Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Romans again

Though Sainsbury's were out of dormice and garum sauce (you know the stuff, made from rotting fish) we successfully launched Roman Nottinghamshire at Nottingham University's nice little museum (www.nottingham.ac.uk/museum) which most people had not heard of, including some who had studied at the University. The good news is that the museum is moving to bigger and more public premises in the next year and a half and it might even have a retail facility. I'll vote for that. Residents of Southwell were there in numbers, not least supporters of the Save Roman Southwell campaign who think that the important remains recently discovered in the town would be best exploited other than by building more exceedingly expensive houses on top of them. The people vs. the developers again.

Many of the Roman exhibits on display at the museum turn up in the book, as do finds in several other local museums. There may not be much currently to see on the surface of Nottinghamshire from Roman times but there are beautiful objects of art, coin hoards, domestic equipment and rather a lot of pottery. The author, Mark Patterson, confessed a weariness about the pottery and wished that his 90,000 word book could have been longer if he had been allowed more space to talk about the interesting characters who spent so much of their lives digging up Roman Nottinghamshire, and, so often, completely misinterpreting what they found. He was at pains to say his book was a journalist's account of Roman Nottinghamshire not an archaeologist's account. What we wanted in other words. We wish he had more time on his hands so he could do Roman Derbyshire, Roman Leicestershire and gradually work his way to retirement and a shelf of books as good as his Nottinghamshire one. We are currently working with Mark to create a Roman Nottinghamshire website.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

The Streets of East London

This book was first published by Duckworth in 1979 and I must have bought what is now a very battered copy around then. A less battered copy by the same publisher shows that the book ran to nine impressions by 2000. Our 2006 edition has just been reprinted for the second or third time and is available here: http://www.inpressbooks.co.uk/the_streets_of_east_london_william_j_fishman_i017692.aspx When I first read Bill Fishman's book I was attracted by the fine archival photographs, contemporary photographs by Nicholas Breach and the wonderful essays by the author on poverty, philanthropy, immigrants, crime and radicals, especially radicals. I mentioned in a previous blog (4th of this month) that Bill Fishman is now ninety. At the afternoon tea in celebration at his old haunt of Queen Mary's on Mile End Road Professor Morag Shiach said: "Bill Fishman was appointed Barnet Shine Senior Research Fellow in the early 1970s. He had already established himself as a labour historian, having written his book The Insurrectionists [paperbacked a year back by Five Leaves] during the period of his Schoolmaster Fellowship at Balliol. Upon arrival at Queen Mary he was able to develop his specialisation in East End history. His scholarship, which was manifest in his prize-winning book, East End Jewish Radicals [yup, Five Leaves] and in his later volumes such as East End 1888 [that too] promoted the College as a place to which those who wished to learn about the East End could turn.
Bill's expertise in the filed of East London social and political history drew students from all over the world, but most particularly from America, where Bill had been a visiting professor in the late 1960s. Bill has always enriched the lives of his students, researchers and other academics with his walks around the East End, enhancing the drier elements of historical data with amusing and revealing political and social anecdotes. Bill retired as a full time academic in 1986, leaving a legacy that has encouraged those who have come after. The template Bill laid down at Queen Mary for researching and reporting on the East End and its people has ensured that the College remains at the centre of academic work on the immigrant population of East London and beyond and has been able to sustain and develop its commitment to the study of migration more broadly."
Then we had cake.

Monday, 23 May 2011

The mouse that roared

Everyone who reads the quality press or who knows anything about bookselling will know that Waterstone's, like Chelsea football club, is now owned by the Russkies, and that James Daunt, the owner of an existing six-strong chain of high quality London bookshops has been appointed the CEO of the much bigger chain. He promises to rebuild Waterstone's as a stockholding bookshop - they have been "buying nothing" as some of their staff have said recently - and to build the 296 bookshops as "local bookshops" tailored to local needs. I won't rehash all the coverage. Everyone in publishing has welcomed the change, as has virtually everyone who works for the chain. Meanwhile we wait to see how much money the new owner will put into the business, which Daunt will now review. Previously industry insiders all seemed to agree that whoever took on the chain would have to close about 100 branches. Whether that is true or not is another matter but industry insiders have to say more than "dunno" when asked for comments by the press. Certainly James Daunt has indicated no desire to slash and burn.
BUT - just prior to the sale - the Bookseller reported Waterstone's as wanting to move their standard discount from small independent publishers from 45% to 53%. This would seem to fly in the face of Daunt's plans to have interesting, locally relevant shops if the chain prices independents out. Put crudely, we, and many others could not afford to give Waterstone's 53% discount. The implications of that are obvious.
The £53 million paid, however, divided by the number of shops (296) gives an average value of each shop as £179, 054 each, including stock, fixtures and fittings, the trading name and goodwill. £53 million does seem like a lot of money, but break it down this way and it is obvious that there is little current value in the firm. We wish James Daunt luck.

Ida Kar exhibition

"Ida Kar: Bohemian Photographer, 1908-1974", an exhibition showing at the National Portrait Gallery until 19 June, is well worth visiting (www.npg.org.uk/kar). Kar's portraits are primarily of painters (including, for example, Man Ray) and writers (the young Iris Murdoch, for example) but some of her pictures from Armenia - where she was born - Cuba and elsewhere are included, together with some memorabilia. Five Leaves' interest is in her photographs of Bernard Kops, Terry Taylor and Laura Del-Rivo, pictured here, as well as others in their circle including Colin MacInnes. Kops has long been a Five Leaves' writer (and is the model for Mannie Katz in MacInnes' Absolute Beginners) while Terry Taylor's only book, Baron's Court, All Change, resurfaces on our New London Editions list later this year. Taylor, whose life MacInnes drew on in his fiction, appears twice in Kar's exhibition. In one he is shown as her assistant, in the background, in another solo portrait he appears listening to jazz records on what looks like a Dansette. The NPG holds many other portraits of Taylor, many showing him getting happily wrecked on what was in that era called "charge". Laura Del-Rivo's first novel, The Furnished Room, comes out later this year as well, also in New London Editions. It would have been nice to have had them around during Kar's exhibition. Both Taylor's and Del-Rivo's books included Kar's portraits on first publication, as they will in ours in November.

Friday, 20 May 2011

The Baron and the Bats

Michael Baron is living proof that as you get older you (can) get better, or at least a lot more artistically productive. Michael edited two books for Five Leaves, On a Bat's Wing and, with Andy Croft and Jenny Swann, The Night Shift - two poetry anthologies about bats, and about the world of night, Michael contributing the section on the world of nature by night. Since then he's brought out a small collection of his own, put up poetry posters all over Cockermouth as part of the campaign to reinvigorate the town after its flood last year, and edited a big collection of poems by writers - more than you would think - associated with the place. He is currently also working on a long term project bringing poetry by Israeli and Palestinian poets together. All this, and more, come well into his retirement after 40 years in the law. All power to him. More details here: http://www.listenupnorth.com/writer-profile/253.
Michael and I launched the bat book some time ago at the AGM of the Bat Conservation Trust. I live in the world of literature and politics so was expecting to be met by badly-dressed obsessives, something like the worlds I know. Far from it, the majority attending were much younger than me, more female, worked in architecture, planning and science and certainly the females happily chatted at the break about what they were going to wear at the social that night. Then they went into their workshops to discuss bat "commuter routes" and what you can learn from studying the contents of bat poo. Hurrah! They were eccentrics after all. Michael donated his royalties for the book to the BCT. Good for him. You can order it here: http://www.inpressbooks.co.uk/on_a_bats_wing_poems_about_bats_baron_michael_editor_i019207.aspx

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Looking ahead to the Battle of Cable Street weekend

Things are moving on for the Battle of Cable Street anniversary, celebrating 75 years of the day in 1936 when the whole East End rose up to stop Mosley's fascists marching through the area. The weekend starts with a 75th anniversary gala evening commemorating the Spanish Civil War on October 1st, with a poetry reading by Jackie Kay and a performance of Call Me Robson. This is at the New Red Lion Theatre Pub. Tickets are already available from http://www.philosophyfootball.com/ (click on the events button).

On October 2nd the focus is entirely on the Battle of Cable Street, with events running from noon until 10pm at Wilton's Music Hall on Graces Alley in the East End. Here's a view of Wilton's http://www.sphericalimages.com/wiltonsmusichall/index.html There will be stalls during the day, with music by Lost Marbles and street theatre by La Columna. At 1.00pm the forty-strong Grand Union Youth Orchestra perform. At 3.00pm Five Leaves host a reception and book launch for our five Cable Street books - The Battle of Cable Street by the Cable Street Group; Everything Happens on Cable Street by Roger Mills; The Battle for the East End: Jewish responses to fascism in the 1930s by David Rosenberg; October Day by Frank Griffin; Street of Tall People by Alan Gibbons. At 4.00pm we host a panel discussion on the literature of the 1930s with Andy Croft, Mary Joannou and Ken Worpole.

The evening events start at 6.pm with a variety show They Shall Not Pass with poets, singers, choirs and comics including Michael Rosen, Leon Rosselson and Sandra Kerr. And there is more to come - on Tuesday 4 October the film From Cable Street to Brick Lane will be previewed and on Wednesday 6 October there will be a Five Leaves event at Housmans Bookshop, with Dave Rosenberg, Roger Mills and others. Dave is also leading a Cable Street walk during the period.

Alternative Arts is co-ordinating all the activities and there will be a commemorative programme. More details soon.

Monday, 16 May 2011


Anyone wishing to submit material to publishers would be well advised to check publisher websites for submission policy. It is not often good news, but at least it saves postage and everyone's time. Unfortunately for putative writers Five Leaves has a no submissions policy. We mostly commission our books, we have a responsibility to our existing writers, and in any case we are sorted until 2014. There are reasons - too many writers chasing too few publishers chasing too few bookshops chasing too few readers. But simply saying we don't want submissions doesn't stop people. We receive about 300 submissions a year, despite a public policy of saying no submissions. This week our star supplicant offered a 607 page pdf of his latest poetry book. This follows a recent approach, by the same author, including a pdf of a 1,600 page poetry book. And he wanted a pre-publication advance and guaranteed shelf-space in bookshops worldwide. Please don't ask if the material was any good.

More small talk

On 18 April I put up a link to Two Ravens' take on the current small indie press scene. This is about CB Editions, run by a refugee from Faber. Interesting stuff on covers and on small press economics

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Free time

Pippa Hennessy, part-time worker at Five Leaves, should really be using her time off to think about her next Five Leaves' project, faithfully memorising the content of books from our back catalogue and voluntarily polishing the Chairman of the Board's Roller. She does, however, have a literary life of her own. In that guise she has two interesting events coming up, both connected with the Nottingham University School of Education's Creative and Professional Writing Degree. The first of these is on 24th May where The National Academy of Writing hits town. Among the activities that day are a talk by the travel writer Ian Marchant (very popular at Lowdham Book Festival two or three years back) and two students having their work publicly analysed by the novelist Richard Beard, in front of the audience. Let's hope it's Pippa who gets chosen. The afternoon's events are free, see http://naw-nottingham.eventbrite.com. The other event, which clashes with a Five Leaves' reading by Danuta Reah and Stephen Booth in Sheffield (note to self, give staff a lecture on diary management) is the launch of the Creative Writing course/Fine Art student anthology, Out of the Fire - free, refreshments provided, 6.30pm at the Colin Campbell Building at Nottingham University on Wednesday 8th June. Pippa edited the first such anthology last year, while this year's editor is Grant Kent. All welcome.

In Pippa's campaign to become the best connected local writer she has also become secretary of Nottingham Poetry Society.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

CUNY and Kushner

Many years ago, in our book of Jewish women's poetry, The Dybbuk of Delight, we published a short poem by Miriam Halamy called Washing Apples, in the wake of "Mandela casting his vote" she hopes her son knows "...now why I said/at street stalls, at supermarkets, not those, or those/why it was never just an apple". The boycott of Cape fruit was an easy one. though. A couple of years beforehand I had been called in by an important political figure on my patch. He'd just bought a book from the shop I worked in, and found, on the copyright page, that the publisher (Penguin? Hutchinson? OUP?, could have been any of them) had an office in South Africa. As our shop was a political bookshop, he said he expected us now to take off all the books from publishers having offices in South Africa. Never mind that it would have left the shop without any books by big publishers and we'd have to close, he was unaware that the ANC had exempted books from the boycott. He deflated a bit more when I pointed out that he should not eat the KitKat sticking out of his breast pocket, or drink the Nescafe on his shelf because of other boycotts in operation - but that was just point scoring.
These days the debate is all about Israel. True, we have a company policy of not buying Caterpillar Trucks because of their involvement in the West Bank, but in 16 years not one Israeli bookshop has ordered a book from us (though I don't think that is boycotting us, they are just not interested). Would we supply them? Of course we would. We do publish Israeli authors from time to time, and will continue to do so. Boycotts should not be about boycotting individuals surely, but representatives of an offending organisation or state. This is a big and complicated issue, as Ian McEwan found out when he was offered the Jerusalem Prize. He came out of it very well, and was able to join some Israeli writers in protesting against house seizures at Sheikh Jarrah (something I have done too). But one boycott not hitting the news is CUNY (City University of New York) withdrawing an offer of an honorary degree to the playwright, screenwriter and lyricist Tony Kushner because of his involvement with Jewish peace groups. This mirrors an earlier episode at Brandeis University. And it stinks.
In his song about exile, An Undoing World, written for the Klezmatics (I don't think they'll be playing CUNY for a while) he used the lines "You live adrift, and everything you feared/Comes to you in this undoing world". Well, not getting an honorary doctorate is easily survivable, but there is just that hint of McCarthyism in the air.
UPDATE: CUNY has now changed its position, in the light of protests and some other authors returning their honorary degrees. But Matthew Goldstein, Chancellor of CUNY, in announcing the change of mind, pointed out that they were now offering to honour Kushner "whether or not we agree with him, whether or not we take exception to some of his views". Well, that's all right then. Matty sounds like a nice guy.

Libri quinque folii

This is it then, the final corrections have been put in, an agreement has been reached over which Roman Gods are merely minor deities (these things matter) and the barcode box has travelled up and down the Roman road pictured on the back cover until it is dizzy.

Roman Nottinghamshire started life as a talk at Lowdham Book Festival many years ago. The talk was packed out, and the author, who normally wrote about Romans in a national context agreed to write a book on Nottinghamshire. Her book never appeared, and was abandoned. Some years later, discovering that a journalist friend knew a lot about the subject he, Mark Patterson, agreed to write a 64 page book with ten or so illustrations, largely to sell at Tourist Offices and the like. As we approached his deadline Mark asked if it could be a bit longer - sure, liberty hall here. So, on the deadline appeared enough text to make a 300+ page book including over 100 illustrations. It was a much better idea, but left little time to have it professionally proof-read by a Roman specialist, edit and do a complicated production job, adding things like an index and extensive bibliography which would not have been needed in the smaller book. Here's our poster. But I've just realised that bookshops/Amazon/our own website have the old bibliographic information - so need to send out notice of changes of size, price, number of illustrations. And we changed the cover too.
Copies are available via http://www.inpressbooks.co.uk/roman_nottinghamshire_mark_patterson_i022326.aspx

Sunday, 8 May 2011

From Shatila to Sherwood

Peter Mortimer's Shatila project, which has been covered here from time to time, is over for the moment. Once again he brought a group of Palestinian children to the North East (and Liverpool and Edinburgh), and prepared for the journey by the children, together with assorted artists from the North East, performing in Beirut. You can catch up with the project on: http://www.shatilatheatre.btck.co.uk/Home. This won't be the end of the project, but Peter will gracefully become less important, allowing others from his area to develop the Shatila project in his own way. Our book, Camp Shatila -a writer's journal is still available.
But what can you do after the excitement of Beirut, the squalor of Shatila, the difficult politics of the Middle East? The answer is, obviously, write a book about the Sherwood area of Nottingham. Peter was brought up here, just down the road from Five Leaves Towers. He played football for Basford United, Gedling Colliery Welfare and Arnold Town. He worked locally making false teeth before the call of being a writer grew too strong. So, fifty years on, he is back. Peter wrote to the current owner of the house he was brought up in asking if he could lodge there for a while. No - but he could lodge two doors up, so moving in with a bemused couple astonished to discover that they have a writer scribbling away in their back room, brewing up in the kitchen and telling tales of working with Palestinian children. Peter is wandering the streets of his old estate - the most desirable Council (and now, ex-Council) estate in Nottingham, proudly built in the 1920s. Some streets were built with allotments between them. What he will write, we can't say. There has been renewed interest in Estate life nationally over the last two or three years. This book should add to the interest. It will come out about a year from how, launched, no doubt, at the Sherwood Arts Festival.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

World Book Night follow up

And so to Countesthorpe where Active Arts (www.activearts.org.uk) hosted a discussion about World Book Night, and various other bookish matters. I was pleased that the panel included Debbie James from the Kibworth Beauchamp bookshop as she has just agreed to be one of the judges for the next round of the East Midlands Book Award. After eighteen months of bookselling she and her shop are thriving. Though this was hardly its best attended meeting, Active Arts reflect the name and has booked our Dan Tunstall for a day's work in the local Countesthorpe College. He was a student at the College, though Active Arts did not know that at the time of the booking. The group appreciated this article http://www.leftlion.co.uk/articles.cfm/id/3497 by James Walker, about his experience of giving out books at World Book Night, some of which I read out. And I appreciated their cakes and company. Not only that, our bookstall takings at that small gathering were larger than the whole of our last month's sales to the Waterstone's chain! WBN, by the way, is booked for April 23 next year. Not sure of the format yet.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Five Leaves' writer awarded awarded Robert Louis Stevenson Fellowship

No, the prize is not to be kidnapped or to be marooned on a desert island, , but six weeks accommodation in a self-catering studio at the Hotel Chevillion International Arts Centre in Grez-sur-Loing (the town where Robert met his missus, Fanny Osborne). There is also a small stipend. Our author is J. David Simons, who will be joined by poet Niall Campbell, novelist Gwendoline Riley and film maker Joern Utkilen. David will use his time to work on ideas for a third novel set in Scotland and British-mandate Palestine, which will complete the trilogy including The Credit Draper and The Liberation of Celia Kahn, both Five Leaves. The Fellowship allows the writers time away from their normal environment and the opportunity to discuss their work with other Fellows. We hope that the third part of the trilogy will be published by Five Leaves in 2014.

Mustn't grumble

I know I shouldn't complain. Look, we've all organised events where the public has stayed away in droves. And people will hate me for this. But eventually you do have to say something is not great. Yesterday Five Leaves had a stall at a "Reading Fair" organised by Nottingham Libraries. That is if the combined strength of Five Leaves, the local small press Weathervane, a promotional stall for Alt Fiction, a stall from Nottingham Writers' Studio, SoccerData and Nottingham Libraries themselves make up a Fair. Nope - six tables a fair do not make. The added attractions were five 15-minute talks, in the same room. We'd been asked to provide speakers but had doubts, passing up the opportunity to bring in some of our writers, and our doubts became reality when we saw the six tables, with about ten chairs laid out for an audience. Too many chairs we thought, and, indeed, at least one speaker had an audience made up solely of stall holders. Well, we sold four books over the day, and our staffie had her laptop so managed a fairly quiet and uninterrupted day at the mobile office. But it is not good enough. Nottingham Central Library has a regular audience, is slap bang in the middle of town and has staff devoted to promoting such things. The Nottingham literati would probably love to attend a Reading Fair with lots of stalls, events and publicity. These things cost stall holders time and money. Next time?

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Bill Fishman at 90

If you thought Bernard Kops (posting before last) was not quite a spring chicken, our William J Fishman - Bill - is a bit ahead of him. Queen Mary, part of the University of London, where he was a Professor, is hosting a 90th birthday afternoon tea for him on the 20th of this month. I'd known of Bill for many years, and knew him slightly personally, before we published him first in 2004. He'd been published by Duckworth (save for his first book, The Insurrectionists, which was Methuen) very successfully from the Old Piano Factory there. A publishing address worth having for sure. When Duckworth changed hands Bill was chucked out, even though his books sold steadily. Well, that was good news for us, and we steadily brought back to print East End Jewish Radicals 1875-1914, East End 1888 and Streets of East London - all classics of social history, and all reprinted by us at least once since we first published them between 2004 and 2008. All have sold into four figures. We also reprinted, for the first time in paperback, his Insurrectionists, last year - though that has done as badly as the others have done well! There's not a lot of shops that stock the books - but all reorder steadily, especially Eastside and the Museum of London. East End 1888 crops up on course lists in the USA. It was a good move to take them on, and good for Bill, who spoke at quite a number of events with the books available again.

But what about the man himself? Recently someone got in touch who met Bill on his arrival at university, dressed as a punk, with a mohican. Bill grinned at him and said you need to read Kropotkin ("my boy"). He did of course, and still does. Bill was in great demand for his East End walks, the idea pioneered by him, and for his memories of the Battle of Cable Street. He always bought a copy of the Big Issue even if he'd just bought a copy round the corner. And in conversation - always great value. The last time we met he talked about meeting Gandhi while in the forces, active in support of Indian independence. He picked up quite a lot of Hindi when stationed overseas, to the surprise of some Indians round where he lives in London - being hailed in Hindi by this very elderly-looking Yiddisher fellow.
I'm proud to be Bill's publisher, looking forward to the tea and many more years of conversation with Bill, and his wonderful wife Doris.

If you think Five Leaves does obscure...

I was thrilled to come across a new press to me in Nottingham. Soccer Data (http://www.soccerdata.com/) publishes books about football - but such football! In their new list is Sunk Without Trace: the Chingford Town Story. The publisher admits that the book is a slim volume, as Chingford Town played only two seasons in the Southern League before folding. They were a troubled club, not least as the River Ching "seemed determined to flood the ground at any opportunity". The backlist includes the essential The Wembley Way: Halesowen's FA Vase Glory Years. If I had the remotest interest in football this would be the publisher for me. Who would not want a copy of Lay on them backs, Boston, a detailed account of Boston United's games in the FA Cup. Let's get The Chingford Town Story into the best seller lists!

Sunday, 1 May 2011

What have the Romans ever done for us?

Call the Kops

Just had a long, catch up call with our writer Bernard Kops. Bernard is currently working on a novel, getting up at 5.00am (5.30 at weekends) to write for a few hours. If you read his Five Leaves' autobiography, The World is a Wedding, he seems to be an unlikely prospect to still be working at 84, or even alive. He managed to avoid being bombed in the Blitz, but it was close, but it was getting bombed with the other meaning that almost saw him off. His career has been up and down, to say the least. Bernard's conversation is always good value. One minute he's off on Colin MacInnes (Bernard and Erica Kops appeared, thinly disguised, in Absolute Beginners), the next he's describing his April visit to the Society for Co-operation in Russian and Soviet Studies to read his poem on Yuri Gagarin, which he presented to Gagarin in 1961, at their recent celebration of 50 years since Gagarin's space flight. Bernard said he was astonished to be invited as he had not thought of the poem for fifty years.
Bernard has the knack of being everywhere and knowing everyone, for example the cover of The World Is a Wedding is a portrait of him by Ida Kar (currently being exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery). Kops fans can book the date of Monday 28 November to celebrate his 85th birthday at the Jewish Museum in London, but he's usually out and about, reading. He rarely turns down an invitation!