I was chatting casually to a friend of mine one afternoon some time ago. We were both looking for something to do in the house, something that did not involve getting paid – we didn’t want the commitments or the hassle that come with paid work – something that would let us choose the hours that we had to spare and could put into it. We had no ideas at this point of writing a magazine, and certainly none of providing an electronic one. “What to do?” was to follow.
The more interesting question to me was, “Why?”
My two daughters were going to leave both school and home, one to study physiotherapy and the other to study drama. I had always been involved in parent-teacher association meetings and youth and drama clubs while they were at primary and secondary school, and I knew that a large black hole was about to suck me in when they left home. The work involved in these extra-curricular activities had been welcome, but the degree of effort that I was putting in was also getting higher and I was conscious that something more sedentary was also needed.
Sometimes, we arrive at decisions, sometimes others make them for us, and sometimes they are forced upon us. When St Phillip’s church in Portobello, Edinburgh, Scotland burned down, this disaster forced me to drop one commitment at least – helping organise a youth club there. When the two girls did depart, I began to go on a “Long Day’s Journey into Night” which all mothers must go on when their ‘babies’ leave home.
In September, 1999, a flier dropped on the doormat, advertising a series of workshops sponsored by Community Enterprise Lothian for women either setting up in business or looking for a new direction. The workshops were to be only once each week, and I thought at that stage that if I had a bad week I did not necessarily have to go. I phoned Community Enterprise Lothian and found that they would welcome me as a registered disabled person, and simply asked me for any special requirements I might have. In fact, I ended up attending all of the workshops.
But I had to think of a business idea to put on the form, and the ideas that I had were now forced into some kind of shape. I had originally thought of a fashion magazine for women with disabilities of any sort who could get information on fashion and beauty on the Internet. I wanted to have three other people, who would have an equal say in the magazine’s development, aged between 20 and 60, so that there would be an admixture of ages and disabilities.
During the series of courses, I realised that it would be much more effective – dare I say “efficient” – if I were to take on the main driving role in setting things up, and that what I really wanted was to edit a magazine that would be written and produced by disAble women for disAble women. I asked my husband, Gus, to volunteer to help with the technical side of getting an Internet magazine running and, fortunately, he agreed to do so.
We then needed a title. A female name, preferably that of a goddess, beginning with A, if possible. One afternoon was spent looking for titles, and I won’t list all of the contenders, but the winner came serendipitously from Nil Desperandum: A Dictionary of Latin Tags and Names. We excitedly decided upon Aurora, the goddess of the dawn, whose job it was to put the stars out before sunrise, who had a weakness for mortal men.. Now for the first disappointment. The title, Aurora, was already taken by a computer company. After much thought, I eventually settled on anAurora, a new dawn, a new goddess – even if she does have a rather long name.
Then came the very necessary research. I visited so many magazines on the internet, read numerous paper magazines from Best to Marie Claire, and came up with a list of my own specifications for what anAurora would look like. I wanted to use Internet technology, but also have a magazine that would look like one you could buy in a shop. It would have a contents page, an editorial, features and regular items. The colours were also carefully thought out, not just picked at random. The flowers were to be seasonal. Even the colours of the pages had to be decided upon. Summer was to be pale blue, autumn pale yellow, winter white with a little red, and spring was to be green.
The content came next. For the first edition, I had to campaign among my friends and other people who were willing to volunteer their time to write articles. A physical education teacher at the Blind School in Edinburgh provided a selection of articles on fashion written in Braille by her students. A designer of woollen garments provided a set of pictures that was to be the basis of her new catalogue. Another friend who was a professional photographer provided the photographs. One disAble friend provided poetry and sketches whilst others supplied articles on arts and crafts, and fiction. A friend who is a qualified psychiatric nurse agreed to trial an agony aunt column focusing on health and wellbeing issues. A vegan friend with an interest in cookery provided humorous recipes. An artist friend who works at the Thistle Foundation in Edinburgh agreed to give her time to both draw and write articles on gardening.
To all of those friends, I express my heartfelt thanks. Without them, anAurora could never have been launched, and it is only with their support that it can be continued.
In true professional fashion, the magazine’s aims had to be decided upon. The main aim, of course, is that women with any disAbility can read (and, eventually, listen to) articles that are funny, informative and give them pleasure.
Then the goals for the future had to be decided upon. I want anAurora to thrive, with more and more readers providing their own articles to each successive issue. I want a worldwide Internet readership that grows as people enjoy it more and more.
I now realise that anAurora needs a structure that enables her to keep going. She had a good response to her launch, and many new contributors from all over the world sent in articles as a result. She is like a growing star, hopefully with a little more light spreading out at every dawning. The more feedback and input we can provide for her, the more successfully she can provide disAble people with some fun on the Internet. Anyone who reads this and would like to contribute in any way, please visit her site.
– Heather Macdonald with her husband, Gus.