"We make the best work from making mistakes and continually learning, so just get started on your first one. Be brave."
Art of Semiology: Could you tell us a bit about yourself and your background?
Lu Williams: Hey! I'm Lu, I’m from Essex. I grew up in a working-class family and identify as queer, which informs my work as an artist and my work on Grrrl Zine Fair.
A.S.: How did you start Grrrl Zine Fair? What inspired/motivated you to start it?
L.W..: Starting it wasn’t difficult at all. In 2015 some friends from uni and I put together the first event, and then I held the first incarnation of what the fair is today in 2016 in London. I was invited by a promoter at the Shacklewell Arms to host a zine fair with a gig, which is what we were already going for, to be honest. The format worked really well as an all-dayer and I introduced talks and workshops too.
The motivation was simply to have access to more zines and create a space that celebrated artists and zine makers in a DIY format. There wasn’t really an event where you could listen to women led bands, learn how to make a zine and directly buy from 30+ year old zine makers in one space at the time (not that I know of) since the 90's!
As more of us play out our lives online there was a real need for IRL interaction and community building which is why events are so important to what I do now.
A.S: What do you identify as? Does your identity influence your life a lot? Did it play a role in your decision to start Grrrl Zine Fair?
L.W.: I identify as queer, use She/They pronouns and I’m pansexual. I'm white and often fem-presenting, so I am very privileged in that respect. Sexual harassment and assault have really influenced my feminism and made me want to battle so that future women, trans and non-binary people don’t have to put up with patriarchal bullshit. There’s still a long way to go, but Grrrl Zine Fairs have, luckily, always been safe spaces, a mini utopia; it’s really important that we have these spaces where women’s, trans and non-binary people’s comfort and enjoyment is prioritised.
A.S.: Is it difficult to organise the fairs? What are the most difficult parts of the organisational process?
L.W.: Yeah, I wouldn’t say they're easy. I have struggled with anxiety and depression for a long time, so sometimes it is difficult to take a lot on at one time which is what event managing usually means you have to do. There has been a lot of learning on my part.
The zine fairs in pubs come quite naturally to me as I ran club nights for a few years and am a general nerd when it comes to pulling things together; but the festivals are always a whirlwind of chaos. Even when I plan them out 6 months in advance.
The first hurdle is putting together a mammoth Arts Council Grant for it to all happen. When it’s a couple of weeks before the festival I’ll be in the middle of a field measuring out where tents are going to go, alongside writing and sending out artist contracts, making sure I have enough staff on the day: sound techs, runners, artist liaisons, etc.
I run everything by myself currently and hire freelancers when needed, so I’ll most likely be creating all the promo and socials schedules, while sorting out payments too. It’s been really enjoyable to learn a lot of new stuff and see how public events work, and I really encourage people to try it out themselves, with a collaborator or a mentor to lean on in the process.
My festivals are part of a wider event run by Metal Culture, so I work with their team on stuff like production and risk assessments, so I can concentrate on stuff I’m good at, like making things, coming up with live ideas with artists and curating a really exciting line up.
A.S: Do you have favourite zines? Could you tell us a little about them?
L.W.: My favourite zines change all the time, but a staple would be the original Riot Grrrl zines which you can get photocopies of on Etsy: Girl Germs and Bikini Kill Girl Power.
Recent zines that are great would be Sister Magazine’s collaboration with The Grief Network for their Issue 11; FEM Zine’s ‘They He She Period’,A zine exploring the experience of periods from the perspective of trans and non-binary people who menstruate; CONKER Mag written which is written for and by survivors; Lumxn Zine whom I discovered during our latest zine fair; and sweet-thang zine, who have been to almost every Grrrl fair!
A.S: We know that you teach others how to make zines. What makes a good zine?
L.W.:I think what makes a good zine is honesty and authenticity. The reason you pick up a zine is because it’s a different world next to a mainstream magazine. I’m really drawn to wholesomeness and a lack of pretension. Zines are inherently cool, you don’t have to try. You can often feel the authors’ voices and discover things typically censored by mainstream media. They’ve been used my activists for centuries.
I don't even think you have to have a good design, just a strong voice that your readers can relate to and feel empowered by, whether that voice is used for talking about your favourite breeds of dogs or as a guide to a revolution.
A.S: What would your advice be to young creatives wanting to start up their own zine?
L.W: I would say: don't be a perfectionist. Your first zine might look a bit naff, but it’s about what you put in it. Whatever you write will be unique because its coming from you, no one else.
We make the best work from making mistakes and continually learning, so just get started on your first one. Be brave. We can often feel self-conscious publishing for the first time and putting something out into the world, but it’s so brave to own it and accept you’ll make mistakes and grow. You'll feel less alone – you'll find an audience and you'll grow together with them.