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Smoke’s June 2010 Statement

 

(this text originally appeared on the last page of issue 16, to explain why we were taking a short break)

A magazine – no, that sounds dull, so let’s call it a FANzine because that, at heart, is what it is. A fanzine for a city – our city, London. No listings, no reviews, just… words, and images, inspired by the streets around us. On the web? No, that’s too easy, too ephemeral, too forgettable. This… scrapbook, this chapbook, this celebration – must be something you can hold, dip into on the tube home, tuck away on the bookshelf for rainy-day re-reads… or give to a friend with a note saying simply “you’ll like this”. Yes, you can update a website, delete a blog, erase things you regret, but – isn’t that cheating? You can’t change the past, all you can do is bear it in mind; we’ve all done embarrassing stuff, but aren’t the memories worth it? Look, here are some polaroids, snapshots of a city in flux, re-imagined in prose…

So we printed 1000 copies. What is it? people said. And we said it’s a love-letter to London, to the wet neon flicker of late-night pavements, electric with endless possibility, and the soft dishevelled beauty of the city’s dawn… to the overheard stories and unexplored histories, the facts and the fictions, the accidental poetry and fugitive art of graffiti-slashed suburban stations and rain-splashed shopfronts… the out-of-shot lives half-glimpsed from a train window, or from a phone number scrawled on the back of a Travelcard, dropped on the night-bus stairs…

Because that’s the sort of people we were. And some folk said oh, but others said hmmm… and Mike, who worked in Foyles, said we’ll have 10 of those, and Malcolm, who ruled the periodicals in Borders on Oxford Street, said yeah, give us 20…

And suddenly the boxes on the landing were empty. And letters and e-mails had started to arrive. And photos, and stories, and – one day, Seb sent us a cassette he’d made of the London Shipping Forecast: why shouldn’t London have a shipping forecast, he reasoned, just because it’s landlocked? And Amanda sent us a photo-story featuring her dog, South London Len, on his first bus trip north of the river. And Paul told us about a secret barber’s in Mayfair. And Jonathan counted the number of food outlets on the Holloway Road (102) and then drew a graph. And, at midnight on 7th July 2005, the day three underground trains and a number 30 bus exploded in central London, Helen found she couldn’t sleep so sat in her kitchen and wrote us a story about a hammock.

We never met most of the people who contributed to Smoke. In many ways, we didn’t need to: these strange, romantic souls, in love with their own, odd corners of this endless, eternal city – who were taking it all in, trying to make sense of it, and wanting to share how they felt about it – were just like us. We knew them already.

We had no idea how the publishing industry worked. If Smoke was on the counter in Books Etc, it wasn’t because we’d paid for our prime location, it was because we’d marched in and asked the bemused assistant if we could put it there. Not everyone said yes. Some even walked off while we were talking to them. The Kew Bookshop said there wasn’t enough about Kew in it; Hatchards said we didn’t understand their customer base; one bookshop in north London, holding it distastefully at arm’s length between pinching fingers, said “we wouldn’t take this here”; and the Kennington Bookshop, who are two streets away from where one of us lives, told us no one round here would be interested. But Patricia from La Fromagerie wondered if she could stock it, even after we’d pointed out that she ran a cheese shop. And Lynne, who owned the florist-cum-café outside Hither Green station, asked if she could take some. And so did Esther at the Green Dragon, a pub in Croydon. There’s more to life than bookshops.

The thing is, though, of the hundred-odd shops that stocked our early issues, well over half have now closed. And when Borders ceased trading just before Christmas, we lost not only more than 25% of our total sales overnight, but also three dozen high-profile spots from which to be subliminally sublime. So we’ve had a rethink. Because the system no longer works for us, we’re inventing a new one. Words and images inspired by the city? – yes yes yes, but printed and presented in newer, more exciting, more intoxicating ways. But that’s not all: we will also take our small magazine out into the world and let it dazzle, shock and astound…

Just watch us.

In the meantime… let this be a big thank you to anyone who’s ever bought a copy of Smoke, written to us, submitted work, or allowed us a small piece of counter. If it wasn’t for you, whatever happens next would never have happened…