Freya Hardy Interview

Freya Hardy

Editor, Aquila magazine

Can you tell us about your professional background and how it led to you becoming Editor at successful kids magazine Aquila?

I’ve been in love with print for as long as I can remember but I couldn’t decide if I wanted to make art or write. In the end I did an art degree, but while I was there I wrote for magazines and interned at a couple of publishers. I had an Aunt in Romford who let me kip on her sofa. When I graduated I had a body of work to show, so I was able to get a job with a local publishing consultancy in the production department. From there I worked my way up, writing bits whenever I had the opportunity, to production editor, where I was in charge of coming up with ideas for new titles. I love that bit the best, so this job is perfect for me. I get to come up with a whole raft of new ideas every month. 

Who is the team behind Aquila and what does a typical day look like as Editor?

We’re a small in-house team. Benita Estevez and I share the editor’s role and manage a large group of freelance writers and illustrators. Then we have Sophie Bryant Funnell who is a very talented art director an in-house illustrator, and Tim, who manages layouts.

My day begins at about 8.30, directly after I’ve finished the school run. I check my emails, maybe commission for a few things later in the year and then I’ll take a look at the spreads for the current issue and start proof reading, copy editing, image research and approving roughs. I might be involved in kicking around concepts for an important cover or talking a museum into lending us their expertise on a feature. Last week I spent some time building a pinball machine out of cardboard. It’s so varied, I am really lucky. 

Aquila is celebrating 25 years of publication this year – congratulations! How has the magazine evolved over the years to stay relevant and engaged with its readers?

The world may have changed quite a lot over the last 25 years but fundamentally the kids who read AQUILA have not. They respond to the same things you and I responded to at that age. They’re incredibly switched on, well informed and eager to learn, so as long as the content is colourful, interesting, intelligent and packed with fun, it remains relevant and engaging. We try not to think too much about this trend or that. Our aim is that the AQUILA going out this month will still be being passed around, used and enjoyed two or three years from now. 

Looking back, which covers are your personal favourites?

That’s a tricky one. I like the covers with little hidden jokes or details in them but I know they don’t necessarily please marketing. A cover has to do so much! It has to work at loads of different sizes and communicate a very precise message. I LOVED Ed Brown’s Grow Your Own cover for our March issue. I felt it really conveyed the nuttiness of AQUILA.

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Kids aged 8 - 12 years old adore Aquila, how do you strike the balance between fun and education and which topics are most popular among that age group?

8-12 is a really diverse age group and within that there are kids of all different abilities and with a whole host of different interests. It’s an organic process. We don’t run anything that we don’t find interesting, and when we run something that is very challenging we have a few tricks up our sleeve – we can pair a very tough maths feature with a really fun and colourful illustrator, we can use a very bright and friendly colour palette or I can write jokes and splice them into the text. Animals and ecology always go down well.

Repeat pattern artwork (below) by Ed Brown.

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When commissioning illustrators for Aquila, are there particular styles or subject matters that you look for in an artist's portfolio?

I can’t speak for Sophie, our art director, but personally I look for these things:

A fairly consistent style running across all the work. I should be able to tell instantly that all this work has been made by the same person, and it should tell me something about the person who made it. 

Ideally I want to see a good mixture of subjects including people (adults and children), town and country scenes, food, diagrams (a good diagram illustrator is worth their weight in gold), hand-rendered text and large illustrations and spots.

A mixture of personal and professional projects. It’s really interesting to see what an artist chooses to work on, as opposed to what they’re given to work on. 

I LOVE sketchbooks. Show me your sketchbook work. It will tell me so much about your process and your practice. 

Which topics or issues are you particularly passionate about?

I like to be surprised by a topic. Often my favourites are things I think I’ll get nothing out of, but then suddenly I’m fascinated. A while back we ran a feature on slime moulds and their ability to solve mazes, and that just blew me away!

Slime mould artwork (below) by Rachel Tunstall.

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How important is humour in children's magazines?

Personally I think it’s absolutely crucial. For a start I think it helps people retain information but a shared joke also makes you feel like part of a gang. That’s what AQUILA really is – it’s a club for kids who are creative, kind, curious and a bit mad. 

I just hope my jokes are actually funny.

What's the best piece of feedback you've ever had from a reader?

The boy who was so inspired by our interview with a coracle maker that he made his own boat and sailed it down a river.

The kid who made our Dig for Victory garden with his granddad and ended up learning all about his experiences during world war two.

The boy who can’t go to school because of ill-health and disabilities, but who enjoys learning and feeling part of a community of kids because of AQUILA magazine. And then the replies to him from other children on the letters page telling him how proud they are of him and what he is achieving. 

These are the stand outs, but I get great letters from kids every day. Each one makes me feel really privileged to be able to come to work and do this job.

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