Sunday, 31 March 2013

Late news about Trent Bookshop has just come in

Geraldine Monk has edited a book of "recollections of poetry in transition" called Cusp (Shearsman), something she describes as a collective autobiography  of those involved in writing and publishing poetry between WWII and the advent of the world wide web. Clearly Geraldine sees the web as - hit me for using the phrase - a game changer - but the strength of the book is in the articles by people who are mostly in their seventies discussing their golden age. And, from here, it looked golden, with a tremendous flourishing of small presses  and reading series. The same names crop up again and again in the articles - Morden Tower, Tom Pickard, Jon Silkin, Basil Bunting, David Tipton, the Liverpool Poets, the Oriel Bookshop in Wales, Poetmeat, Poetry Information... This from a time not only before the internet but at a time when not everyone had a telephone. How did people organise then?
The best writer of the little press world is included - Jim Burns with the wonderfully titled chapter "The Left Bank of the Ribble" and this is followed by Hannah Neate on the Trent Book Shop in Nottingham. What? I had to sit down...
When I came to Nottingham in 1979 there was one very strong radical bookshop, opened in 1972, the remnants of a Communist Party shop and a soon to close Pathfinder (Trotskyist) Bookshop, but several people had mentioned Bux, an avant garde shop that had got into financial difficulties and closed in 1972. Actually, few people mentioned it. And here it was in its earlier, more successful life as the Trent Book Shop, by the Nottingham Forest ground, specialising in small press books from all over the UK, America and elsewhere. In all it ran from 1964-1972. Hannah Neate has written a superb description of the bookshop's life, its holdings, its own publishing and its reading. And I never knew a thing about it, despite working in bookselling and publishing in the city since I arrived.
I immediately rang my friend John Lucas from Shoestring, who both knows Hannah and was a regular customer of the shop - saying that the Trent bookshop was often packed on match days with Forest supporters calling in to pick up the latest poetry. Somehow he - and all the other veterans who must have used the shop - had never mentioned it.
And what of Poetry 66 - the shop's poetry festival? Here's the line up: Adrian Mitchell, Robert Garioch, Alan Brownjohn, Hugh MacDiarmid, Edward Lucie-Smith, Bob Cobbing, Dom Sylvester Houedard, Tom Pickard, George Macbeth, Edwin Morgan, Jon Silkin, Roy Fisher, Anselm Hollo, Ed Dorn, Michael Shayer, Ron Johnson, Gael Turnbull, Jonathan Williams, Jeff Nuttall, John Furnival, Cavan McCarthy, John James, Nick Wayte, Peter Armstrong, Andrew Crozier, Tom Clark, Pete Brown, Tom McGrath, Brian Patten, Adrian Henri, Michael Horovitz, Spike Hawkins, Nathanial Tarn, Vernon Scannell, GS Fraser and Jim Burns.
Crikey, one small bomb would have wiped out almost the entire small press scene of the time. Apart from women. There were of course fewer women involved in the small press scene then than now, but a festival with this sort of line up and NO women? I asked John Lucas who said this was noticed and he organised a sort of protest reading with a fine woman poet from Nottingham of that period, Madge Hales. But even so, this was some line up and indicative of the national and international contacts Trent had.
This was the period of Ultima Thule in Newcastle, Better Books and Indica in London, the Paperback Bookshop in Edinburgh (where I was a regular customer), Unicorn in Brighton - all of which I knew of, and all of which I'd read about. Yet somehow the news of this shop, down the road from me, was news.
And the rest of the book is fascinating too.

A hundred years of radical bookselling in 800 words

“A huge comrade called Boris...” 

Radical bookselling has a long history. In Nottingham there was a freethought bookshop in 1826. It had to fight for its survival against a daily picket, during which the shop was broken open and attempts were made to drag out the proprietor, Mrs Susannah Wright. So successful was the shop, in seeing off the local Committee for the Suppression of Vice, that the rather brave Mrs Wright was able to move to larger premises.
The early days of radical booksellers did not have it easy but although there were physical bookshops, such as The Advanced Bookstore in Liverpool which, in 1906, advertised “socialistic, labour, trade union and freethought” books, most sales were hand to hand. Robert Tressell's The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists describes the Clarion socialists coming to Mugsborough (Hastings) by cycle and by van “and selling penny pamphlets, of which they managed to dispose of about three dozen” having initially been run out of town. Fortunately other places were more receptive and socialist paperbacks (in circulation long before Allen Lane invented Penguin in 1935) sold by the tens of thousands.
The first bookshop chains in the UK were started by the Communist Party, with their Modern Books, People's Bookshops, Thames Bookshops and others. These shops spread way beyond the CP's industrial heartlands to market towns such as King's Lynn and Gloucester. The CP did know how to sell - in 1946 Key Books in Birmingham wrote that in the previous five years they had distributed over two million pamphlets and periodicals, with a sale of £50,000, then a huge sum of money. Looking back, it is easy to mock the books that CP shops actually sold, as Nancy Mitford did in The Pursuit of Love, where “...Linda worked in a Red bookshop... run by a huge, perfectly silent comrade called Boris” as she gradually changed the stock, replacing Whither British Airways with Round the World in 40 Days
Come the 1960s and 70s the Communist Party shops were in decline, replaced by a new generation of radical outfits. The politics were avant garde, libertarian, utopian and while the life of some, like Beautiful Stranger in Rochdale, was short, News from Nowhere in Liverpool will be celebrating its 39th birthday on May 1st.
Many of these shops were run collectively, influenced by feminism and black liberation, and by personal growth movements. Notice boards – find one of them in Waterstones! - were as likely to advertise a circle dance group as a demonstration against the National Front. Some shops saw Henry Miller as radical, drawing inspiration from the City Lights bookstore in San Francisco but by and large feminism kept the boys in check.
In 1982, The Other Branch in Leamington brought out a pamphlet describing its first ten years during which the shop moved from being a hippie haunt, complete with the late 60s paraphernalia of king-size Rizla papers, to being a serious bookshop. The best sellers during those years were The Herb Book; The Golden Notebook (fiction by Doris Lessing); The Bean Book (vegetarian cooking); The Massage Book; Protest and Survive (anti-nuclear); The Very Hungry Caterpillar (children's book); Woman on the Edge of Time (feminist fiction by Marge Piercy); The Prophet by Kahil Gibran); Guide to Growing Marijuana; and Guide to British Psylocybin Mushrooms. It is easy to mock these idealist days too but this – fairly representative – example of one bookshop's sales prefigured the interest in healthy living and green concerns. These shops were influential within the biggest protest movement since the 1930s, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, and survived under constant pressure from the far right and occasional raids from the police over political or gay books. Some shops were firebombed, staff members were attacked and, just as Mrs Wright found in 1826, lots of people did not like radical bookshops but many people did.
In 1991 I wrote an article for Tribune expressing concern that the number of radical bookshops had fallen to 114, never thinking that the number would shrink drastically. There were often obvious reasons for closures – SisterWrite and Silver Moon did not survive the waning of the feminist movement; in Norwich Freewheel was left isolated by traffic changes; in Manchester Grassroots developed a reputation of being “holier than thou”. High rents saw off others. But what changed was that there were few openings, fewer people prepared to work long hours for fairly low pay. The wheel is now turning. There are a few new shops, the London anarchist bookfair is attracting record numbers and on May 11th there will be a radical bookfair in London, associated with the new Bread and Roses Award for Radical Publishing.

About Five Leaves

We had to write this for another purpose, but in case you wondered, here's 400 words describing what we do.

Five Leaves Publications ( is a small publishing house in Nottingham, active since 1996, with roots in the radical and literary worlds.

Five Leaves publishes social history (writers include Colin Ward, William J Fishman, Gillian Darley), crime fiction (Stephen Booth, Russel McLean, Danuta Reah), young adult fiction (Bali Rai, David Belbin, Alan Gibbons), fiction (Rod Madocks, Jonathan Wilson, J. David Simons) and a wide range of books of secular Jewish interest including books on Jewish involvement in rock and jazz music. Our poetry list includes a number of anthologies, including the new Versions of the North: contemporary Yorkshire poetry, and individual collections by, for example, Andy Croft and Joanne Limburg.

Five Leaves lead title this spring is London Fictions, a set of essays on important London novels from the days of George Gissing to modern times with Zadie Smith. Essayists include Ken Worpole, Sarah Wise, Cathi Unsworth and Jerry White. This collection complements our New London Editions imprint, which reprints forgotten “London” novels including books by Alexander Baron and Roland Camberton.

Five Leaves is an activist press, jointly running the long-standing Lowdham Book Festival in Nottinghamshire and States of Independence in Leicester, promoting independent publishing. In 2011 we worked with the Cable Street Group celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Cable Street, publishing five books for the occasion. In 2012 we organised an international event in London commemorating the 60th anniversary of Stalin's murder of most of the leadership of the Soviet Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, publishing a collection of translations of the Soviet Yiddish writers who were executed. This year we organised a dayschool on Nottinghamshire working class writing tying in with a photographic exhibition based on Alan Sillitoe's Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. This followed a day event in 2010 a few months after Alan Sillitoe died. Together with Derbyshire Libraries we also organised a day event with young adult writers.

With such diverse interests and a diverse range of writers, we now bring out an annual journal written by our regular and irregular writers as well as others who publish elsewhere but are close to the press. These book length collections include Maps and Utopia, with Crime following this summer and Rock in 2014.

Join our email list via or follow us on Facebook or read

Saturday, 30 March 2013

Beeston Poets spring season

Beeston Poets announces Spring Season.
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Beeston Poets
Press Release, March 2013
For immediate release

Following the success of our inaugural season in 2012, Beeston Poets is back with another season of some of the most interesting poetry that is happening now.
All events take place at Beeston Library, Foster Avenue, Beeston, Nottingham NG9 1AW.

Versions of the North: Contemporary Yorkshire PoetryVersions of the North, Friday April 26th 2013, 7.30pm

Featuring Ian Parks,
Elizabeth Barrett, Steve Ely
and Becky Cherriman

Tickets £7.50, £5.50 concessions
Yorkshire has a vibrant and diverse range of poets and poetry, following in the footsteps of such luminaries as Andrew Marvell, Philip Larkin and Ted Hughes. Versions of the North, edited by Ian Parks and published by Five Leaves in April 2013, is the first anthology of modern Yorkshire poetry since Vernon Scannell's 1984 Contemporary Yorkshire Poetry. Parks has created a collection that showcases sixty-two of the best of today’s Yorkshire poets.
Pippa Hennessy of Five Leaves says, ‘Ian has put together a stunning collection of contemporary poems that all have a quintessential seam of pure Yorkshire running through their hearts."

Ophelia's SistasOphelia's Sistas, Friday May 24th 2013, 7.30pm

Featuring Char March
and Valerie Laws

Tickets £7.50, £5.50 concessions
Last July acclaimed poets Char March and Valerie Laws wowed the audience at Southwell Library Poetry Festival. It is impossible to describe how good it was to those who missed it, so now here’s another chance to hear these two very different voices. Char March’s ‘The Thousand Natural Shocks’ and Valerie Laws’ ‘All that Lives’ come together and take their audiences on an exploration of pathology, wild sex, dementia, lost pigeons, flirting at funerals, dogs in space, insanity – and more! Their poetry is deeply moving and side-splittingly funny. Sheelagh Gallagher, Nottinghamshire’s Literature and Reading Development Officer, says, ‘It was more like a firework display than a collaboration!’

Whistle, Martin FiguraWhistle, by Martin Figura, Friday July 5th 2013

A multimedia performance
produced by Martin Figura
and Apples & Snakes

Tickets £7.50, £5.50 concessions
At the centre of Martin Figura’s Whistle is his mother’s death at the hands of his father when he was nine years old. The work goes beyond this shocking central event to present us with a tender, beautiful, funny and moving coming-of-age story. Figura uses gentle humour and insight to give the reader and audience a profound and uplifting experience. The book was published by Arrowhead Press in 2010. The poem ‘Victor’ was awarded the Poetry Society’s 2010 Hamish Canham Prize, and the book together with the show was short-listed for the 2010 Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry. Cathy Grindrod, on behalf of Nottingham Poetry Society, says, ‘I will never forget seeing Whistle for the first time. Moving, powerful, memorable and highly recommended.’
“Profoundly honest and at the same time joyfully entertaining” – Independent on Sunday

About Beeston Poets

Beeston Poets is a joint venture between Nottinghamshire Library Services, Nottingham Poetry Society and Five Leaves Publications. The aim of the project is to bring top-quality poetry to a local audience of both readers and writers of poetry.

Further Information

For further information please contact Pippa Hennessy,, 07970 274321.
Our website is

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Why was this journey to London different from all others?

Anyone who has been to a Pesach/Passover will recognise this mangling of one of the "four questions" asked at the seder/Passover meal. This year I spent the second night of Passover at the London Jewish Socialists' Group seder organised largely by one of our writers, David Rosenberg, and his partner, Julia Bard (who contributed to our book on Jewish motherhood) and tied in a couple of side trips to some older Jewish socialist friends also associated with Five Leaves, and the Group for that matter.
First call was Esther Brunstein, the widow of the painter Stanislaw Brunstein whose paintings of pre-war Poland we published in 1999. The Vanished Shtetl is unfortunately out of print now. Esther was a member of SKIF, the pre-war socialist organisation for young people, affiliated to the Bund, whose idea inform the JSG's policies today. Esther was in Lodz ghetto and survived Auschwitz. On her arrival in Sweden, after a time in a Displaced Persons camp she was in touch with the American Jewish Labor Committee. Her request to them was not for clothes or money but to ask if they could shikt bicher - send books. Not surprisingly, she is still surrounded by bicher and some of the paintings that appeared in her husband's book.
At the seder itself, during the cultural contributions and readings, one person read Bernard Kops' best-known poem, Whitechapel Library - Aldgate East (which appears in our Bernard Kops' East End). The poem includes the lines: "And Rosenberg also came to get out of the cold / To write poems of fire, but he never grew old". The Rosenberg in question was of course the poet and painter Isaac Rosenberg... no relation to our Dave Rosenberg, but his first cousin was there, the veteran socialist Chanie Rosenberg, aged ninety. Chanie sketched the life of her cousin, who rose out of East End Jewish poverty but whose life was cut short during WWI. I knew of Chanie but it never occurred to me that she could have been a cousin of someone whose poetry has meant so much, and of course was written so long ago.
The day after the seder I visited William - Bill - and Doris Fishman (pictured). Bill is 92 now, Doris 91. He is rather proud that his last guided tour of the Jewish East End was only five years ago, but frustrated that he can no longer get out and about. Bill and Doris also rose out of East End poverty. Bill is still amused that a "Yiddisher boy" from the East End became a visiting professor at Balliol. I must have bought his book  The Streets of East London soon after first publication in 1979, but in the mid-2000s Five Leaves took over publication of Bill's books from Duckworth, publishing Streets..., East End Jewish Radicals 1875-1915 and East End 1888. Later we republished his first book, The Insurrectionists. They still sell, steadily, and are still borrowed from libraries. Bill was pleased that he'd had a good Public Lending Right payment recently - not for the money but because it showed his books are still being used.
It is no co-incidence that the organiser of East End radical walking tours now is... David Rosenberg, which comes in handy for sales of our Battle for the East End: Jewish responses to fascism in the 1930s, by Dave. Now that the walking season is at least in the offing you might want to check out

Saturday, 23 March 2013

London Fictions book launch

You would be very welcome, but even if you can't come, check out the venue..., because we will have other launches there.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

New from Five Leaves, London Fictions

This is our lead title for the spring. Print now, ebook shortly. See events and readings page for London Fictions events at Housmans, Bishopsgate Institute, Broadway Bookshop... with more to follow

Sunday, 17 March 2013

States round up

As with Lowdham's winter weekend a few postings ago, it is difficult to give an objective review of your own event, but I'll try. The fourth States of Independence took place over the weekend - as mentioned in the last posting. Over 300 attended (we have ways of counting people), with most people staying for most of the day. This was a bit down on past years - though more people stayed for longer. These two points were partly related as in previous years I'd spent a lot of time contacting special interest groups whose members might not have been interested in the whole day, but might have been interested in one particular event so that diverse grouping was not so numerous, and, for no apparent reason, there were fewer students around this year. Return to that aspect next time, I think.
The organising team had a disproportionate number of non-literary issues to deal with in the run up. At one stage I was all for skipping a year but my more realistic colleagues (at the Creative Writing Team at De Montfort) felt we would lose momentum so even if we went for a much smaller event we should keep going. But we still had 24 events, as originally planned, and one more bookstall than previous years. And people did stay longer. Last year one of our last slots had nobody but the speakers but (unless I have yet to hear) nothing was embarrassing this year. The traditional organisers' view of events starts with complete failure, moves up to embarrassing and anything above embarrassing is a great success... And some of our events throughout the day were packed to the gunnels, or if not packed, the right amount of people for a specialist event and some good discussion. At the LGBT writers meeting people said the discussion was particularly intense. Good. And many were a great success.
Stall takings are always interesting, though perhaps mostly to other stall holders. We had difficulties with the stall layout meaning a couple of awkward pinch points stopped people getting round as much as I'd have liked, but the stall with the worst position (Shearsman), who is given a free extra table to make up, had their best year so far. Their display is always attractive and I think the firm knows that the specialist poetry buyers will find them and flash the cash.
This was the first year I've ever gone to one of the events as I'm usually on the info point/Five Leaves stall, but this year was in conversation with Alison Moore, our local Booker shortlisted writer, published by the indie press Salt. That event was packed and Alison is a delight to interview. Five Leaves' Pippa Hennessy ran two sessions on ebooks, one on theory, one on practice. Pippa is now running a lot of these sessions. If I could have left the stall I'd have attended the rather riotous session on literary sex before and after 1963, the novelist Kerry Young's talk, that by an old friend and colleague Sarah Butler on "Ten things I've learnt about literature" (the title echoing the title of her first novel) and Maureen Makki on Sudanese women. Don't be surprised if all of these events are replicated in Lowdham during the summer. Of Five Leaves writers, Rod Madocks talked about his new set of short stories on mental health and Ian Parks (who is editing a book for us on Yorkshire poetry) gave a well-attended talk on Chartist poetry.
States also saw the announcement of the shortlist for the East Midlands Book Award. Two States organisers, Kathy Bell and I, are Trustees of EMBA, but the astonishing part of the announcement was that two of the other States organisers, Will Buckingham and Jonathan Taylor, were among the shortlisted writers and Alison Moore was one of our guest speakers on the day. Will and Jonathan even share an office at De Montfort. I'll post later on EMBA, but this year Leicester was particularly well represented on the shortlist of seven. When States was chosen for the announcement none of us knew who was on the shortlist or where they came from.
I should also mention that the day was supported financially by Creative Leicestershire. This enabled us to pay some people's travel from further away and reduce Five Leaves's financial subsidy to the event.
I also want to thank Cathy Galvin who stepped in at no notice to run the short story session with Charles Boyle after Ra Page from Comma Press had to drop out following a bereavement. We have not seen the last of Cathy around the East Midlands I think.
And special thanks to Simon Perril from DMU who, this year, was in charge of logistics, tech and DMU matters, and those students who helped with tables and with chairing.
Finally... it was a book festival... My purchases from other stalls were A Vanished Hand: my autograph album Anthony Rudoph (Shearsman), Ten Things I've Learnt about Love by Sarah Butler (Picador) and Getting the Coal: impressions of a twentieth century mining community edited by Jeane Carswell and Tracey Roberts (Mantle Oral History Project)

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Man with white shirt talks to someone who is clearly very interested...

Indie book fair to host awards announcement


Authors shortlisted for the East Midlands Book Award will be giving readings at a free independent literary festival which returns to Leicester this weekend.
It will be the first time the States of Independence book fair at De Montfort University (DMU) will host the announcement of the shortlist for the awards.
The festival programme on Saturday will also see star authors offering guidance to creative writers, talks on Chartist poetry, the lives of Sudanese women and unexplained phenomena, a discussion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender writing, performances of short plays and even a recital of Bulgarian guitar music.
States of Independence is a one day carnival of the feisty, the wayward, the unclassifiable, and the wilfully strange,” said Will Buckingham, DMU lecturer, philosopher, novelist and author of popular children’s picture-book, The Snorgh and the Sailor.
Admission will be free to the book fair, described as “a literary festival in a day,” which will be in the university's Clephan Building in Bonners Lane, off Oxford Street, from 10.30am to 4.30pm and will feature guest writers and publishers from the East Midlands and beyond.
Star guests will include Nottingham-based Alison Moore, whose first novel,The Lighthouse, was short-listed for last year's Booker Prize and Sarah Butler whose Ten Things I've Learnt About Love has created a stir in the publishing world.
The States of Independence festival will feature workshops, readings, panels, seminars, book launches, and regional writers of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, plays, artist books, magazines and journals.
Seventy writers, mostly from the East Midlands, will be reading from their work, and visitors will be able to learn everything they need to know about eBooks and comics.
Sessions at the festival will cater for readers and writers with a huge range of interests. One panel will be offering advice on setting up and marketing a small press and there will be two sessions offering advice on e-publishing.
Meanwhile the foyer and corridors will host nearly 40 stalls showcasing the best in indie publishing from the region and beyond.
The event is co-hosted by Five Leaves Publications from Nottingham and De Montfort University's Creative Writing team, with sponsorship from Creative Leicestershire.
“States of Independence is a splash of colour against the gray background of corporate publishing,” said Dr Simon Perril, DMU Subject Leader for Creative Writing and poet, author of Newton’s Splinter, Nitrate, and the forthcomingArchilochus on the Moon.
“It sets out to celebrate the abundance of independent creative energies within the region by putting on a day of events of impressive variety. Where else will you find debates about the e-book, talks on comics, discussions of unexplained phenomena, and readings of short stories about mental health in the same day!
“The East Midlands Book Award is open to any published books of fiction, poetry and creative non-fiction written in the preceding year by authors living in the East Midlands. So come to States and you not only get to hear who is nominated, you also get to buy their books before anyone else!
“Come along and find a range of fascinating titles you simply won’t find in high street chains bloated with celebrity autobiographies.”
Visitors will be welcome to pop in or to stay all day. The full programme is at

Monday, 11 March 2013

Five Leaves writer wins $150,000

The South African-born, Glasgow based, novelist and short-story writer Zoë Wicomb is one of two UK writers winning the Windham-Campbell award of $150,000 each (the other being the American-born playwright Naomi Wallace). Her latest book of short stories, The One that Got Away, was published by the Nottingham small independent Five Leaves and is the only one of her books available from a British publisher.
The One that Got Away is a collection linking her adopted residence of Glasgow with her country of birth.
The One That Got AwayZoë Wicomb is currently a Professor in the Department of English Studies at Strathclyde University and Visiting Professor at Stellenbosch University, South Africa. In addition to two collections of short stories, she has published two novels, David’s Story and Playing in the Light. She has also been one of the judges on the IMPAC literary award.
The appearance of Zoë Wicomb’s first set of short stories, You Can’t Get Lost in Capetown, precipitated the founding of a fan club that has come to include Toni Morrison, J.M. Coetzee, Bharati Mukherjee, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, and the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, TLS and the New Yorker, though she remains fairly unknown in this country.
The One That Got Away straddles dual worlds. An array of characters inhabits a complexly interconnected, twenty-first century universe. The author explores a range of human relationships: marriage, friendship, family ties, and relations with those who serve us. Wicomb’s fluid, shifting technique makes for exhilarating reading, full of ironic twists, ambiguities, and moments of insight.
The Donald Windham-Sandy M. Campbell literature prizes at Yale University recognize emerging and established writers for outstanding achievement in fiction, non-fiction, and drama. This is its inaugural year and nine writers were awarded $150,000 each.
Ross Bradshaw, from Five Leaves Publications, said, “I have been a big fan of Zoë Wicomb's work since her first collection of short stories was published by Virago in 1987. I was astonished to discover that she did not have a UK publisher subsequently, so I approached her for UK rights to her most recent short story collection, which has also been published in South Africa and the USA.”
Zoë Wicomb said, “This is a validation I would never have dreamt of. I am overwhelmed — and deeply grateful for this generous prize. It will keep me for several years, and it will speed up the writing too since I can now afford to go away when the first draft proves difficult to produce in my own house”.
Copies of The One that Got Away are available from Five Leaves. Zoë Wicomb is available for interview via Five Leaves. Please contact Ross Bradshaw via
Copies of The One That Got Away are available for purchase from

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Society of Authors' grants for writers

The closing date for this year's round of writers grants is at the end of April. The grant schemes are for writers in need, writers needing to buy time, and for specific dedicated projects:'%20Foundation.pdf 

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Reading is dead good

A few years ago, during a Philip Roth reading phase, his book Everyman appeared. Somehow I picked up that it would be one of his best, but avoided reviews, planning to reward myself with it after a particularly difficult period - the imminent death of my father. It was, as the Irish say, a good death though my ambition to make him read a novel before dying failed. He was widely read in poetry and non-fiction, especially history and biography, but saw novels as a waste of time. How did he know if, as claimed, he'd never read one? Standing over him with an Ian McEwan shouting "Repent!" did not work and he left the world unshriven, in a literary sense. On the train home from his death I pulled out Everyman to cheer myself up. Roth fans (or friends, who know all my stories as well as I do by now) will know that there could have been better choices as the novel focusses on a man in his fifties who has a heart attack on the way back from visiting his dying father.
I tried to read on, but started to have breathing difficulties and chest pains... Unfortunately the only other book in my bag was a new book on London cemeteries by Catharine Arnold, so the long train journey passed without reading.
I was keen to get home as we had a Five Leaves launch event that night, expected to be well attended. The publication was by Cathy Grindrod, a poetry collection called Still Breathing, a rather excellent set of poems being responses to... the death of her father. Cathy is a wonderful reader, but I can assure you I did not listen to a word.
The next day, calling in at my County Hall office (I was balancing being Nottinghamshire County Council's Literature Officer with running Five Leaves), a review copy of Matt Haig's latest novel  arrived in the post. One of the secretaries, Lu Blackband, was a big fan of Haig and I asked her if she wanted to borrow it and I'd read it after her. She blanched when she saw the title, which I had somehow overlooked in passing it straight to her - The Dead Father's Club.
Friends will know why this cameo came back to mind.

Lowdham winter weekend round up

It is difficult to review your own event without sounding vainglorious or, conversely, annoying the hell out of your fellow organisers, writers and volunteers by seeming to diss the work they have done, but I have to say Lowdham Book Festival's winter weekend was a great success, with all the sessions being nicely or well attended and all the speakers giving their best.
It's not all about numbers, but we had somewhere between 700 and 750 attendances over the weekend, with three of the events topping 100. We made a modest profit, which will go towards the bigger summer festival. Unlike summer, where we produce 10,000-15,000 brochures and do a lot of press work, publicity for the winter weekend comprises a couple of thousands leaflets, and email to our mailing list and an article, admittedly front page, in the local free paper, The Bramley. The winter weekend is aimed at our core audience and most of those attending were known suspects. The programme was aimed at them, with Catherine Bailey pulling in the country house fans, Polly Toynbee attracting the book festival left in what became something of a socialist rally, County Archivist Chris Weir attracting his local history fan base, Chris Arnot bringing in the chaps for a talk on beer and football, Roy Bainton playing to the fringe with his talk on weird things and Sheelagh Gallagher, a regular fixture at our events, bringing her followers along for a talk on secrets and lies (the theme of the weekend) in the work of Ian McEwan and Sarah Waters. Indeed, the only debut speakers at the weekend were the crime writer Sophie Hannah and our local Booker-shortlisted novelist Alison Moore. We could have done with a bigger audience for Sophie, but mostly because she was so good and our core audience would have loved her - the numbers were still very respectable for her talk, just there are times when you think that so-and-so and so-and-so would have loved that.
The section I enjoyed most though was interviewing Alison Moore. I had some slight worries as she has only written one novel and a group of scattered short stories, which have not yet been collected, so I was probably the only person who'd read more than the novel, but she was just so easy to interview and the audience loved her. I'll post a later blog on Alison soon, but we are doing another run at it on the 16th at States of Independence in Leicester if you missed her at Lowdham.
The best winter weekends always have a theme, though "Secrets and Lies" is so usefully broad it could just about describe any of our festival content, certainly on the fiction front.
Jane Streeter (fellow organiser) and I had a great time, so thanks to our audience, our speakers, our front of house (especially Liz and Richard Kaczor who attended everything), Mm Deli who ran the cafe and the various stall holders and publishers who we worked with.
The summer Lowdham Book Festival runs from 21-29th June. If you would like to be on our mailing list email with mailing list in the heading.
Given it was a book festival, I should that I left with a pamphlet on the Nottingham artist Marjorie Bates (a cousin of Laura Knight), who I'd not heard of previously, Ian McEwan's children's book Rose Blanch, Karen Maitland's latest medieval murder, The Falcons of Fire and Ice - we'll be asking Karen to come to Lowdham this summer - and a proof copy of Sophie Hannah's next novel.