The Way I Work... Strong Words’ Ed Needham
Ed Needham is the brains, brawn and everything in between at Strong Words – a magazine dedicated entirely to the universe of books. Needham’s publishing journey began in the 1990s, the tail-end of the golden age of print, with editorships for publications such as FHM in New York, Rolling Stone and men’s health and fitness mag Coach.
As the digital era dawned and print started to take a back seat, Needham made the choice to step away from the mainstream magazine world. Instead, six years ago, he decided to leverage this new technology to craft a print magazine of his own. And where did he set up shop? Right at home, armed with just a chair, a desk and a laptop.
For the latest edition of The Way I Work… The journalist speaks to Service95’s digital editor Pia Brynteson, delving into the intricacies of producing Strong Words as a team of one and sharing the titles that have recently captured his literary heart…
On Creating An Issue Of Strong Words… I start by sitting down and looking through all the catalogues from all the different publishers to see what’s out there. I make sure I go through fiction and non-fiction and work out what I think people are going to like, as well as working out what I would also like.
I try to pick out the really interesting people, because if you want to know about people in all their depth – in all their flaws, all their awfulness, their brilliance, their originality – books are the place to go. So I try to make sure that all those flavours are represented. I basically just want to make sure that whatever the next couple of months hold for books sounds irresistibly exciting. I want people to buy more books and enjoy books that perhaps they wouldn’t ordinarily have.
On Keeping Motivated… I couldn’t produce this magazine by myself if I didn’t enjoy it. So that’s the first thing; I absolutely love writing about books. I have been doing this for nearly six years now: the 50th issue comes out this year and it is still yet to reveal the entrance to the goldmine. It sort of becomes a mad project, and you become more and more determined to find the El Dorado in the jungle! I am also motivated by the real and genuine enthusiasm of the people who are subscribed to Strong Words – people still love the process of having a colourful paper magazine dropping through their letterboxes!
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On His Morning Routine… It’s a seven-day job and I start at 6am every morning. I work in a little office at home, so it isn’t a long commute. I have a big pot of coffee and gallons of tea to sustain me for the rest of the day – it must be a particular type though, Empress Grey, and I only know one place that sells it. So that is what keeps me going from a nutritional perspective. I sit at my desk till about half-past four, then I go for a walk. I like to walk for around three hours every day and I listen to audiobooks, sometimes at double speed if the narrator thinks they are Laurence Olivier! But really it does just take quite a long time to read books, so I have to dedicate lots of hours. I worked out once I read the equivalent of War and Peace every week and I write the equivalent of The Great Gatsby every issue…
On The Writers That Inspire Him… There are just so, so many. I personally lean towards non-fiction, and I particularly enjoy thorough, in-depth investigations or exposés. Take, for example, Patrick Radden Keefe and his book Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty, which delves into the opioid crisis in America. Another great exposé is John Carreyrou’s Bad Blood, unravelling the story of Elizabeth Holmes. On a more alternative note, I really enjoyed Kick The Latch by Kathryn Scanlan this year. It’s a short book about a woman who, having come from an incredibly poor background, is tough as nails while working in the horse racing industry in America. The book shares her anecdotes about what it’s like to work on the very fringes of rural horse racing – a world we don’t hear much about.
On What He’s Reading Right Now… I have here in front of me Some People Need Killing by Patricia Evangelista, a journalist from the Philippines. For six years, Patricia researched the mass killings carried out by the police under the rule of President Duterte and his war on drugs. It is a book about tremendous corruption and wrongdoing but reported from a very down-to-earth and ground-level approach.
On His Working Soundtrack… I like silence. No music, no news, just the car alarms from the streets outside my flat in Hammersmith, London. Even when I was doing my homework 100 years ago, I would still work in silence – I couldn’t have the radio on as I would just end up listening to the radio and doing no work!
On The Best Career Advice He’s Heard… I’m not sure I have received any advice that has made any difference, but I think it is very hard to improve on ‘get on with it’. That applies at all levels and all times. One of my Strong Words Books of The Year for 2023, actually number two, was by a snooker player called Ronnie O’Sullivan called Unbreakable. Even if you don’t like snooker or you don’t know who he is, it is a magnificent book. One of the things that he says his career has taught him is to be brave in what you do and take risks. Although that may sound generic, I totally subscribe to that. I also came across a great Henry Ford quote: “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.”
On the Next Issue of Strong Words… So, the next issue comes out in February. There’s an upcoming release I’ve really enjoyed recently, which will be featured, called The Promised Party by a writer named Jennifer Clement. She grew up in Mexico City in the 1960s, the daughter of two bohemian Americans. She ran away to New York as a teenager and became part of the art scene in the 1970s. I love reading about New York at that time. I just can’t get enough of that period of history. Mexico, too, is an incredibly interesting country to read about; it’s definitely up there as one that holds my gaze the most.
Pia Brynteson is digital editor at Service95