As the third issue of true crime mag Foul Play arrives in shops, we meet co-founder Grace Harrison to hear about her week ahead and how her magazine has grown since its launch last year.
Tell us about your typical Monday journey to work
My regular job is at a book publisher so I travel in to Kings Cross every weekday morning from Clapton on the bus. I usually try and spend my journey reading a book as I have so much to read for both work and the mag.
At the moment, I’m reading a really fun upcoming true crime book called The Adventures of Maud West, Lady Detective by Susannah Stapleton. It’s the true story of Maud West, who opened a private detective agency in 1905. It’s brilliant.
Describe the state of your desk and what you can see in your office.
We all work on Foul Play in the evening and weekends, around our full time jobs so I work on it mostly from my office at home. The best bit about this is the view. I’ve recently moved to a flat overlooking the river where it’s really peaceful and you can actually see wildlife, which feels weird in London. There’s even a heron (not pictured).
Which magazine do you first remember?
The first magazine I can remember owning was Smash Hits and I just remember it being joyous and really silly. I still love looking back at old issues online.
Which magazine matters to you the most right now?
My favourite magazine at the moment is Suspira. It feels so rich and beautifully produced and I love the idea of women reclaiming the horror genre.
Today I’ve also been really enjoying a beautiful zine a friend has published called Closer and I really love The New European, I think their covers are consistently really clever and it feels more important every week.
How has Foul Play developed since the first issue – what have you changed?
We’ve definitely come a long way since the first issue and we’re now starting to get into our stride, I think. Our issues now have an overall theme (issue two was nature and issue three is home) which gives us the opportunity to explore different and unexpected crime angles, while creating a magazine that feels coherent and with editorial vision. We’ve been trying to build out our front and back sections by introducing new recurring features like ‘Day Release’ (crime related days out), ‘Fair Play’ (people doing good things) and ‘Anti-Crimax’ (small-town crap crime round-ups).
We’re continuing to push the idea that there’s more to the subject than just serial killers and we’re actually considering doing a ‘no murder’ theme for issue four, which I think would be a first for a crime magazine. The design continues to develop with each issue and I think that Emma did a brilliant job on the issue three cover – it’s our best one yet.
Why is there so much interest in true crime stories now – is it simply the effect of podcasts like Serial?
I think that while people have always been interested in true crime stories in general, there hasn’t always been quality output which is non-sensational and non-lurid, so it was something that was seen as a bit of a marginal and seedy thing to be into. The rise in contemporary true crime literature, podcasts, TV and film have definitely helped to raise the profile and credibility of the genre in general.
There’s also definitely something really interesting happening at the moment where true crime entertainment is actually affecting real life. This idea of true crime being a force for good. Because of Serial, Adnan Syed got a new trial, the Golden State Killer (who was at large for almost 30 years) was caught just months after publication of Michelle McNamara’s book I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, the second series of Making a Murderer – there are loads! It’s a really interesting thing.
Is the interest to do with the appeal of the macabre or satisfaction at seeing crimes solved?
I’d say that it’s probably a bit of both. There are definitely people who are into the more seedy side of true crime but we’re seeing that there is definitely an appetite for and interest in intelligent crime stories which are told in a respectful and sensitive way. It seems to us that people do genuinely care about the outcome of these cases and feel a large amount of empathy towards victims and their families.
The in-depth research you apply to your stories must be very hard to achieve on a shoestring budget. How do you manage it?
There’s definitely a lot of research that has to go into our stories and I guess that probably comes with the territory. Crime has a human element involved on all sides so we make sure we’re being particularly sensitive. We’ve been really lucky so far in that we’ve had some brilliant writers and people interested in true crime seem to be an obsessive and pretty thorough bunch.
Grace Harrison and Emma Hardy
We’re were also lucky to have Danny Arter join the team who is a brilliant sub-editor and helps with this. We also make sure that everyone on the team fact checks the whole issue before it goes to print now too.
What’s going to be the highlight of the week for you?
We’re hopefully going to have our first meeting of 2019 to debrief on issue three and get planning for four so I’m looking forward to that. Also, I’m planning on going to the cover design event at Tate Modern on Wednesday which should be interesting.
What will you be doing after this chat?
My day job – talking to people about books!
Co-founders: Grace Harrison and Emma Hardy