Behind the scenes: Guts magazine

by Steve Watson in February 2015
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A new magazine of confessional writing from Dublin, Guts is determined to avoid the stuffy associations that can come with literary publishing.

Funded via Kickstarter (with the best campaign video I’ve seen in ages) and driven by the city’s creative community, this is undoubtedly a magazine of its time. In her editor’s letter, Roisin Agnew frames the appeal that so many young publishers see in print, so I began by asking her to explain her words in more detail.

Guts magazine

In your editor’s letter you say that Guts, “could only be print. Impractical and commercially unsound, its prophesied doom has released it into a realm of play that we are happy to inhabit.”
That’s right. If you’re working with a commercial publishing model, you have to sell a certain number of ads, and they have to be suited to certain things. I worked at a fashion magazine that was completely like that – so much of the content you’re producing, even aside from the ads, is driven by the commercial side of things. So you have to write certain articles to please certain people, and it’s so formulaic and utterly boring a lot of the time.

But if you’re not part of that at all, you have the freedom to do what you want every time and that’s really appealing. For example the illustrators who work with us, like Mick Minogue on issue one, they spend their days doing commercial work for clients and that’s what people will know them for, but we’re able to give them something that’s very free.

And are you also paying them or is it purely for passion?
My pitch to everyone to get them on board was, “You’re on top of your game, but you probably don’t get to do something for the heck of it because your editor wouldn’t ever let you do that article, or if you pitched this illustration to an insurance company they wouldn’t go for it because it’s too risky.”

There’s no money involved in Guts, so it’s all about the chance to do something you don’t get to do in your day to day. It’s a celebration of the object and the artefact and people’s work, and that obviously isn’t viable for a really long time, but we said from the start that we were only going to do it for a year. It’s going to capture the creative lives of people in Dublin for 12 months from 2014 to 2015 and we’ll see what happens after that, but Guts bimonthly will be done by then.

The bimonthly framework is really hardcore – I’m a sub on the breaking news desk on the Irish Times and I work 50 hours a week there, and everyone else is doing this in their free time too. It’s hard to sustain that every two months, but we really wanted to do it because otherwise you’re missing out on moments and debates that have arisen.


So how would you describe Guts? This first issue is themed around the heart, and also around Dublin.
Pitching Guts to people at the start was funny, because it was really hard to explain exactly what I wanted to do. You’d finish doing your bit, and they’d go, “Oh yeah, like a literary journal.” And I’d be like, “No!”

I listen to the New Yorker podcast, I read all the time, I’m part of a creative writing group… I am one of those sad people who wants to become a writer. I do belong to that geek world, but I didn’t want to create something that’s for people like me. I want people who wouldn’t normally pick up a literary journal, but they’ll pick up Guts because it looks amazing and it feels fun and there’s a community around it, which I think is so often completely missing in the young literary world.

My boyfriend is an illustrator, and I can see there’s such a big community around illustration in Dublin. Or I see from my friends who are actors that there’s a big acting community, but writers in Dublin really don’t have that – there isn’t a sense that as a writer you could be shaping the youth culture around you, and I wanted to create something impactful that helps people to feel that.


And the beauty with print is that it can sit out shops and bars for people to stumble across it, which is so much more difficult to do online.
It’s about the way you present it, and giving it worth. It felt like we were going through with a big stamp on every page, going, “This is worth something! This is worth something!” And you just can’t do that online. I work online and I love it and that’s what I naturally belong to, but I think there’s a far greater emotional connection to anything that has a physical presence.

So when is issue two out?
Issue two is out on 20 February, designed by Oh Hey Friend again. We’ve got another video from Steve O’Connor, the same guy who did the video for our Kickstarter, and our illustrator will be Aran Quinn – he’s from Dublin but he lives in New York. He works with an animation company over there and he hasn’t actually ever done any editorial illustration before, but it’s SO good. It’s frickin’ amazing.

The whole thing is massive cocks and massive boobs for some reason – his commercial work is very cutesy animation, so we were really shocked! One of our sponsors was a politician and we wanted to list the names of everyone who supported our second issue, but we thought, shall we leave his name off? Because it’s literally across the page from this enormous cock!

Get more Irish goodness – read our interview with Conor Purcell, editor of We Are Here and We Are Dublin

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