We first crossed paths with Robin, the founding editor of SOME SUCH Magazine, on a late September afternoon, as our encounter with Katherine and Seamus of Midgley Green was coming to and end, and Robin was delivering the hot off the press second issue of the magazine to their shop. This fortunate encounter and the desire to find out more about the magazine and its creator brought us together again, this time on the Christmas Steps in Bristol.
An avid fan of independent magazines, Robin told us how he went against all odds and put together a publication that fills a storytelling void in and around Somerset, and showed us around two of his stockists in Bristol, Lowlands – a shop run by Erica Dubuisson selling homeware, lighting, furniture and other carefully selected items, featuring in the latest issue of SOME SUCH Magazine, and That Art Gallery – a quirky art gallery run by Andy Phipps showcasing intriguing contemporary artists from Bristol and beyond.
Who is Robin Savill, the editor of SOME SUCH Magazine? Tell us a bit about your background.
I was born on the outskirts of London and grew up in the Essex countryside, spending my summers swimming in rivers and reservoirs, camping in the woods, and generally enjoying being in the middle of nowhere.
When I left school, I did an apprenticeship as an engineer. This seemed like a good idea at the time, but it soon lost its appeal, so I studied for a management diploma at college and moved into management. Then a few years down the line, I seized the opportunity to turn a hobby into my day job and started my own nursery business, receiving the coveted RHS Gold Medal a couple of years later. After ten years at the nursery, I was offered a job with the RHS, as Visitor Services Manager at Hyde Hall Garden. This was a spectacular place to work and I grabbed the opportunity with both hands. I enjoyed every minute, but soon the South West was calling…
I moved to Somerset with my partner Michelle and two daughters, India and Georgia, about ten years ago and became the manager of a bustling arts centre just over the border in North Dorset. A few years later, I became the General Manager of a country estate and tourist attraction in East Devon, where I worked for seven years, commuting daily from Somerset. As far back as my nursery days, I had been writing for various publications in my spare time and over the years had become an avid fan of independent magazines. So, whilst still working in Devon, I hatched a plan…
Tell us about the inception of SOME SUCH. When and in what context did you first contemplate the idea of publishing a printed mag and what made it worth pursuing?
When I arrived in Somerset, I was intrigued by the stories I was hearing – stories of extraordinary people: makers, shopkeepers, scientific pioneers from Somerset’s past; remarkable places, both natural and manmade; and unforgettable experiences. I was disappointed that there were no decent books or magazines that told the stories I was interested in, but also excited that this gave me the opportunity to put together a publication that would fill this void. So that’s what I did.
In those days, a lot of people in the neighbouring counties regarded Somerset at the ‘poor relation’ – lacking in culture and prospects and, “People only move to Somerset if they can’t afford to live in Dorset,” was a comment dealt in my direction on a regular basis. However, over the last ten years, Somerset has changed beyond all recognition – in appearance, opportunities and, especially, the way it is regarded by the outside world. Somerset has certainly shown its true colours and has turned the tables on neighbouring counties who are now peering over the county line to see what we’ll get up to next! SOME SUCH magazine’s launch was well-timed and it has become a huge success, loved by those who are enjoying Somerset’s renaissance, but also value its heritage.
My love of independent magazines meant that SOME SUCH was always going to be on paper; there was never any question of it being a digital magazine. I wanted something people could touch, smell, leave on the coffee table or put on a shelf; I wanted it to be collectable, not disposable, and an antidote to a day spent working at a screen, not just more of the same. All the evidence suggested that starting a new print magazine in the 21st century was fraught with risks. The stats weren’t encouraging – I read somewhere that 90% of magazines never make it to issue two! But sometimes you have to ignore the stats, and the advice from people who have already tried and failed, and you just have to go with your instincts that are telling you that if you like what you’ve produced, then so will others.
As I put the prototype together, I posted glimpses of the work in progress on Instagram, simultaneously convincing myself and the ever-growing army of followers that this teaser campaign would ultimately result in a real, printed magazine. It is rather paradoxical that the development of a printed magazine should rely so heavily on back-up from social media but the two were made for each other. Whilst I often cite Instagram as the key to the magazine’s success, it is, of course, the people who follow the magazine and give us their continued, loyal support that we are really indebted to. Those social media followers soon became our core readership, our subscribers, our ambassadors – embracing what we do, and why we do it, and spreading the word on our behalf, both face-to-face and online.
SOME SUCH… How did you come up with the name for the magazine and why is it meaningful to you?
For a long time, I struggled to find a suitable name for the magazine. I really wanted something abstract and thought it would be great if I could also get the word ‘Somerset’ in there somewhere – or at least part of it. Somersault was at the top of the list for a while, but it wasn’t quite right and then I discovered it had already been done, so I gave up thinking about names for quite some time, hoping that inspiration would arrive along the way.
One night, when I’d been working on the magazine layout for hours and I’d reached the point where I had to call it a day, I switched on the TV, thinking that staring at a different screen might offer a little light relief from the one I’d just switched off. I found myself watching a James Bond film, and there, in the middle of Skyfall, Kinkaid, the Bond family gamekeeper, apologised for the lack of weapons, saying that they’d all been sold off to a collector, “...from Idaho or some such place.”
And so there it was... In my mind, Somerset became ‘some such place’ and the magazine that I’d been working so hard to create just had to be SOME SUCH magazine. My intention had always been to create the magazine that I had longed to read when I first came to Somerset, and it’s pretty much ‘mission accomplished’ in that respect. The features in each issue are divided into three categories: SOME SUCH Place, SOME SUCH Folk and SOME SUCH Life, covering the original concept of remarkable places, people and experiences.
From start to finish, SOME SUCH is written, designed and printed in Somerset. How would you define its voice in relation to other independent magazines?
That’s an interesting question. You might imagine that the defining quality is its local focus, and this was certainly true to begin with. The idea was to create something of the highest quality, minimalistic in its design, with stunning photography and a mix of bite-size and longform features. The USP was combining this ethos with a local outlook. Local magazines tend to be super-busy, design-wise, and they also tend to be filled with ‘paid for’ editorial, so you get a couple of sentences in and think, “Wait a minute, someone has paid a lot of money to have this written about them...” I was keen to steer clear of both of these pitfalls, preferring a model that combines a small amount of advertising with genuine features. So, we don’t ever take money for editorial content; we write only about subjects that we are convinced our readers will find of interest and that’s what shapes the content. The aim, then, was to produce an aesthetically pleasing quality magazine with fascinating features about people, places and experiences in and around Somerset. And that’s what we did.
But then a surprising thing happened…
It turns out that a historical feature about a Somerset pioneer of electrical experimentation, who was rumoured to be the inspiration behind Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, is just as interesting to someone in London, or Leeds, or Glasgow, as it is to someone in Somerset. And, of course, the stories of makers and artists with remarkable skills, such as Gladys Paulus, cutting edge textile artist, or Tom McEwan, master goldsmith, resonate with folk right across the globe, not just in and around Somerset.
What started as a ‘local’ magazine has refused to remain so, growing quickly to the point where we have die-hard readers right across Europe, the US and beyond. I was expecting the unexpected but didn’t see this coming!
In your opinion, what makes a remarkable story?
My favourite stories are usually those that reel you in with a sense of intrigue and hold you there thanks to a series of escalations – those stories where you think, “Just when I thought it couldn’t get more bizarre…” Classic examples are the story of Henry James Prince, leader of a religious cult, based in Spaxton, 200 strong at the height of its 100-year existence, and the tale of Andrew Crosse, the Thunder and Lightning Man, who strung a mile and a quarter of copper wire around his estate in the Quantocks, allowing him to harness the power of lightning. Both have featured in the magazine and our readers have just loved these glimpses into Somerset’s peculiar past. Modern-day stories attract my attention if they teach us a lesson or open our eyes to previously unknown possibilities.
Do you feel any ethical responsibility as an editor and publisher?
I feel that I have responsibilities to a lot of people: our readers, the people we feature, myself –everyone that interacts with the magazine really. Above everything, we endeavour to always tell the truth. This isn’t just about what is written in the features but also refers to our ethos of never featuring ‘paid for’ editorial. If our readers think that we are only writing what we write because someone has paid us to write it, we are done for. We have always been transparent about this and as a result we have turned down lots of offers of money in exchange for features. As far as I am concerned, adverts are adverts and editorial is editorial. They may both appear in the magazine but there is never any doubt as to which is which. This is all part of me staying true to my original concept for the magazine.
As a local publication, I have also stayed true to my vision of its production remaining local. I am contacted a couple of times a week by other printers, outside of the region, looking to offer us a cheaper quote, but our current printers, Wells Printing, on the outskirts of Bath, share our passion for quality and really get what the magazine is all about. Their attention to detail matches our own and, though we might be able to shave a bit off the price by shopping around, I believe we would lose a valuable part of the team if they were no longer involved. They also help us to help the environment – another responsibility that we take seriously. We use FSC® certified uncoated paper throughout, and Wells have incredibly impressive sustainability credentials, including the plant being powered by 100% renewable energy for the last ten years, zero waste sent to landfill, and vegetable-based inks used for over a decade too.
Whilst, in readership terms, SOME SUCH refuses to remain local, it will always be produced locally.
What is more important to you, having strong beliefs or deconstructing them?
I am happy doing both. I think that our own beliefs, however firm they are, should be stripped down, examined, cleaned up and reassembled now and again, just to make sure that they remain up-to-date and relevant. When it comes to other people’s beliefs, whether I agree or not, I am happy to watch with interest from the side lines – everyone needs something to believe in, after all.
What are three questions you don’t have an answer for?
Despite liking a good plan, I also like life to be a little unexpected now and then, so “Where do you see yourself in five years?” is a question that I neither have an answer for nor wish to have an answer for.
Similarly, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” has always been a tough one. I’ve enjoyed what some might call a ‘portfolio career’ and see no reason for that to change (as long as magazine editor continues to appear in the mix).
When I was at school, I once got a detention for responding to the question, “Does anyone have any questions?” with: “Why do centipedes have so many legs?” It remains a mystery to this day.
Now that issue 4 is out, have you given any thought to the next one? Can you give us a sneak peek into what lies in store for the readers of the next issue of SOME SUCH?
Well, I don’t like to give the game away too much but issue five is well under way and looking pretty amazing. It will contain a feature unexpectedly linking some instantly recognizable art works to the lovely town of Frome, a visit to my favourite restaurant and a feature about an incredible woman and her extraordinary country home, to name just a few of the features in store.
And finally, a Max Frisch question: When did you stop believing you could become wiser – or do you still believe it?
I will never stop believing that we are constantly becoming wiser. If someone genuinely thinks that they are not learning every single day, then they aren’t playing the game right. It’s all about learning isn’t it? If you get slapped in the face every day, you learn to duck; if you discover what makes you happy, you make time to do more of it. I don’t think of it as an optional process; it’s just what you do.