"Shared Envelope" | A Minimalist Approach To Magazines


Recently, I asked myself: what is the least possible amount of work required to create some kind of magazine?

To answer that, I needed to be clear what a magazine actually is (in this case, anyway). Here’s my working definition:

- a multi-copy written and illustrated piece of work
- by more than one person,
- distributed to a larger group of (mostly) unrelated readers,
- more than once.

I’ve been reading a lot recently about journalists operating in hostile regimes – including Soviet Russia and its satellites. One thing that astonishes me is that so many individuals were willing to copy on manual typewriters small numbers of samizdat publications and post them on to small groups of readers.

This seems so utterly unlike our present tendency to splatter out digital “content” to absolutely everybody, all the time.

Clearly, the impact of receiving hand-made, personally distributed publications was greater than fleetingly glimpsing something on social media. The effort that went into it must, surely, have lent it greater value.

Reading about these people has inspired me to include this kind of low-volume, high-impact publication in my output, if only occasionally. Naturally, it doesn’t mean I’m going to stop using social media: I can use both.


Anyway, back to that question I asked myself: what’s the least possible amount of work required?

I decided I could call it a magazine if I curated writing and / or visuals from a small number of contributors and sent it out in a shared envelope. I don’t need to make it all swish, with graphic designers and so on. And I don’t need to set up a whole enterprise, with staff. I’ll publish it just three times, at regular intervals. And that’s it.

I announced this already somewhere (in my ::Everyday Writing:: newsletter, I think), and I have 20 or so willing readers. I have three contributions from my friend Wendy Jones (one for every issue), plus additional surprise contributions from three other writers (one issue each).

I have been sitting on this for a while, and want to get on with it. So I’m posting this, as much as anything, to hold myself to it.

Thank you for reading.


Update 20 April 2022

Today I finally delivered the first of the three envelopes to the letter box around the corner on Cricklewood Lane. Here’s a glimpse of what went inside:


Update 25 April 2022

A few responses have come in, after Envelope #1 went out.

Well, this has made my day
There’s something delicious about opening a letter that has no bar codes or branding.
And taking a few minutes to just read the contents, without thinking about what I’m supposed to do next.
Thank you
Planning to pass on the contents, if that’s OK?

Thank you so much, JP! The pamphlet has come and is exciting and fun and inventive. And I like the drawings. I look forward to reading the other piece. It’s so creative of you. I appreciate your generosity. That was a lot of work, and risk, and it’s really come off. Well done you.

thank you for the envelope no 1 – I have just read it. I loved it and found it touching, inspiring, funny and engaging. I was an “indie kid”, partly forged in the DIY fanzine culture in the late 80s, and there were lots of broader references and remembrances for me too.
Look forward to the next one.

I liked Hugh’s piece a lot, a lot, a lot. I haven’t read the LRB recently so was really pleased to get it.
I shall samizdat your pop-up mag to D____ R____.
Have a good weekend.

I was delighted to receive....jpg

We have received Envelope No 1 – what a delight – and more in no time at all! A splendid idea and thank you so very much for including us in the mailing. What a brave but sad piece from Hugh with your well matched illustration, and a lovely contrast with the quirky extract from Wendy Jones.
I look forward to the No 2.


Update 1 May 2022

Then, after Envelope #2:

I just received #2 and am delighted with your illustrations. The map was a brilliant and helpful idea and understated ordinariness of the family exactly on point. We are not heroes, most of us. We just get caught up in stuff we couldn’t dodge… I see the Phoenix advertised in the LRB (I think) from time to time. I enjoyed their story very much. (Though I did have to go and find a magnifying glass!)

Thank you for my copy of the wonderful pop-up magazine, which has been a total joy to see clattering through the letter box (I don’t say that about many things).

So delighted to be a recipient of your magazine-ish mailings! It made me smile to receive a handwritten envelope – such a rare thing – apart from Birthdays and Christmas. And, of course, I didn’t recognise the handwriting on that first envelope, so there was intrigue; the second envelope brought a little rush of recognition and wonder about its contents.

What it’s put me in mind of is my Uni days, when letters were our main form of communication. Friends and relatives would sometimes include magazine cuttings, or fabric and wool samples (my Mum) or even illustrations (my Grandpa). Your magazine missive has reminded me of the excitement of receiving those letters and the sense of connection that comes with the simple acts of writing and folding paper and addressing an envelope.

The beauty of your deconstructed, paper based approach is that I’ve walked through my house consuming it, and have left parts lying open to re-find later, while the eclectic content is just like a friend choosing things they think I’ll enjoy – and I have! Looking forward to the third part – thank you so much for including me, I feel privileged to be part of its readership.


Update 6 May 2022

Contents of Envelope #3, alongside the filled envelopes with (mostly) 2nd class stamps

Finally Envelope #3 (pictured above) elicited this:

Wow to Ian’s story; loved the ending of Wendy’s; and your postcard is both charming and poignant.

Just to tell you how much I enjoyed getting The Envelope through the post, not knowing what to expect in each one and with a strong sense of the individual creation of each. It was a great idea and I was so pleased to be part of it. I can see that it must have taken a great deal of work from you to put it all together and I wanted you to know it was worth it all. I do hope that you get lots of positive response. Very well done. And thank you!


One more thing: I didn’t keep a copy for myself.

I partly regret that, but I also quite like the feeling that it was a fleeting thing that I gave away.

Like in the Olden Days, when people used to send hand-written letters to each other, and didn’t keep a copy.

(Well, I never did, dunno about you.)

Thank you for reading.