The Shrieking Violet is pleased to feature in the first issue of the Northwest edition of the Skinny, a free arts and culture magazine for Manchester and Liverpool which launches in Manchester at 2022NQ this evening (from 6pm, Facebook event here. Conveniently, the latest edition of the modernist magazine, themed 'Capital', is also launching this evening just down the road at the CIS tower, also from 6pm). The Shrieking Violet is represented in the feature 'What's Your Northwest', for which interviewees were asked questions about place, community and belonging. I was asked interesting questions, and answering them has really helped me think about how to approach the lecture I am doing about the Shrieking Violet for Unit X students at Manchester Metropolitan University in a couple of weeks, so I decided to reproduce the questions, and my answers, in full below.
Read the full magazine online here, or look out for paper copies around Manchester:
I've not read the whole magazine yet, but there are some great features by former Shrieking Violet contributors and collaborators Lauren Velvick (who previews an upcoming show at the Cornerhouse) and Sam Lewis, who interviews Shrieking Violet favourite Rozi Plain.
TS: What motivated you to set up The Shrieking Violet, and get involved in independent publishing and particularly in Manchester? Who/what were you inspired by, and what did you hope to do with the Shrieking Violet, both personally and in a wider community sense?
SV: I moved to Manchester for university in 2005 and realised quickly that I wanted to make it my long-term home. After graduating I did a qualification in newspaper journalism but it was a terrible time to be trying to enter the media and it was difficult to even get work experience. I was unemployed for nine months, but decided to make the best of the situation so started blogging about the city around me. In summer 2009, I decided to put the skills I'd learnt on my journalism course to use and take the Shrieking Violet off the page to become a printed zine – if I couldn't be part of the established media then I was going to make my own media, covering things I found interesting that weren't being written about elsewhere. I was disillusioned with the way in which Manchester was marketed, which was all about shopping and consumption, so the Shrieking Violet was conceived as an alternative guide to Manchester which encouraged readers to make their own fun, think creatively and realise the adventures they could have in the city without spending a penny. Having a project and putting something out into the world helped focus my life and lift me out of depression.
I'd wanted to make a zine since I was a teenager, as my dad had loads of old punk/indie/goth zines in the attic, but when it came to making my own I decided to stay away from music as there were already Manchester zines which were covering music very well. Belle Vue zine (which started in December 2008) was a major influence on me realising that the city itself, its residents and their memories and experiences, joys and frustrations, could be the subject of a zine.
TS: And what keeps you motivated to do it – what's your favourite thing about what you do?
SC: The great thing about blogs and zines is that as soon as you've written about a subject you will find someone else who is writing about something related to that topic too, and more often than not discovering each other starts a dialogue and reciprocal relationship. My favourite thing about making the Shrieking Violet is all the people I have met, who have gone on not just to be contributors but regular correspondents and sources of motivation and inspiration. One of the most rewarding things has been being asked to collaborate with other people, and take part in one-off projects. In 2010 the organisers of Salford's Sounds from the Other City music festival asked me to design the official programme as a special edition of the Shrieking Violet, so I teamed up with illustrator Dominic Oliver to create a souvenir guide to the festival's highlights and the surrounding area. In 2011, the Shrieking Violet got together with psychogeographic walking group the Loiterers Resistance Movement and architecture enthusiasts Manchester Modernist Society for a project called Manchester's Modernist Heroines, which celebrated ten overlooked Manchester women from the twentieth and twenty first centuries through a publication and series of walks.
TS: You write extensively about Manchester and the Northwest region on themes of place, history, society, belonging, architecture, and more. What particularly fascinates you about the place you live, its people, its community, if you had to define it...?
SV: What fascinates me about Manchester is how much history is written into the streets and buildings, to experience as you go about your everyday life. From street names based on the textile trade to churches, public parks and swimming baths, you really get a sense of Manchester's past and how society used to be. You can marvel at the infrastructure of the industrial age by looking at canals and railway viaducts which are still in use today, get a sense of textile magnates' wealth by looking up at grand warehouses (even if they are now turned into warehouses or apartments), try to imagine life in the former mass workplaces of mills and factories, now standing silent, and see remnants of industrial philanthropy in lads' clubs and ragged schools. These aren't the kind of heritage venues where you have to pay a tenner to get in, put plastic coves on over your shoes or peer at rooms over velvet ropes – these are buildings which in many cases are still getting on with a job and fulfilling a use, even if it's not their original purpose. Manchester's cityscape tells you just as much as any palace or castle about how people used to live, work and socialise, as well as constantly changing and embracing the future.
TS: What's the most unexpected or surprising thing you've discovered about this city/its culture/its people while researching and writing about it (or indeed reading articles others have contributed to the zine)?
SV: What is unexpected and surprising is some the subjects which crop up over and over again as being important to people living in Manchester. One of these is public transport. The Shrieking Violet has featured articles on everything from never-realised plans to build a tunnel linking the city's two main stations – along with a specially-drawn, London-style map showing what an underground system for Manchester might look like – to an illustrated article about Metrolink, a reappreciation Manchester's neglected Victoria station and even an homage to Finglands buses! I also loved being introduced to some of the inspiring and often overlooked stories of the women celebrated in the Manchester's Modernist Heroines project, who might not have crossed my radar otherwise – from mummy expert Rosalie David to radio producer and presenter Olive Shapley and sculptor Mitzi Cunliffe.
TS: And what's your most treasured revelation - what are you really glad you found out?
SV: The thing I treasure most is the range of the people who have featured in the Shrieking Violet, whether as interviewees or as contributors. Some of my favourite interviews have been with Manchester's street buskers, who have really interesting stories to tell yet many people never stop to talk to them. I also love finding out about the particular passions or expertise of contributors – for example one man, who has been speaking Esperanto since 1967, wrote about all the international adventures the language has enabled him to have. Another took it upon himself to swim in all of Greater Manchester's numerous public swimming baths, and has now produced an illustrated guide. I've also enjoyed finding about other people's projects, for example film-makers who have written about their work. In 2010 I made a media special of the Shrieking Violet focusing on Manchester's history as a centre of the newspaper industry and this prompted someone who once worked inside Manchester's Daily Express building to get in touch, leading to an article about what it is really like to work for the Daily Sport! I've also loved it when members of Manchester Modernist Society have shared their enthusiasm for some of the overlooked and often neglected mosaics, murals and other artworks which brighten the walls of university buildings and various other places around Manchester.
TS: There seems to be a very strong, visible independent print community in Manchester, Liverpool and beyond. Would you say it's changed/evolved since you first got involved – maybe got bigger, wider...? What kind of community have you encountered, why do you think it's so fertile and what binds you all together?
SV: The thing that makes self-publishing so attractive is that anyone can do it, whether they are just photocopying pencil drawings and poems or lovingly screenprinting original designs, and there's a growing audience for that tactile, hand-printed, limited edition format. There have never been more opportunities for self-publishers and members of the print community to show off their work, and one area which is really booming is zine fairs and print fairs. Another interesting development is how established zines have become within institutions such as colleges and universities – it's quite common now for illustration, design, photography and fashion courses, for example, to include a student project on making a zine, and it's nice when groups formed at university stay together and continue to publish after graduation.
TS: What is 'your' Manchester? If you had to choose just five places for people new to the city to visit on a sort of 'alternative' tour, what would they be and why?
SV: 'My Manchester':
The Ashton, Bridgewater, Rochdale and Manchester Ship canals are the city's underlooked green spaces. Whereas once canals would have been polluted and congested, today they are places for pleasure, from canal boating, foraging and bird-watching to walking and cycling. For an awe-inspiring sight head to Barton (near the Trafford Centre), where the Bridgewater Canal makes a spectacular crossing of the wide Manchester Ship Canal by aqueduct, and cars drive over a swing bridge.
Ancoats is dubbed 'the world's first industrial suburb', or the cradle of the industrial revolution, and a number of centuries-old mills still remain. Today the area is being converted to residential and commercial use, but Dan Dubowitz's public art project the Peeps, which teases viewers to find a number of small viewing holes dotted around the outside of buildings, gives a tantalising glimpse of what might once have gone inside the area's factories and workshops.
3. Public parks
Manchester is not known for its green spaces, but in fact some of the county's first public parks were in Manchester and Salford; Philips Park in east Manchester, Queen's Park, Harpurhey and Peel Park, Salford all opened in 1846, whilst Heaton Park in Prestwich is one of the largest parks in Europe. In the city centre, too, there are plenty of quiet places to sit and eat your lunch, lay around in the sun or have picnics and barbecues in summer. Like most places in Manchester, the city's green spaces sit on layers of history – literally in the cases of some of the city centre gardens like Angel Meadows and St John's Gardens, Castlefield, which are on the site of slums and mass burial sites.
4. Residential suburbs
Wander around some of the city's suburbs and residential communities to see how other people have lived over time, from the Georgian cobbled streets of Fairfield Moravian settlement, nestled amid the suburban sprawl of Tameside, to the big houses around Old Broadway in Didsbury and Chorltonville, an Arts and Crafts-style village-within-a-village in Chorlton complete with its own village green.
5. Star and Garter
Manchester is known for its music and party culture after all! It may not be the city's most glamorous venue, but the Star and Garter really caters for music fans (and people like me who might not go to clubs otherwise) by offering theme-nights for lovers of certain bands, from Belle & Sebastian to Pulp and Pixies and, of course, the Smiths/Morrissey! It's been a big part of my life since I arrived in Manchester as a student – the first Manchester gig I went to was at the Star and Garter – but there's a chance it might get knocked down to make way for an extension to Piccadilly train station, so I recommend making the most of it while it's still here!
TS: If you had to evoke the character of the city you live in in just a few words, how would you describe it?
SV: (This was the question I found hardest.) The rain's just a distraction.