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.