Ellie Parkes, An Inkling
Ellie Parkes has a degree in music and works in the arts. She is also the founder and editor of An Inkling, the annual magazine that bridges art and science, combining texts with hand-drawn images by Katie Pitt.
Founded in 2018 and available in print only, An Inkling publishes curated collections of essays and short stories on both disciplines—a rare combination. Ellie tells us about her magazine’s origins as she shares her working week.
What are you up to this Monday morning?
I am sitting at my desk in my office at home, easing myself into the week. I’ve started my day with coffee and by reading an article in the London Review of Books [18 November 2021] by Tom McCarthy about the history and cultural significance of black boxes (the flight recorders in airplanes).
I work from home and An Inkling isn’t my ‘day job’, so I tend to do my Inkling work sitting at the kitchen table upstairs, separate from my charity work downstairs in the office.
I already know what my priorities are for the day. I find that I am most productive when I have already decided in advance what I am going to tackle each day, so I make lists when I finish each workday of what I’m going to start tomorrow.
This is going to be a busy week—somehow the week before Christmas always is!—but I just have to remind myself that there’s no need to work twice as hard just because you have a holiday coming up!
Describe your desk and your work space.
My Inkling work desk is a large kitchen table in a room that is very light and spacious, with lots of plants. This room is at the top of the house with large windows, so I can see some pretty incredible sunrises and sunsets, especially at this time of the year.
I need just as much space for my laptop as I do for pen and paper so I like spreading out. I do most of my thinking and planning on paper first as I think differently—more freely, I think—when I write, rather than when I type.
It’s always been important to me that An Inkling stays fun—it’s my creative outlet. So being at the kitchen table, listening to music and in amongst the buzz of the living room, is a way to keep journal work feeling light and easy—it is my ‘playtime’, after all!
Which magazine do you first remember?
I’m embarrassed to admit it, but it’s a child’s magazine called Animals and You! I wanted to be a vet when I was younger and this magazine was full of animal pictures and stories. I used to cut out the animal pictures and blue-tac them to my bedroom wall, so it was like I was living in an imaginary zoo!
Which magazine matters to you the most this morning?
The London Review of Books. I read an LRB article almost every morning. I love how disparate the article topics are, so I never know whether I’m going to be reading about science, politics or literature – I just start an article and see where it takes me. I am a morning person and I think reading these articles ignites my imagination and sets me up for the day.
Describe An Inkling in three words.
Thoughtful, beautiful, analogue.
The magazine promises to bridge science and art—which side do you come from?
The simple answer would be art; I have a Music degree and work in the Arts now. But actually, I have always been interested in science and bridging this perceived divide between arts and science is exactly why I founded An Inkling. I still want to be able to read about – and understand – high-level science, but a lot of science journalism I encounter is either over-simplified or far too technical. Much of it is also contained in purely scientific magazines.
I felt there was a gap here, which is what I wanted An Inkling to address. You could say that I had selfish motivations with An Inkling—I founded a magazine to be a home for articles that I wanted to read!
But also you need to be incredibly creative to be a good scientist. In fact, one of the best creative writers I know is a scientist! I think it strange that science writing should be kept in the science journals and art writing in the literature journals – why not bring the two together and enable science and art writers to converse?
Give an example of an essay that sums up that combination
Aled Walker’s ‘The Language of Mathematics’ (from issue one) is a brilliant example of how science and art can be bridged. In this article, Aled elucidates mathematical terminology to explain what certain niche mathematical terms mean, why we should care what they mean and how we can use such words in everyday conversation.
Not only does it neatly explain some quite fundamental mathematical concepts, and how they underpin really important systems that we all use without thinking (for example, the encryption of data exchange which keeps our credit card information safe), but it’s also very funny!
Katie Pitt’s illustrations are a key part of the magazine's identity. How do you collaborate?
As well as being an incredibly talented artist, and also an avid reader like me, Katie happens to be one of my oldest and dearest friends. So collaborating with her is an absolute joy.
While it was my vision to create a platform for interesting writing, and science and art to converse, it’s Katie’s illustrations that bring the concept to life. Her artwork makes the journal so beautiful, and contributes to the journal’s ethos which is slowing down and making the time to read. You could flick through the illustrations and think gosh, they are stunning – but only by stopping to look at them properly, and read the associated article, do you get the full artistic and intellectual experience.
You seek non-expert contributions but expect rigour; how do you coach writers to match expectations?
I ask writers to submit abstracts before I would commission a full article, which gives me a pretty good idea of the quality of writing. But it’s also very important to me that the writer’s authentic voice shines through. I don’t derive much pleasure from reading magazines which are heavily copy-edited so that each article has the same tone. I find that rather boring! An Inkling is the opposite of that and some would say it’s eclectic as a result, but that’s part of the point.
I also think that plenty of people have very interesting things to say about the things they care about. Whilst they are very good at putting convincing arguments across in conversation, they won’t necessarily commit these ideas to pen and paper. Through An Inkling, I want to give people who aren’t necessarily professional writers the space to communicate their ideas about the world.
Please share one piece of advice for somebody wanting to launch their own publication.
Be loud and proud about it! Because An Inkling isn’t my full-time job, I used to shy away from telling people about it, thinking they would just dismiss it as a hobby.
But actually, An Inkling only really started to grow when I started shouting from the rooftops about it and being far more confident and forthcoming in saying that I am an editor of my own magazine.
Also, don’t be afraid of being analogue—just expect slower results. I don’t do very much digital marketing, so word of mouth is my main marketing tool and it’s surprisingly effective! People can support you as much by spreading the word to their own networks as by sharing your posts on social media.
What are you most looking forward to this coming week?
We are currently working on issue four, so I am looking forward to working with some of the writers to bring their articles to the next stage, and seeing Katie’s illustration ideas for the next set of texts.
I’m also going to a blind wine-tasting on Friday night—another way to learn new things and see the world through a new lens! (I think there’s an article idea here—maybe I will suggest it to the wine taster…)