Book Publicist by day and true crime aficionado by night (and weekends), Grace Harrison co-founded Foul Play magazine with her previous colleague Emma Hardy when they couldn’t find what they wanted to read on the subject. Although Foul Play is not the first true crime magazine, "it is the first true crime magazine to be made by women that focusses on being respectful and non-sensational". Sounds killer to us (sorry, we had to)...
What made you want to work in the magazine industry? Can you chart your journey from when you started out to your current position?
I’ve always wanted to work in the magazine industry in one way or another and grew up devouring magazines like Smash Hits. I left school with the dream of being a journalist, but when I ended up leaving my university degree early, I assumed it would never happen. Instead, I ended up pursuing a career in events, which eventually lead me back to the magazine industry.
It was from there that I discovered and fell in love with the world of indie publishing and the incredible and beautiful niche magazines that people are making, mainly as passion projects. I couldn’t find the job I wanted within the magazine industry so just decided to create it myself. It might be something we do around our full-time jobs (I work as a Publicist for Picador Books and Emma Hardy [Co-Founder of Foul Play] is a freelance book cover Designer) but we get to have a lot of fun making a magazine that we absolutely love.
Do you have a go-to work outfit?
I wear quite a lot of tartan and I like a white shirt and a chunky shoe.
What do you turn to when you’re on deadline – tea/coffee/snacks?
Crisps and music. If it’s particularly stressful, I go to a Spotify playlist I quite like called “Calming Classical Music for Dogs.”
What’s the most unusual situation you’ve found yourself in because of your job?
As part of our first Foul Play event, I got to interview an award-winning true crime Podcaster and Journalist, which felt surreal!
What would people be surprised to know about your job?
Some people are surprised when they find out that we all do this remotely and also that we managed to launch Foul Play with no funding whatsoever. We’re continuing to do it on an absolute shoestring, but I think it’s probably a lot more difficult and you have to be quite creative in how you do it. It’s definitely possible to make a new print magazine without raising a lot of money, though.
Walk me through your typical day.
We all have day jobs, so the time we spend on Foul Play tends to be done remotely in the evenings and over weekends, but we try to meet every Wednesday evening as a team. The weekly meets have been crucial to us staying on track and making sure we all know what we need to be doing. We go through the latest flatplans, look at spreads and discuss any content ideas that we’ve had. Everything lives in a Dropbox!
I’ve been trying quite hard to make sure we are all happy with our separate roles so it means that we can go away and work on them and report back. We spend most of our time otherwise chatting over WhatsApp or email. We book out the weekend before press day and make sure that we’re all together, though. This means we can all sign off each page together and it feels like a proper team effort. We then celebrate by going to the pub.
What inspired you and Emma Hardy to start Foul Play in the first place?
Emma and I were both working for a literary magazine and we kept constantly taking the same books from the shelves. From there, we discovered our mutual fascination with true crime, but also a love of indie magazines. There has been a really exciting new wave of high-quality and contemporary true crime podcasts, TV, film and books, but no one was making the magazine equivalent, which really surprised us. We couldn’t find what we would want to read so decided to make it ourselves. This is by no means the first true crime magazine, but it is the first true crime magazine to be made by women that focusses on being respectful and non-sensational.
We’re also really keen to make a magazine that looks at crime from different angles, not just horrific murders. Instead, Foul Play is full of long-form features, beautiful photo stories and lots of advice on what you should be reading, watching and listening to. For instance, our second issue included a photo-essay about botanical theft, a story of the greatest natural history heist of all time (“Fowl Play” – see what we did there?) and an interview with a man who collected and made art from over 8,000 drug baggies. There are so many interesting angles and stories out there when you get past the standard female victim murdered by serial killer thing.
Why do you think it's important to have a magazine that doesn't glorify killers or the crime acts themselves?
It’s really important that people remember the human element involved on all sides and that ultimately, you’re quite often choosing to consume someone else’s trauma as entertainment. As part of our ethos, we don’t publish any serial killer cover stars or any crime scene photos as we don’t feel like it’s necessary. These people get so much airtime, we all know what they look like. There’s also a seedy side to the true crime community where there is an element of hero-worship. This is definitely not that.
What can we expect from your session at Magfest?
We’re going to be taking part in an indie magazine session organised by magCulture’s Jeremy Leslie. Hopefully we can give some insight on how we’ve managed to launch and grow Foul Play over the last year.
Why do you think we're so fascinated with true crime?
It’s a very good question. I think it’s totally different for different people. For some, it’s the fascination with the macabre and for lots of people we’ve spoken to it’s a self-preservation thing. Fact is quite often much scarier than fiction.
What's next for Foul Play?
We have some exciting plans! Issue three is just around the corner and we’ve just had our very first event at Waterstones in Tottenham Court Road where we spoke to Rachael Brown, who created the hit podcast Trace. We’re going to be hosting a regular book club and working with publishers to help promote high-quality true crime literature. We also have plans to develop our online presence and will be launching a podcast in the not too distant future…
If you didn’t have to sleep, how would you use the remaining hours in the day?
I’d love to be able to get on top of my reading. I have to read a lot as part of my day job, but I’d also like to be able to read more for pleasure and for Foul Play. There aren’t currently enough hours in the day…
What is the last photo you took on your phone (at time of interview)? Why?
I’m obsessed with the tips pages in Take a Break and Chat magazines. I save my favourite ones in a folder on my phone. Compiling those would be my dream job.
What’s your guilty pleasure?
Whose phone number do you wish you had?
Julia Davis. I love her.
What’s the worst piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
That going to university is the only option if you want to end up with a job in publishing. This is true also for book publishing. I wish that someone had told me back then that it isn’t for everyone and that there are other ways.
What/where is your happy place?
There’s a really beautiful spot in the middle of the New Forest where I’m from called Puttles Bridge. I went the other day while visiting home and it really is the most beautiful and serene place that pictures and descriptions don’t really do it justice. It has restorative qualities. Plus, it’s full of animals just wandering about.
What would people be surprised to know about you?
That I redraft text messages multiple times before sending them.
What would be in your Room 101?
Eggs. I don’t understand how people aren’t repulsed by them!
Introvert or extrovert?
Bit of both.
Optimist or pessimist?
Film or television? What are you binge-watching at the moment?
Probably film, but there are so many good things on television at the moment that it’s difficult to keep up with them all. I spent a lot of time during my week off at the beginning of September re-watching Frasier from the start. It’s my all-time favourite.
Sweet or savoury?
Morning person or night owl?
I’d love to say morning person, but it’s definitely not true.
Tea or coffee?
I’m off the coffee, so I’d say it’d be green tea.
Emojis – cool or cringey? Which emoji do you use the most?
They’re good in moderation! I use the black heart the most.