Sunday, 30 December 2012

Books of the year, not published by Five Leaves

This is the third year I've posted my top ten books of the year. This has no particular link to Five Leaves as, of course, our own books are excluded but, in the welcome absence of a personal blog this site will do. Having said there is no link to Five Leaves, I doubt I'd have read so many books to do with Soviet Jewish history this year if it had not been for the Five Leaves' commemoration of Soviet Yiddish writers held in the summer. Top ten out of how many? I have, this year, read 61 books (compared to 64 last year and 61 the previous year). I'm not sure if that is a lot - back in bookselling days I would read about 100 books a year but reading, editing, re-reading, second editing, proof-reading etc Five Leaves titles takes up a lot of time out of reading for pleasure, in addition to what sometimes appears to be an unstoppable flow of magazines and newspapers coming into the house and office. I exclude short collections of poetry from the numbers as I do book length spined journals though each can take as much time as a "normal" book. But what the heck. Here's the list. They are not in order of preference and most were not published in 2012.

The Heather Blazing, fiction by Colm Toibin (Picador)
Adrian Mole - the prostrate years, fiction by Sue Townsend (Penguin)
Soviet and Kosher: Jewish popular culture in the Soviet Union 1923-1939 by Anna Shternshis (Indiana)
Heavy Sand, fiction by Anatoli Rybakov (Viking)
Bundist Counterculture in Interwar Poland by Jack Jacobs (Syracuse)
The Old Ways, travel meditations by Robert Macfarlane (Hamish Hamilton)
Moscow 1937 by Karl Schlogel (Polity)
Autonomy, the cover designs of Anarchy magazine by David Poyner (Hyphen Press)
Singing Men, short stories by Derek Gregory (Iron Press)
Jerusalem: chronicles from the Holy City, a graphic travel/politics book by Guy Delisle (Chatto)

Eight out of ten this year were by male writers, half were from independent presses. There were a few books I read that disappointed, including the most recent Ian McEwan. I don't think I read enough fiction this year but I will give an hon mensh to Anne Zaroudi, Stephen Booth and Sam Bourne for their latest crime/thriller novels and Alison Moore whose The Lighthouse was the small press success story of the year.



Friday, 21 December 2012

Five Leaves year so far

Since the Mayan calendar got it wrong about the end of the world it is worth writing an end of year report from Five Leaves Towers. OK the year is not ended but all that remains is to read, correct and edit a pile of manuscripts for next year... Appropriately the last act dealing with current books was to pack up our last ten copies of Maps for the London Review Bookshop and order another reprint of our surprise best seller from 2011, which continues to run and run, not least at the LRB. This year's journal, Utopia, is selling, though not in such quantities but we know of some reviews coming up that will help. Not that we're dissatisfied.
Utopia was one of fifteen new titles this year, and there was a new edition of Beneath the Blue Sky, our memoir of Traveller life in the 1960s. This has not been an easy year for me, personally, having to spend a lot of time in Scotland on family business which has put pressure on the firm. Despite that - and a big addition to our workload because of the rise of ebooks - we had only one casualty for the year with Chris Searle's jazz book Red Groove being held over until next year. Sorry, Chris! Of all our writers he's likely to be the most understanding as he has a long history of involvement with the small press world. The work is written, only needing editing and picture research (and typesetting and design...).
Ebooks have been the big story of the year nationally and parochially. Our worker Pippa Hennessy has turned twenty of our titles into ebooks. Indeed she has become something of an expert in this, giving talks and workshops to other groups. Our ebook of Michael Malone's Blood Tears became our best-selling title, with around 5,000 sold as an ebook, with a further 1,000 in print. As an experiment we offered the ebook free and 18,000 copies were downloaded with interest continuing as the book was priced. It is now obvious though that only some books will sell at all in ebooks. NOT poetry, which we knew really. Genre fiction does best - but we are very interested in the new Kindle Fire and have plans to exploit this as much as possible with some books in due course, with video, high definition colour, hyper links. This will certainly be part of the future for, for example, our books on landscape. But that's coming.
The tie up with Kindle - ie Amazon - is not one we are too pleased with, given Amazon's reluctance to pay tax. Save for some good young adult fiction sales through the American company Overdrive near 100% of our ebook sales have been through Kindle. Though Kobo, Sony and Nook are trying to get into the market we can expect Kindle/Amazon to dominate for some time to come. But hey - look what happened to Starbucks! This has also been our first full year supplying Amazon direct following complaints about availability. The terms are awful - 60% discount - to secure good availability, but now one third of our trade sales are through Amazon and sales continue to rise. We would prefer people to buy from their local independent bookshop, but we are realistic. But if you do buy online try Foyles. They often beat Amazon on price. Our current best seller at Amazon - Talking Green - is £7.19. Over at Foyles online the book costs £5.99. And Foyles is an independent.
The other full year of... was of central buying by Waterstones. By central buying we mean one or two people being the buyers for subjects, for every shop in the country. We have benefited from this in Scotland where the chain has really backed Michael Malone and our other Scottish crime writer Russel McLean (his third book, Father Confessor did well this year) but elsewhere we can find a book is a great seller for us but Waterstones buy in a handful or even no copies whatsoever. In the past some of their shops did well for us, some OK, some badly - fine, that's how things should be as locally the staff know their customers and vary in their interests. All gone. Such concentrated power is not good for publishers, for writers, for readers - or for Waterstones. On the other hand there are some great independents out there, and we need to do more with them. Meantime we've struggled a bit with young adult fiction, not least due to cutbacks in school and public libraries. We've produced three great books this year by David Belbin, Bali Rai and Pauline Chandler - none exactly unknown in the young adult world - but sales have not been great.
Two books have been reprinted within weeks of publication, Andy Croft's 1948 (our contribution to Olympic mania) and Colin Ward's Talking Green. Why? In both cases they were Nicholas Lezard's paperback of the week in The Guardian. We bow down in front of him. Actually, the day Ward was in the paper every paperback under review save one was from an indie publisher. We were thrilled that five out of six books on the Booker list this year were from indies, three of them being from small independents and one being from a Nottingham author. Well done indies, well done Alison Moore for her book with Salt, The Lighthouse.
I won't list all the books we have published this year - the blog would be too long, but all appear on our website at www.fiveleaves.co.uk and have been covered in earlier postings on the blog. Those writers not mentioned have not been confined to oblivion and we appreciate them (so don't get grumpy if you have not been mentioned).
Outside of straightforward publishing it was a busy year, as always. Because of family commitments, though I mostly programmed Lowdham Book Festival's winter weekend, I had to drop out of organising the main festival. Five Leaves main contribution was in Pippa designing the programme and other publicity material. Our other projects were not affected - States of Independence in Leicester (a one day celebration of independent publishing) was a great day, and there is now a set of such events - Birmingham, Sheffield, the Poetry Book Fair in London. We had stalls at all, with our many writers appearing too. The Bread and Roses Award for Radical Publishing was duly established, with the winner being David Graeber's book Debt. Bread and Roses has been well covered in this blog, as have our Teenage Kicks Derbyshire event for young adults and young adult writers, and the international commemoration of the Yiddish writers murdered on August 12 1952. 150 people came to our half-day event of speeches, readings and music and the launch of our From Revolution to Repression: Soviet Yiddish writing 1917-1952. Finally, unless I have forgotten something, Pippa took the lead in relaunching Beeston Poets with Jackie Kay, Neil Astley and Andy Croft as readers for the first season. All our projects are with outside partners - The Bookcase in Lowdham, the Creative Writing Team at De Montfort University, the Alliance of Radical Booksellers, Derbsyshire Libraries, Jewish Music Institute, Nottinghamshire Libraries and Nottingham Poetry Society. Best friends.
It will never be easy being a small publisher. But in the year that Random merged with Penguin, that Tindall Street merged with Serpent's Tail/Profile that we are still here, still publishing and still enthusiastic is worth mentioning. 2012 has been a tough year financially and personally but there are some things to be proud of. But we won't be publishing any Mayan calendars - their fact checkers are so poor.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

David Birkett on Utopia

Utopia

David Birkett is an old publishing colleague. Indeed, back when Five Leaves was a rather junior twig he was part of Troika, a repping agency for Five Leaves and many other independents. He moved on to Zed Press, then Capuchin Classics/Stacey before taking a turn at the other side of the counter as a bookseller in Hitchin. He also runs a book blog, from which this is lifted, by permission: http://dlbbookblog.blogspot.co.uk.

I've just read Utopia, kindly provided by Five Leaves Publishing for this review. This Nottingham-based press has a diverse list, but among its specialities are books which discuss the relationship between people, societies and the land (particularly from the perspective of progressive politics) and Jewish studies.  You have to love a publisher with Rock 'n Roll Jews in its backlist.

It is no surprise, then, that Utopia's main focus is on how relatively small communities have articulated and attempted to realise various concepts of a fair and just society.  These communities include the Moravians, various Back to the Land settlements in Essex, Israeli Kibbutzim and the radical Liverpool bookshop, News from Nowhere.

The book, following its 2011 predecessor, Maps, comprises a number of articles by various authors, with old, new and archive material mixed happily together.  The News from Nowhere chapter is for me, (perhaps because of my bookselling proclivities) the most remarkable and inspiring, describing as it does the phenomenal courage, indomitable persistence and commendable idealism of the various personnel who have guided this outlet from the humblest of beginnings to its present status as a flagship institution in the city, never having sacrificed their principles en route.  My jaw grew ever slacker as I read about how the Nowhere people struggled against financial crises, environmental problems and - most alarmingly - physical attacks by extreme right-wing thugs.  The necessity to clear up after arson attacks, secure and remove steel shutters around a building and sleep on the premises to fend off further raids rather puts my reluctance to tidy the Transport section into perspective.

This is not to say that Utopia neglects the theoretical and ruminative aspects of it subject. The first essay - Let's Talk Utopia, by Mike Marqusee, is a clarion call to the effect that only by striving for better and even ideal societies can we make progress, and Utopias of the Nineteenth Century, by Marie Louise Berneri, is an older piece which, with an admirable combination of erudition and readability, maps out the scope and limitations of the relevant philosophers and social commentators from that era.

In fact, one of the great strengths of this book is the variety in tone, style and genre of its constituent parts, ranging from scholarly pieces, exceptional travel writing (Homeland by Chris Moss), songs and poetry, with not a dud piece of writing among them.  As with any good anthology, there are charming little outcrops of fact and anecdote: Shelley being shot at by deranged Welshmen; the word 'nostalgia' having been coined 'in order to identify the mental condition of Swiss Guards separated from their homeland' and an offhand reference by Macaulay about an envisaged future New Zealand tourist viewing the remains of London Bridge becoming a common trope in nineteenth-century literature.

My utopian version of this book would have included an index, but I was thoroughly satisfied, stimulated and educated nonetheless.


Monday, 10 December 2012

New from Five Leaves, Mixed Messages by Peter Vacher

Mixed Messages: American Jazz Stories


From journeymen musicians to stars with many albums to their name, Mixed Messages includes interviews with 21 American jazz musicians – on music, mostly, but the world intrudes, as it does with the best of jazz music.

The musicians range from the late trombonist Louis Nelson, who was born in 1902, through the New Orleans pianist Ellis Marsalis, who is still playing and on to Byron Stripling, who plays trumpet with his Columbus Jazz Orchestra. Peter Vacher has been interviewing American jazz players since the 1950s and this is his second collection of interviews. As well as Nelson, Marsalis and Stripling this book includes interviews with Norman 'Dewey' Keenan, Gerald Wilson, Fip Ricard, Ruby Braff, George 'Buster' Cooper, Bill Berry, Benny Powell, Plas Johnson Jr., Carl 'Ace' Carter, Herman Riley, Lanny Morgan, John Eckert, Houston Pearson Jr., Tom Artin, Rufus Reid, John Stubblefield IV, Judy Carmichael and Tardo Hammer.
Mixed Messages is lavishly illustrated with rare and original photographs and will be of interest to any serious follower of jazz. The book is large format, 315 pages - you get a lot of book for your money.
Peter Vacher knows just about everybody in the jazz world. His interviews and articles have appeared throughout the English-speaking world, including in the Melody MakerJazz UK and CODA. His previous book of interviews is Soloists and Sidemen (Northway). He also writes too many obituaries of jazz musicians for The Guardian.
Copies of the book will be in bookshops very shortly, but are available meantime from www.inpressbooks.co.uk/mixed-messages-american-jazz-stories/

New from Five Leaves, London E1 by Robert Poole

London E1

I have yet to find out who suggested this book for our New London Editions series. All the usual suspects say it was not them, so who was it who found this otherwise completely forgotten book? London E1 was first published by Secker in 1961. There was one review as far as we know, in the Yorkshire Post by Anthony Burgess, taking time off, perhaps from writing A Clockwork Orange. Did the book sell well? We don't know. But two years later Robert died, probably from an accidental overdose of painkillers. There had been talk of another book but all trace has vanished and Robert and London E1 slipped from public memory. Robert Poole was born a few yards from Brick Lane, the setting of this novel. He described his education as "practically nil". His later life included service in the Navy, various dead-end jobs and the Merchant Navy. He jumped ship, changed his name and became a broadcaster in New Zealand before being caught and deported. His last known job was running a Bingo stall in Margate.
What makes London E1 interesting is that the book was set in Brick Lane before, during and after WWII. The Jews were leaving and new settlers were moving in, "the Indians". The young "Jimmy Wilson" had an awful life of poverty and violence, but was fascinated by the white woman Peggy, a prostitute who worked with the Indians, and her mixed race daughter Pinkie who show him the possibility of escape from his family and his limited horizons. I can't think of any other novel that describes that changing world, written so close to the time by one who was there.
As a result of a couple of earlier blog mentions of Robert Poole Five Leaves is now in touch with some of his relatives and we expect some will join the broadcaster Alan Dein and Rachel Lichtenstein (who has written a foreword to the book) in discussing the book on Tuesday January 29th, 6.30pm at the Brick Lane Bookshop. Everybody is welcome. There will be refreshments from 6.30 with the event running from 7.00-8.30 or so. Please email info@fiveleaves.co.uk if you would like to attend. In the meantime copies of London E1 are available from www.inpressbooks.co.uk/london-e1/ now, or from Brick Lane and other bookshops later this week.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

We are the Romans...

Five Leaves' Roman Nottinghamshire by Mark Patterson is up for the cup, or, to be more exact, has been shortlisted for the Current Archaeology Book of Year. This is one of those awards that depend on public votes. We disapprove in general as it depends on the Mark Pattersons of this world having large families and larger fan clubs. But there you go - we've voted, and we ask you to vote as well at www.archaeology.co.uk/vote. . There's an interesting research project of the year award too, involving the Iceni run by some folks from Nottingham University. Feel free to lob them a vote too.
Roman Nottinghamshire has turned into something of a hit for us. The book was reprinted a few weeks after publication and has been reprinted again, with a short afterword. We've also been able to correct a quote wrongly attributed... we had not realised there were at least two people working in the same field here with the same name, a bit like the two Duncan Campbells who used to work for The Guardian, with the same writing interests. We'd love to do a full new edition as there has been a glut of new information on Roman Nottinghamshire. People connected with some of the interesting characters involved in local archaeology mentioned in the book have also been in touch. That will have to wait until 2014, and come out alongside a book on Roman Derbyshire, currently being written by Mark. You can order the book here:
http://www.inpressbooks.co.uk/roman-nottinghamshire/. Dinarii accepted.

Foreign Office, Peter Mortimer, Camp Shatila and Five Leaves


SOLIDARITY AND SHATILA

I’ve blogged previously about our work with the Palestinian veterans who fought with us in World War II, and questions of history and justice.
Today is the Day of International Solidarity with the Palestinian People. Attention will rightly be focused on New York, where – just as Israel did in 1948 – Palestine is making its case to the UN for statehood. Whatever Ministers decide is our position, some will be disappointed. The key point though is that the UK approach has been guided throughout by the principle that we want to maximise the chance of the creation of a viable Palestine, living in security alongside Israel.
But far from the halls of the UN, I wanted to use Solidarity Day to highlight the Shatila Theatre Trust’s programme of artistic collaboration between British artists and the Palestinians of Shatila camp in Lebanon, and their artistic director Peter Mortimer’s new book ‘Camp Shatila’, which is full of insights from his time spent living and working in the camp. I met Peter and his ebullient and talented colleagues today. They are Brits doing brilliant work on the ground, showing real solidarity with camp residents whose story is as troubled as any in the region.
Beyond this, our team here are part of a sustained wider effort with the Lebanese Palestinian Dialogue Committee, the UN and Palestinian partners to improve the living conditions of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, to prevent crisis and resolve conflict. As more and more Syrian refugees arrive, we should also remind ourselves that this situation cannot be permanent. After a wasted decade, we have to put our shoulder to the wheel of a just two-state solution. I hope that will be the real conclusion of the vote in New York, and of our solidarity.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Solly the elephant went to town...


For the best part of twenty years this postcard has graced a bookshelf in my office at home. The text, in Yiddish, reads "in vald" (In the forest) and it is the front cover of a book by Leyb Kvitko, the illustration by Isaacher Ber Ryback. Kvitko? Yes, the same Kvitko killed on 12 August 1952 because of his involvement in the Soviet Anti-Fascist Committee that Five Leaves has been commemorating this year with a book and events. Only the other week did I realise who wrote the book. I like to think of the elephant looking down on me all the while I was working on the book, which was originally planned several years ago. I produced it yesterday at a well-attended talk at Glasgow Limmud, the Five Leaves platform comprising Heather Valencia (the main advocate for Yiddish in Scotland) and I. At the end of the talk, one of those attending, Henry Wuga, said that he'd been at the Glasgow meeting in 1943 when Solomon Mikhoels and Itsak Fefer spoke on behalf of the JAFC. He remembered their heavily Russian-inflected Yiddish. Suddenly these people we were commemorating were a lot closer in time.
Heather Valencia and (occasional Five Leaves short story writer) Ellen Galford spoke later in the day about the hundreds of Yiddish books they had found in the Mitchell Library in Glasgow, once the Yiddish stock of the Gorbals Library which served Glasgow's working-class Jews. The books had date stamps reaching into the 1980s, with the earliest book in the collection being 1903. What did these Yiddish readers read? Primarily fiction, often by writers scarcely known now, memoirs - the most popular title by someone nobody had heard of, poetry. World literature in translation - Ibsen, Strindberg, Jules Verne, The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam and that well known Dickens' novel "A fire in a London prison". Perhaps the Yiddish translator felt that Barnaby Rudge  was not the right title for a Yiddish audience. The books - like The Rubaiyat of 1924 - were initially from publishers in Vilne and Varshe (Vilnius and Warsaw) and later from London, Buenos Aries, Mexico and America, following the spread of Yiddish publishing. Some were printed in Weimar Germany - a centre for Yiddish printing at the time. This small collection - about 400 books - told us so much about the generation of immigrants who read Yiddish, issues running down as people moved to English. But what was needed now was to meet some of those readers. More people popping up like Henry Wuga above. One woman said that her father used to go into the library to help the librarians with the books as they could not read the Hebrew script. The Scottish Jewish Archives are on the case.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Guardianistas and Five Leaves

Three in a week over at The Guardian. Firstly Five Leaves writer Seth Freedman blows his whistle on the Libor-like wholesale gas price fixing. Front page, inside page, big scandal. Seth has written two books for us (one published in association with the Guardian) - the first was Can I Bring My Own Gun? an account of his time as a volunteer, and ultimately dissident, Israeli soldier. The second book, written with his cousin Josh Berthoud Freedman, was a journey through the Israeli settlements on the West Bank, Forty Years in the Wilderness. There is no truth in the rumour that a book on wholesale gas pricing is to become the third part of a trilogy.
Secondly, Saskia Baron wrote a wonderful piece about her family's history with autism as her father Michael Baron (editor of On a Bat's Wing, poetry about bats, and joint editor of The Night Shift, poetry of the night) was involved in setting up the first specialist school for autistic children and the organisation that became the National Autistic Society. His group has grown from ten people to 20,000 members. Michael is still active on autism, in poetry and in campaigning for peace in the Middle East, steadily compiling an Israeli Jewish and Palestinian poetry book.
Finally, our new book by the late Colin Ward, Talking Green, is Nicholas Lezard's choice of the week. The article is online now and will appear in Saturdays print edition. An excellent and well written review: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2012/nov/20/talking-green-colin-ward-review.

Neil Fulwood on Alan Sillitoe's Seaton family

“You left England one person and came back another … " Meet Brian Seaton – Arthur’s older brother. Older and wiser? Probably. More sensitive? Comparatively. But a Seaton through and through. The fortunes, or otherwise, of the Seaton brothers are charted across four novels which punctuate the six decades of Alan Sillitoe’s literary career.
Before Saturday Night and Sunday Morning had been even been published in 1958, Alan had written a massive chunk of what would become his third novel, Key to the Door. Eventually published in 1961, Key to the Door details Brian Seaton’s childhood, his poverty stricken family background, his ill-advised marriage at a young age, and his service in Malaya as a wireless operator.
In 1989, Alan continued the saga with The Open Door, now reprinted by Five Leaves. A quarter of a century gap in writing, but this volume picks up almost immediately after Key to the Door. Brian’s about to get demobbed and he’s having mixed feelings about a return to civvy street. He’s pretty sure his wife’s found herself a new fella, and his experiences of travel have set the horizons of his world-view a tad wider than Nottingham. But a call back to the MO’s office sets Brian off along a different and unexpected path. An x-ray suggests a shadow on his lung.
And so Brian finds himself in a sanatorium, where the diagnosis is confirmed: TB. During his lengthy recuperation, aided by an affair with one of the nursing staff, Brian’s burgeoning intellectualism solidifies into an overwhelming desire to become a writer. Even the reader least acquainted with the facts of Alan’s life will know that he served in Malaya, as a radio operator, and received a disability pension from the RAF after being diagnosed with tuberculosis. He lived abroad for about a decade, eking this money out frugally, and dedicated himself to writing. The Open Door takes Brian to the cusp of a similar lifestyle.
There’s an academic work to be written on the autobiographical nature of The Open Door, and it would be fascinating to parse out the actual from the invented. But it’s a mistake to redact any reading of the novel in terms of the equation Brian Seaton = Alan Sillitoe. Brian is as rounded and immediate a character as Arthur, and while there is something of Alan in both of them, Brian and Arthur remain very different.
Alan concluded the Seaton saga with Birthday in 2001, although A Man of his Time, published in 2004, can be seen as a prequel of sorts. Birthday reunites Arthur and Brian in their autumn years, Arthur still belligerent despite the family tragedy he’s dealing with and Brian’s literary ambitions diluted by his success as a writer of sitcoms rather than the world-changing novelist the Brian of The Open Door wants to be.
Birthday is a wry, nostalgic, mature work but it suffered from being marketed as “the sequel to Saturday Night and Sunday Morning.” Just as Saturday Night and Sunday Morning is the definitive Arthur Seaton novel, The Open Door is where the story of Brian Seaton finds its fullest artistic expression.
The novel never loses sight of Brian’s working class background, nor is there anything arty-farty in the depiction of Brian’s journey towards the completion of his first novel. The novelist within a novel can often be a tedious device, but Brian’s experiences are grounded firmly in the reality of his experience overseas, his illness, and his difficulty in shaking off his past and the various mistakes that clutter it. The Open Door also contents some finely-honed perceptions on the nature and craft of writing.

“He only knew who he was when with other people … Confidence and enthusiasm led him to believe that he succeeded more times than not.”
If we carry over the autobiographical elements of The Open Door to its comments on the art of writing, then this passage is both a truthful reflection of writing as an onerous craft, and an exercise in self-deprecation. Alan Sillitoe succeeded more times than not; succeeded in understanding the psyche of his characters; succeeded in capturing the flavours and idioms that define a time and a place; and succeeded, again and again, in creating literary works that were honest and clear-sighted. The Open Door rightfully stands among the best of them.

Teenage Kicks report

Five Leaves/Derbyshire Libraries "Teenage Kicks" half day event on the 16th had a near full house of young adults and adults. My organising colleague Ali Betteridge said you need to have nerves of steel in this game as only a few days beforehand we were way below the number we need to run anything let alone a half day event with lots of writers. She kept her nerve while mine was failing. Good call, Ali. We had programmed a great line up of speakers, some being Five Leaves regulars, some occasional, some "friends of" while other sessions were run by teenage readers and, with Pippa from Five Leaves Towers, on the future of the book. Interestingly, the author Pauline Chandler reported that all the teenagers bar one preferred to read in a book format than in any electronic format.
The opening remarks were from Bali Rai. Bali's first book was written when he was nine, Bali and the Giant Peach, at which point he discovered there was more to being a writer than simply changing the name of the main character in a book to your own but otherwise copying it out word for word.
Given that Bali is a writer of an Asian background, it was interesting that his role model was Sue Townsend who also lives in Leicester. It is also thanks to his interest in her as a writer than he is currently doing some work with the RNIB. He told his audience that what everyone has in common is an imagination and the need to tell stories "because we all love gossip and we all tell lies.
Bali became a full time writer in 2001 and is in great demand in schools. He said "I wanted to write about people like me - brown kids, white kids, whatever, working class kids that people didn't used to write about.". He was damning of library cutbacks, reminding us that we need stories, stories about everyday life. "Remove stories about everyday life and you remove diversity [of experience]."
He also set the scene for the day by talking about the importance of reading for pleasure "which will always make you more intelligent. Just like 2 plus 2 will always be four."
From then, until the closing remarks from Paula Rawsthorne the day rushed by. Thanks to all who took part, as audience, organisers and speakers.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Mammals versus dinosaurs

The London Review Bookshop, currently the best bookshop in London, imho, was packed solid on Thursday night for a discussion on small presses. What could have brought out so many people? The gamechangers (don't worry, I'll return to writing like a human in a second) seemed to be the Penguin/Random merger and the great success of small independent publishers in taking up half the recent Booker prize list. Indeed, several Salt authors were in the audience. The panel was also an attraction - Charles Boyle (rapidly making a name for himself in the small press world with his CB Editions and TLS articles), David Lea from the bookshop, Nicholas Murray from Rack Press and the broadsheet voice of the indie, Nicholas Lezard. Writers Patrick McGuinness sadly had to call off due to a family illness, but many writers contributed from the floor.
Despite all this, I did not feel that the event quite caught fire. Perhaps the numbers and resultant poor sightlines were the cause, which also meant that speakers from the floor could be heard but not seen. But nevertheless, there were many gems.
The opening remarks from one of the Bookshop staff referred to small presses as the guerrilla bands in the mountains, but also as the descendants of the first publisher of Ulysses. More prosaic imagery was provided by Nicholas L. who described our situation as "mammals versus dinosaurs" while more prosaically still Charles described small presses as lacking in resources, but being more flexible and with the ability to publish less economic titles than the big publishers, who have to pay for their large staffs and premises. We were also compared to the micro-breweries in their struggle against Watney's Red Barrell, or the record labels once favoured by John Peel. Being devil's advocate, however, Nicholas M. said there was a danger that if you say "small press" people go all gooey in the same way they do if you say "rainforest". "Being small does not automatically mean good books." So are they good? Well, the London Review Bookshop is "publisher blind" according to David Lea, which has meant that over ten years half their best-sellers have come from small presses "but they have to look different to Penguin books." He also felt that small presses were particularly strong in certain areas popular in his shop, mentioning essays.
But how do you define small press books? Charles - "you know one when you see one". While small press publishers, Nicholas M. - are "small, intimate, friendly, nice". Do self-published books count? Not really. The Bookshop itself rarely stocks self-published books as they like the idea of a gatekeeper and that "a book is improved by a collaborative process". None of the editors in the room rose to disagree.
Whilst generally there was a mood that readers are being let down by the mainstream publishers, the difficult question was - Nicholas L. - "how do you make a sustainable living for authors?" Indeed, do small presses encourage small ambition? Whilst Charles said "I want to publish the books I want to read" he admitted that he was lousy at selling them. For some writers, perhaps those less in need of money than some, being published by small presses was not a second choice but a preferred choice due to the other benefits mentioned earlier. That comment came from a Salt writer. Michelle Roberts, perhaps the best-known author in the audience (who, by the way, cheerily mentioned that the panel was rather dated in being all-male), said that she - and I paraphrase terribly - makes her living from her commercial books but is also very pleased to be published by small presses as well. This goes part of the way to answering the question of money for writers. Small presses, however, are often the proving ground for writers that go on to big presses - but should not be seen just as the nursery class. Not sure who said that. And of course the big strengths of the small press world were in poetry and in translation.
Other comments from the audience brought forth a comparison between the small press scene here and the more established scene in America; a justified concern that indie publishers are ignoring emerging markets such as India and, in the wake of mention of Pippa Middleton's disastrous Penguin book a comment by Nicholas Lezard that "the more a book sells the shittier it is". It is, however, beginning to look like even some Five Leaves titles will outsell Ms. Middleton's party planning book.
There was also some discussion on the craft of making good books, and the way we choose to work. Charles Boyle says he prints with a particular printer because they go out for a drink together, and is distributed by Central Books (as we are) because he likes a gossip with the chap who runs it, which counters one view - a quote from Orwell?? - that "inside a small press is a large press struggling to get out."
The evening ended with a rude comment by a publisher (I should not have had that second glass of wine) about central buying by the chains, after which, I hope, people decimated the display of CB Editions and Rack Press books.
On the train back to Nottingham, by delicious irony, my read was JK Rowling's A Casual Vacancy. The book has a "will this do?" cover seemingly designed by someone on work experience. Page twelve features the give-up-now warning sentence: "His light-brown hair was still thick, his frame was almost as wiry as it had been in its twenties and the crinkles at the corners of his eyes were merely attractive, but Ruth's return to nursing after a long break had confronted her anew about with the million and one ways the human body could malfunction." I'd like to think no small press would have let this through.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

New from Five Leaves, The Open Door by Alan Sillitoe

The Open DoorFive Leaves' Bromley House Editions book this year is The Open Door by Alan Sillitoe. The Open Door follows Saturday Night and Sunday Morning as the final volume in the Seaton series.
Returning on a troopship from Malaya in 1949, Brian Seaton (Arthur's brother) comes back to a Nottingham world of rationing, the black market, a wife he no longer loves and a child who does not recognise him. He is full of life and lust, but he has tuberculosis, forcing a long stay in a military hospital where he falls for first one nurse, then a second, while carrying on a relationship with another TB sufferer back in Nottingham.
In the background, this partially autobiographical novel reveals that Seaton is starting to write, meeting others like him as he realises there is a wider world than the back streets of his Midlands home.
Copies available from http://www.inpressbooks.co.uk/the-open-door/.
Alan Sillitoe is no longer with us, but Nottingham is determined to celebrate his life and work as never before. A few months after he died, in 2010, Five Leaves organised a day event about Alan attended by around 200 people. Since then the films of his books have appeared regularly, plays, a musical and two weeks ago a second day was held organised by the local Alan Sillitoe Committee, a bit less reverential than the first, as it should be given the passage of time.
The big one will, however, be the forthcoming exhibition at Lakeside Gallery, which opens this weekend and runs until February. Early details are on  http://www.lakesidearts.org.uk/Exhibitions.html. The Five Leaves connections here include some of Peter Mortimer's photos (from Made in Nottingham) in the exhibition and on Saturday 26th January I'll be curating (everyone's a curator these days, have you noticed?) an afternoon session on Nottingham working class life and leasure. I'll post more on this soon, but I think it safe to safe to say that the Lakeside cafe had better get in some extra scones. This exhibition will be just so busy.
Anyone reading this before 6.30 on Monday 19 November will be welcome to attend the book launch of The Open Door at Bromley House Library, Angel Row, Nottingham, which will be attended by the poet Ruth Fainlight and her and Alan's son, David Sillitoe. Let me know on info@fiveleaves.co.uk if you are coming.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Autonomy, book of the year

Autonomy_coverAt the well-attended memorial meeting for our writer Colin Ward, Daniel Poyner approached me saying he was looking for a publisher for a collection of covers of the journal Anarchy, edited for a decade by Colin Ward from 1961-1970. To an outsider, the thought of a book comprising 118 covers of a long-defunct magazine that never sold more than 3,000 copies, that would have to be in full colour, might seem deranged even by the standards of small presses. I gave it serious consideration. I am not the only person who came to politics later than the life of the journal who has a near complete run of Anarchy. The journal had influence; Colin Ward brought in writers who were exploring new ideas on practical issues like adventure playgrounds, libertarian education.... Colin had no time for what he called "tittle tattle", the internecine squabbles endemic on the left. This was a journal of practical anarchy, described by the late Raphael Samuel as "...represent[ing] better than any other publication the cultural revolution of the 1960s; and it did so far earlier than anyone else and ... more thoughtfully".
I was tempted but was concerned that the cohort of sociologists, planners, educators and anarchists interested in the magazine was small and ageing. How could I sell enough copies to avoid terrible losses?
I am glad to say that Daniel Poyner found a better way, by publishing the book with the excellent design and typography specialist press Hyphen, with what is clearly heavy involvement by Hyphen's Robin Kinross - because there is the second market, which I did not think of, those who will cast a designer's eye over the covers, mostly by Rufus Segar. And what a job Hyphen has done with the book! Every cover is reprinted, in colour, front and back together with essays by Raphael Samuel on Anarchy, an interview with Rufus Segar and an essay by Richard Hollis (who runs a small part of the Five Leaves list) on the magazine's layout and typography. That essay alone is a masterful run through of how design, typography and printing worked in those days of hot metal. The work is completed by an index to the journal by Robin Kinross, which will certainly lead some readers to start looking around for old copies.
As it happens, I have a few spare, held back for swaps for my own missing numbers. Get in touch if you have any going spare yourself...
The book is called Autonomy, the title Colin originally wanted for the journal. He was, I think correctly, over-ruled by his colleagues at Freedom in favour of Anarchy (Freedom was in 1961 a weekly paper, which then moved to three times a month with Anarchy appearing on the fourth week). The book is not cheap - £25, but that is for a large format paperback with french flaps, 304 pages and 303 illustrations, all but ten in colour. It is worth it.
With a couple of months still to go, I can safely say that this will be my book of the year. Further information from http://www.hyphenpress.co.uk/.
Though Autonomy is now available, it will be launched at Housmans Bookshop on Saturday 9th February at 6.30, together with the Five Leaves book (also already out)  Talking Green, twelve lectures by Colin Ward. Daniel Poyner will present his book and there will be contributions by Ken Worpole on Colin's life and work and Richard Hollis on Rufus Segar's design. Rufus will be there, as will Harriet Ward.

Teenagers, by Maxine Linnell

VintageWhat if you were growing up now - perhaps as a 17-year-old? How would life differ from being a teenager in the 1960s, as I was? I started to wonder about that when I began writing my first novel. How would the life of a 17-year-old girl from today compare with that of a girl of 17 in 1962? And not just the obvious things, like technology - but the way people lived, their values, their families, their ways of dealing with each other?

I didn’t need to do much research into the '60s. I set the book just before the explosion of the Beatles, when teenagers were only just beginning to be seen as having a distinct life between childhood and being grown up. In 1962 the biggest event in the social calendar was the church social on Saturday night, over before 9.30pm with no alcohol or kissing allowed.
But while I knew some teenagers, I had to find a parallel social event for 2010 - and someone suggested going clubbing at Mosh, a nightclub in the centre of Leicester. I knew what a club was like in the 60s - but how would it differ now? There was only one way to find out. Which is how I found myself queuing up outside Mosh with my agent on a Friday night at 11pm, well past my usual bedtime.
I thought about asking for a senior concession, but decided against it. I did wonder if they’d let me in at all when I saw the queue of young people, who could all have been my grandchildren. There was also a moment of apprehension when I met the bouncers at the door. But they did let me in. I wasn’t too surprised by the black paint, the darkened rooms and the music, they weren’t so very different from my memories of clubbing forty years ago (see me as a teen in '62 - right). The toilets were pretty much the same too - unsavoury, but with stickers offering advice lines if you thought you were pregnant, gay or had a sexual problem.
As people arrived, we began talking to them, and found them interested, polite and very willing to talk. We left after midnight - me stealing a glance at the crowded dance floor, half wishing I could join in.
There may be more freedom nowadays - but there are also more risks. The stricter boundaries of the early '60s might offer more support, more hand-holding, and more to rebel against. But many young people now are emotionally more mature than I was, more aware of themselves, perhaps not quite as likely to be taken in. And there’s far more openness and communication. There’s dark and light in both times.

You can read more from Maxine Linnell in her Five Leaves book, Vintage, available from: http://www.inpressbooks.co.uk/vintage-2/. Also available as an ebook.

Friday, 9 November 2012

Lenin and the Mills and Boon Question

This 'no more Mr Nice Guy' business works. Below is an article from Harry Paterson's blog. Harry is normally to be found plying his trade as a rock music journalist, but for the next year he will be under the Five Leaves editorial thumb producing THE book on the miners' strike in Nottinghamshire, to be published in 2014. Harry is interviewing everyone - striking and working miners, politicians, women's support group members, Coal Board officials. The book will be partisan, that is clear, but will present other points of view and will start, as it should, with the history of coal in Nottinghamshire and "Spencerism" in 1926. I'm looking forward to it.

'Friends, comrades, brothers and sisters, I’m delighted to officially announce that I will be signing with Five Leaves Publishing who will be bringing out my book on the miners’ strike in Nottingham, sometime in March 2014, the 30th anniversary of the dispute.
For those who don’t know, my initial synopsis was mercilessly savaged by Managing Editor, Ross Bradshaw. Among the most painful cuts inflicted was this, admittedly hilarious, jibe: “Harry, this is Lenin does Mills and Boon! You lack any objectivity at all!” It gutted me, I’ll be honest, but then I went away, licked my wounds, had a think and wrote a couple of new chapters taking on board Ross’s suggestions. Then a strange thing happened and you other writers will know what I mean; the thing just clicked. Ross’s advice suddenly made sense and I could see exactly where and how I needed to proceed while still retaining the personality and individuality of my prose. Ross The Boss then gave it the thumbs-up, we agreed the deal and presto; we are on, baby!
It’s a subject close to my heart and to that of many of my family. I was 17 when it kicked off and 18 on the very day the miners marched back to work without a settlement. It made a lasting impact on me and millions more of my generation. It’s also a fascinating and thrilling story and like all such stories it has everything; drama, tragedy, triumph, sadness, laughter, bitter defeat and unbreakable pride. It also has an incredible cast of characters featuring heroes, villains, saints, sinners, winners, losers, cowards and fighters and I’m having the ride of my life tracking some of them down and hearing their stories, first hand.
There are many books on the miners’ strike so what makes this one different? I would say because mine is about the dispute in Nottingham, the most strategically important area of the entire strike and, in so many way, it’s a tale of two cities. Believe me, it’s one hell of a story. All I need to do now is write the bloody thing…'

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Sheffield Saturday

Nottinghamshire presses were heavily represented in Sheffield at the local independent book fair on Saturday, and three of the day's events were based round Five Leaves writers. On the day we sold £140 of books. The stall fee was £20, we hitched a ride with our chums at Candlestick who refused petrol money, but had to pay about £12 in taxi fares to shift books around in Nottingham, so our actual income was £118 for effectively a twelve hour day, except it wasn't really income as it was the sales of books. And none of the writers were paid for their labour. Two of the other Nottingham presses took about the same amount. So why do we do this?
Firstly, we are out for a good time and we like hanging round with other publishers and writers and readers. We pick up trade gossip. We were given a recommendation for a printer which might save us money on our hardbacks. We supported our writers and our writers got an audience. We met an interesting couple who explained new developments in technology that might mean our books can be adapted to reach more people with little or no sight. We learned about the way that Sheffield's Bank Street Arts Centre works financially, and helped bring more people into their building.
There are more and more of these fairs and we are part of creating a slightly different literary culture. Presses are being proactive, reaching out.  And maybe, just maybe, we'll make some money.
Of course there's always the chap with the dog-eared manuscript who wants to speak to everyone, but never wants to listen to answers because in some way he is happier never being published. Inevitably the best attended session is about how to be published, with many people streaming in and streaming out without glancing at the bookstalls, and the people who do that too are perhaps happier that they will never be published or feel the need to read the odd book along the way.
But there are moments like gold.When our writer John Lucas gave a too-early-in-the-morning talk about his memoir of the 1950s, Next Year Will Be Better, the most interested people in his small audience were two young female students, one black, one white, who came up at the end with just enough money to buy a book between them. They were going to share, but of course we offered two for the price of one because those two students were the real reason why John and I got up at 6.30 on a Saturday morning to spend, let's face it, a not completely economic day in Sheffield and that's why the other publishers had done the same, and that's why the authors had given up half of their day too. Because once we were just like those students and in thirty or forty years they will be just like us.

Where poetry is an inclusive art, by Andy Croft

I have recently returned from Paris, where I took part in the long-running International Poetry Biennale in Val-de-Marne - the only department in the Paris region still governed by the Communist Pat.
The presiding genius of the festival, which aims to democratise the writing and reading of poetry, is the poet Francis Combes. He's been responsible for putting poems on the Paris Metro and runs the radical publishing house De Temps Des Cerises.
Along with myself, this year's poets included Valerio Magrelli and Maria Grazia Calandrone from Italy, Florence Pazzottu and Gerard Mordillat from France and Greece's Yourgos Markopoulos, Dino Siotis and Thanasis Triaridis. These poets try to address the crisis in contemporary Europe with a passionate eloquence, biter wisdom and scathing irony.
How depressing then, to arrive back in Britain just in time for the announcement of this year's TS Eliot Prize shortlist. It's the usual carve-up between a small group of publishers - Picador (3), Faber (2), Jonathan Cape (2), Carcanet (2) and Seren (1). And its the usual dull Poetry Book Society (PBS) narrative of "major names" and "newcomers", alongside bookie's favourites, outsiders and dark-horses.
The fact that there are some excellent writers on this year's list - Deryn Rees-Jones, Simon Armitage and Kathleen Jamie - cannot disguise the intellectual narrowness of the whole enterprise.
Two of this year's judges are previous winners of the prize, five of the short-listed authors have been short-listed before and four have judged the prize in previous years. Six titles were chosen by the judges, the other four were PBS quarterly choices, themselves selected by the authors of previous PBS choices.
It's a ludicrous and unpleasant racket. But at least there is no public money involved any more. Having lost its Arts Council support, the PBS is now sponsored by an international investment firm. Appropriate perhaps for a literary prize named after TS Eliot, a banker, anti-semite, admirer of Mussolini, believer in the divine right of kings and opponent of the 1944 Education Act. The winner will be announced in January. I can't wait.

This article first appeared in the Morning Star. Andy Croft's latest book for Five Leaves is the novel-in-verse 1948.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Cecil-Day Lewis symposium at the Bodleian

The Poems of C. Day-LewisOn 30 October , the Bodleian Libraries are hosting a special one-day event to celebrate the gift of the Day-Lewis papers which belonged to the poet Cecil Day-Lewis (1904-1972) and his wife, actress Jill Balcon (1925-2009). The archive was donated to the Bodleian Libraries by their children, Tamasin and Daniel Day-Lewis and accompanies an initial literary bequest from Jill Balcon, following her death in 2009.

During the symposium, the poet's daughter, Tamasin Day-Lewis will discuss the life and work of C. Day-Lewis with known scholars of English literature. Participants will have the opportunity to listen to recorded readings of Day-Lewis's poetry by Jill Balcon and live reading by actor Gabriel Woolf. Photographs, manuscripts and correspondence from the archive, never seen in public before, will also be on display during the event.

An Oxford University alumnus Cecil Day-Lewis was one of the most notable Anglo-Irish poets of the 20th century. He also wrote mystery novels and short stories under the pseudonym of Nicholas Blake. Day-Lewis studied classics at Wadham College, Oxford from 1923 and became a prominent member of the Auden group of poets and intellectuals in the 1930s. He was later elected Professor of Poetry at Oxford University in 1951 and appointed Poet Laureate in 1968. In 1951 Day-Lewis married his second wife, Jill Balcon. Jill Balcon was an actress on film, radio, and the stage who had long used her voice ('a rich, expressive, finely modulated instrument' in the words of Peter Stanford) for verse-speaking. C. Day-Lewis and Jill Balcon shared a love of poetry and frequently gave readings together. After Day-Lewis's death Jill Balcon continued to read in public and promote her late husband's work.

David Whiting, Co-literary executor, Estate of C Day-Lewis and Jill Balcon: 'The family papers now given to the Bodleian encompass the wide ranging work of Day-Lewis not only as poet, but as novelist, critic, academic and public servant. They offer a kind of microcosm of his professional and private life, and a real insight into his world and that of his wife Jill Balcon is given by the range of letters from their correspondents, from EM Forster to Alec Guinness. There are, amongst much other material, manuscripts and typescripts of Day-Lewis poems, and the detective fiction written under his alias of Nicholas Blake, much of it now being republished'

The only CD of C. Day-Lewis poems is read by Jill Balcon and is published by Five Leaves. Copies are available from http://www.inpressbooks.co.uk/the-poems-of-c-day-lewis/











Sunday, 28 October 2012

Salad (cream) days

For Five Leaves, this year's London Anarchist Bookfair was a great success. Aside from meeting many old friends, and sketching out a possible publishing project with Martyn Everett, this was was economically our best outing there yet. It helped having two new and relevant books, Colin Ward's Talking Green and this year's new journal, Utopia, hot off the presses. Thanks to Housmans Bookshop for helping us get the books there. The Bookfair seemed busier than ever and busier for longer and the average age seemed lower. I rather felt that the generation brought up on Colin Ward, Nicolas Walter and Albert Meltzer had passed. The stall was too busy to leave for long and, flying solo, I was unable to attend any meetings this year. Congratulations to the organisers for another great Bookfair.
But there was an unpleasant incident. Five Leaves stall was next to that of Northern Voices. Early in the day a small group from Manchester asked the one person at NV to leave. It was not clear to me at that moment why. It turned out that the magazine had some time ago written a rather unfavourable and, indeed, rather unpleasant obituary of the Manchester anarchist Bob Miller. Some time later in the morning a large group of people, from Manchester and elsewhere, returned to the stall, and when the stall holder refused to leave, wrecked it, stealing most of the material on display and covering the stall-holder and the stall (and one unrelated stall-holder behind NV) with salad cream. Though the stall-holder was uninjured, save for a bruised face when he fell and some irritation from the cream getting into his eyes, he was pretty shocked, as was anyone seeing the incident. I have no doubt that his original article was unwise and should not have been published - the best critique of it appears on NV's own rather good blog, October 4th at www.northernvoicesmag.blogspot.com - but a dozen or so people attacking one person and his stall (with little heed for collateral damage) was bullying.
I've mentioned in a previous posting (about David Hoffman vs. Freedom magazine) that when negotiations between injured parties break down that people must find a way of resolving their difficulties without going to law or, in this case, force of numbers and salad cream - ideally by arbitration. Fortunately this incident took place at a quiet time, in a quiet corner of the Bookfair. The Bookfair is one of the outstanding successes of the wider racial and alternative publishing movement. I would not discourage anyone from attending. The three or four thousand people there over the day happily debate, argue, buy books and socialise with a wide range of opinions on offer. I hope it stays that way.

Friday, 26 October 2012

Pick up a Penguin.

There are few publishers so influential as to define an age, or even a household, but they do exist. For a generation the yellow spines of the Left Book Club were common on the shelves of politically aware working class households. More recently, no feminist household would be without a shelf or three of the green-liveried Virago books. Somewhere in between the two there was Penguin. Penguin was not the first publisher to publish mass market paperbacks (that's another posting sometime) but it might as well have been because for a generation Penguin was both the epitome of cool and, with their green crime jackets and red fiction jackets, the standard of good reading. When I came to book buying properly in the early seventies Penguin was of great cultural importance. For a period I rarely left the house without a Penguin book in my bag or pocket. Some of them I even read.
Significantly, today's Guardian illustrates their report on the Random House/Penguin merger talks with a view of a shelf of Penguin books from the 1960s - perhaps their heyday, in the wake of the Lady Chatterley trial and the cultural changes in the 1960s. Of the sixteen books in the illustration there are, I think, nine in my house.
There were also the black spined classics, the blue spined Pelicans, and some hugely important Penguin Specials including EP Thompson's Protest and Survive which alone almost defined an era. Yet I can't remember the last Penguin book I bought. Probably it was a Puffin picture book.
Penguin lost its cool, outscored by Picador, and, rather than remaining a market leader, the sign of quality, it became just another publisher. The Random House group is, if anything, much better. Leaving aside Fifty Shades of Money, Random's Vintage list alone is fantastic.
It is hard not to be sad about the merger. Though it makes sense. Leaving aside that the ultimate owner of the Random Group, Bertelsmann, was set up by a Nazi (something Random does not boast about) both publishers still have a kind of liberal veneer. Penguin, despite publishing Jeremy Clarkson, still stacks up that way. I suppose if I could put this in American terms, Penguin and Random are Democrats while the Rupert Murdoch owned HarperCollins is Republican. Does that analogy work?
Thee is no doubt that size matters. It is not so long ago that the significant fiction publisher Serpent's Tail moved in with Profile, the two independents being stronger together. And the Independent Alliance, and Faber's sub-alliance are mergers in many ways. I know there will be more of this as publishers big and medium seek succour in a market dominated by Amazon and one centralised chain. But it might all be good news for the smaller indies. The presence of three of them on the Booker list was a sign of the times. I hope.
 

Thursday, 25 October 2012

New from Five Leaves, Talking Green

Talking Green
Talking Schools, Talking Houses, Talking to Architects
... all the subjects of previous sets of lectures by Colin Ward. His interests were far wider than these concerns. Five Leaves alone has published books by him, sometimes with others, on squatting, allotments, the plotlands of the south of England, British holiday camps and anarchism. For various reasons a planned set of lectures on green issues was never published during his lifetime, but we are glad to rectify that omission now.
The twelve essays in
Talking Green cover environmental pollution, urban life, allotments, the uses of nature, land settlement, regionalism, squatting, small-holding, the green personality and the shires of Southern England. Together they provide discussion points for anyone interested in taking green politics further than climate change and recycling (important as these are). Colin Ward connects green politics and lifestyle to everyday living and working, always providing positive proposals for future living. All the essays are based on lectures given by Ward at a
variety of institutions. They are titled:

A Doomwatch for the Pollution of our Land
The Urban Predicament
The Shires of Southern Britain
Who Owns Nature? Possession and Dispossession
The Allotment Garden as a Green Affirmation
A Century of Land-settlement in Essex
Regionalist Seeds Beneath the Centralist Snow
Whose Land is it Anyway?
Small Holdings
The Green Personality
Escaping the City
Is Conservation More Than Nostalgia?

Talking Green is 160 pages, £7.99 and can be ordered from http://www.inpressbooks.co.uk/talking-green/ or any good bookshop

Utopia, new from Five Leaves

UtopiaOne of 2012's forgotten anniversaries is that this is the year that the visitor goes to London, fifty years after the revolution and is led around by Old Hammond. The revolution in question being the one predicted in William Morris's News from Nowhere. Our collection of essays is never far away from this area - indeed Morris himself has a chapter, there is a history of News from Nowhere bookshop and we reprint the lyrics of Leon Rosselson's song about William Morris. The chapters on utopian fiction of course include a discussion of News from Nowhere and we mention the pubs named after William Morris in a revolutionary pub crawl. Utopia is dedicated to our friend Peter Preston, whose long essay on London utopian fiction is included. Peter will be missed by the adult education movement, the William Morris Society, the DH Lawrence Society and many individuals.

Utopia is the second annual themed compendium of writing by Five Leaves’ authors and friends. 240 pages, £9.99. The first compendium, Maps, received positive reviews in the Guardian and Time Out.

Copies will be in the shops soon - Housmans, News from Nowhere, London Review Bookshop especially, or order, post free, from Inpress

Contents:

Mike Marqusee - Let's Talk Utopia
Ken Worpole - Tolstoy in Essex
Gillian Darley - Moravian Graveyards
John Payne - The Putney Debates
William Morris - A Factory as it Might Be
Colin Ward - The Factory We Never Had
Mandy Vere - News from Nowhere Bookshop
John Lucas - In New Zealand
Chris Moss - In Paraguay
Deirdre O'Byrne - Woman on the Edge of Time
Paul Barker - New Lanark
Marie Louise Berneri - Utopias of the Nineteenth Century
Dennis Hardy - Catching the Bus to Paradise
Paul Summers - The Shadow of Chimneys
Pippa Hennessy - Keeping it in the Family
Leon Rosselson - The World Turned Upside Down
Ian Parks - Welsh Utopia
David Rosenberg - Freedom Without Territory
J. David Simons - Kibbutz: The Golden Era
Will Buckingham - The Trouble with Happiness
Andy Rigby - Communes Revisited
Ross Bradshaw - Down the Pub
Jeff Cloves - Stroud and Whiteway
Ian Clayton - My Grandmother's Kitchen
Peter Preston - Dreaming London
Haywire Mac - The Big Rock Candy Mountain
240 pages, £9.99, from bookshops or, post free (UK) from http://www.inpressbooks.co.uk/utopia/

Friday, 19 October 2012

Who is Mr J Smith?

I've been accused of many things in my time, including being a poet (how low can people get?) but I was rather pleased when someone accused me of being the editor of http://nottslit.blogspot.co.uk/,  a regular blogspot about literature in Nottinghamshire. I'm not he, or even, when I asked Mr J Smith - the name that comes up when you email with information - she. The anonymous author likes to play it that way.
I knew it could not be me because the list of local lit websites includes a group of self-published writers. No offence and all that, but anyone who knows me...
I do have an anonymous walk on part though as I filled some gaps in the listings of local writers and have just sent a further list of novels set locally. But you could do that as well by adding "nottslit" to any local-to-here lit press releases and sending further information to fill in the gaps in their listings.
I've just suggested about a dozen novels set in Notts that are not on the list, there must be many more.
But who is he/she? I thought at first that it was the woman who runs www.nottinghambooks.co.uk but it was her who thought I ran it. I've thought of all sorts of people but for example, the list of local novels includes one, The Hosanna Man, which was pulped just after publication, decades ago, and I've only met four others locally who've heard of it. One of them is dead, one of them wouldn't know what a blog was if it came up and hit him and there are other clues indicating that it could not be either of the other two, mostly because of gaps in the list that they would know to fill.
What I can say is that Mr or Mrs J Smith is doing us all a service locally and the blog should be better known. But keep us guessing. It's more fun that way.
And keep listing things from Five Leaves Towers. We appreciate it.

Five Leaves October Newsletter

Too much fancy formatting to cut and paste into here, but this is it (email us on info@fiveleaves.co.uk if you want to go on our newsletter list in future): http://tinyurl.com/5LeavesOct2012


Tuesday, 16 October 2012

New ebook edition from Five Leaves, Zoe Fairbairns' Benefits

Benefits

Having long lost touch with everyone with whom I went to school, I think I've known Zoe Fairbairns longer than anyone who is not a blood relative. I came across her as an author in 1971 when I was working in a library, one of my jobs being to daily tidy the "f"s. I have to say that she was not the most popular author in Hawick Public Library so I dusted down her early novels quite a lot. She had been taken up by a major publisher as a teenage prodigy, which can happen. She returned to fiction later, as a grown up. By then I'd got to know her, by chance, as a student activist and subsequently as editor of CND's then journal, Sanity. Zoe became a very successful novelist, her usp being an ability to write traditional novels, family sagas, airport novels and the like but with a strong feminist slant. Novels like Stand We at Last were hugely popular. Benefits was an exception, being a feminist dystopian novel set in the dying days of the twentieth century. The country was in chaos and the government had nothing better to do than attack welfare benefits for women. And women fought back using unorthodox means.
Benefits was a real feminist classic and did well for Virago in 1979. It was reprinted in a Five Leaves edition in 1998 and again did well for a few years. A spin off from the book was the alternative Xmas card giving a quote from the book - "The birth of a man who thinks he's God isn't such a rare event". Printed with text only, elegantly on card, it sold - what? - 30,000 copies over a few years for Mushroom Bookshop in Nottingham, with royalties going to the Women's Research and Resource Centre. Five Leaves later published Zoe's collection of short stories, How Do You Pronounce Nulliparous?
Now, yet again, the country is in a mess and welfare benefits are under attack. This is the right time to publish a new edition, with a new introduction by Zoe, giving the book a modern context. The print book is still available, but the ebook edition includes the new intro - and it is out now at £2.99. Available here:
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Benefits-ebook/dp/B009R283ME/ref=sr_1_2_title_0_main?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1350404231&sr=1-2

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Three bookish nights in Leicester

Over the last few days I've been developing Leicester envy. I know that in Nottingham this is heresy, but there is a lot going on there. On Sunday I was the guest speaker at the Leicester Secular Hall, talking about the history of radical bookshops. It was nice to meet such well read people - some of whom even follow Five Leaves' progress - in such a historic setting, and to speak where many of my heroes, William Morris, Emma Goldman, Colin Ward and others had spoken. I suspect that one or two of the audience had heard them all, which is the problem there. A couple of literature/political regulars from Notts are the youth wing, being in their early 50s. The Secular Hall has a regular meetings programme and is in desperate need of younger people to take the Hall onwards. I'd love to have such a hall in my hometown.
But literature in Leicester, or at least those parts of it around De Montfort University, does have its young people and there were plenty of them at the reading to inaugurate Ian Parks as the Royal Literary Fund Fellow at DMU for the next year. Ian is currently editing an anthology of contemporary Yorkshire poetry for Five Leaves so I trucked along. I'd already reading his The Exile's House (Waterloo, £10) but it was nice to hear him read from the book, as well as some of his earlier love poetry and his recent translations from Cavafy. Ian's family on both sides were from mining families in Mexborough, and, to me, his narrative poems, including those written in memory of his family's involvement in the 1984/85 strike. I particularly liked his "Standards", a short poem about his father who "...sang the standards / through the long months of the strike", ending the poem Speak Softly Love, My Kind of Town. / There was snow and bitter fighting. / My father slicked his hair back, / disappeared into the night / and one by one / the earmarked pits shut down."
Back in Leicester the next day, with an older crowd again, for the launch of the film of The Dirty Thirty, a documentary about the thirty Leicestershire miners who struck out of a coalfield of 2,500. 28 years on it was still hard not to feel enraged about the Government's attack on the people of the coalfields. The highlights of the film for me were the long interviews with Michael "Benny" Pinnegar, the leader of the group (who died very recently) and Mick "Richo" Richmond, who could easily have had an alternative career as a comedian. Prominent in the film was the song of The Dirty Thirty by Alun Parry, which he wrote after reading David Bell's Five Leaves book on the group. The showing was part of the excellent Leicester Everybody's Reading book festival, which aims to take literature festivals into the whole community. After the film we managed to find the last eight members of the local labour movement who had not yet bought their copies of David Bell's book before he gave me a lift back to the station to complete a great set of Leicester visits. Or at least that was the plan. The last I saw of David as I hoofed it was him wailing "I've forgotten where I parked me fuckin' car!". I hope  he got home safely.

Monday, 1 October 2012

Sheffield Independent Publishers' Book Fair

Do drop by our stall if you are near Sheffield on 3rd November. There are also readings from our writers John Lucas, David Belbin and Danuta Reah while Liz Cashdan is taking part in a panel discussion. Not that we're trying to take over or anything.

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Bread and Roses Award 2012, with added Ken Livingstone

Bread and Roses Award for Radical Publishing 2013


Nominations are now open for the 2013 Bread and Roses Award for Radical Publishing

Former Mayor of London Ken Livingstone joins the team of judges

Bread and Roses radical bookfair planned

Nominations are now open for the second Bread and Roses Award for Radical Publishing, for the best radical books published in 2012. The Bread and Roses Award began last year when a team of judges, which included the writer and broadcaster Michael Rosen, awarded David Graeber £1000 for his book Debt: the first 5,000 years (Melville House).

Ken Livingstone, the former Mayor of London, joins the writer and academic Nina Power on the team of judges (third judge tbc), which will again be drawing up a shortlist early in 2013 followed by a presentation to the winning writer of a cheque for £1000.

In 2013 the Trustees of the Bread and Roses Award are organising a one day radical bookfair, on Saturday May 11th at Conway Hall in London, with stalls from publishers and bookshops, together with a series of author discussions and panels based on the six shortlisted books. The winning entry will be announced at the end of the Bookfair.

Mandy Vere, on behalf of the Bread and Roses Trustees said "We are delighted that Ken Livingstone will be one of our judges this year. We are also pleased that the public will be able to join discussions based on the shortlisted books. Radical books, integral to movements for social change, are meant to be discussed not simply read in private!" Nik Gorecki, from the Alliance of Radical Booksellers said "Last year seemed a good time to launch an award for radical publishing and we were pleased that nominations came from the general trade as well as from established radical publishers. The award has been welcomed by publishers, writers and booksellers and we hope that by adding a bookfair element this year more people will become involved in the Bread and Roses project."

Full details of the Award, including criteria and timetable, are on http://breadandrosesprize.wordpress.com/. Entries are welcome from general, specialist and radical publishers worldwide but authors must live in the UK. The Award is for non-fiction books. Currently we are unable to consider fiction or poetry. Publishers may enter books now or anytime up until January 11th 2013.

Background:

The Bread and Roses Award is an independent annual award for the best radical book published each year. Shortlisted entries last year included books from Melville House, New Internationalist, Verso, Pluto, OR Books and Vintage

The aim of the award is to promote the publication of radical books, to raise the profile of radical publishing, and to reward exceptional work. There is no entry fee but shortlisted publishers will be asked for £50 per title on the shortlist as a contribution towards marketing costs.

Without being too prescriptive in defining “radical”, we expect that shortlisted books will be informed by socialist, anarchist, environmental, feminist and anti-racist concerns, and primarily will inspire, support or report on political and/or personal change. They may relate to global, national, local or specialist areas of interest.

The Trustees of the Bread and Roses Award are Nik Gorecki (Housmans Bookshop in London), Mandy Vere (News from Nowhere Bookshop in Liverpool) and Ross Bradshaw (Five Leaves Publications in Nottingham). The Award is organised and funded by the Alliance of Radical Booksellers and the literary and political publisher Five Leaves.

The name Bread and Roses is taken from the slogan attributed to textile workers in Lawrence, Massachusetts, who, at least in the song commemorating the event, struck “for bread, and for roses too.”

Further details of the May 11 Book Fair will be announced later.

Note for publishers: Please send two copies of each nominated book to Steve Mills/Bread and Roses, UNISON Bristol Branch c/o Trinity Road Library, Trinity Road, Bristol BS2 0NW and Nik Gorecki/Bread and Roses, Housmans Bookshop, 5 Caledonian Road, Kings Cross, London N1 9DX

For further information on the Bread and Roses award please contact Nik Gorecki at the above address or 020 7837 4473, nik@housmans.com

Ross Bradshaw (Bread and Roses Trustee)

Thursday, 20 September 2012

How to sell more than 600 ebooks a day (for a short while)

Five Leaves debut crime author Michael J Malone discusses the marketing tactics that got his first novel Blood Tears into the top five on the Amazon Kindle chart... First printed on the blog of another good crime writer Damien Seaman who blogs at http://damienseaman.posterous.com) and is published by Blasted Heath (http://blastedheath.com/?p=2958).

 It’s a brave new world, this world of E. A world where, it is said, authors shall publish and sell. And sell. Where Kindle millionaires are verily as many as leaves on the largest of trees and if that Konrath fellow is to be believed, Amazon will rule the world. And lo, it came to pass that my publisher thought it might be wise to make Blood Tears available for the e-readers. Did it work? Depends. Everything is relative, so it depends on where you are coming from. Would Stephen King’s publishers be happy with my figures? I think not. But we at Five Leaves have more modest expectations and we were kinda chuffed. The wheeze was thusly – actually I’m getting tired of the olde worlde speak now so I’ll stop – anywho, we had a chat about what our strategy should be and we decided to give the paperback a few weeks’ run before releasing in digital format. The Olympics were coming up. Why don’t we – I suggested – make Blood Tears available for free on the first couple of days, as an alternative for the peeps who can’t be arsed with all that sport? Then put the price up to 99p for another week, and then increase gradually until we get to a price that we are comfortable with for the long haul. So, Amazon was contacted and the promo was agreed at £0 for the first 4 days of the ‘lympics and 0.99p for the next few days. Sadly, we had to agree to exclusivity to Amazon for three months. However, given that they appear to be the only game in town at the moment, that didn’t feel too much of a problem. On reflection, I feel that this is one of the methods by which Amazon is cementing their monopoly and THAT worries me.
 Early days and the numbers were goooooood. Me and my peeps tweeted and FB’d and blogged and did what we could to bring it to the attention of the great unwashed. And Blood Tears rose up the rankings. By the end of the weekend BT was number 1 in the free crime/ thriller chart and number 1 in the general book chart. The number of downloads? Over 18,000. Which is not too shabby. And in actual fact, I don’t think that even Mr King’s publishers would have been upset with that little lot. I mentioned to a non-writing friend how many downloads we’d had. His response: some people will take anything when it’s free. Git.
Then the price went on at 99p. And Blood Tears moved in with the big boys to the paid chart, and the book rose up those charts as well. We made it to no 5 in the general book chart – sandwiched in among all the porn books. In fact, I’m pretty sure that for a few hours BT was the only non-erotica book in the top 6. Which is nice. For a few days we were selling over 600 copies a day. Again, not too shabby. We peaked there and began the slow, inexorable slide down the rankings. And from a point where I was checking the chart position every 5 minutes, I stopped checking altogether. It was kinda sad to see my baby being ignored. Now, we are left with a whole load of questions... How the feck did we manage to get all those downloads? There was a knock-on effect with the paperback – I know because people let me know they had bought it – what we don’t know is how many people
went on to do so.
Why did the sales tail off like that? Had I reached my entire prospective audience? Did everyone see it that should have – given Amazon’s famous algorithms? Will the follow-up, A Simple Power (tbp May 2013) benefit from this “increased awareness”? Will people remember who the feck I am? Will Prince Harry ever get his hands on the real crown jewels? Whatever happens, it’s fair to say it was a lot of fun while it lasted. And who knows, it might receive another surge of popularity. I just need to find a royal party that’s up for some strip billiards. Lo. Verily.

Check out BLOOD TEARS by Michael J Malone in the UK:
http://goo.gl/IE97k and here if you're in the US: http://goo.gl/6IQZf