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