This is the first of an occasional series of interviews with people who wrote for Word. In late March I spoke to Jude about how she first became involved and what her abiding memories are.
How did you start writing for the magazine?
I’d come to London to do an MA and then didn’t know what I wanted to do – well, I knew I wanted to write, to be a journalist, but thought that world was completely unavailable to me. I didn’t know anyone who was doing that. I spent a couple of years buggering about doing different things and ended up working for a charity in a job I didn’t particularly like. My friend Matt (Matt Haynes who used to run the indie label Sarah Records) and I started a fanzine about London called ‘Smoke’. We saved our very little amounts of money over a year and put the magazine together. The first issue came out at the end of March 2003 around the same time as ‘Word’ started. Matt had run a record label but I had no idea how anything worked so I thought I’d just send the magazine off to some people who might review it, including ‘Word’. I’d fallen in love with the magazine straight away, right from the 1st issue with Nick Cave on the front cover. I was so pleased that there was something out there that was for me.
David Hepworth got in touch first, which was exciting. He wanted to meet us in a pub in central London – I think him and Mark Ellen were off to see Blur at the Astoria. Mark joined us later on so I got to know them both a little then. The person that probably got me writing for ‘Word’ even more than Mark and David was Paul Du Noyer. I’d also sent him a copy of ‘Smoke’ and he’s very much into his London lore and stories so he got in touch with me a few months later. He wanted some new writers and was really keen to get more women and younger writers involved. I hadn’t reviewed music before, just written some things for the magazine at University and weird things about London for ‘Smoke’ but he liked my writing and wanted to take a punt on some new people. It was very much right place, right time. It was before blogging had really taken off and I don’t know if I’d have got into writing through that anyway.
I kept in touch and did a few reviews for them. Then I did an interview on August Bank Holiday when Andrew Harrison called me up (obviously no-one else was available!) to interview Billy Bragg at the Leicester Holiday Inn. I was blessed because you just put a recorder in front of Billy and he’s brilliant. I didn’t know how dictaphones worked and had to go out and buy one. My uncle lived in Leicester so I went to stay with him and he drove me to the Holiday Inn, it was just comical really. Anyway Mark loved the interview, so after that I was sort of in with him as a writer. Paul needed an assistant for a few days a week to help with basic tasks like opening the post and speaking to PRs and they said I could do some writing too. I found the original offer letter from them the other day when I was tidying up the house. I took a 50% pay cut from my job with the charity but it was the chance to work with these great people – Andrew Harrison especially because I was from the ‘Select’ generation. I knew I had to do it.
Being younger and less experienced than most of the staff there could have been quite intimidating and nerve-wracking. What do you remember about the first time you went to work at the office?
I was really nervous going in that first day but also incredibly excited. As soon as I arrived I felt at home there – Mark was so bouncy and friendly that I never felt intimidated. Paul was incredibly supportive too and gave me bits of work that would stretch me. I remember him giving me the first four Brian Eno album reissues to review and asking for 1, 400 words on them. I said “I don’t really know these records”, I was only 25 but he said that was why he wanted me to do it, he didn’t want to read someone who’d written about Brian Eno hundreds of times before, he wanted a fresh perspective.
They were flexible with the days I worked too – I was putting cards up in supermarkets offering to teach kids for their English GCSEs and doing pub shifts around that, anything to make ends meet! They really looked after me and there was a lovely family atmosphere, right from the start.
What were the moments that stand out for you as highlights?
We just laughed so much. When Mark came into the office and started one of his anecdotes and half an hour later we’d all have stopped working. The podcasts were fun too, cramped into the cupboard. And going to Glastonbury was always enjoyable, driving down with Mark in the car and laughing all the way.
I remember interviewing Richard Hawley on the phone for the ‘Word of Mouth’ feature and The Pet Shop Boys came into the office. I was totally star-struck as they were my favourite band. Richard was distracted by the noise they were making saying, “What’s that racket behind you?” I told him it was the Pet Shop Boys. “Tell them to shut up!” That was a pretty surreal experience.
My first big interview as a main feature was Arcade Fire in Vancouver. I went out alone and had 3 days there – it was the most exciting experience but I was also terrified about having to write it up. Andrew Harrison would be editing it and he was the toughest editor but he was brilliant and you learnt a lot from him.
There was always too much to do because we were such a small team and at times it got stressful with sales going up and down. I left in December 2007 to concentrate on my own website, The Lipster which focused on women-led pop culture and write more widely for other papers and magazines. I’d realised I didn’t want to be an editor, I wanted to be a writer. If you’re editing a review section, there’s not much time to write. It broke my heart when I went out to the local caff with Mark and told him I’d decided to go – it was like telling your Dad you’re leaving home, it was really awful!
Although it could be stressful and was always busy, I really enjoyed it at the time and I don’t think I realised then how lucky I was. It was my first experience of being at an office long term and it was like a big family – my husband and even my Mum came in at one point and everyone was made to feel welcome. I just got the the proofs of Mark’s book earlier today and read the ‘Word’ chapter already; I forwarded straight to that bit to see what the hell he said about me! It felt special and magazines don’t have that feeling anymore because of the nature of the business – it’s sad.
Are there any magazines you subscribe to now?
I subscribe to ‘New York’ magazine (not ‘The New Yorker’), there’s a lot of good pop-culture writing in there. I also subscribe to a couple of the women’s magazines I write for like ‘Red’. I’ve always liked ‘Esquire’ and Andrew works as an editor for them, so I get that. Plus I’ll often buy magazines depending on the front covers.When ‘Word’ was first out I remember getting the bus on the first Thursday of every month from my charity’s office in Acton to Ealing Broadway just so I could get it. I couldn’t believe that 6 months later I was working there (wistful sigh).