Elizabeth Flux talks to Jo Walker, Editor in Chief of Frankie Press, about Frankie's new book.
When you’re balancing work, friends, more work and occasional moments of sleep, it is rare to find a stretch of hours which will allow you to read a book from cover to cover. So you look for snatches of time wherever you can get them: on the tram, before bed, in your work break, in a café. Something To Say is an anthology lovingly cobbled together from the first twelve years of Frankie Magazine, and it is a book that fits well around the firm fixtures of life.
Jo Walker is the editor-in-chief of Frankie Press and in order to bring Something To Say into being, she embarked on “the world’s biggest Frankie binge”. In an intense and concentrated few days she knuckled down and got reading, telling me “I shut myself away in my house with all the back copies – and there’s many of them, over seventy issues – and read through every single one of them”. It was a nostalgic and difficult process. “It was a chore, I’m not going to lie, because it was like putting Tetris together” she laughs. “But, you know, nicely coloured pretty Tetris.”
Over its first twelve issues, Frankie amassed some pretty impressive alumni, with the anthology including the work of Benjamin Law, Michelle Law, Marieke Hardy, Anna Krien, Justin Heazlewood, Helen Razer and Lorelei Vashti just to name a few. Walker tells me how she would come across pieces she loved but had forgotten, burned through stacks of sticky tabs, and eventually whittled down a very long longlist into the publication that is now in bookshops around the country.
For a book made up from stories never intended to share a spine, Something To Say is surprisingly cohesive, weaving from laughs to tears, from light to dark in a carefully curated rollercoaster of tales ranging from the personal (staying close to a lost loved one by wearing their old clothes) to somewhat-silly-yet-deeply relatable (why the beach is a terrible, terrible place).
Creating a publication for a demographic who may well have already read the content within it presents an interesting marketing challenge. When asked how she managed to create something new and unique from something technically, well, “old”, Walker points to two factors: the strength of the source material, and the original artwork by Ashley Ronning which is woven throughout the collection.
“In a way it’s like a blown up version of a Frankie Magazine” she explains. “I don’t think we cover the same issues over and over again, but it’s more that we talk about predominantly what life is like in your 20s and 30s.” As a result, natural themes emerge: love, relationships, mental health, jobs and uni, with the selected pieces exemplifying and standing in for all the others that have appeared in the magazine over the years. “I’ve always said with Frankie when we’re putting it together…that I really approach it like a mix tape. So, you know, you have the party song and the sad song and the singalong song and the ballad and all that kind of different stuff, and it just sort of flows together.”
Ronning’s artwork also ties the stories neatly together. Walker and senior designer Aimee Carruthers had a strong vision in mind. “We were talking about the look of the entire book and what we wanted to achieve with that, which was a touch of the retro. We liked the idea of it having creamier, more old-style pages, feeling a little bit like an old children’s book – but not a book you should read to a child because there’s lots of swearing in it” Walker laughs.
Their aesthetic goals immediately brought Ronning to mind. “We’ve had her work in the magazine before. We like her, she’s got a beautiful style, and she has that kind of whackadoodle sense of humour which we needed.”The featured drawings are zany and fun (kookaburra in Dame Edna sunglasses anyone? Or perhaps a hairy muffin of politeness?) “Every time we got new drawings from her we were astounded” says Walker. “Slightly appalled that that was inside somebody’s head, but also laughing a lot.”
Something To Say isn’t simply Frankie re-packaged. It’s its own unique thing, whether you’re a die-hard subscriber or if this is your first experience with the magazine. It’s also a book that can be devoured in one sitting, or spaced out to fit in the little bits of time you can steal. One word of warning however, from someone who learned the hard way – it lives up to its tagline: stories to make you laugh awkwardly in public.
Elizabeth Flux is a freelance writer and the editor in chief of Writers Bloc. Her nonfiction work has been widely published and includes essays on film, pop culture, feminism and identity as well as interviews and feature articles. Her most recent fiction publication is a short story in The Legend of Monga Khan. She previously edited Voiceworks and On Dit, and in 2016 she attended the Hong Kong International Festival funded by the UNESCO City of Literature Travel Fund. Twitter @ElizabethFlux