An interview with Victor Olliver, our new AA Journal Editor
1. Previous experience: Can you say something about your previous experience as an astrologer, writer, journalist and/or editor? What drew you to apply for the editorship of the AA Journal?
I'm a relative newcomer to astrology. My background is in mainstream journalism - I've worked as a writer and editor at IPC Magazines, Mirror Group, the Daily Mail empire including Teletext. I did seven years at the Cannes Film Festival and can say I've interviewed a great many Hollywood (fragile) egos. At one point I edited the Sunday People's magazine. I specialised in entertainment and lifestyle journalism. I've freelanced for a great many titles, from The Times and Sunday Times Magazine to Woman & Home, Australia Women's Weekly and Marie Claire.
But I'd always been interested in astrology. My first editorship in my early 20s was at the defunct Romany astrology magazine, the work of Brighton-based stargazer Eva Petulengro (still working in the Brighton Arches). We campaigned with the Spectator against daft old rules which prohibited TV advertising of astrology magazines -we failed! At Woman's Journal (where I was features editor) I was sent to interview the great sun sign astrologer Patric Walker who then wrote the stars for Harper's & Queen, the London Evening Standard and other publications. An artful Libran was Patric. Sundry fateful happenings kept pulling me back to astrology over the years, just when I thought I was free at last.
I even had a relationship with a noted astrologer, the late Henrietta Llewelyn Davies, who had written stars columns for Woman's Own, Cosmo and TV Times (as well as The Times but as an "astro-profiler" of celebrities) - she encouraged me to study astrology and claimed I would be a "natural". She was also uncannily psychic and was forever consulted by a great many well-known media and political types for instant guidance on the phone.
About seven years ago I decided I had quite enough of what I call the literal world and decided to study properly this strange and elusive topic, astrology. I laboured on and off on the Mayo School's astro certificate (I was still in full-time employment). After I was made redundant in 2009 with a rather generous pay-off I decided that this afforded the chance to study astrology full-time, so I embarked on the Mayo's diploma course under Wendy Stacey - in 2012 I graduated with distinction in mundane and natal.
Before then, in 2011, The Lady magazine had asked me to be their astrologer - the first in its then 125-year history - and I'm still there. The editor Rachel Johnson thought I might send up astrology ("It's rubbish isn't it?" she would say) but she soon realised I was sardonically earnest. I took this to be an omen of good fortune. I've written two astrology books and have a most interesting clientele.
I'm also the media officer of the Association of Professional Astrologers International which has opened up my mind to many traditional perspectives.
As to what drew me to the editorship of The Astrological Journal - it's a wonderful opportunity to work with some of the best astrologers in the world; and there's scarcely another publication like it, given its scope, its passionate readership and resources. I thought that this is a great chance to use my editorial know-how (rather wasted on celebrities and their world over the years) to push something worthwhile for a change.
2. Your approach. As the new editor of the Journal, how do you see your role so far? What do you anticipate finding the most enjoyable? What are the challenges of this new role for you? How do you see yourself taking the Journal forward from your predecessor Carole Taylor? Is this job as you expected it to be at this early stage, or have there been any surprises so far?
Well, it's hard work for sure. It's a tricky job with some hidden perils. Carole Taylor has been wonderfully supportive in the handover. And John Green, who was editor before Carole, is a wise man. I had discussed my ideas at my interviews with Wendy Stacey and Roy Gillett - how I wanted to open up the magazine a lot more; introduce new approaches for accessibility; make a virtue of readability and generally cultivate a worldly spirit in its pages.
I love Christeen Skinner's point (which she made in a recent lecture on 3-D astrology) that astrology has to put food on her table so she's not afraid of a speedy practicality in the reading of charts, but not at the price of accuracy.
The challenge is to preserve Journal's rigour and scholarship - and its openness to new ideas and methodologies - while embracing people-pleasers. For instance, why not run a horoscope - but with a difference for a specialist target? The overall perspective must remain serious but if you have the additions of news and newsy interviews, one-page digestible items and a little sense of fun and mischief here and there, you increase the likelihood of engagement with your audience. I'm not going to be happy if people just flick through an issue.
I would love to see the Journal on more shop shelves, not just sent to AA members. I would encourage the AA in using the magazine to communicate with a broader audience - but to do that we must actively connect astrology with the worlds of power, media and culture through stories and reports. In my debut issue, for instance, John Major's biographer-astrologer talks about her conversations with him when he was PM. And David Tredinnick MP discusses how astrology has played a part at Westminster.
Joan Quigley's sad passing gave an opportunity to remind the world that back in the 80s, the US was co-run by Nancy Reagan and her very sassy stargazer while Ronnie told funny stories. I'm amazed the world of astrology has not said more about Quigley - I have things to say. There are so many more ways in which to chart the actual power of astrology in our world.
But we must also demonstrate our own rigour in the magazine, hence my preference for data checking, for empiricism at the heart of any astrological argument. This does not exclude traditionalism or esoterica - clear-headed and clearly-expressed subjectivity is just as valuable as objective measurement.
As for surprises, I am slightly appalled at the number of doomsday pieces that daily arrive at the Journal for consideration. People don't think twice about producing 15,000 unreadable words full of jargon and abstruse reasoning and dire warnings of cataclysm - usually somewhere not on their doorstep. I hope to dissuade a few astrologers to abandon the "trainspotting" approach to planetary analysis and adopt human communication skills to get across ideas of value.
I did say at this year's AA Conference that I was going to ban pictures of planets from the cover. Once you've seen one photo of Neptune you've seen them all. Perhaps I was teasing a bit - but see what I've put on my debut issue cover!
3. Forward planning Do you plan far ahead with ideas for content?
Yes, I am into planning. I use an online flatplan which is a paginated grid of the magazine; and in each page or section, themes are scheduled. I know pretty much what I want to run a year from now. There are major events that invite an astrological response - the May 7 UK General Election, say. Or the Queen becoming the longest reigning British monarch ever in 2015 - these are natural pegs.
But there must always be space for surprises - for light-bulb moments - and not infrequently something wonderful arrives in the inbox which must be used asap. A conversation can trigger a thought. But planning helps structure an issue and allows me to think about covers and overall balance.
4. Resourcing material Will you generally commission astrological writers for particular editions? What about those who submit unsolicited written articles or simply their ideas for consideration, how will you deal with this? Any other thoughts on resourcing material?
I won't be doing theme issues except in unusual circumstances. Themes usually turn me off to be honest. I like variety and unpredictability. But some features are being commissioned - for the big topics I like to use people with a known specialist understanding; and a gift for communication. But anyone with a good idea should write in with a proposal. I'm very open and easily contacted. I have already accepted a few unsolicited pieces - but I usually ask for rewrites and reserve the right to edit heavily, if necessary.
I'm also running extracts from books or asking certain authors to adapt book passages for the Journal. If I see a great piece on someone's website I'll try to grab it (deploying outrageous flattery if necessary). I'm looking for the best - and the best comes in all shapes and sizes.
I only ask that all writers think of the reader. Why would anyone want to pore over 5000 words of dense astrologese? Think about winning people round with cogent points (that feel human) and some humour. Frank Clifford's work is a great example of seductive astrology.
5. Are you planning any changes? Do you plan to add in any new sections, or to revise existing sections of the Journal?
I'm making no secret of the changes I'm bringing in. I mentioned the new regular horoscope. Other new regulars include The World of... [a notable astrologer - a short interview based on serious and slightly silly questions]; Under the Scope which profiles a major astrology website each issue; more on transits interpretation at a personal level; From the Archives which showcases some of the astro treasures at the AA Reference Library in Cornwall; and other things besides.
The biggest change is the news section at the start of each issue and a new events diary for all astrology organisations. I want to encourage people to dip in, read around and find the magazine both useful and stimulating.
The Journal will continue to publish learned and original research - and I particularly like pieces which take astrology into other worlds. In my first issue, stargazing looks at the worlds of football and of war reporting. We also examine the synastry of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.
6. The wider astrological community How do you see the role/place of the AA itself and the Journal in the astrological community in the UK or abroad?
The AA itself is a charity dedicated to expounding astrology and providing an invaluable forum for practitioners. It is a voice for a subject deeply misunderstood and misrepresented in the outer world. I like to think that the Journal is a sort of glue that helps bind the membership into a sense of comradeship - we're not alone, despite differing views. The magazine is both an education and a focus of shared interests. I might also add "an entertainment".
I would argue that the AA and the Journal must always strive to communicate with the public and to adopt all the media magic that that involves - not to fear populist approaches. At heart, a great many people seek the truth in any matter. The Journal can play its part in getting certain messages across - but how far we go in this direction is ultimately a matter for the AA.
7. The broader role of astrology In your opinion, has astrology's popularity increased or otherwise in the last 20 years or so? Where do you think astrology is heading in the 21st century? How do you see its role in the coming years? How could the Journal reflect the potential growth and changes in society, as well as carrying articles on specific aspects of astrology?
Astrology has managed to become both more popular and more reviled in recent times. The internet has greatly increased astrology coverage, not always for the better. In my first issue, the Australian astrologer Jessica Adams tackles the question of media sun sign astrology - which remains a huge sell. Yet a great many people manage to preserve a scornful scepticism of astrology while happy to read their newspaper star sign. This tells me that there is a need for some outer agency to be sensed in our lives (even if behind the patina of irony) for the comforting notion of a grand scheme of things beyond mere rationality or materialism. All this in spite of an onslaught of ignorant attacks from seasoned science and media debunkers who imagine the telescope or the microscope can find the answer to everything.
The irony is that science itself is involuntarily moving a little closer to perspectives sympathetic to astrology, kicking and screaming nonetheless. The counter-intuitive aspects thrown up by quantum mechanics, for instance, have opened the door to new ways of appreciating what we call reality. And new credible research suggests that seasonal factors (at least) do play a part in formation of temperament - character is not just about nurturing and social conditioning or genetics. None of this "proves" astrology, but I sense that science is moving on into areas once deemed esoteric or unsayable. Perhaps someone should tell Prof Brian Cox.
Meanwhile some areas of astrology are already used in the mainstream world. Many financiers now accept a link between market patterns and planetary/lunar/solar phases.
So where is astrology heading in the 21st century? Towards a renaissance. Arguably life is protean and "counter-intuitive" and it could just very well be that astrology is perceived as going very far in making a little sense of the divide between the known and the inexplicable, of what's sensible and "irrational". Computer technology is already enabling us to quickly package astrology in a way that is accessible to easily distracted consumers. One day, astrology will be on the national school curriculum.
The Journal must chart all of the above while staying alert to the new, thoughtful insights of astrologers themselves. It must emphasise the practical realities - that people in many specialist areas already use astrology. It most certainly is not the hobby of fruitcakes.
Victor's book Lifesurfing: Your Horoscope Forecast Guide 2015 is available as an eBook and paperback on Amazon.