Thursday, 23 December 2010

Books of the year, from indie presses

Deciding to put my money where my mouth was, in 2010 I only read books from independent presses. Excluding thin volumes of poetry, and children's picture books, I read 61 books. This is down on a normal year - Five Leaves' annual report (see last posting) makes it clear why. The year is not quite over but I know that the books I am due to read by the end of the year will not make it into my top ten, as they are for background research. I should confess the number does include three books from conglomerates - a William Trevor book I read to settle an argument (don't ask), a Stanley Middleton novel, because I wanted to remind myself what he was like and The Time Traveller's Wife, because I had to lead a discussion on it. There are some very big independents here - Bloomsbury being the most obvious, but they are members of the Independent Publishers' Guild, and Quercus. But I did say indies, not small indies. Here's my top ten - in no particular order. Not all were published in 2010.
* Bringing it all back home - Ian Clayton (Route) - a memoir of music, and working class life in Featherstone
* Just my type: a book about fonts - Simon Garfield (Profile) - stories about typesetting
* Once upon a country - Sari Nusseibeh (Halban) - Israel and Palestine, Nussebeibeh lives in East Jerusalem, and I read his book while staying down the road from his mother
* Even the dogs - Jon McGregor (Bloomsbury) - a novel, by the best fiction writer in the East Midlands
* The lowlife - Alexander Baron (Black Spring) - Hackney Jewish life in the 1960s, round the dog track
* Before the earthquake - Maria Allen (Tindall Street) - another Nottingham novelist. Her first novel, set in rural Italy a century ago
* A bookman's tale - Ronald Blythe (Canterbury) - not his best set of essays but many are still excellent
* Millennium Trilogy - Steig Larsson (Quercus) - cheating I know, but I read them one after another
* Common Cause - Francis Combes trans. Alan Dent (Smokestack) - the story of communism, in verse, on the basis that next time we'll do it better
* Depresso - Brick (Knockabout) - a graphic novel on depression; read it twice to spot the visual gags scattered throughout
runner up - White Tiger - Aravind Adiga (Atlantic)

Did I feel that I missed out by only reading books by indie presses for a year? Not really. But I would have read, and will soon start Tony Judt's The Memory Chalet, Colm Toibin's Brooklyn, and Stanley Middleton's posthumous A Cautious Approach. And, gritting my teeth, I'd better read The Finkler Question.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Five Leaves' annual report

The cliche of our time for anything related to business is "difficult trading conditions", which assumes that in the past business people would say "goodness, that was an easy trading year". But, forgive me, this has been a year of difficult trading conditions. The first year after Borders shut its doors, taking 47 major book outlets from the High Street, saw Waterstone's sales stagnate. There are a lot of great independents out there but there is no doubt dtc had an impact on us. Our sales are up, about 20% by the look of things, which is no reason to be complacent (another business cliche, like in the past we might have said "this is the year to be complacent") as our output of titles was up. What was noticeable was that when a book sells badly in the trade, even by small press standards, it sells really badly. This is fairly new. I guess there will have to be even more focus on our writers getting out there to sell, sell, sell.
Still, there are not many publishers that can say they have increased their sales by 20% this year...

The other big change is that we now have a city centre office and a second worker, Pippa Hennessy. Pippa was employed mostly to do promotions, but it looks like she will end up doing everything, currently shepherding four of next year's titles through to publication.

Apart from the publishing side, Five Leaves has various other duties. Lowdham Book Festival, which we jointly organise, ran well in its first year without public funding. Audiences were as high as ever and we are looking forward to our twelfth year. A new project was States of Independence, a major day event for and with indie publishers, in Leicester, jointly organised with the creative writing team at De Montfort University. Several hundred people and fifty small presses were involved. States of Independence II will be on March 19th and there is likely to be a States of Independence series in Nottingham. I've joined the board of Housmans Bookshop in London, which looks like it is catching the wind of radical protest, with sales rising steadily, enabling the shop to become better stocked and better looking, though you will always be able to notice the difference between Housmans and Topshop. We did however, fail in attempting to open a new bookshop in Nottingham when the landlord withdrew the property (and then let it to Silky Hosiery!).

Our friend and author Colin Ward died in February, and we were involved in a large memorial meeting, which was mostly organised by Ken Worpole. In the New Year we will publish a pamphlet of the speeches at the memorial event. Five Leaves took the lead in organising a day event celebrating the life of Alan Sillitoe in Nottingham which was a great day, attended by 200 people. It would be nice, however, to have a year without memorial meetings not least as this year also saw a big event celebrating the life of Stanley Middleton, mostly organised by David Belbin.

Five Leaves published 25 books this year. Take away a couple of weeks for holiday and that gives you a book a fortnight. We've been busy.

The titles were: Rosie Hogarth by Alexander Baron (New London Editions); Scamp by Roland Camberton (New London Editions); Rain on the Pavements (New London Editions); Vintage by Maxine Linnell (young adult); Tolpuddle Boy by Alan James Brown (young adult); Revolution by Sherry Ashworth (young adult); Follow a Shadow by Robert Swindells (young adult); The Ivy Crown by Gill Vickery (young adult); Golem of Old Prague - new edition - by Baruch Simons and Michael Rosen (children's); Personal Copy by Ray Gosling; Poems of C Day-Lewis read by Jill Balcon (CD); Things to Say by John Lucas (poetry); Next Year Will Be Better: a memoir of England in the 1950s by John Lucas; Swimmer in the Secret Sea by William Kotzwinkle; Holocaust by Charles Reznikoff (poetry); Night Shift edited by Michael Baron, Andy Croft and Jenny Swann (poetry); Old City, New Rumours - poetry from Hull edited by Ian Gregson and Carol Rumens; 40 Years in the Wilderness: inside Israel's West Bank settlements by Josh Freedman Berthoud and Seth Freedman; Stratford: another East End by John Gorman (pamphlet); Goodnight Campers! - a history of the British holiday camps by Colin Ward and Dennis Hardy; No Return by Romek Marber (Holocaust memoir, Richard Hollis); Poems and Journals by Susan Alliston (Richard Hollis); Memories of Ted Hughes by Daniel Huws (Richard Hollis); The Rose Fyleman Fairy Book (Bromley House Editions); Jazz Jews by Mike Gerber

This was the first year of our Richard Hollis imprint, an autonomous imprint run by Richard in London. The arrangement is working well. The first book in the Bromley House Editions appeared, late, thanks to the curse of the fairies, though it is one of the most attractive and unlikely books Five Leaves has published. Whimsy has not heretofore been our strongest feature. The second BH book is a novel of the lace trade in Nottingham by the late Hilda Lewis and has been delayed until 2011.

Press and review coverage has ranged from the Observer through to the newsletter of the Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park. One of the most interesting results has been Mike Gerber's Jazz Jews turning into a monthly radio programme of the same name.
Much of our programme would not have been possible without the support of Grants for the Arts support from the Arts Council. We have serious concerns about the impact of Government cuts in arts funding as well as funding for libraries, the Booktrust and other areas of culture. This led Five Leaves to organise a protest letter by 100 local writers to Nottinghamshire County Council about their library cuts. We also signed a national letter signed by 1,100 writers and publishers against library cuts nationally. I am sure we will return to this subject in 2011.

Monday, 20 December 2010

How not to get your poetry published

The wonderful Helena Nelson has cropped up in this blog before, over her editorship of Sphinx and a recent book launch shared between her and our writer (and her publisher, for she is a poet too) John Lucas. Last year Helena published How Not to Get Your Poetry Published, a nicely produced pamphlet available for a fiver from, or from bookshops via 978-1-905939-32-9. That's an ISBN, an International Standard Book Number, not, as she says in the pamphlet, an International Standard Serial Number, and not, as she says elsewhere in the pamphlet, an ISBN number ie an ISB Number number. But ignore these trivial errors, this pamphlet should be bought by every aspiring poet. If every aspiring poet read this pamphlet - as well as reading poetry - they would save themselves, and publishers, much time. I might argue with Helena over a later chapter where she, while not advocating self-publishing, gives some handy hints on that, but I would not argue with her when she says "publishing poetry makes me poorer". Publishing poetry makes most publishers poorer, and, even if it doesn't, it takes up a lot of time - Helena usefully describes what publishers actually do. Even more usefully she simply, chattily, and by giving examples, leads any poet aspiring to be published, through the maze. She also suggests that the poet might ask themselves why they feel they really need to write, to be published, rather than simply "become a quality reader". She ends by quoting the four lines from Lawrence Binyon "They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old:/Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn./ At the going down of the sun and in the morning/ We will remember them." - probably the only lines of his that we know, and most people would not know who wrote them, but the lines remind us that "[poets] end up trying to market .... ourselves... when the most important use of our time is ... to develop our skills with language and to write as well (and as simply) as we can."
ps - the image above is from the cover of the pamphlet under review, see for more, and for terms of use

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Lowdham year ends with A Little, Aloud

Given it was a Friday night just before Christmas and something like -6, we were pleased to have about 120 people at Lowdham Book Festival's last event of the year. Jane Davies and Angela Macmillan from The Reader Organisation ( were down from Liverpool to talk about the work they do, joined by Joanna Trollope as guest reader. Jane and Angela described their work in reading aloud with groups of prisoners, those suffering from dementia, the homeless. What was encouraging is that though Joanna was the guest reader (she read a long Saki short story, wonderfully) the questions were all to Jane and Angela about their work rather than to Joanna whose books are so well known. I'm sure Joanna would be pleased with that. The audience was visibly moved by many of the stories of individual success in opening up people's lives through reading. This was the first time we'd done an event where the ticket price (£15) brought people a book as well as the usual glass of wine (good wine too, thanks to a special deal with Weavers). People seemed really pleased with the book, A Little, Aloud (Chatto) and many people were asking when we would start a local initiative based on The Reader Organisation's ideas. It was a good way to end the year.

Friday, 17 December 2010

New Catalan interest titles from Five Leaves

Five Leaves is pleased to announce two new titles of Catalan interest, published in association with the Anglo-Catalan Society, in conference round about now in Barcelona.
The first is Trueta, a playscript in Catalan and English by Angels Aymar, translated by Montserrat i Puig, about Josep Trueta. Trueta was a surgeon who developed new techniques in treating emergency treatment during the Spanish Civil War. Part of the play is set in a hospital during the war, the rest in England where he settled, not easily, in exile.
The second, Where the Rivers Meet: Jesus Moncada, edited by Kathryn Crameri, is the first book length study of this important Catalan writer, whose work has been compared to Gabriel Garcia Marquez. He is best known in the UK for his book The Towpath. The collection discusses many aspects of his work and includes two new translations from his fiction.
Both books are listed to the trade as being published in April but are available by mail order meantime from and
Fuller outlines of the books also appear at the above sites.

Friday, 10 December 2010


We have just had printed some good quality postcards, the back simply giving our website and imprints. They can be used as postcards. Anyone wanting copies can email me on info(at) with a street address and the number required. No charge.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Cold war

Andy Croft and Paul Summers have just returned from Moscow, giving readings, freezing (welcome back to sunnier climes!) and trying to find a Russian publisher for our Three Men on the Metro, the Russian metro that is. There are good signs and some Russians have already started translating the work. Prior to that Andy has also been reading from his assorted books in America. Meanwhile, also in America, sections of Michael Rosen and Baruch Simons' The Golem of Old Prague are included in Monsters and Miracles; a journey through Jewish picture books, a major exhibition at the Eric Carle Museum in Amhurst, see

The bookshop that blew away

For the last ten years Nottingham has been a one bookshop city. (I declare an interest, having worked in the last indie, Mushroom Bookshop, from 1978-1995, which closed in 2000.) There are two good small indies in the County, The Bookworm at Retford - which is nearer Sheffield than Nottingham - and The Bookcase in Lowdham, but they can't do the job that a city independent can do so brick and mortar book buyers have a choice of Waterstone's or the book section of a single WH Smiths. However good or bad that one Waterstone's may be, that's not a lot of choice.
In September, I went to look at some offices with another book group as both of us were in need of bigger office space. The space they had found is pictured here - the old HQ of the wonderful Victorian architect, Watson Fothergill. On the ground floor you will see a shop... Immediately the plan changed to have a bookshop there, with the Five Leaves' office behind. A radical(ish) and a literary(ish) shop, with a big events programme the stock going way beyond what we publish. The rent was good as the premises are in a dead shopping area - fine if you are a "destination". But the premises are about three minutes from the arthouse cinema in town, three minutes from a main thoroughfare and seven from Waterstone's. The beautiful Grade II listed building would be our best advertisement. Perfect. We had to move fast. We sorted out terms with a wholesaler and some major suppliers, a computer package, agreed to buy shelving from a Christian bookshop that had just closed, semi-organised staffing and started drawing up the initial stocklist and events programme - to open in October. Everyone would want to visit - but they might only visit once before returning to Waterstone's and Amazon, so they had to visit at a time they would spend most money. We would open for the Christmas season. One Friday morning we agreed every bit of detail with the landlord's agent, with the lease to be signed on the Monday. That same afternoon the landlord decided to withdraw the shop from the market as he now wants to turn the offices upstairs into flats. And flat was how we felt.
Are we looking for alternative premises? No. This was the one. You can see why.
ps. Just to cheer myself up I walked past the premises yesterday (15th December) and found the landlord had let the shop after all. Good luck to "Silky Hosiery". So how did that happen?

Monday, 6 December 2010

"There are fairies at the bottom of our garden..."

... and, now, in our warehouse. The Rose Fyleman Fairy Book was first published in 1923 by Methuen. Fyleman was a prolific writer in her day and was best known for her many poetry collections of fairy poems. She was born in Nottingham in 1877, dying in London in 1957, and though she had a long writing career her whimsical poems remained popular. She wrote within a Victorian milieu where fairies were a popular subject, and within a tradition that included JM Barrie, Charles Kingsley and Kenneth Grahame. Fyleman rejected the darker side of fairy writing and her work is now perhaps more suited for the nostalgia and gift market (and the further reaches of the internet where you can still find her work). Our version of the book is a near facsimile of the 1923 edition, with wonderful illustrations by Hilda T. Miller, about whom we know little and would be pleased to learn more. This is the first of an irregular series of Bromley House Editions, hardback editions of once well known, but long unavailable books by Nottingham writers, found in the Bromley House collection.
Copies are available for immediate dispatch from our mail order agency:, and, yes, the heading of this posting is from one of Rose Fyleman's poems.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

The Cockermouth Poems

Sometime Five Leaves' book editor (The Night Shift, On a Bat's Wing) Michael Baron is endlessly energetic, despite, or possibly because he lives so far from metropolitan poetry circles and despite, or possibly because he is not exactly a young man. He crops up in all sorts of poetry projects up in Cumbria but I think he has excelled himself with his project "The Cockermouth Poems". Michael, who lives in Cockermouth, has set up a poetry trail round the town as part of the positive ways it is responding to last year's disastrous floods. He has persuaded a great range of poets with strong or loose Cockermouth connections to contribute to the trail - a great line up. Here's the story at greater length in the Guardian books blog.
ps I should also mention his own collection of poetry - More Than a Man in a Boat, which is very good. I can't find it on Amazon but its ISBN is 978 0 9565134 0 3 so bookshops can order it. Retail is a fiver.

Friday, 3 December 2010

Their tiny wings are frozen

I had hoped, tomorrow, to launch The Rose Fyleman Fairy Book at the Christmas social of Bromley House Library in Nottingham, the Fyleman book being the first of our Bromley House Editions, a new imprint. We had lots of technical problems with the book, having to use a printer that did "random" colour plates, though that is a strange word for it as the plates had to be in particular positions, just irregular positions. That printer discovered that they could not print the dustjackets as the size was too big, and their normal binder could not bind the books because the spine width was too small. There were other problems, lost computer files... anway, the book was guaranteed to arrive by December 1st. Except maybe not by December 1st, what about on December 1st - that being the date we'd given to BH members when the book would be available, but still in good time for the 4th. We had not counted on the local Interlink Express' depot, our printer's carrier being in Huthwaite, closer to God maybe, but the highest place in the County - and thus deepest in snow. The poor bloody fairies have been sitting in one of three container lorries for three days and nights in some feet of snow. So no Bromley House Editions books being launched at the very well attended event tomorrow. I don't even have a sample to use to solicit interest and orders, And will they be saleable anyway after several days and nights at sub-zero temperature? Paper does not like that kind of treatment. The curse of the fairies is on us.
More on the book when we have it.

Beirut or bust

Five Leaves' friends (and the many more friends of Peter Mortimer) will know that he brought a group of children from Shatila Palestinian refugee camp to the North East last year and plans were in place to bring another group in February. Money had been raised, venues had been booked (and we were gearing up to another big sale of his Camp Shatila book), and everything was in order. The perils of organising theatre between two places 3,000 miles apart became apparent when the UNRWA, which runs the school the children attend, said they would have to postpone the trip until later in 2011. Rebooking everything could at best be a nightmare, at worse cause the trip to be cancelled. Rebooking has been done, though some of the events/venues could not manage to reschedule. Pete Mortimer is currently in Beirut trying to sort out things at that end. It must have been so tempting to have given up - Pete has his own life and needs to earn a living - but hard to give up when incidents happen like some anonymous person from the North East putting £1000 in cash through Pete's door "for the bairns". You can catch up with the project on Pete's blog and through the Children of Shatila group on Facebook.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Reasons to be happy

Penguin Children is joining the throng of publishers marking the Royal wedding, with two of its imprints publishing souvenir editions to commemorate the event. Ladybird will release a full-colour picture book, William and Kate: The Royal Wedding. It will track the relationship from when the couple met and include information on the wedding venue, and other Royal weddings. It follows the publisher's souvenir editions for Prince Charles and Diana's wedding and that of Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson. It also produced books to celebrate the Queen's 80th birthday, and Diana Princess of Wales to mark her death. Will and Kate's Dress-Up Dolly Book will be published by Sunbird. A cut-out-and-keep paper doll book, it will feature illustrated paper dolls of William and Kate with various paper outfits based on actual clothes worn by the pair, and will include Kate's engagement dress. Category publisher for brands and licensing Eric Huang said: "Ladybird has a huge history of publishing Royal titles, and Sunbird is a new imprint aimed at older kids, and we wanted to be part of that history, and make a more fun, kitschy, tongue-in-cheek title for older kids. This is quite unique, it's not word heavy."

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Simon Hoggart rides another hobbyhorse

Simon Hoggart writes amusing Parliamentary sketches and a rather dull weekly diary for the Guardian. The latter mostly comprises mildly amusing anecdotes about being on trains, of restaurants he's visited or events he and his circle go to. Whenever he has a new book out rest assured that the log will be rolled, and rolled again. Simon Hoggart is - rightly - very popular at book festivals as he is a witty performer and Guardian readers more than anyone love book festivals. In yesterday's paper he has a go at book festivals, complaining that they often get 500 people at an author event at £8 a time, paying the author £150 before the organiser sits back and counts the dosh. He might be right. But I do know that when he came to a book festival I have a hand in organising his fee was well north of £150. We were pleased with his attendance of 200 or so but, without giving too much away, we did not sit around counting our profits afterwards, not least as marquees have to be hired, as do PA systems and lighting. Programme printers tend to want to be paid as do the technicians making sure the author can be heard. Of course there may be authors that can fill 500 seater marquees that are available for £150. Perhaps he could let us know who they are so we can book them. And what of those who do demand high fees but attendances are not quite the number hoped? Can we ask for our money back?
There is a debate worth having about paying writers at Festivals, but Simon Hoggart is not helping.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Notes from the frozen north # 2

It will be obvious to anyone who has spent time in Scotland, particularly around Glasgow, that the country is short of names. Many men seem to be called Jimmy and many women Hen. This lack of names clearly affects Scottish writers too. Five Leaves has five Scottish writers on its list, or coming onto its list. One is J. David Simons. That is is name but if it was just David Simons the J. would have to be added to avoid confusion with the slightly better known American writer David Simons. Russel McLean became Russel D McLean to prevent confusion with someone similar. And we now have Michael Malone from Ayr joining us, his first crime novel will be out in 2012. Unfortunately there is already a crime writer called Michael Malone so he, ie our one, will become Michael J Malone. So that's 60% of our Scottish writers needing to use an initial due to this acute name shortage. Something needs to be done. Michael Malone though will have some problems as he is already a published poet sans J. So there is now Michael Malone the crime writer, Michael Malone the poet and Michael J Malone the crime writer. Surely some enterprising literature programmer should put them all on the same bill, for an evening with Michael Malones.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010


Never known to avoid a grudge, we'd like to remind Gilad Atzmon (see 6 November) that the second coming of Jazz Jews on radio is tonight at 10.00pm UK time, with listen again facility if he misses it. Here's the programme we are talking about:
* a wonderful Yiddish word describing the situation whereby a second cousin is still upset because he wasn't invited to a wedding 23 years ago.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Notes from the frozen north # 1

God, Edinburgh is cold*. But the Scottish Poetry Library, Helena Nelson and a warm and generous audience was a great setting for the last of John Lucas' launch readings for Next Year Will Be Better. Mindful that the subtitle of his book is A memoir of England in the 1950s, he read from the only Scottish section of the book. This comprised a well observed note about visiting Dumfrieshire in the 1950s when he and an English friend were about the only people who stood for the National Anthem (then common practice in England) to find that some people shouted at them to sit down while others pelted the screen with orange peel and the like. A moment of discovery that not all Britons were royalists.
As well as launching John's book, we were launching a book published by him at Shoestring, a collection by Helena Nelson (publisher at Happenstance), Plot and Counterplot. The two readers worked very well together. I was pleased to see other Scottish publishers in the audience, as well as someone from STANZA, the St Andrews poetry festival - but then Helena has a big following in Scotland. It was nice to share some of that, and to bring her some of John Lucas' Scottish fan club.
*It got colder, wandering around later trying to find where First (the inappropriately named bus group) had moved the bus stop for travelling on to Hawick, then colder still in an unheated rattler of a bus for two and a quarter hours under blue lighting like that used in dodgy pub toilets to discourage junkies shooting up. The news from Hawick? The local football team has lost every match it has played this season, the Hawick rugby club is bottom of its league, the local Council is trying to get volunteers to cut the grass in local parks and there's a murder on the front page of the local paper. For this I paid First £6.30 to get there and £6.30 more to get to Carlisle the next day...

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Zeynep's story

The four people reading Where the Wild Things Are comprise Zeynep, Fatih and Kebire Hasbudak and Brian Simons. The year is 1985 and the picture is from Zeynep: that really happened to me, published by the All London Teachers against Racism and Fascism (those were the days). The book is a collection of drawings and photographs and the autobiographical story of Zeynep who, the next year was deported with her family to a country she had never seen before where her parents became unemployed and she had to learn a new language. Her whole school tried to stop the deportation but failed. The book was really important in her home area of Hackney and beyond in showing the child's view of being deported, a child in this case that was born and lived for ten years in London. I lost my copy of the book years ago and bought another for £1 in the second hand section at Housmans last week.
25 years on Zeynep and Fatih both live in Britain again; Brian is now Boruch and has changed his jeans and sweater for Chassidic garb. We've just brought out a new edition of The Golem of Old Prague, illustrated by Boruch and written by Michael Rosen, one of those thanked in Zeynep's book.
The Home Office minister responsible for deporting Zeynep and her family was David Waddington, later Governor of Bermuda, and last seen on the political stage inserting a supposedly free speech clause in the section of the Public Order Act outlawing acts of homophobic hatred. He has been a member of the Conservative Party since he was at Oxford University.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Lack of money doesn't talk, it swears

Five Leaves receives some money from the Arts Council through the Grants for the Arts scheme. Not a lot but enough to publish books that are not very commercial, not a lot but enough to publish some material in translation, not a lot but enough to take on some new writers from time to time. Not a lot but enough to be able to employ 1.4 people; to be the biggest account for a small printer which in these times may need that account to ensure that five workers are kept in employment; to be the second biggest account for a small typesetting firm that would struggle to survive without our account. Though our distributor would survive without us, our sales year after year do contribute to their success. Our involvement with Lowdham Book Festival has helped the local bookshop to grow from being a hobby bookshop to one employing five or six women. I can't do the sums but every public pound invested pays off in the private sector. This is elementary economics but is lost on our current Government, whose hostility to the public sector will have a huge impact on the private sector.
Five Leaves' support from the Arts Council is not at risk, as far as I know, as it is lottery funded but Government cuts have ensured that many of the previous "Regularly Funded Organisations", including publishers, will close over the next few years. They will generally be much bigger organisations than Five Leaves, with a resulting much bigger knock on effect on the private sector.
These arguments have been rehearsed time and time again so nothing I say is new but needs said again and again and again.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Eat my shorts

Good news that Nottingham's Jon McGregor has been short-listed for the BBC Short Story Award, along with David Constantine, Sarah Hall, Helen Oyeyemi and Aminatta Forna. All the stories will be read out on the Beeb over the next week with the winner being announced on Front Row on 29 November. There's £15,000 at stake, plus the kudos. Our enterprising colleagues at Comma Press are publishing an anthology of the short stories on 25th November, and you can order it at and find more details on
Completists might want to check out Jon's two short stories published by Five Leaves, "The First Punch" which appears in Sunday Night and Monday Morning: new fiction from Nottingham, edited by James Urquhart, and "Close", which appears in The Sea of Azov, edited by Anne Joseph. Find them via
Jon's Facebook announcement said "I may not be the best short story writer in the UK, but I am in the top five." If that seems familiar, think Brian Clough.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Adrift in Notting Hill

As well as the Colin Wilson film tie-in mentioned in the last posting, we will be publishing a companion volume, The Furnished Room by Laura Del-Rivo, with a new introduction by Colin Wilson. This one is already a film tie-in being made into the now seldom seen West 11 which features Alfred Lynch, Eric Portman and (how rarely she is connected to Five Leaves) Diana Dors, pictured. Laura's book was first published in 1961 and the links to Wilson's book is clear as this too is set in bedsitterdom, this time in Notting Hill and Earls Court. Laura is still running a stall at Portobello Market, which will be a great place to launch the book in due course.
I cannot find a poster for West 11, and would be pleased to hear from anyone who has come across a copy. I did toy with illustrating this posting with a picture of West 11's director, but Michael Winner versus Diana Dors...

Monday, 8 November 2010

Five Leaves goes adrift in Soho

Colin Wilson's Adrift in Soho will be published next autumn, as part of our New London Editions series, and as a film tie-in with Pablo Behrens' film of the same name. Pablo has secured funding, and is about to start casting, with the shooting beginning early next year. We'll have our first film tie-in cover, though timing is tight on that for the repping cycle to shops. Adrift in Soho first appeared in 1961, a novel of Soho and Notting Hill seediness with the main character arriving from the provinces in search of adventure. The film has a provisional website on, so you can have a sense of the book and the cover. More later.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Hackney Limmud

Limmuds (or more correctly limmudim, I suppose) are something-for-everyone Jewish study days. Sessions can be academic, religious, political, controversial or about puppets (though I can't actually recall anything about puppets, but you get the picture). There is a big national one held over the Christmas break - what else are Jews supposed to do for Christmas? - and local ones all over the country now. I'm just back from Hackney, one of my favourites as the attendance tends to be a bit more alternative, a bit poorer, a bit more varied, a bit more working class and a lot more secular - though our stall was next to Lubavitch, which we and they found amusing. Our stall had the new print of the great Hackney Jewish novel Rain on the Pavements and Ken Worpole was talking again about Alexander Baron, that great Hackney novelist, so we did a bit more than cover the train fare. I've never been to a big Jewish event without seeing Janel Levin from Jewish Renaissance, who must be the hardest working magazine editor ever.
Sadly our little green "truck" - veteran of many a bookstall - is off to landfill. Overloaded as always, dropping it off a bus did not help. I blame Boris Johnson.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Our worst review ever?

Supporters of the Jewish right has for years been banging on about "the new anti-Semitism", where any small sign of concern that Israel might, on balance, from time to time, do the odd minor thing a teeny weeny bit wrong is lumped in with thousands of years of blood libels, forced conversions and pogroms as being anti-Semitic to the core. Ever vigilant, they spend their lives scanning the Guardian, the Independent and the Hamas-supporting BBC for evidence, where such evidence of anti-Semitism can always be found. If you want to find it. Over on the other side is Gilad Atzmon. Atzmon is an Israeli born anti-Zionist, whose views once managed to attract a picket by Jews Against Zionism. Atzmon is the mirror image of the right, where any sign of Jewish politics is a fig-leaf for Zionism. Thus, attacking Mike Gerber, the author of Jazz Jews and a member of the Jewish Socialists' Group, he argues that "Jewish politics is always a form of Zionism" or, because Mike plans to play Israeli musicians on his Jazz Jews radio programme he "manage[s] to endorse Zionist culture". Atzmon goes on to describe Jazz Jews as "one of the most disturbing books in the history of jazz literature". Maybe we'll use that on the cover when we get to paperback time. The good news though is that Atzmon has said it was Gerber writing the book that caused him to invent the satirical character "Artie Fishel" with his Promised Band, so we can now safely say that Jazz Jews influenced jazz history. Here's Atzmon's article (don't forget to wade through the comments):

Thursday, 4 November 2010

East Midlands' Rebels

David Bell, author of The Dirty Thirty - on the Leicestershire striking miners, is starting a new book for Five Leaves on East Midlands' Rebels. This will be a popular (as opposed to academic) book, and be published in 2012 or 2013 depending on how big it gets. David has drawn up an initial list of people to cover, which includes (by way of example) Brian Clough, Lord Byron, Alan Sillitoe, Eric Irons (Black activist), Elizabeth Hootton ((17th century Quaker), Daniel Holt (18th century newspaper editor and supporter of Thomas Paine), Robin Hood, Alice Wheedon (Suffragette). You get the picture. Further suggestions are welcome. The people in the book don't need to be "big names" and could be rebels in their own field. Suggestions welcome, here or to info(at)

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Battle of Cable Street, diary date

If you had planned to take part in the Battle of Cable Street, you are, unfortunately, 73 years and 364 days late, as the 74th anniversary is tomorrow. However we can say that plans are already being worked up for the 75th anniversary in 2011. I posted about the books Five Leaves will be publishing earlier, on 13th August, but can now say that we'll be running a joint launch for the books on 2nd October 2011, with a panel discussion on the literature of the 1930s the previous day. Alan Gibbons, author of one of the books, will also be doing some schools' work on the 3rd October. Many of the Cable Street events will take place in and around Wilton's Music Hall in the East End. Meantime you might want to diary that weekend, and read an interview with one of the participants, Max Levitas, still active at 95 or watch another, Ubby Cowan, talking about the event:,

Things to Say

I was going to do a posting about Monday night's launch event at Bookmarks Bookshop for John Lucas's two new books, but one of those present beat me to it. John Harvey, taking time off from his life of crime writing and listening to jazz, has posted:

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Anarchist Book Fair 2010

History Workshop has made it to the modern age, now supplementing the academic journal of the same name with a more accessible website, whose subtitle is "Doing progressive history in a digital age". The site is live but for the moment it looks like not a lot of history has happened. I think this will change. Meantime here's my article over there about the Anarchist Book Fair, this year's event having just taken place:

Friday, 29 October 2010

First and last Beeston Int Poetry Festival ends

The Flying Goose in Beeston, Nottinghamshire, was packed and sweaty for the last reading of the small and unlikely Beeston International Po Fest. The event finished on home ground, with two Midlands writers reading, Matthew Welton and Roy Fisher. It was the perfect setting for two great poets, reading quietly and demanding attention. I only got a silver star for attending seven of the ten events. One Stakhanovite managed them all and has been awarded the gold star for services to poetry. The Flying Goose always has a high percentage of writers and organisers in the crowd, and some last minute networking means that there's be another regional independent publishers day event next March in Leicester, States of Independent II. There's a video archive of a poem from each of the Beeston readers on!/group.php?gid=129081423811358

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Colin Ward, Education, Childhood and Environment

Advance warning of a day conference at the Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge on this subject. Colin's key books on this (alas not from Five Leaves, our books from him are on landscape) were The Child in the City and The Child in the Country. The conference organisers are looking for papers on anarchism and libertarian education; architecture, town planning and spaces for children; photography and images of children; the city as a curriculum resource; children's street cultures; play, education and urban contexts; children as citizens. Ken Worpole will be one of the speakers. The papers at the conference will contribute towards a special issue of the journal Childhood. For further information and to offer papers and articles, please contact Cathy Burke on before the end of the year.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

A Later Call

2013 will soon be upon us. Had he lived, the novelist Angus Wilson would be 100 in August of that year. Wilson's fiction was admired by a band of other writers including Paul Bailey, Ian McEwan and Rose Tremain. His book Anglo-Saxon Attitudes was the big British novel of 1956, and serialised on television by Andrew Davies (who has the franchise for televised literary works), though people say Wilson's best book may have been Late Call. Margaret Drabble did a big posthumous biography of Angus Wilson, but his star has gradually faded while other writers of his period - Iris Murdoch and William Golding for example have not. Ever willing to take on a challenge, Five Leaves is planning a critical book on Wilson for publication in 2013 (don't rush your orders just yet) and after meeting the author Paul Binding tonight we have a title, A Later Call, which somehow seems rather apt.
It also seems apt to illustrate this posting with an old photograph of Wilson out campaigning for Public Lending Right for authors, given that our government has just announced the closure of the well-respected quango, the PLR Agency.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Waiting for the barbarians no longer

What are we waiting for, assembled in the forum?
The barbarians are due here today.
Why isn’t anything going on in the senate?
Why are the senators sitting there without legislating?
Because the barbarians are coming today.
What’s the point of senators making laws now?
Once the barbarians are here, they’ll do the legislating.

The small but perfectly formed Beeston International Poetry,, came alive for me this evening when Vassilis Pavlides read Cavafy's 1904 poem, Waiting for the Barbarians, partly in Cavafy's Alexandian Greek dialect, then fully in English, extracted above. Great poem, but we all knew that Billy (as Vassilis is known) was referring to the arrival of the barbarians yesterday, legislating smugly against the poor, against local government and against culture. The Beeston mini-festival restarts next Monday, with many more writers from the independent press world, including Five Leaves' irregulars Rosie Garner, CJ Allen, Gregory Woods, Mahendra Solanki and Matthew Welton, with others including Paul Binding who will become a Five Leaves' writer in 2013, barbarians notwithstanding.

When Rosie met Roland

This autumn's crop of New London Editions' titles has arrived and is being sent out even as we speak. Just in time - thank goodness - for tomorrow's sold out event at Bishopsgate Library. We changed the cover of Rosie Hogarth at the last minute as our earlier version looked like a 20s' flapper rather than a post-war modern woman which we think we now have. This is our second Alexander Baron. Our first, King Dido, is still getting reviews - the latest being in Stone Stories, the newsletter of Friends of Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park. Howard Jacobson must be shaking with jealousy.
The other New London Editions titles are both by Roland Camberton - the long awaited reprints of Scamp and Rain on the Pavements.
I've mentioned before that Camberton (Henry Cohen in real life) was one of the mysteries of British publishing. Iain Sinclair introduces Scamp by describing his decades' long search for information on this mysterious writer. But we have trumped him by including an image of Camberton, and here it is. The painting is by Julia Rushbury and the photograph is by her son, Dominic Ramos. Thanks to both.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

More on Notts Library cuts

From The Bookseller:

One hundred writers, academics, publishers and booksellers including Jane Streeter, president of the Booksellers Association, have put their names to a letter of protest to Nottinghamshire County Council over its planned reductions in library staffing, opening hours and a 75% cut in its book fund. The letter was drawn up by Ross Bradshaw, of Five Leaves Publications, whose own career started in libraries and who was for ten years the County Council's Literature Development Officer. He said 100 writers and publishers responded within 48 hours: "All the local writers I have talked to have been shocked at these proposed cutbacks. Councillor John Cottee, Cabinet Member for Culture, said that 'We [the County Council] are committed to libraries being at the heart of the community'. If so, this is a heart attack."
The letter was sent to Nottinghamshire County Council on Monday 25th October. "This will have a major impact on the whole community, from business support to levels of literacy. The Cabinet Member for Culture and Community at Nottinghamshire County, John Cottee, says that 'we are committed to libraries being at the heart of the community'. Maybe, but the Council's action shows a different view. These cuts will drive down library usage and will deter visitors and investment as Nottinghamshire will be seen as somewhere with little concern for reading and culture. We urge a rethink."
Signatories include the novelist Julie Myerson who said: "The library was a lifeline to me growing up in Nottinghamshire. As a young teenager, I got through about 6 novels every couple of weeks. I still remember the authors I discovered. At 16 & 17 I'd go there on Saturdays to flick through the Writers & Artists Yearbook and dream of being published!"
Nottinghamshire County Council said last week that it planned to cut its books budget by 75%, reduce opening hours, and reduce the frequency of mobile library visits. Councillor Cottee, who is responsible for Nottinghamshire's 61 libraries, told the BBC, that there was little choice but to reduce staff and opening hours because of the deficit crisis.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

To the barricades

Five Leaves has initiated an open letter to Nottinghamshire County Council about its proposed library cutbacks - see previous posting. The letter will be sent on Monday 25 October and 96 writers from the East Midlands have signed it over the weekend. Any local writers or anyone involved in the industry locally can contact me to add their name on The list includes Notts exiles Julie Myerson (who used to work in libraries) and John Harvey as well as a range of writers from Maria Allen, novelist of this parish, through to Gregory Woods, poet, literary critic and academic. The Nottingham Post is likely to run a story on Wednesday. They have already run a great editorial on
Update - the letter was sent with 100 names. East Midlands Today has done an interview for Tuesday.

Friday, 15 October 2010

What's John got against Arnold?

On Booker night, Arnold Library, outside Nottingham, (yes, it is nice to have a suburb called Arnold; buses going there look as if they are called that) hosted an event with local book folk advocating one of the shortlist. In a vote at the end of the session the overwhelming majority wanted to read The Finkler Question, but few voted for it as being the likely winner. Another good night out down the library.
The next day Nottinghamshire County Council (Conservative) announced major cuts in the library service - 83.4 full time equivalent jobs to go, the book budget cut by 75%, reduced opening hours, smaller libraries to become "community partnership libraries" (work that one out) and mobiles to visit only monthly. Books will have to last 21.5 years rather than the current 5.4 years. The Cabinet member for (getting rid of) culture at the Council, John Cottee, said "we are committed to libraries being at the heart of the community". Except he's just given the community a heart attack.
Thinking back to the Booker event - I wonder which of those staff will be on the dole next year, whether the remaining staff will have time to run such events, or whether there will be enough budget to even have the Booker list borrowable on the night.
This comes in the wake of a major programme of library refurbishments initiated by the previous administration, including Arnold Library itself. The illustration is an artist's impression of Arnold Library in a year's time.

Monday, 11 October 2010

The new girl visits an old library

Five Leaves' new worker Pippa Hennessy found a lot to interest her at our last book launch: the venue: "...Bromley House Library, in the centre of Nottingham, which I haven’t been to before but certainly intend to go to to again. It’s a subscription library (costs £75 per year, or £40 for full-time students), which is about the only down side. The entrance is easy to miss – a nondescript doorway next to Barnardos charity shop on Angel Row – but once you go inside it’s like the wardrobe in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. There are three floors of books, ranging from modern novels to Victorian novels, church history, economics, old issues of Punch
"The first floor has a room with a ‘meridian line’ – a brass line on the floor running exactly North-South, which, in conjunction with a panel covering the window with a strategically placed hole, and a plumb-bob, enables you to determine exactly when midday is in Nottingham. According to engraved silver plates on a nearby grandfather clock, this is 4’33 later than midday at Greenwich, and 4’10 later than St Paul’s Cathedral.
"The second floor is reached via a rickety spiral staircase. Notices tied to the banisters at the top and bottom with red ribbon ask that only one person uses the staircase at any one time. A balcony runs round above one of the first floor rooms (crammed with books, of course), and there are many nooks and crannies where members can curl up with books and read quietly.
"A notice on the way up to the third floor warns that the same level of comfort is not to be found in the attics, and recommends wrapping up warm in the winter! Then you get to the top of the stairs and find a heavy duty torch placed strategically… there are lights, but I did wonder how reliable they are. I found some gorgeous maps of the city centre, showing how it had changed over the years. I didn’t spot a date, but it looked as if they showed an original draft sometime in the 1800s (did you know there used to be two skating rinks on Talbot Street?), with red outlines drawn over to show how the city looked at the time – probably around the middle of the century. I want to go back there just to look at those maps again..."

Sunday, 10 October 2010

More on John Lucas, and Beeston International Poetry Festival

Sixty people came to the Nottingham Bromley House Library launch of John Lucas' Next Year Will Be Better and Things to Say (see postings passim). Two more events to go, London and Edinburgh. John Lucas and most of the guests are out of the picture, which is probably where he, at least, prefers to be. John is also the organiser of the Beeston International Poetry Festival, starting 16th of this month. That's Beeston in Nottingham, and yes, it is international, with Greek, Australian and various other international poets as well as home grown. The full programme is on, but you do need to scroll down to reach the programme, past a worryingly blank page. There is also a Facebook group:
Those who know John will know that he is responsible for neither electronic medium!

Friday, 8 October 2010

National Poetry Day - Derby

Without an event of our own to go to, we wandered over to Derby to support our author Adrian Buckner (Contains Mild Peril) in relaunching his magazine Assent under its new arrangement "in partnership with Universtiy of Derby". (Are universities the new Medicis? Discuss.) Assent started life as Poetry Nottingham in 1959, and Nottingham connections are still strong with many of the 60 people in the audience from there. One of the readers, CJ Allen, is also from the 'hood. Allen is an excellent poet and reader, winner of more competitions than you can shake a stick at, and performs with wit and understated humour. The main reader was Bernard O'Donoghue, a Cork man long domiciled in Britain. He is the writer of small masterpieces which I wish he would turn into longer narrative poems, but another great reader.
Assent promises further such readings and launches, which is good, though they must talk with their sponsors about getting a website.
I was also pleased to see an old friend, Les Baynton, has started up a performance poetry night in the same venue - the fancy new Quad - free, every second Thursday of the month.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

"There was an old woman who lived in a shoe"

Given that the current Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, seems to have disinterred the political philosophy of Thomas Malthus, we can probably look forward to Arts Council funding being determined by how many children applicants have. My failure to breed could come in handy here. Everyone and their granny has pitched in to point out that arts spending is a cultural and economic investment so there is little point in rehearsing it here. Five Leaves' official and, I think, moderate opinion is that this country will be a better place once the last hedge fund trader is strangled by the guts of the last Eton-educated Con/Dem cabinet minister though I suspect this reasoned opinion is not fully shared by Nicholas Serota.


On Five Leaves' young adult fiction side, Peters, the specialist library supplier of children's books is a great account. The Birmingham company orders in multiples, regularly, and rarely (if ever) does returns. It just sends in orders, receives them, pays up. No fuss. One of their staff approached us at our stall at the School Library Association, and again at the Branford Boase Award and invited us to visit. Yesterday a couple of people from Five Leaves did just that, and were met by managing director Carl McInerney and chief buyer Joe Chapman. They toured us round the place and sat down to discuss our young adult list, our covers, what they thought of us and how we could work better together. Five Leaves publishes 3-5 young adult books a year, and two senior staff in a multi-million pound business set aside a couple of hours of their time to talk to what must be one of the smallest accounts they have. Impressed.
Impressed at seeing their showroom, which brings together more books for young people than can be seen anywhere in Britain. Impressed at seeing the information their ten librarians send out to their public and school library accounts (this included seeing some of their non-public reviews of our books, which felt a bit like hearing someone talk about you further down the bus; like the bus passenger, they say what they think). Impressed at the firm's independence. Peters is an indie, and its selectors and librarians are encouraged to ignore discounts, ignore the reputation of the publisher, and to buy and recommend according to the value of the book in front of them.
The number of library suppliers in the UK has been falling steadily, mostly into the hands of book wholesalers, while local authorities move into buying consortia and competitive tendering. For all our sakes Peters deserves to keep winning the tenders, and building their direct sales to local authority School Library Services.
And we were impressed to see a big poster of the MD with Alan Gibbons under the banner of the Campaign for the Book.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Can I have a bicycle, please?

Five Leaves is distributed to the book trade by Central Books, in common with hundreds of other independent presses and magazine publishers. I've just been re-reading Central Books: a brief history 1939-1999 by Dave Cope. To most people, book distribution is arcane at best; a technical matter involving boxes, invoices, returns (ah, them), warehousing. Central Books is a bit different as it enable us all to reach bookshops who would not want to cope with small orders and hundreds of invoices; far better to order to one source. But the history of Central is a bit different too as it was set up to distribute publishers associated with the Communist Party. Dave Cope (who now runs a second hand leftie book company called Left on the Shelf) has written a fascinating account of the company. One imagines the CP as being monolithic, ruthless even, but in May 1965 Central agreed to buy a bicycle for a Mrs Clark so she could return to the firm after retiring "to facilitate her journey to and from Crawley station where she (now) lived". Later a long serving staff member was allowed "to avoid the rush hours on public transport" by taking taxis at the company expense. Transport was clearly an issue at Central, with one trade rep (who needed a car) failing his test for the fourth time, with the company then agreeing to "sell the car and purchase another one if and when J. Marks passed his test". Two years later a minute remarked that Central's insurance company refused to give comprehensive cover while J. Marks was driving. Another worker, Dan Huxtep, began to have memory problems (at the age of 80) which were resolved by transferring him to the Periodicals department allowing him to work on until he was 91.
At this point any Five Leaves' writer or bookshop worker reading this will be stroking their chin and wondering... but rest assured, those were the old days. In 1984 Bill Norris joined Central, which had already been developing commercially to compensate for the decline of the Communist Party. In due course Bill became managing director and the Communist Party was wound up in 1991 (I do not believe these facts are related). Central was handed over to the workforce and management and, by dint of of closing their London bookshop (making a killing on selling their lease) and moving distribution to Hackney Wick, became the main port of call for small independent publishers. They became a fully professional distribution service. At a later stage I'll post about modern developments in book distribution but these are beyond the 1999 ending of this charming book. No doubt Central still have copies at £5.99, orderable from bookshops with the reference 0714732907.
What is remarkable in the story is how long people worked at Central, and this continues, with most of my contacts, including Bill, having been around for decades. Perhaps they too will be transferred to the Periodical Department when their memory begins to go.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

"Whatever people say I am, that's what I'm not"

More than 200 people attended the day long celebration of the life and work of Alan Sillitoe last Saturday in Nottingham. Five Leaves initiated and led on the project, but we were joined by many literature groups in the City and County in putting together a full day's programme in the Council House. The highlights for me were seeing Frank Abbott carefully analyse the body language in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, by repeating scenes, either silently or in slo mo, which made me think much more about the films than before, and Derrick Buttress - who also worked in the Raleigh factory and is of an age with Sillitoe - reading his own poems of working class life in Nottingham. Others told me their favourite parts were John Harvey briefly outlining his development as a writer drawing inspiration from Z Cars, DH Lawrence and Sillitoe, in using plot simply as a basis for showcasing character, and Simon Rycroft and Stephen Daniels describing how Sillitoe mapped the city in his novels. Alan Sillitoe had a lifelong fascination with maps and a number from his collection were on display, as well as his writing desk, the radio he used to pick up Morse signals, his typewriter with a half finished page of manuscript in it and other memorabilia. David Sillitoe, Alan's son, played a major role in helping set up the day, which was also attended by Ruth Fainlight, Alan's wife, and Michael, his brother, as well as other members of the family. It was a great, if bittersweet day. Thanks to all who attended, organised and took part and Nottingham City Council for their support. Keep in touch via
See also John Harvey's blog post:

Next Year Will Be Better: a memoir of England in the 1950s

"And yet, although the band itself was no great shakes, the atmosphere was so thrilling, so heady with a sense of liberation, that the musical inadequacies didn't matter. At one point in the evening I wandered over to the far side of the rackety old ballroom, my back to the whirl of bodies, the jeans and check shirts, dirndl skirts, flying beads and pony tales, and looked from a smeared window as light faded above elms and, below, the Thames, glistening in oblongs of light cast by the hotel, made its way toward London. Behind me, the sprung floor shook and thumped to a number that may have been 'Muskrat Ramble'. New Orleans on Thames I thought. And on later occasions, when on a packed, sweaty Saturday night I heard Sandy Brown's band in full cry, the thought turned to something like ecstasy."
We will be launching John Lucas' new book in Nottingham, this Saturday 2.00pm at Bromley House Library, Monday 1st November at Bookmarks Bookshop in London at 6.30pm and on Saturday 20 November 3.00pm at the Scottish Poetry Library. All free, refreshments provided.

Thursday, 30 September 2010

John Lucas, Easter 1944

Details of John's latest book (see last post) will follow next time, since we need to make space to mention his previous book, Things to Say, or rather point people in the direction of the Guardian on-line discussion of one poem from the collection, "Easter, 1944". At time of posting there are 105 comments added to the poem. Thanks to Carol Rumens for including it and starting off the discussion.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Next Year Will Be Batter, no, Bitter, no Better

There are few things worse in publishing than receiving a newly printed hardback book - nice paper, cover illustration has worked out well, numbers looking good for launch events, talk of reviews in the air - then someone notices a horrible mistake on the cover. The cover that has been checked 47 times. The title is wrong on the spine. And look, is that really how you spell Alan Ginsberg on the back ? (No is the answer.) Will anyone notice the latter? Maybe the odd reader. Will anyone notice the former? Everyone. And have the advance mail order copies gone, and has the printer dispatched the trade copies to the warehouse? Of course. So, John Lucas's Next Year Will Be Better (or Next Year Will Better if you believe the current spine): a memoir of England in the 1950s has a rocky start. No problem though, the printer will reprint the cover at once, the distributor will rejacket their copies, the mail orderers will be sent new covers, the office stock will be rejacketed. All for the sake of two missing letters. John is fine about it. A publisher himself, he once printed a book with nothing on the spine at all, not noticing until a bookseller pointed it out. Or there was Arc, which printed one of their Ivor Cutler books with a seven digit ISBN on the back so no bookshops knew how to re-order it ("We wondered why that one always sold less than the others"). Oh how we laugh about these things.
Next posting, something about the book itself, and details of launch events.

Crime Express relaunch

In the spring we are relaunching the Crime Express series with three new titles and a reprint of our best seller from the first series. Authors (and buyers) liked the cute A6 books with French flaps, but booksellers found them hard to handle, so from spring new titles and any reprints will come out in standard size, if rather thin reflecting the books' status as long short stories/short novellas. Around 15,000-20,000 words anyway. The earlier books can all be found on but meantime we are moderately excited about the new look. All the covers are designed by Gavin Morris, brought in to give that new look to the series. None of the books can be ordered yet. Email us on info (at) if you would like to be notified when they can be.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Not making a killing

The day I was proof-reading Ray Gosling's Personal Copy he gets arrested for allegedly bumping off an ex of his. Today our local paper is full of the - presumably - final story, where Ray is all over the front page and pages four and five, about the £45k the police spent investigating the story. Ray has been given a 90 day suspended sentence for wasting police time. His solicitor made a statement saying Ray had engaged in a fantasy that had got out of control. I can't comment, or don't want to comment on the case. Those who know Ray Gosling are shaking their heads sadly, which is a more honest response than that of rent-a-quote MPs who have never met the man, or are using the case to bash the BBC, where Ray's original statement was broadcast.
This might not be the best of days then to take delivery of stock of Personal Copy. Will this fuss lead to lots of sales, or will it be near impossible to sell the book? The book originally came out in 1980 and for the best part of thirty years I wanted to publish this terrific book about the 60s in Leicester and Nottingham, as it only appeared in an expensive hardback form at the time. Maybe my timing could have been better.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

"Behind him, the words"

Reading through Ted Hughes and Translation last night (see yesterday's posting), I was taken with one particular poem, "Out of three or four in the room" by Yehuda Amichai, translated by Ted Hughes. In the text in this book the literal, earlier translation by Stanley Burnshaw is followed line by line by the translation by Hughes and Assia Guttman. It reads like a new poem in its own right, with its strange, near echo. Maybe this could be a new poetry form. There's no room here for other than a sample:
And large stones that have been returned
And big stones put there
And remained unopened like letters that have no
And staying, closed, like letters
Address and no recipient
With no addresses; and no-one to receive them

Monday, 13 September 2010

Right, said Ted

Richard Hollis/Five Leaves has brought forward two Ted Hughes related books to have them in time for this week's conference ( with Seamus Heaney and Jonathan Bate. The latter is writing a major biography of Hughes. Our books are Ted Hughes and Translation, by Daniel Weissbort and An Essential Self: Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath, by Lucas Myers. Daniel Weissbort and Ted Hughes were co-founders of Modern Poetry in Translation and Weissbort (whose own poetry appeared in Five Leaves' Passionate Renewal) also edited Ted Hughes: Selected Translations for Faber. Lucas Myers was one of Hughes' closest friends, Hughes staying with him during his courtship of Plath. This book is a memoir of that period and beyond.
Both books will be available at the conference and, for the moment, only available (at £10 each) by old fashioned cheques to Five Leaves, PO Box 8786, Nottingham NG1 9AW. They will be officially published in the New Year and copies are not yet even on our website.
Be the first one on your block.

Friday, 10 September 2010

E? Y? M... O! a. G. I C, I Z.

I was once accused of being a printist, a label I wear with pride. But times change, and, kicking and screaming, Five Leaves may also have to change. Just come back from meeting Russell Press in Nottingham, who'd set up one of our books by e-pub (I think they called it). This was a book of fiction, readable on an iPad, a Sony reader, and - if you like small screens - on an iPhone. Ned Ludd and King Canute are two of my favourite characters... but it was exciting to see a fully searchable book, where the reader can change the typeface and the font size, and click on any url's quoted (though none were in that particular book). It looked good and was easy to handle. Maybe not in the bath, but nothing is perfect. The next step is to make it suitable for Kindle, which Amazon is linked up with, and then talk money. This may be old hat to some publishers, but all new to me. I'd be interested to hear from Five Leaves readers and writers. Would anyone buy e-books of Five Leaves's titles? Would it be worth my time and money in making them available?
I had thought I'd be browsing through that great bookshop in the sky by the time Five Leaves had to do anything about any of this stuff, but the e-train is leaving and I need to decide whether to be on it.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

New Society not Big Society

The summer issue of the V&A Magazine reminds me that I've only got until the 26th September to go to the V&A exhibition of photos from New Society, of blessed memory. Paul Barker, who edited New Society from 68-86, revisits the magazine and its photographs with an essay for the V&A. If you go you can pick up a copy of his Arts in Society, a book of essays reprinted by Five Leaves a few years ago.
His article (and the book of essays) is a reminder of how important New Society was for leftish of centre people writing and reading in that era. Sadly it disappeared into the New Statesman in 1988. Even more sadly it would be hard to imagine a modern day New Society without the backing of local government and charity job ads, which must have kept the weekly afloat.
A surprising number of New Society regulars have found their way to the Five Leaves list - Richard Boston and Colin Ward, both now sadly deceased; Ray Gosling (our re-issue of his Personal Copy arrived today) and the art director Richard Hollis, now running his own imprint under the Five Leaves umbrella. Richard designed the cover for Paul Barker's book, illustrated here. We have, however, avoided Melanie Philips, however, who is busy ranting from the right in the Daily Mail and other places that should have more sense.

Monday, 6 September 2010

Let's not boycott Waterstone's!

In one sense, as a consumer, I've been boycotting Waterstone's for years. This has been less to do with the chain's policies than for fear of being kneecapped by my otherwise pacifistic friends at The Bookcase in Lowdham or Housmans in London. But now I have a moral dilemma since the Stop the War Campaign has called for people to boycott Waterstone's since they decided to host a signing by Tony Blair. I'm no fan of Blair and would not want to read his tawdry book but as I already boycott Waterstone's as a consumer I can't do more. What about as a supplier though? Surely a boycott calls for customers and suppliers to boycott the chain? Well, last month Waterstone's sold about 20% of Five Leaves' trade books, and they have just ordered 273 copies of one of our advance titles. Some months they have sold 40% of my trade books. This means any principled boycott would put Five Leaves out of business and my action would be as a gnat's bite to an elephant in the way it would affect Waterstone's. But wait, assuming the Stop the War Campaign actually mean a boycott rather than, say, not buying a book in Waterstone's next Tuesday between 10.15am and 10.30am they should be calling for Verso, Lawrence and Wishart and the other radical publishers to boycott Waterstone's. Hey, great, three months and most radical publishers will close down. Result! And Bookmarks? The publishing wing of the Socialist Workers Party - will they now say their books are no longer available through Waterstone's? Let's move on to the authors... just suppose John Berger, Noam Chomsky, Michael Rosen, Jeremy Hardy and every comedian called Mark (to name a few radical writers) said they wanted to boycott Waterstone's... well, sorry guys, since in most places Waterstone's is the only shop you can buy their books, no radical writer need bother trying to be published again.
Nope. This is not a boycott that will work, has a future, or will be followed. But it does look radical on the leaflet, and grabs a headline. And if it did catch on... will Stop the War Campaign encourage people to shop at the anti-union Amazon or that hotbed of left wing bookselling, WH Smith?
ps. Immediately after writing this I read on line that Tony Blair has cancelled his signing at Waterstone's. I will resume not shopping at Waterstone's, but now with a clear conscience.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

“Whatever people say I am, that's what I'm not.”

Together with a raft of other Nottingham groups, Five Leaves is organising a day in celebration of Alan Sillitoe. Guest speakers include John Harvey, Gwen Grant, David Sillitoe, DJ Taylor, John Lucas, Nicola Monaghan and more. We have sessions on film, on poetry, on other Nottingham working class writers and the chance to sit at Alan's old desk and bash out the first line of your entry to the Arthur Seaton short story comp on his old typewriter. Watch out also for the Castle Rock ale being brewed for the occasion. All this for a fiver. Check out for the full programme for Saturday October 2nd.
Photo courtesy of Nottingham Post.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Shatila again

Peter Mortimer, Kitty Fitzgerald and the rest of the Cullercoats crew have pulled it off again and are bringing another group of Shatila children to the North East, and, this time, the North West and Scotland. Thanks to all those who have or will raise money to make the trip possible, including Creative Scotland and UNISON North-West. The children will be coming in February 2011, together with four teachers, to perform Croak the King and a Change in the Weather, written by Pete and adapted by the children. And - those who have read our Camp Shatila will understand the exciting news that the children will also be performing at the Theatre Monnot in Beirut, a theatre which hitherto had no connection to the Palestinian refugees from Shatila. The logistics of the tour are great, but so are people like Paul Irwin at Eastcoast Taxis who will be ferrying the children round the UK and the Northumbria Hotel and Language School at Whitley Bay where the children will mostly be staying. A website is promised soon, but North Easterners might want to pencil in Feb 28-March 2 for the Sage performances or March 7-9 for the Saville Exchange in North Shields. More on this one nearer the time. But one query. The Shatila events and readings are usually packed, with great sales of the book, already in its second edition, but can we get interest from the book trade? Something is out of sinc.

Anarchy again

Colin Ward keeps getting mentioned in this blog. Fans of his will know he edited the journal Anarchy for ten years. People (well, me and a handful of of others) are still collecting the back issues. Virtually all featured wrap round covers designed by Rufus Segar. For some time now Dan Poyner has also been collecting the series, with a view to something - a book, an exhibition, a website - featuring the covers of the magazines. The new American "journal of international political graphics and culture", Signal, features many of the covers and a long interview with Rufus by Dan, about the design process primarily. He was sent a postcard (oh, those innocent days) listing the articles and given a free hand to produce the cover. This is the first time I've seen so many of them together, other than on my shelves, making a good start on Dan's bigger project, which is about the art, but also the politics that made Anarchy such essential reading, even for those of us who were more interested in marbles than politics when the mag first started in 1961. Copies are available from

Saturday, 28 August 2010

J. David Simons joins Five Leaves

We are pleased to announce that J. David Simons will be joining Five Leaves in 2011. His second novel The Liberation of Celia Kahn will be published in February, together with his first novel, The Credit Draper, which will move over from Two Ravens and into a new edition. David Simons got in touch after I'd reviewed The Credit Draper somewhere, which led to my attending a reading of his in London. The Credit Draper was set among the Jewish immigrant community in Glasgow, the main character become a credit draper (a tally man, or pakn treger, as they were sometimes known) in the Highlands. In the way you do we had a grown up conversation about utterly fictional people, in particular about one character, Celia Kahn, who was becoming interested in ideas outside her community, ideas of feminism and socialism getting on for a hundred years back. What happened to her? There was only one way to find out for sure, and the novel was written, and Five Leaves seemed an obvious choice of publisher. We've just finished the editing, which led to the poor writer having to give his publisher a detailed description of how a Dutch cap works to ensure one passage (no pun intended) was correct. Every day is an education.

Friday, 27 August 2010

Edwin Morgan

The first post in the Five Leaves' blog, on 27/10/09, had a long piece about Edwin Morgan and Scotland. Feel free to look it up. Most people reading this will know by now that Edwin Morgan died recently. I never met him, though he did teach my partner at Glasgow University, but his presence is around. The new Eland "Poetry of Place" Highlands and Islands, sitting in the bathroom, includes three poems by Morgan, including his witty and fairly exact "Midge", the world as seen by a Highland midgie. On the bookshelf opposite this work station (no poetic phrase that) sit cards with two of his poems. The first, "Strawberries" (There were never strawberries / like the ones we had / that sultry afternoon....), I regularly used when working with a group of older people, touring readings of poetry about love and sex. A couple of us would pretend to be in love, reading alternate lines. By the end we sometimes were. The second, my favourite poem by Edwin Morgan is "At Eighty" (Push the boat out, companeros / Push the boat out, whatever the sea...), always moving. In the next room nestling on a shelf is his "Siesta of a Hungarian Snake" (s sz sz SZ sz Sz sz ZS zs ZS zs zs z), with apologies to Carcanet for printing the poem in its entirety, it is hard to lift just an extract. Push the boat out then, companeros.

Friday, 20 August 2010

Magnolia Street

We usually sell a handful of copies of Magnolia Street by Louis Golding each month to bookshop, and a handful every second month to Manchester Jewish Museum. We're happy, and Louis is not complaining (though he's been pretty poor at returning calls the last few decades anyway) as we sold the book pretty well when we republished it a few years ago. In the last few days though we've had orders for 75 copies, mostly via the internet. The power of Radio 4 then, as he was featured with two other important Manc writers from the past, Walter Greenwood and Howard Spring. Here's more on Anyone got a copy of the recording? The orders have cleaned us out, so a quick digital reprint is on its way.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Cover versions

Well, we published the third of these, the cover being a subtle mock up of a non-existent magazine with Grahame Greene on the front. The book is about literary forgery. It is now in three foreign language editions... German, Hebrew and Italian. The Hebrew one is, um, interesting.