Five Dials began just over a decade ago. From the start, we were forced to adapt. After all, if the banks were collapsing around us, what sort of life span could be expected for a literary magazine? Five Dials debuted as a digital publication, and we’ve remained weightless, delivered to inboxes in the shape of that fusty, indestructible file format, the PDF. We love print, but decided against printing the pages ourselves. After the appearance of the first few issues, readers sent in stories of printing their own copies at work. One man bound his magazine with a bright red ribbon. A woman wrote in to tell us about the homemade Five Dials she’d assembled, and which articles she’d chosen to excise. Time passed. Our readership spread to countries all over the world. We hope subscribers new and old still take advantage of free access to work printers.
Five Dials assumes many shapes. Some of our issues are a few pages long. Some run to 100. Like an accordion, we expand and contract – whatever the song calls for. We’ve been led by two guiding principles. First, ensure a healthy mix, so that established names share space with debut writers, or slush pile finds, or non-writers, musicians, casuals or co-workers. Second, look to the past. An issue might include archival work pulled from the files of Hamish Hamilton, or an essay that has lingered untranslated overseas for years, or even a commencement speech if it happens to delivers a relevant message. (Our choice did. ‘I would urge you to be as imprudent as you dare,’ Susan Sontag told the Wellesley College graduating class in her 1983 address. ‘BE BOLD, BE BOLD, BE BOLD. Keep on reading. (Poetry. And novels from 1700 to 1940.) Lay off the television. And, remember when you hear yourself saying one day that you don’t have time any more to read – or listen to music, or look at painting, or go to the movies, or do whatever feeds your head now – then you’re getting old. That means they got to you, after all.’)
Magazines serve as excuses. We’ve used Five Dials to follow our own curiosities, engage with our time, and take pleasure in publishing the relevant. In an age of specialisation, it’s still possible to summon the old general interest impulse and set, for instance, political protest writing by Arundhati Roy next to a Lydia Davis story next to a Paul Davis illustration. If the mix doesn’t work, no matter, try and perfect it in the next issue. Move forward. There’s at least one reader out there who is ready to snip away the stories she doesn’t like.
Five Dials has been our excuse to hold events, gather friends, meet new friends, collaborate with artists, poets, novelists, publishers, musicians, screenwriters, teachers and cooks. It has brought us face to face with readers all over the world. In Berlin, Sydney, Montreal, Jaipur, or wherever, we’ve been reminded that those who read books are odd and excitable, loyal and generous, and keen to welcome a publication that mirrors their enthusiasms and infatuations. They stick around. Plenty of names on the list of subscribers have been with us for years, which might just be an administrative oversight on their part. It still feels meaningful to us. We’ve always been inclusive. If you can make it to a Five Dials event you’re invited in. Why not? Publishing 5D for a decade has reminded us that a magazine can reach out. The secret handshake consists of an implied Q&A. The Question: ‘Do you read books?’ When the answer is ‘Yes’ or ‘Every day’ or ‘Who doesn’t?’ we know we’ve found our people.
Upon reaching milestones, some magazines like to list their favourite articles. You’ll find some of our own gems in this issue. For us, memories are more impressionistic. One is watching friends and fellow writers press the buttons of various laptops to send out the issues. We’ve reenacted this cheap piece of theatre all over the world, from a field in New York state to a stage in Cornwall. Another defining memory for the digital age is the pleasure of scrolling for the first time though a new issue, watching new illustrations pass across our screens, thanks to our designer, Nina Jua Klein, and our digital producer Zainab Juma.
Our publishing schedule has never been too disciplined. Our editorial staff remains fluid and provisional. We’ve been lucky to receive the gift of time and energy from a long list of talented allies who have written, reported, reviewed, or just plain used the magazine for their own ends, often to explore hidden passions. (Inside you’ll find an expression of love for Poundland.) We’re grateful to all our contributors over the years.
Perhaps the best reason to produce a literary magazine is to watch the migration of good work. Short pieces grew into Penguin books. We’ve seen poems lift from these pages and come to rest in Faber collections. The fonts change but the words remain the same. We’ve witnessed early drafts reappear in novels. We’ve given authors the space to test out new styles, or new registers, or, in one case, a brand new identity. In one issue Sheila Heti examined a new way of being. We’ve watched as one of the contributors to our Female Gaze issue went to number one with her debut. Congrats again, Candice.
Over the past decade we’ve been lucky enough to exist in a thriving ecosystem, which has given us a chance to read, support, excerpt and herald the work of friends and allies: Galley Beggar, Rough Trade Books, Influx, clinic, Fitzcarraldo, Test Centre, Notting Hill Editions, Penned in the Margins and many more. And we’re thankful for our relationships with bookstores around the world, the ones with real addresses, where we’ve hosted events and, occasionally, stayed overnight.
After assembling a well-mixed issue, it’s important to place it in the hands of talented designers. We’ve been lucky enough to work with some of the greats, from Dean Allen to Antonio de Luca, Ian Keliher, Joseph Bisat Marshall and our resident genius, Nina Jua Klein. (And we can’t make things look beautiful without our great friends at Visual Editions.)
So, thank you. And not just for reading the magazine. From some of our subscribers we’ve received the kindest words anyone on the staff of a digital magazine might expect to hear. ‘Hey. I fished you from my spam folder.’