Saturday, 31 December 2011

Celebrating the book in Stroud

There has been some recent discussion about celebrating the book as a thing of beauty... James Daunt (of Waterstone's) pitched in about his love of hardbacks, Julian Barnes (in winning the Booker) remarked that whatever you think of his book, it is a beautiful object. Having recently attended a presentation from Random House which included the graphic story of making that particular cover I could see what he meant. At Five Leaves Towers we can rarely afford such time and costly graphic designers, but we do like to see people celebrating the book in all its forms. Over in the People's Republic of Stroud, our friends Dennis Gould and Jeff Cloves, with others, are planning a big local celebration of the book, based on an exhibition by 75 local people of their ten favourite books, displayed in any way they like. We're happy to give that event a lot of notice, and like our Stroud chums, hope that the idea catches on. Don't complain about lack of notice as the event is November 17 - December 8 2012. You can find out more on

Books of the Year (not published by Five Leaves) - #2

This time from second Five Leaves worker, Pippa Hennessy:
These are the best books I've read in 2011. I tried to keep it to a 'top 10', I really did, but I've read so many good books this year...
Forcing myself to leave Five Leaves books out of the mix helped. We publish so many fantastic books (I am proud to be able to say 'we'), it would be impossible to select a top 10 from those I've read this year. I will mention though one book that's due out in the New Year – This Bed Thy Centre by Pamela Hansford Johnson. First published in 1935 and out of print for years, it's a biting social commentary, an acutely observed depiction of normal people dealing with a rapidly-changing world, and above all, a rip-roaring yarn. When it comes out, buy it and read it!
So. Here is my top 16 (which includes two trilogies and one book I've read before, so it's really a top 11).
I read The Planiverse by AK Dewdney decades ago. It's inspired by Edwin Abbott's Flatland, published in 1884, and tells the story of A Square. Square lives in Flatland, a two-dimensional universe, and is blind to the social repression and discrimination of his land until he discovers Lineland, Spaceland and Pointland. I've been meaning to read Flatland for ages, and I'm so glad I finally got round to it this year – it's social satire at its best. The Planiverse takes a geeky angle on the story, examining the implications of life in two dimensions in exhaustive detail while describing Yendred's great journey across the Planiverse. Both are brilliant, and should be read one after the other.
Letter Fountain by Joep Pohlen is a beautiful book, and speaks to the typography geek in me. Originally published in Dutch (in several editions), Taschen published an English language edition this year, and although it's quite expensive I couldn't resist. Its design is exactly what a book should be – clear and restful – and the attention to detail makes it a joy to behold and hold. The contents are a geek's delight, divided into three sections which tell you all you need to know about how type works, display specimen types in exhaustive detail, and tell the history of typography. I want to make books like this.
Another book which is a beautiful object in itself is Nox by Anne Carson. This is a printed version of an elegy she created for her brother. Originally put together in a notebook, the book is printed on one long strip of paper which is concertinaed into folds and presented in a sturdy and gorgeous box. Nox takes Catullus's "poem 101" (an elegy for his brother) as its starting point, and gradually translates it through the document. At the same time she remembers her brother, questions why she needs to memorialise him, and tries to work out how to do it. The words, the pictures, the presentation, everything about this book is stunning.
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern is yet another desirable object. This book caught my attention because of the associated online game ( – a great publicity stunt. I wouldn't have noticed or bought the book if I hadn't been following Alison Hennessey from Random House on twitter (@vintagebooks)... just goes to show, this social networking thingy does work sometimes. The story is told out of chronological order, and to my mind that's the only downside. It's fantastical and strange and gripping and uplifting all at the same time, and the book itself is an example of how innovative design can lift a story from the very good to the extraordinary.
Conversely, the 1Q84 trilogy by Haruki Murakami shows how design is totally irrelevant when the words are extraordinary in themselves. I read it on a Kindle and was completely drawn in right from the start. This is a perfect example of speculative fiction – what would happen if there were a parallel universe where past events had happened slightly differently, and two people were somehow transferred there, after which everything becomes gradually more complex and surreal. The main characters are totally engaging and it's a beautiful story beautifully told. I've ordered the real books, as I will definitely be reading these again and I want to do it properly next time.
I'll read anything Neal Stephenson writes – he's so clever, and his novels are BIG in size and scope. Reamde is a departure from his usual speculative fiction in that it's a thriller, but it is still satisfyingly BIG. It's based on the possibilities for fraud and extortion presented by online gaming, rapidly descending from geek-talk into seemingly endless violence and mayhem. Somehow Stephenson manages to maintain an element of fun amongst all the destruction, and although it's over 900 pages it rattles along right to the end.
Adam Roberts is another speculative fiction author I read obsessively. He's not as well-known as Stephenson, which I think is unfair. Both have BIG ideas... Anyway, Yellow Blue Tibia is delightfully bonkers. In 1945 Stalin corrals a group of science fiction writers and orders them to develop an alien invasion scenario which will provide him with a 'common enemy' to replace the weakening USA and unite the USSR. He changes his mind after a while and orders the writers to forget about the project on pain of death. Things aren't that simple though...
The Night of the Mi'raj by Zoe Ferraris was recommended to me by a friend as an interesting study of women's life in Saudi Arabia. I knew the Saudi society is repressive but I find it hard to understand how women can accept living that way. It's also a well-written mystery thriller with fascinating characters and a twisting plot that kept me guessing.
I've been meaning to read The Killing Jar by Nicola Monaghan for a while (Niki is the course leader for the degree I'm doing, and occasional Five Leaves' author). As well as being a shocking yet strangely endearing story, it too describes a life I find it difficult to comprehend – this time that of a girl growing up on one of Nottingham's roughest estates.
Peter F Hamilton's Void trilogy (The Dreaming Void, The Temporal Void and The Evolutionary Void) is grand space opera at its very best. Hamilton is one of the best SF authors around; he's capable of building entire universes in his head and putting them down on paper in a completely believable way. The scope of this trilogy is not just BIG, it's ENORMOUS. I listened to it as an audiobook (in the car and while cooking) at the same time as reading Reamde then 1Q84, which almost resulted in a mental implosion as I tried to keep two bundles of storylines straight in my head. I'm not even going to try and summarise the stories of the Void – just go and read the books.
Finally, one of my fondest memories of 2011 is the Nottingham Stanza reading of TS Eliot's Four Quartets from start to finish in one go at Southwell Poetry Festival. I hadn't read the Quartets before this, which was a shocking omission on my part... but taking part in that reading was an almost spiritual experience, and in a way I'm glad that was my first real experience of the whole group of poems. I have read the book since, and will do again many times, I'm sure.

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Books of the Year (those not published by Five Leaves)

It's been a decent year for reading, with two or three let downs by some favourite writers. Solar by Ian McEwan did not excite me, but was not as dull as the Booker-winning The Story of an Ending by Julian Barnes, which ending came mercifully soon. The year started off well though, with Colm Tobin's novel of migration, Brooklyn (Penguin), which I'd been looking forward to, followed immediately by the late Tony Judt's book of essays/memories Memory Chalet (Heinemann). One week of January gone and I knew these two would be in my top ten reads of the year. I'm a big fan of essays, or occasional pieces, which brought Ian Hamilton's The Troubles with Money and Other Essays (Bloomsbury) and Damn Fools and Utopia by the late Nicolas Walter (PM Press) into my top ten. I'll ignore that part of Hamilton's book which is about football. The last essay in Walter's book (thinking of Judt) was written while he was dying, and is about dying, and is worth the cover price alone, the rest are about the 1960s. Four of this year's top ten are related to East Europe. I re-read John LeCarre's The Spy Who Came in from the Cold - probably for the third or fourth time - and it remains outstanding. This year's Booker longlist included two East European-based novels. Snowdrops by AD Miller (Atlantic) is set in the mafia state of modern Russia and is terrifying. This made the shortlist, while The Last Hundred Days by Patrick McGuiness (Seren) dropped out at the longlist stage, though I think it is a better book. The last hundred days are those of the Ceausescu regime in Romania, with the narrator being a young English lecturer living there. The publicity made a huge difference to the sales of this previously ignored book from an indie press, which is good news. The only East European book by an East European that made this chart was not new, the Complete Works of Isaac Babel (Norton). At 1,000+ large format pages this is not something for a quiet evening at home but it is complete, with different versions of some of his short stories. His murder, in 1940, makes me impotently angry.
The last two of the top ten, which is, by the way, in random order, includes that "travel writing" classic Naples '44 by Norman Lewis (Eland), which I'll re-read soon. It reminds me very much of Alexander Baron's writing on the British occupation of Italy. Finally, one large photographic book, Ida Kar: bohemian photographer (National Portrait Gallery) - the only book here with a Five Leaves' connection, as her subjects included our writers Laura Del-Rivo, Bernard Kops and Terry Taylor. Their images also appeared in a terrific Kar retrospective at the NPG.
I'd also like to give an honourable mention to Peace, Love and Petrol Bombs by DD Johnson (AK Press), a rollicking novel of life in the international anarchist direct action movement.
Seven of this year's top ten, plus the runner up, were from independent presses (hurrah!) but only one by a woman (shame). Most, but not all, were published this year.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Five Leaves - the year ahead

We have not done our "annual report" yet, but as we have been working on next year's programme to meet our repping schedule dates, we do know most of what next year will bring. Apart from peace on earth and all that stuff.

With 2011 being such a busy year - 29 titles, was it? - there were bound to be a couple of delays, so apologies to the Estate of Pamela Hansford Johnson that her This Bed Thy Centre (New London Editions) will not now come out until January 2012, as will the new edition of Dominic Reeve's Romani memoir Beneath the Blue Sky, which we should get out at the end of January. The main change will be the addition of illustrations by the Romani artist Beshlie.

We'll be publishing little in the first half of next year. There are two reasons - firstly we're turning more of our backlist into eBooks and need the time to do that, but more importantly, with the ups and downs of the book trade we think we need to allow more lead-in time for our books to organise more events. I don't think we'll reach the heights of the Cable Street combined book launch this year, attended by 350 people, but events and talks do sell books, and we need to do more of them. And to find more ways of publicising our books.

That means our first really new book of the year will be in May, Andy Croft's 1948 - a crime fantasy novel in verse, about that year, about George Orwell, illustrated by Martin Rowson. Maybe a little earlier we'll be publishing our only poetry pamphlet of the year - Joanne Limburg's The Oxygen Man. In June Michael J. Malone joins our list with his first crime novel, one of a series. Michael is normally a poet, but this is Scottish noir, set in Glasgow, the title being Blood Tears. Actually, it's in a sub-genre, Catholic Scottish noir, though Russel D. Mclean's third novel for us, Father Confessor, sounds as if it should be, but isn't. It is noir though. This is our third great Dundee crime novel, which comes out in September. That's it for crime next year. Other regular Five Leaves' writers with a book next year include the late Colin Ward, a series of lectures entitled Talking Green and Peter Mortimer, who returns to his home in Nottingham after fifty years away to tell us what he finds in Made in Nottingham. Given that his previous books include "extreme travel" in Yemen and Shatila refugee camp, we hope this does not cast aspersions on this city. You can find out in June.

We have three young adult fiction books out in 2012. Regular writer David Belbin (who also writes for other publishers, big and small) has written Student a crossover novel about, um, a student. There is not much about studying though. Student appears in August. Our other two young adult books are Five Leaves' editions of books by East Midlands' writers, previously published elsewhere. These are Dark Thread by Pauline Chandler, a time slip story set in Derbyshire (July) and What's Your Problem? a short novel on racism - set in Nottinghamshire as it happens - for reluctant readers, by Bali Rai (October).

Our annual journal appears in August - following the success of Maps this year. The theme is Utopia and it looks like it will be 50% bigger than Maps. We've already got some material in hand for Crime in 2013. Utopia is a mixture of material "from the vaults", from work in progress and new work, again with a mixture of Five Leaves regulars and irregulars, and other writers friendly to the press. Also in August will be From Revolution to Repression: Soviet Yiddish writing from 1917-1952, edited by Joseph Sherman. This was previously announced as From Pogrom to Purge but never published, due to the untimely death of the editor. We did not have the heart to continue the book for some time, then put it back to coincide with the 60th anniversary of the murder by Stalin of all the Yiddish writers in the book. It will be launched at an international gathering in London on August 12th next year, with speakers including Robert Chandler, translator of Vasily Grossman's Life and Fate.

Moving to September, our one-title jazz list will triple in size with Red Groove by Chris Searle, someone long in our orbit, and Mixed Messages: American Jazz Stories by Peter Vacher. Both Chris and Peter were previously published by our friends at Northway, and we are pleased to ensure publication of their new titles. In Chris's case the book is a selection of reviews published over fifteen years in the Morning Star and in Peter's case, interviews with American jazz men and women going back to the 1950s.

In October we'll be bringing out more books, the first a New London Editions title - London E1 by Robert Poole, introduced by Rachel Lichtenstein. This novel is set in Brick Lane at the end of WWII, one of the first, if not the first, novel to include many Asian characters, then moving in to the area. The second is by David Bell, author of The Dirty Thirty. His new book has the working title of East Midlands Rebels and is a popularly written book about suffragettes, Quakers, football managers, poets, trade unionists and others who have tried to stir things up a bit round here.

Finally, we'll be publishing a new Bromley House Editions book in November - not sure what yet, other than it will be in this series of hardback editions of forgotten Nottinghamshire books.

On projects.... Lowdham Book Festival will be thirteen next year, States of Independence three. Lowdham will run for roughly ten days up to June 30th, while the Leicester celebration of indie presses will be in Leicester on March 17. We are in discussion with people in Newcastle about a similar event to States there, and with people in London about the return of a socialist book fair, though it might not be in 2012. More news on that as we have it. The first Bread and Roses Prize for radical publishing (see will also be launched.

All in all, a fairly busy year, but not as frantic as this year has been, and with our programme already settled, and most of the books written, if not yet edited, I think we are more organised than some previous years. Quite looking forward to it really.

Monday, 12 December 2011

What else can you do with a book apart from read it?

One encouraging development has been people taking their Five Leaves' books onwards and outwards in different ways. Jazz Jews by Mike Gerber has turned into a monthly radio show, Kosher Jam, on UK Jazz Radio, Dave Bell encouraged Alun Parry to turn his book Dirty Thirty into a song,, and here we have Rod Madocks who has made a short film - seven minutes or so - from his book, No Way To Sat Goodbye: A challenge then to our other writers... just skip any ballet, please. I was particularly pleased with Rod making this short film as his book first came out in 2007. It did pretty well at the time, being shortlisted for the ITV 3 Crime and Thriller Awards, but like most five year old fiction, there is a tendency to slumber. This is a nice piece of work.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Fry's German Delight

To many modern readers, a surprising element of David Rosenberg's Battle for the East End: Jewish responses to fascism in the 1930s was the degree of support for the British Union of Fascists by British big business, especially Rothermere's Daily Mail. Why should we be surprised? Whether it be Germany, France, Italy or Britain, some parts of big business felt that a fascist government would keep the unions in check and and bring a bit of order. Rothermere and his allies faded away as it became obvious that the BUF were a bunch of violent thugs, but you could sense their disappointment. The degree of upper class support for the far right in the 30s is not really news though, however much it is kept quiet. My friend Ron Morris has just sent me a photocopied section of the rather pompous autobiography Life Worth Living by that polymath and sportsman CB Fry, who represented England at cricket and football. Fry thought it would be a good idea, in 1934, to forge stronger links between the uniformed British youth organisations, the Boy Scouts for example, and the Hitler Youth, so that both groups could learn from each other. He travelled in Germany, met, and was impressed by Hitler, Hess and Ribbentrop. In his conversation with Hitler they discussed the "Jewish question", the dangers of Communism and the need for friendship with Britain. Fry was happy to greet Hitler with a straight armed salute and to leave with the same, before spending more time with the smart and elegant ladies of Berlin. Indeed most of the people he met seemed to be attractive, and full of vitality or extraordinarily nice. At first I thought that Fry was simply another gullible upper class twit who would have come to his senses before realising that the book was first published in 1939, by the respectable publishing house of Eyre and Spottiswoode (which would eventually become part of Methuen). 1939? Wasn't there that little trouble with Hitler around then? Worse, the book ran to a second impression in January 1940 and a third in July 1941. And the book still carried Fry's sycophantic notes about Adolf Hitler and the ending "Such were my impressions and my conclusions when last I saw Adolf Hitler. Whatever may have happened since, I see no reason to withdraw any of them."

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Safe socks

We were pleased to see the review of our New London Editions' title The Furnished Room by Laura Del-Rivo in today's Guardian. The reviewer, Cathi Unsworth, is one of the younger "London writing" fans and, as it happens, buys socks from Laura's market stall on Portobello Road. I doubt the commissioning editor of the Guardian knew that when she asked Cathi to write the review - this is not sock-gate. Of the reviews in this issue of the paper, twenty were of books from small and large independent publishers, four only were from conglomerates. I'm not sure where to place Cambridge University Press, but I think a score of 4-1 in favour of the indies is good enough. In addition, the lead story in the Guardian Review, on Marilyn Monroe, was by Sarah Churchwell, whose book on Monroe was published by an indie; the "a life in..." profile this time was of Simon Armitage who is mostly published by indies; the poem of the week is from a Carcanet collection. It would be nice of this kind of coverage was reflected in bookshops... anyway, here's the review of Laura's book:

I'm told that Patrick McGuiness - speaking at the Inpress group of small publishers AGM - said that when his book The Last Hundred Days came out, it sold 64 copies in the first three months, with no mentions in the press. Once it was on the Booker longlist all the papers that had ignored the book wanted another review copy. His book was also on the Costa shortlist and has now sold 12,000. This is great news for Seren, the small Welsh publisher, and for Inpress. Indeed, the Booker turned up several books from groundling publishers. But wait... the book that sold 64 in three months and 12,000 in the next three is the same book. Unless the critics review such books, and bookshops stock them how are we supposed to know of their existence? So well done Guardian.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Another year

Five Leaves is well known as being a serious political and literary publisher, as this picture from our end of year event shows. With so many of our writers present, it would have been invidious to have picked out particular writers to promote their own books, so a mixture of writers, readers and friends read from the Five Leaves' backlist, from absent friends as it were. These included politico David Rosenberg reading from Roland Camberton's humorous novel; retired solicitor Barrie Ward reading a section from Baron's Court, All Change about smoking dope for the first time; Deirdre O'Byrne coming over all celtic; publisher John Lucas reading from Swimmer in the Secret Sea; playwright Michael Eaton channelling Ray Gosling; journalist Julia Bard reading Bernard Kops' poem Whitechapel Library, Aldgate East in support of libraries (the subject of a local Five Leaves/UNISON campaign this year). Oh, and the anarchist tattooed biker Heather Nelson reading a poem about fairies, joined by me, fresh from flower arranging classes. And Myra Woolfson made 180 pieces of cake.
It was a good opportunity to thank - and to repeat that thanks here - to those who keep Five Leaves going. The gathering included writers, editors, those from the technical side, other publishers, UNISON stewards, local press, librarians and a small group of people (you know who you are) to whom Pippa and I turn for advice, or, in my case, to moan about trade matters. There'll be a more formal annual report later.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

New from Five Leaves - Penny Lace

This year's Bromley House Editions' hardback - publishing important but forgotten Nottinghamshire books - is Penny Lace by Hilda Lewis. This novel of "men, machines and money" is about a factory hand, Mr Penny, who despises the bosses and his fellows, learns the trade, sets up as a master himself and brings in new types of machines, modern lace patterns and non-union labour to try to smash the old-fashioned lace manufacturing business in Nottingham. Does he succeed? Does he also marry the boss's daughter? The late Hilda Lewis is most remembered for her mainstream historical novels, but this one is different to her others and has been forgotten since first publication in 1946. The book is a neatly produced 326 page £11.99 hardback and is available post free from

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Amazon problems

Books are so much cheaper at Amazon! Order today, get them tomorrow! You need never leave the house again! With Amazon for postal goods and a Tesco on every corner the consumer is king - these colossal firms really like us! Over at Housmans ( you can find many reasons never to use Amazon. But wait... just suppose you have been tempted to buy our best seller - Maps - from Amazon (though no doubt feeling guilty about it). You might begin to think "Where's my stuff?". Out of stock is where it is. Not too great having your best seller being out of stock at Amazon for at least a couple of weeks now. Are we boycotting supplying them? Nope. Like everyone else we confess to being hypocrites - we sometimes buy second hand books via Amazon (how else can we find them?) or ABE (owned by Amazon). We encourage mail order customers from overseas to use Book Depository to save on postage (Book Depository is owned by Amazon). We buy toner from Amazon (as nobody in Nottingham stocks the toner we use). But since Amazon began the powers that be in this firm thought if we pretend that Amazon as a bookseller doesn't exist it will go away. We don't supply them direct. If Amazon wants our books it will have to use a wholesaler. Actually there are practical reasons for that - Amazon takes 60% discount for starters (so that's why books are cheap). Direct supply means keeping all our titles in Nottingham - our trade warehouse is in London - and doing a lot more packing. If you saw our tiny office you'd realise why that was not welcome. But the system is not working. Not for the first time the wholesaler Amazon uses is being very slow to supply them. There's a hold up in the wholesaler's goods-in department - could it be that Christmas has arrived unexpectedly again? At the Alliance of Radical Booksellers there was quite a debate on Amazon - with some publisher members saying that Amazon is their main shop window now. Certainly we get the impression that more and more of our books are being sold by Amazon. So, we will be moving to direct supply. We expect availability of our titles to improve markedly. In the meantime, our apologies for our best seller and other goods being out of stock at Amazon. But we do offer 20% discount on ALL our books ordered direct to us, by cheque, with the books being posted out the same day. Or support your local indie.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

New from Five Leaves - Adrift in Soho

Colin Wilson might at first sight appear to be an unlikely writer to appear on Five Leaves' roster, as he is not particularly known as being a raving lefty. But being a fully paid up member of the revolutionary classes has never been a prerequisite for being published by us. Though it probably helps. In this case though, we are pleased to republish Colin's second novel - his most autobiographical, and the third in our "Beats, bums and bohemians" series, as it is a good novel about growing up in the provinces - Leicester in fact - moving to the big city and then moving further into the drifting world of bed-sitterdom. In many ways it is a companion novel to The Furnished Room by Laura Del-Rivo and it is no secret they were close. The three books in the series were all first published in 1961 and reflect the search for something new, something Mod(ern), something less conformist, something sexual. I'm grateful to Colin Stanley of Paupers' Press who drew this book to our attention and provided an introduction to Colin and Joy Wilson, and to Pablo Behrens for allowing us to use his illustration. Pablo is trying to raise the money to film Adrift in Soho for Burning Films ( Any film funding angels reading this should beat a path to his door. Adrift in Soho will be in shops and Amazon shortly, but is available meantime from our office via

Sohemian Society

I'm grateful to the Sohemian Society ( for putting on a talk about our mysterious Roland Camberton/Henry Cohen last night for several reasons. The first reason was to finally meet Iain Sinclair who wrote the introduction to this edition, who was the speaker. Iain looks remarkably like the man on the cover of Scamp, though presciently painted by John Minton some decades ago. His talk was of great interest, particularly in referring to the cover of Rain on the Pavements where, in the original you can see a group of political demonstrators heading down towards the source of local power, the Hackney Town Hall, but during the recent riots the rioters went up that road to the phone and sports good shops. How times change. Iain also talked about the connections between, the drift from, the East End to Soho by working class Jews leaving their origins in search of something more exciting, citing Bernard Kops in The World is a Wedding and Camberton, who, unusually, returned home to Hackney for his second book. Camberton only published two books but there is evidence of a third completed novel which vanished, as did the author himself.

The second reason is that the Sohemians meet in the Wheatsheaf pub on Rathbone Place, the "Corney Arms" of Scamp where "Angus Sternforth Simms" (in reality the writer Julian MacLaren Ross) held forth and "Panjitawarelam" (in reality the poet and publisher Tambimuttu) looked mystical. Both characters from Scamp were wonderfully brought to life by the actor Terence Frisch, who gave a reading from the book. The Sohemians have a very good lecture programme, and I was keen to meet their organiser David Fogarty and the others. There are further Five Leaves/New London Editions events planned there.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

New from Five Leaves: The Furnished Room

The second of our "Beats, bums and bohemians" series is now in our office - though not yet in shops or Amazon. It can be ordered for immediate supply though on Laura Del-Rivo's classic bed-sitter novel was first published 50 years ago - as were the others in the series, see the post below and wait patiently for a posting about Colin Wilson's Adrift in Soho. This was turned into the film West 11 by, um, Michael Winner starring Alfred Lynch as the main male character Joe and Kathleen Breck as the good-time girl Isla. The cast also included Dianna Dors. I imagine this is the only Five Leaves connection we'll ever have to Dors or Winner! The Joe in question lives in the wasteland between Notting Hill and Earl's Court, when not hanging around all-night cafes and other seedy joints. While doing so he stumbles across the opportunity to commit a murder.

Laura Del-Rivo has worked the markets at Portobello Road for decades now and, like Terry Taylor - mentioned below - had a portrait in the recent Ida Kar exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery.

New from Five Leaves: Baron's Court, All Change

We're publishing a set of Soho/Boho novels that first came out in 1961 - the first is now in our office and can be ordered here: It's not yet in the shops or Amazon, but will be very soon. This is Terry Taylor's only published novel. We've mentioned him before - the young lover of Ida Kar, the inspiration for a character in Absolute Beginners... This is a novel about being a young person in and around the drug scene - indeed this was the first UK novel to mention LSD, a subject Terry knew quite a lot about. You can find out a lot more about the book on Indeed, Stewart Home has written the introduction to the book. We're grateful to Pablo Behrens for the cover image, which does reflect the book very well. Terry is alive, fit and well, living in Rhyll as he has been for some decades now, slightly bemused that after fifty years his days in the early Beat scene have resurfaced. Actually Terry had the most interesting life, hanging round in Tangiers with William Burroughs, as you do. My guess is that this will be the best-selling book we publish this year, once word gets round, as it has only been available online, and rarely that, for a few hundred pounds. The holy grail of Beatnik literature.

Next Year Will Be Better - now in paperback

"Only a dedicated sourpuss could fail to be swept along by Lucas's zest and intelligence" said John de Falbe in the Spectator, so here's an opportunity for dedicated sourpusses everywhere to have another go at remaining static. Next Year Will Be Better featured in Blake Morrison's Guardian Books of the Year last year because it "recalls in astonishing and celebratory details the sounds, tastes and smells of England in the 1950s, with particular attention paid to poetry and jazz." Andy, by the way, to being kissed by Allen Ginsberg, Soho, Eel Pie Island and hearing Louis Armstrong. The paperback edition weighs in at 417 pages, a bargain at £9.99, from

Inside Outsider

Planning to attend the Sohemians tomorrow night (Iain Sinclair is talking about Roland Camberton, whose books we publish), reading Tony Gould's Inside Outsider: the life and times of Colin MacInnes is useful for getting into the mood. Faber Finds re-issued the book in 2009 - pity, I would have liked that one - but I picked up a library sale version on Saturday for the bargain price of £1. MacInnes' life is well known. He was a man related to Kipling and Stanley Baldwin and the son of the novelist Angela Thirkell (making him, as Bernard Kops said, "one of the inner Thirkells") yet who lived his life on the edge. Gay, broke, attracted to the rough and tough black culture (and rough and tough black men), yet turning in copy for middle-class magazines and some essential novels. Reading the book was a bit of a wander through Five Leaves' own list of authors. Tony Gould was the books editor of New Society (edited by Paul Barker, who edited a selection of New Society essays for us; designed by Richard Hollis, who runs an autonomous imprint within Five Leaves). The book is dedicated to Ray Gosling, who also appears regularly in the text - Ray's Personal Copy slumbers on our backlist. Bernard and Erica Kops put in regular appearances, not least because they became "Mannie and Miriam Katz" in MacInnes' Absolute Beginners. We publish a couple of Kops' books. Terry Taylor, author of Baron's Court, All Change, is quoted - though he deserved more space as he was the inspiration for one of the characters in Absolute Beginners. The photographer Terry Taylor's then interests being "jazz, soft drugs and hustling" were shared with MacInnes so it is hardly surprising their paths crossed. Terry's book has just arrived in our office, and we'll return to him soon. Even Colin Ward puts in a cameo appearance. Mind you, I imagine any publisher with books out concerning Soho, London in the 1950s or early black culture in Britain could post a similar blog, as MacInnes knew everyone.

Friday, 11 November 2011

Nigel Pickard

Nottinghamshire writer Nigel Pickard died earlier this week at the terribly young age of 45. Nigel was first published locally as a poet - his Making Sense appearing from Shoestring in 2004 (some of which would appear later in the Five Leaves' Poetry: the Nottingham collection). Nigel was also one of two poets in residence at Lowdham Book Festival one year, together with Rosie Garner. At the time he lived in Lowdham and his first novel, One, was published by Bookcase Editions from the village in 2005. One sold a surprising number of copies, many though organisations concerned with autism, a core part of the book. His second novel, Attention Deficit, was published by the Nottingham small press Weathervane, with Nigel appeared at many readings to promote the book. In his work as a local headmaster he developed his students' interest in creative writing in conjunction with First Story. His early death was a great shock to those he taught and those he knew on the local literature scene, including fellow members of Nottingham Writers' Studio. Our condolences to his family.
A fuller obituary appears on LeftLion:

Five Leaves' end of term knees up

Monday, 7 November 2011

Radical bookshops' history

Some parts of one's past keep creeping back... After seventeen years hard labour in a radical bookshop, together with a couple of years on the board of another shop, and thousands of pounds spent on the written works of utopian dreamers and other such reprobates, it is hard to get away. Dave Cope, of Left on the Shelf - the second hand specialists - and I have put together an incomplete listing of radical bookshops in history, together with a bibliography of books, and even passing mentions in fiction, of radical bookshops. You can find the current listings on We are now trying to make that list as complete as we can, so any information would be welcome.

To accompany the site, I've started work on a more narrative history of radical bookshops, which will appear as a printed booklet sometime next year. With the Five Leaves Ship of State to run this will not be the last word on radical bookselling history, but it might encourage others to write something more substantial. I'd appreciate contact with anyone who has worked in radical bookselling in the past, any sources of records, any customer tales, photographs. Anything. Please send direct to me on

The new 2011 edition of North West Labour History Journal includes an article on the history of News from Nowhere in Liverpool, written by Mandy Vere, the matriarch of the shop. Copies are available from News from Nowhere. The bookshop pictured here is Radish, in Leeds, one of the new generation of radical shops. Both News from Nowhere and Radish, by the way, have excellent sections devoted to world music, as well as books.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Nottinghamshire Readers' Day

Pippa Hennesy writes: This year's Nottinghamshire/Nottingham Libraries Readers' Day was the first to be sponsored by a publisher (Vintage), which could have been a problem but as it turned out gave the day an interesting slant. The publisher's representatives were keen to engage with readers, as was demonstrated by the two parallel sessions I attended. In the morning, we were taken through the process of designing a book cover. It's very different from the Five Leaves process - it involves editorial and design teams and sales teams and (eventually) the author... we brief a designer and comment on what they come back with, and try to involve the author at all stages, the occasional book cover even being designed by the author. Interestingly, Vintage don't consult readers as a rule. Until yesterday, that is. They showed us seven possible covers for a set of crime fiction books by one of their writers and asked our opinions. The reaction (widely varying opinions, with the majority saying 'we don't like any of them') might have discouraged them from doing so again. Still, we at Five Leaves Towers learned a lot - expect more stunning cover designs from now on.
In the afternoon I went to a session with Alison Hennessey from Random House and one of their authors about 'The Future of Publishing'. Fascinating stuff, lots of discussion and debate. The answer is, of course, 'nobody knows'. If you ask me, there is a future for both books and e-books, but they have different futures. At the moment there isn't much to tell between them - effectively they're both containers for words. I think printed books will become 'beautiful objects' in their own right, and e-books will make much more use of the possibilities of the technology... whatever those might be. Watch this space.
Apart from that, we listened to David Lodge and a trio of historical fiction authors, talked to lots of lovely people and even sold quite a few books. We sold TWO copies of Rose Fyleman's Fairy Book (hoorah!) and two of Swimmers in the Secret Sea by William Kotzwinkle - a sadly-neglected but absolutely beautiful novella which is currently our worst-selling book. It is my mission to change that status - buy it! you won't regret it!
Many thanks to the indomitable Sheelagh Gallagher and the invincible Jane Brierley, and the folks at Vintage, for a fantastic day.
Meanwhile, up in Fife, our J. David Simons was on the frontline at another Readers' Day.

Friday, 28 October 2011

A curious rattle bag

It was encouraging to have a nice review in the Guardian for our Maps. They got it in one by describing the book as a "curious rattle bag" ( But Chris Moss, Time Out's travel and books editor, writing in the current issue, after describing some general faults in modern travel writing said: "It's liberating... to read the essays, portraits, memoirs and travelogues gathered in this compendium. Featuring contributions from seasoned journalists and writers, including Chris Arnot, David McKie, Robert MacFarlane, John Payne and Iain Sinclair, it loosely binds 18 pieces about place that all have a cartographic element - mapping thoughts, mapping walks, mapping history - and through which ripple forms and tones not often found in the modern travel feature, such as the homage, the homily, literary criticism, social and sport history and reportage." There's more, including some particular chapters picked out, then: "All maps are palimpsests to some degree and reading Ross Bradshaw's selection is akin to peeling back layers, deciphering faded contours and, occasionally, redrawing an entire geography. If travel journalism wants to adapt to the recession, here's a direction it might follow." Reading between the lines, all things considered, I get the impression Chris Moss thinks Maps is OK really. Blush.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

London anarchist bookfair 2011

Because of the vagaries of train ticket pricing, it was again cheaper to travel first class to the London for the Anarchist Bookfair, but nothing's too good for the working class. Despite the competing attraction of camping outside St Paul's, the Bookfair was mobbed. Estimates for last year suggested around 4,000 people over the day. Were there more this year? The Five Leaves meeting - part of David Rosenberg's Cable Street marathon - was in the first set of sixty talks and discussion. Despite an early start 30+ people listened in respectful silence while Dave outlined the history and detail of The Battle of Cable Street - an event largely involving people from other political traditions (Communist Party, Labour League of Youth, Independent Labour Party). The only other session I attended, however, was a packed meeting on writing and reading anarchist fiction, which perhaps suffered too much from people being respectful when there were good arguments to be had. That session benefited, as did the day itself, from the increasing international presence, with writers from Sweden and Spain taking part. After last year's appearances by John Pilger and Paul Mason, this year's "outside" speakers included the Black activist Darcus Howe and Donnacha DeLong, President of the National Union of Journalists, which again indicates that the anarchist movement is starting to be taken seriously. [Later note - but read Donnacha's comment below - no outsider she!] I suspect, however, Darcus Howe attracted more people than the two hour session on "Tenants' movements in Poland - social resistance to neo-liberal housing policy", however important the latter is.

I squatted on the Housmans stall for most of the day, which did very good trade, especially with Verso books. People were taking their politics seriously. But not too seriously. The speaker at the anarchist fiction session, DD Johnston, read a hilarious piece from his novel, about the anarchist bookfair, seeming to prove the opposite of the quote from The Poverty of Student Life that "since the anarchists will tolerate each other, they will tolerate anything".

As I left at 6.30 - the fair still in full swing - I watched the wonderful French brass band Les Judas playing in the courtyard. Emma Goldman famously said* "If I can't dance I don't want to be in your revolution" and the band had many people dancing. What she didn't say was that you had to dance well!

* Actually, she didn't say that at all - see

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Dig for Plenty

Back in 1995, having been too mean or too poor to buy the hardback of David Crouch and Colin Ward's The Allotment: its landscape and culture when it first came out, I got fed up with Faber never bringing out the paperback, the hardback being out of print, so rang them up and asked if I could buy the rights to the book. They asked for, I think, £200 and I said yes. Goodness, so that's how you become a publisher. The paperback duly appeared and, in due course, ran to a second edition and many reprints, but became steadily out of date. Even history dates. We kept it in print because there was still a demand, publishing some other allotment books and other books by Colin Ward (and one by David Crouch) along the way. Sales waxed and waned as interest in allotments waxed and waned but over the last period we began to feel a bit uncomfortable keeping it going; the book was, after all, first published in 1988. But there was never an alternative - for us or the public. Now, at last, we've put The Allotment out to grass (as it were) and commissioned Lesley Acton to write a new social history of allotments, called Dig for plenty: a social history of the allotment movement. Lesley's previous books were on ceramics, but she has spent the last five years researching allotments, their social history also being the subject of her Ph.D. There will be a gap, as Lesley's book is not out until 2013, but we can wait. Meantime, Lesley is limbering up with a succession of articles on her blog at

Peter Preston

I was sorry to hear that Peter Preston died yesterday morning, after a period of indifferent health, followed by a short but serious illness. He was a very popular adult education literature lecturer locally (which we put to good use from time to time at Lowdham Book Festival). He was also nationally important in DH Lawrence studies and in the William Morris Society, having been editor of the Society Journal for many years. Lawrence and Morris comprised the main subjects of his published books. He was also chair of the board at Writing East Midlands. Before illness got the better of him, Peter was working on "Reading with mother" - rereading in modern times those books important to his mother in her day, as representative of what the intelligent woman reader read. He mentioned so many books that should be revisited.
Peter was a good friend to Five Leaves. He was particularly keen on our New London Editions series - in fact he liked our emphases on London, on Jewish literature, and on Nottingham - all of which were important to him, representing his upbringing and his home the last few decades. Our condolences to Barbara and the family.
There will be a celebration of Peter's life at the Derek Randall suite at Trent Bridge at 3.00pm on Friday November 4th, which is open to all those who knew him.

Bread and Roses Radical Book Publishing Award

Five Leaves Publications is proud to be working with the Alliance of Radical Booksellers to initiate the Bread and Roses Radical Book Publishing Award. The award seeks to reward outstanding works of non-fiction published in 2011 that engage with socialist, anarchist, environmental, feminist and anti-racist concerns, and primarily will inspire, support or report on political and/or personal change. The name Bread and Roses is taken from the slogan attributed to the many thousands of textile workers who struck in Lawrence, Massachusetts, 1912, who, in the song commemorating the event, struck "for bread, and for roses" too. The Award was launched on the 13th October in Liverpool, followed by the Liverpool Socialist Singers singing "Bread and Roses". We have not got that on tape, but here's Mimi Farina and Joan Baez filling in for them:

The Bread and Roses Award will be judged by the children's poet and broadcaster Michael Rosen, the feminist writer Nina Power and the Festival Director of Liverpool's annual Writing on the Wall Festival, Madeline Heneghan. A shortlist will be announced in the New Year with the overall winner receiving a cheque for £1000 at an awards ceremony at, appropriately, the Bread and Roses pub in London - an ideal venue, not just because of its name but because it was founded by the Battersea and Wandsworth Trades Council.

Nominations (from publishers and agents) are now open and fuller details can be found on Sadly, there is one publisher excluded! As the founder, organiser and trustee...

Monday, 17 October 2011

Five Leaves and the Arts Council

In a one-star-out-of-five review of one of our books, The Battle for the East End, on Amazon, the reviewer remarks that the book looks "at the events of the 1930s from a pro-Communist viewpoint" rather than being "objective", noting that the book is supported by the Arts Council. The reviewer asks whether the Arts Council would "stump up cash to fund a pro-fascist book". I think the latter unlikely, as the Arts Council has an equal opportunities policy, but it does, for example, support Faber which publishes Ezra Pound, who was an active fascist, and TS Eliot, who wrote anti-Semitic verse. ACE also supports Carcanet which publishes Wyndham Lewis, who was, for a long time, a supporter of Hitler. So the situation is not so clear cut. I'd also argue that the author, David Rosenberg, who is not a Communist, reports favourably on Communist Party actions against the British Union of Fascists because they were the right actions, against the quietude of the Labour establishment and the Board of Deputies of British Jews.
But that is to perhaps miss the point. Why should the Arts Council fund those of our books that are not what you might call creative non-fiction or fiction, and have a left-wing stance? Any reader of this blog will have realised that Five Leaves is hardly a contributor to the Adam Werrity Travel Fund.
The Arts Council currently funds Five Leaves through its Grants for the Arts scheme, a competitive scheme, where we submit a programme of activity for, in our case, three years. We receive a modest annual grant towards that modest programme ("Year One - bring down the Tory Government; Year Two - elect a Labour Government; Year Three - oversee the withering away of the state"??) but it can be rather difficult to ascertain how many square feet of our office are devoted to, say, social history, and how many to introducing new young adult fiction writers, or organising States of Independence, so rather than applying title by title, event by event, we apply for the press as a whole. The irony is of course that our social history titles in general do better than the "creative" stuff, so rather than the Arts Council subsidising social history, it is the other way round as our successful social history books enable us to put in smaller bids than would otherwise be the case. This is also a hedge against the day the Arts Council can no longer fund us, or does not wish to fund us. We intend to survive, which would be less possible if our backlist comprised poetry, young adult fiction and other slower selling items. We can see how an Arts Council logo on a book of clearly left-wing provenance might be a red rag to a right wing bull. But wouldn't taking the logo off such books indicate subterfuge on our part?
Finally - a reasonable test of our "objectivity" - would Five Leaves publish writers from the right? Yes, I am sure we do already. In general I would not ask someone's politics before publishing them, but I know that, for example, Colin Wilson, whose second novel we republish next month is hardly a foaming lefty. Would we publish, say, some pastoral poems about the deserts of Dubai by Liam Fox (who will now have some time on his hands to write a sonnet or two). Probably not, but if Ken Clarke ever offers us a book of his writing about jazz (an area we are moving further into next year)? Now you're talking.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

History is not quite bunk

An email arrives from one Nick Murray, asking to be put in touch with our Bill Fishman, author of East End Jewish Radicals 1875-1914, one of those steady backlist sellers that is so nice to have on the list. Nick had found a reference to his paternal grandfather, Otto Shreiber in the book. Otto was an emigre friend of Rudolph Rocker, the (gentile, Yiddish-speaking) leader of the Jewish anarchist movement. Both had been living in London for years. With the usual logic of governments, Otto and Rocker were arrested as German nationals when the war broke out. That Otto was in Britain to escape the Kaiser was ironic, but no defence, and he was interned on the Isle of Man, where he died, details unknown. His Irish companion (many people in the anarchist movement did not marry) was Kathleen "Dolly" Murray who had two children. Dolly was unable to cope with the children in Otto's absence and Nick's father was put in the care of Edward and Constance Garnett. Edward was a writer, editor and critic (instrumental in getting DH Lawrence's Sons and Lovers published), while Constance was one of the first translators of Tolstoy, Chekhov and Dostoyevsky. The decades roll on, Nick having been born in 1940. His father - Otto's son - moved in the 1970s to St Ives to a house once occupied by the author and naturalist William Henry Hudson, by then long dead, but whose published letters included some to Edward Garnett way back when Otto's son was living with him.
I'm not sure if there is a moral in this rounded tale other than we are connected to history by very small steps. Which we all know.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Reasons to be cheerful

Just when you think things can't get much worse, they get a bit better. It was a great pleasure to attend (and speak at) the Chapter and Verse book festival seminar on radical bookselling. Some of the old lags were there - Mandy Vere, the matriarch of Liverpool's News from Nowhere; Dave Cope veteran of the old Communist Party shops Progressive Books in Liverpool and Central Books in London, still on the board of the distributor Central Books and owner of Left on the Shelf, an Internet supplier of second hand socialist books. But there were also new arrivals, from the exciting new People's Bookshop in Durham, which mixes second hand and new, from the Book Bloc, whose shop will open in New Cross and some older and younger activists from Bristol Radical History Group who are moving up from bookstalls to open a shop to be called Hydra.

The day consisted of four parts. Firstly, Mandy from News from Nowhere, Sally from the publishing wing of Bookmarks and Alexis from the anarchist distributor AK Press formed a generally upbeat panel discussing the current state of radical bookselling. All said that you have to do everything nowadays, a bit of publishing, bookselling, outside stalls, in store events - working harder and longer hours to reach the market, but the market is there. There was a sense of unity of purpose, of feeling that we are all in this together (who said that?) and a complete absence of sectarian interests.

The second section was by me, on the history of radical bookselling, concentrating on the days when there were 130 radical bookshops and 450 radical publishers, focusing on the pivotal year of 1984, the year of the miners' great strike and great defeat. I thoroughly enjoyed the research, trawling through old files and back issues of the Radical Bookseller. For years, Dave Cope, something of an expert on the earlier years of the Communist Party orientated shops, and I have planned a book on radical bookselling. The idea lives meantime on his website,, as an incomplete listing of every radical bookshop we have been able to find, together with a bibliography covering mentions of radical bookshops. Any help in adding to this will be welcome.

The third section was the national launch of the Bread and Roses prize, initiated by Five Leaves in conjunction with the Alliance of Radical Booksellers. There will be more on the prize and launch shortly, meantime check out

The final session was a closed session for members of ARB to meet, though also attended by me and a representative of Zed Books. There are now twenty member groups, with Housmans in London administering the project. The general view was that the group will largely operate by networking, providing assistance to publishers keen to reach out to radical booksellers and to tour their authors, but to avoid making controversial public statements. An example of this is over Amazon where some members actively campaign against Amazon while others take advantage of it. Again, the main feature was a keenness to discuss issues but to operate by consensus.

One interesting feature was the presence of second hand dealers, never a feature of the old days. As one pointed out, "An old book is a new book to someone who has not read it before". Indeed, People's Bookshop, the first radical bookshop in Durham since the days of Alleycat, has found that they are selling a lot of backlist material (Paul Foot's Red Shelley was exampled) to people who had simply not had access to this kind of material before.

Everyone was aware of the sector's tiny size and fragility, but felt more positive about radical bookselling than for some time. Would that I was young again!

The ARB's provisional is at . Meantime, let's leave the last word to one Councillor Jeremy Richardson (Conservative) who remarked in the Sheffield Star in 1986 in the following terms about the Sheffield Radical Bookfair "I put in an appearance at the Radical Book Fair at the Town Hall. Anarchists, feminists and every conceivable variety of ragbag lefty was present peddling their wares. For my part I saw no ordinary Sheffielders, just a bunch of grim-faced souls trying to look interested in some rather dull books. Is this really the right use for the Town Hall on a Saturday?" To which we grim-faced souls (illustrated above, for clarity) can only answer, yes.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Kicking and screaming into the 21st century

Five Leaves has just published its first three e-books, each at £2.99. All three titles were previously published in paperback. J. David Simons' novels are set within the Jewish community in Scotland and though connected can be happily read as stand alone novels. The Pretender is a novel about literary forgery. This is new territory for us, and we are still learning. More of our backlist titles will follow. Click on the links below to find out more about the books. In due course they will appear on every platform, but at the moment they are only on kindle.


I'd previously posted about Nottingham Poetry Society at seventy and last night attended the book launch of their anthology, Seventy, which was concluded by the editor CJ Allen reading one of his own poems, Poets, published below, by kind permission of the author.

You don’t have to admire them, but you might as well;
they receive so little attention. They are causing a ruckus
at The Oblivion Tea-Rooms. They are steadfast
in their uncertainty. They believe they are following
an ancient set of instructions found in a cave.

The instructions are badly translated and partially eaten
by sheep. They have seen the darkness. Their desires
are works in progress. They have no sense of sin.
They bathe in metaphorical waterfalls.
They meet in private and read each other to sleep.

Like everyone else, they stand at the edge of the water
and watch for a sail. They make a noise like an animal
trapped in a sack. They make a noise like a library
in the very early morning. They look like lanterns
swung in an underground cavern. They sit on benches,

saying the light is quite like beaten gold.
They try but they can’t help being slightly annoying.
They are not terrorists or Apollos or aircraft carriers.
They are frequently humbled by the need to earn a living.
They will make a fuss over nothing. They join hands and dance

like ceiling-fans. They love rivers and hares and hatstands.
They climb ladders of grammar to find the perfect view.
Their exaggerations are indistinguishable
from the truth. They feast on thoughts and air
left over from the previous century.

They harvest thunder. They wander. They smell of tarpaulins
and adhesive corners. They know how to pull the wool.
They luxuriate in epigraphs. They miss the point.
They dream about wolf-whistling the Furies.
They have no idea what they’re doing. This is their secret.

CJ Allen, 2010
Poets was first published in Assent 64/3 and will appear in Clive Allen's next collection, At the Oblivion Tea-Rooms from Nine Arches Press in summer of 2012.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Doomed, we are all doomed...

It is always easy to tell a Scotsman from a ray of sunshine, but two interesting statistics came up in discussion at the, sadly not very well attended, States of Independence (West) event in Birmingham on Saturday. The first was talking with a medium sized independent. They told me that they'd had some problems, including big returns, with a well known chain bookseller but they are now getting orders - a fraction of what they used to get, but now have to give 59% discount on standard stock. 59%? Add in the costs of representation, distribution and author royalties and the publisher is left with about £2.20 on a £9.99 book. Of course not every book printed sells, so allowing for returns and unsolds, the publisher is probably getting £1.50 a book. Now this is OK if you are printing tens of thousands and have the books typeset in India and printed in China, and can sell foreign rights. But that was not the case with this publisher. Looks like their business model is cracked.

But they have done pretty well with e-books... Later a writer announced that it is perfectly easy to crack the encryption in e-books that prevents the equivalent of file sharing. He said that as an experiment, he downloaded the complete text of the Booker prize longlist in half an minute, for free. So... soon all e-books will be free. Can't make money by printing books, can't make money by making e-books. There's not a lot left. But still, it was not such a bad day, the number of book sales was slightly higher than the number of manuscripts offered to us.... I rather fear that when the last publisher in the UK closes, attending the closing sale of the last bookshop, those attending the party will be mostly made up of people waving an unpublished manuscript, quite oblivious to everything else. Happy Monday.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Radical bookshop seminar

The Chapter and Verse book festival in Liverpool at the Bluecoat is the venue for a free seminar about radical bookselling. Mandy Vere from the local News from Nowhere bookshop chairs a discussion about the current state of radical bookselling and its prospects, while I give a talk on the history of radical bookselling, delving into the past waves of libertarian, hippy, Communist and freethought shops.
The event is free, on October 13. Full details on:

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

A long weekend on the left

In the last posting, about the big Cable Street day on Sunday, I mentioned some of the groups on the demonstration. I should also have mentioned the Clarion cyclists. That particular group had cycled hundreds of miles to attend - I think I heard one say he had cycled 741 miles. They had a point, public transport in London that weekend was awful, with the DLR not running and various other lines or part lines having the weekend off. The Clarion people had arrived on Saturday to mark the 75th anniversary of the Spanish Civil War. The International Brigades Memorial Trust and Philosophy Football were not to know it would be the hottest day of the year, which meant the evening gig in a packed hall was rather sweaty. The only person who looked cool was Victoria Hislop. I had my doubts about her, though I'd read and enjoyed her book The Return, but she won me over explaining her general and specific Daily Telegraph background and lifestyle and how things changed when she started writing the novel that the book became. She immersed herself in Spanish Civil War stories and what she found shocked her, being a woman whose family had happily holidayed in Spain under Franco. This resulted in a rather unhappy two years of deep immersion in the civil war and its aftermath as she wrote the book. The IBMT is of course an organisation of fairly longstanding and knowledgable left-wingers so I was impressed that she wanted to be on a panel at the event. She in turn was quite impressed to be called, for the first time in her life, "comrade" by one of the trade union speakers.

I was a little surprised by one of the other speakers (and I don't mean our Andy Croft) who wondered whether there would have been so much interest had it been the "Norwegian Civil War" because of the romantic nature of Spain and the Spanish people. Would 2,500 British people have travelled to fight in Norway? Yes, actually, had the situation and times been the same. Anti-fascism is not determined by the number of fjords a country has.

International Brigade... Cable Street... There are a number of good reports and photos on line. A good place to start is And then back home in time to pack for a Leicester Trades Council event celebrating the Dirty Thirty, with David Bell speaking to the Five Leaves' book of the same name and Alan Parry singing, including the song he has written about the group. Eight or so of the Dirty Thirty were present including Malcolm Pinnegar and Darren Moore who spoke, and Johnny Gamble, who got his own special cheer for being the only man in his pit to have gone on strike. Jane Bruton, a nurse, who used to be involved in the women's support group also spoke, reading out old minutes and letters from back in the day. This was the second evening in a row that ended with the Internationale - though in this case not the Billy Bragg version, but the full strength original version, standing, with clenched fists aloft.

Finally, today I attended a meeting of local UNISON members who were taking up the Six Book Challenge as part of their Union Learning. It became a Seven Book Challenge as they were presented with copies of the Five Leaves' Nottingham anthology Sunday Night and Monday Morning. A printer we had dealings with found 400 copies of the book in their warehouse which we had not accounted for and we have been steadily finding ways of giving them away to good homes. Why is reading so important to trade unionists? Apart from its intrinsic value, and the value of building a reading culture in the workplace, as the number of veterans of the Spanish Civil War and Cable Street - and even the 84/85 NUM pass on - we can find out what they thought at the time, what they believed in, find their stories, their tall tales, and find what they can teach us through books. Reading allows us to meet remarkable people doing remarkable things. UNISON is doing a great job working with the Reading Agency to promote reading in the workplace.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

The Cable Street Day

The Cable Street day started early, bumping into the already tired looking march organiser Steve Silver on his own, mooching round the Cable Street Mural, waiting on the stage to turn up. He wandered off to show me where his grandparents used to live on Cable Street itself and to talk through some of the detailed history of the day, which he is still finding more about. Down at Wilton's Music Hall the stalls were starting to be set up, volunteers from the Cable Street Group were already busy. Pippa Hennessy and Blake Griffiths (together with me and Myra Woolfson making up the Five Leaves team) were there before me, having left Nottingham at 6.30am - they would not get back until 1.30am the next day. Don't mention the European Working Time Directive.
Among the first people to visit our stall was a man with a photo of his father treating one of the injured at Cable Street. Crikey - all the publications about the day recycle the same images. This was completely new to me. He was one of many people sharing family memories of the day, though the number of actual Cable Street veterans able to attend is now limited. At our later book launch I was pleased to see Max Levitas (who spoke at the rally), Beatty Orwell and our own Bill Fishman. There were many stalls including from our friends at Brick Lane Bookshop, Housmans and Freedom and we were well entertained by street theatre and music, including by strolling actors in period costumes rallying the crowds "to Aldgate".
The march - initiated late - passed by. It was led by a number of Bangladeshi groups and our friends from the Jewish Socialists' Group. The Indian Workers Association was strongly represented, as were local trade union branches, the Woodcraft Folk with a brilliant hand made Cable Street banner, and the Connelly Association contingent was a reminder that so many of those at Cable Street were London Irish dockers, who used their work tools to prize up paving slabs to make barricades in 1936. The stall was too busy to leave to see the young musicians of the very multicultural Grand Union Youth Orchestra though I'd sneaked in for their rehearsals.
The next event was the book launch of our five Cable Street books. Maggie Pinhorn of Alternative Arts, the main organiser of the day, had said it would be busy and perhaps 300 people attended. Jil Cove of the Cable Street Group spoke first, followed by Andy Croft who had written the introduction to the late Frank Griffin's October Day. He was followed by Frank's daughter, Josephine Clark, who read from the book. David Rosenberg, who is doing more events based on his book Battle for the East End than anyone thought possible, read next. Alan Gibbons was unable to attend because of family reasons, so I read a little from his young adult fiction book Street of Tall People. Fittingly, Roger Mills ended the launch by reading from his Everything Happens in Cable Street. By now our piles of books - over two stalls - was going down fast. This was the best day of bookselling we have had. Period (as Americans say).
Astonishingly, about 125 people came to our panel discussion on rebel writers from the 1930s, to hear Mary Joannou, Andy Croft and Ken Worpole have a friendly disagreement of the impact of the literature of the 1930s. There was no time for audience participation, though Stephen Watts managed to chip in. Stephen was one of those reading (from our AN Stencl book All My Young Years at the previous night's Cable Street party organised by Jewdas. Leon Rosselson had the next set - I was on stall duty but I got his latest four CD collection and agreed to put on a Rosselson gig sometime in Nottingham. We used to talk about publishing a Leon Rosselson songbook, but somehow that never happened. My fault, not Leon's.
At six we turned into pumpkins and the stall was packed away, or what remained of it. It was time to be civilians, and attend the evening gig. The excellent compere was Ivor Dembina followed by Michael Rosen (one of whose poems had its first book outing many years ago in a Five Leaves/Jewish Socialists' Group book). I can't list the whole cast of those appearing on the magical old music hall stage at Wilton's but the people who stood out for me were the comedian Shappi Khorsandi, the band The Men They Could Not Hang and, finally, on great form, in front of a packed and appreciative hall, Billy Bragg. All of the artists performed gratis, all events were free, and the bucket collection will be used to shore up Wilton's and to pay for all the publicity and other costs. Anything left over will be used to further honour those who fought to defend their area on that extraordinary day on 4th October 1936 under the slogan of No Pasaran! They shall not pass! Five Leaves was thrilled to be part of such an extraordinary day, marking the 75th anniversary of such an extraordinary event.
Map by John Wallett

Monday, 26 September 2011

Emanuel Litvinoff - 1915-2011

I was sorry to hear of the death of Emanuel Litvinoff, who has died peacefully at the age of 96. He was a novelist, an editor, a poet. I particularly admired his Journey Through a Small Planet, his memoir of the Jewish East End. Emanuel Litvinoff was one of twenty poets included in the Five Leaves' anthology Passionate Renewal: Jewish poetry in Britain since 1945. At the launch, a decade ago, by then an old man, Litvinoff described, to a new generation of readers, how in 1952 at the Institute of Contemporary Arts he read his poem "To TS Eliot". He had written it following buying Eliot's Penguin Selected Poems, finding that Eliot's anti-Semitic poems from the 1920s were still included; poems like "Burbank with a Baedeker: Bleistein with a cigar". Litvinoff's poem is a blistering attack on Eliot:
"I am not one accepted in your parish. / Bleistein is my relative..." and, after describing the horrors of "walking with Cohen" at Treblinka he finishes one stanza "I thought what an angry poem / you would have made of it, given the pity."
Just as Litvinoff was about to begin, in walked TS Eliot with his entourage. Litvinoff said "I nearly died", but he read the poem "and it absolutely stunned everybody". There was uproar. To his credit - reported by another Jewish poet, Dannie Abse, sitting close, Eliot put his head down and muttered "It's a good poem; it's a very good poem."
One poem in the anthology "Earth and Eden", includes the lines "When time and memory intersect the sun / there is happiness..." I hope there will be a memorial gathering and reading from Emanuel Litvinoff's work.

Friday, 23 September 2011

20% off all Five Leaves books

Other than the odd quid off at a launch, we're usually too mean to discount our books. We did offer three for two once at our tenth anniversary party, but someone came up with twelve books ie twelve for eight. How do you work out what to charge? That put us off for a few years, but here we are, until the end of the year , with 20% off on all our books, post free (UK only). With more than 200 titles to chose from there might just be something... Why are we doing it? Because you're worth it. No, because we've never done it before, and thought it would be worth trying to see what happens. But just to make life complicated (and to avoid credit card charges) we're saying cheques only, or cash at any of our forthcoming bookstalls. Yes, you do still have a chequebook somewhere. Our full list is on, and keep checking back as this offer includes books that are not yet published, and there will be more of them online later in the year.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

A spectre is haunting Europe...

.... well, not quite, but we are pleased to see the formation of the Alliance of Radical Booksellers. The number of radical bookshops is a fraction of what it used to be - soaring high street rents, the abolition of the Net Book Agreement and changing political times all conspired to see off many shops, while Thatcher's Children preferred to open clothes shops and cafes instead. But radical bookshops have never vanished, and several have a longer life under workers' control or benevolent boards or committed individual ownership than most bookshops in the UK. There's something of a spring in their step these days, and the formation of the Alliance is part of that. There's a couple of new shops on their way too, and, with the hefty involvement of Five Leaves, a new national radical book prize being launched in October as is, formally, the Alliance itself. There's a provisional website at

And, yes, the old Maoist images on the site are ironic, in the same way that they were in News from Neasden: a catalogue of new radical publications which appeared in the 1970s. Anyone with a run of that... do contact me.

Power in the union

If you plonk "Union" and "Book" into Google you quickly get The London Cabinet Makers' Union Book of Prices available for £480 through Abe books. But there is a lot more to unions and books than that. Last year we were campaigning with UNISON against library cuts. This October we're somewhat more celebratory. On the 2nd October Five Leaves is one of the sponsors of the Cable Street march, together with the RMT and the South East Region of the TUC, both of which have slightly more members than the Amalgamated Union of Five Leaves Operatives (AUFLO). The next day it's over to Leicester where friends in Leicester Trades Council have a big do based on our book Dirty Thirty, celebrating the striking miners of Leicestershire. And the day after that I'll be speaking with David Kendall of the Reading Agency at the launch of Nottingham City UNISON's Six Book Challenge, organised by the union's learning team. We're going to make it a Seven Book Challenge by giving people copies of our Sunday Night and Monday Morning anthology of Nottingham writers.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Five Leaves new journal - Maps

We've been planning to issue a journal for some time, and here it is. Maps - a selection of essays on the loose theme of maps - by some regular and irregular Five Leaves writers, plus others from our periphery who usually write for other presses and publishers. This is our first annual journal - the theme of next year's is "Utopia". As well as the text only essays, Sara Jane Palmer has contributed an photographic essay of her ceramics based on rock formations in Morocco, all in colour. I'm grateful to all of the authors who contributed - some "from the vaults", others from work in progress, and some work commissioned for this collection. Richard Hollis has provided a typical Hollis cover.
The journal brings together many of our concerns under the one cover - social history, Romans, London fiction, Nottingham, poetry, travel writing. Maps is 150 pages, including some illustrations (some being maps...), some being colour. The book sells at £7.99 and can be ordered here:

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Nottingham Poetry Society at 70

Traditional poetry societies sometimes get a bad press, compared to the trendy (and often transient) stand and deliver/open mic elements of the poetry scene. But, as Clive Allen says in the foreword to Nottingham Poetry Society's Seventy anthology, "Along with the Arts Council, the universities, poetry magazine editors, small press publishers and organisers of literature festivals, they make up a sort of Poetry Welfare State." He goes on: "The modesty of poetry societies belies their enormous importance. They gather in out-of-the-way arts centres, WEA buildings, church halls.... [existing] on members' subs, minuscule (and rapidly disappearing) council grants. They depend on the generosity of people who willingly and consistently give of their time and energy... I owe much of my poetry life to poetry societies..." In the contributors' notes to this collection Adrian Buckner (a Five Leaves' poet) writes that he "owes his most enduring friendships in poetry to people he encountered at his first meetings" [20 years ago].

Nottingham Poetry Society has had its ups and downs, but its membership includes several fine poets. Adrian Buckner, one of ours, who is also editor of Assent magazine; Cathy Grindrod (one of ours sometimes), who has been the Derbyshire Poet Laureate; CJ Allen himself, who knows how to win poetry competitions as no other; Derrick Buttress, a poet who could have achieved more but loves the small press scene. I could mention others.

The NPS' secretary, in charge of production of Seventy, is Five Leaves' Pippa Hennessy (we obviously don't give her enough work to do here that she has free time interests) and there is a modest influx of new members. Happy birthday, Nottingham Poetry Society.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Cable Street good, Cable Street bad

People will have to forgive me for returning to Cable Street again and again this month. If you look at our events listing you will see that Cable Street has become rather significant at Five Leaves Mansions at the moment. The purpose of this brief posting is to draw attention to the new Philosophy Football T-shirt, based on the old street sign. Copies cost £22.99, which seems expensive at first until you realise that a) they are of good quality b) they are made by people who are paid proper wages c) they are a fashion item (did I really mention fashion?). Find them at
Mark Perryman, the leftie who runs Philosophy Football, will certainly not be attending one Cable Street event - the one organised by the Stalin Society. It would be nice to think nobody would attend, but there is such a group: "The aim of the Stalin Society is to defend Stalin and his work..." and it has a meeting on Cable Street. I'm not going to say where or when it is, but google will tell you if need be. The Society only costs a fiver to join, £2.50 for the unemployed. A great bargain if you are an unemployed Stalinist.
As far as I know Stalin was not at Cable Street, but 1936 was a busy year for him, what with the first Moscow Show Trial (which resulted in the execution of Zinoviev and Kamenev and others) and the start of the Great Purge. It is hard to see what such a Society could offer us.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Saved by the post

Yesterday was not the best of days. You don't need to know why, but it was saved by the post. You know, that old fashioned stuff that comes through a hole in your door. Top of the charts here was the Searchlight Education Trust special publication on the 75th anniversary of Cable Street. Never mind that it drew on and gave great coverage to our five new books on the subject, Steve Silver has put together a very attractive and readable pamphlet, which included his own family stories of the Battle. You can get hold of Steve's pamphlet on for four pounds. On the same subject, the latest of the dozens of Cable Street events is a party by Jewdas in Brick Lane on 1st October. "Party like it's 1936" they say. Kids, eh? Also in the post was a tenth anniversary compilation from Jewish Renaissance, a magazine that regularly reviews our books, features the occasional article by me and whose poetry editor is Liz Cashdan (currently waiting patiently for Five Leaves to publish her "New and Selected" in 2013). Janet Levine, editor of JR, said that people doubted the journal would last two years (or even two issues) when it started. Congrats to her and her team for JR's success.

Back to Cable Street - we now have a bundle of brochures advertising Cable Street 75 March and Rally on 2nd October, which we are sponsoring. The speakers at the rally include Maurice Levitas, aged 96, a Cable Street veteran, who will also be at our collective book launch the same afternoon.

Sticking to the labour movement, I also received Voices of Wortley Hall: the story of Labour's Home, 1951-2011 by John Cornwell. Some years ago I was one vote in the crowd at Wortley, a stately home near Sheffield (pictured) owned by the labour movement, taking part in a bitter inter-union dispute about the level of modernisation necessary at Wortley. I can't remember now whether I voted for the FBU or the AUEW slate, but I was in favour of en-suite bedrooms for all. Nothing is too good for the working class. Wortley has continued to modernise - it is a major wedding venue - and keep its links with the trade union movement. The best stories are of course those of the early years when strong characters, and passing strangers, achieved the impossible. In passing, one of the descendants of the Earl of Wharncliffe (whose family originally owned the building) trying to join as a member. He was turned down as he did not have a trade union card. He promptly joined the Musicians Union so he could, presumably, buy the odd pint in the bar in his old family home. The book does not have an ISBN but can be ordered over the phone for £10 plus £2.50 postage from Wortley Hall on 0114 2882100.