Mark Buckland - Cargo

The Firework Factory – An Interview with Mark Buckland of Cargo Publishing

Mark Buckland and his team have achieved amazing things with Cargo Publishing in the last few years and I’m very excited to be sharing this inspiring interview with you on the eve of Elsewhere Day, a launch for a very special book/box set which is taking place across 5 cities across the UK tomorrow (Wednesday 26th September 2012).

Hey Mark, please can you tell us a bit about yourself and what led to you founding Cargo Publishing in 2009.

I’m 25, from Glasgow and I’m the MD of Cargo that includes Cargo, Cargo Crate (the first ebook label in Scotland) and Margins Book & Music Festival which this year was the fifth biggest book festival in Scotland.

Brief explanation (no, really, this is the brief version): I was a gardener for four years. It’s a pretty tedious job and means you spend a lot of time in your own head and listening to a whole bunch of different music, writers and talks on my iPod.

I thought “there have to be other people out there who like a whole range of stuff” and maybe I should put on a club night of writers, bands and DJs to try and showcase the arts scene in Glasgow-that became the Cargo night. When that finished up, I realised there was a glut of very talented people writing in Scotland who had no platform to publish; the whole industry was collapsing and it seemed a lot of young Scottish authors had been lost in the fray. So I spent the £800 I had on setting up Cargo.

That, and I was doing a landscaping job in December. A new house where we had to move a thirty foot hedge across the garden to sit alongside the driveway. It was so cold our spades pretty much bounced in the ground. After we’d put it in, a removal truck came up the drive, caught the hedge and dragged the whole thing out.

With the snow driving in my face, blistered hands and total exhaustion I thought “nothing can be harder than this for a job.” The jury’s still out on that. At least I get to work indoors now.

You’ve said that the aim behind Cargo was to “put a firework up the arse of Scottish Literature”. What does that mean in practice?

I still have no idea. It was a throwaway comment that lots of people still remember. I’m an accidental controversialist in interviews. Mostly because I don’t think before I open my mouth.

Basically, it was a view of doing things differently. I wasn’t trained in publishing, I knew nothing about it. So I’d ask experienced people “why do you do that?” and the answer was often “just because that’s the way it’s always been.” I guess all of us at Cargo felt that things could be different, that things could be made better, particularly for new writers. That being said, I’ll probably end up having ‘upstart publisher’ on my tombstone.

Have we put a firework up the arse of Scottish literature? I think so, whatever it really means. We’ve certainly inspired a lot of people to go into publishing and know that it can be made cool, rather than stuffy and conservative.

What have the highlights been since you started Cargo?

So many. Cargo has been a huge privilege. I’ve met a huge amount of talented people and to have published the likes of Will Self, Amy Bloom and Roddy Doyle before I’m 26 and most of the team are still in their twenties is a great honour I don’t think I expected when starting out.

Highlights for me…Year of Open Doors pretty much united a generation of Scottish writers, Margins became the fifth biggest book festival in Scotland in just two years, Elsewhere has fifty of the best authors working today and is one of the biggest publishing collaborations the UK has ever seen, starting the first ever ebook label in Scotland in Cargo Crate.

Our 1962 Writers’ Conference Book was a personal pleasure; Jim Haynes shed a tear of joy when he saw it. But I think the greatest highlights for me are still bringing through new authors. Watching the likes of Allan Wilson, Tracey S. Rosenberg get great reviews, be nominated for prizes and really start their literary careers means more to me than anything.

Congratulations on Elsewhere, your collaboration with McSweeney’s and the Edinburgh International Book Festival. It’s absolutely gorgeous to behold (and to hold), and contains some great work by an impressive bunch of contributors. What was the aim of this project in particular and how did it come about?

Thanks! Really proud of it. The background was it began life as a commission from the Edinburgh International Book Festival for fifty authors. Nick Barley, the festival director, had been chatting with Irvine Welsh about the boxing circuit in Chicago and Nick realised there was a whole world of fascinating subcultures we knew nothing about. Hence the brief-‘elsewhere’. I don’t think there was really much plan to bring it into print. But our involvement started in the way all good things happen; I was pretty drunk with Rodge Glass and he said it might be an idea to talk to Nick about it.

We did and I suggested a collaboration with McSweeney’s, which Nick immediately saw the potential in; two indies from different countries working together. McSweeney’s came on board after I talked to the then-head honcho Eli (he’d remembered me from when we’d met as ‘the drunken, angry Scotsman'; I said that narrowed it down to 2.5million people) and the hard work started.

They’re a pleasure to work with; Brian McMullen is one of the greatest art directors there is and the team that worked on it of Walter Green and Adam Krefman really brought out the best in it. From our side, Helen Sedgwick proved she’s one of the best editors working in Scotland. And I’d dip in to say ‘why don’t we try this?’ Hats off to Jack Teagle, the artist too, he’s an extraordinary talent.

I think the overall aim was to do the stories justice. It’s a phenomenal lineup and the writers really gave it their all. So when you’re working with artists like that, you have to up your game. And our aim was to show that books can be beautiful objects, something we’re celebrating on Elsewhere Day.

What were the challenges involved in working with both a US-based publisher and an international festival? (don’t answer this if you don’t want to!)

Well, it was a massive collaboration. You have the biggest book festival in the world and the best independent publisher in the US on board, so you know everybody is going to be professional and that made it a pleasure to work on. Logistics were tough in that McSweeney’s are in San Francisco and the printer is in Shanghai so that was a lot of well timed phone calls over the year.

But I think the only challenge was pressing the go button to print – with something as radical looking as Elsewhere, you have that terrible fear that nobody will like it, but the authors love it and readers seem to really dig it.

You’ve had a busy year so far and probably deserve a bit of a rest. Still, I have to ask – do you have any plans for the future you want to mention?

Eh, aye, busy year indeed. Many plans in action. We’ve got three more books to publish this year including the Dundee International Book Prize, which at £10,000 is the largest book prize in the UK for unpublished authors and means we get to kickstart the career of a new author. Plus the wonderful Martha Payne telling us all about the neverseconds blog in a really exciting book. Margins is back in 2013 at The Arches and is bigger than ever and we have a wee surprise with Margins to announce too.

For next year’s books, we have a book by the comedian Robert Newman that’s one of the best pieces of historical fiction I’ve read, plus books from Alasdair Gray and Allan Wilson that are simply fantastic. And a debut by Juliet Conlin that I think will be one of the top summer reads. Throw in the launch of a new online magazine and lots of new stuff from Cargo Crate and I think the quality of the work we’re putting out is reaching new heights. We’re also working on some TV stuff, a massive narrative-bending project and some very cool tech I think might appear next year.

In the short term, I’m taking my first holiday in five years. I’ve had a tough year with health; I’ve had ten years of mental health problems before being diagnosed with schizophrenia this year so I’m hoping to try and use my experience to advocate for better mental health rights and to hopefully show that nothing need hold you back if you want to do something. I have an incredible team at Cargo and we’re proud of what we’ve achieved but also looking to see how else we can keep producing great stories. If we’re still putting a firework up the arse of Scottish literature, then it’s like a firework factory these days.

To find out more visit Cargo Publishing & the Elsewhere website and find out more about Elsewhere Day (Facebook event)

And here’s the 2nd Objects of Affection video featuring the Elsewhere book-set:



Blythe and Miriam from The Istanbul Review

This is the first in a new series called Objects of Affection – celebrating the physical in a digital world.

First up we find out the story behind The Istanbul Review, a new literary journal published by friends of CMC, including one of our previous Clear-Minded Creative Types, Hande Zapsu Watt.

I quizzed Miriam Johnson (MJ) and Blythe Robertson (BKR), who are also the team behind Edinburgh’s popular Lunchquest reviews site, on how The Istanbul Review came into existence and how you can submit your writing or art for the next edition.

BKR and MJ

Tell us a bit of background about yourself/selves.

BKR: I have a 9-5 in an area of work that’s not too different to where you used to work, Milo. On top of that, I run social media for The Istanbul Review.

Essentially, when I’m enthusiastic about something, I have a fairly deep well of energy to draw upon.

MJ and I have ended up forming a pretty formidable creative team, over the past year or so. I’ve grown to rely upon her good judgment entirely. When I pour forth with amazingly fat-headed pronouncements, I’m confident that she can find the essence of what I’m trying to say and shine the appropriate light on it.

MJ: There are five of us that make up the core team of The Istanbul Review. Our Editor-in-Chief, Hande Zapsu Watt; the Head of Administration, Patrick Watt; recently appointed Reviews Editor, Tracey Emerson; Social Media Manager, Blythe Robertson; and myself, the Managing Editor.

I’m originally from Alabama and I’ve been here for years studying, and I have a few regular roles within the world of academia and publishing that allow me to spend time doing what I love: writing, teaching and working on the Review.

My background is essentially in creative writing, with a specialty in poetry, and a few years ago I decided to learn about the publishing aspects of the literary world before embarking on even more studies in Edinburgh where I met our Editor, Hande, and the Review took shape.

Between Blythe and I, we level each other out quite well. He is a rock that makes sure we stay grounded, has a core sense of strategy and overarching aim and can tell me to calm down when I start to worry. Likewise, I often point out to him the logistics behind ideas that may or may not work from a publishing perspective.

Tell us a bit about the Istanbul Review, e.g. what’s the ethos/aim behind it, how did you both get involved, what’s the link with Edinburgh?

MJ: The Istanbul Review showcases world literature by combining established voices such as Paulo Coelho and Elif Shafak with up-and-coming new authors and artists.

Istanbul is an amazing place, bridging continents as it does, and we wanted to do the same with the journal, bridging East and West, merging and mixing until we had the best content to present to the world as a whole.

It was founded in Edinburgh in the beginning of 2011, when we had the initial idea to develop a literary journal. Istanbul’s place as a leading world city, which has historically bridged cultures and continents, fit well with our aims – and surprisingly there a printed literary journal hasn’t been based there until now.

We took some inspiration from successful, international literary journals and set up the framework for The Istanbul Review. Less than eighteen months later, we published the first issue appropriately themed, “The State of Literature.”

Each issue will have an overarching theme that the essays, interviews and reviews will address, but the creative content is judged solely on its merit, regardless of author or theme.

We not only wanted to create a platform for world literature, we also wanted to showcase works of art by up and coming and established artists. In the first issue, we were lucky enough to have two well-known Turkish artists, Oguz Demir and Sena, contribute art and Omer Zapsu designed our logo. And, with our choice to make each edition a high-quality, full-colour product, we hope to promote the arts more in subsequent editions.

BKR: We run things from two centres, Istanbul and Edinburgh (with increasing help from St Fillans, too), which can be challenging at times. But smartphones are wonderful things, so we just about manage to keep everybody apprised on all the latest developments.

I joined the team, formally, when the project was already quite well developed, and it was becoming clear that a couple of extra pairs of hands were needed to get Issue 1 across the finishing line.

I think we’ve been very lucky in that we all bring different skills to the party. A couple of us have a decade of experience inside big administrative organisations, so we’re pretty solid at running the day-to-day nonsense inherent in these type of things, thereby letting “the creatives” in the Editorial Team get on with ensuring that we have a quality product to sell.

A lot of credit goes to Hande and MJ for recognising that they needed help with more of this day-to-day stuff, and enlisting the appropriately enthusiastic people to assist.

How did you find the process of publishing the first issue? Do you have any advice for anyone else thinking of getting into publishing a print periodical?

BKR: MJ’s really the expert on this one. All I can reiterate is that you need to draw on expertise and “extra bodies” to share the burden. Finding the correct skills at the right time is really key to success, I think. We’ve worked this out as we’ve gone along, and we’re starting to see the benefits as we put together Issue 2. We have a way to go before things are running with slick efficiency, but we’re always looking to improve.

MJ: Anytime one goes to set up a new publishing venture it is a worrying and exciting prospect. Luckily, I have a degree in publishing, which taught me most of the theoretical aspects of the publishing industry, while also allowing me to get my hands dirty creating fictional products. Translating this knowledge to the real world has been less straightforward, but it still went pretty smoothly.

One of the dangers of literary journals is that they generally have a life span of three years, with most of them shutting down in the first year. So one of the main concerns we had was finding a viable business strategy that would allow us the security of maintaining the Review while we got up and running.

We decided to steer away from immediate subscription services and chose to work with carefully selected advertisers with a definite upper limit per printed edition.

Another of the main challenges has been the web design. It is hard to work with a designer who is not a part of the core team, and we have had some exceptional help along the way from various people in London, Istanbul and the States who have made it possible for us to run the website ourselves.

The two major issues that often arise while putting together a project of this nature is sourcing original content that is of a high enough quality to be included, and the logistical aspects of the design, layout and printing of the Review itself.

Within our core team at the Review, we were able to create mailing lists that would reach some of the best creative writers in the English speaking world, and I was able to put together a layout that was expanded from a design sample, and heavily guided by our Editor, who has the real eye for design.

We currently print in Istanbul in full colour, soft back editions which are 235mm x 165mm.

The submission deadline for issue 2 is fast approaching. What would you say to any artists or writers considering sending something in, and what are the benefits of submitting for the artist/writer?

MJ: I say get your hands on a copy of the first edition to see the sort of stuff we like. Send something in. Follow the guidelines, please, follow the guidelines. The theme of issue two is “The Screen of Literature”.

In poetry, we ask for several poems, and if we like the writing, but not the particular poems, we work with the writer and ask for other works.

In art, we are looking for high quality, original work. We have eclectic tastes, but it must be good.  It could be as simple as a photo of a skyline, a circle on a blank page, or as intricate as you desire. You often never know what will strike you until you see it.

The benefits of submitting are many! We are committed to promoting our content across a range of media. We are always looking for content for the printed Review, but we are also looking for content for the Poem and Art of the month section of the website. If we are really taken by an artist or poet, we are looking into the possibilities of doing a small feature in our newsletter.

Plus, there is the added benefit of getting to be presented to the world of literature alongside the greats. Because, lets face it, where else outside of The Istanbul Review can you read up and coming authors: Rob Magnusson Smith and Andre Naffis-Sahely, alongside an original contribution from Sir Terry Pratchett and interviews with best-selling Turkish author Elif Shafak, and the current prime minister of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan?

In addition, all of our contributors are provided with copies of the issue in which they appear, so for Issue 2 contributors, you could have your artwork, poetry or short story read by children’s author, illustrator and Oscar-winner Shaun Tan.

BKR: there is a huge benefit in getting your work “out there” for people to consume and react to. The creative process can be lonely, isolated and full of self doubt, but the endgame is expression. What we’re offering is a platform for world writers to sit side-by-side with people from different continents or different literary and artistic traditions.

I got to send out a tweet, in the run-up to publication that read something like, “read issue 1, featuring Paulo Coelho, Terry Pratchett, (one of our less widely published contributors), Banana Yoshimoto and Elif Shafak.” For that lesser-known writer, it was the most hilarious thing they’d ever seen, and one of those “career” moments. But even for folks like Coelho, who’s the most translated writer writing in Portuguese in history, he doesn’t get published next to Terry Pratchett, too often.

With our ethos of bridging world literature, we can do things like that, spanning genres, continents, levels of experience and fame. For folks thinking of submitting, I’d love for them to be that Twitter user who gets to retweet the list of luminaries that they sit beside within the pages of our publication.

Submissions are currently open for the second edition of The Istanbul Review, which has the theme ʻThe Screen of Literatureʼ.

The closing date is 1st October 2012 so there isn’t a lot of time left – see the submission guidelines for Artists and Writers.

for more details and to buy the first edition, see The Istanbul Review’s website.

You can also keep up to date by following them on Facebook and Twitter.


A Year of Clarity for Charity:Water

I’m giving up my 35th birthday and booze for a year (if we reach my target of $650!) to help bring fresh, clean water to 10 people who desperately need it in Rwanda.

Donate now!

For a limited time I’m also giving away $125 worth of free Creative Clarity and Strategy Sessions to anyone who donates over $35 (approx £21) and a $50 Creative Clarity Session to anyone who donates over $20 (approx £12!).

You can donate via my Charity:Water campaign page. I’d love it if you supported the campaign. Charity:Water are a very forward thinking organisation who give 100% of all donations directly to bringing water to those who need it (their admin/organisational/marketing costs are all paid for by generous corporate sponsors).

Donate now!

You can get an overview of the problem by watching the below video:

This video about 9 year old Rachel may well move you to tears..

Donate now!

And this interview with Charity:Water founder in which he explains how he went from greedy nightclub owner (“I was the worst person I knew”) to founder of such a brilliant charity.

Donate now!

And you can read my post about the World Domination Summit 2012 where I pledged to give up my birthday after listening to Scott speak.

North Edinburgh News – Social Media Workshops (#NENgage)

NENgage is “a new social media project which offers free training to community groups, local citizens and activists in how to use social media and online tools” in the Inverleith area of Edinburgh.

It’s being funded by local news publication The North Edinburgh News and lead by multimedia journalist Tom Allan and multi-talented writer/presenter Emily Dodd, both of whom regularly work for the BBC and a number of other organisations.

I’m volunteering at two of the sessions, and also helped Tom and Emily film four short videos to promote the events – you can see the first two of these below.

The other volunteers helping out include my pals Blythe and Miriam from Lunchquest/The Istanbul Review on the 6th, and Michael MacLeod from STV Local (and previously The Guardian Edinburgh) on the 13th.

I believe there are still places left for both of these workshops so if you’re based in North Edinburgh, particularly the Inverleith area, do come along!

Sharing Your Story – An Introduction to Blogging – 6th September 2012

Go here for more info and to sign up.

Video Blogging: Inverleith Flash Mob – 13th September 2012

Go here for more info and to sign up.