A Placement at Vagabond Voices

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At the beginning of this course the placement module always seemed exciting, but when the time came to actually organising one, it all felt a bit more daunting. I had no direct experience in the industry, and although you’ve got to start somewhere, getting that first bit of experience is always tricky. It’s difficult to put yourself into a situation where you don’t really know the day-to-day workings of a publishing house and are wondering what you can bring to the table. Of course, as it turns out, I had far more to offer than I thought and those transferable skills everyone talks about really do come in handy.

I secured my placement with Vagabond Voices in December, after having researched the company for a case study the previous trimester. Continue reading “A Placement at Vagabond Voices”

Placement at Vagabond Voices


The first time I met Allan, the founder and soul of Vagabond Voices, was on a rainy Scottish day at a reading held at the Golden Hare Bookstore in Stockbridge.

My placement at Vagabond Voices had been agreed but had yet to start, and I had taken care to familiarise myself with the publisher’s catalogue before meeting Allan. I had been impressed: bookselling and publishing in general are living difficult times, but being able to find a market for translated literary fiction of the kind that Vagabond Voices produces takes a lot of passion and dedication.

I knew my main task would be the redesign of Vagabond Voice’s website, and I had ideas – lots of them, in fact – but I wasn’t sure if Allan would let me implement them.

When he gave me the freedom of just drafting a flatplan for the website and presenting it to him, I was thrilled and a bit anxious. A website, after all, is the window through which the internet would view Vagabond Voices. It was no small responsibility, and I set to work right away.

WorVV_2king mainly remotely, the experience was a bit different than it might have been in an office. It was nonetheless a valuable learning experience, especially for someone who’s inclined towards a freelancing profession rather than a traditional 9-5 one (anyone who’s ever worked in publishing is laughing at that second number, I know).

I had to set my own schedule and goals. I also had no specific, step to step guidance, I had instead to analyse the existing website by myself, trying to see what could be improved and how, and tailoring it to Vagabond Voice’s specific identity as a publisher. In the course of my meetings with Allan we would then go over my ideas and discuss them, then course-correct or change details to better fit his vision. I learned how to listen to a client and understand what they needed, and how to argue my conviction making it clear that my first interest was the customer’s satisfaction.

When finally the day came to swap the new website with the old one, I have to admit I was rather nervous. The number of “what if…” that went through my head was innumerable. But, as they say, all is well that ends well.


The most interesting part of my placement, though, would have been the conversations with Allan after all the order of business had been talked through. Having the privilege of talking and listening to a passionate and engaged lover of books was, to me, a true treat. That we could go seamlessly back and forth between sentences in Italian and English was just a bonus.

Placement at Vagabond Voices


Images courtesy of Vagabond Voices. Covers design by Mark Mechan.

As I have come to realise during my placement, Allan Cameron – author, translator, editor and founder of Vagabond Voices – has a particular fondness for the word garrulous. And indeed, one of the first things that strike you about him is his mastery of the lost art of conversation, his passion for sharing experiences and discussing opinions. As an intern, of course, I felt particularly lucky, because there is nothing more formative than engaging in an open dialogue with someone willing to share the tricks of the trade. The dialogue was all the more pleasing, as it included frequent switches from English to Italian – a language Mr Cameron speaks fluently, with an unmistakable Tuscan accent…

In addition to that, from the very beginning of my placement I was given the opportunity to gain precious, first-hand insight into the life of an independent publishing house. … Continue reading “Placement at Vagabond Voices”

Placement at Vagabond Voices: e-books and Italian coffee

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Images courtesy of Vagabond Voices

Often, one of the bigger worry of an intern is to just end up making coffee. At Vagabond Voices, a small publishing house based in Glasgow, the situation is exactly the opposite: Allan Cameron, director and founder, but also writer and translator, is always ready to welcome the staff with an excellent Italian coffee. His passion for Italy is also reflected in exciting conversations that we had in the sweet Lingua del Sì. But life at Vagabond Voices is not only inspiring dialogues sipping hot beverages, it is also hard work and the opportunity to achieve outstanding skills.

Vagabond Voices’ publications are focused on original books in English, translated novels from Europe and polemical and passionate works.

The company has entered the digital revolution, publishing both the backlist and the new titles in the e-book version, and the main task of my placement was to manage the conversions, creating the electronic releases.

Vagabond Voices
Images courtesy of Vagabond Voices

Before starting to work with Vagabond Voices, my knowledge of the digital formats was relatively vague, but thanks to this great chance now I can use HTML code, write a CSS style sheet and add metadata. These words may be unknown to most people, but they represent the heart of an e-book and improve the reading experience.

I also had the occasion to learn some translation basics, writing a Readers Report of an Italian book and then discussing the issues regarding the adaptation in English.

Those skills are very valuable in the current marketplace, and working at Vagabond Voices allowed me to broaden my knowledge of two fascinating sectors: e-publications and translations.

To discover Vagabond Voices e-books, click here
To be up-to-date with new releases and events, follow Vagabond Voices at http://www.vagabondvoices.co.uk, Facebook and Twitter.

Vagabond Voices: An Author’s Perspective

During my placement with Vagabond Voices, I had the fortune of attending two of their launches:  Allan Massie’s Surviving (to conclude a memorable first day) and The Lost Art of Losing by Gregory Norminton, the second book of aphorisms to be published by Vagabond Voices.

After the latter event, I approached Gregory to ask about the unusual form of the aphorism, and why we haven’t seen more of them in print, to which he replied, “I suppose the perception that no one would purchase a book of aphorisms is the main reason we don’t see more in print.” Among those who had arrived to pick up a copy of Gregory’s “little book” were Alasdair Gray, Bernard MacLaverty, and another of Vagabond Voices’ writers, Chris Dolan.

The seemingly irresistible little volume is perfectly proportioned to be picked up and dipped into for moments at a time; as Gregory summarized, with his characteristic concision and style,  “After all, when should the book be read if not in snatches: on the Tube between proximate stations, or for a moment while brushing your teeth?”

When asked about his experiences with Vagabond Voices, Gregory lauded the creative support and personal touch which developed through working with a small publisher, and described the benefits of the intimate author-publisher collaboration which could be achieved in this setting: “Working with a small publisher, specifically Vagabond Voices, I find an attention to detail, a care and a commitment to each book, which can be missing from bigger publishing houses. The former has to nurture, within its limited means, every hatchling” – a statement with which, as an intern of Vagabond Voices, I can readily identify.

Men assert, women know.

Toleration should not be confused with respect. Of course you are entitled to your opinion – as am I to treat it with contempt.

Fearless” is an epithet which bigots apply to themselves. An open mind grapples constantly with dread.



Vagabond Voices

Artistic exchange between cultures is a crucial component of global understanding[1]

I was born in Poland and for twenty-seven years of my life, apart from the first six when my reading skills were fairly poor, I have been exposed to literature and books from around the world. Publishing in my home country went through a very difficult journey and non-Polish titles allowed me to travel around the world in my imagination. My favourite writers are from Albania, Chile, Hungary, and Russia.

I heard a lot about high reading standards in the UK. On my arrival I was looking forward to experience a wonderful voyage through the bookshop shelves where I would find literature that would enrich my personal library. When I was looking for titles by Sandor Marai one bookseller suggested that it would be wiser to learn Hungarian because translations are not something which I would find in the UK book market.

Just 3% of books published last year in the UK have been translations.[2]

Through my work placement in Vagabond Voices I understood how difficult it is to publish successful translations. It’s a time and money consuming process, with little chance of any financial profits. Beside these difficulties there are people like Allan Cameron (Vagabond Voices director) who believes in the importance of bringing books from abroad into the UK market.

To discover the most advanced ideas in literature, you need to know what is happening elsewhere, and however vast the English-speaking world may be, it is still thinking through the closed mechanisms of a single language.[3]

This small publishing house was launched in 2008 and was based on Lewis, until recently moving to Glasgow. Vagabond Voices specialise in translations of contemporary literature, political polemics and rants.

Vagabond Voices

Publishing companies function in an industry which is defined by a complex interplay of the creative and the economic. They must be able to recognise and nurture creative talent and they must be commercially savvy enough to turn the creative spark into a profitable product. Too much emphasis on the commercial aspects will stifle creativity and readers will turn elsewhere. Too much emphasis on creativity might mean that a publisher has a fantastic book, but does not make any money from it, thus jeopardising the potential to publish future books.

My time at Vagabond Voices made me think about this predicament. It was an invaluable experience. I sampled many things from rights and contracts to designing websites, from meeting authors to assisting at book launches. I was put in charge of online marketing and introduced the publisher to increasingly potent social media instruments such as Twitter. Yet it was the philosophy of the company that really struck a chord with me. A ‘vagabond’ can be classed as someone who is disreputable or worthless. As a publisher, however, Vagabond Voices is far from disreputable. Testament to its integrity, it has managed in particularly bleak economic times to maintain that which drives people to read and write: an enduring respect for the written word.

Returning to my opening paragraph with this is mind, it must be said that the lasting impression from my time at Vagabond Voices is the notion that the commercial and creative aspects of a business must indeed be in conversation, yet to maintain literary credibility it must be the creative side that speaks with a louder voice.