South London’s Friends on the Shelf is a magazine about conversations. It was inspired by a book by Jenna Baily called Can Any Mother Help Me?, about the Cooperative Correspondence Club (CCC) – a publication that ran from the 1930s to the 1970s, in which women shared stories about their lives.
Friends on the Shelf hopes to do something similar. ‘These stories reflect the infinite variety of events in daily life and were sure that some will remind the reader of their own trials and tribulations – from births to deaths and everything in between’ write editor Rachel Swan and Designer Vick Fullick in their introduction.
The editors used their extended network of friends – both men and women – for this first issue but hope to broaden it further for the next one. Even so, flicking through the mag, I was surprised by the variety of length and style – from stories to ‘complete the comic strip’ to ruminations on ‘the sound and smell of memory’, both the style and content is more diverse than you’d expect.
Anyone familiar with rows of supermarket magazines will recognise the ‘true life’ format. It’s been popular for decades in tabloid style mags – not to mention those publications entirely dedicated to the idea, my favourite being the unfazed That’s Life! mag, each cover featuring a grinning woman surrounded by an array of bizarre and worrying headlines.
Friends on the Shelf is far more pared down, its cover stories intriguingly abstract – ‘THE STUPID BUTTON’, ‘AS IF’ and ‘THE WALK THAT NEVER WAS’. The design is the antithesis of anything remotely commercial, with its perfect-bound matte cream paper, hand-drawn writer portraits and marbled end pages. When I opened the mag, out fell a dark green bookmark – it’s the kind of publication you return to time and time again. FotS is subtitled ‘Sharing the Pleasures & Rewards of a Lively Conversation’ – and it’s true, perusing each of the magazine’s bitesize stories (the longest I read was just three pages), it does feel like listening to a friend or stranger share an anecdote.
There is a definite nostalgia to Friends on the Shelf. It has provided the opportunity to immortalise real snapshots of life in its pages – stories that wouldn’t be long enough to qualify as ‘short stories’ in a literary mag, but are absolutely worth producing in print. I love how each story is completely unrelated to the previous one; FotS has no theme and the contributors range from professional writers to ‘people who simply want to share a story’. And with over 30 very different stories in issue one already, clearly the appetite for ‘true life’ is as strong as it was 90 years ago.
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