet Ernest...

Along with a small team of incredibly talented people, I’m currently working towards launching a new magazine called Ernest Journal, which will explore our shared love for slow adventures, curious histories, timeless style, wild food and workmanship.

Ernest is a daily blog, a bi-monthly iPad magazine and a biannual printed journal for curious and adventurous gentlefolk. It will be a guide for those who appreciate true craftsmanship, who are fascinated by curious histories and eccentric traditions and who care more for timeless style than trends. Ernest appeals to those of us who appreciate a craft gin cocktail as much as a hearty one-pot supper, who love the grain of wood and the smell of paper, who’d like to learn how to fly fish, brew beer in their shed and name all the constellations of the northern hemisphere.

I'm particularly excited about Ernest's curious histories section. We're keen to spin intriguing, seldom told yarns – from the tale of Rev Archibald Eneas Robertson, who took it upon himself to bag all of Sir Hugh Munro's peaks before the man himself (even being struck by lightning on one occasion, yet still summiting the mountain. What a guy!) to the invention of the Mechanical Turk, an 18th century automaton that beat Napoleon at chess.

Although I’m obsessed with beautifully designed print magazines, I’m equally excited about exploring iPad publishing, as I don’t think many publishers use digital to its full potential. We’re planning to embrace both tradition and technology, combining interactive digital editions with the a love for the smell of freshly printed paper. The monthly iPad editions will make the most of our love of tactile design and show-stopping photography, while also telling stories through short videos and interactive diagrams. We’re also planning to produce gorgeous paper items to tie in with each iPad issue – so keep an eye out for limited edition prints, guides and other papery goodness.

Although we’re exploring new frontiers in digital publishing, Ernest will always be rooted in our commitment to slow journalism. Plus, choosing to publish a print edition twice a year means that, when we do indulge in our love of paper, we’re going to throw our all into the magazine and it’s going to be special indeed.

To find out more, check out the Ernest Journal website or follow us on Pinterest...

Lost & Found

Back in September I embarked on a short digital video making course at ffotogallery in the Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff. I've always been interested in different ways to tell stories and now, with plans to launch an iPad journal, I wanted to learn how to make and edit my own short films so that I could get the most from interviews with creative people doing awesome things.

I knew I wanted to make a film that explored new ways of experiencing the world - perhaps a story about overheard conversations, how to never walk the same journey twice or the change of perspective you get by looking up in a city. I met up for an excitable breakfast with Kathryn John, whom I’d previously enjoyed working with on Pretty Nostalgic, and she told me about her love of collecting lost items – from seaglass picked up on winter beaches to battered soldiers found swept up against city curbs.

A year earlier I'd found a post on Kathryn’s blog about a beautiful video created by film maker Andrea Dorfman and poet/singer Tanya Davis called How to be Alone. I wanted to produce a film that had a similar effect – something that inspires you to experience a shift in perspective, and encourage you to be mindful of the wonders of everyday things.

The course was challenging and so worthwhile. Surprisingly, it seemed to have more in common with storytelling and creative writing than photography – and it was fascinating to see storytelling from another angle and to learn how to build up layers of meaning through images. Showing not telling is something I try to use everyday when writing, but it’s a whole other kettle of fish thinking about how this works visually.

Over a few weeks of filming in December, Kathryn and I had a lot of fun chasing the low winter sun around Clevedon Pier and splashing sticks in city parks to move rubber ducks in and out of frame – and I think both of us (Kathryn in particular) got a lot out of the experience of delving deeper into what makes collecting feel good.

I didn’t post this on here at first because I felt shy about sharing my first film (that's what happens when you watch something 100 times in Final Cut Pro). But since then, it’s had some lovely feedback, so I thought why the heck not? So, bearing in mind we’re new to this... *deep breath* what do you think?

Massive thanks to Kathryn John for sharing her story. Since starring in Lost & Found she’s signed up to do the same course this term, so here’s to many more collaborations in the future!

Bristol Independent Publishers

One of the things I find most appealing about independent publishing is that it seems to have a culture of collaboration rather than competition. And why not, when a shared love of print and a growing awareness of the awesome things coming out of small publishing houses can only help bolster the whole indie magazine-buying market. It's a win-win situation.

Which is one reason why I was thrilled to hear that seven indie magazines have, this week, joined forces in the West Country to form Bristol Independent Publishers (BIP). Their aim: to prove that some of the most exciting UK magazines aren't coming out of multi-national print houses, but small studios, back rooms and coffee shops. As a shed-worker, who manages a tiny team via Skype and whose only human contact most weekdays is a chatty postman, I can't tell you how appealing the idea of a community of local mag-makers is.

I chatted to Boneshaker's Mike White about the story behind BIP and why Bristol is fast becoming a hub for innovative publishing...


So what inspired you guys to set up Bristol Independent Publishers?

We love print - the smell of ink of nice thick paper stock and the beautiful, tactile, collectible nature of magazines. And, amongst carefully designed independent magazines at least, print is thriving. Especially in Bristol, where Boneshaker is based. BIP began, as so many things do, with a random drink. OFF LIFE's Dan Humphry and I were sharing a pint by Bristol docks when we decided to team up and turn the spotlight on Bristol's burgeoning mag culture. So a group of us including Loaf, Cereal, OFF LIFE, Boneshaker, Another Escape, Paper and Lionheart decided to band together to celebrate this vibrant print scene and to shout it from the rooftops - to tell the world about what we do. We were partly inspired by the Printout! events in London, which champion interesting magazines really successfully. We're hoping hook up with them for a Bristol Printout! event in 2014.

And what have you got planned for the future? 

Nothing's set in stone yet, but we'd like to host regular events - perhaps quarterly - to tell readers what's new, help unite small independent publishers and inspire others to get publishing too. We'll have lively talks, launch parties and perhaps some live printing in cahoots with the Letterpress Collective, which was co-founded by Boneshaker main man James Lucas.

Why do you think Bristol inspires such creativity? There's a lot going on here eh?

There's definitely something in the water here! Bristol's got a really strong and progressive creative community, and enough wild optimism to get things off the ground. 

I love the idea that all of these wonderful projects are being created in spare rooms and cafes (something I can relate to, working on my new ventures in my garden shed and relocating to Easton Thali Cafe when I need to see real people). Where are the BIP projects being made?

All over the place! The laptop is a wonderful thing. Boneshaker's mostly dreamed up on bike rides, then pulled together on kitchen tables and by the big windows in Roll for the Soul; OFF LIFE comes to life in coffee shops, rented desk spaces... and Dan's bed. Lionheart's issues often begin as scrawls on scraps notepaper or receipts, as thoughts found on on trains or out walking - and much of it's actually made in the designer's parents' garden shed. 

And what's going down at your launch night - Roll for the Soul, right?

The first ever BIP night will just be a friendly 'hello' really. It's all about letting people know that we exist and showing them what we do, and hopefully inspiring a bit of cross-pollination. We'll have a display of our various publications, a bit of waffle from me, DJs and drinking. And lots of lovely magazines to  touch/read/smell/take away and treasure.

Come along to the Bristol Independent Publishers launch night next Friday 6 December, Roll for the Soul, 2 Quay Street, Bristol. 

A fond farewell to Pretty Nostalgic

A little under two years ago I left my job on Countryfile magazine to help launch Pretty Nostalgic - an independent magazine for creative and sustainable living. It’s been one of the most rewarding projects I’ve ever worked on but, now that it’s established, I’ve decided it’s time to move on and make other exciting ideas happen. So, in an attempt to do justice to two incredibly satisfying years in one blog post, here are five of my personal highlights...


1. Starting from scratch

I don’t think there’s anything more exciting than creating a new project from scratch. I got a taste for it on the launch team for Countryfile, when I was tasked with developing a series of walking route guides and days out in the centre of the magazine. But Pretty Nostalgic was a delicious blank canvas - a strong ethos in our publisher’s mind and a million different ways to portray it in mine. I filled countless notebooks, absorbed inspiration from every source and sketched out features every evening, then assembled an awesome team who could make it real. I felt deliriously out of my depth at times, but with each issue our confidence grew and we pushed our vision ever forward.

2. Getting thoroughly absorbed with tactile design

Perhaps the most rewarding aspect of Pretty Nostalgic was being able to experiment with physical, tactile design. With the help of some incredible crafters, we iced headings onto cupcakes and chiselled them into wood; we stitched articles in wool on tweed and laid out entire double page spreads on my housemate’s bedroom floor. It’s not the easiest way to design a magazine that’s for sure, but as least you won’t see it anywhere else!

3. Unearthing a world of British makers (and spending way too much money in the process)

Each member of the team lives and breathes the content of the magazine and, as a result of two years of constant inspiration, I discovered a new love for needlefelt and willow weaving, made my own Christmas decorations, joined a Lindy Hop class, bought more chalk paint that you can shake a brush at, rescued a vintage wrought iron treadle sewing machine, gave a new home to two textile taxidermy creatures I couldn’t bear to send back and started new collections in botanical illustrations, enamel camping ware, natural history books and vintage baubles. Not to mention how much I’ve spent on renovating our new home with well-made British things.

4. Enjoyed bizarre but wonderful interviews, experiences and photoshoots

Life on Pretty Nostalgic came with its fair share of peculiar experiences: soaking in a roll top bath in the middle of Welsh field while our hosts stoked a fire beneath us, weaving a merry dance between fact and fiction when interviewing the intriguing Insect Circus, trying desperately not to break anything while shooting a Lindy Hop feature on board the SS Great Britain (and failing), arranging a most unlikely menagerie of textile taxidermy creatures in a hidden Welsh grotto and camping out in a stranger’s back garden. Then of course, there are the awesome homes I’ve been lucky enough to explore - from the Bristol artist who turned her front room into a window shop to the family who decorated their house solely with things they found on the street.

5. Reaching issue 10!

With distribution stacked against you, a newsstand of shouty titles and a tiny budget, it’s no surprise that many indie magazines go under before their first year (apparently 10% is an optimistic success rate). So I’m chuffed to bits to leave Pretty Nostalgic in fine form as it heads towards its second anniversary. And I'm doubly excited about building on everything I've learnt along the way - so here's to new ventures!

I love the smell of freshly printed paper in the morning

 I cut my teeth on specialist interest magazines for a lovely Bristol-based publishers (much of my time literally spent in the field being chased by herds of cows while writing walking route guides for Countryfile). I loved the creative thinking and resourcefulness that came from working on a small team with passionate readers and a tight budget. But it was only when I started to dabble in the world of independent magazines, working on the first few issues of the (sadly now closed) Cloth and launching Pretty Nostalgic that I became completely absorbed into the world of indies.


I was creating a magazine from the ground up and it soon became apparent that very few of the rules I had previously followed applied. I could do away with cover lines and indulge in an unconventional cover image, I could explore really rather niche subjects over eight pages, spend a disproportionate amount of time stitching headlines onto tweed and physically design features on a tabletop, leaving space for the copy on the pages of old sketchbooks. I was hooked.


I began devouring other independent magazines and unearthed an intrepid subculture that I never knew existed - a wealth of self-funded, dynamic and risk-taking journals, created thoughtfully and crafted with care. I pulled bunting out of centrefolds and ran my hands over papercut straplines, embossed fonts and laser cut covers. I discovered a Dutch magazine that mixes a love of paper with mindfulness; an American journal that focuses on creativity in informal economies; a magazine centering purely on a love of typefaces and an illustration journal that doubles as wrapping paper. I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to know that magazines like this not only exist, but are thriving and creating communities around the globe.

The world of publishing is changing at an incredible rate and, while some publishers are clambering to keep up, there are others who are taking the creative opportunities and running giddily with them. With every new innovation, indie publishing becomes increasingly do-able. Distribution’s still a bugger, but what need have indie mags to chase those elusive economies of scale when there’s Apple Newsstand, indie subscription champions such as Stack, oodles of small bookshops and an eager troupe of print-hungry readers happy to buy direct.

Personally I love reading and making magazines that bridge that gap between the quirky indies and mainstream publishing - those that are elbowing their way onto newsstands and blending elements of traditional design with an unconventional take on the world. I’m more enamoured by beautifully-crafted, playfully-designed community-builders than leftfield arty mags (but I’ve got a lot of love for them all and I’ll buy anything once).

Slow Jo indulges in a love of slow journalism and tactile design, from hand-drawn zines to award-winning indies that stand shoulder to shoulder with the newsstand masses. It’s a celebration of journals that have been made with care by risk takers and publishing revolutionaries. It’s about sharing the love of freshly printed paper in the morning.