Liv Siddall is a freelance writer podcaster and editor, and used to be an editor at the design and creativity magazine, It’s Nice That. She has also contributed to Dazed, Riposte magazine and AnOther magazine amongst others. We spoke to her a few months after setting out on her own as a freelancer.
See all of Liv’s recommendations.
I see you’re newly freelance. What has that freedom given you?
It’s great, I’ve been contributing to loads of magazines and websites; I have so many ideas in my head which need to get out. I would really like to get into feature writing and editing; commissioning people and talking to people, I want to get out there a bit more. My ideal job, apart from being host of Desert Island Discs, would be working for the magazine at The New York Times. I love weekend editions of newspapers and supplements, working on human stories rather than doing run-of-the-mill interviews with say Jeremy Deller or Grayson Perry, the kind of “what’s your creative process?” interviews, I’d like to ask Deller to take me through his record collection or ask Grayson to take me down his favourite street in London.
Is that the end of full-time work for you then, do you think you’ll stay freelance for a while?
I don’t know, ideally I would like some more money! I’m very aware that at the moment money comes from brands, and sometimes I get frustrated by advertorials and sponsored content; it would be nice instead to make money doing something fun around the passions that I’ve got. I’m happy to make quick money on the side, working in a pub or doing market research, and then put all my time into doing the things I love. I suppose that’s what freelance life is like.
I’m starting an event in September. I did a crit at Central St Martins recently with some design students, who were showing me their work on their laptops so I could give feedback. I gave them very basic advice and recommended them people to talk to. They had no idea who these people were and were so grateful, so I thought I’d make an event: an all-day event in a pub which happens four times a year for students and anyone really. People will pay the price of a pint on the door which goes to a tab. There’ll be ten different creatives at tables, a web designer, a features editor, an agent, a filmmaker, a fashion designer and the like, and then people can talk to whoever they want and get advice. And then at the end everyone gets pissed. I think it’ll be great opportunity for people to come along and ask “how do you make a magazine?” or “why is my website shit?” The advice that people will get from these professionals will be much more helpful than what I see everyday in interviews that ask very banal questions.
There’s a definite lack of humour in publishing today, everyone takes themselves a bit too seriously.
In your written work, what are you hoping to do differently now than you haven’t done before?
I still really enjoy interviews but I’d like to ask people what they haven’t been asked before, which is an opportunity that gets lost quite a lot. There’s also a definite lack of humour in publishing today, everyone takes themselves a bit too seriously. Publications like Viz and Private Eye, and very few others are publishing funny stuff but I think there’s a bit of room for more fun.
I’ve also been trying to work for travel magazines. I’d like to find some interesting people in places around the world and interview them. For example I went to Iceland this year for a press trip with It’s Nice That, and I ended up meeting the high chief of the pagan temple; we went off for a drive together around Reykjavik in the ice and snow. He showed me a new site of a pagan temple where he was throwing milk down to ward off the evil spirits before it was built; I’d love to do more pieces like that. The downside of that is now I’ve got it my head that I need to be pitching stories, so when I go on holiday I start thinking about whether I can interview fishermen. So life is one long job. Or maybe one long holiday.
How many people do you think you’ve interviewed?
Hundreds! For It’s Nice That I wrote almost two thousand articles, too many to remember, and probably half of those were interviews.
That’s an interview every other day! Did you ever get interviewer burn out?
I always found it easy. I did always get really nervous before interviews, especially when I interviewed Françoise Mouly, the art director for The New Yorker. She is as good as my idol, and so I was really scared, walking around the house shaking. Interviewing can be stressful in terms of nerves, even when I was talking to an illustrator who I thought was great but wasn’t necessarily famous, somehow because I liked them so much they became a celebrity in my mind.
One of the scariest interviews was for Riposte magazine, where I interviewed my own sister, who is the director of Frieze. Victoria is quite closed and she was really conscious of me embarrassing her, so she wouldn’t talk openly to me. It was weird interviewing a family member but it was also nice because I got to ask her questions which I wouldn’t normally ask over the dinner table at Easter.
With any interview it’s always important to remember that it’s not about you, it’s about who you are interviewing and who you are working for.
Do you think you’ve perfected an interview technique?
I think it was Rob at It’s Nice That, who told me to look at my questions before I interviewed someone and if there were any questions in there that could apply to anyone apart from that person then take them out. At the moment I’m really working on trying to ask questions that people would really want to answer, because it must be so time-consuming and dull for people to answer the same questions again and again. I did a feature for Riposte recently called “Wise Words’, which was about some really amazing creative women over 60 looking back at their career. In that I was trying to ask questions that wouldn’t be patronising; because of their age it could’ve come across as soppy or a bit redundant. I decided to ask some personal questions, for example: “what are you most scared of?” The result was excellent, and I had six people who went into a lot of detail about who they really were.
I really like Q&A interviews but a lot of people don’t enjoy them. I think it’s nice to be able to scroll down to look at the questions and be able to read the one that I want answered. So I’ve always bounced between making Q&As and more essay-based interviews. With any interview it’s always important to remember that it’s not about you, it’s about who you are interviewing and who you are working for. I kept that in mind to suppress nerves or self-indulgence. I’ll never be one to begin an interview with “I’ve been sitting here waiting for her for an hour, when all of a sudden she breezes into the café wearing a chiffon blouse. She orders a latte.” That’s all a lot of nonsense.
Tell me about This is Husband Material.
Ha, happily. It’s doing really well, it’s got 1,800 followers now! I started it because when I worked at It’s Nice That, I used to work with a friend Briony. Whenever we saw a man who was, say, good at making chairs, or when a plumber came into the office we always used to say “phwoar, husband material”, because they had some useful skill. So I started collecting pictures of men that would make great husbands. I was reading a lot of Rookie magazine, Riposte and Dazed, which were all quite feminist, so I wanted to make something that said “well hey, what about the great men, don’t forget about them”. The best examples of husband material are Tom Sellick, who has an avocado farm! Or Edmund Hillary, he built his family a holiday home from scratch in Oakland. Or there’s a field researcher who named lots of plants after his wife. Or there’s Isambard Kingdom Brunel, who was a tunnel expert, which more than just a pun he really was great at making tunnels, and he nearly died because he was trying to entertain his children by swallowing a coin. Some of these people are dead and some never lived. It’s a bit of fun and people are loving it.
Have you considered creating a magazine?
I’ve definitely contemplated it, but I’ve also been put off by working and talking with other editors. I’ve worked for Danielle Pender at Riposte, and she’s doing an incredible job, but even though it’s a really successful independent magazine, which a lot of people buy but it’s still so hard to make it work. Though I really love print, I think online is where I’m likely to have a home. I’d really like to work with a friend of mine, the photographer, Francesca Jane Allen, who is always pitching photo stories with people which sometimes gets turned down even though they’re great. I like the idea of creating a site which publishes stories, photography and illustration that don’t usually get published because they’re a bit weird or not quite right, or needed to be decimated to fit a word count. So maybe I’ll make a magazine about weird offcuts.
You were at It’s Nice That for quite a few years until this summer, what’s the reason behind leaving?
I started there while I was still at uni, I was an intern for a while and then went to Assistant Editor of the magazine, I worked events, I was features editor… basically there was nowhere else to go! I’d been there for four years, which is a long time in one place. I didn’t want to be Editor-in-chief and I didn’t know if I would’ve been able to. Writing about the same type of content for four years is enough. I was meant to be writing about art and design but I found I wanted to write about music, culture and film, which wasn’t really available at It’s Nice That. I was getting a bit antsy, and then my best friend James handed in his notice, and so did Rob, the Editor-in-Chief, these guys were part of the reason I was staying because it was so fun to work with them, so the idea of working there without them didn’t feel right.
How do you think they’re coping without what’s been the core of their team for so many years?
I think it’s good for them. At It’s Nice That editors can initiate the editorial focus, so I was really into illustration and comics, James was really into graphic design, Rob was more into journalism as a whole, commenting on design and sharing news, and Maisie was really into fashion so it encompassed all these things. The new guy they have now, Alex, is really into art so that’s becoming a great focus, and I think it’s good to have a change around, for it to go in a slightly new direction.
Your Twitter feed is a bit of a recommendation engine in itself. Is that representative of how much you read?
I’m a hoarder. I have thousands of folders and bookmarks on my computer full of articles. There’s even some from four or five years ago that I can’t let go of. I think in a way you need to be a hoarder if you’re going to be a journalist, because you have to constantly scavenge stuff to make something out of it. I haven’t changed either; when I was younger I used to cut things out of magazines, like pictures, quotes and illustration and it’s the same process today but with Twitter or Instagram. There’s a longstanding section of The Guardian that I’m always recommending called How we made, which has makers of things coming on to write about their creations, like How we made the Teletubbies or Live and Kicking. I’m also a big fan of The Reunion on BBC Radio 4, which is a programme with people talking about a moment in history that they were involved in. I really enjoy Radio 4 actually, I even like Gardeners’ question time – I think I like to find out about things that I don’t have, and I don’t have a garden. But there are too many things really, and I overcollect them and share them in the hope that other people will find them interesting too.
Liv Siddall's recommendations
See all of Liv’s recommendations.