Media Guardian, Monday March 13, 2006

A life that's just plain ordinary

Given the magazine-buying public's seemingly insatiable appetite for celebrity tittle-tattle, launching a publication devoted to the humdrum lives of unknowns would seem risky at best.

But the first issue of Karen - named after founder Karen Lubbock - won Emap's Publishing Award for Best Lifestyle Fanzine of 2005, with judges declaring it "an utterly original publication".

The magazine shuns celebrity and sensational real-life stories, favouring everyday people and the mundane details of their lives. Each copy of issue one was signed by Lubbock. The edition featured Ben, a West Country farmer, explaining how he roasted road-kill peacock for dinner, a recipe for Neil's favourite tea - two pints of Worthy's, followed by jacket potato with diced onion and melted cheese, cheese-and-onion quiche with beetroot, diced carrot, lettuce and cucumber - all sprinkled with grated cheese and smothered in salad cream - and Jackie's weather diary.

"Karen is a reflection of the rise of celebrity magazines," explains Lubbock. "I am interested in how magazines focus on celebrity culture and how we're regaled with the minutiae of their lives. But I'm really interested in the minutiae of non-celebrity lives and elevating it to that kind of celebrity status through the magazine - however mundane, ordinary and boring it might be."

Karen is observational, quirky and gentle, consisting of conversations that Lubbock has had with friends, acquaintances and strangers. Photographs are affectionate, and its layout is bold and clear. It also has a unique relationship with its contributors. "I value the people in the magazine and make sure they're agreeable to appearing in the magazine, and they check the copy," explains Lubbock, who produces the magazine from her base in Rodbourne Bottom, Wiltshire. "I don't want to abuse the trust I have with the contributors. Without people contributing, I would have no magazine."

Lubbock self-distributed the first issue of Karen, which has now sold out, and issue two is available in specialist bookshops, such as Borders, thanks to a distribution deal with Central Books. However, the increased print run means Lubbock has not been able to sign each copy, though if you buy a copy through her website (, you will find a free gift on page 3: a hand-picked, pressed leaf.
Rahul Verma

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