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Matt Haynes, publisher of Smoke: A London Peculiar

Matt Haynes talks about running Smoke: A London Peculiar.

READERSVOICE.COM: How did you assemble the first issue, organise printing, layout, distribution? How many copies did you print?

MATT HAYNES: Obviously I had some experience of basic design and of what printers require from having done so many fanzines and record-sleeves over the years – I’ve no qualifications or training, but you pick it up as you go along, and learn from your mistakes. We used the same approach as I’d used with music fanzines – the only difference being that, when I did my fanzines, everything was done on typewriters with Letraset and paste-ups. Smoke, obviously, is done on a computer, but the basic principles are the same – we just give the printer a CD instead of sheets of cardboard covered in Tippex and Prittstick. Distribution involves simply picking up a box and taking copies round every bookshop in London. The initial print-run was 1,000, and then I think we did two more reprints, so 3,000 in total.

RV: What’s involved in the business end of producing Smoke? There are no ads, but do you still find this side of it difficult? Did you have to learn accounting programs and book-keeping?

MH: I do all the accounts but it’s mostly just common sense – you keep receipts and issue invoices and write down what you spend and what people pay you. Again, you learn as you go along. It would cost a fortune to pay someone else to do it for us. This is, actually, the most time-consuming side of Smoke – just printing out delivery notes and invoices and entering them in the books, and then chasing payment, takes forever.

Plus there’s the mail-order side – keeping track of addresses and orders and subscriptions. None of it’s difficult – it’s just very very time-consuming and dull, and you can’t be slapdash about it – if someone rings up wanting to know what’s happened to the cheque they sent, you have to be able to tell them. No ads was a deliberate policy, and I think it was the right one. The sort of people likely to advertise in Smoke are not going to be in a position to pay much money, and I think having no ads is one of our selling-points – people often say how refreshing it is…

RV: I liked very much the story on the Grand Surrey Canal in Issue #9. Had this erstwhile canal been on your mind for many years? How did you research the story?

MH: It’s one of those things I didn’t know much about till I moved to south London – once you’re here, you spot traces of it (bridges that don’t appear to cross anything, old bits of brickwork that look like quays, odd alignments of roads), but I’m still sure that even many people who live around here aren’t aware that it ever existed – it’s really not well documented. Research was just a case of walking the route, poking around, looking at old maps, and reading the odd bits of history that have been written.

RV: Do you do a lot of wandering around London, and if so, where?

MH: Oh, absolutely everywhere! It’s one reason I don’t mind making all the shop deliveries – it makes you visit parts of the city you might otherwise ignore.

You sometimes need to force yourself to stray from the obvious. On New Year’s Day, I walked up to Leyton (in east London, where I grew up) to see Leyton Orient play Bristol City… that’s about 6 miles as the crow flies, and that’s how I did it – I drew a straight line on the map, and then stuck as close to its route as the street plan allowed. (I realise this is probably a bit alien to anyone in one of those new-fangled countries like Australia and the USA, where the streets run in straight lines and are more than 50 yards long…).

See more on Smoke: a London Peculiar, at http://www.smokelondon.co.uk

For anyone wishing to submit a story or pictures to Smoke, Matt Haynes said the emphasis is on inspired writing and artwork, and “… not just dull travelogue or local history… something with a bit more emotion and personality… what London means to you on a personal level..”

”And the shorter the better, just because short is always good – any song over 3 minutes is too long in my book, and any article over 2,000 words is too long in my… magazine. Actually, 1,500 is the limit for most things… my favourite page is the one where we just have various random snapshots of the city, all 30 words or less…”

And Matt Haynes said his favorite book was probably Lanark by Alasdair Grey. “Scottish proto-post -modernism sporting a subtle blend of gritty social realism and sci-fi, Glasgow pubs and people who turn into dragons…”.

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