Saturday, 14 January 2012

Catching up on our writers

Many, if not most, Five Leaves writers have written for other publishers, before or after we have published them. That's fine. Maxine Linnell and Dan Tunstall, for example, were first published by us but their third young adult fiction novels have gone to bigger publishers. Nothing wrong with that. Sometimes books we have turned down have gone on to other publishers - that's fine too. Horses for courses and all that. By chance the first three books I read this year were all by Five Leaves' writers, but published elsewhere. The earliest of them was by Bernard Kops - his Awake for Mourning was published by the great MacGibbon and Kee in 1958. The book is of its era, with a good story of the entwined lives of two ex-prisoners, one of who is taken up by a far-right adventurer. The opening story of the prisoners' entwined lives works, but the ending doesn't. There are good cameos - of the party which included a visit by "The Group", of whom "Two are playwrights, one is a novelist, and one is a philosopher, playwright and novelist. All very up and coming. All genuine geniuses. I hate them." I wonder who they were based on. Just so you knew what you were getting into, the cover had a sort of teddy boy on it, with a miserable looking pregnant woman in the background.
Dominic Reeve is hardly a spring chicken either, though his Green Lanes and Kettle Cranes was only published in 2010 (Lamorna, £9.99). Reeve's classic of Romani life, Smoke in the Lanes, is out now with Abacus, a major publisher that has published or republished Romani books. Our revised edition of Reeve's Beneath the Blue Sky has been a bit delayed but will be out soon. The first edition was a steady seller for us, and while Smoke in the Lanes described the "waggon years" Blue Sky covered the 60s, when Anglo-Romanies were moving fully into mechanised transport. In Green Lanes Reeve wittily has a go at those who think that these people were not "real Gypsies", as they should still be travelling with horses and trailers, selling clothes pegs door to door, comparing that attitude to thinking that farm workers should still be wearing smocks and ploughing with oxen. The main thrust of his book though is to describe how, though there is strong evidence of the author being of partial Romani descent, he ran away to join the Gypsies. He fell in with Romanies local to him as a boy and gradually moved into their circle and way of life. His pleasure in finding he was the only gadje (non-Romani) at a big family gathering still appeals, though he is describing the late 1940s. Dominic has always been rather secretive about his life and his real name (still not mentioned here) so this is probably as close to the truth as we will get. The book could have done with a bit of editing, and is repetitive in places but it is a good insight into Romani life in the late 40s in southern England. Dominic still sells compost door to door, and still travels.
The youngest of the three writers mentioned here, being merely in his 70s, is John Lucas, the critic and poet. Several of his books are published by Five Leaves but his first novel, yes, a novel, is published by Greenwich Exchange. The book is called Waterdrops (£9.99) but due to a Greenwich glitch it is not on their website, nor is it on Amazon or listed yet with any booktrade bibliographic information. The book does exist though, the evidence is in front of me, and anyone trying to find it should know that Central Books has it in stock. I'm sure that it will officially exist soon. Waterdrops is a story of World War 2, and if you can get over the awful cover and don't mind a few typos (yes, yes, "pot" here) and stick with it you will find a rather good novel. It is a little hard to get into, but worth it. The novel is based round "letters home" from a soldier then serving in Malta, his life there, the life of his wife and children back in blighty (there is a lot of WW2 language in the book) and the impact of something major on their later lives. I'm not going to give it away, but the hook is a misunderstood passage in Troilus and Cressida. The whole subject is "the terrible things that happen in war, and not only on the battlefield."

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