Media: CV - Marina Gask; Editor, `Sugar'

`I became a writer on Just Seventeen at the age of 30, which was hilarious; most people become a writer on that at age 20. But I loved it'
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The Independent Online
I went to Birmingham University in 1981. I'd always planned to do some form of journalism, but I wasn't really focused about my career then, and so thought that I'd do an English degree and then see what came up.

At the end of the degree, in 1984, I was no clearer, so I went to live in France for four years - a way of escaping having to think any more about what I wanted to do with my life. I did various jobs: I worked in bars, as a tour guide, on campsites - a bit of everything.

By the age of 26, I realised that if I wanted a career in journalism, I'd better get my skates on, and I so moved back to England. I got a job with a typesetting company called Face - I'd had a job in typesetting in Paris - and it was through this job that I got to know the art directors of magazines like Smash Hits, Sky and Just Seventeen. I used to do their typesetting orders over the phone.

I learned an awful lot about type, and also about magazine production, and that was really how it all started happening. I did a night-school course in journalism - just to see if I was any good - and, having decided I was, got a job through my contacts on magazines as production assistant at Just Seventeen. I lied my way into the job, basically: I told them I'd worked on Actuelle - the French version of The Face - which I'd never done, and bought a lot of books about sub-editing to learn from.

I was a sub-editor for the next three years on Just Seventeen, and I would say that's where I learned to become an editor. Just Seventeen was a weekly then, so there was a huge turnover of copy, and I also ended up doing a lot of rewriting, captioning and writing intros. From there, I started writing when I could, but I would often just be told "No, go and do your subbing". But I kept pushing, and eventually they let me go on a creative writing course and decided that I was actually good - at last.

I became a writer on Just Seventeen at the age of 30, which was hilarious; most people become a writer on that at the age of 20. But I loved it, and did that for a year and a half, before going freelance for a while. Then I heard about the launch of a new magazine, and I really liked the idea of being part of something brand new.

This was Sugar, and I got the job of features editor in 1994. After a year, I got the job of deputy editor, and I became editor last November. And I've been very lucky, because while I've been working on Sugar I have seen its circulation go up and up from zero, and it's carried on going up while I've been editor. But there are downsides: it's very hectic, and I work very long hours.

There's also a lot on your shoulders. For instance, teen magazines have come in for a lot of criticism over their sexual content. But it would be irresponsible of Sugar to not mention anything sexual, because our teenage readers are obviously hearing about sex even if they're not having it, and it's very important for us to untangle the confusion that they go through. It's our responsibility to talk about everything that concerns teenagers, and sex is part of that.

And it's quite difficult to stay abreast of what teenagers like. But we read their letters, conduct surveys, and we have work experience girls in constantly, and ask them about their tastes and opinions. And we still love pop music, and go and see the films they see, so it's not like we're talking from a higher level.

I'm 35 now, but I don't consider it to be a disadvantage. I'm still a sucker for teen culture and I get a real buzz from, say, doing a really good interview, or simply from having a really good idea - like deciding to put Leonardo di Caprio on the cover of the September issue. It is supposedly quite a controversial thing to put a bloke on the cover of a girls' magazine, but we got these beautiful pictures of him in, and I just decided it would be perfect. And it worked: it's been our best-selling issue ever - over 550,000 copies.

This is not one of those professions where you have to have specific qualifications. I've seen people come into teen magazines on work experience from school, or after doing an English degree, and by being incredibly keen, focused and hard-working, end up getting a junior writer or junior fashion assistant job. Getting on is more to do with whether you understand what's required, and have original ideas and an original sense of humour.

Interview by Scott Hughes

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