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IZM Interviews: Kirsty (Forever Incomplete / Swansea Zine Fest)

A backlight sign with the text: "Forever Incomplete aka gay fangirl zines"

Hi Kirsty! Happy International Zine Month! How is life going at the moment? For people who don’t know you, can you tell me a bit about yourself?

Hello! Thanks for having me. Things are strange with *gestures vaguely* all this, but I count myself as very lucky to be able to work from home and to live with another human, which are both things which have really kept me going. Enough of thinking about the state of the world for a moment, anyway. I’m Kirsty, I’m 31 and I’m a lesbianish zinester, fangirl and Professional Nice Person (I work in the Third Sector and manage volunteers) originally from near Southampton but living in Swansea for the last almost thirteen years. I’m am both very much and sort of polyamorous, and I am getting into exercise after a lifetime of thinking there could be no joy in it for me because I am uncoordinated as all hell. I make the perzine series Forever Incomplete and I co-organise Swansea Zine Fest with two of my favourite people in the world.

First up let’s do an obvious one – what’s your zinester origin story?

I owe a large part of getting into zines to Cath Elms (of Here. In My Head. zine) who was responsible for introducing me to the existence of zines in like… 2011 or 2012? It was also Cath who I teamed up with (along with my extremely talented illustrator pal Emily) when I had the idea to start Sonorus: Feminist Perspectives on Harry Potter, which was sort of my way of dipping my toe into the water of zine-making. As it was a compzine I think I felt less vulnerable as my role was to put a thing together rather than create a thing entirely by myself.

I was reading perzines by this point and whilst what I liked about them was the fact that they were so idiosyncratic and mundane (in the most wonderful way), I still thought that maybe you had to be a certain kind of person to make a perzine that other people would want to read. The experience of making and selling Sonorus (including going to my first zine fair, Queer Zine Fest London in 2013), gave me the confidence to think that maybe I did have something to say, and I made my first issue of Forever Incomplete a few months later.

What’s your process when you’re making perzines? How do you decide what parts of your life to document, and are there things in your life you keep off-limit from sharing in zines?

It varies, honestly. Some things I know I will usually want to write about, like milestones and stuff. Other things happen and I find myself thinking ‘this would be good in a zine’ and I write about it, or I add it to the Word document I have of things I would like to write about (it is very long and there are topics that have been on there for years). When I am putting an issue of Forever Incomplete together I have usually written a few very current things about stuff that has been going on or whatever, and then I will look back at the list for inspiration about more general stuff I might want to talk about.

I try to keep the content varied in topic, length and format usually, although of course for some issues of Forever Incomplete and for the more focussed perzines I have made that has been a bit different. The single topic perzines have generally come about when I feel like I’ve got too much to say about something to put it in an issue of Forever Incomplete or because what I am feeling is to urgent to wait to go through the process of having a whole issue together – for example, my very short perzine So Unsexy is one of the most vulnerable things I’ve ever published and really came from a need to say the things that were going around in my brain. I’m not sure that if I had written it ready for my next issue of Forever Incomplete that I would have ended up using it. The zine itself doesn’t look like anything else of mine – it’s all black and white even before photocopying and is just text on a plain background. It’s very reflective of how I felt when I was writing it and it just wouldn’t be the same piece at all if it wasn’t its own thing.

It’s so interesting to think about what my boundaries for sharing stuff are! My instinct was to say that I don’t have any but that definitely isn’t actually true, which will be very clear to anyone who has read Forever Incomplete #11, which contains two pieces that are redacted to the point of being absolute nonsense. I don’t share explicit stuff about sex, broadly because I am embarrassed, but also because it doesn’t feel like it is purely mine to tell. I don’t talk about arguments or conflicts I have with specific people for similar reasons, I prefer to talk in more general terms about frustrations or difficulties. I don’t think I would cope well if something I wrote in anger about a loved one then existed indefinitely. That’s not to say I don’t think others can or should do that, that’s just a brain thing for me. I also could never share anything even vaguely related to illegal behaviour because of my OCD, but honestly I am too much of a goody two-shoes for that to be much of a barrier to my writing!

I guess my rule of thumb is that I don’t include anything in my zines that I wouldn’t be happy for my Mum or my boss to see, although I am very open with both of those people about a lot of things, although in different ways. (My boss very early into knowing me said “It seems like you’re a full disclosure kind of person” and I have rarely felt so thoroughly called out.)

Many of your zines talk about either mental health or polyamory – is working with those topics therapeutic at all, or is your aim more to spread awareness and share ideas? Or are they just things that come out more organically?

I guess to some extent writing about my mental health is therapeutic, particularly in zines where I have little revelations, like in The Common Cold, where I started to understand that being ‘better’ could look however I wanted it to at a particular time. There is an element of awareness raising with talking about mental health stuff but overall I think it is just organic – I’ve had OCD for like 18 years and it is so much a part of my life that it is too big to write about in isolation and is just kind of there in everything.

With the polyamory stuff, writing zines has definitely helped me to process and take stock of how I have felt about it at different points, though awareness raising and normalising is also a lot to do with why I write about it. I’ve wanted to take people along on my journey of understanding non-monogamy and my place within it, which I think happens quite nicely in Poly/Not Poly and Still Poly/Not Poly. Obviously there is an element of it which is organic too, like in writing about my life I will naturally write about my partners.

Fandom is another common topic through your perzines – have you ever made a more straight-forward fanzine?

It’s interesting that you asked whether writing about other topics was therapeutic because actually writing about the things I am a fan of is probably what I find most therapeutic of everything. I have had strong, overwhelming obsessions with fictional characters and relationships for as long as I can remember, I was imagining my own stories about characters I loved before I knew what fanfiction and fandom even were. Fandom is my safe place and is deeply personal and precious to me and having places where I can write unselfconsciously about things I love, like I can in zines, is really important to me. I’ve spent a lot of my life berating myself for not liking things ‘normally’ and whilst I am generally better at not doing that these days, being able to bask in the weirdness and share my intense fangirl words with others feels great.

Anyway, though, to answer the question – I have made a few straightforward fanzines. There are the five issues of Sonorus (we decided to take a break from it after issue five because JKR was starting to be a bit much on Twitter … little did we know that was the least of it), and me and Rebs co-edited Death Becomes Her, which is about gender and related politics in crime narratives, which actually started out as a way for me to do something with my Rizzoli & Isles obsession and the resulting rage but turned out to be a zine I am really proud of.

Me and Cath made an Orphan Black fanzine called Variation Under Nature, and I made a made a silly zine called Ways In Which My Girlfriend Is Like Bob Belcher, but after an early zine of Orphan Black fanfic I made got taken down from Etsy for copyright violation I haven’t felt confident to put anything in any way similar up on there so neither of those have sold many copies.

Booo Etsy!

You seem to be an incredibly prolific zine maker – what keeps you so motivated? Do you ever deal with creative block?

Honestly, a lot of my motivation just comes from obsessive determination – once I put my mind to something I can’t really manage if I don’t finish it, but I also know that my attention and interest can be a bit fickle so when I want to do a thing I usually feel compelled to make myself get going with it quickly. In life in general that is something I am trying to let go of a bit because it isn’t always healthy (I constantly have to remind myself that it is okay to do one thing at a time, even if that one thing is watching TV), but it can be helpful because it keeps me working on things.

I definitely get creative block when I’m writing – usually the longer I have wanted to write about something the harder it is to do it. In those situations I tend to try to write about something completely different and come back to it to see if I have any more success, which in all honesty I often don’t. I don’t buy into ideas of writing being this magical process, but I do feel like sometimes I’m just not quite ready to write about something at a particular time, like my thoughts aren’t organised enough, and I try to be okay about that.

A table at a zine fest. It is covered with roughly 35 different issues of zines laid flat.
Kirsty’s table at a zine fest.

What’s your personal favourite of all the zines you’ve made so far?

Oh, deciding on my favourite zine is hard! I think it is probably Forever Incomplete #10, which was an alphabet zine, partly because I like how it turned out but also a lot because I worked my butt off writing it! It took six months to write the text which is a long time for me – I’d say from deciding to make a zine to having the writing done it usually takes me a couple of months, and often much less time – and I had to keep myself motivated that whole time. There are others I like for different reasons, like Forever Incomplete #11 which is about my 30 things to do before I’m 30 list and Lipstick & Jellybeans which is a split zine I made with Emily about being best friends.

 You’re part of the team that runs Swansea Zine Fest. What’s that process been like in previous years? And this year you had to switch the event to being an online zinefest [due to Covid-19] – how did that go? Did it allow you to learn anything new that you’ll be able to take back to future IRL events? What does the future look like for SZF?

It is such a pleasure to organise Swansea Zine Fest, and I am consistently overwhelmed by how successful it has been. It started as something we just wanted to have a go at but didn’t expect to be particularly well-attended – our early plans assumed it would just be the three of us behind a couple of tables and that if even one single person we didn’t already know turned up we would count it as a success – but we have had around 40 tablers and 100 visitors join us on both years we have done an in-person event.

It was disappointing to have to cancel the physical event this year but we were really pleased with how the virtual zine fest went. We learned loads from it, as I think many people are learning from the necessity of doing things differently which has come from the situation around Covid-19. Our plans for next year’s Swansea Zine Fest involve having a physical day and a virtual day because what this year has definitely shown is that zine fests aren’t just one thing which can only be accessed physically. We’re also going to be providing two funded places including travel expenses for people of colour, with priority for one of the places being for a Black zinester, because we know this is an area we can definitely do better in. If you are interested in donating to that get in touch with us on swanseazinefest@gmail.com or on Twitter @swanseazinefest

Do you have any tips you can share on making zines?

Oh goodness, I definitely don’t feel in any way qualified to give tips! I guess the only thing would be to give it a go if you want to – the lush thing about zines and zine culture is that there is a place for every voice. I guarantee you that if you make a zine someone will read it and relate to it and know that they are not the only one who feels that way, whether that is about big emotional stuff or your favourite ice cream flavour or whatever!

Can you share some of your favourite things from the zine world?

I am just accepting that I will remember someone or something else once this is published and panic a bit! Aside from Swansea Zine Fest, the zines fests I have attended the most are Weirdo Zine Fest and Swindon Zine Fest and I’ve always had a lovely time. Oh, and Kansas City Zine Con in the US, which I have led my very people-averse girlfriend around twice and is just amazing (it is very hard to look cool at the same time as scrambling around with a bag of coins you can’t recognise quickly to pay the person whose work you’re buying).

For distro-ing I love Pen Fight and Vampire Hag Distro, and I have also worked with Neither/Nor Zine Distro who I met at KC Zine Con. I usually think of Rebs McCormick and Laura Price as my favourite zinesters, mostly because I read their perzines really early on in my zine reading (and before I knew either of them) and really loved them, but honestly the zine community is so full of talented, interesting people that it is hard not to just name everyone!

Do you have any recommendations you want to share?

Honestly, my brain is just Alanis Morissette lyrics and fictional lesbians, so like, listen to her new album when it comes out and give me a shout if you are the one other person in the world interested in The Bletchley Circle: San Francisco fanfiction recommendations.

Is there anything else you’d like to promote?

My Twitter is @MsKirstyFace, feel free to follow me! My zines are available on Etsy and at sonoruszine.wordpress.com as well as through Pen Fight.

Also, my platonic life partner and fellow Swansea Zine Fest organiser, Morgan, is currently crowdfunding for his top surgery. If you donate before 31st August and send me a screenshot on Twitter I will send you a free copy of one of my zines.

A screenshot of the crowdfunding page. There is a photo of a person (Morgan) sitting and smiling. The text on the rest of the page reads: We're raising £7,000 to Morgan's Top Surgery. They have raised 37% of their goal (£2,620).

If you enjoyed this article please consider giving a tip via ko-fi so I provide more content like this ♥ (but first, donate to Morgan’s crowdfunder!)

IZM Interviews: Kirsty (Forever Incomplete / Swansea Zine Fest)

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