Cargo vs McSweeneys: Going Elsewhere

Conceived and commissioned by the Book Festival, published by an international dream team of Cargo and McSweeney's, Elsewhere brings together celebrated authors from around the world in a four volume wonder collection of short stories

Feature by Keir Hind | 02 Aug 2012

Nick Barley is the director of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, and it was  his initial idea which launched the Elsewhere project. “I was chatting with Irvine Welsh,” he says “who lives in the USA at the moment. He told me how fascinated he is by the Chicago boxing scene – and that he was considering writing about it.” This started a whole train of thought, which was also influenced by the fact that 2009 had been governmentally designated the Year of Homecoming. “I began to wonder if there’s a difference between thinking about Scotland as a place to come back to, and Scottishness as a starting point; something to set out from,” Barley says. “If we asked authors to write about ‘somewhere else’, might it reveal something unexpected about ‘here’?” Talking it over with colleagues widened this angle. “It could be a state of mind; a memory; a place to go after death. This is typified by the rather brutal opening line of AL Kennedy’s story: ‘Because it’s a Wednesday, he’s shagging Carmen.’”

AL Kennedy is just one of many well-known authors to contribute to this project, and Nick Barley is obviously pleased. ”For the Book Festival to have commissioned brilliant new work by the likes of Alan Warner, Michel Faber, Willie McIlvanney, AL Kennedy, Don Paterson and Denise Mina is very important in terms of our relationship with them. Equally, we now have a much deeper bond with major international authors such as Alberto Manguel, Roddy Doyle, Yiyun Li, Miguel Syjuco, Amy Bloom and David Vann because of this project. And I hope we will be helping emerging authors such as Kirstin Innes and Eleanor Thom to reach the new audiences that their work deserves.”

The festival itself doesn’t have the facility to publish on its own though, and so, Barley says, “it was important that we should seek a Scottish publisher.” Not only a Scottish publisher, but fittingly, one from ‘Elsewhere’ too. ”The opportunity to pair up Glasgow-based Cargo with the US-based McSweeney’s as a publishing dream team became possible because of previous links we’d developed with McSweeney’s. I suggested to Mark that if he could bring together the high production values associated with McSweeney’s, and the exuberance, innovation and energy of Cargo, that would add up to a winning combination.” How did that work out? “To his immense credit, Mark and the guys from McSweeney’s have surpassed all our hopes, producing something which I think is truly world-beating”.

Despite his confidence in the project, Barley remains cautious. ”I am realistic” he says, “this is one book of many thousands that are published”. And yet he’s proud of the finished work. “This book is much more than a gorgeous thing to pick up and flick through; the publishers have developed a dynamic approach to the marketing and distribution which will give the project exactly the international attention I think it deserves.” And what are his hopes, however realistic, for this collection? “For starters, I hope every one of the authors feels proud of what they’ve been part of; and that the Edinburgh International Book Festival succeeds in bringing these great writers to a wider audience. And I hope that readers of The Skinny go out and buy one of these beautiful books”.

Here, There, Everywhere and Somewhere

Whilst interviewing Mark Buckland of Cargo, my mind was suitably elsewhere. Specifically in the works of Dr Seuss. Which goes a little like this:

Sum up Elsewhere for me in one sentence please?

It’s the most mind blowing four books you’ll read this year.

What makes your cooperation with McSweeney’s so clear?

I’d love to call us the McSweeney’s of Scotland, but I know that’s not true.

What is it you like that they do?

I love Mcsweeney’s design, ethos, approach, I love everything about them.

Tell us something loveable, then.

Anybody with a Native American totem pole in their office has got to be good.

How did you get McSweeney’s to say that they would?

I promised them fun. I didn’t tell them I would be driving them insane.

What have your best experiences at Unbound been?

It’s an absolutely fantastic atmosphere.

What can we expect at your event this year?

Six writers from Elsewhere, two ringers from here.

What does this mean for Cargo this year ?

It’s one of the most exciting things we’ve done.

How would you describe Unbound as a one?

Being very drunk, and laughing a lot.

How far, would you say, have Cargo now got?

Pretty good, because we’ve got a great team.

What does publishing Elsewhere mean, in the grand scheme?

In terms of scale it’s the biggest thing we’ve done, and probably the most revolutionary.

As a step, it is most evolutionary

We’ve already signed up a lot of big authors for 2013, and I think it takes us on to a different kind of stage.

It seems like Cargo are all the rage.

Things are definitely on the rise.

What would happen, ideally, after this exercise?

I could start writing a petition to the Nobel committee.

Probably not, but isn’t that pretty?



If you don't look, you're probably crooks. Couldn't resist. You can see Cargo take on McSweeney's from 9pm on Mon 20 Aug. And yes, it's free