Books News: Big changes at Cargo Publishing, George Saunders wins Folio Prize, and more

Article by News Team | 11 Mar 2014

Acclaimed Glasgow imprint Cargo Publishing have announced the appointment of two new Managing Directors this week. Gill Tasker and Helen Sedgwick, who have both been with Cargo for some time and know the company back to front, will be sharing the role – with founder and previous Managing Director Mark Buckland stepping down to become Director of Special Operations for the publishing house.

Founded in 2009 in Glasgow, Cargo is divided into three imprints, including Cargo Crate – Scotland's first digital-only publishing imprint – and a 'dark humour' imprint called Think Dark Books. Under Buckland's stewardship, the company has grown from strength to strength in the past five years, collaborating with American publisher McSweeney's and the Edinburgh International Book Festival.

Buckland also ushered in a foreign rights distribution deal with industry giants Faber & Faber, allowing Cargo titles to be published worldwide and in several languages. His other achievements as Managing Director include helping to set up the Margins Festival, which combines music and literature; and Cargo's stewardship of the Dundee International Book Prize, the biggest prize of its kind for unpublished writers, offering a £10,000 prize fund and a book deal with Cargo. The publishier has attracted a myriad of high-profile names over the years, from national treasure Alasdair Gray, to House of Leaves scribe Mark Z. Danielewski.

Gill Tasker has been with Cargo since 2009, and has been responsible for bringing in titles such as The Fractured Man by Juliet Conlin. Helen Sedgwick, meanwhile, was instrumental in steering Cargo's collaboration with McSweeney's, and is a managing editor of literary anthology magazine Gutter. She is also a founder of Wildland Literary Editors.

We spoke exclusively to Helen about her new role: "Cargo has always been an exciting place to work, and that's down to the talent and vision of Mark Buckland, and everyone else working at the company – they have made it what it is," she told us. "Both Gill and I feel incredibly honoured to have been given this opportunity. It's very exciting, and we believe passionately in the company."

Sedgwick continues: "Cargo is a vibrant place to work. There's a sense of doing things in a new way, and in our way. I think that is why everyone is so passionate about what we are doing here. There's something very special happening here at Cargo, in terms of the relationships between all the people who work here, and the writers as well – it's quite exceptional." Tasker added: "Mark’s been an inspiration from the outset, so it’s a great privilege to follow in his footsteps."

Sedgwick is excited about several new projects on the Cargo books, including the autobiography of Alasdair Gray, out in April, which she says is "an incredible book," and the debut novel by Kate Tough, Head for the Edge, Keep Walking, which she says is one of her favourite novels of recent years, and "incredibly insightful, funny and poignant." Later in the year, she is looking forward to publishing an illustrated children's book by Aidan Moffat.

Buckland meanwhile expresses his faith in his successors: "After five years at Cargo, I feel the time is right to move on to new opportunities. Anyone in the industry who knows Gill and Helen, knows two exceptional, passionate individuals who have amassed a wealth of experience in publishing already. I’m looking forward to watching our new team take Cargo to even greater heights."

Sedgwick, when asked about what Buckland;s new role might involve, remained tight-lipped, saying: "You'll have to wait and see! Suffice to say he has some incredibly exciting projects coming up over the next little while, which will be related to Cargo, but also independent. It's going to be fun to watch!"

In a story that has echoes of Alan Moore's original pitch to D.C. Comics for what became his cult, breakthrough hit Watchmen, the Glasgow League of Writers – a federation of comics creators, who we featured in our Showcase last year – have taken on an exciting new challenge. They will revive a set of neglected superhero characters languishing in the archives of Scottish publishers D.C. Thomson, and reinvent them for a modern audience, with their new takes on these vintage characters being published in an established title, Future Publishing's quarterly Comic Heroes, a companion publication to SFX Magazine.

GLoW's Gordon Robertson dreamed up the idea, approaching the veteran publisher (best known for putting out titles such as The Beano, The Dandy and The Broons) with his plans for the heroes in a project he named 'Lazarus'.  "DC Thomson has such a varied and rich universe with characters like General Jumbo, Johnny Jett, the Supercats, my beloved Smasher and many more," says Robertson. "They’re quintessentially British characters that were unique and didn’t deserve to remain forgotten and so I suggested to other GLoW members that we write stories for these characters to see if we could ‘reboot’ them. We did, and the quality of the stories that we told led us to take a chance and speak to DC Thomson. Luckily they agreed with us and gave us permission to bring the characters back to life." One of the team of heroes being revived are Supercats (pictured), in a strip written by J.T. Mirana and illustrated by Fanny Bystedt. 

Future Publishing's weekly digital-only magazine Comics Review will be publishing one strip each week in addition to the stories featured in the quarterly, with a new story, Invisible, by Gary Chudleigh and Graeme Kennedy, included in the issue out on Friday 14 March. Robertson has high hopes for the future of GLoW's rebooted characters: "We hope that this is only the beginning and that our creations go on to long and fruitful lives in the pages of comics around the world," he comments.

Performance poetry is experiencing a boom in Scotland at the moment, with new voices emerging all the time in a dynamic and exciting underground 'live literarture' scene that emphasises entertainment, and ground-breaking writing and performance styles. Nights such as Edinburgh's Rally & Broad and Neu! Reekie! showcase performance poetry alongside music and other art forms, while specialised performance poetry events from up-and-coming collectives like Edinburgh's Loud Poets and Glasgow's Fail Better have been attracting huge audiences of dedicated poetry enthusiasts. There are also a wealth of open mic poetry events in both cities, offering opportunities for those wishing to try their hand – have a look at our article on performance poetry and live literature from 2013's student guide for more recommendations.

The 'slam' – a competition where poets are pitted against each other in front of a panel of judges – is perhaps the most exciting phenomenon in the growing spoken word scene, offering a great introduction to the world of performance poerty for the uninitiated, and a chance to see the nation's best and brightest poetic talents at the top of their game for those already in the know. 

This Sunday, slam poetry comes to Glasgow's Òran Mór for Scotland's national finals, in what promises to be one of the most exciting events in the Scottish literary calendar. Winners of the dozens of poetry slams that have taken place in Scotland since March last year will be coming to Glasgow to compete for the title of Scottish Slam Champion – with the winner going on to represent Scotland at the World Championships in Paris later in the year. 

To participate, poets must have come first in a regional slam in the past 12 months, and must be living and working in Scotland. Two 'wildcard' places will also be awarded on the night to poets who wish to participate, but have not won a slam this year. Full event details and tickets can be found here.

Hosted by Robin Cairns, veteran performer and host of Glasgow's Last Monday at Rio, the lineup for the Scottish Slam Championships includes MiKo Berry, Kevin McLean and Agnes Török of the Loud Poets, and Graeme Hawley, who we recently interviewed about his appearance at this year's StAnza International Festival of Poetry. Here's a video of last year's winner, Carly Brown, reading at the 2013 final.

The Folio Prize, a new literary award for excellence, which comes with a £40,000 prize fund, has been won by American short story writer George Saunders. The prize, open to all works of fiction written in English and published in the UK, is given out by The Folio Society, a publishing house founded in 1947.

The Guardian reports that the prize was established "by people in the books industry who felt frustrated by what they see as the shortcomings of the Man Booker." Poet Lavinia Greenlaw, one of the judges for the inaugural prize, called the stories in Saunders' book Tenth of December "darkly playful... they take us to the edge of some of the most difficult questions of our time and force us to consider what lies behind and beyond them." Saunders won against stiff competition from the other shortlisted authors Anne Carson, Amity Gaige, Kent Haruf, Rachel Kushner, Eimear McBride, and Sergio de la Pava.