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.

Monday 5 September 2011

Cable Street book offer

Just as Waterstone's announces its abolition of three for two, Five Leaves catches up with the abolition of the Net Book Agreement* to offer 20% off our Cable Street books. Mail order only, cheques only. This offer will also apply at our book launch where cash will never be refused.
* This 1997 decision was the most stupid decision ever for the UK book trade, leading to large scale closures of independent bookshops. It is still being played out by Waterstone's (which campaigned for its abolition) being undercut by supermarkets.

Dirtry Thirty Tribute Evening

Leicester Trades Council/Everybody's Reading/Leicester Social Forum/Five Leaves event - this will sell out. Get your ticket now.

Cable Street, ready to roll

We put in the final corrections to the last of our five Cable Street books tomorrow... two are back from the printers, two are in press, the promo leaflet is ready to print, the demo is on and the seven page colour programme featuring ALL the events can be downloaded from: If you are coming to any of the events around the launch of our books - the launch itself, the lunchtime gig and the evening event with Billy Bragg, Michael Rosen and Shappi Khorsandi let us know as it will be rather busy on the day. Our books can now be ordered from but very soon we'll post a special offer, 20% off for mail order paid with by old-fashioned cheques (that way we can avoid paying the credit card companies). The nice picture of a previous event is by Dan Jones.

Sunday 4 September 2011

Damned fools in utopia

Or to give the new book of Nicolas Walter's essays its full title, Damned Fools in Utopia and Other Writings on Anarchism and War Resistance edited by David Goodway. Nicolas Walter died in 2000, having been one of the most consistent writers for Freedom and its offshoots Anarchy and The Raven, as well as the atheist/freethought press. He was famed as a fierce reviewer and a stickler for details (he was, after all, the chief sub-ed at the TLS for a period). He also wrote a stream of letters the broadsheet press. His published output beyond the many magazines he contributed to was, however, sadly limited. On his death it was widely assumed that Freedom Press would publish a selection of his essays but they had "moved on". Other attempts to secure a publisher in the mainstream of the anarchist movement failed. Five Leaves stepped in eventually and a book of his historic essays, The Anarchist Past, appeared in 2007, edited by David Goodway. Too late, sadly, as, perhaps, there had been something of a generational change in the anarchist movement and Nicolas - perhaps also because he had little book-published work - was no longer well known. How quickly people forget. There were always two volumes of essays planned by David Goodway. I cannot now remember why I did not simply announce the second volume to appear under Five Leaves, especially as the content of that volume held more interest for me personally. Perhaps there were some issues, perhaps I was just too busy. Checking past emails I find that the editor asked our friends at PM Press in the USA to bring out an edition there. We discussed a joint edition but when PM opened a London office using the same trade reps as Five Leaves it seemed easier to leave the field to them with one edition for both countries. We're not short of books to publish.
Now that Damned Fools in Utopia has finally appeared with PM I regret not doing the sensible thing which was to have brought it out in 2008 or 2009 and let PM have American rights. It is - as it was then - a very good selection of essays, the heart being about Nicolas' work within the peace movement, and in particular the Spies for Peace. There are also very good essays on libertarian individuals - Orwell, Alan Sillitoe (who was an occasional contributor to the anarchist press), Herbert Read, the largely forgotten Guy Aldred and the "crank" publisher CW Daniel, the UK publisher of Tolstoy and health books (whose imprint ended up being owned by Random House!).
The selection ends with the short essay by Nicolas, "Facing Death" which was first heard on the World Service. Nicolas was, by then, indeed facing death, knowing, as an atheist, that there was nothing beyond. A fine essay which deserves a wide circulation.
Had we published the book I'd have argued with David Goodway about the title - I never liked it - but would probably have accepted defeat. But though I hope the volume is widely read I do regret that PM has set the price at £16.99 and used a white cover which is, after a brief skim through, already grubby. I've read the essays before, some in their original form and all in David Goodway's selection but there are many I will return to again and again, by which time the cover will be as grubby as the content shines.

Friday 2 September 2011

Happy Birthday, The Bookcase

The Bookcase in Lowdham is 15 tomorrow. The shop is a village bookshop, about eight miles from Nottingham, the village having about 2,000 residents. It was a brave move to start a shop there but the owner, Jane Streeter, had worked in legal bookselling in London before moving back to Nottinghamshire where she had three children. She kept up her subscription to The Bookseller, with the long term aim of setting up her own shop. The rumour is that her accountant husband, Andy Streeter, worked out it would be financially better to open a shop than to have another child and a shop was duly opened. The first shop was very small. If too many customers came in, others would have to leave. But it thrived. A couple of years later - at our first meeting - we decided to start a book festival in the village. Book festivals were not as trendy or as numerous as they are now. We wanted to have a festival that combined the notion of a high quality book festival with the life and rhythms of the village - using venues like the Primitive Methodist Chapel and the WI. It worked, and continues, with some events attracting up to 450 people.

Meantime the shop moved to bigger premises, developed a school supply side and uses every opportunity to sell books. It is, and will always be, a shop orientated to the needs of the village, selling gifts, and tickets for any local shows. but it is a village that has retained its pubs, its post office, a butcher and a co-op, a very busy village hall and a great cultural life. Jane Streeter has engaged with the wider literature community, launching books by local writers, developing a dedicated local books website (, running bookstalls and the shop now provides jobs for several other booksellers. Always active in the booktrade, Jane became one of only two or three women to become President of the Booksellers Association, and the first person from a village bookshop to have held the post. She is one year in with another to go, and she is involved nationally (and internationally) in every aspect of bookselling. The slogan "think global, act local" has been turned on its head to be "think local, act global". Congrats to the whole Bookcase team.

Thursday 1 September 2011

Spitalfields Life

Our writer Gillian Darley tried to post a note on this blog about Spitalfields Life ( following our last posting on the Brick Lane bookshop. She failed to do so, so I have. And can I say that the website is a must. The article from today is about one of the old Huguenot houses in Fournier Street, where the occupant found wallpapers going back to 1690 in various parts of the house, plus a treasure trove of found objects under the floorboards, and a sealed up medicine cabinet with poison in it. Anyone interested in the East End will immediately log it as a favourite. Thanks Gillian