Doing It Themselves – Hand Job ZINE

As part of our month looking at lit zines making a real impact, we cast the magnifying glass over HAND JOB, a Notts based zine thick with bright ideas, such as the visual representation video they’ve produced.

Editor Sean Preston has been taking a look at the lit zine landscape of late. The appeal of edgy, risk-taking fiction and poetry DIY publications is evident for the literary readership to see. These zines aren’t just surviving, they’re thriving. None more so than Nottingham’s pertly named HAND JOB zine.

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Here’s a visual representation produced by of the zine for Open Pen, and a background to the video, outlined by Sophie Pitchford, one half of the editorial team at HAND JOB:

HAND JOB ZINE, A VISUAL REPRESENTATION

“We decided there were enough words inside the zine itself and went down the route of letting the images act as our poetry. That was all we had when we left the house to collect our footage anyway.

Whilst out-and-about we must have collected a few hours of footage, from derelict houses and burnt-out trucks to a homeless person’s house in the woods. We had so many visually arresting images to use and play with yet, when we were putting it together, they just didn’t seem to gel for some reason. It felt like they were being forced together.

So, we stripped it down and were left with only the old pit terraces when we decided to toy around with music. Funeralopolis by Electric Wizard was our first idea but, again, it didn’t feel representative of us, it felt like we were trying to create an image that wasn’t us. When we then tried Council Flat Blues by Eagulls it all changed. It fitted the scenery and matched the endless rhythm of the houses so well that we knew we were onto a winner.

From there we built it up. We ended up using only five very simple shots out of the whole day and night’s filming but didn’t want to add any more. I think the simplicity of the video as much as anything else aids it in its message. We are showing working class environments and treating them with a real honesty; showing their beauty in a way that doesn’t detract from the reality. The still pit-pond’s screech at the beginning followed by the endless row of terraces shows how certain groups of people have been left to make do in their plights. It then finishes on the large house just around the corner that looms over the camera; prosperity being rubbed in your face.

The last two shots juxtaposed are of reeds blowing in the wind and a curb we set on fire; we didn’t know we were going to put them together. This is purely to show our discontent with it all but also, with the fire against the reeds, how it is a tyranny against nature to put people through this.

But, don’t get the wrong idea. It wasn’t intended to make working class life look all doom and gloom, it highlights the hardships implicitly, but it also captures a certain beauty. The little details like the initial pit-pond, the cat in the window near the start of the terraces, the trees in the reflections; it’s a beautiful place to live and I wouldn’t change it.

It might only be a very small section of society that it directly represents but across the breadth of the UK there are so many forgotten or downtrodden places that lack representation and it is our aim to show them. We want to show working class literature that comes directly from the places talked about, not just people taking a fancy and unintentionally ending up being patronising. We want to discover and to learn more. We want the subtlety of life, the aggression, the humour, whatever the setting. We just want it to be honest.”

Sean caught up with HAND JOB founders Sophie Pitchford and Jim Gibson.

Sophie Pitchford – Co-founder of HAND JOB

Sophie, I’ve enjoyed taking a look at what you’ve made of HAND JOB. You should be proud. Was there a particular moment that made you think, I’m going to start a lit zine?

I suppose it was more of a natural progression; one of us is a writer and one of us is a graphic artist. We just put our heads together and thought it would be a good idea. We didn’t even know literary zines existed! All the mainstream publications we saw just seemed to be either boring or out of touch with the world around us, so we just thought screw it we’ll make our own.

You mention Working Class Literature in the statement accompanying your visual representation video. I had this chat recently with someone, but what does it mean to you? And why is it something that we hear and read more of in the world of zines, as opposed to coffee table mags and publishing itself?

It’s a hard one but I think of working class literature as a way of writing as opposed to being restrictive of your content. When I read something and it feels connected with its characters, it is as if the writer really has lived and felt what they are writing, then that’s what I see as working class literature. This is probably because a lot of working class writers have interesting stories to tell about their lives and they’re not trying to put some meaning or point across, but are portraying an honest story. They’re not trying to be clever or pretentiously literary and the stories or poems often tend to be more steeped in emotion from what I have seen. I’m sure some people will totally disagree with what I have said but that’s the way I see it.

I think you don’t see this literature in the coffee table mags for a few different reasons. Firstly, because sometimes these stories are quite shocking and, when you’re trying to get across to a broad readership, they will not be to everyone’s tastes. Another thing is that I don’t think people understand the beauty that comes in simplicity and with that simplicity the politics and everything else form implicitly around it, rather than having it forced upon them. Also, literary fiction seems to be quite a snobby avenue to try and enter into, so when your protagonist is celebrated for vandalising a bus stop it may be too much for some people.

What do you look for in submissions?

Basically: honesty, emotion or humour. These are the things that we like the most. We never have a theme so it’s a connection with the story and characters in the stories. Poetry is different; it needs to stick in the mind. I’ll read a few and then see what ones I can remember the next day. That way it tells me that it wasn’t just pretty words but meant enough to stay with me.

Where do you want to take Hand Job? Or is the current output how you want to keep things?

We like the current output but we don’t want it to stagnate. If you just keep things the same they become boring. We’re going to be constantly changing our format and coming up with new ideas in the future. You never really can tell though. If possible, we’ll go into publishing in book format, probably under another name, and keep Hand Job as the miraculous zine it is. We’d love to make more substantial books (in terms of design and format) but it’s just finding the money to do it. We keep the majority of stories and poetry in the zine, but recently we have published a range of articles and interesting writing on our blog/website. We dismissed the internet as a format for a long time, thinking it was an evil and pointless place, but it’s actually really an amazing way to share and publish small pieces of writing which would otherwise not fit with the zine.

Jim Gibson – Co-founder of HAND JOB

Jim: The only thing that pisses me off about writing is not having as much time as I would like to do it! I love working on my writing. The best thing is a completed piece; it feels like such an achievement every time. The only thing that does piss me off is when you think you’ve written something amazing and, when you come back to it the next week, it’s the most cringe-worthy piece of garbage you’ve ever read.

It’s a common complaint amongst writers: the longevity of their writing. But it’s also a handy editorial trigger. Do you ever read submissions and think that, on the whole you like them, but that one or two sections sit uncomfortably? Do you ever work with writers to edit pieces like that?

Yes, that has happened a few times and our outlook has changed towards it over the issues. When we first started we were just of the ethos that if we liked it in general we’d just chuck it in; it was more about getting writers some recognition. Now though we’ve got a lot more competition with submissions so we have to be a bit pickier. I sent one back to a writer that they sent us for the last issue telling them how much I liked it but that the format needed changing, it was a bit all over the place and hard to follow. Hopefully they’ll send it to us for the next issue and we can include it because it was a really interesting piece. If I did like one enough I’d contact the writer and ask them about the particular section, but that’s what they have produced, it’s their piece, so I think it might be a bit rude to say that a section doesn’t really work. You should try your hardest not to mess with another writer’s vision.

Sophie: Same, really, time and self-criticism I guess. Issue 7 is the first I’ve consciously designed the pages for (rather than just cutting and sticking) and you have the pressure of making someone else’s writing look good. But I enjoy it anyway and it’s a good opportunity for me to practice layout design, as I’ve been doing more photography than anything else recently.

What really pisses you off about the world and business of publishing/books?

I don’t really know. We’re not really hostile towards the way everything is, we’re just doing our own thing because we feel that the mainstream is missing a trick and that trick happens to be the stuff we’re into. That’s why we do this.

I do think that publishers could put more effort into their books though. Covers are always bland and boring and the layout is never interesting. I’m not saying every book, but for books that you love I think people would splash out to have something a bit more interesting. But then again, its how capitalism has manipulated the art I suppose; it’s not an art now it’s business in the entertainment sector.

And do you think that’s where zines can come in? Existing separately from mainstream or profit-driven art? Do you think there’s a future in this? Are things going to get better or worse for outsider art and more relevantly, fiction?

Well the mainstream always seems to lack creativity. Look at films and music, writing is no different. You’ve got your small bands and independent films that do well for themselves in a more creative and (probably) fulfilling way for themselves, and I think this is what is happening with literature. The small magazines at the minute publish either genre fiction or Booker prize style writing. On the other side of things there are intricate and beautifully crafted small publications out there like those released by Pam Flett press, but they aren’t of a literary persuasion. What if you’re not interested in any of these? This is where literary zines come into play. The new and interesting doesn’t come from the established forms of media; they come from new sources as they see things with fresh eyes. They’re not worried about what people want, but they are what they want because they are born from the boredom that everyone feels. No doubt, if they stick around, they’ll become the old publications and something new will come along but for now it’s fresh and that’s what matters. So, are things going to get better for outsider art? That depends whether people think it’s worthwhile really. I think it is and I strongly feel that it’s what literature needs. It’s been a bit boring for a while now; nothing has really changed since the nineties. We will have to wait and see.

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