A Short History of Facts & Fiction
The first edition of FACTS &FICTION appeared in autumn 1991. It was edited by Richard Montague, about whom I know nothing but I think he was London based. It was very much a ‘newsletter’ rather than a magazine—the whole layout and aura of it said that, and it only ran to about 8 or 10 pages, several of which were taken up with what was later to become ‘the Storytelling Diary’.
That period, around 1988—1992 was, of course, one of immense importance in the development of storytelling in the UK. The Society for Storytelling was founded; clubs started; tellers came out of the woodwork. That development is illustrated in those early editions of F&F. But it wasn’t all sweetness and light, there was a lot of bitching! A lot of ‘you can’t do this’; ‘you must do that’; ‘this is storytelling’; ‘this isn’t storytelling’. There was also a lot of London v. the Rest of the Country; the Establishment v. the Upstarts. One letter writer even started “As a non-aligned storyteller.”! Aligned to what? I don’t think it was very nice or very healthy (which was not necessarily the editor’s fault of course. we poor editors can only publish what we are sent.)
Richard edited six editions of F&F and then signed off, obviously feeling rather despondent:
“This is the last editorial I will write for Facts & Fiction. I do not intend to produce another issue of this magazine. If some-one else is interested in continuing its existence, then I would welcome them taking it over.
I want to thank a small group of contributors who have sent me material on a regular basis and supported me through the six issues. I have appreciated their efforts and their dedication.
It is of regret to me that there have not been more people who were prepared to do this. A magazine of this nature can only continue if there is practical support from those within storytelling.
I am conscious that there has been a lot of material written by myself. I would have had it otherwise, but it would have resulted in a smaller magazine and this was not what I wanted. I had set a target of twelve pages and that was what I wished to achieve with each issue.
Richard Montagu Editor”
I can identify with much of what he says and I know his successor did too.
That successor was Richard ‘Mogsy’ Walker. It led to an immediate change of style, atmosphere and format. His first edition in May ’93 was definitely a magazine with a cover and adverts rather than a newsletter, but it still only had 12 pages including the Diary. He said that his aim was to build it up to 32 pages but most editions hovered around the 20 page mark.
Richard Walker edited Facts & Fiction for 6 years and introduced many of the ideas which still continue although they might have developed and changed gradually since then. He also instigated some of the regular features and writers.
Under Mogsy’s stewardship F&F was pleasant, chatty and, I’d say, avoided the politics and the nastiness of both the storytelling and real worlds. He wanted it to be ‘a friend coming through your letterbox’. On the downside, perhaps it was a bit superficial. It did not go very deeply into any aspect of our art nor was it ever very critical or controversial.
Towards the end of Richard’s time he was in several minds as to how to develop F&F. Should it just continue? If so it needed a kick of some kind. Should it become an internet magazine? No, it was a few years too early for that.
Like the other Richard before him I think he was disappointed by the amount of/lack of support he got. He was also suffering from rather mysterious ill health and basically felt ‘he’d done his bit’ so he announced that he wanted to hand it over to someone else and I volunteered.
The arrangement we came to was that Richard would do one more edition (Spring 99) and I’d take over from the summer one. In that way we had 4 or 5 months in which he could pass over all the info. and admin details to me and we could inform the world as to the change of ownership and new address for information etc. In practice that was not how it happened because, as you probably know, he died very unexpectedly and before we’d really set the process in operation.
So I took over for #29 at just a few weeks notice and I more or less wrote that edition myself! (Although I must thank Genevieve Tudor and the FatE people for their support at that time. And Richard’s wife Rowena.) Gen had been a regular contributor and continued to submit ‘The Gen On.’ for a while but she had also taken over Richard’s Radio Shropshire Folk Show so, in the end, didn’t have time. The idea continues though, as ‘Pete Meets.’I don’t know how many subscribers Richard Walker had at the peak, we never did find all his admin stuff, I think a lot of it must have been in his head, and I couldn’t pester Rowena too much just after her husband’s death. I managed to piece together a list of only about 20 subscribers (apologies to any who got missed at that point and perhaps have never had a copy since!) so my immediate job was to build it up to a more viable number.
My Mission Statement at the time (most of which I still stand by) said:
“So, a new editor. What are you dealing with? A new broom? An old fogey? A conservative regime? An arty-farty ‘out-with-the-old and in-with-the-new’ one?
None of those I hope. Facts & Fiction has an identity; a shape and a style and I hope to continue from where Richard left off. There will be changes; already it looks different because I use a different computer programme to produce it, but I hope most of the changes come as organic growth rather than revolution. I hope those of you who supported Richard and contributed to the magazine under him will continue to do so – and that more of you will start to do so; there’s nothing worse than a magazine that’s written entirely by the editor!
I’d like to continue to feature your stories, and interviews with tellers both famous and unknown, to do ‘A Week in the Life’ and all those other regular items. We’ll continue to present news and views but I need more of that please – more news about what’s happening in distant corners of the country/world; more letters complaining, praising, arguing… a bit of controversy! more albums for review; more reviews of performances. And definitely more adverts. We’ve got to pay the bills! I’ve reduced the prices to entice you!”
So why did I volunteer to take on what could have been a sinking ship? Not for any search for power! There isn’t any! No, I wanted to ensure that it did continue, I think it’s an important publication, and I wanted to ensure its independence. I didn’t want it to become the voice of some other Establishment or Group. I wanted it to stay ‘unaligned’.
I also knew I’d enjoy the job and am big-headed enough to think I could do it well. I’d always contributed to F&F (and to a many other magazines) and I’d usually had some long-term project underpinning my day to day work as a storyteller/folk singer. For instance from 1981 to 1987 I ran a local radio folk show on Chiltern Radio which was similar in some ways to editing F&F, but that had finished when I moved away from Bedfordshire to live in Derby.
So what changes did I make?
Well, I gave it a new look purely because my production methods—computer programme etc, were different; and that has developed over the years as my software and skills have improved. But I did keep the same basic shape, the same series of articles. Some of it has changed but it has been organic change. I’ve tried things; some have worked, some haven’t. Many of the same contributors from Richard Montague’s days are still with us, but we’ve also acquired many more.
I didn’t change the price for a long time—not until a doubling of postage costs over a few years in 2007-9 made it vital. The number of pages though has more or less doubled! (We are now regularly 36 and I sometimes struggle to fit everything in. I reduced the advertising costs straight away to encourage people to advertise and later reduced them again because they were still too high. Recently I did increase them slightly but with a discount for subscribers which kept it at about the same for them.
My biggest aim has been to get involvement from readers and the storytelling scene generally. To get people to submit material; to think of F&F first when they want to find out about storytelling or want to advertise or publicise something. To get it to the wider world too, not just the hardcore. That is a balancing act because you mustn’t make it too populist.
I’ve also tried to give the content more of a link with the real world, featuring or mirroring events—so we had some Bosnian stories early on when that conflict was at it’s height; we featured Iraq/Babylon/Gilgamesh and, more recently, tales of corrupt politicians!
Other developments: I set up the F&F website which has been very worthwhile and has brought in a lot of enquiries and subscribers.
Linked to that I set up a PayPal account which enables people overseas to subscribe without incurring huge bank charges. Over the last few years, as well as the UK and Ireland, we have had subscribers in Germany, Austria, France, Spain, Hungary, Sweden, USA, Canada, Australia, Singapore amongst many other places. The one snag is that, since Brexit, some overseas subscribers have had to pay a surcharge. This seems to be quite random and probably not necessary.
I am very happy with the way things are going (leaving aside the frustration at waiting for people to do what they say they’ll do and the other one of people who should buy it not doing so!) and I have no intention of passing it over yet. It takes a lot of time and I can’t afford to pay myself for doing it (I count it as my hobby!) but it opens doors, gives me contacts and, above all, makes me feel that I’m putting something back into the storytelling scene from which I make a big chunk of my living. If you compare F&F now with one of those early issues it is a whole different beast.
Pete Castle, editor