Interview by Keri O’Shea
A few months back, I reviewed the most recent edition of Exquisite Terror – a nicely ambitious print magazine which successfully sustains a whole-‘zine ethos and approach, all whilst showcasing a range of intriguing, studied horror journalism. It’s a style which stands out against many other print projects out there, but the fact that we are seeing a slow-burn renaissance of print media in such a range of styles is noteworthy enough on its own. That was good enough for me. I wanted to know more. So I recently nabbed Exquisite Terror’s editor Naila for a chat about her career, her aspirations and how she sees the current state of play in the horror scene.
BAH: Firstly, for those not in the know, Naila – what’s your background as a writer, and how did you come to be editing your own magazine?
It’s a pretty mixed background… I fell into publishing after feeling too shy to take a role in a William Hellfire film, which is something I still think about now and then; life would probably be pretty different—sleazier, for one!—had I gone with it. The chap who cast me asked me to come back to do a bit of modelling and presenting for an indie publisher. I was doing maths at university at the time, and had every intention of an academic career, but I was really into this company’s product—cult film and general counterculture—and it turned out I was pretty good at editorial. Besides, indie publishing is hard to resist; I just love the ethos. I flirted with TV production and film distribution for a while, then had a proper job as a news analyst for a few years, but the corporate bullshit that came with being part of the FT wasn’t something I enjoyed, so I kept an eye out for more fun things to do on the side, ending up with a couple of magazines.
Exquisite Terror came about after a big horror title I was assistant editor for went under. I’d met some great people there and a couple suggested to me that I do something of my own, and they come with me. I’d always intended to do my own thing at some point, so then seemed as good a time as any.
Audio tapes, cassettes? I didn’t know that! Well, digital is an attention sponge; you put on a computer, you have all these windows open, and your eye is always partly on your email or whatever. It’s soulless and detracts from the experience. Also, people who really feel something from the art in their lives want and need something more tangible; I think it’s far more involving psychologically to have something you can touch. That’s my entirely unqualified opinion. Collectors like to be able to look at their stuff in front of them and show it off, too.
BAH: What’s your take on how hard it is to make a living from writing these days? Is this something that you foresee will change?
Well, I’m sure it was never easy, but these days, it’s crazy. The only change I can see is that it’ll just get tougher, especially in film journalism. It’s much harder to stand out as a good writer now; everyone’s jostling for space, everyone has a blog, and everyone thinks they know what they’re talking about. If you do get yourself some work, even the bigger titles are paying a couple of bands down from original going rates, just because they can now; there’s a hundred other people who’ll take your place. Also, publishing as an industry has always been one of the toughest even at the best of times, and we all know it’s suffering now.
BAH: It’s become pretty commonplace to blame all the ills of the writer on the internet, and there is certainly an argument to be made for that – but, as someone who juggles a print magazine with an online presence, what do you consider the good points about the internet, particularly from the point of view of your particular interests in horror cinema and culture? Are we sometimes too negative?
Definitely. As far as Exquisite Terror goes, if I didn’t have a website, nobody would know about it, as it’s too niche for mainstream distribution. I wouldn’t be able to make the worldwide sales that I do if people couldn’t stumble across it. Recently the Internet helped me find The Shuttered Room, which blew me away when I was a kid, but I didn’t know the title; nobody knew what I was talking about when I described the few details I could remember. I was thrilled when I found it! Also, when I first started getting into film proper, I used the Internet to research different cuts, and to explore world cinema. We can search for what we want without waiting for someone to tell us about it—obviously that goes for everything, but for people who have a passionate interest in genre, it can make you giddy to stumble across a film you’ve never heard of that looks amazing. Genre fans enjoy the community, too, so being able to get online and connect with people who are into the same stuff when people around you may not be is important. You can feel a bit isolated when people think you’re a bit of a weirdo for your interests sometimes.
BAH:This is a very open-ended question, but one I really want to ask: has being female had an impact on your career, in your opinion?
Well, it was obvious from the beginning that some men loathe being edited by a woman, but an overall impact on my career, I don’t think so. This may be because I’ve chosen the indie route, where most people have a lot of respect for each other as we all work so hard. There’s been a few times when people have tried to go over my head, where I’m sure, had I been male, this wouldn’t have happened. Obviously that’s pretty infuriating, but I’d get the last laugh when they just got sent straight back to me anyway. The only time I’ve felt disrespected professionally was with a comics publisher I left earlier this year, who didn’t respect my experience or opinion at all, even though I was the most qualified. I’m pretty sure I’d have been taken more seriously as a man. It left a bad taste in my mouth.
The core team are from the horror title I mentioned earlier. I commission almost everything, as I’m mindful of a natural flow to each issue, but I’m open to ideas as well, and almost everything the guys suggest doing I’ll tend to go with, as they understand what Exquisite Terror is all about and really know their stuff. People approach fairly regularly, but the majority of them pitch stuff that’s already been done, or don’t have a style that fits. Now and then somebody great will show up though, for instance Jon Towlson, who wrote Subversive Horror Cinema. He came to me with a lovely piece on The Exorcist for the third issue, and he’s given me something on Michael Reeves for the next as well. But mostly I enjoy directing it, as I see this as an extension of myself.
BAH: Finally – what’s next for Exquisite Terror? And what are your ambitions for the publication?
I have a lot of ideas, but I prefer to keep my cards close to my chest for now. It’s going to become more specialised and therefore more niche; for instance I’ve got a law lecturer on board now to add a twist to things, and I’ll keep throwing in different angles from qualified people. People want bigger and so do I, but that’s easier said than done when I’m so picky about writers. It’ll happen, just slowly but surely. It probably sounds bad to say I’ve no ambition for it as such, but there’s no real game plan; this is partly for fun, and partly to watch myself grow as an editor. What I can say that Exquisite Terror will definitely not ever do is be dictated to by PR people…
To find out more about Exquisite Terror, including ordering information, pay a visit to the website.