Behind the scenes: a new lease on Life

The “back half” of any magazine is generally the lighter part. Often, it’s where culture stories sit, or more personal writing. So how does that work for a magazine like Prospect?

Recently, the section has been given a bit of an overhaul.

“We had wonderful writers in the back of the magazine—some of whom are already continuing to write for us in other guises—but the old format of the section and those columns had been running for a very long time,” explains editor Tom Clark.

As part of a long plan to refresh Prospect, including changing up the design of some pages and bringing in new voices, it was therefore decided to revamp the “Life” section: introducing new columnists and hiring in an illustrator to help bring the section to, well, life.

The conversation over revamping the back of the magazine quickly became one of how we wanted the section to work. A lot of what appears in Prospect is readable and engaging but undeniably serious—full of facts, figures and complex ideas.

For the “back end” of the magazine, then, we wanted something a little lighter, that nevertheless had the intellectual curiosity that characterises Prospect as a whole.

From here, the editorial team considered ideas for different types of column to fill the slot. Some topics, like “family” and “nature,” were decided on unanimously (who doesn’t like to read about the outdoors?) but others were more left-field.

Not everyone was sold on a sports column, for instance, until Benjamin Markovits came on board and showed that sport could work as a lens to look outward towards all sorts of subjects—from work to society. The result was his new column, “In Play.”

Other columns came matched with a columnist: Charlotte Higgins’ “Classical musing,” for instance, only works because Higgins has both the necessary expertise to cover the classics and the lightness of touch to make it compelling as she does so.

After speaking to different writers, the Prospect team eventually decided on a new line-up. Aside from Markovits and Higgins, the section now features Cal Flynn’s “The wild frontier,” Hephzibah Anderson’s “Home front” and Cathy Rentzenbrink’s “Bad habits.” Ian Irvine’s long-term “The way we were” stayed on from the old design.

Then it was time to illustrate them. As Mike Turner, Prospect’s art director, explained: “For the revamped Life section, we wanted to add a consistent, distinctive style of illustration. The artwork needed to complement this writing—pulling out themes and adding energy and humour to the section.”

The team looked at various illustrators, but one stood out. “The work of Kate Hazell was ideal—her style is fun, and clear, almost doodle-like, a perfect fit for the writing.”

“To give the Life section a distinctive look—and to make it obvious it was something different from the pages before it—we replaced the Prospect red for a blue. To reinforce this, the illustrations are kept to a minimal colour palette: black line with blue shades.”

Each writer sends in their writing relatively early in the month, meaning the team have plenty of time to work on it—and try and come up with a headline that’s smart enough to capture Higgins’ column! Then it’s placed on page by Turner and production manager Chris Tilbury, before being sent off to the illustrators.

“Once the copy is filed by the writers,” Turner says, “I read and forward the files on to Kate, with suggestions for images. Kate then sends back sketches for approval.

“It’s a very smooth process with the writers often complementing the artwork or getting involved by requesting minor tweaks,” he adds—citing a discussion for the January double issue where writer Cal Flyn warned the team there are no squirrels in the mountains she’d written about, asking: “can we have a mountain hare instead of a squirrel?

“I hope our readers agree the life section now has the space and consideration it deserves,” Turner says.