Wednesday, 22 August 2012

New from Five Leaves, Father Confessor by Russel D McLean

Father Confessor

Rather than just announce the book - here's its first review, from our friends - and after this review, our special friends - at No, the cover is not sponsored by Sheila's Nails of Craigiebank.

"Father Confessor is Russel D McLean's third outing for Dundee-based private investigator J McNee, and the result is a superbly well told and compelling book that grabs you by the throat within the first few pages, and doesn't let you go until you've reached the climax. We've reviewed the two earlier books in the series, The Good Son and The Lost Sister and both were very good. Father Confessor is even better. Russel D McLean has produced a polished and highly accomplished piece of crime fiction that has lost none of the grittiness and sense of place of its predecessors, yet somehow feels more rounded and complete.

McNee's nemesis, Detective Inspector George Lindsay, the man whose nose McNee's was kicked out of the police force for breaking, is trying to find McNee's girlfriend Susan Bright, to let her know that her father, DCI Ernie Bright, has been killed in the line of duty. Susan is a detective sergeant who has been suspended from duty pending an investigation into the events at the conclusion of The Lost Sister. And now her father is dead. Still worse, the circumstances of his death raise suspicions Ernie Bright was corrupt, something McNee already feared.
DCI Bright had been McNee's mentor before his dismissal from Tayside Police, and now McNee feels he owes it to Bright, and to his daughter, to find out who was responsible for the killing. And then leading Dundee gangster David Burns turns up in McNee's office offering to pay him handsomely to investigate the same killing. What really lies behind the links between DCI Bright and David Burns, and how much of what Burns is saying about the background to Bright's final investigation, the one that got him killed, can McNee believe? Suddenly the certainties of right and wrong begin to look less certain, and things become still more dangerous when the one man McNee feels, however reluctantly, he can trust, is removed from the picture in the most brutal manner possible.
On the evidence of Father Confessor, there is a lot of mileage left yet in J McNee, and was that a hint of a slight change of future direction we picked up on the final page? We await his next outing with keen anticipation."

Down with all pesterers

If you are a regular at Waterstones, or even an irregular, you have probably come across authors, book in hand, approaching customers for a chat. One author, with a backlist of some excellent fiction books, Stephen Benatar (ex-Nottingham as it happens) has been doing this for years to great success. Here's an old article about what he does: His books are good, but there has been a rash of other self-published writers getting in on the act, leading to customers feeling pestered. I found it bad enough when buying a book during the period when Waterstones staff would ask if I would like some populist dreck off the counter at a reduced price when I was buying something intellectually stimulating (or when I was buying other populist dreck), in the same way that WH Smith keep trying to sell me a giant bar of chocolate for only £1.20 when all I want is Private Eye. Annoying, and embarrassing for the staff as far as I could tell. Does Waterstones still do this? Not the last couple of times I've been in.
But I have digressed... Some of the books being sold by pestering hand-sellers have been grim, according to accounts, and one customer wrote to Waterstones complaining that they'd felt pressured into buying a badly written, badly produced self-published book by a pest. Waterstones responded by banning such practises. Unfortunately some managers reacted by banning everything in sight and some authors panicked. Below is Waterstones' statement, which is, I think, pretty clear. Some of our writers have had great success from signing sessions - I hope this all settles down to the benefit of real writers, Waterstones staff and Waterstones customers.
"Our aim at Waterstones is to host as many appropriate events as possible. These may be author signings, children's storytimes and activities, ticketed evening talks and many other sorts of events. Many of our shops have active events programmes and it is our hope that given the necessary support and encouragement we can build on this and get even more events happening in our shops. However, Waterstones’ reputation is built on service and on recommendation, and it is never acceptable for us to outsource either of these attributes. This means we will no longer allow open-ended handselling 'signings' where authors spend long periods of time in our shops approaching our customers. We will encourage our shops to support local authors, be they published professionally or independently, but never at the expense of the customer experience. So while open-ended, handselling events will not be acceptable, shops should consider other more appropriate events, such as evening talks or book launches."

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

August 12 1952, revisited

I've posted a time or two about August 12 1952, and the Five Leaves commemoration. Those who want to know more are welcome of course to read our book, From Revolution to Repression, by Joseph Sherman, but anyone wanting a summary of the event will find this YouTube does the job:
Gennady Estraikh is the speaker and the event was indeed our commemoration. I'll later post the music from the day, with Merlin and Polina Shepherd. One of Polina's own songs was her setting of a poem by David Hofsheyn, one of the murdered writers, but she startled the audience most by announcing her grandfather had been in the KGB.
We worked out that 145 people had been at the event, excluding the speakers, musicians and organisers, which was very encouraging given that it was the last day of the Olympics and so many people were out of London for the duration.
We are grateful to all the speakers, readers and musicians - those mentioned so far plus Robert Chandler, Helen Beer, Heather Valencia, and to the Jewish Music Institute who sponsored the event, and to Jewish Renaissance, Jewish Socialist, Morning Star, Yiddish London and others for their publicity.
The event was initiated by Myra Woolfson, who undertook most of the detailed and preparatory work for what turned out to be a great event and a fitting memorial, 60 years to the day after members of the Soviet Jewish Anit-Fascist Committee were killed by Stalin, including the cream of Soviet Yiddish writers.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012


After a lengthy summit meeting in a Methodist Chapel cafe in Leicester today, editors/writers Gillian Darley and David McKie and a senior management figure from Five Leaves Towers came up with this title for our forthcoming book on the maverick topographer, the late Ian Nairn. Mostly we walked round in circles trying to find a peaceful cafe, ideally one as beautiful as the Leicester Turkey Cafe (pictured) but open during the day. The rest of the meeting passed amicably, but we were stuck for a sub-title. Maverick and topography are good words, but more for the back cover. Architecture is a killer word for a cover as it reduces the potential readership by 99%. A celebration? Not if I can help it. Enthusiast? Thumbs down. Observer - that he was. A polemicist. A writer too. Isn't everyone? So we parted, without a sub-title. Perhaps you can help. The book won't be completed for a year, and is due out around November 2013 but having a sub-title will help immensely so we can brief a cover designer and bring in other contributors. Any sensible idea will be considered, and any on our shortlist will win a copy of the book when published.
More information? Gillian D. is the author of Villages of Vision, David Mc. is currently working on a book about surnames (alas, for a different publisher - but see his chapter in our Maps anthology). And Nairn? If you don't remember him he was indeed all of the things mentioned above. A quick google search will reveal more of course, but meantime here he is on television, completely mispronouncing the name of my hometown of Hawick: We are planning essays on London, Nairn's broadcasting, Britain from the air, Nairn in American, on the man himself, his influence today, and others.
Add a comment if you have any suggestions.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

New from Five Leaves, Student by David Belbin


Student is actually published on 24 September in paperback and 17 September as an ebook but our chums at Inpress Books have advance copies available now. Student is in the voice of a female student, and we follow her from West Kirby in her A-level year through three years of university in Nottingham. If we simply said she does not join the Christian Union, the amateur dramatic society and spend three years working hard for a 2.1 we'd only be scratching the surface. It's quite a journey, and - as the sub-title says - a lot can happen in three years. More if you follow the link:
Here's what Melvin Burgess said: "We have almost no university literature in the UK. David Belbin is ideally placed to help start it off, and this book is a valuable addition to the Young Adult range. Anyone who has been or is at university will relate to the characters. The full range of experiences from that first year after leaving home are all here - isolation, friendship, sex, loyalty, heartbreak, happiness, despair. Some succeed, some fail; of them struggle. The book is full of honesty and insight, and you never know until the very end who is going to make it and who is going to fall by the wayside."
The cover image is by Izza Maria Angeles who lives in the Philippines. This is the first time any of her images have been published, and it fits the book perfectly.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

London Fictions, advance notice

Well, this item is not due out until 1st April but the text is in, as are most of the illustrations and we are rather proud of this one. It's an important book for us. And we do like the cover. Well done editors Andrew Whitehead and Jerry White. More later. The biggest debate was whether to publish it as Five Leaves or under our New London Editions imprint. We went for the former. The book is orderable already, though I'm not expecting much interest until next year. Just showing off, really. But if London fiction is your interest, keep following Andrew's We do have permission to use the cover painting, from Tower Hamlets Council which owns the work, but we would very much like to contact the artist Belinda Davies, who painted this in the mid-70s and used to live in Stepney. There is a younger artist by the same name, who appears in all the searches. Any ideas?

Independent publishing book fairs

 I've mentioned before about the welcome rash of book fairs and one day book festivals organised by the independent press world as one of ways we are all collectively fighting back against the big boys. The provisional date for our next States of Independence day in Leicester is March 16th but if you can't wait that long, there's Free Verse in London (pictured) on 8th September, the Birmingham independent publishers fair on 9th September, the Sheffield Independent Publishers Bookfair on 3rd November, all of them in their second year, plus the longstanding anarchist book fair in London on 27 October. There will be Five Leaves stalls at them all. Doesn't half wreck your weekends though.

Monday, 6 August 2012

David Hoffman answers Freedom

It might make sense to read the previous blog posting, concerning David Hoffman and Freedom! I was concerned that while Freedom had put their case in the public domain, a story repeated across the blogosphere, the only place I could find giving Hoffman's point of view was some extracts from emails reprinted in another anarchist paper. I decided to ask David Hoffman for his side of the story, which is printed below. For most readers, even of this blog, this disagreement might be a little arcane. My own view has changed since my first posting, on reading David Hoffman's side of the story. This does not mean I agree with everything he has said and done (he knows that), but at least his side of the story is now in a small part of the public domain. People can read Freedom's article (via the link in the previous posting) and David Hoffman's response below and can make up their own mind. Being a supporter both of the NUJ and of Freedom, and hoping to continue working with David Hoffman and Freedom in the future, I'm not in the business of making enemies. My view is that this should have been settled by either negotiation or by arbitration. Our world is a small one and we need better ways of handling disputes.
The text below is from David Hoffman, with the sections in italics from Freedom's original article.

People who screw up often look for someone else to blame. Freedom screwed up and blamed me. That’s not important but misleading their supporters and the left in general is. Freedom won’t let me respond on their site so I’m grateful to Ross for space here.

Let’s start with their statement. I’ll put my comments alongside what they wrote (theirs in italics).

Unbeknown to us, these included pictures taken by David Hoffman which were still under copyright.

Several of the photos were marked clearly “Copyright David Hoffman”.

We have ended up paying him £4,000 for the use of these pictures rather than face legal action.

I spent months trying to get a friendly, cheap settlement. This was blocked by Freedom’s refusing to return the photos.

While this was a stupid mistake by us

It wasn’t a mistake, the collective meeting that decided to publish simply brushed aside the question of copyright. They still marked the book as THEIR copyright though.

it’s very disappointing that someone who claims to support anti-fascist politics and made money from their photographs

I support anti-racist and anti-fascist activism. I make no money from that. I make my money from photos of the far right and the police.

while enjoying protection from the far right on demonstrations

The left have never offered or given me protection on demos. I’ve never asked for it, wouldn’t want it.

should chose to extract money from a radical publisher for a genuine mistake

It wasn’t a mistake, it was a decision.

Freelance photographers covering protest have a hard time. Apart from the very long hours and physical dangers the rates we are paid have been dropping for years. It’s very hard to survive. Newspapers, mags and books now frequently use our work without payment or telling us. Between us, we’re losing hundreds of thousands. I work hard with my union and other groups to organise and support my colleagues in trying to recover some of that money. When we find infringements (we miss most) we take whatever action is needed to get paid.

When I stumbled on Freedom’s Beating The Fascists book my first feeling was disappointment. These are people I had thought to be on our side. They’d pillaged my life’s (36 years so far) work without even asking. They’d not credited me, they’d not even offered me a copy. But it was Freedom and so I didn’t just send in the dogs as I normally would. I went round to the shop to try to sort it out amicably.

When I saw the book (2/10/11) I was puzzled about where the pics had come from. Long story short, Anti-Fascist Action/Red Action had stolen them from another mag using a vulnerable worker there to assist them. Shameful, but not my business except for the prints which belonged to me, not the mag.

When I spoke to Andy Meinke at the shop I offered to settle for union rates and the return of my stolen prints. The prints were important, I didn’t want a repeat. As to the fee, I might well have given a bit of a discount too. We never got as far as discussing that because my attempts to have my stolen prints returned was blocked at every turn. Freedom spun that as me trying to get the “names of sources”. I’d had all the names within a couple of days, I was trying to get my prints is all.

This went on with me pestering Freedom and nothing happening. I asked one well known and trusted friend of Freedom’s to try and broker a settlement. He couldn’t and dropped out. Another mutual friend, well known and respected by Freedom, also tried without getting anywhere.

Still looking for a solution that didn’t involve the courts I brought in Trading Standards. They set up a meeting in May this year. Freedom finally produced what they promised was the complete file containing my prints. When I looked I saw that many prints had been removed, even prints that Freedom had previously scanned (so they must have had them) were not there. They had broken their word, still had my property and trying to get a cheap and fair deal for them had got me nowhere.

They had no interest in settling and I had wasted 8 months. There was nothing else to do. Freedom’s attitude was pretty much “We don’t care. What you gonna do about it?” Either I took the heavy legal route or I walked away. I’ve spent decades fighting for my rights and those of my fellow photographers. Walking away would be a betrayal. I prefer to avoid fights but if I must then I fight hard. It cost Freedom £4k, it didn’t have to.

I wish it had worked out better, it wasn’t down to a lack of effort on my part that it didn’t. Some of that cash has gone to good causes, more will follow. That’s really the best I can do.

There’s a lot more but I want to keep this short. Feel free to email me with questions.

David Hoffman

Thursday, 2 August 2012

David Hoffman versus Freedom Press

Many years ago Five Leaves predecessor, Old Hammond Press, published a pamphlet by Colin Ward called Housing is Freedom, Housing is Theft. It sold 1,000 copies, mainly through the network of radical bookshops and to people in the housing sector, by which I don't mean Bovis Homes. The pamphlet was reviewed in a major architectural journal which, unfortunately for Old Hammond Press, reprinted a cartoon from the pamphlet. The cartoon had been found, literally, in the bottom of a drawer, having been clipped, put away, rediscovered years later and stuck down (this was the era of paste and letraset) to brighten up the text. There was no identifiable artist signature and the 'toon could have come from anywhere. But the cartoonist was a reader of that architectural journal and sent OHP a large bill for the illicit use of his work. He was not mollified by the story of how the 'toon ended up in the pamphlet, nor that it was impossible for us to have known who the artist had been to try to ask for permission. Eventually we settled for a fraction of what he wanted but much more than a small pamphlet publisher could afford.
I was reminded of this because of the current dispute between David Hoffman and Freedom Press. Freedom published a book called Beating the Fascists which included photographs provided by the author. Unfortunately some of these were recent photographs taken not by the author but by David Hoffman - in copyright and printed without credit or permission. Freedom had assumed that the photos were by the author or one of his colleagues in the organisation Anti-Fascist Action, the subject of the book. Legally they were in the wrong, even if in ignorance and David Hoffman asked for payment for his work. I am not party to the discussions between the two parties, nor do I want to be. I've read Freedom off and on for almost forty years and have written for it occasionally. I have many books published by the anarchist Freedom Press. I've seen many David Hoffman photographs over the years and have included some in a recent book, with permission and giving credit. I respect the work of both parties. Freedom's view is presented here:, David Hoffman's published view has not, has been limited only to partial quotes from emails by those attacking him. Whatever the rights and wrongs, the outcome is that Freedom has paid David Hoffman £4000, which they say is putting their paper at risk.
David Osler, a fellow NUJ member, has publicly called for David to refund the money. A few seconds on-line will show that both Freedom and David Hoffman share an interest in combating the far right and police excesses, are in favour of trade unions and in support of press freedom. Indeed, David Hoffman was once arrested for having an anarchist poster in his window.
Surely this could have been resolved differently.
But it is also a reminder to ourselves and other small presses to check copyright on anything in our books.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Three weeks in a library

A library is not the place you might expect to find a Siberian singer singing Edith Piaf songs in Yiddish, but the last night of the Yiddish summer course at the Medem Bibliotek in Paris included exactly that. At one time there were seven Yiddish libraries in Paris, mostly attached to particular political movements. Now only the Medem remains, the biggest Yiddish library in Europe with many of the other library holdings included in its collection. That the library has survived at all is astonishing, given that it was founded in 1929 and had to be dismembered and its stock hidden during the Nazi occupation. Many of its members did not survive, following the deportations, and the language itself struggled in the new era as Yiddish was spoken less and less by Parisian Jews.
Yet the library is flourishing more than ever, hosting a Yiddish kinderschule, cooking classes, language classes, concerts, regular day and weekend literature events and, every third year, a major language and literature summer course attended by people from all over the world.
The Medem is also a publisher, with a regular journal for learners, Tam tam. Its books include dictionaries and other learning materials and, recently, a French language book on "Jewish Utopias" which were largely Yiddish speaking, everywhere from Argentina to the Crimea.
The library holdings are inevitably specialist, with most being in Yiddish, but the stock includes fiction, poetry, educational books, memoirs and many runs of periodicals. The material includes surviving material from the ghetto libraries and the libraries in Displaced Persons (DP) camps, complete with library stamps. The library is particularly strong in material related to the socialist Bund movement, which founded the Medem, but it holds copies of the post war London literary journal Loshn un Leben and the pre-WW1 London anarchist literary journal Germinal, which I discovered was there only minutes before having to leave. You can find out more about the library on
Followers of Five Leaves will know we have an interest in Jewish and Yiddish culture, but also that we love libraries - public, academic, specialist. The Medem has survived because Yiddish readers were lovers of libraries - at one time there were 900 libraries in Poland run by the Bund. It is great to see the Medem flourishing in new premises, with most of those around the library, at least over the summer school, being young people, and a number of people working on translation, bringing Yiddish writers a new audience.

The best things in life were free

By the time you read this, you are just too late to download a free ebook copy of our Scottish noir book Blood Tears by Michael Malone. For a short period the book will now be at 99p at Kindle before reverting to its normal price. There is a lot of debate in the booktrade, among writers and publishers, about the value of such offers with titles like the latest Alan Hollinghurst novel available for 20p. The critics say this devalues the book, and of course you can't make money on free. By and large I'd agree with that, not least as Amazon here (and even more in the USA) is awash with self publishing people who are desperate for any readership and offering their titles for free. How does the common reader wade through the acres of free books to know what is worth reading?
It's not good. But we thought we'd try offering a book for nowt to see if the Amazon algorithms lead to the book being promoted. We wanted to do this with a book that was within a genre where ebooks are popular (crime) and which was good. There are currently 22 five star reviews on Amazon and Michael Malone assures me that he is not related to them all! It will be interesting to now see if the buzz around the free ebook translates into a longer term interest in the book and the author. Michael is in this for the long haul, and his next crime novel with Five Leaves is completed. Our hope at Five Leaves Towers is that this promotion will mean that those who downloaded his first book for free might buy into his five book series, attend his events and generally think this is an author worth getting to know. 18,000 people downloaded Blood Tears during the five day free period, which put the book at number one in the Kindle free charts. Our first chart topper and we make not a penny... but the ebook market is "immature" (to use an industry term). We know from elsewhere that even books that top the Kindle paid-for charts don't necessarily do well in bookshops, but we thought this was worth a try as an experiment. It does not mean that all or any other Five Leaves titles will be free in the future. We'll see.