For their first print issue, designed by Wild Billy & Crazy Dave with illustrations by Jean Jullien, the Little Atoms team delved into the podcast’s archives. There are interviews with Suzanne Moore, Iain Sinclair and Christopher Hitchens and essay features on witch doctors, heckling in church and bad books among many other brilliant articles. Little Atoms editor Padraig Reidy explains: “We try to reflect the ethos of the podcast which is very much ‘this is just something I’m interested in. I think it merits a 30 minute podcast or a 5000 word essay.’ The only strong editorial steer is that we all have a sense of what a Little Atoms idea is, and of what we would read… Our readers are generally interested in the world, whatever the context. We’re not really cramming people into a corner.”
Founded as a radio show on Resonance FM in 2005, Little Atoms was “partly an evolution from earlier radio shows that had been fundamentally about philosophy. Such as ‘Sanderson’s Alcove’, a pretend pub where philosophers would seemingly walk in and start explaining ideas – it was quite strange” says Padraig.
"Our readers are generally interested in the world, whatever the context"Padraig Reidy
Little Atoms was conceived by Neil Denny and Richard Sanderson in reaction to the debate that followed the terrorist bombings in London; and when the first episode aired it featured a panel consisting of a scientist, a physicist an ex-born again Christian, and a folklorist. Over time the radio show and podcast evolved, becoming “more or less political and more or less scientific”, Padraig says. “It still has a science and social science focus, but it’s got a very strong literary angle too these days.”
When translating interviews from audio to print the editors made a conscious effort to retain the voice of both the interviewee and the podcaster, while stripping out contemporary references such as “in the last edition of Newsweek”. “In the longer interviews we wanted to maintain a back and forth and a sense of listening. Other features, such as Suzanne Moore’s interview we edited into a first person piece because she was talking about another persons work so it felt odd having so many voices”, Padraig explains. In the Little Atoms magazine they are trying to keep the sense of a conversation happening, “of flow rather than a 6000 word screed”.
The design of the magazine was “one big conversation”, with Giles Arbery from studio Wild Billy & Crazy Dave taking the content of the magazine as a brief, and tweaking the details right up to the last minute – including a decision to slightly alter the font a few days before going to print. The process of applying a visual identity to the magazine was complicated by its legacy as a podcast, albeit without a visual presence. And while Little Atoms had existed online, the print magazine would function very differently. “A magazine has to have a life. You’re asking people to pay a decent amount so you want something that will last… In a way, you’re trying to strip out context” Padraig says. “UK magazines, particularly political magazines don’t do this very well because almost everything is weekly, and it’s a very different commissioning process for a monthly or quarterly magazine”. In issue one of Little Atoms the one article that is entirely topical covers Lesbos and the refugee crisis, but as Padraig highlights “that is something that has happened over the course of a year”.
"A magazine has to have a life. You're asking people to pay a decent amount so you want something that will last"Padraig Reidy
In the UK press there is a real problem in that we don’t have an equivalent of The Atlantic , The Paris Review or The New Yorker providing considered reflection and long-form writing on what is happening in the world. In Padraig’s opinion “ The Guardian is experimenting on long reads but no one else in the UK is really confident with that kind of piece. I think the interview format in particular [is under-used], it works really well as a way of getting ideas across. It’s just about finding interesting people and letting them talk”. In the current publishing landscape “you either get weekend supplement puff pieces or occasionally something good that has still been restricted and heavily editorialised”. It’s a gap that Little Atoms is set on filling, in an interview magazine packed with interesting people who would all be appropriate for an ‘ultimate dinner party’ list, and features that provide a considered view on what is happening in and around our lives.
About the Author
Billie studied illustration at Camberwell College of Art before completing an MA in Visual Communication at the Royal College of Art. She joined It’s Nice That as a Freelance Editorial Assistant back in January 2015 and continues to work with us on a freelance basis.