Listen to a Londoner: Emma John

I came across Emma through an article she wrote on London’s East End in my favourite travel magazine, Afar.  Now her priority is the Olympics. She has been a journalist for 12 years, and lived in London for all of them. Her special interests include cricket, theatre, film and, most recently, bluegrass music; as deputy editor of the Observer magazine she tries to write about any or all of them whenever she can get away with it. 

LLO: You recently wrote an article on East London for Afar magazine. Did you happen upon any interesting little London discoveries whilst you were wondering around the area?
EJ: I’d never really ventured into that Hackney Wick/Stratford area of east London before so almost everything was new to me. I think my favourite discovery was Fish Island; the artists’ colony there is so hidden that you can actually walk around these streets of dilapidated old factories without ever seeing anyone. As soon as you meet one of the artists living there – I bumped into a knitter and a comic book artist – they start pointing out the buildings where there are good parties and dinners at night. They introduced me to the Counter Cafe, which serves amazing pies and has a great view across the canal to the Olympic park. They also pointed me in the direction of Imperial & Standard, the quirky antiques and vintage shop in Hackney Wick. Jamie, the owner, is wonderfully laconic. You can go in, browse, and he just says ‘hi’ then disappears into the back of the shop and you never see him again.

LLO: What are some of the advantages and the challenges of being a sports journalist in London? 
EJ: Right now, I guess the answer to both those questions is the Olympics! It’s a completely unique opportunity, it’s never going to come again in our lifetime, and we get to cover it. But then you start thinking about the logistics and you realise – hundreds of thousands of people are going to be trying to get to the same place that I am. Even though I live right on the train line in to Stratford, I’m having to research a load of backups in case I can’t actually get onto a train. You can’t just phone the desk and say ‘sorry, I missed the start of the game, it was a nightmare getting here…’

LLO: What has been your favourite article to write, where was it published and what was involved in putting it all together? 
EJ: Definitely the travel piece I wrote for Afar about my bluegrass trip to the South last year. It was published this month, a year after I made the trip, which is only partly because of their long lead times and mostly because I spent six months in total writing it. It was only 6,000 words but I had had such an incredible experience that I wanted to make sure every word was right.

LLO: Favourite London-based Olympic athletes and why? 
EJ: Well Andy Murray’s up there at the moment, but that’s because he just put in such a heart-stirring performance in the Wimbledon final. I’d love to see him win a gold medal. It feels like he deserves some sort of reward!

LLO: As a bluegrass fiddler, do you have a favourite spot to listen to live music in London? 
EJ: I do have a favourite spot to listen to bluegrass: the Monday night jam at the Hemingford Arms. The jam’s been going 18 years or so, and it’s run by Americans who were part of the original bluegrass revival in the 60s and 70s. It’s the most authentic stuff you’ll get to hear in the city.

LLO: Any tips for up and coming journalists who want to start a career in London? 
EJ: Find a magazine in a niche you’re interested in, and pester them till they let you come make the tea. Honestly, everyone is applying for experience at the newspapers, but you get a lot more experience and climb the ladder much quicker at a magazine with a small staff. Plus you’ll get to write about stuff you care about.

LLO: Best thing about living in your postcode?
EJ: Just the variety really. Islington is so varied, you get to meet and hang out with lots of different types of people. It’s really vibrant, there’s always something new going on, but there’s always something comforting and familiar round the corner too.

LLO: What’s your ideal way to spend a free Saturday in London? Is there anywhere you’d like to explore or visit in London that you haven’t gotten to yet? 
EJ: I haven’t really got an ideal day, but I do love taking a tiny area of London and spending a day just combing it. My sister and I started it as a little tradition between us – we’d take off a weekday when we’d normally be at work, and we start at the area’s best place for breakfast. Then we walk around the whole day on a contented stomach and just poke around into every little nook and corner we can find. So far we’ve done Fitzrovia, St James, Mayfair… I think it’s got to be Shoreditch next.

LLO: Tell us about a Londoner you know personally who is doing something cool worth talking about.
EJ: My friends Ben and John put on Shakespeare plays as a theatre company called Antic Disposition – they choose really clever and unusual locations, like the hall at Middle Temple, that give their productions a special atmosphere. Their last play, A Midsummer Nights’ Dream, got an amazing review by the Independent so I’m excited to see what they come up with next.

Thanks Emma!

For more Listen to a Londoner posts, click here.