This week, the Many got an addition to the ranks in the form of Leila Johnston, who does an amazing range of things, right from being a published author to writing for Wired UK and being the founder of the Hackers! newspaper. We’re super-happy to have her with us. I sat down with her for a bit to see what makes her tick, and what she’s looking forward to at Made by Many.  Here goes:


What’s your favourite book?

I have many: Corvus by Esther Woolfson, Digital Retro by Gordon Laing, Room by Emma Donoghue, and both of Cath O'Flynn's  gorgeous novels.

Who’s your favourite author?

That would be Esther Woolfson. Corvus is a 360 degree view of the corvid genus of birds, written in a very accessible style. It’s very entertaining to read about how clever the birds are.

What’s your favourite website?

Believe it or not, I really like - everything is amazing and clever - the design, the copy, the photographic concepts...they also do an excellent free mag. - a brilliant urban exploration zine about 'going places you're not supposed to go' - major influence on my newspaper (Hackers) about doing things you're not supposed to do! The founder Ninjalicious sadly died but the site is still being run with love. - An extremely talented, very very funny writer I know runs this blog about nail polish that's a terrific read, even if for SOME REASON you're not into nail polish.

What’s your favourite quote?

My Grandma always used to say "Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm," which Emerson later nicked and passed off as his own. The more I do, the more I realise it's absolutely true. Whenever you're trying to get something done alone or in a team, someone, at some point, has to give a shit about it.

What’s your philosophy of life?

Learn how to balance the things you want to do with the things you have to do. It’s about staying authentic to what you want to do versus doing what you have to because people are paying you to do it.

Which is your favourite newspaper?

The Guardian, because it’s got a personality. It’s very people-led, and I find that over time you look for specific opinions. I think that’s true of the blogs I read too.

Which Made by Many projects do you like?

What I like about the client work here is that we actually talk to clients and get on with ideas rather than talking of an abstract idea, and there’s a sort of cultural awareness among clients too. Ready for Ten, for example, really connects families with the parenting community, and the community is a huge part of Skype in the Classroom and vInspired as well.

Name some projects by other people that you admire.

There’s this lady called Minkette who did this situationist theatre on-train radio project. It was called ‘Train of Thought’, and was basically a play 'where you could ride the tube and hear the thoughts of other riders'.

James Adam ran Timmy Printface, the SMS printing 'robot' who you could watch live via webcam. Such a clever and cute thing. I like the spirit of just sitting there with some interesting equipment until it suggests a use to you. 

The BBC's Domesday Reloaded project is astonishing. I remember the original Domesday Project from school so it was mad to go to the official relaunch at TV Centre recently. 25 years on, they've
salvaged the original data from the laser disks (much of it laboriously typed into BBC Micros by hot little hands all those years ago) and it'll all be fully searchable on a website. The disk could
store rubbish grainy photos and videos too, like an early Wikipedia, so it's a snapshot of that moment in history just before CDs came in and made the whole thing irrelevant. Basically, the whole thing is absolutely heartwarming and slightly tinged with pathos, and I can't get enough of it.

I struggle to pick individual hackers, but John Graham Cumming does some really neat practical hacks, he's a great geek and a nice man and I really enjoy the tone of his blog.

And there are my own projects too: (a response toRandom Acts of Kindness that involved writing 200 jokes in about 2weeks with my friend Tim!) and There's also my Making Things Fast book proposal and ongoing stuff for WIRED.

What’s your favourite video online?

I'm all about the animals. Anything called "the cutest... in the world!!!!eleven zomg" gets a fave from me. (You and everyone else in the office, Leila! :-))

Any interesting events you’ve been to, or hope to go to? was brilliant fun, the Vintage Computer Festival at Bletchley Park last year was great - I saw an excellent talk from Sophie Wilson there. I went to a great thing last week about entropy and architecture called Beyond Entropy. It was just one small room but full of interesting ideas. It's on for a month I think.

I'm talking about making gamebooks at Oxwords next month, then the mad geek dada cabaret that will be Hack Circus at Interesting 2011. I'm also reprising my talk about how Star Trek is about an office in space, for two dates of Helen Keen's "Spacetacular" variety show at the Edinburgh Festival this year.


So there you go – that’s Leila. A truly inspiring personality, no doubt; we're lucky to have her. A very warm welcome to Made by Many, Leila - we hope to work on many exciting projects together!

Anjali Ramachandran

Anjali Ramachandran

Anjali couldn't shake off the habit of calling herself a 'citizen of the world' for the last decade, having lived in 5 countries so far, but has now amended that to 'citizen of the internetz'. She is a strong believer in technology as an agent of social change and likes exploring the relationship between digital services and physical objects. Robots and transmedia storytelling projects intrigue her.