P&P sits down with writer Jack Mills, Deputy Editor of Wonderland magazine, to talk about rat-infested beginnings, pushing the creative boundaries and boozing with Mariah Carey.
How and why did you get into the world of publication?
I certainly didn’t get in it to make money. My parents are both journalists, so I knew the deal from a young age. Journalism is about non-fiction storytelling – finding the story in a story. You find an interesting subject, hang out with them and discover the hook. It’s kind of like urban anthropology. I also like picking up on new youth culture crazes and movements before anyone else has had the chance to, things like Soundcloud communities, sub and counter-culture collectives and nightlife movements.
What is your approach to writing?
I almost always get anxiety before writing, because my process tends to be quite full on and draining. I put a lot into pieces and spend time working up to a lede or angle and researching the weirdest facts about subjects. As such, it can take days to sit down with something, and even when I’m into it, I’ll take massive breaks so as to keep the creative momentum going. I never tend to just “settle” into a piece, thinking about it over the course of three or four days to keep it invigorating – not to sound like a tortured dickhead…
What attracted you to working for a fashion publication?
I see Wonderland and Rollacoaster more as trend publications than style magazines. With London trend magazines, there’s invariably a wider story or metaphor at hand when the focus is on young designers. They want to shout about something they’re obsessed with – like a grass roots issue or aesthetics – rather than tailoring details.
What does being an editor of a magazine entail?
Having a point of difference: what can you, specifically you, bring to the table? Are you hilarious? Do you know more about emerging fashion or music labels than your peers? Capitalise on it: make a whole issue about labels or something. The ‘label issue’ could spotlight emerging music subgenres, the evolution of vintage clothing logos, new fashion collectives, gender labels and so on. Think about how this could sit with the issues’ graphic design cues too: maybe story titles could double as peal-away labels that readers could stick around their rooms. Themes are really important, but putting a personal stamp on your magazine is paramount.
Explain a bit more about Wonderland?
Wonderland is a youth culture and fashion quarterly. We cover pop culture in a more light-hearted, less po-faced way than some of our indie competitors. The Lana Del Rey shoot in 2011 was a perfect example of this — even though it was her first ever cover shoot, we played on her slightly concussed, pop-noirish appeal in an intentionally funny, colourful, fluffy way. The interview was smart and sardonic too – a great read by Hanna Hanra.
What do you enjoy the most about your job at Wonderland magazine?
Probably coming up with original features ideas, discovering new talent and putting weird spins on the classic interview profile format. It’s important to never take the same approach to a feature twice, so you’re constantly thinking up fresh ways to grab peoples’ attention. In the last issue of Rollacoaster, I got a writer to map out a fictional, Homer’s Odyssey-esque account of how he met members of a music collective through the night across south London – the quotes were real, though. Also, we asked a graduate illustrator to interpret what the clothing lines of cults led by a group of influential London designers would look like.
Who has been your favourite notable person you have interviewed?
Willem Dafoe was great, I interviewed him with the producers of a sci-fi film called John Carter before it came out. The movie turned out to be one of Hollywood’s biggest ever financial flops. I remember him saying he only ever does these big budget films to fund the experimental theatre company he runs in New York (The Wooster Group). Obviously getting mad-drunk with Mariah Carey in her hotel room for the cover of Wonderland was insane, as was chatting to Isabella Rossellini about her Green Porno YouTube series from the London Bulgari office — with everyone listening in. I enjoyed a long, hungover morning at The (posh) Delaunay with Gwendoline Christie and Gareth Pugh, who thought I was a stray when I first walked in. Gwendoline spent the entire time swinging her sword arm over our heads a la Brienne of Tarth, her Game of Thrones character.
What advice would you give someone who is starting out in their career and wants to work at a magazine?
If you have a knack for hooking onto youth culture movements or trends before they snowball and have a handle on your writing style, it’s important to remain pretty resilient. Even if you’re broke, try not to worry about money at the start – work in a bar and craft your trade on the side. When I started out, I was the Deputy Editor of a start-up London culture magazine, working from a hollowed out Dickensian ex-pub in Kentish Town. I supported this by working as a cash-in-hand barman at a weekly poker night and at the pub I lived next to in Tooting, south London. When you’ve got rats running around your feet and are perched under a roof that’s bowing under the weight of snowfall, you can’t help but think, “Is this actually what I’m pushing to do?”
What do you look for in an intern?
Someone with a point of difference (which you very rarely find). When I interned, I was the one who was into extreme music, outlandish art, anything visceral and challenging. It’s important to scuff your path at a magazine without annoying anyone too much. The worst thing you can do is pitch compliantly – talents the magazine has already covered, have already had generous coverage in competitive titles or talents that fold neatly into the background. Find the angle first, then pitch.
Do you go to any talks or lectures to help students?
I’m currently working with a fashion branding, styling and photography course that Nick Knight heads up, giving students feedback on their project DNA, press strategies and how to write about your work clearly and divisively. I might explore teaching at some point, maybe a journalism course!
Other than internships, how else can students get their work out there when they graduate?
It’s not just about pitching ideas to your favourite magazines, although that’s definitely a good start. You’ve actually got to be a bit more cunning now every other person under 25 is a journalist. What areas do you want to focus on that no-one else does? Focus on developing a distinctive writing style too — are you a sarcastic writer? Funny, experimental, meta, dark?
What’s your approach to networking and collaborations?
It’s always good to talk to people, but don’t force anything. If you happen to be at the same drinks event as one of your idols, it’s probably a good idea to introduce yourself. But if the conversation doesn’t go anywhere, you probably weren’t meant to collaborate. Focus on the organic creative relationships you’ve had with someone and call them up again. If you find you can fluidly spark ideas of each other and come up with something worthwhile, you should hold onto that. Having said that, it’s good to reach out to people you want to work with over email. Cold calling is to be avoided at all costs.
Do you prefer digital or print?
I like them both for different reasons. Print will survive, but these titles won’t be where you go to find a job in journalism. All the existing main independent, commercially-owned and newsprint publications will go fully digital in the next ten years, I think. It’s pretty exciting, because the whole game is being rewritten, there’s not even time to plan it. It’s democratising all of our news media.
What has influenced your writing style?
Haruki Murikami’s stories unfold in 24-hour periods and I’ve essentially applied that to my interview style. I’m interested in approaching non-fiction storytelling using fiction writing forms. I interviewed Agyness Deyn in the back of a cab and she picked out spots we drove past on the way to her hotel, like the street the club Punk used to be on. She started reminiscing. The article ended up being about the journey, pretty much minute by minute. Elsewhere I’m into boozy writers like Patrick Hamilton and long-form New Yorker-style journalists like Sam Knight. Fiona Duncan is a great music writer too.
What lessons have learnt along the way?
Never have an argument with someone over email; never give up on a good idea and remind yourself that when it comes to putting a magazine together, artistic integrity is more important than money.
If you were not the Deputy Editor of Wonderland, what would you be doing?
Filmmaking. I’d love to make a film like Naked or The Crying Game: gritty, slightly hypnotic films that ultimately speak to you on a very human level. I think those kinds of movies are all about urban escapism, the things a big city has to offer people with a mad curiosity for life. It’s all pretty subliminal.