Fear Naut: a magazine for women who barge

Fear Naut magazine was founded by a group of women who live on the canals of East London. Created as a way to corroborate stories and art from women on boats, the magazine’s second issue is now reaching an audience as far as the USA. 

Our area has had a long history of female writers and publishers, from the Worker’s Dreadnought of 1914-1924 through to Mary Wollstonecraft who was born down the road in Spitalfields.

The quality and original thought found in their literary output, together with their fierce independent spirit is something that the writers of Fear Naut embody.

As one of the only publications catering London’s thriving boat communities, Fear Naut’s editorial team is composed predominantly by females who dwell on the water themselves. 

When one thinks of London, images of packed tube stations and Starbucks brimming with city slickers on their way to the office spring to mind. Yet, hidden amongst London’s relentlessly commercial landscape is a thriving community of boat dwellers.

A short walk from the hustle and bustle of Canary Wharf resides a collection of people who are enjoying the lesser spotted natural side of our capital. Matilda Bungard and Estelle Morris both live on boats moored in Clapton and Fish Island respectively and run Fear Naut – a magazine aimed predominantly at females who reside on the water.

Now into its second issue, which was published and started selling in January, the magazine is growing in popularity and readership thanks to a devoted team of illustrators and editors. The publication is created nearly exclusively by female members of the boating community and takes submissions from guest writers which are then worked on by a team of illustrators.

Copies are printed at Duplikat, overseen by Morris, who works at the independent printing studio in Fish Island. With an emphasis on making something which is aesthetically pleasing, the finished product is one of beauty and real craft.

‘I’d say it has exceeded expectations already. It started off as this tiny thing but with this latest issue we have had such a great response,’ says Bungard, who can lay claim to being the founding member of the magazine.

‘I just put a post up on a women’s boating Facebook group a couple of years ago to see if anyone might be interested in making a magazine. So many women in the community are creatives, so I thought it would be great to have a place where we could collate articles and artwork.’

At the first official meeting, carried out in a bookshop in central London, Bungard was taken aback at the level of interest displayed. ‘There were about fifteen people who came – serious writers and published authors!’

‘The second meeting we had there was only two of us, me and a girl called Asha, she was an interior designer who was really helpful with the creative side of things at the beginning.’

The content of the magazine varies; illustrations, poems and articles all find a home in Fear Naut. ‘We have a set theme that we want before we put the call out for submissions,’ says Morris.

‘For example, this latest issue’s theme was all about interruption and Covid – how 2020 was awful! We’ll send out the submissions we have chosen to our team of illustrators who then get to work. There’s very little editorial strictness, really.’

This organic, community-led approach underpins the ethos of Fear Naut, something that Bungard sees as an important aspect.

‘We never know what the finished product is going to look like at the start of the process. That’s why we do it really, it’s a collaborative effort done by the community.’

Looking to the future, Morris and Bungard are planning to release bi-annually. ‘To reflect the two seasons,’ laughs Bungard. ‘Well, the only two important ones anyway. Hot and cold! We’ll have one out in Spring, when it’s getting warmer and then one towards the end of Autumn when the nights start getting shorter.’ 

This twice-a-year release is to emphasise how drastically the seasons can affect life on a boat. ‘You really feel the cold on a boat!’ exclaims Bungard. ‘But in run up to the summer, I think that’s when us boat folk think “fucking hell, we’ve got a good life.”’

‘That feeling quickly goes when it gets too hot though!’ Morris chimes in over zoom. ‘Very easy to get warm, very hard to cool down when you’re on a boat in the summer.’

Bungard and Morris are both eager to dispel the image that is usually portrayed of women on boats in the mainstream media.

‘You’ll get two kinds of articles,’ says Bungard. ‘The most common is basically ‘poverty porn’ – “Oh look at her, she shits in a bucket”, which is untrue, we all work. The other one is the idea that we live on boats because we’re just trying to scrimp and save money to avoid the nightmare of London rent.’

‘That’s not true either – you’re not going to be able to afford a deposit on a nice little flat in East London by just living on a boat.’

With issues of Fear Naut selling well, the women are confident for the future. ‘Obviously, we’d love to make this a paying thing,’ says Morris. ‘But I think that’s some way off at the moment!’

If Bungard and Morris, along with their team of talented illustrators, keep producing magazines that wouldn’t look out of place in an art exhibition as well as continue cultivating their readership, you wouldn’t bet against it becoming a full time thing. 

‘A lot of the feedback has been great,’ says Bungard. ‘Another boat dweller told me it’s so lovely to see a collection of writing about her way of life. And for me that’s the most important thing at the moment.’

If you enjoyed this article you may be interested in our piece on local poet Iftikhar Latif

Matilda Bungard, founder of Fear Naut magazine
Matilda Bungard, co-founder of Fear Naut

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