Thursday, 28 February 2013

The TLS on London E1

The small Nottingham-based publisher New London Editions [think Five Leaves with an East London accent] specializes in reviving interest in forgotten London writers such as Alexander Baron and Roland Camberton, and their latest reprint is quite a find. Robert Poole’s only novel was originally published in 1961 and reviewed in The Yorkshire Post by Anthony Burgess who praised its “vitality and flow”, and expressed an interest in the author’s future work. There wasn’t to be any – Poole died two years later, aged forty, from an accidental overdose of painkillers.

Details of his life are sketchy. The youngest of nine children (like the novel’s protagonist), Poole was born in the East End in 1923, near the Truman Brewery in Brick Lane. He had various dead-end jobs, joined the merchant navy, jumped ship in New Zealand and became a popular radio broadcaster. He was then arrested and spent a month in jail before being deported. Back in London he drifted aimlessly and in 1958 moved to Margate where he ran the bingo concession at Dreamland Amusement Park.

London E1 is set during the 1940s in Poole’s native Stepney, beset by breadline poverty, random violence, crowded slums, anti-Semitism and the Blackshirts. The novel’s narrator, Jimmy Wilson, is in prison for murder and recalls events in his life from the age of eleven when he earned a few pennies as a “Shabbas Goy”, lighting fires and candles for Orthodox Jews on Friday nights. The story then follows the next twelve years of Jimmy’s life, from his experience of the Blitz (with a tremendously powerful account of a direct hit on a crowded pub) to the mid-1950s. Young Jimmy – bright, articulate, selfconscious and clearly based on the author – falls in love with Pinkie, a haughty mixedrace girl whose mother works as a prostitute to pay for her daughter’s private education. Poole is especially adept at portraying the arrival of new immigrants from India, and their cultural impact on the working-class populations, both Jewish and Gentile.

There is plenty of evocative period detail: an all-day wedding party with gallons of booze and piles of boiled bacon sandwiches; hacksaw-wielding “gas-pipe kids” scavenging bomb sites for scrap lead; teenage girls going on the game; newly arrived Indians sleeping ten to a room and setting up the first curry houses (quite possibly, as the publishers claim, the earliest treatment in fiction of this new wave of migrants to the East End). There’s little sentiment and no nostalgia, but there is a real understanding of the consolations to be found amid ignorance and poverty, especially in the rough affection of family, friends and neighbours.

Rachel Lichtenstein rightly admits in her introduction that London E1 is no masterpiece. The writing is plain, sometimes uneven and, in a pleasing way, quite artless; the situations are memorably dramatic and clearly ripe for screen adaptation: producers should be fighting over the rights.

David Collard
TLS, 1st March 2013

Sunday, 24 February 2013

A column for our Gujarati readers

Any idea what this says?

States of Independence IV

The programme for States of Independence is available now on This year there is more of a fiction focus, with guest speakers including Kerry Young, Alison Moore and Sarah Butler. Kerry was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Literature Prize, Alison for the Booker while Sarah makes a return to her old stamping ground in Leicester.
There's the usual range of the sensible and the weird, the comic and the highbrow, and, this year, more stalls than ever, forty, and from further afield.
The joy of States is that it is free, and you can come for an hour or the whole day, spend time in events or just look round the bookstalls. A highlight of the region's literature scene and a splash of colour in the middle of mainstream grey publishing.
A Five Leaves project with the Creative Writing Team at De Montfort University, supported by Creative Leicestershire.

Friday, 22 February 2013

Merger mania in the publishing business

A few years ago a friend of mine, an academic, as usual put his book on his students' reading list. The bookshop on campus, Blackwells, reported that the book was unavailable. Nonsense, said my friend. Nobody from the publisher had been in touch with him, so he rang the publisher, Hutchinson. Hutchinson had just split its list, selling the fiction to Random House, now owned by Bertelsmann and recently merged with Penguin. But his book was not fiction, and the non-fiction, and educational side had been sold to Allen and Unwin. A & U was busy acquiring at the time and had also just bought the educational publisher Bell & Human. But they only really wanted the school side of the list, selling the rest to HarperCollins. Mr Murdoch, however, did not want the university non-fiction and sold that part of the list to Routledge, which shortly became part of the International Thompson Publishing Services group, before being swallowed by Taylor & Francis, an academic publishing house who made money on scientific, medical and technical books and by running conferences. My friend's book was sold to Blackwells, then the publishing arm of the bookshop chain by the same name - who had, you will remember, told my friend's students they could not trace the book.
I may have missed out a step or two to shorten the story, but it took my friend a year and a half, with the support of the Society of Authors, just to find out who he should now be dealing with.
This is not a new story, but a good example of how people's intellectual property can be bought and sold, long-standing firms disappear and of course along the way editors, packers and proof-readers get their P45s.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Almost Talking Green

The picture features just a part of the crowd at Housmans last night for the joint launch of Five Leaves' Talking Green by the late Colin Ward and Autonomy by Dan Poyner, a book on the graphic design of Colin Ward's old Anarchy magazine. The audience stretched right to the door of the shop and behind the speakers to the back of the shop. Front centre with her arms folded is Harriet Ward. I was touched when some of the young people came up to say they had only just discovered Colin's work as they were squatters and found that everything they read on squatting refers to Colin's books on that subject.
I found it a difficult evening, in part because it was so like the last time Colin had a book launch there - his last public appearance which was the last time I met him, though the mood of course was celebratory. Since Colin's death there has been a special issue of Anarchist Studies, a Colin Ward reader, a short memorial volume Remembering Colin Ward, a conference on his ideas about education (the papers will be published) and now these two books. But the main reason I found it difficult was that I had overdosed on drugs to keep a cold away and was completely exhausted as well as having a head made of cotton-wool. I could not make much sense of my notes and when one person asked for more information on Talking Green I could hardly remember anything about the book. Worse, the basic rule of launching a book is to refer to it from time to time, read teasers from the book... so I chose to read something from a long out of print book published by Penguin and a longer piece from Colin's Anarchy in Action published by Freedom Press. Naturally those were the books that people wanted to buy - one unavailable and one only there in small quantities which sold out immediately! Despite my efforts we did shift a few Talking Green.
More coherent were Ken Worpole, talking about Colin's aesthetics and Dan Poyner and Richard Hollis on the graphic art of Anarchy. It was a shame that Rufus Segar - the main Anarchy designer is now too old to travel in London but Dan and I both remarked on his extraordinary correspondence - letters with 44 penny stamps on the envelope, sometimes just containing a series of visual and written puns. Dan's beautiful book Autonomy sold in good numbers.
I was particularly pleased that the architect and writer Tom Woolley, visiting from Ireland, spoke from the floor. Tom's first published piece had been in Anarchy and his contact with Colin brought him on immensely, with their shared interest in Walter Segal's ideas of self-build housing. Tom is now working on houses built out of hemp (and no, you can't smoke them). Another floor speaker remarked how excited he was each time his sub copy of Anarchy came through as every cover was different and each issue would have a set of serious articles about issues that he had not thought about before. There are few magazines that closed over forty years ago that are still loved and remembered, and reintroduced to new generations of readers.
Colin was one of a generation of productive anarchists from different backgrounds - Vernon Richards and Marie Louise Berneri, both with a family background of Italian anti-fascism, the doctor John Hewitson, the secularist Nicolas Walter, Philip Sampson and others, all now passed away but whose work in making anarchism relevant to everyday life remains important.
I'll end this piece with the last two sentences of Anarchy in Action - which I managed to read twice last night - which, as much as one can in a couple of sentences - sums up Colin's world view: "Anarchism in all its guises is an assertion of human dignity and responsibility. It is not a programme for political change but an act of social self-determination."

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

I'm with the band

Peter Vacher's Mixed Messages: American Jazz Stories is picking up some traction, here's one we like from London Jazz, written by Mark Ramsden

Peter Vacher has been interviewing American musicians since the 1950s. He is familiar to readers of Jazz Journal, Melody Maker, Jazz UK, Coda and more recently ‘too many obituaries’ in the Guardian. This is his second collection of unhurried pieces, with the interviewees getting plenty of space to recall their lives in music.

Throughout you get a sense of the massive size of America, the many working professionals devoting decades of blood, sweat and tears to their beloved music, sometimes to the detriment of stable personal lives. Benny Powell was advised, “Be faithful to your wife, do everything to have a good marriage, so, if anything does happen, you won’t have any regrets.” Just as I was nodding solemnly, ruing my own chaotic past, I turned the page to find the author informing us ,‘Ironically both men went on to marry and divorce three times.’

Proving the old adage that musicians can either work too much or too little Hal Galper left the Nat Adderley band because 300 gigs a year was too much. Curiously enough Harold Vick, who stood 6’2” or 6’3” left Adderley, who was considerably shorter, because he felt he might be overwhelming his bandleader, although the brilliant brass man apparently didn’t mind. I was chuffed to see the excellent Alan Barnes honoured in stride specialist Judy Carmichael’s interview. Like anyone else who’s ever had the good fortune to meet Alan she’s in thrall to his sense of humour as well as his playing. If you’ve ever tired of Keith Jarret’s on stage demeanour Ms Carmichael’s comments will elicit a smile.

Ruby Braff is less acerbic than his reputation, perhaps it was the influence of a wise interviewer who knows the right questions. Rufus Reid somehow manages a courteous, informative exchange at 8.30 am, typical of the professionalism displayed by these (mostly) men. “I teach the bassists that if the piano player or the drummer don’t make the gig everything’s all right because we can take care of it.” Musicians interviewed are Louis Nelson, Norman ‘Dewey’ Keenan, Gerald Wilson, Fip Ricard, Ruby Braff, George ‘Buster’ Cooper, Bill Berry, Benny Powell, Plas Johnson Jr, Carl ‘Ace’ Carter, Herman Riley, Lanny Morgan, Ellis Marsalis, Houston Person Jr, Tom Artin, John Artin, John Eckert, Rufus Reid, John Stubblefield Iv, Judy Carmichael, Tardo Hammer and Byron Stripling.

Fascinating stories, plenty of fresh insights, lots of rare photographs, a helpful index: a very good scholarly addition to any jazz library.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Lowdham Book Festival winter weekend

Programme now available for download on, plus a link to join the Festival email list. The photographs are Catherine Bailey, Polly Toynbee, Sophie Hannah, Alison Moore and Chis Arnot. There's also a session on secrets and lies in the work of Ian McEwan and Sarah Waters. Tickets are now on sale and selling fast.
Lowdham Book Festivals are jointly organised by Five Leaves and The Bookcase in Lowdham

Friday, 1 February 2013

Freedom Bookshop

When I saw this picture I started shaking. It's Freedom Bookshop in  London, reported as being firebombed at 5.30 this morning. There was nobody injured and tomorrow, Saturday, people are going to help start with the clean up. I have yet to make contact with Andy or any of the others at Freedom but this picture and others have been whizzing round the globe and offers of support, solidarity and money are being posted and, I hope, being sent in. Whatever the insurance position the shop will need the support of radicals of every hue. Freedom Bookshop has been the main anarchist bookshop in London for as long as I can remember. I've read the magazine Freedom off and on since the early 1970s. For a period I used to sell it, and Peace News, on demonstrations and have written for it from time to time. I subscribed to its sister journal Raven and have most copies of its earlier sister journal, Anarchy, which was edited by my late friend and colleague Colin Ward, many of whose books we have published over the years. Five Leaves has also published a book of essays by Nicolas Walter, who, like Colin, was an editor of Freedom and I've bought many Freedom-published books over the years.
Naturally, over the years, politics change and the people around the Freedom empire change. I know the worker Andy Meikle a bit and accept that the shop has priorities other than "Colin Wardism" but any political differences we or anyone else on the left might have with Freedom have to be put to one side. Five Leaves will be offering what support we can, money and stock. It is almost not worth saying that an attack on Freedom Bookshop is an attack on us all.
And the other reason is that I was at Mushroom Bookshop in Nottingham when it was physically attacked by fascists and have many friends who have withstood similar attacks in other bookshops, including attempted arson attacks. The only arson attack at Mushroom was when someone put burning rags into the letterbox on the overnight gate (the letterbox was not on the shop for security reasons), it burned but fell outwards into the street and little damage was done. Others were less lucky.
At the moment there is no word of any signature attached to the incident but whatever the reason or background we will be expressing our solidarity with Freedom in every way we can.

Inpress publishing day

So you want to be a rock and roll star? No, Rachael Ogden, who is moving on from Inpress, is not changing careers to be a lead singer in a rock'n'roll band but here she is introducing The Bookshop Band, the last event of a packed Inpress Festival of Publishing (and AGM of the group that represents 40+ small publishers) at the Free Word centre in London. The day was a new step for Inpress, drawing in many other small publishers, writers and students for a day of presentations and panels on aspects of small press publishing. It is hard to pick out a highlight but Martin Rowson set the scene with his journey from small presses to the major league and back again (to our chums at Smokestack). Along the way big publishers abandoned books when they were selling well, refused to supply books known to be in their warehouse when people were crying out for them or, in one case, having given him a rather large advance suggested that the book in question was seen as one suitable for word of mouth publicity... Martin of course knows how to fulminate. He also took part in a discussion on book jackets, with the designer Sally Castle and Chris Keith-Wright from Waterstones. Waterstones?  What were they doing there? Well, Chris does not hate us and had some very useful discussions with various publishers. He introduced a Five Leaves bay for three months when he was in Nottingham, and now in Picadilly - the company's flagship store - he has introduced a section for indie presses.
Helen Jeffrey from the London Review of Books, though interesting, perhaps did not quite understand how small publishers are forever looking down the back of the sofa for old tanners as she talked about a £35,000  online project based on a Will Self essay. She advised that we should use our technical teams more creatively and outsource our day to day technical requirements. Something to bear in mind... Though actually our own technical team, Pippa Hennessy, gave the next talk, an introduction to how ebooks work for the trade. Five Leaves is, unusually perhaps, ahead of the game for our sector with half the ebooks produced by Inpress publishers being ours. The girl done well and Pippa is now freelancing for Inpress publishers needing support with ebook conversion.
There is not room here to describe all the contributions, but if we could we'd be off to Bath simply to become customers of Mr. B's Emporium of Reading Delights - a completely inspiring bookshop that spawned The Bookshop Band, pictured above, which create songs based on the work of the visiting authors to Mr B's. Nic Bottomley, the Mr B in question, was inspiring.
I know it's not all about me but I was on the interview panel that appointed Rachel to Inpress and was chair of the group as she got her feet under the table. Since then she has coped with various crises in the trade, brought in some publishers to Inpress and seen others leave. The organisation is now more solid, better funded, more secure than before and she leaves at the end of the month with Inpress in a much better condition than could be expected, given recent developments in the trade.
This day Festival of Publishing was a good send off. Well done Rachael.

Brick Lane stories

Readers of this blog and friends of the press might remember that we'd posted a "Desperately seeking Robert Poole" note, hoping that someone would help us find any living relatives of the late Robert Poole. We'd wanted to publish his London E1 - the old edition is pictured, with the new edition below, with two family pictures attached (and in the background my rather fetching purple cardie). Two of his family - Lisa Watson and Debbie Towns - got in touch with us. They'd googled their great uncle Robert and were astonished to discover our search. It was all to the good and we moved forward with publication. The book launch was held last week - Lisa spoke on behalf of the family, the broadcaster Alan Dein read from the book and discussed the content with Rachel Lichtenstein. Her introduction to the book is here - - together with some maps and photos of Brick Lane, the setting for Robert's - Bob's - only published novel.
Fittingly the launch was at the Brick Lane Bookshop, hosted by Kalina and Denise, who told me the shop was doing very well at the moment. It is, by the way, one of the few shops that started out as a community bookshop (THAP), became a radical bookshop (Eastside) and is now a local, community and commercial bookshop - which stocks a lot of our books.
But the real surprise was John Charlton, who came along - as did other members of Robert Poole's family. John was his nephew and knew him well, but also lived locally to Brick Lane and was able to confirm or reveal some of the real sites of events mentioned in the book, and reveal some of the real people who crop up in the novel. Among the strong points in the book - read out by Alan Dein - was a description of how local children used to jump onto the speeding brewery dray carts for illicit and dangerous rides. John was one of those children! He described some of the East End pub singalongs when Robert would bring down his showbiz friends, top pianists (Robert himself was an excellent self-taught pianist), to play for the hell of it. Sadly he was unable to identify "Pinkie" the mixed race girl the main character, based on Robert himself, was in love with and did not know whether Pinkie was real or fictional. But John did describe how he would regularly go to an Asian household, with his pot, to pick up a curry made in the back kitchen - that family would later open the first Asian restaurant on Brick Lane.
John was also a "shabbes goy" when he was a child - a gentile who would perform "work" tasks for Orthodox Jews living in the area, such as lighting candles or getting fires going, as Orthodox people cannot work on shabbes (this was long before time switches or central heating). Another Five Leaves writer, Roger Mills, who still lives in the East End, emailed later to say that his mother and aunt were also shabbes goys in the area between the wars. 
The launch was one of those where fact and fiction, East End history and family legends began to blur as the family remembered more of their past and others remembered more of their East End.