Random Spectacular

Cover by Mark Hearld and Emily Sutton

Any day now, the first edition of Random Spectacular will be flying through the postal system to homes around the country. Designed and published by St Jude’s, this occasional journal promises an exploration of the visual arts, literature, nature, travel and much more. A sneak preview here suggests there’s a visual treat on every spread. Typophiles should find much to savour. I’m also looking forward to immersing myself in the words when my copies arrive. All profits from sales will be donated to Maggie’s Centres.

At a time when many design and culture magazines are struggling – Grafik magazine closed last week, for example – it’s heartening to see a new title, especially one that has high production values and a confident approach to the sheer enjoyment of creativity. This magazine is all about reading for pleasure.

Its randomness is a sensible strategy; there’s no requirement for the publishers of such an epic collaboration to be defeated by their own promises of regularity. Besides, there’s something rather tantalising about not knowing when a magazine you enjoy will appear next. As an aside, I’m hugely impressed by the people behind Eye magazine, who have somehow managed to publish a stunning issue regularly since 1990, come hell, high water, recessions and the proliferation of design blogs.

Talking of blogs, my contribution to Random Spectacular is an interview with The Gentle Author of Spitalfields Life. In fact, it’s the first interview the Gentle Author has given. I think my subject is one of the most interesting writers in Britain today. The interview discusses aspects of east London life, and of a writer’s life. I start by drawing out the surprising background to the extraordinary promise made on the blog, which says:

Let me disclose to you the hare-brained ambition I am pursuing, which is to write at least ten thousand stories about Spitalfields life. At the rate of one a day, this will take approximately twenty-seven years and four months. Who knows what kind of life we shall be living in 2037 when I write my ten thousandth post?

A Typoretum typographic print accompanies Tim’s interview with the Gentle Author.

Buy the magazine to read why the Gentle Author felt compelled to make this commitment. To promise a story every day is the opposite strategy to that of Random Spectacular, but it also makes sense. The web has enabled this writer to form a consistent connection with the reader. And by imposing a daily deadline the writer is forced to produce; forced to create the momentum that will transform thoughts into words that can be shared. Even slow writers can become prolific when there’s a meaningful deadline hanging over their head. The Gentle Author has written more than 700,000 words in 2 years.

Prolific publication is made possible by the web. Indeed, Spitalfields Life is an important counter-argument to the ridiculous but common notion that people don’t like to read online. Many of the daily posts are more than 1,000 words. Some much longer. Even friends who rarely touch a printed broadsheet tell me they consume the Gentle Author’s post each morning. People will read online if writers write well for them. The greatest obstacle to better writing online is the miserabilist mantra that attention spans are shortening and ‘web readers’ can’t understand anything unless. It’s written. In very. Short. Sentences.

It’s partly the variety and unpredictability of the subject matter in Spitalfields Life that keeps people hooked. Each story is a surprise, like a gift. One day we are taken up a church tower normally off-bounds to visitors, the next we’re with bunny girls in Wapping or inside a small factory on the Hackney Road. Spitalfields Life is always somewhat random, quietly spectacular.


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