Want more poetry in your life? Introducing Speculative Books

Speculative Books are the new kids on the indie publishing block and they have a poetry subscription service just for you

Feature by Heather McDaid | 01 Oct 2018

Do you want more poetry in your life? You're in luck. Speculative Books are the new kids on the indie publishing block who have taken a different approach: they offer a core subscription of poetry. Simple as that. Each month, readers get a neat surprise in the form of a new title. With one year under their belts, it felt a good time to check in and learn more from the Spec Books team.

"Spec Books was the coming together of two projects: The High Flight Fanzine and The Speculative Bookshop," explains Dale McMullen, head of fiction, and one of the six-strong team. "The High Flight was a monthly fanzine. It was a crazy wee thing, always filled with the wildest poetry and fiction. They did a live event in Nice 'n' Sleazy's every month, and that's how I got to meet Sam Small, who was one of the co-founders [and is now poetry editor at Spec Books].

"Sam read some poetry at one of The Spec Bookshop gigs - we invited writers, comic book creators, poets and performers down to read and discuss their process.  The nights became quite popular. In 2015, we made an anthology The Speculative Book and were amazed by the response. From that point on I had the bug and wanted to keep making books.

"I told Sam that if he could write a book I would publish it, we teamed up, he wrote a collection called Pure Toilet and we started a crowdfunder to raise the money. We smashed the target, published Pure Toilet in 2017 under the banner of Speculative Books, and with the money left over started publishing other local poets and it has grown from there."

The subscription service spawned, from their own admission, through having no money. They needed a way to fund the books, but it's ended up a nice and trusted way to surprise subscribers with new writers each month. They began publishing friends, and have since branched out. "Glasgow has a great pedigree when it comes to poetry and there was so much going on that we wanted to be a part of it," notes Dale. They've published Victoria McNulty's epic poem Confessionals, a poetry version of Leyla Josephine's 5-star fringe show Hopeless, Tawona Sithole, founder of 'Seeds of Thought' (the CCA's regular poetry night), and are doing a book with Waterstones Glasgow as part of National Poetry Day called The View From Now, which is a collection that includes over twenty emerging and established writers in Scotland.

They also published how to cook, a food-poem pamphlet by Sean Wai Keung. "It focuses on my personal experiences of cooking and eating coming from a family background of immigration and takeaway ownership," he explains.  "I wanted to explore immigration and race discussions in a different way. I felt like a lot of the poems I was reading on those issues were coming at it from either a politicised viewpoint or from a direct 'this culture vs that culture' mentality - and while I think both those approaches are essential I also wanted to remind people that while all the politicking goes on, there are families, organisations and individuals who have been able to create economic and cultural spaces for themselves throughout the world thanks to the labour of their food. 

"To me, takeaways are clear evidence that proves that not only is it more than possible for different cultures to mix but that also this process of mixing can lead to the creation of new cultural elements nobody could have predicted. After all, it's not traditional Chinese food and it's not traditional Scottish food - yet thousands of people engage with it every week. I feel that this should be celebrated more!" 

Their broad and exciting mix of poetry is where it began, and they've now recently branched out into novellas, with titles including Christina Neuwirth's Amphibian, a wondrous foray into an office that is slowly filling with water as a disciplinary measure following a drop in sales. It weaves the relatable every day with the bizarre to great effect; a chastisement found in every direction of the day job. "While the water rises, the office staff are instructed to carry on as normal," explains Christina. "For example, there’s a point where goes up to their waist and some of the staff start swimming to get around faster, and they swiftly get an email telling them that swimming isn’t a professional way to behave in an office environment."

"It started with a conversation in 2014," she continues. "One evening, my friend pointed out the reflection of the blue sky in the windows of a high-rise glass-and-steel office building, saying 'oh, it looks like they’ve filled the whole building with water'. That never really left my head, so I started writing about what the first day in the office would be like after the water had arrived. It sort of grew from there, and in drafting the story it took many odd turns."

"Amphibian is a brilliant wee book," adds Dale. "We launched at Lighthouse Bookshop on the last day of the Fringe to a packed out audience. Christina has been an absolute pleasure to work with, and she has a bright future ahead of her. I’m sure we’ll be bragging about how we 'published her first' in years to come."

Running your own publisher can be a lot of work, and delivering monthly titles is no small feat. What has been the best part in this first year? "For me, it’s meeting people," says Dale. "We’ve been involved in so many brilliant events and got to work with a huge variety of people. We allow every writer to get really involved with the creation and feel of their book and it’s amazing how different each experience is.

"We’re going to keep doing what we do best.  We’re sorted for titles for the rest of the year and have a special project lined up for Christmas time: we're publishing Rab Florence’s (Star of Burniston, BBC) debut collection in December so if you sign up now - you’ll get that in time for Christmas. Apart from that, we’re just looking forward to year two. Now that we’ve proved to ourselves that we can do this, we’ll be looking to spread the net and hopefully collaborate more with some of Scotland’s best publishers."

It's certainly an exciting time for publishing, and thanks to publishers like Speculative Books, the future of Scotland's literary scene is in safe hands. Better subscribe now and say you were there from the start.

Find more information on Speculative Books, their titles, and how to get more poetry in your life at speculativebooks.net.