Tim Key: 'If you're revamping a magazine, you'd better make it A4, or it ain't happening'


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The Independent Online

It's obviously not the first time I've been asked to write a column. I've always been reticent for a few reasons. They're a hassle, they make you look arrogant, and if you aren't famous enough you run the risk of having to write it yourself, which takes time.

Also, I'm very weary of spreading myself too thin – I already struggle to fit everything in as it is. As well as being a poet and professional actor (I was once in Skins) I am also trying to buy a bed and I am two stone overweight so need to make time to run and not eat cake.

But then, last week, I met some girl from The Independent and she pressed all the right buttons so hard it became a no-brainer. As well as buying me a water (carbonated) and holding my wrist gently throughout her interview, she also said something that made my eyes widen and my mouth water (uncarbonated). "We're revamping the magazine," was the thrust of it, "it's going to be on A4." Well that was me done. I kept my composure and feigned lack of interest to get my fee up, but realistically, I wasn't turning that down. I love A4. I just love it.

As a writer (I have written three books, one outline for a potential film and over 300 Post-Its) paper is very important to me. And from an early age (about 19) A4 has been my go-to size. It is just so, well, so manageable.

I have had several positive interactions with A4 paper over the years. The following things were all delivered into my life on A4 paper: (1) A certificate that confirmed I'd been on The Log Flume at Alton Towers; (2) A certificate that confirmed I'd been on Oblivion at Alton Towers; (3) A letter from a Russian girl thanking me for respecting her decision to call an end to things. Each time, the news filled the sheet of paper perfectly. Each time it was easy to catalogue in my study. Each time, the size of paper added to the experience. If any of these had been delivered on, say, A2, I would have found it overwhelming. And framing them would have been very expensive.

Not that I want to do other sizes of paper down. There's a time and a place for all sizes and textures of paper. I carry a notepad which is 5.5" x 3.8" which fits snugly into my pocket. My father swears by sandpaper, whether he be spending an afternoon smoothing down his canoe, or writing loving notes to his grandchildren. My mother, like me, enjoys the versatility and dignity of A4 (although she recently decorated the toilet using wide strips of wallpaper to save time). Vive la différence, genuinely. But also if you're revamping a magazine, and if you want me to attach my name to it, you'd better make it A4, or it ain't happening.

Happy with the size, I then asked about the quality. "I'm not writing a column on flimsy paper" – I emphasised. Her response was gratifying. It would be heavy paper, expensive feeling, 95gm and matt. Music to my ears. I floated the possibility, with this bird from The Independent, of my page being tracing paper. I thought it might make the magazine look hip. She said it would be too expensive and she also suspected (rightly) that my master plan was to trace the words on the page behind to save myself thinking time. "Isn't it enough that you'll be writing on your preferred size?" was her comment (actually it was the only time she raised her voice and gripped my wrist uncomfortably hard). I said yes, it actually is enough.

"I'm happy to fill a page of A4 for you," I said, "providing I have some control over font size." After some toing from her (she wanted size 11pt Ariel) and some froing from me (I wanted size 44pt Rockwell Extra Bold) we settled for a compromise in her favour. 11pt Poynter with a massive dropcap. We shook hands and I tricked her into paying for one more carbonated water for the bus home. The meeting had been a success. I would dash off a column for her magazine.