Many expats end up in Sweden due to love, but for Ormston, it was curiosity – combined with help from the European Union – that opened the door to Scandinavia. Little did she know, it would also enable her to fulfill her dream of launching an unusual take on publishing.
“During the Scottish independence referendum there was a lot of talk about how Scotland was more similar to Scandinavia than England. And that seemed fine, but I was curious to see if it was actually the case,” she recalls.
“I wanted to learn more about the people and culture, and I was asked to do a ten-month EU-funded residency programme with an organization called the Connectors Society in Malmö. So I worked there, spending half my time as an event manager, and the rest of the time working on my own project. Which was the Word-o-Mat.”
Word-o-Mat is not only an independent publisher of new short writing, but also a zine vending machine. Ormston’s idea is to use the machine to sell small, handmade boxes containing handmade zines to draw attention to the work of new international writers selected by the publishing company.
“The aim of the project is to take some of the amazing short writing being produced online, and make people pay attention to it through attention to detail. So, by making this beautiful object, spending time on choosing good work and making the user experience fun, people might be able to pay more attention to the work,” she says.
The handmade Word-o-Mat zines. Photo: Charlotte Ormston
It’s an idiosyncratic concept, and one that would never have gotten off the ground if it wasn’t for the enthusiasm the idea was met with in Malmö.
“I had been dreaming about the kind of machine I needed. Did I have to make it, find it, transform one? How could I do it? I really lucked out when I came to Malmö and started telling people about it,”
“I was working at STPLN, an open office and collaborating space with a lot of really handy people. I told people about the concept and within two days I had a message from someone saying ‘I’ve found the perfect machine for you in a second hand shop, go and buy it!’. And that was that, the project was born.”
Ormston had her machine, but she also needed to modify it, make it suit her needs, and get her publishing company off the ground. Once again, Malmö and Sweden delivered.
“Sweden was an amazing place to do the project. There are so many resources available to help these things happen. A wealth of tools, space, a place for me to put the machine and work on it. Then the people who know how to use tools, makers,”
“There’s a real makers spirit in Malmö. It was really exciting to spend time with people who know how to build things, know about hardware and software. They know the right apps to use, how to build websites, and are excited to share knowledge and collaborate. I couldn’t have done this without the amazing people I met in Malmö.”
The Scot also found the enthusiastic reaction of locals to be particularly inspiring during the early stages. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Swedes seemed particularly keen on the unique design of the machine.
“People were really excited about the user experience and the design in Sweden. They were really enthusiastic about the distribution possibilities, the design, the whole concept. I had really great chats with people working at the library and running community literature projects in Malmö. There was a lot of support, it was a great place to birth the project.”
Inspiring as it proved to be, Sweden wasn’t perfect however. While the country facilitated the technical side of the project, the business side of things proved to be more difficult.
“I moved to Malmö at the same time as most of the refugees did. It was a lovely welcome: I arrived at the station tired, exhausted and confused, and there were loads of people ready to welcome lost, confused and tired people, which was nice to see,”
“But it did mean I struggled to get myself established into the Swedish system. It was very difficult to get a personnummer [personal identity number] and set up a company. So in the end, while the project was born in Sweden and will continue to have a large base there, I’m going to move it to Scotland as it’s much easier to have a business here.”
The Word-o-Mat machine: Coming to a European city near you. Photo: Charlotte Ormston.
Ormston says that Swedish form-filling meant that in the short term it was easier for her to move a cumbersome machine back to Scotland than continue to run her affairs in Scandinavia. That doesn’t mean she’s finished with Malmö however. Quite the opposite.
“We’re taking the machine from Sweden to Scotland on a grand literary European tour in a van, providing the walls haven’t come down yet.”
“We’ll publish new editions every three months, which is four editions a year, totaling 24 writers a year. Our base will be in Glasgow, and we’ll hopefully get another machine set up in Malmö after that.”
The publisher’s goal of establishing a second base in Malmö doesn’t look too far-fetched if the initial interest in their project is anything to go by. In June they launched a crowd-funding campaign to help put the finishing touches on the machine, as well as pay for the first edition of the zine.
With just over one week left to go the campaign has already met its funding target. The founder says the next step is to try and find more international contributors. Unsurprisingly, she’s keen to work with Swedes, and in particular writers from her beloved Malmö.
“We’ll release a second call for submissions after the campaign, and I’d really love to have more Swedish writers. At the moment we publish in English, but somewhere down the line I’d like to do more translation. It would be great if we could have more Malmö writers and writers from Sweden submitting their work. I have a big soft spot for Malmö. The next call for submissions will be in August, so any Malmö writers should come my way.”
In general, the Word-o-Mat founder couldn’t be happier with how her venture is going so far, and at a turbulent time for Europe in particular, she sees it as a small but important way of promoting links between different European nations.
“It feels like a very clear, positive thing I can do in my own way to combat the fear and hatred at the moment. A direct link between Scotland, Sweden, and the rest of the world. I’m really excited that it’s happening now, more than ever.”
“It was my dream about a year ago, so I’m ecstatic it has become a reality due to the people and resources I had access to. I’m so excited about the future, on so many different levels.”