Visceral Feels: Interview with Guts editor Roisin Agnew


Posted November 12, 2014 in Print

Café 1920 opening

Guts is a newcomer to the Dublin magazine scene spearheaded by Totally Dublin contributor Roisin Agnew that is fuelled by personal and confessional writing that asks authors to expose themselves to the world for the sake of the reader, but also to give them a platform to put more of themselves to their work. We picked Roisin’s brains to find out why, for her, content is still queen.

This idea for this publication started as a ‘zine’ first but now it’s become a magazine.

I think zine implies a culture of independent publishing, whereas magazine doesn’t imply the same kind of culture. I wanted it to be small, independent, that it was about disseminating a very niche concept or vision. But then more and more, it was not a zine because that culture belonged to the 1990s, being cheaply produced, distributed in a scattergun manner and almost being a dispensable rather than collectable item. And it belonged to a time when you didn’t have Facebook or that kind of thing. The idea became more to create something that was beautifully designed and collectable, that idea of dispensability wasn’t going to work, so I called it a magazine. To be honest, it’s almost more a journal at this point because the writing goes from fiction to personal essays. The idea was to give a lot people I’m friends with or know through work to give them a space where they could write longer pieces and they could put more of themselves into their pieces. A lot of the time, as a writer, you end up writing a piece that a publication has to do, or a specific story that you have to cover and the job becomes to remove yourself entirely from it. And I wanted to do something that was the opposite, that would make the writer the centre of the story.

MickMinogue_ThreadHeart_smaller

 Thread Heart (detail), Mick Minogue

I think readers are attracted to that.

I think people feel really uncomfortable with it at the same time. There is a feeling of it being a cheapening of writing, a more artless form of writing to put yourself into it, but people begrudgingly love it.

There’s a balance to be struck between having personality and serving something.

The idea of Guts is that it is highly personal accounts of the city, because most people who are writing for it live in Dublin. Even the name, it comes from both spilling your guts and having the guts to do something. It was almost a joke at the start, then it seemed to fit and stick so we decided to go for it.

So is it necessarily a Dublin magazine?

Well it depends, because it’s not about the businesses or pubs or cafés directly, it isn’t. And there’s not an events listing so it’s not trying to encourage you to go out to places, but its telling stories that might involve, for example, in the first issue The Hub plays a big part in one of the stories. Body & Soul, which isn’t necessarily Dublin, but is a very Dublin experience, plays a big part in another one. What makes it Dublin-based is more peoples’ perspective on things, and seeing things and channeling things through the perspective of a Dubliner.

 

 MickMinogue_Eithne's Teenage Cycle_smallerEithne’s Teenage Cycle, Mick Minogue

Do you see it filling a space that wasn’t filled before? Or is taking influence from that zine culture? Or websites?

It was a mixture of things. It was about seeing small magazines that were covering such small areas like the Plant journal, which is incredible. A lot of the idea came about from interviewing Steve Ryan, he works full-time in London as a photographer, but edits and runs Root and Bone. His whole idea is the off-cuts of food culture and he produces it really cheaply once every two or three months and it’s taken off, even though he does it as his own labour of love. It’s incredibly beautifully produced and very interesting with really good writing with a unique vision of behind the scenes, steel-and-grit view of restaurant life in London. That was an inspiration because it showed that people were going back to print with really specific ideas. The specificity is definitely the key.

How does it feed itself?

Well, we’re only going to do six issues, but then a lot of it is to do with people being on board to do something for the love of the project.

Each issue is themed, right?

The first issue’s theme comes from this cult book from the 1950s by Carson McCullers called The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter. It’s a great name, but also the kind of sappiness of that title fitted in with trying to introduce people to what we’re doing with Guts. You’re eviscerating yourself for the sake of the reader. They are very personal stories and a lot of them are about heartbreak and loneliness. So it’s a universal theme but the writing’s as personal as you can get. Mick Minogue did all the artwork and I approached him because I’d seen work he’d done for a final year project in college about breakups and I knew he was a sucker for that sappy heartbreak theme! I approached Shane Kenna to do the design and himself and Imogen Oh have come up with a beautiful design. We wanted it to be very legible and not a situation where the design has taken over to the point where the words don’t actually matter because the design has totally taken over. So the design is almost like an adult story book, the artwork is given a lot of space, but they did a lot of playing around with the type to make sure it was pleasurable experience to read. So the writers for the first one include Nialler9, Maeve Higgins, Laurence Mackin, Neil Watkins, Elske Rahill.

MickMinogue_Boob Envy_Elske Rahill_smaller

Boob Envy, Mick Minogue

And beyond that?

Beyond that, the themes stay slightly heavy and personal! The second one is from a Pee-wee Herman quote ‘I know you are, but what am I?’ which an intentionally misphrased existential question. It’s about being an outsider, the feeling of not belonging, of not knowing what defines you. Aran Quinn is doing the art for that one. The third one is called ‘Blow Smoke and Hard Candy’ which will be the ‘drug’ issue, which will be people’s personal encounters and experiences with drugs, including some people writing who are dealing with addiction problems, as well as writers’ own experience with recreational drugs. Steve McCarthy will be doing the art for that one. And the fourth one is ‘Kintsugi’ which is a Japanese word that refers to when something is broken you fill it in with gold, the beauty of it is found in it being broken. Fatti Burke is doing that one. It’s the first one that’s not depressing!

I like the idea that it begins as a finite run.

Well we want it very much to be a collectible item. There’ll be a print run of about 1,500 to 2,000 each issue and we’re selling it in IMMA, the Project Arts Centre, the Library Project, Article, the Winding Stair, the Fumbally, the RHA bookshop, a combination of cafes and art-spaces.

You can help Guts become a delicious, tangible reality by helping them reach their goal on their Kickstarter project right here.

 

Words: Ian Lamont / Images: Mick Minogue

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