Helping to create a monster post office, editing 26’s most ambitious project, and finding inspiration from a Nigerian shaman. Those are just three of the gems Becca Magnus shared with me this month. A true original, and the latest in our Meet a Member series.
We’ll be meeting a new 26 member each month. If you’d like to feature, or nominate another member, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. Don’t be shy.
Tell us a bit about yourself – where are you from and what do you do?
Where are you from – that’s always a loaded question. It means placing yourself somewhere on a spectrum of belonging that I simply don’t feel. I’m from a Croydon housing estate, and Bedgebury forest, from a family of woodworkers and East End schmatte traders, fake psychics and gamblers. I’m from the old, old country, from a schtetl and a ghetto that don’t exist anymore except on old maps. And I’m a proud Londoner.
Right now, I’m from the outskirts of the East End, and I’m a writer and brand strategist with branding agency B&B Studio. In a nutshell, I distil the essence of things for a living. I listen. I observe. I wander. I wonder. Then I write.
Where did your love of words come from?
This is a strange question because I would never say I love words, or writing them. Sometimes I really don’t like them, I wish I had a more useful, more tangible, more glamorous vocation. I always fancied being an artist, or a designer; someone who could produce something beautiful and physical, something that was complete and done and you could look at, and go, I did that.
But I have tried design, and art, and cake making, and while they are all excellent vocations, I have manifestly little talent for any of them. I am wholly mediocre at all things. Except language.
Because language makes me feel alive. Stories are the wildest things of all, and I need to write them to feel whole. It is an all-encompassing obsession, a thing I live and breathe, a thing I cannot escape despite trying for 25 years. I don’t love writing, I need it. And it has always been that way.
What made you join 26? And how long have you been a member?
When I finally capitulated and decided maybe a writing career wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, I hurled myself into the abyss of freelancing and started shilling my words for money. After a few years of lonely struggle, I realised community might be quite helpful, so I joined 26 about three years ago.
Winning a commendation for my work for the 26 Emerging Writer award 2017 helped my career significantly, and I’ve been more involved in the world of 26 since then. It’s such a lovely, positive community of writers, I haven’t looked back.
Have you been involved in any 26 projects?
I was fortunate enough to be invited by John Simmons to be a member of the core editorial team for the Armistice 100 project in collaboration with Imperial War Museums, which was a brilliant experience. My own piece considered frontline warfare through the lens of losing your socks. I can’t resist combining the sublime with the banal, it’s a bit of a theme in my work.
The 26 projects are such a great way to express your creativity in unique, unusual ways while partnering with larger, interesting organisations. They’re completely unlike any client brief I’ve ever worked on, and I mean that in the best possible way. I believe one about trees is coming up, that sounds like an excellent challenge.
What’s your ideal scenario for writing? (A coffee shop? Quiet retreat? With or without music? What do you do to get yourself in the right frame of mind?)
anywhere and everywhere. I don’t feel there is an ideal scenario, there is
simply the world, and your task to go out and observe it, and interpret, twist
and present however you wish. I like to lose myself by wandering far without a
map, travelling without a destination, open to what the world has to offer.
Then there are poems, and stories that come barreling over the hills towards you, or manifest themselves through dreams, demanding to be recorded. It’s important to always have at least one notebook, if not more, for these things.
Everything is a poem if you look hard enough. Stories are everywhere. Especially in trash, in the things that people discard, the strange parts, the darker parts of society. My favourite trash poem is an old postcard ad for black magic spells I got through the door from a Nigerian shaman called Mr Latif. The life of your dreams can be yours, for a spell over a red candle. I love that.
What are you working on at the moment?
Aside from my client work, I’m quietly writing my own series of folklore tales, inspired by obscure bits of British folklore. Over the years, I’ve picked up the beginnings of stories from old books, places with strange names, obscure forgotten monuments and those delightfully odd museums you get in quiet towns and out of the way places. Now, I’m beginning to weave my own tales from those fragments. I don’t know where it will go, but I’m excited about it.
Could you tell us about a piece of writing you’re particularly proud of?
Together with fellow 26 member Sarah Farley and fellow copywriters Samuel Pollen and Mike Reed, I worked with the Ministry of Stories on creating an imaginative, letter-writing experience for kids to encourage creative writing. We created a monster post office in Hoxton Street Monster Supplies, where the young and young at heart can write to six monsters, and receive a reply.
I’m very proud of the work that we’ve done to put this experience together, from creating individual characters to crafting their tones of voice, and assembling robust guidelines to teach volunteers how to write like the monsters. It’s been a brilliant boost for kids, and for a charity doing so much good for the arts in Hackney and beyond.
Where do you get your inspiration?
As you can probably tell, I like old, strange and dark things. I like folklore and ghost stories, mystery and gothic horror. Abandoned buildings, antique shop basements that smell of damp, poky bookshops and red-light districts inspire me. I write from imagination, and from reality, as I enjoy getting quite uncomfortable to get under the skin of a brief or a story. I visit psychics and cult churches to get inspiration, I think the world needs more magick and ultimately, I hope to release more writing that brings a little magick back.
– Becca Magnus and Sophie Gordon