home Arts & Literature, Features, Interview Interview: Ellen Desmond of Monstrous Regiment

Interview: Ellen Desmond of Monstrous Regiment

Ellen Desmond is a UCC BA English and Psychology graduate, and former Editor-in-Chief of (the award-winning) Motley Magazine. After completing a publishing masters in Edinburgh Napier University, she started a publishing collective called ‘Monstrous Regiment’ with fellow publishing student, Lauren Nickodemus. Their first project is an anthology of essays & personal stories about bisexuality called ‘The Bi-ble: An Anthology of Essays on Bisexuality’, and they’re funding the project through crowdfunding website KickStarter. I spoke to Ellen about the project, and about how her experience in UCC shaped her career.

UCC Express: Did your experience on Verge and Motley lead you to pursuing a career in publishing?
Ellen Desmond: Yes, it did! I originally enrolled in UCC to study a BAP in Applied Psychology in 2012. I passed first year, and I really enjoyed the course but during my spare time I had become very involved with the UCC Journalism Society and contributing to the UCC Express. I have wanted to be a writer since I learned to write, pretty much. But as I grew up I learned to view this as a hobby. This was especially so in secondary school when speaking to Career Guidance Counsellors and teachers – there’s not a big publishing industry in Ireland and so I guess they didn’t have much information to impart on me other than maybe redirecting me towards a more “realistic” career.
Becoming involved with UCC media and publishing was my first insight into how to make a career out of publishing and writing. At the end of my first year, I decided to transfer to study English and become as involved with extra curricular publishing and writing activities as possible.

Exp: What are some of your main memories of UCC?
Ellen: My main memories of UCC are time spent with societies. I made most of my friends on the UCC Cancer Society, and I spent most of my time working on events and causing trouble around the place with them. I absolutely love semester one in UCC. It’s so pretty in the autumn and there’s always a great buzz and atmosphere on campus in September, and of course UCC at Christmas is the most beautiful place in the world for a coffee. I also really miss running Motley. I felt this a lot when I first moved away and left UCC. Motley was such a huge part of my life for such a long time, and I put a whole lot of myself into it – giving it up was very emotional for me. What a great award-winning publication! (Friendly banter).

Exp: What things do you miss most about Cork?
Ellen: Most of my friends from Cork have moved abroad or to Dublin by now, which is sad because Cork is great. I mostly miss my family and of course my cat. I really miss hanging out in Alchemy on Barrack’s Street and going for walks around The Lough, but most of all I miss the attitude of people in Cork. There’s no better sense of humour than the Cork one.

Exp: How did the move to Edinburgh go?
Ellen: The move to Edinburgh went really well for me. I needed a fresh start after 23 years in Cork, but I also moved here with two friends from UCC and there are direct flights from Cork so it was a relatively comfortable move. Edinburgh in August is an incredible place to be – there’s the Fringe Festival and the International Book Festival. When we moved here we had the best week of entertainment possible. As a place to live, I’d really recommend Edinburgh for a postgraduate course. There’s no shortage of courses on offer around the city and while Edinburgh is big, it’s not too big and it’s a rather easy and welcoming place to get to know. We soon learned that Edinburgh outside of fesitval time is even more wonderful!

Exp: What attracted you to the course in Napier, and how did that lead you to setting up your own publishing company/collective? 
Ellen: A friend of mine was studying an MA in Irish Literature and Film at UCC while I was in the second year of my BA. Her MA class had a career guidance talk during which they spoke a bit about publishing degrees. She told me about these and since then it was the plan I had for after my undergrad. There’s only one publishing degree in Ireland and that’s in Galway. I had heard good things about the Napier degree course and I have always wanted to move to Edinburgh so it seemed like the ideal fit. There’s also a very good postgrad publishing course in Stirling here, which I didn’t know before, and a few in London (but those are a lot more expensive).
Being in a postgraduate publishing degree is an ideal way to network and meet other publishers with shared passions, which is what was the biggest benefit of the course for me and the reason I became involved with MR.

Exp: What’s the story behind the name “Monstrous Regiment?” And your logo?
Ellen: My co-founder Lauren Nickodemus came up with the name and agenda of the collective before I became involved. The name Monstrous Regiment is a play on the treatise by John Knox against women in positions of authority. She liked the vibe of reclaiming something that’s viewed as monstrous or strange. As we’re a feminist publisher this fit very well with our aims.
Our logo came about as we were brainstorming about a group of little creatures or monsters that would fit with the collective’s name. We came up with alter egos of a cat and a fox. I’m the cat, of course.

Exp: Your website specifically mentions the words “feminist, bold, intersectional, unapologetic and diverse.” Why was it important for you to base Monstrous Regiment (MR) around these principles? Are these things missing from the publishing industry at large?

Ellen: The publishing industry seems to have no lack of women, but they aren’t making it to the top roles; they’re the backbone of the industry but not often the decision makers. Both Lauren and I have a bit of an anti-authority streak, so we wanted the autonomy to work on projects that inspired us and to have creative control over them. We’re both passionate about themes of social justice, especially surrounding feminism and sexuality, so a lot of our content is deeply connected to these themes. Publishing has always been a powerful tool for leading trends of thought and social change, and publishers have a certain amount of power to be gatekeepers of thought and value. This potential is something we love about the industry.

Exp: One of the future projects for MR is a “quarterly literary magazine” due to launch at the end of the year – can you tell us about that?
Ellen: A feminist literary magazine is going to be the central ongoing project for Monstrous Regiment. We’re working on a nonfiction book anthology first since we found there was both business and social demand for it, and the timing was right, but after this fall we’ll be focusing on the magazine, and bringing out the first issue in early 2018. It will feature short fiction, poetry, art and photography, primarily from Scottish women authors.

Exp: You’ve just launched a Kickstarter for your first publication, ‘The Bi-ble: An Anthology of Bisexual Narratives’. Can you tell me a little about it?
Ellen: The Bi-ble was another idea that Lauren had come up with before I got involved and I loved the name so much that I had to be part of it. (I intend to one day contribute an idea to this collective, but that day is not today.) We’re both interested in sexuality and sexual politics, and bisexuality is particularly intriguing because it occupies that liminal space between communities – it gets critique from both straight and LGBTQ* spheres, making it especially misunderstood and underrepresented. Anthologies are on the rise in the Scottish publishing scene, and that’s an ideal format for individuals coming together to give voice to an identity that needs more exposure.
Kickstarter is a crowdfunding platform. Crowdfunding is fascinating because it’s becoming an increasingly viable way for audiences to have an impact on what kind of literature they see. Especially with social topics like this, it becomes an opportunity for people to make their voices heard. Also, it’s a smart way for a start up to gain capital.

Exp: For any young freshers (particularly women) or students who want to go into writing, editing and publishing, do you have any advice for them?
Ellen: I would advise them to put together as big a portfolio as possible during their time at UCC, so that when they graduate they have plenty of proof that they are interested in, and active about, publishing. There isn’t a publishing degree in UCC so I came to see my extracurricular activities on par in importantance with my studies in terms of my career. When I got to Napier I had a very solid basis of experience – not a lot of the other new postgrads had this and it was a good way to take the pressure off when encountering new challenges. A Master’s degree is always challenging but a publishing one can be highly demanding for sure.
For women, it can be a bit daunting to put yourself forward but I think UCC media is a good place for women. At least it was when I was there. I worked under more female editors than male, and of course I had my own feminist reign of terror for about three years too.

Thanks to Ellen for taking the time to talk to us. You can find Monstrous Regiment on Twitter here, and you can check out the Kickstarter campaign for The Bi-ble here, with 22 days to go to help fund the project every little helps. On behalf of the Express, I would like to wish Ellen (and Lauren) the best of luck with the campaign & future MR projects.