Liz Lochhead Interviewed for Project MacCaig

Dear readers,

The last time we spoke, we rolled out some pretty big news. And to be completely honest, we may have been withholding some of the more glamorous details of our exciting collaboration with Polygon; for dramatic effect, of course. But now that we’ve all calmed down and regained our characteristically cool sense of composure, there are a few more things we’d like to let you in on.

DSC_0160Last weekend, two of our team members ventured beyond local boundaries to Glasgow’s West End, to meet and talk to Makar Liz Lochhead. Lochhead is the latest Scottish cultural luminary to provide an exclusive interview for our forthcoming interactive Norman MacCaig eBook. Our team was thrilled by this opportunity to meet the National Poet and hear her take on MacCaig’s life and work. She described him as “a man who turned people on to poetry,” effectively echoing a sentiment expressed by our team on countless occasions as we have become intimately familiar with MacCaig’s literary legacy.

The Liz Lochhead interview is the most recent of six that will add to the “mini-documentary” quality of this innovative digital product. In our quest to build a comprehensive and profound extra-textual experience we have also turned the camera on Ron Butlin, Tom Pow, Andrew Greig, Roderick Watson, and Ewen McCaig. Needless to say, these prolific personalities expounded unique perspectives that bring new life to MacCaig’s already-vibrant verses.

We are, of course, disappointed that the interviewing phase of the project has come to a close, but that’s not to say that we don’t have our work cut out for us moving forward. Over the next few weeks, it will be all hands on deck as we work to bring together the diverse components of this title into one streamlined entity. DSC_0148

Until next time,

Team MacCaig


Proof from Nikki Simpson that there is more to a magazine than meets the eye

By Katy Sheen

Sub-editor: Claire Cunningham

Magazines are so much more than celebrity style guides and the exploitation of women. Nikki Simpson, Business Manager of the Professional Periodicals Association (PPA) Scotland, began her talk with this crucial point. The magazine industry is diverse and exciting; there’s a publication for every topic imaginable, and magazine publishers are generating revenue in a wider range of ways than ever before.

But magazines can still be tarnished with the size 6-obsessed brush. That’s why the PPA exists: to promote, protect and advance the magazine industry. The magazine industry within the UK is worth £4.1bn, £154m of which is based in Scotland. The 700 magazines based here cover the three main categories of publication: consumer, trade and contract.

Reaching target audiences

In the contract publishing sector, which is better known as content marketing, Nikki highlighted White Light Media, who produce the quirky and beautifully designed Hot Rum Cow. The publication has a dual role as an alcohol enthusiast’s magazine and an advertising tool for White Light Media’s high quality services. Realising that Hot Rum Cow may not appeal to their more ‘serious’ clients, White Light Media recently launched a second magazine called Poppy, which is aimed at marketeers in the financial industry.

Contract vs consumer magazines: advantages+disadvantages

The advantage of working for a contract publishing company is that you can be involved with a number of different projects, across a plethora of subjects. In a consumer magazine, you are likely to be focused on one topic at all times. However, as Nikki pointed out, you don’t necessarily need to be a magazine’s target market in order to work on it. A great example of this is People’s Friend, which has a massive circulation of 230,000 copies a week. DC Thomson, one of the largest publishing companies in the UK, wouldn’t exist without it. The magazine is, almost exclusively, read by women over 60, but you won’t find a team of old age pensioners producing the magazine in DC Thomson’s Dundee office.

Top quality Indies

In contrast to the long-running People’s Friend, Nikki showcased some of the large number of independent magazines that have launched recently in Scotland, the UK and beyond. Many of these magazines feature top quality illustration, photography and design, as well as approaching the concept of a ‘magazine’ in innovative ways, from fold-out to glow-in-the dark pages.

The future is in our hands

Nikki pointed out that this class of Publishing students could soon be adding to this pretty pile of publications – all we need is an idea for something a bit different. There’s no problem with focusing on a very specific topic, as long as you have readers; to paraphrase Nikki, there is a market for niche magazines as long as there is a market within that niche.

The Book Challenge: Blue Group

The Napier MSc Publishing course certainly doesn’t ease its students in slowly – as we enter Week Three of the University Calendar we are already finishing up our first assignment: the Books for Schools initiative. Divided into groups on our first day, each group was provided with an area of Edinburgh. We were tasked organising the donation of some of Merchiston Publishing’s books to an institution of our choice in that area.

Our group (the Blue group) was assigned Gracemount and Burdiehouse. Lu discovered that nearby Burdiehouse Primary School is scheduled to close in the next year, meaning that the two Gracemount schools will experience an influx of new students. We then opted for the Primary as the books we had available were more suitable for that age group. Organising our task was tricky as the members of our group were not all following on the same timetable, and all of us have part-time jobs. Mercedes’ knowledge of the area made her the ideal choice to initiate contact with the school. Our choice proved to be fortuitous as the headmaster of Gracemount Primary, Mr Dimeck, turned out to have taught her when she was at school herself. This existing rapport smoothed out the whole process and Mr Dimeck was thrilled to accept our offer of a library set consisting of four titles. However, at the last minute we were contacted by the teacher of the class who were to receive the books requesting a teaching set of thirty copies. We chose The Kelpie’s Pearls in response to the increased interest in Scottish heritage in the wake of the referendum.

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Bus selfie!

By Monday 22nd of September we had prepared a letter, written by James and edited by Mercedes and Jules. We headed out to Gracemount Primary with Lu leading the way and Nick carrying the books though unfortunately, after all her hard work, Mercedes was unable to accompany us.

Mr Dimeck greeted us enthusiastically and led us directly through to meet the Primary Seven class who were to be the recipients of our books. We were greeted warmly by both the students and their teacher, who promptly selected a few pupils to follow us outside for a quick photo-shoot. After being assured by Mr Dimeck that being included in a picture with the pupils was allowable so long as he was taking the photograph (as we had been made starkly aware that we were not permitted to take pictures of the children ourselves) we all happily posed with copies of The Kelpie’s Pearls. The pupils were eager to enjoy their new books – one girl began to read the copy she had posed with as soon as the picture was taken!

Working on the Books for Schools initiative brought us together as a team and made very clear both the advantages and disadvantages of working in a group. We drew on each member’s individual talents to maximise our efficiency, however the difficulties with scheduling meant that every leg of the task took longer than we had initially expected. All in all we found this assignment challenging but consider it to have been a valuable learning experience and a positive beginning to our studies.

James, Nick, Jules and Lu pose with Gracemount Primary pupils.

Books for Schools Initiative

         At the beginning of the Books for Schools Initiative the class was separated into groups and each group then assigned a different area of Edinburgh. Our group was given Niddrie and Craigmillar. We researched the schools in these suburbs and eventually chose Niddrie Mill Primary School. After contacting Niddrie Mill we found that some copies of Treasure Island: A Play by Lynn Brittney would be most welcomed by the school. Treasure Island: A Play, adapted from the Robert Louis Stevenson classic, was published by Merchiston Press in 2012 and beautifully illustrated by children from Edinburgh primary schools. We consulted with Merchiston Publishing staff about stock levels and our allowance. It was decided that a donation of thirty copies would be appropriate. This would be enough for a whole class, one for every pupil. We contacted the school again and arranged to hand over the books on Friday morning.

Anne Pettit (Head Teacher), Kirsty, Daiden, Rachel, Christy and Barbara proudly holding some of the donated copies of Treasure Island: A Play.

          On a wet and grey Friday morning our group assembled on North Bridge and took the number 14 bus to Niddrie. For two of our number it was their first trip on an Edinburgh bus, and thus terribly exciting. In Niddrie we got slightly lost as Google Maps initially directed us to the former primary school, now boarded up and decrepit. Not to worry, the beautiful and modern new campus was close by and we arrived in plenty of time. There we met with Anne Pettit, Head Teacher, and handed over the book donation. All were delighted, the required photos were taken and we all went home satisfied and slightly damp.

Kirsty, Rachel, Daiden and Christy, pleased to have successfully completed the task.
Barbara, Kirsty, Daiden and Christy, still pleased by task completion (and by Barbara’s umbrella).
Barbara, Kirsty, Daiden and Christy, still pleased by task completion (and by Barbara’s umbrella).

Barbara Arrighi, Christy Brown, Daiden O’Regan, Kirsty Woods and Rachel Cree.

Working for Bloomsbury Publishing…

…or how my work placement hunt turned into an unexpected job opportunity with one of UK’s leading publishing houses

I was in London, for what I thought would be one month only, in order to conduct interviews of publishers for my dissertation and also find a work placement. This opportunity was given to me by the university and one of its donators. From the very early days of my stay there, I came across an interesting job offer with Bloomsbury Publishing, who were looking to employ a Digital QA (Quality Assurance) Assistant in their offices in central London. I did not spend much time thinking about it, sent an email with my CV and cover letter attached and received a reply the day after proposing a job interview proposal the following week. Three weeks after my first meeting my current frontline manager, I moved from Edinburgh to London to start working in the company’s prestigious offices in Bedford square. Everything happened so fast, that I still find it difficult to realise what an amazing opportunity has come my way!

Being one of UK’s largest publishing houses, Bloomsbury has many departments and divisions, with the Quality Assurance team being an integral part of the Digital Development department. My main task is to check the accuracy of the digitised version of a wide range of theatrical plays from the international repertoire that can be accessed on the dedicated website Drama Online, as well as the online versions of academic monographs available on the Bloomsbury Collections website. Working on plays written by Shakespeare, Brecht, Ibsen, and contemporary playwrights is very different to the process required for highly structured educational books or humanities titles. However, both require the same level of accuracy.


To be honest, I did not realise at first how famous Bloomsbury Publishing is, as I am from France. Thus, I am very proud to work for the publisher of Khaled Hosseini, Colum McCann, Howard Jacobson (Man Booker Prize winner) and many other fantastic authors that I look forward to discovering in the next couple of months. And last but not least, J.K. Rowling, who owes her rise to fame to Bloomsbury Publishing discerning agents.

I feel very lucky and thankful for this great opportunity. Everybody was very kind to me from the very first day and I really enjoy working here. And London could be just the beginning for a wonderful journey with Bloomsbury. Who knows? Maybe one day I will get to visit their offices in New York, in Sydney, or in New Delhi!

Placement at Luath Press

One of three desks where I would work.
Battling my way through the masses of early bird festival-goers towards Edinburgh Castle, I completely missed the entrance to Luath Press on what was to be my first day there. Indeed, it is easy to miss the little offshoot from the main street where, upon being promptly buzzed in, you climb up several flights of stairs to be met by a vibrant, well-oiled machine of an office. I was greeted by Danielle, who was also completing a work placement, and who would, along with the staff at Luath, help me along my way over the course of the next week.
After being introduced to director Gavin MacDougall, who brought me up to speed with what Luath Press is all about, I was handed a long list of tasks I would hopefully be able to complete during my time there. Unfortunately, given the short duration of my placement, it would be impossible to complete them all; however, I feel that, upon leaving on my last afternoon, I had been able to tackle quite a few. Given that Luath Press is a relatively small publisher, I knew that I would probably get to dabble in different departments over the course of the week. Having focused on editorial during my time at Napier, I was quite nervous to jump into tasks relating to marketing and production such as creating AI sheets, press releases, press lists, posters, and marketing plans.
However, after a few hiccups I was thoroughly enjoying it; I noticed how learning by doing allowed for a speedy increase in my confidence and capabilities when using certain programs and constructing certain documents. It was especially great to realise you were immediately accepted as part of a team and entrusted with real, significant tasks instead of ‘practice’ tasks. It was obvious throughout the placement that the team were expert multi-taskers and communicated with one another effectively and efficiently.
I completely enjoyed the fact that you didn’t know what to expect every morning upon arriving in the attic (more than a little out of breath) – in one week alone I saw a journalist, three authors, countless delivery men, and many books pass through the door.
All in all, I am delighted to have completed my work placement at Luath Press and am especially grateful for the support and patience of its staff; I hope to cross paths with them again soon.

Placement with Alban Books

I was grateful to be able to spend two weeks on a placement with Alban Books. Alban, based in Edinburgh, specialise in the sales, marketing and distribution of spiritual and religious books from around six American publishers.

Upon arrival to their offices in the picturesque Dean Village, I was shown to my own desk, computer and email address. With preparation under way for the Fall 2014 releases, was immediately launched into testing my proof-reading skills by going through a large batch of AI sheets – I was grateful for the chance to improve my editorial skills.

My Desk at Alban Books
My Desk at Alban Books

Being very interested in the marketing side of the industry, I was lucky enough to be able to sit in on the marketing strategy meeting for the Fall 2014 releases, an invaluable experience, which has given me a wonderful insight into marketing strategy and planning. I was impressed at how everyone was able to identify the books that they thought would be big sellers and the approach that would be taken over promoting them.

My design skills, too, were put to the test, with flyers and order forms for various conferences and scholarly meetings tasked to me. Having not been 100% assured by my own skills, I was happy to improve them, and am optimistic they are of a high enough standard to represent Alban at their relevant conferences.

One of the key things I learned at Alban Books is how important it is to maintain and up-to-date and accurate website. Alban has such a website. Having been made an administrator of the site, I went through a database of titles with minor issues to fix them. Tracking down information about books from other publisher’s websites which were not so well maintained could be frustrating; it was easy to imagine putting myself in a customer’s shoes and feeling equally, if not more frustrated.

I enjoyed the wide variety of titles I was able to work on during my time at Alban: everything from autobiographical accounts from American Civil War leaders to delightful children’s picture books explaining the origination of the Thesaurus.

Before my placement began, I was very keen, not only to improve my existing skills in a professional environment, but to learn new skills as well. Programmes such as Mail Chimp, Amazon advantage as well as aspects of Microsoft Excel gave me the chance to do this. I am still amazed by and cannot fathom how Alban’s AI Sheet generator works, safe in the knowledge that had sliced bread not come around, this would be the benchmark for comparison.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Alban Books, and learned a great deal too. I am extremely grateful to everyone for their guidance and for making me feel so welcome. I was even included in the World Cup sweepstakes (at the time of writing I am a loyal Belgium and Brazil fan – my other teams let me down) and the occasional Friday afternoon bar of chocolate! I look forward to continuing on at Alban one day a week in the future.