Representing the creative future

WORMS: An independent publication for book lovers created by CSM graduate Clem Macleod

Central Saint Martins’ fashion Journalism graduate Clem Macleod on following her own path from fashion school to self-publishing

East-London based book lover Clem Macleod had the chance to realise that studying Fashion Journalism does not only mean one thing quite early in her career. The field of fashion writing sometimes feels limiting in terms of career options, but during her time at the BA Fashion Communication course at Central Saint Martins, Macleod was encouraged to look at fashion outside of the runway. By analysing dress in literature, the young writer did not conform to a professional reality that did not fully cover her needs, and found a way to bridge her interest in fashion and her fervour for literary texts by starting her own magazine about books and the notion of accessibility in the writing and reading communities. We spoke to the Worms’ creator before the printing of her new issue about running an independent print publication today and the alternative path she took after her fashion degree.

Clem Macleod

How did you get the idea to create Worms during your studies?

During my second year [at the BA Fashion Communication at Central Saint Martins] we did a module with Alexander Fury where he gave us a list of books and we had to analyse the way that fashion/clothes had been written into the narratives. I did the Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe and I remember reading it within about 2 days and absolutely loving it. I’ve loved books since a young age so realising that literature could be incorporated into my fashion studies like that was a real eye-opener and a very exciting moment for me.

“I’ve loved books since a young age so realising that literature could be incorporated into my fashion studies like that was a real eye-opener and a very exciting moment for me.” – Clem Macleod

Was it hard to create a literary focused project in fashion school? Were you questioned about its link to the notion of fashion?

It had its challenges but ultimately, my tutor was really supportive of it. I studied under Judith Watt, a real bibliophile. She guided me to discover different literary groups and to question the role that dress played in their circles. One of my favourite projects (before Worms) was on the Beat Generation and their style. I wore a lot of black that year.

How does fashion inform your work and your magazine?

On the surface Worms is a magazine about books and writing, but what it really explores is ideas of identity and the formation of the self. So naturally, fashion falls into that. The way we dress, the books we read, the films we watch – it all becomes a part of who we are. I was never interested in writing about specific brands or trends. I think that the people I was surrounded by at CSM were all so good at that, the stakes were high, and I didn’t feel like I had much to contribute to those discussions. I dabbled in fashion writing during my year out, working with 10 Magazine in Australia. I was really interested in sustainable fashion and the direction that’s heading.

“I was never interested in writing about specific brands or trends. I think that the people I was surrounded by at CSM were all so good at that, the stakes were high, and I didn’t feel like I had much to contribute to those discussions.”- Clem Macleod

What are the core elements of the magazine?

Community and accessibility in the literary world! There are so many young people doing incredible projects within the literary communities that people need to know about. Really experimental, exciting stuff by passionate artists/writers/creators who aren’t pretentious and don’t necessarily have a degree in literature. It’s all about accessibility and making reading and writing available to everyone. Getting rid of the elitism that has previously felt so prevalent in that world. I remember when I first started out with my research I came across all these amazing young writers in the US (Fiona Duncan, Natasha Stagg, Stephanie LaCava, Ariana Reines) who were all somehow linked to the fashion world with their writing, and I was so excited that this community of women existed, but I was also envious. Now, I feel like I’ve met so so many young writers in the UK and around Europe that are doing similar things, and taking different approaches to explore literature. The ICA (when it was open) was like a haven for finding these niche writer groups.

“There are so many young people doing incredible projects within the literary communities that people need to know about. Really experimental, exciting stuff by passionate artists/writers/creators who don’t necessarily have a degree in literature. ” – Clem Macleod

Can you take us through your journey after graduation?

I started working at Donlon Books during my final year, so continued with that. Then the whole process with Worms was quite organic. I didn’t really plan on starting a magazine, to be honest, I thought I would be writing freelance more and doing my own project less. But I was pleasantly surprised with how it was received and ended up doing a few more print runs and getting distribution with Antenne Books. From there it only made sense to do another issue, and now I’ve just released the third. I don’t know what I did plan on doing, but I’m pleased with how it’s all turned out… I continue to work at Donlon which is great because I meet people through the shop and Conor and Sarah who I work with are very supportive.

 

Why is it important for you to create a print publication rather than a digital one? 

I’m very much a ‘prints not dead’ advocate, and I know that Worms readers are too. The whole design and ethos of the magazine are inspired by zine culture, so it would feel very wrong to go online. I actually find it quite difficult reading anything online. I have to annotate a lot for things to go in.

Clem at Donlon Books

Can you take us through the process of creating each issue? 

It changes each time. For the first issue, it was obviously quite methodical and tactical because I was doing it for my course, so I had to show all of my research and then the writing was all completed, followed by the design. For the second it was quite hard navigating how much of that initial research development was necessary, and how much was just for tutors to grade. I also didn’t have rigid deadlines, so I kept on finding subjects that I wanted to add, and it was a bit all over the place. For that issue, a friend, Mia Angelique, helped me a lot with pushing things along and kind of getting me to just get on with it. She’s also a contributor to the magazine, and she shares a lot of my ideas for Worms, so her help is really valuable to me. For this issue I’ve just done, I got a bit more of a team together. I have an editorial assistant now, Violet Conroy. She helps with a lot of sub-editing and following up contributors, she’s also a contributor herself. I had two people helping with graphics, Francisca Mendes (who was also at CSM) and Rifke Sadleir. So it’s naturally evolving and I’m able to share the work with others which feels really positive.

In terms of printing, I’ve used two different riso printers who have both been really supportive of the fact that this is an entirely independent project, and they’ve both been really accommodating to that in terms of costs. For issue 1 I used Hato Press and for 2 I used Duplikat. I’m still doing separate projects with Duplikat but Hato is printing this next issue.

“Every time I post an Instagram picture I really assume that everyone knows that it’s me behind it and that they can hear me saying it in my voice and accent. It takes a lot of going back to my initial ideas and reminding myself why I wanted to do it. ” – Clem Macleod

What is the hardest part of running the magazine? Are there any emotional struggles related to this project for you?

Worms feels very personal to me, which is probably one of my greatest struggles with it… but also maybe one of its strengths? It feels like a child that I’ve raised and now I’m constantly questioning whether the direction it’s taking is right. Every time I post an Instagram picture I really assume that everyone knows that it’s me behind it and that they can hear me saying it in my voice and accent. It takes a lot of going back to my initial ideas and reminding myself why I wanted to do it.

 

What is the third issue about? What does it include and where can we find it? 

The third issue is based on biomythography which is a term that Audre Lorde coined to intertwine history, biography, and myth in writing. That along with Joan Didion’s dictum ‘we tell ourselves stories  in order to live.’ In short, it’s the role of storytelling and myths in our formation of self. There’s a lot in there to do with memoir, the memory as a trustworthy literary device, reading texts that inform our identities, the female archetype, witchcraft. We’ve got interviews with Michelle Tea, Moyra Davey, Lynne Tillman, Ellen van Neervan, Johanna Hedva, Jenny Hval, Julie Enszer, and lots of other features I’m really excited about.

During lockdown it seems that people started reading more; do you think that there is a need for a book-focused publication more than ever? Did the pandemic inspire any parts of your new issue? 

People are reading more, but also finding it quite hard to concentrate during the months that we’re locked down. Something to do with existential dread maybe… but I’d hope that there’s a need for a book-focused publication! Something I have noticed is people wanting to support local businesses. Like with the emergence of bookshop.org and similar initiatives. Everyone has been very supportive.

Pre-order the new issue of Worms online at www.wormsmagazine.com, or buy it in-person in a number of places around London.

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