Writer, researcher and curator Natalie Bradbury is the founder and editor of The Shrieking Violet, a Manchester-based ‘zine that has covered many aspects of culture and life in the City, as well as featuring recipes and illustrations by local artists. In the past few years Natalie has organised two successful ‘zine conventions at Victoria Baths, and you can see her deliver a talk on ‘Women’s Outlook’, a Co-operative society women’s magazine that was published from 1919 to 1967 at the People’s History Museum on March 29th, to coincide with the Manchester Histories Festival. We spoke to Natalie about The Shrieking Violet and ‘zine culture in general…
When and why did you first start The Shrieking Violet?
I started the Shrieking Violet in summer 2009, during a strange period of limbo in between coming out of many years of education and embarking on a career/job. After finishing a journalism qualification at the start of the year I’d been incessantly applying for jobs, trying to get work experience when and where I could, playing lots of gigs with my band the Shrieking Violets and using my blog the Shrieking Violet as a creative outlet to try and channel the frustration of not being able to find a job into something positive.
Looking back now I can see that it was a really pivotal, transitional time, when I was finally cut free of the pressures of university and full-time study and started to learn and explore for myself. It’s when I met lots of the people who’ve really inspired and been good friends to me, had my eyes opened to the city around me and discovered lots of the ideas I’m interested in now. I felt like I was discovering loads of things for the first time, on a constant adventure in my own city where every day brought a new experience, and I wanted to share that with other people. At a time when I was fluctuating between excitement and despair, and feeling cut loose and adrift, putting myself and my experiences onto paper in a zine was a way of pushing myself out into the world. It made me feel like I had a solid presence and was doing something worthwhile rather than just being another statistic on the dole. Having a monthly deadline each month and something to work towards each month also gave me stability and something to look forward to.
How has the ‘zine changed since you started it?
When I started the Shrieking Violet it was incredibly lo-fi, as it was photocopied and hand-folded in the zine-making tradition that goes back to punk. As I’m a writer and therefore creating interesting, well-written content is my priority, the Shrieking Violet has always been very text heavy, and it’s an ongoing struggle to find ways to make it more visually attractive. I had all sorts of strange ideas about design at first, for example that all text had to be justified and in boxes. For a while, I thought I was being really smart by overlaying text onto photographs, but actually what it meant was that some of the content was semi-illegible! Lots of the early issues weren’t very reader-friendly as a result. I’ve now resigned myself to the fact that I’m never going to have any graphic design skills, but something I try to do now is ensure that everything is presented in a very clear, readable way.
Another change is that for the first few years of the Shrieking Violet I was insistent on the value of photocopying everything and clung on to the idea that photocopying was a democratic medium because it enabled zines to be created and distributed quickly, easily and cheaply. After getting a couple of issues printed professionally by Marc the printers, though, I’ve realised how much I love seeing mine and other people’s hard work printed crisply and nicely on good quality paper. It’s hard to go back to the blurriness and irregularity of photocopying after that, although I don’t have the money to get every issue printed.
The Shrieking Violet was initially monthly, but this was a bit punishing even for a long-term unemployed person so it went to being quarterly once I eventually found a job, and now it’s published twice-yearly.
What kinds of things does The Shrieking Violet cover – that you can’t find in mainstream magazines?
The whole reason I set up the Shrieking Violet was to cover the type of content that wasn’t written about elsewhere. I’ve always wanted to be a newspaper journalist and I think we actually have a really good newspaper in the Manchester Evening News – the quality is markedly better than local other newspapers I’ve read – but I’ve also often felt very alienated by an overemphasis on ‘celebrity news’. I’ve noticed that mainstream outlets present a very particular view of the city in which commercial activities such as shopping, going to trendy restaurants and bars and being fed a pre-prepared diet of corporate entertainment are promoted at the expense of celebrating the type of creative activities organised by people off their own bat, or the fun that you can have by exploring the city yourself, for free.
The thing I have enjoyed most about making the Shrieking Violet has been featuring the writing of all sorts of different people, who might not necessarily be used to writing or see themselves as writers, but all have a real passion or enthusiasm for a particular subject or activity. So people have discussed all sorts of specialist subjects, from football terraces to football shirts of the 1990s, wooden rollercoasters, bees, Granada television idents and even Finglands buses! One man took it upon himself to go around swimming in and drawing every single swimming pool in Greater Manchester, a real labour of love, with the aim of compiling them into a book, so he gave me a page from that, and I’ve also had filmmakers share their work. A real favourite came from a man who had been speaking Esperanto since the 1960s and wrote about all the adventures that had enabled him to have.
Do you have a favourite issue or feature?
Quite early on, in spring 2010, I was asked to produce a special edition of the Shrieking Violet as a souvenir programme and guide to the Salford music festival Sounds from the Other City. I collaborated with local illustrator Dominic Oliver, trying to get under the skin of the city and its heritage, along with celebrating the local music scene and the area’s DIY activity. While this was a huge challenge with a very tight deadline, it enabled the Shrieking Violet to be produced on a scale and to find an audience it might not have reached otherwise. A personal highlight is issue 12 because it features an official-looking but imagined Manchester underground map by Tom Hiles as a double page centre spread, which is one of my favourite ever contributions to the Shrieking Violet. The issue really brought together a lot of the themes which have come to be constant in the Shrieking Violet – public transport, alternative history, place, art, publishing/the media, DIY activity and creative writing. I’ve also been really pleased with the two issues I’ve had printed by Marc the printers, issues 19 and 21, which celebrated the Shrieking Violet’s 3rd and 4th birthdays respectively. Of course, I’ve got to say the new issue too, as it features both regular contributors and familiar subjects such as overlooked architecture, public art, film and photography as well as an article by post-punk historian David Wilkinson; getting his writing and cultural insight into the Shrieking Violet has been a long-held ambition!
How do you decide what will be in each issue; is it pre-planned or does it depend on submissions?
I’ve yet to find a system other than throwing everything together and hoping for the best. Often what will happen is someone who has contributed before will approach me with an idea for an article, and that will spur me into trying to fill out a zine around it. Then I will approach writers, photographers or illustrators I admire whose work I have come across elsewhere and I think will fit in to the issue. On a couple of occasions I have tried to theme issues, for example around Manchester’s media heritage and around public transport, but I like the unusual juxtapositions that are thrown up by seeing what content comes in of its own accord. I’ve noticed lately, though, that even when there’s no overt theme the contributions are often subtly linked by some kind of thread running through them, wherever thematic or stylistic, or just in mood and tone.
What kind of submissions are you looking for at the moment?
They say that everybody has a novel in them, and I believe that everybody has the capacity to write an article about something they care about more than anything else, or an interest or hobby that is unique to them. What I’m trying to say is that submission to the Shrieking Violet is open-ended. I’m open to all suggestions as long as they’re the type of thing you wouldn’t read about elsewhere. Contributions from photographers and illustrators, including potential cover artists, are also always very welcome.
I’m also always looking for recipes. Something which has always been really important to the Shrieking Violet is trying to make the zine interactive, and something that people feel is worth holding on to or passing on to friends, even if it’s only a few seemingly disposable photocopied pages. For this reason (along with being passionate about food and the value of cooking and experimenting), from the start I’ve always featured a recipe that readers can go away and try out. Recently I’ve been featuring recipes given to the Shrieking Violet by cafes in Manchester and elsewhere, as it gives them a bit of publicity too, and I’ve also enjoyed it when friends from other countries have shared recipes from their cultures, for example torrijas from Spain and sebadas from Sardinia.
Where can you buy The Shrieking Violet?
All issues of The Shrieking Violet, including the current issue, are currently available to view online as PDFs at www.issuu.com/natalieroseviolet and can also be downloaded at www.theshriekingviolets.blogspot.com. I can also send people copies on request if they email their name and address to Natalie.email@example.com.
What advice would you give to somebody who wants to start making their own ‘zine?
It sounds obvious, but I’d recommend thinking about the origins of the word ‘fanzine’ and working out what you’re a ‘fan’ of – what it is which interests you more than anything else. Some people seem to make zines almost as a portfolio or to show off their work to potential employers, and that makes sense, but there are a lot of zines out there so I’d really think about what makes your style or approach unique, and what it is you really need to get out there and share with other people.
In terms of method, the best advice I was given was to make sure the pages are in multiples of four, which helps when you come to printing and folding – and that it is worth investing in a long-arm stapler! From personal experience, I’d also say don’t feel guilty about using a computer-based design programme instead of making everything by hand, as it makes zines a lot quicker and easier to reproduce. Also remember, the internet is your friend: I favour making both print and online versions of the Shrieking Violet, as this enables me to reach different sets of audiences. Online networks such as Indymedia and We Make Zines, as well as good old Facebook and Twitter, are also a great way of promoting your work to like-minded people.
One final thing: don’t forget to send a copy of your zine to Salford Zine Library (based at Nexus Art Cafe in Manchester), so there’s a record of it and other people will be able to stumble across it! It will be in good company as the library contains zines from all over the world, in every format and on every type of subject imaginable.