With the seventh issue of Lionheart flying off the shelves at Magalleria these past few weeks we thought we'd ask its founder, Helen Martin, why her magazine is going from strength to strength.
Let's begin at the beginning. Tell us how Lionheart came about.
It was early 2011 and I remember looking at the reading choice for women, which included the glossies, the magnificently cool magazines and the blogs. I enjoyed elements of all of these, but there was nothing that I felt I could truly identify with. I wanted to feel inspired, intrigued and understood. I wanted to feel really good when I sat down, one-to-one, with a magazine, my heart and mind feeling some kind of fulfilment. I thought Australia’s Frankie was great, and I loved some of the newspaper supplements because they had intelligent writing, mixed content and a nice flow to them. *Tap, tap, ponder, ponder*
Weeks passed. Then, one day sitting on a dusty old balcony in Thailand, quarter-life crisis probably in full swing, I decided that I should start a magazine. It was all in the flutter of excitement. I could see the pages forming like some sort of play. I had a network of brilliant writers, illustrators and photographers that I thought could help me create the magazine and I immediately started talking to people about what I wanted to do. Many people told me: Print Is Dead and that it wasn’t a wise decision, but there were also a large number of people who were enthusiastic and, once they could see my passion and I really believed in the magazine, were on-board. Special mention to Lynn at Barclays who quietly slipped me £5 six months before the first issue came out and my partner’s grandparents Tony and Ernestine, who are essentially Lionheart PRs.
I was adamant that I wanted the magazine to be printed, tactile – hence the heavy matt paper – and friendly. I wanted to tell the stories of incredible people doing brilliant things; the artists, architects, scientists, musicians and photographers from the 60s. I wanted to incorporate style, interiors, high theatrical fashion, travel and nature. And so, it became Lionheart.
It is a marvellous little thing; the care and commitment that has gone into it is visible. Did you have any previous experience within publishing or writing before its creation?
Thank you, that’s really kind. Everything is considered, but it’s also very liberating, I like to have long interviews, freedom of interpretation and for true expression to really come out of each page. I remember I interviewed the designer Pat Albeck (a key womenswear designer in the 50s and 60s) for issue one. We spent two hours talking on the phone and I kept 90% of our conversation in the magazine, almost a transcription, because the way she talked was so unique to her and it gave such an understanding of her character, her nuances and way of working. I sent her a copy of the magazine and she wrote to say: “That is the best article I've read about me. Did we really talk for two hours? I think your magazine is really lovely, and full of interesting things.” I still have the email of course!
Sorry, bad habit of tangents! I did have experience in publishing and writing, yes. I worked as an editor for an agency in Bristol, doing internal comms and customer magazines before my daughter was born. I’ve also worked as a lifestyle editor and freelanced for several magazines, such as Mollie Makes, and worked as a music editor, fashion writer and at the local newspaper.
That reminds me, congratulations on the new addition to your family! Has the little tyke successfully distracted you from or inspired the way you look at Lionheart?
Thanks so much! I’ve actually just taught him to roar, it’s super cute. All the necessary learning first. He’s also learnt to clap and laugh at me, so I’m pretty confident he can stay on the Lionheartteam with his older sister. The latter of whom talks about ‘mummy’s magazine, Lionheart,’ and is a great help with packing orders with extra postcards, stickers and Sharpie pen postbag decor. In answer to your question though, yes, definitely inspired! Obviously, it’s a slightly exhausted and dishevelled flurry of inspiration, but all the same I find my ideas streaming and even more of an intense desire to want the magazine to really be all it can be in terms of quality and energy. I want my children to feel proud and I also want them to do what they love and follow their passion. Hopefully they can see within the cups of cold coffee and boxes, I feel very lucky and happy to be creating a magazine.
'...if you have an idea and you throw it out in Bristol, there will be at least a handful of people who will say, “Yes, you have to do it, GO! We support you”.'
And Bristol is such an active and fun place to have a family. What influences does the city and the South West give you for the magazine?
Bristol is a brilliantly open and friendly city. I’ve always said, if you have an idea and you throw it out in Bristol, there will be at least a handful of people who will say, “Yes, you have to do it, GO! We support you,” smiling enthusiastically. There are so many people following their dream here and it’s a great place to grow and nurture your own ideas and whims. The South West generally is a beautifully laid back part of England. Cornwall will also always be a place close to my heart. I went to university there and the sea and atmosphere found in Cornwall is magic.
It sounds like these places have had a substantial effect on the magazine, moulding it into something quite soulful and inspiring. Do you get the sense you are building a community within the magazine? Are you ever surprised by the audience you draw?
The magazine launched and has continued thanks to the support of the Lionheart community and I’d love for it to grow further. I’m so grateful for everyone’s support, and I hope they get something really wholesome from Lionheart. I love talking to readers and it’s the best feeling to receive a message from someone who has enjoyed the magazine so much that they felt compelled to write. It’s pretty scary pressing the print button on what you believe to be good – but will everyone else?! – but Lionheart is still roaring, which is ace! Print is definitely not dead!
Always print! I love holding a magazine in my hands, taking it with me when I travel – not going cross-eyed looking at my phone! Folding over pages, cutting bits out and enjoying every page is a joy to me. When you look at an image on a screen it seems so transient, but printed paper is for keeping and rediscovering. I’m just looking at my desktop now and it’s an absolute mass of images and words that I have pulled and screenshot, because I want to keep them as inspiration and go back to them. The equivalent of the messiest Pinterest board ever. I am the person with 4,000 unread emails. But you can switch off your phone and sink into reading a good book/Lionheart and not think about screens or pinging emails. You can even read Lionheart safely in the bath – ta daaa!
Oh goodness, I can’t stand having one unread email, although I’m completely on board for allowing yourself ‘me-time’ and letting Lionheart be a part of it. The magazine comes across as a safe and accessible space in which women can reinterpret, rejuvenate and reclaim themselves. Was it a conscious effort to have this direction or did it just emerge naturally?
That’s exactly how I hope readers will feel. The entire magazine is created with that feeling of discovery – of yourself, others, a small part of the world – when something falls into place and there’s a sensation of clarity. I want to share stories, ideas and pictures that form a part of clearing perspective and illumination. It’s not a consciously made whiteboard and marker pen-type directive, however. For me, that would take away something I think. It’s content that feels right for Lionheart, then created. Passionate, intelligent, exciting and rejuvenating, like you say.
I think my hope for each issue is that readers feel like something has opened up, that they’re a little more empowered and excited by the world and their place within it. I guess I want to create a sense of belonging – a pride – and that you have a friend in Lionheart.
Onto your latest issue! Number seven is on art, a topic you said yourself was the biggest theme available. What drew you to it?
I think art is such an important subject throughout our lives. For me, it reminds me who I am; writing, a visit to an art gallery, reading, or just listening to a favourite song brings me back to myself and focuses me. It also aids growth enormously. I think, in schools, art should be promoted, not cut. I feel very passionate about this, as I know the benefits of art are enormous; from confidence to making social and political statements, to identity and wellbeing.
I agree completely, considering the abundance of creative outlets that can be explored. It’s great you have such a variety and diversity of stunning contributors; it’s a wonderful showcase of talent. How did you manage to find them and how could you decide who to include?
They are a mix of people I’ve worked with at various points in my life, many are friends, some I have approached because I love their work and others have pitched and caught my attention. I love working with such brilliant people, it’s such a highlight!
The issue includes interviews with designers ace&jig, school teacher and jewellery designer Beth Pegler, music artist Elena Tonra of Daughter, designer and seamstress Toria Whitfield of Field & Found, Philippa Stanton aka @5ftinf, Go Outside the Lines and Carrie Anne Roberts of Mère Soeur. Books with Laura Pashby Jess Furseth on, Don't Fret and the weather, photography by Lieke Romeijn, pregnancy illustration, nature in art by Katie Whittington, a fabric beaded necklace tutorial by Bridey Davies of Wild Flora Clothing, style with Olivia Purvis, throat soothing recipes and herb information by Natasha Richardson of Forage Botanicals, Staverton Bridge Nursery & Cafe, five steps to where you want to be with Melanie Pritchard, subscription boxes, green beauty with Sasha Seaward of Balanced Beauty Bristol and a full dinner party recipe.
Wow, that’s an amazing collection of creatives! Will the next Lionheart be as awe-worthy?
It’s got to the point where I’m bringing everything together and I’m starting to visualise all the elements, seeing it as a whole magazine. I love it! Of course I’d say that, but I’m genuinely really excited about issue eight. I’m also working with a new designer (Dan is still overseeing) and we have some fun ideas that I hope readers will like too. Lionheart is very much about going with instinct, with that gut feeling, and running with it. (Or roaring with it.) There’s so much to roar about and we women should never, ever be afraid to roar. Do it now; it feels good, right?
Interview by Libby Borton