‘Elsewhere’ Day: five launches, four volumes and three publishers
On Thursday 26 September, Cargo Publishing, MacSweeney’s Books and The Edinburgh International Book Festival organised a five-city launch of their four-volume short story anthology Elsewhere. A bit like the synchronised watches worn by a military team, each event was meant to kick off around 6pm. In Manchester, the event was hosted by Legend of a Suicide author David Vann and Scottish writer Rodge Glass. In Glasgow, it was Docherty author William MacIlvanney and Edwin Morgan International Poetry Prize winner Jen Hadfield. The Inverness launch was hosted by childrens’ writer Barry Hutchinson and author of Buddha Da, Anne Donovan. In London, Mr. Gum creator Andy Stanton hosted a reading, and in Edinburgh, EIBF director Nick Barley sat with children’s writer Vivien French, crime author Doug Johnstone and cartoonist John Fardell.
It must be said that these books are lovely to hold (and smell, according to Johnstone ). With their creamy pages, delicate doodles of moody-faced people and hardback covers in colours of red, blue, black and green, they are reminiscent of a writer’s diary. Each volume bears a different name: ‘Here’, ‘There’, ‘Somewhere’and ‘Elsewhere’. 50 authors were commissioned and amongst the fifty, twenty-five are Scottish.
At the Edinburgh launch, French, Johnstone and Fardell read out their works from their chairs, giving the top level of Waterstones’ Princes St branch the ambience of a living room. French began the evening reading her work ‘Billy D’, a story inspired by people-watching in a library. While there, French noticed a woman who was ‘present in body but elsewhere in her mind’. Fardell invited the audience to read from the books while he narrated his cartoon ‘The Elsewhere Genie,’ a light-hearted piece about a slave who wishes to be freed from his ogre master. Having watched The Wizard of Oz recently, Fardell said the repetitive line ‘There’s no place like home’ got him thinking about the concept of belonging. ‘Elsewhere is where you want to be, but really it’s the people you’re with’, Fardell added. And Johnstone took the geographical connotation of the term literally in his story about a daughter of a volcanologist who visits the Icelandic mountain which bears her name, ‘Surtsey’. ‘I’m quite an Icelandicphile’ he added, perhaps revealing a desire to live there.
It’s ironic that a collection themed on the impulse to desert one’s present location would bring authors from around the globe together. Barley stated that he wanted to ‘boost Scottish writing’ and he ‘looked beyond Scotland’s borders for inspiration’. The theme of ‘elsewhere’ seems arbitrary; what’s really important is this creative union of writers and publishers. Perhaps French said it the best: ‘this collection is a microcosm of a whole huge bookshop’.