Monday, 16 December 2013

Dreaming the impossible: Ray Gosling 1939–2013, a guest post from Jeff Cloves

The broadcaster and, for one book only, Five Leaves writer Ray Gosling had a wake last week. I turned up with the after-work contingent just in time to miss Jeff Cloves, all the way from Stroud, who'd just left. Jeff writes a regular column for Peace News, a magazine that Ray used to write for. Jeff has written this column for a forthcoming edition of PN, printed here with thanks.
The last copies of Pomona's Sum Total were given away at the wake. Five Leaves Bookshop ( has a few of the Personal Copy book left, but they won't last long either.

Ray’s precocious autobiography Sum Total – first published when he was 23 by Faber – has this quote on the cover of the Pomona paperback edition published in 2004: I am for the working classes, for the underdog, for the seedy and the left behind….and the England that seemed and still seems an impossible dream.  In a dim corner of Ray's home from home, the Hard-to-find Café in Nottingham, where I attended his wake, I misread this twice: firstly as for the weedy and then as for the needy. I am certain Ray would have hurrumphed his approval of both readings and, had he been there, drunk his way to a tearfully romantic endorsement of his own life.
The photographs displayed told their own story too: young good-looking Ray, slight of build with attempted Tony Curtis haircut and defiant cigarette. Old Ray ravaged by  events and raging against the dying of the light. The singer-songwriter, Dan Whitehouse, came and played a couple of very touching elegiac songs. The first, composed largely from Ray’s own words with a repeated lament for ‘little Ray’, and the second prompted by Ray’s advice to Dan: ‘don’t be scared’. Perfect. 

Peace News has always attracted very good writers to contribute to its pages and in the 60s and 70s these included Ray. His first contribution may have been his magnificent piece about the Cuban missile crisis and although he never had a regular column he was an irregular contributor. He also wrote for  New Society, New Left Review, Anarchy and any other publication with space for a freelancer with unpredictable opinions. One thing I particularly liked about Ray was that he was hard to place in the orthodox Left/Right spectrum and he shed light in rarely illuminated corners. Ray was a favourite Radio 4 broadcaster who spoke his mind without pandering to 'balance'. His programme about the Keeper of the Queen's Racing Pigeons was a gem among many gems. In the 70s he somehow arranged for the rock band I was in to play an open-air gig at a St Ann’s Community festival in Nottingham. He put us up in his rambling ramshackle home and took us all out to a club in the evening. To our unsophisticated surprise it turned out to be a gay club and we loved the music there. Ray was absolutely committed to the ideals of mutual aid, community, and Gay rights. He lived up to all of them. His voice belonged to what increasingly feels like a lost golden age of BBC radio.

Ray never answered letters but wrote to me once after reading a piece of mine in PN in which I mentioned, in passing, shopping in London for yellow socks. Like the pigeons, the socks caught his endless fancy. He was eternally interested in 'the left behind' and fought tirelessly to preserve the St Ann’s area of Nottingham from the worst of ruthless clearance. On the radio his unmistakable regional voice was a rare treat among the very few: John Arlott, Andy and Liz Kershaw, Pam Ayres. There are still too few. In 1980 Faber published his memoir of the sixties Personal Copy which Nottingham's excellent Five Leaves Publications published as a paperback edition in 2010. Like Sum Total it deserves to be widely read. Both books reveal that note of grumbling optimism which distinguished his radio broadcasts and how desperately we need that tone now.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

I never got round to posting on that Sunday, but here's an event on Wednesday instead

Five Leaves presents:
‘Liberation in the 1960s?’
with Phil Cohen
Wednesday 4th December, 7pm, Housmans Bookshop, Kings Cross
Entry £3, redeemable against any purchase

Phil Cohen, author of ‘Reading Room Only: Memoir of a Radical Bibliophile’ (Five Leaves 2013) will talk about his involvement with various movements of the 1960s, including the mass squat of the Queen Mother's house at 144 Piccadilly with the London Street Commune, taking LSD with RD Laing, the early days of the Situationists, setting up Street Aid... and assorted run-ins with the police and gangsters.

In his memoir ‘Reading Room Only: Memoir of a Radical Bibliophile’, Phil Cohen, alias Dr John of the London Street Commune, and erstwhile Professor of Cultural Studies at the University of East London, re-traces his chequered career from blitz kid to public school dropout, from hippy squatter to cultural theorist, and from urban ethnographer to poet, through his obsession with books.

The first part of the memoir provides a vivid account of wt it was like to grow up in Bloomsbury in the late 1940s and ’50s and how its famous squares, buildings  and local characters  influenced  his imaginative life.  He describes  how he created  an alternative identity centred on his own  personal ‘reading room’ in counterpoint to the official  success story he was supposed to be,  as he rebels against the  ethos  of his  public school, with  its traditional emphasis on Classics and negotiates the  fraught identity politics of being a Jewish  ‘mitschling’.
The memoir goes on to detail the author’s  adventures as he goes up to Cambridge  to read History, runs away to sea  and then  becomes involved in the ‘underground’ counter culture  emerging in the London during the so called ‘swinging sixties’. Books were  at the forefront of his activities, whether ‘liberating’ them from bookshops, gluing them together in a situationist provocation against bourgeois culture,  or setting fire to them in an ‘event structure’  by artist John Latham.

The author relates how the British Museum Reading Room provided a much needed port in the political storm stirred up by his activities as a leader of the ‘hippy squatters’ at 144 Piccadilly in 1969,  helping him resume his  studies whilst continuing to  engage in radical  community politics over  the next decade.  Part One concludes with some observations about the culture of the reading room itself, discusses   ten books that shook the author’ world and  the impact of  new technologies of research linked to  the opening of the British Library at St Pancras.

The second half of the memoir  explores the  author’s life long love affair with books, and situates this consuming passion  in  relation to the issues   raised by  Walter Benjamin in his famous essay ‘On Unpacking a library’.  The author considers what books might have to say about how  they are  treated if they were allowed a voice; he goes on to  discuss  the place of collecting in a ‘throwaway society’ and  details   the strategies, both rational and irrational, that informed his  project of building a personal library. A concluding section  celebrates the pleasures of browsing, and  speculates about   what keeps bibliophiles acquiring books right up to the end.

Phil Cohen is also author of ‘On the Wrong Side of the Track? East London and the Post Olympics’ (Lawrence and Wishart, 2013)

Friday, 15 November 2013

Gone booksellin'

Sorry for the shortage of posts on this blog - been too busy setting up the bookshop, which is open now. I'll post properly on Sunday about this and that. The shop, our new sold-out-before-publication book on Ian Nairn for starters. Meantime, here's our first shop Book of the Week:

15/11/13 - Book of the Week at Five Leaves Bookshop
Been really busy putting the shop together and sorting it all out... the ONLY book I have read since October 21st is War and Peace, so that has to be the Five Leaves Bookshop Book of the Week. Not the overlong, padded out, translated version by that Tolstoy bloke, but the twelve word board book by Jack and Holman Wang. Suitable for small children and those who always wanted to read War and Peace but never got round to it.
Andrei and Pierre love their country and the same woman. Which knitted-felt man will knitted-felt Natasha choose? I'd pick the knitted-felt horse myself. Utterly charming.
Copies of what must now be the canonical version of War and Peace are available in the bookshop at £6.99 or, post free, from 0115 837 3097 (10-5.30, Monday-Saturday).

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Indie bookselling in Sheffield, a guest post by Eve Risner

"Over two years ago I got together with a small group of women and we decided to 'open a cafe/bookshop' in Sheffield city centre! Six months later the red tape and crazy rent and rates had defeated us but I remained focussed and determined to find an alternative way of becoming an independent bookseller in Sheffield.
"Having tested public reaction at local markets (and finding it very enthusiastic) I took on a small unit within a 'shopping emporium' called Birds Yard in Sheffield city centre. This was a way for local businesses to sell their products without the massive overheads of a shop. Birds Yard opened in December 2012 and is still going strong - although the future is not secure.
"My 'product' is the non-mainstream book - beautifully illustrated editions, many hardbacks but at an affordable price - books to cherish, books you wouldn't know you wanted until you saw them on my shelves.
"Since opening at Birds Yard I have also rented a small unit at the Nichols Building in Sheffield. The Nichols building sells largely vintage furniture, artifacts and clothing - as well as my new books, I don't generally sell children's books.
"I have also expanded to Handpicked Hall (no relation) Leeds - another centre for independent businesses to 'get started' and to test out whether there is a market for their product.
'Handpicking' the books is what I enjoy most and seeing people's pleasure on discovering books that they may not have found themselves."
You can find Handpicked Books at
The picture below is from Handpicked, one of several books by the Nottingham writer Dorothy Whipple, published by Persophone. I want those bookends...

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Twelve questions about the bookshop

Answering the twelve most asked questions about the bookshop (and reprinting the logo)
1) When will it open?
November 9th and, thereafter, 10-5.30, six days a week.
2) What will it stock?
New books, not second-hand, with an emphasis on landscape/cityscape, politics, fiction and poetry, lesbian and gay, weird and wonderful, psychology. Magazines and journals. Specialising in independent publishers.
3) Will it be radical?
Don't you know me?
4) Will it only be radical?
Well, the landlord will want rent, the staff will want paid, so no. But no Jamie. No celeb biogs.
5) Can I be one of those staff?
Sorry, we are fully staffed already.
6) I've looked on Long Row and can't find it. Is it the alleyway with the public toilets?
No, that's Greyhound Street. Head towards Primark, our alleyway is between these two landmarks. There will be signage.
7) Will you stock children's books?
Some. To see if there is interest, but primarily it will be a bookshop with adult stock (no, not that sort of adult stock).
8) How big is it?
400 square feet plus office and storeroom. Not huge, but big enough to start with.
9) Is this just a vehicle for the books published by Five Leaves?
No. They will be there but the stock will be much wider.
10) Cafe?
Too small. Too many problems with food hygiene certificates. But if there is somewhere we can have a serve-yourself percolator we'll do it. Maybe even a dry biscuit.
11) Will it stock my book?
Ah. If we think we can sell copies and if we know it exists. Email us on BUT we are getting a lot of pitches for self-published novels, which are much harder to sell and we've got to be strong.
12) Will there be events?
Yes. We welcome pitches/suggestions for these. The shop has to be what the trade calls a "destination" bookshop to survive. So there will be events.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Nairn returns

The book will be available very shortly

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Five Leaves Bookshop. No cause for alarm.

Little time to post on the blog the last period... the bookshop has swamped us. Here's a nice story in the local paper - I'd never thought of myself as a businessman before. I'd better join the Rotary and the Chamber of Commerce and buy a tie and a razor. But things are moving along - all staff appointed, computing equipment ordered, half the books already on order, events starting to take shape and it is ages away. One month before we open. Easy peasy. AAARGH - opening time is only a month away! Panic!! Panic!!

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Five Leaves is opening a bookshop in Nottingham!

Press Release: immediate
New independent bookshop to open in Nottingham

The Nottingham-based publisher, Five Leaves is to open a bookshop in Nottingham, the first independent bookshop in the city since 2000.

The bookshop will open in mid-November at 14a Long Row, opposite the Tourist Information Centre, in premises that have been used as an art gallery and a café and will trade under the name Five Leaves Bookshop.

Ross Bradshaw, owner of Five Leaves, said “When I came to Nottingham in the late 70s there were several independent bookshops and in subsequent years various chains were represented, but for many years there has only been Waterstones in the city centre. It's a great shop but there's plenty room for an independent as well.”

The new bookshop will specialise in history, politics and landscape; fiction and poetry; lesbian and gay books; and international writing, with an emphasis on independent publishers

Ross Bradshaw added “Nottinghamshire has a flourishing literature scene, with more professional writers than ever and a very active events programme including the longstanding Lowdham Book Festival which I've been involved with since the start. The bookshop will provide another focus and we will work with local and national writers to build the shop's own programme. The premises became available suddenly and we are working hard to open by mid-November. Several of our own writers and other local publishers are pitching in to help.”

Initial events will include a memorial evening for the Nobel Literature Prize winner Seamus Heaney and a speaker from the peace movement in Israel.

One of Nottingham's leading writers, Jon McGregor, said “I'm hugely excited at the prospect of a new independent bookshop in Nottingham. Despite the impact of online retailing, there is still a place for the personalised experience of a well-run independent bookshop; not just as a place to buy a book, but as the hub for a community of readers and writers. Ross Bradshaw has many years of experience in publishing and bookselling, and I'm sure will make a fine job of it; I'm equally sure that Nottingham's thriving community of writers and readers will support the venture from day one."

The Five Leaves Bookshop will complement other local independents including The Bookcase in Lowdham and the graphic novel specialists Page 45 in Nottingham city centre.

For further information please contact Ross Bradshaw,, 0115 9895465 (w) 0115 9693597 (h).

Ross Bradshaw worked at Mushroom Bookshop in Nottingham from 1979-1995 (the shop closed in 2000) and since then has run Five Leaves Publications, initially part-time while working as Nottinghamshire County Council's literature office, then full time. He is a trustee of the East Midlands Book Award and the Bread and Roses Award for Radical Publishing. Five Leaves jointly runs the Lowdham Book Festival with The Bookcase in Lowdham, the biggest book festival in the region. Together with Housmans Bookshop in London, Five Leaves established the London Radical Book Fair in 2012.

Five Leaves Publications forthcoming books include a collection of essays on Crime, a biography of the architectural writer Ian Nairn and A Brief History of Whistling by Nottingham writers John Lucas and Allan Chatburn.

Five Leaves Bookshop will be linked to the social enterprise Howie-Smith Project, which supports small creative enterprises in Nottingham.
The Five Leaves Bookshop will open for trading on 9th November, but there will be a grand opening on 16th November with events in the shop all day.


Friday, 27 September 2013

Nairn night at the LRB

Ian Nairn: Words in Place. With Gillian Darley, David McKie and Owen Hatherley

Tuesday 19 November at 7.00 p.m. 
Ian Nairn erupted onto the architectural scene in 1955 with the publication of The Architectural Review issue ‘Outrage’. A mathematician by training, and a former RAF pilot with no formal architectural education, Nairn’s visceral and savage attack on the blandness of post-war British design struck an immediate chord with a surprisingly diverse array of traditionalists and modernists, and gave rise to a new concept: that of ‘Subtopia’. Gillian Darley and David McKie’s study of Nairn - Ian Nairn: Words in Place – published by Five Leaves, introduces to a new generation an architectural critic whose work has influenced writers and critics such as J.G. Ballard, Will Self, Iain Sinclair and Jonathan Meades, who once described Nairn as ‘a great poet of the metropolis’. Gillian Darley and David McKie will be discussing Ian Nairn’s life and work, and Owen Hatherley, author of A New Kind of Bleakand A Guide to the New Ruins of Great Britain will be in the chair.
Full details: 

Monday, 16 September 2013

Calvert Journal and Yiddish writers

Calvert Journal is new to me, but it is an ezine I'll need to watch out for. Not only has Owen Hatherley written about the Moscow Metro (a joy for anyone to see) but he has written a long review of the Five Leaves book From Revolution to Repression - Soviet Yiddish writing 1917-1952 in which is included some of the early Chagall illustrations reprinted from the book. (I mention them as one of the illos appears in the current Chagall exhibition in Liverpool, but is wrongly attributed there!). The journal specialises in Russian art and life.
We are very pleased with the review - perhaps too long to reprint here, other than the start: Current events must make the recent opening of a Museum of Tolerance in Moscow look like a bad joke. The museum in fact concentrates on a quite specific area of “tolerance” — the experience of Russian Jews. As ever, the word “tolerance” suggests a certain guilty conscience. Historically, Russia's Jews were perhaps the most visible minority in a territory which has always been a multiplicity of different groups, languages and peoples, entirely inadequately subsumed under the term “Russian”. Even after the break-up of the USSR, the Russian Federation still includes many autonomous republics and national territories inherited from the old Russian Federated Soviet Republic. A new book, From Revolution to Repression: Soviet Yiddish Writing, 1917-52 (Five Leaves Press), edited by the late Yiddishist Joseph Sherman, is a reminder of the distinctive culture that arose in this space — and a reminder of why some would prefer to forget it.
The whole review is on
Hatherley seems to suddenly be in Five Leaves' orbit as he is also a contributor to our forthcoming book on Ian Nairn.
From Revolution to Repression has sold its first printing, but the reprint will be through very shortly.

Ian Nairn book now available for pre-order

Monday, 2 September 2013

Colin Ward goes electric

There's a minor dispute at Five Leaves Towers. We are split between thinking Colin Ward would have grasped the possibility of ebooks or he would have been quite uninterested. No matter, we've just put the short memorial volume to Colin up as an ebook. Colin was an educator, an anarchist and an inspiration for much of what we do at Five Leaves, so it would have been churlish to let this volume go out of print. The booklet sold, we think, about 600 copies, reflecting how well Colin was regarded in all his areas of interest.
Here it is as an ebook:
Sorry about the fuzzy illustration here - I'll try to get a better one.

Saturday, 31 August 2013

An insightful reading but definitely

I don't speak German, so this is a review for any German speakers. I did put it in Google translate, which gave a very good translation, with the amusing last words being - "An insightful reading but definitely". One to include on the back of any reprint perhaps. The review appeared in the newsletter of the Jazz Institute Darmstadt.

Peter Vacher schreibt seit den 1970er Jahren für britische Jazzmagazine wie Jazz Journal und andere. In "Mixed Messages" hat er einundzwanzig Interviews mit amerikanischen Jazzmusikern zusammengefasst, die teils bekannter, weitgehend aber auch gar nicht so bekannt sind, die meisten von ihnen Musiker der älteren Generation, fast alle tätig im Genre des traditionellen oder des swingenden Mainstream-Jazz.

Der Posaunist Louis Nelson erzählt über das New Orleans der 1930er und 1940er Jahre; der Bassist Norman Keenan über die Bands von Tiny Bradshaw und Lucky Millinder. Der Trompeter Gerald Wilson spricht über Einflüsse, Arrangementkonzepte und die Szene in Los Angeles, der Trompeter Fip Ricard über Territory Bands und Count Basie.

Ruby Braff äußert sich über Boston, den Jazz im Allgemeinen und Wynton Marsalis; Buster Cooper über seine Zeit mit Lionel Hampton und Duke Ellington. Ellington spielt auch im Interview mit dem Trompeter Bill Berry eine große Rolle, Hampton und Basie wiederum in den Erzählungen des Posaunisten Benny Powell.

Der Saxophonist Plas Johnson erzählt über den "Chitlin' Circuit", den er mit Johnny Otis und anderen Bands tourte, der Pianist Ace Carter über die Jazzszene in Cleveland, Ohio. Der Saxophonist Herman Riley berichtet über sein Leben und seine Arbeit in New Orleans und Los Angeles, der Saxophonist Lanny Morgan über seine Arbeit mit Maynard Ferguson.

Der Pianist Ellis Marsalis spricht über die moderne Jazzszene in New Orleans; der Saxophonist Houston Person über Orgel-Saxophon-Combos und seine Zusammenarbeit mit Etta Jones. Der Posaunist Tom Artin erzählt von seinen Erfahrungen auf der traditionellen Jazzszene der USA, der Trompeter von der Toshiko Akiyoshi Big Band und einem Engagement mit Bobby Short.

Der Bassist Rufus Reid nennt J.J. Johnson als role model, der Saxophonist John Stubblefield reflektiert über eine Karriere zwischen Don Byas, Charles Mingus und AACM. Judy Carmichael erzählt, wie sie dazu kam, Stride-Pianistin zu werden, Tardo Hammer über den Einfluss Lennie Tristanos. Der Trompeter Byron Stripling schließlich sagt, was er von Clark Terry lernte, wie es war mit Count Basie zu spielen, und warum die Jazzpädagogik ein wichtiges Instrument sei, das Wissen der großen Jazzmusiker weiterzureichen.

"Mixed Messages" ist eine abwechslungsreiche Sammlung von Erinnerungen an jazzmusikalische Aktivitäten, persönliche Erlebnisse und musikalische Erfahrungen. So "mixed", wie der Buchtitel impliziert, sind die Botschaften der darin portraitierten Musiker allerdings gar nicht, dafür ist das stilistische Spektrum denn doch zu stark auf Musiker des swingenden Jazz beschränkt. Eine erkenntnisreiche Lektüre aber auf jeden Fall.

Wolfram Knauer (August 2013)

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Polyamory, polyfidelity and non-monogamy: new approaches to multiple relationships... certainly the most cumbersome sub-title of any Five Leaves book, and the cover of Breaking the Barriers to Desire: new approaches to multiple relationships would certainly be in our top three of worst covers (so bad I'm not putting it on here). In our defence, it was published in 1995 when we were still learning about covers. And typing 1995 makes me realise that yes, Five Leaves is a year older than we normally advertise. Have to bring forward our twentieth birthday bash.
Anyway... every two or three years I wince, when polyamory and all that is back in the press again. There's been a telly programme, which I did not watch, and today Laura Penny (who else?) is in the Guardian advocating non-monogamy.
Just to be clear, polyamory is not something that the Five Leaves batallions get up to in the office when proof-reading gets all too much. We'd never publish such a book now, but several of our early books - commissioned in our pre-flight year as Mushroom Bookshop Publications - were about sexual politics. Not that we've got anything against sexual politics, or polyamory for that matter, but our areas of publication quickly changed once the link with the Bookshop had gone. The book itself, edited by Kevin Lano and Claire Parry, sold reasonably, with the still-extant American magazine Loving More buying the last 150 copies. And that was that. Except it wasn't.
Twice, late in the life of the book, the Guardian and the Sunday Mirror featured the book through no effort our our part. In both cases we got loads of phone calls (in those pre-email days), from journalists wanting copies for further features and reviews. The second time the book was featured thirteen journalists rang, including one desperate journo at The Sun who called several times. Like we would talk to The Sun. And the number of calls from the public or people wanting to order the book? In each case, next to none. The second time it was three calls and bookshops worldwide were scarcely troubled by as many people ordering the book. By then we had no copies to give out to journalists anyway.
All we could conclude from this was that journalists were (and perhaps are) REALLY interested in non-monogamy and that the public was (and perhaps is) not, other than maybe those involved in responsible polyamory who had already bought the book. We still get occasional calls, but the book is long gone and we have lost touch with the editors and contributors.

Advance notice of Five Leaves key events in 2014

Saturday March 15: 11.00-5.00
States of Independence V
A day of talks, book launches, panels and discussion on books, industry matters and writing
Supporting independent presses and independent thinking.
Full programme to be announced
Organised jointly by De Montfort University Creative Writing Team and Five Leaves Publications
Supported by Creative Leicestershire
De Montfort University, Leicester
Saturday May 10: 10.00-5.00
London Radical Bookfair
An all day bookfair involving 100 publishers and bookshops from across the radical sector, and radical books from the commercial sector
Panel discussions on the shortlisted books for the Bread and Roses Award for Radical Publishing and Little Rebels Award for children's books together with the announcement of award winners
Supporting programme of talks (and walks) leading up to the bookfair and throughout the day
Organised by the Alliance of Radical Booksellers, Five Leaves Publications and Bishopsgate Institute
Advance programme events ticketed, talks on the day and the bookfair free
Bishopsgate Institute,

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Reasons not to date a small press publisher

Note: this list refers to the traditional male small press publisher. In the case of the new generation of female small press publishers, change He to She and delete preliminary point.

He will have a beard
  1. He will be broke
  2. He will not want to go on holiday
  3. When he goes on holiday he will visit every bookshop within fifty miles
  4. He will already have a partner, better off than himself
  5. He will talk non-stop about how terrible Waterstones is
  6. Apart from when complaining about Amazon
  7. Or moaning about the Arts Council
  8. He will have friends who are poets
  9. He might be a poet
  10. At launch parties everyone will ignore you unless you are a writer
  11. He will start work at 6.30am
  12. His idea of fun is a book launch 200 miles away
  13. His idea of nice wine is Kwiksave BOGOFF, left over from a book launch
  14. He will not own a car, and can't drive
  15. He will ask for lifts in your car, without knowing he is doing it
  16. His office will be very untidy, spilling over with unsaleable books
  17. It will not be clean
  18. On principle he will only publish books that lose money
  19. He believes in the creative economy while contributing nothing to it
  20. He resents successful small presses
  21. He will not have a pension plan
  22. Other than you are his pension plan
  23. He will never retire
  24. His share of the phone bill will be 80%, but he will pay only 50%
  25. He will have authors staying who have travelled 250 miles to read for twenty minutes to an audience of seventeen
  26. You will have seen the same seventeen people at every reading for thirty years
  27. 50% of his income will go on buying books
  28. He will talk to you at length about the book he is editing
  29. He will ignore your advice when you suggest changes or wonder who would buy such a book
    30. He knows the names of every book reviewer in the UK. None of them know his name
    31. He anxiously scans the review pages of the Guardian every Saturday even though his last book review in any broadsheet was in 1992
    32. He will give you a copy of his own published novel, which did not get the attention it deserved
    33. He mutters

Robots without insight

Regular readers will know I'm not keen on Amazon, for all the usual reasons. A minor reason to dislike them is - from a publisher's point of view - the firm's unwillingness to allow you to communicate directly with a human being. There is no phone number. There is no account executive. No staff list. All you can do is send an email on a form, choosing between a range of subject headings which often do not describe your problem. If you are lucky, someone will deal with the matter promptly. If you are unlucky, you end up in robot hell where - it appears - your email is scanned for a key word or two and you receive a standard email which does not answer your question. Email again, you get the same response.
For half a year Amazon kept asking us for permission to return some damaged books, saying that if we did not reply they would simply send the books. We did not reply, so next month they sent an email asking for permission to return some damaged books, saying that if we did not reply they would simply send the books. We did not reply, so... you get the message. For another half year we got emails threatening to suspend our account if we did not fill in a CARP form, though we could never find out what this CARP form was. Eventually a human did reply to tell us to just ignore those emails because CARP (easy to rearrange those letters, don't you think?) refers to firms delivering container loads at their depots.
Recently, in response to a query on our behalf about the Amazon Daily Deal a robotic reply came, telling us nothing we wanted to know but answering a different question robotically. A follow-up email got the reply "We'll be sure to consider your interest for this feature as we plan further improvements. I"m sorry we haven't been able to address your concerns to your satisfaction. We will not be able to offer any additional insight or action on these matters."

Friday, 2 August 2013

Two cheers for Utopia

One day last week, reviews of the Five Leaves Utopia issue of our annual journal turned up in Anarchist Studies and the Communist Party's Communist Review. I imagine it would be hard to find two journals further apart but still on the left. Communist Review (CR) is still debating what went wrong in the former Soviet Union (though it has a good poetry section) while Anarchist Studies' (AS lead article is "Toward a Peak Everything Postanarchism and Technology Evaluation Schema for Communities in Crisis". Yes, it can be that kind of academic journal. Both took Utopia seriously, devoting a lot of space to it.
AS would perhaps be expected to review favourably as many of the writers - as the CR was quick to pick up - were from a libertarian background and the reviewer Diogo Duarte finds that many of the shorter pieces "written like chronicles, often starting from personal experience or a biographical episode of the author that could be as different as a coastal walk... a journey to Patagonia" which "offer us uncommon approaches to the topic or reflections on how utopia can be found in banal actions or habits" are the most entertaining reads but at the same time "utopia is used in such a broad way that it becomes impossible to discern what the criterion was behind the inclusion of the text." As editor of the work, I am not sure what my criterion was either, so the point was fairly made. I suppose that I wanted exactly that - well written pieces including those AS described as having "historical depth" as well as the more personal approach.
Over at CR Steve Johnson finds the book very readable and you can tell in his review that he found the book a pleasurable read, yet noticed that what was not on offer was any idea or strategy on how to reach utopia. I'm still looking for those. Steve also cleverly picks up that much of the utopian language of the libertarian left has been picked up by the right "with its talk of free schools and alternative education" suggesting that "anti-statism without a wider political strategy can have deeply reactionary consequences. Big Society anyone?
As editor, the pieces that bookended Utopia were, for me, the most important. The first was by Mike Marqusee (a Marxist), a piece which AS described as making "a short but strong claim on the importance of utopian thought and the consequences of its absence". The last was the picture, reprinted here from the (Marxist) Country Standard where, prefiguring the work of the anarchist illustrator Cliff Harper's famous sequence of illustrations in Undercurrents and elsewhere (which should have been included in the journal!), the unknown illustrator imagines how we will live in a better society. Good to see the reading room there.
Does this mean that there is more in common between anarchist academics and members of the Communist Party than we thought? Maybe. Just don't mention Kronstadt.

Friday, 26 July 2013

In memory of Walter Gregory

Tomorrow, in Nottinghamshire, trades unionists, members of the International Brigades Memorial Trust and others will rededicate the memorial to those Nottinghamshire men who fought in the Spanish Civil War. The Labour Party, swept back into power in May, is making good on a promise to replace the memorial taken down by the outgoing Tory regime. In a act that left a nasty taste in the mouth the Tories - during their one disastrous term - almost immediately got rid of the memorial at County Hall to those who had gone to fight fascism in 1936-1939. One really wonders what side the Tory leadership had been on.
The old memorial was a little inaccurate - it listed sixteen who fought, but recent research has brought the number to twenty-two. Because of the illegality of journeying to fight in Spain, confusion over people's names (some used pseudonyms) and over where people lived prior to the war the inaccuracy is understandable, but Barry Johnson and others have now produced what will remain the list of record.
Among those who fought was Walter Gregory. Five Leaves published his book, The Shallow Grave, in 1996. The book has long since sold out, but I think it likely we'll do a new edition next year. Walter's book was edited by David Morris and Anthony Peters and is thought to be one of the best memoirs of the period.
Walter was a mild-mannered man who spent most of his life working in the Co-op after service in WWII. After he retired he moved to be near his family in Grantham, and took up bell-ringing! At his funeral, the vicar - having talked about Walter's years in the labour movement and his time in Spain remarked that his enthusiasm for bell-ringing was only matched by his incompetence at it! Cue for hundreds of people to fall about laughing.
Walter came to write the book following an evening class on the Spanish Civil War that he attended, as a student. During one class, not having mentioned his own background previously, he brought out his old, battered mess-tin and a souvenir CNT (the Spanish anarchist trade union) flag - both now in the Imperial War Museum. The teacher asked him to take over the class!
Walter's book was first published in hardback by Gollancz and we published it in paper in 1996. It sold well and Walter started doing a few events to talk about the war. I was fairly new to publishing at the time and know we could have done more with the book, though it did sell out in good time. It was a great pleasure to have known Walter, who was good company. He was honest about the failings of the Republican side. As a weapons instructor he was sad that he was sending men out to fight not well enough armed, not well enough trained. He also knew that the graffittid answer to - "Dondo Nin?" (where is Nin? the leader of the POUM group) - "Ask the fascists" was a shocking lie. Nin had been murdered by the Communists. He was also a great admirer of the CNT, though critical of their discipline.
I won't go on. Read the book when it re-appears.
Of the others, I also knew Lionel Jacobs. Lionel had been a tailor in London prior to the Civil War but moved up here after the war, where he became active in the Trades Council and a fairly hard-line Communist. The last time I met him was in the Jewish care home here, whose workers were bemused at the steady stream of political people who visited Lionel. Shortly before his death Lionel said to me that "he would do it again if he had to!" and we parted, him giving me the clenched fist salute, and the word "Salud!" - the Republican greeting.
Appropriately, Walter's book was dedicated to Bernard Winfield of Nottingham, who was killed at Teruel on 20 January 1938.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

What's the point of book launches?

Last night I was one of  thirty or forty people attending the book launch of my friend Michael Eaton's translation, The Priest of Nemi, by Ernest Renan. This philosophical drama was first published in 1886 and has not, according to Michael, been performed since then. The work - in its day - had a big influence on The Golden Bough, the study of magic and religion which once was seen on the shelves of every bibliophile of a certain age. This, then, is not a book likely to appear as a three-for-two. It's good though, with many colour illustrations, made possibly by the low print run!
At the end of Michael's introduction to the history of the play, and the Nemi remains currently on exhibition at Nottingham Castle after a generation hidden in their stores, he said - I paraphrase only slightly - "Right, lots of you are authors. I've come to your book launches and bought your bloody books. Now it's your turn, buy mine." And we did. Nobody minded Michael's exhortation and all the copies brought along by Shoestring Press, his publisher, were sold.
Over the evening I had a glass of orange juice and half a glass of rotten win (Shoestring, honestly!), had a long discussion with the publisher, a further long discussion with a Five Leaves writer about a forthcoming book, exchanged some trade gossip with another publisher, nagged someone to finish their contribution to one of our forthcoming books and passed briefer moments with people I'd known for years. The venue, Bromley House in Nottingham, is perfect for small launches - many of those present are members of this private library. So a pleasant couple of hours, including a stint washing the wine glasses at the end.
Michael's work was duly honoured, the publisher had (what Peter Mortimer of Iron Press described as the purpose of a launch) a financial lining on his stomach for bringing out the book and twenty or so people were a tenner poorer than when they arrived.
We will, I hope, all be pleased to see the book out. The author was probably well-known to most of those there, the remainder were either camp followers of Shoestring or the usual flotsam and jetsam of literary Nottingham reinforcing our friendships, seeing and being seen. At worst, no harm to it. At best, further reinforcement to our local literary culture.
But it means that twenty or so houses have yet another book, and we will all turn up next time to do what Michael said - we buy each other's books. Is this just an in-group ritual? Actually, no. For many of the books launched at such events it may be the only time the author gets to speak to a good crowd, books that we would never see on High Street bookshop shelves get an airing, and a selling. It does support the publisher financially to enable them to turn outwards. And it is part of the personal price we pay - a tax if you like - to be part of a literature scene. Anyway, a good night out for a tenner with a book to read afterwards is pretty good value. Meanwhile, over at Waterstones, 66 managers have had the boot, including many with long service to the trade. I can't work out the connections between our generally supportive literature scene and the hard commerce of the big boys. Perhaps there is none.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Amazon reviews

Anyone who follows the bookish press will have read about concerns that reviews on Amazon are easily fixed. You get your best friend to write a five star review, and your next best friend, and then your auntie... by the time you have twisted a few arms a book that appears to have sold no copies whatsoever has a set of glowing five star reviews. Or the reverse, why not give a one star review to someone you don't like? It's not as if you need to prove you have read the book, and your reviews can be under pseudonyms. There was a fuss a couple of years ago about a history writer giving poor reviews to books by his colleagues, those he clearly saw as competitors. He was found out and it was all very embarrassing.
You can usually smell a rat and there is one Five Leaves book out there where I am pretty sure that a five star review was written by the author himself - I recognise his style - but I am too embarrassed to ask, though I am not sure if that is because I might be right or wrong.
But what can you do? David Belbin's Five Leaves book Love Lessons currently has 21 reviews. These range from three to five stars. Fair enough, some people did not like the book as much as others. But there is review with one star, and here it is (spelling as in original) - "IWhoever wrote this just copied the name of Jacqueline Wilson's book and as I have heard from the other reviews the whole story to !" Good point, JW, a fairly well-known author did publish a book called Love Lessons which - like David Belbin's is about a teacher/student relationship. But Belbin's book was first published in 1998 (republished by Five Leaves with a new afterword in 2009) whereas Wilson's book was first published in 2005, seven years after Belbin's book first appeared. Had the Amazon reviewer bothered to check she or he would have found this out immediately - the book's afterword makes the timing clear if nothing else does.
Well, I posted a comment - under my real name - in the hope that anyone digging deep might find the right story. And with a total of 21 reviews, mostly at the upper end, people might find the lone one star review strange. Except if that had been the first, or only review, what would people have thought?
I rather hope that the reviewer will take down her/his comment.
Mind you, a one star review can be useful. In another case, by another Five Leaves writer, where a reviewer clearly had read the book, her one star review stood out among the good reviews. In this case, however, though the book was clearly not to her taste, some of the comments she made were very useful in editing the storyline of a subsequent book by that writer. I think she'd have disliked the book anyway but her comments definitely led to some changes for the better in the second book. We owe her.

Absolute Beginners

Rereading Colin Macinnes's Absolute Beginners, I was reminded just how exciting the book is. Jerry White has a good chapter on it in our London Fictions and it is one London novel I would dearly love to have on our New London Editions list, not least because of the book's other Five Leaves connections, Unfortunately for us, Allison and Busby, under a series of owners, keeps the book on their list.
It was first published in 1959 by - who else? - MacGibbon and Key, my favourite publisher of the era but remains completely fresh.
Rather than rehearse the full story of the book - you can read a version of Jerry's introduction on the London Fictions website at
There he mentions that Manny and Miriam Katz is based on Bernard and Erica Kops (we've published a couple of books by Bernard) and reading the book you can hear Bernard's voice has not changed since Macinnes used him as a character in the 1950s to today. Bernard has told me a few stories about Macinnes's visits to his house. Having read a lot about Macinnes I was not surprised he was often drunk, rude and dominating. Not someone to forget, but not always someone to dislike. Bernard is more tolerant than me, I should say.
The second Five Leaves connection is that the anonymous teenage narrator of the book - a photographer who deals in fashion and porno photography (or what passed as porno at the time, about as pornographic as the side bars of the Daily Mail website) is based on Terry Taylor whose one published book, Baron's Court, All Change is a steady seller on our New London Editions list. That too was originally published by MacGibbon and Key.

Free verse is on its way

Free Verse, the the big poetry bookfair organised largely by CB Editions, has had to move - again - to bigger premises. This time the fair will be at Conway Hall in London and takes place on 7 September. If you are around at 2.30 come and join Five Leaves session - twenty minutes of Ian Parks reading from Versions of the North: contemporary Yorkshire poetry or drop by our stall. All the readings are twenty minutes so apologies to other Yorkshire poets but we thought it best that the editor does the whole job, and he will do it well. The list of stalls is bigger than ever - including Picador (goodness) and Faber (shock) rubbing shoulders with the groundlings. I wonder if Faber will bring that, what was his name, Mr Eliot along. I've got a few words to say to him. Last year's book fair was an eye opener. Firstly, it is a book fair. Books - that's the attraction. The readings are all very well - and we are pleased that one is ours - but the main story is books, books and books, some of them in the weirdest shapes and sizes, most definitely the sort you don't see in bookshops. Actually most of the books there, sadly, will be ones you rarely see in bookshops.
The second reason it was an eye opener is that many of those attending were young, carefully working their way round all the stalls before splashing out. I doubt anybody made their fortune on the stalls, but I doubt any stall holder went away empty handed. The secret is - from our point of view - to come back with less than we arrived with and I think we did sell more books than I bought! The event is free and the details are on

Friday, 12 July 2013

Lowdham Book Festival 2013

Lowdham Book Festival is over for another year, though with our monthly First Friday lectures, our winter weekend, an autumn season planned and the annual "Lowdham Lecture" it can be difficult to tell.
But the summer festival is always our best attended event, our highlight of the year, which this year featured 46 individual events. This summer was our fourteenth.
Family problems in Scotland limited my personal involvement in 2012 and we were unable to run our "last Saturday" that year, which has always been part of my contribution, so it was great to be fully involved and to bring that particular day back. My colleague Jane says that is "the heart of the festival". I am less sure on that, as the festival has no shortage of hearts, but it certainly felt great to have hundreds of people rushing from event to event or spending money at the - this year - 33 bookstalls. Ten or twelve of the seventeen events for adults on that day had house full notices up and the children's events were pretty busy. You can't always predict what will be popular - who would have expected 60+ people to turn up for a talk on women in the Sudan? But that is the nature of a day which provides a showcase for many regional writers and a leavening of authors from elsewhere. What else was popular? A talk on fairytale in fiction, on Vesuvius, the poetry of the first world war, John Clare, London Fiction... That day is the day we really do aim to merge the idea of a literature festival with a village fete so a lot of people come to meet their friends and just soak up the atmosphere. The most popular stall? Cleeve Press from Leicester showing off their letterpress printing, allowing people to print out their own cards, and Ed Herington to make up the illustration here.
We basked in sunshine, which always helps, but did miss the local allotment-holders stall this year, missing due to a bad spring affecting their produce. They'll be back next year.
I've heard good reports on the events on that day - but my role is to stand in the one position to say "the Methodist Chapel is down the road", "sorry, I don't have any Blutac", "Thank you for telling me the women's toilets are blocked..." and to clear the café tables in the spare moments. Thirteen years of that particular day and I've yet to attend an event. But the toilets have only blocked twice, so I can't complain.
Of the other events over the festival, my favourite day was the Victorian Day at Bromley House Library (Lowdham Book Festival on Tour) which was magical. We could only seat 40 people at this great venue, a Grade 2 listed building in the centre of the town, and the lucky 40 had a set of speakers whose contributions all flowed into one another - Michael Payne on Victorian Nottingham, Judith Flanders on Victorian London, Michael Eaton on the Victorian criminal Charlie Peace and Ann Featherstone on Victorian fairs and entertainment. Throw in a guided tour of this fascinating building, rather a lot of cake, and it was a day hard to beat.
What else? Impressed with Simon Mayo, enjoyed interviewing Kerry Young, Hazel O'Connor got two standing ovations... I could go on, but I do want to mention how much I enjoyed the reading of Will Buckingham, accompanied by his own playing of classical guitar. That was magical and rather unexpected.
Problems? Not a lot. One author missed a train and just got there in time; there was a technical problem on a highly illustrated talk which meant I had to interview someone at five minutes notice about a television programme I'd never seen and a book I'd never opened. It was an exciting five minutes preparing questions. No floods (we remember that year well...), no overhead power lines going down (another year to remember)... it all ran rather smoothly. Thanks, of course to the team - the front of house volunteers and the Warthog group that runs the music events during the Festival - and, especially, my colleague Jane Streeter and her staff from The Bookcase in Lowdham. One of the authors emailed afterwards to say "A very enjoyable day and the Festival was clearly a real success. Many congrats to you and Jane and all your helpers for an excellent job. It's really hard work putting on something like this and you all seemed to do both very well, yet in a stress-free and good-humoured way. Quite an achievement! I was delighted to be a small part of it." I'm a bit embarrassed printing this comment, but for once, let's boast.
Lowdham moves on... our First Friday programme is sorted. Our big event this autumn is a reading from War Horse with Michael Morpurgo and accompanying musicians John Tams and Barry Coope, in the wonderful setting of Southwell Minster. You can join Lowdham Book Festival's email list via or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.
Meantime, I've got lots of new reading material.

When did Five Leaves actually start?

"Independent publishing since 1966". Really? Only the most sensitive of archivists and bibliographers would care about the starting date of Five Leaves. But was it really 1996? I left Mushroom Bookshop in 1995, taking the publishing wing of the shop with me, which had started in 1994 with The Allotment: its landscape and culture. That title, with others, passed into Five Leaves ownership, and in, due course, livery when reprinted. Since I did all the work it would be possible to argue that Five Leaves started in 1994, or in 1995 when I took over Mushroom's book publishing - the first Five Leaves books actually said Mushroom Bookshop Publications as they were in press when I left, or 1996 when the first books entirely unconnected with Mushroom were published.
Why does it matter? It matters because the twentieth anniversary is drawing near and I can't make up my mind whether to celebrate in 2014, 2015 or 2016.
We had a big celebration for the tenth anniversary in 2005, which had some of our writers arguing that we were too late, though I thought we were too early.
Decisions, decisions.
Anybody who can use the above poster, by the way, inbox me. No - tried typing that phrase and it really is as awful as I thought. Don't inbox me, please. Email me.

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Beeston Poets, up and running... moving on

In 1996, when Five Leaves was merely a small twig we published Poems for the Beekeeper, an anthology of poems from the first fifteen years of  Poets in Beeston (that's Beeston in Nottinghamshire). Poets in Beeston had been a substantial series of annual readings by the top names in British - and sometimes world - poetry. Contributors included Danny Abse, Fleur Adcock, James Berry, Alan Brownjohn, Catherine Byron, Wendy Cope, Robert Creeley, Kwame Dawes, Carol Ann Duffy, Helen Dunmore, Gavin Ewart, UA Fanthorpe, Elaine Feinstein, John Harvey, Adrian Henri, Selima Hill, Mick Imlah, Jenny Joseph, Jackie Kay, Liz Lockhead, Michael Longley, John Lucas, Roger McGough, Ian McMillan, Wes Magee, Adrian Mitchell, Henry Normal, Brian Patten, Tom Paulin, Nigel Planer, Peter Porter, Peter Redgrove, Christopher Reid, Vernon Scannell, Penelope Shuttle, Jon Silkin, Ken Smith and Charles Tomlinson. The collection is well worth buying still (yes - we have some left!) for a snapshot of the best the poetry world could offer from the 80s and 90s.
It is pretty remarkable that these, and so many more, pitched up in the back room of a suburban library to read. The County Council was happy to fund the series, and it was run personally by Robert Gent, the librarian there. Robert also edited the collection.
Prior to attending Beeston I'd had no interest in poetry at all. I'd started doing bookstalls at the events on behalf of the shop I was working in, and, well,  you have to listen, don't you? In due course Five Leaves published the collection, launched with a memorable reading by Jackie Kay, to celebrate the first fifteen years.
Some time afterwards Robert left the library and I took over running the series. In Robert's absence it was not the same, and I was also starting to organise poetry readings across the county. Rather than putting all the available money into Beeston I decided to abandon the series... with new sets of readings in Newark, Worksop, Ollerton and other far flung parts of the County. And Southwell Poetry Festival was established.
Many years later, though Southwell Poetry Festival survives as a County Council project, the readings across the county vanished, the Council has little money and other public readings tended to be of a performance nature.
Together with Nottingham Poetry Society and Nottinghamshire Libraries, Five Leaves reestablished the Beeston Poets series, on a shoestring. Naturally Jackie Kay was in the first series. The first year ended last night, with Martin Figura's Whistle performance - which will stay in people's memories for a very long time. The series is established. Pippa Hennessy had been the key figure in this, given that she straddles Five Leaves and the local Poetry Society.
We've given it a year, which shows there is a demand for the "formal" and traditional one person or group reading, without the need for open mics. All the readers can perform, but they can be read with pleasure on the page. But our resources are tight and we can't afford to give up work time so generously any more. Other projects are calling our name. Beeston Poets will, I hope, thrive. It will be up to the group which has come together this year as to how it will continue. It would be nice to think that at some stage there will be a second volume of poems for the beekeeper. Go well.

Friday, 28 June 2013

Berta Freistadt memorial event

We are pleased to say that friends of Berta Freistadt, whose poetry we published, are unveiling a memorial at Mary Ward Centre in London on Monday 29th July 3.15 to 5pm. This will be just after the third anniversary of Berta's death.
The  memorial has been designed and sculptured by  Judy Veal, a Mary Ward art student who won the prize to design a memorial for Berta. Berta taught poetry at the Centre for many years, was very happy there and beloved by generations of students.
There will be drinks and nibbles.    Any offers to bring cake would be appreciated as the group has limited resources. There is a lift part of the way but you will need to climb up at least one flight of stairs to the Centre's roof garden
The Nearest tubes are Russell Square and Holborn. Queens Square is behind Southampton Row. Please RSVP to   
Berta's poems appeared in an early Five Leaves book, The Dybbuk of Delight, and we published her only pamphlet, Flood Warning, in 2004. Berta's poems explored her love of women, and her journey as a Londoner of mixed heritage to explore the Jewish world. She became a committed Jew, active in opposing Israel's occupation. Her poems were also published in magazines in the UK, Israel and the USA and on a London bus.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Slow train coming... Red Groove by Chris Searle, new from Five Leaves

Somehow Red Groove slipped from last year, and has only now appeared. It happens sometimes. Chris's book is published in association with the Morning Star, where the material collected here first appeared - reviews of records (as we used to call them) and live performances. Chris is the Star's jazz reviewer and this collection includes about 100 pieces selected from fifteen years of jazz reviews.
As you would expect, the reviews are political, but mostly they are reviews and politics comes in where relevant - but with jazz from around the world that is often the case. There is not a bad review here - that is on purpose. Chris reviews to promote the artists, the records and their music, not out of sycophancy but as a way of giving people airtime, or space in the paper. He aims to promote the best. For the regular jazz listener there is much here to remind him or her what he/she has forgotten, for the less regular jazz listener the book is a vade mecum or buying list.
It was fun editing the book because each of the article was meant to be read on the day, not conceived as sitting alongside other reviews, so we had to get rid of a lot of heartbeats and confreres and various other writing tics that only became apparent when the articles were collected.
The book is introduced by Robert Wyatt and has a great photograph of Joe McPhee on the cover. Further colour photos, of Norma Winstone, Sun Ra and the late Niels-Henning Ostred Pederson are included, as well as some black and whites.
For me, the most exciting part of the book was being able to publish something by Chris Searle. I've followed Chris's work from his days in Stepney Words (described also in our book Everything Happens in Cable Street) through to his current writing in Race and Class. People might remember him as the teacher who was sacked for publishing his school students' poetry - this led to a student strike and Chris's eventual reinstatement by the then Minister of Education, one Margaret Thatcher. I wonder what happened to her. Chris has also published books of his own poetry, books about Granada (he knew Maurice Bishop and the other leaders of the New Jewel Movement) and cricket. This is his second book of jazz writing, the first being Forward Groove, published by the jazz specialists, Northway Books.
The two chapters I liked best in Red Groove were inspired by a fellow Star supporter Chris met on a train, who suggested an artists to write about, and a chance meeting with a cleaner from one of his old schools who suggested another jazz singer to review.
Chris loves his jazz. If you are by any chance reading this in time, Chris will be appearing at Lowdham Book Festival on 22nd June. He is available for gigs elsewhere, to talk about jazz, as is our other recent jazz writer, Peter Vacher, who will be at Lowdham on June 29.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

A Taste for Malice, the first review

We were very impressed with Michael J Malone's 2012 debut crime novel, Blood Tears, which introduced the highly dysfunctional protagonist (even by the standards of the genre) Detective Inspector Ray McBain. So we approached A Taste for Malice with some trepidation: would Michael J Malone be able to produce a second novel that lived up to the promise of the first?
The answer is a clear "yes": he has. He has also produced one of the more unusual detective novels we can remember reading. Most crime novels kick off with a dead body within the first few pages, and build from there. What is particularly fascinating about A Taste for Malice is that the story does not revolve around the tracking down of a killer or serial killer. Yes, there is a murder between the covers, but it's very much "off stage", and DI McBain's involvement is only peripheral (though it is also critical). But the central story, which develops in two parallel strands that steadily converge as the book moves towards its climax, deals with something altogether less wholesome.
We first encounter DI Ray McBain as he returns to work after the events in the earlier novel. The physical scars he has been left with are healing, but the mental scars still run very deep. McBain has other problems. His superiors do not wish to risk his fragile mental health by exposing him to the full rigors of the work of a Detective Inspector, so he is attached to a team led by a man who used to be his junior officer, and tasked with administrative tasks that have little interest and no challenge for him. One of the files he looks at deals with the harming of two children by a woman the family thought could be trusted to look after them. Then another similar case emerges. McBain sets out to discover whether the two cases are linked, behind the backs and against the wishes of his senior officers. Meanwhile his personal life is as chaotic as ever, and he also begins to fear that his nemesis from Blood Tears may be waiting in the shadows.
In parallel we follow the story of a family having difficulty coping with the mother's loss of memory in an accident, and their befriending by a young woman. The reader's suspicions that all is not right build steadily, and the two strands of the story come together very satisfyingly in a conclusion that offers some genuine surprises.
Courtesy of Undiscovered Scotland

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

New from Five Leaves, A Taste of Malice by Michael J Malone

Here's the first of our new crime books to be shown here in their new livery, courtesy of JT Lindroos, who is something of an expert in saying "no, your idea doesn't work but if you do this, this and this..." and so we get a type of wood any self-respecting teddy bear or even teddy boy would be best advised to avoid.
The book is our second Malone book, both in the Scottish hard-boiled genre and featuring Ray McBain. The story starts with him in filing hell, where he realises two unsolved cases could be linked, but nobody wants to know. And both involve women who insinuate themselves into vulnerable families. Children get hurt and unless McBain can get someone to listen more children are at risk.
Malone's first book Blood Tears was our best selling book so far. I think this one is better. I'm not knocking the first book but one particularly critical review really helped us iron out some difficulties with Malice. Even bad reviews (and mostly they were not!) can be useful!
We also had fun again with Michael Malone's natural Scottish diction. We want the book to retain a Scottish flavour but not lose any English readers. One pre-publication reader was American, who reminded us that not only Scottish diction can lose readers, but so can English lose American readers. What do Americans call ladders on their tights? (The "on" is Scottish, by the way.) We did not have fun with mixing past and present tenses. It seemed like a good idea at the time but caused the author and me a great deal of editorial toothache.
But we have a great book and those who have read it so far agree.
Scottish Waterstones is behind this one, especially Ayr of course, as is Blackwells in Edinburgh. You won't find many copies in English bookshops - not yet anyway - but English (and American) readers really can enjoy Scottish crime novels and, like Rankin and MacBride, our Scots almost speak proper English ...sae dinna be feart.

Guest post from Mark "I am Spartacus" Patterson

Of course you've always wanted to see people marching through Nottinghamshire in sandals and togas, haven't you? Good, because later this month a merry band will be doing just that to raise money for Newark's forthcoming new museum and Civil War Centre, which is set to display many of the area's Roman and ancient treasures including the famous gold Iron Age Torc and the Roman cavalry cheekpiece that graces the cover of my Five Leaves book Roman Nottinghamshire. The team will be walking 68 miles from Lincoln to Leicester, basically following the Fosse Way. On June 20 they'll be stopping in Newark to hear a talk by me on the history of the Fosse Way (Newark Town Hall, 7.30pm, £4) and I may be joining them for the walk the day after. Newark hasn't had a decent museum for ages and consequently all the artefacts have been locked up in the town's Resource Centre. 
The Torc itself has been at the British Museum all these years as Newark didn't have facilities deemed good enough to put it on display. Now it's coming home. The best of the 100,000 artefacts found alongside the Fosse Way during the recent dualling work should also be coming to the new museum. Details of the talk can be seen at the brave walkers can be sponsored via
Note: the picture is not Mark Patterson

Friday, 31 May 2013

Staffing changes at Five Leaves

For those who are interested in this kind of thing... Pippa Hennessy, who has worked at Five Leaves for the last three years, has been appointed Development Director of Nottingham Writers' Studios - an organisation conveniently situated approximately half a second from our office. I hope she will be a quiet neighbour. Pippa has worked on a number of Five Leaves projects during the three years. These range from turning 25 or so of our books into eBooks through to organising, typesetting, designing and launching our latest poetry book Versions of the North. I won't bore you with the other things that she has done, not least because she will still be at Five Leaves for two days a week until September, then dropping to one day a week. Someone will have to do our eBooks... Over the summer she will undertake a stocktake (that's teach her to reduce her hours) and more constructively be reviewing and replacing our website, which has got a bit creaky.
It is a good step forward for her to move to NWS, but I am pleased that Pippa will still be around, even if on reduced hours.
Pippa can't have a leaving do 'cos she is not leaving, but Five Leaves Towers did stretch to a small tart and a handful of grapes served on our best chipped plate. We are all heart. Good luck in the new job, Pippa!

Unrelated to the above note, Angela Foxwood will be working as an intern at Five Leaves one day a week, her role being to research book and other festivals to try to secure more bookings for Five Leaves writers. She has meantime been sent home with a sack of books to get to know our writers better. Though we did not save her any grapes.


One day all bookshops will be as good as the London Review Bookshop

...and all cafes as good as their cake shop, which has this nice window display.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Iron Press at Forty - the festival

From time to time I give talks on independent publishing. I often draw on the story of David Almond. David was a writer of short stories, often based on his own North East working class background. He was not the most successful writer of short stories, though he was regularly published in small literary magazines and even broadcast on the BBC. In 1985 Peter Mortimer's Iron Press published a collection of his short fiction. It sold modestly. Twelve years later Iron Press published a second collection of stories. It sold modestly. David's next book was Skellig, which became an international commercial best seller. At the fortieth birthday festival for Iron Press David launched a third collection of short fiction for Iron, Nesting, which included many of the early Iron stories and some new material. In the book he gives credit to Iron Press for its early support for his work, a support which kept him going, kept him in print and thus enabled David to become an internationally known writer. The introduction to Nesting should perhaps be read by every Arts Council administrator, owners of bookshop chains and reviewers of books. It might change their mind on the value of small presses.
There were 200 people at that launch reading, and the next day there were 200 people at a discussion of, and reading from, the 1991 Iron collection The Poetry of Perestroika. The book was introduced by Jackie Litherland, with readings by local actor and activist Charlie Hardwick. It was one of the best readings I've attended, with people listening with great attention to Jackie's tales of how the poems were sourced and received, the tour to Russia by North East poets and the tour to the North East of Russian poets. The event, and Charlie's readings, brought to life a collection that marked such a change in the lives of Soviet citizens and writers. 200 people, listening to poems translated from Russian, first published twenty-two years ago! And all in a community centre in a small fishing village - Cullercoats, home to Iron Press for the forty years.
Few small presses last forty years, only the recently retired Tony Rudolph's Menard Press comes to mind. If Five Leaves lasts that long I will be 82 - though Peter is knocking on a bit. Not that you would know, from his boundless energy and enthusiasm, his rattle of bangles and bright clothes. Five Leaves is pleased to have published half a dozen of his own books, but this weekend was all about Iron. And the arts community of the North East coast. There were few people from Newcastle itself - city folk! - but plenty from up and down the coast, from Durham, from rural Northumbria, and three from Nottinghamshire. I use the words arts community on purpose, because there were artists, luvvies, musicians, community activists as well as literary types. Plus which (to use one of Pete's own phrases) the events were generally a mixture of music and literature, with local bands playing ranging from an a cappella women's group to some very imaginative new folkies.
Peter tells something of the Iron story in Through the Iron Age, an A6 pamphlet. I wanted more, but this will have to do. You can order it through or send Iron Press £3 and a copy will be yours.
I thoroughly enjoyed my weekend - including talking with editors from North East publishers Red Squirrel, Bloodaxe, Smokestack and fellow visitors Route as well as seeing Pete and his partner, the writer Kitty Fitzgerald. Fortunately I was stuck behind a bookstall so did not have to even  pretend I would have loved to have gone out to sea to write Haiku, one of the Iron Press Festival's oddest moments. But the sea was too rough and the sea Haiku trip was called off. Is this the first time a rough sea has ever cancelled a poetry event? There were other odd moments - it takes some doing to get lost in a fishing village in the middle of the night, but I did so ("I know the sea is here somewhere...") and it took two policepeople to help me buy a ticket at Cullercoats Metro on leaving so that I did not have to commit the crime of travelling without a ticket. But I did get to see the sea, a bonus if you live in Nottingham normally, and in its honour, here's a photo of a boat taken at the beautiful house of my host for the weekend, Jill Clarke, Cullercoats' answer to Mrs Madrigal.