Sunday, 28 April 2013

Seeking the family of Walter Gregory

Some years ago Five Leaves published The Shallow Grave, a Spanish Civil War memoir by Walter Gregory, who later died. We would like to reprint the book but have no contact for Walter's family or Estate. A similar note on this blog has produced contacts for two other families of deceased authors whose books we went on to publish, so here's hoping...

Saturday, 27 April 2013

On listening to Versions of the North

I was unable to attend the launch of our Versions of the North: contemporary Yorkshire poetry last week in Leeds at the wonderful Flux Gallery. I think about 23 of the poets in the book read, which is not a record but is a lot of poets. Last night the editor, Ian Parks, and three of the contributors - Steve Ely, Becky Cherriman and Elizabeth Barrett - read at Beeston Poets, and I was impressed. Ian remarked that among other things he wanted the book to represent the work of  some dead poets whose work was in danger of being forgotten and to present the work of a new generation of young Yorkshire poets (represented at this reading by Becky). Becky read well, with some of her poems being read from memory but I was particularly impressed with Ian's reading of poets no longer with us, and of a poem by Milner Place, who wrote his first poem at 65.
But what interested me most were the references to the miners' strike of 1984/85. There is material on this in the book, but it was by chance that the platform included two poets whose Yorkshire fathers were on strike the whole year and Elizabeth, Liz, whose brother was on strike throughout but whose father was one of the few Yorkshire colliers who returned to work. Liz herself was involved in strike support in London where she was then living. Ian read his "Strikebreakers" poem which includes the verse:
They weren't there when the brass bands played / and the banners were unfurled, / When the men marched to the pit gate / as if they'd won the day.  / They weren't there when the promises were made.
The whole poem is worth reading.
Steve went further back to the years prior to the great strike when "Arthur Scargill" (the title of the poem) raised miners' wages and respect, those who had previously been:
The lowest of the low and low-paid / the primary men; farmhands, quarrymen, colliers
 - a poem that ends
You brought them health and Palma de Majorca, / Cortinas on the drive and kids in college / reading Marx and Mao and The Wealth of Nations.
This set the stage for Liz - whose poems were mostly about other things - to find a poem from an early collection, a poem she described as a bit creaky (I regret I did not note its name) but which described the situation she found herself in, becoming estranged from her father as she was there the four o'clock morning he joined the strikebreakers, with a policeman posted in his drive. The estrangement is only now receding.
Ian, in his introduction, had remarked about the Yorkshire facility for direct speech, and that the collection was direct in what the writers had to say. And here we were, back in 1984, every emotion clear. Direct all right.
And I could not help feel, in listening to Ian's last brilliant reading of the late Mabel Ferrett's "Atherton Moor, 1643" and the late Stanley Cook's "Towton",  that these bloody battles were somehow connected to Cortonwood, to Orgreave, where skirmishes took place and our modern history was changed.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

This has nothing to do with horses

In a shock move, Horses-4-U  has closed one of its two smithies in Leicester and announced that as leases come to an end they will close further smithies in towns where they have more than one branch. Earlier news indicated further a decline in independently-owned smithies for the tenth year in a row. A spokesperson for Horses-4-U said "Our business is still very healthy, especially as some branches are now selling automobiles. Our in-store Ford dealership will have no impact on our commitment to horses." In a related story, published in the Foalbreeder, it was reported that H4U had closed many smithies at veterinary colleges saying that students were no longer interested in farrying any more.
Nobody is completely sure why the public is no longer interested in horses, and horseriding circles are popular. Many local authorities are selling off their horse stock despite a huge demand for ponies.  The one growth area is rodeos, with something like 140 rodeos now operating each year in Britain. For many people going to a rodeo is the only time they see horses in the flesh, together with their riders.
Meanwhile, courses in horseriding, horse maintenance, blacksmithery and advanced equestrian studies continue to proliferate. Within an hour of where I live there are universities with equestrian courses at the University of Nottingham (two courses), Nottingham Trent University, De Montfort University, Derby University, Sheffield Hallam, Bishop Grosseteste (Lincoln) as well as a voluntary college of horse riding in Leicester and an overall agency for the area called Riding East Midlands which helps aspiring jockeys and those already involved in horseracing.
Manufacturers of saddles and horse blankets are reporting declining sales, leading to mergers and a reduction in employment for riders and a slowdown in sales of horseshoes. The industry is increasingly dependent on unpaid labour from stablelads and lasses.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Announcing a change of cover (now that is a boring subject heading)

At Lowdham Book Festival, one of the venues we use regularly is the Primitive Methodist Chapel, a lovely old Victorian building, little changed. On the main table is a carved block of wood. For years I wondered about it until I sat at the right angle and suddenly saw the letters JESUS in relief. Some people never see it, others immediately. Perhaps you see what you expect to see, or want to see, and it took a while before JESUS came into my life, as it were. I only mention this because of our new cover for London E1. I never really liked the old cover, not least as it did not express the joi de vivre of the novel (though, rest assured, not all the novel was full of joi de anything) and of the East End. Not that it put people off - the first printing sold out - but that gave us a chance to change the front. And here it is... When I first printed it out I could not see the "E1" thinking it looked more like an ill-fitting jigsaw and anyway the full title is "London E... oh, there it is". Now I can't see the jigsaw, and E1 is perfectly clear. I hope it is for readers.
The photos we used this time came from Robert Poole's nephew, John Charlton, who showed us a series of pictures of East End street life, including one of a charabanc trip. They all appeared on the Spitalfields Life website. Thanks, for these John.

Monday, 22 April 2013

Huddersfield Town in an away match

 London Fictions was launched last night at the Phoenix Artist Club in the West End, just off Charing Cross Road, once the heart, and still important in London's book land. An intrepid team of authors from the book had already done events at Housmans and at the Bishopsgate Institute and there are plenty more to follow, but this was the launch and quite a few of the contributors read from the books that inspired their chapters in London Fictions.
In introducing the evening I commented that although Five Leaves was based in Nottingham, and I hail from the land of the (vegetarian) haggis, we have a long interest in London fiction, London culture, London history, particularly of the old Jewish East End. I don't really know how to explain this interest, but I was followed by Andrew Whitehead - still a strong supporter of Huddersfield Town football club - who described how he came to London and fell in love with the place. If you check out his and his own personal website you will see how this comes out. In the book, if you have not seen it, each chapter talks about one important London novel but is followed by a description of the setting now. Some are written by the chapter contributor, but many are written by Andrew, who dragged his teenage son round some unfamiliar streets of London to familiarise himself with the setting.
Others followed - fellow editor Jerry White, now living in the London suburb of Leamington Spa, Susie Thomas in London-on-sea ie Brighton and others who live in the city but all of whom find inspiration in the streets around them, and the literature of that most multi-cultural of cities.
Of course 26 books are not enough to fully give the flavour of the city. There are more essays on and I think we will have a "More London Fictions" in due course.
Apart from contributors, the launch was attended by people from Housmans (which carries perhaps the best chosen London section of any bookshop) and Joseph's Bookstore, a couple of London fiction reading groups, people from History Workshop and
Our New London Editions series and this book has tapped into a discrete group of readers and writers who know their city and know their literature. We'll continue to do this. Not dissing Nottingham, but I do so wish we could move Five Leaves to London.

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Dropping acid with RD Laing

This is Phil Cohen, which, if the heading is correct, indicates that ingesting a lot of LSD in your younger years keeps you youthful-looking but leaves you with an inability to keep your desk tidy. Actually, Phil - who is I think 69 - is very young looking, but the desk (what are all those bits of paper?) was where he was signing copies of his new Five Leaves book, Reading Room Only: memoir of a radical bibliophile and his new Lawrence & Wishart book, On the Wrong Side of the Track? East London and the Post Olympics at the book launch last night.
Both publishers are grateful to Jagdish Gundara of the International Centre for Intercultural Education and Toby Butler of the Raphael Samuel History Centre for hosting the launch and to the many people who attended.
It was something of an achievement for both small publishers to produce the books in time for the launch. The memoir was a complicated book, involving some changes in direction and emphases as we went along while Sally Davidson at L & W was dealing with the addition, at a late stage, of a 43,000 word chapter. Chapter! Fortunately, as Phil remarked, Sally is good at filleting but not gutting.
Reading Room Only will be in shops shortly - copies are still being bound, and we only had enough for the launch, but it is worth waiting for.
The book is in two, or perhaps, three parts. The shorter part is an account of Phil Cohen's bookish but lonely Bloomsbury childhood leading to an unsuccessful time at university, followed by him running away to sea. The second - eyecatching - section is of his involvement in the counterculture of the 1960s. He was "Dr John", the leader of the mass (1,000+) squat of 144 Piccadilly, meeting Allen Ginsburg and Michael X, taking LSD with RD Laing - his therapist, setting up Street Aid, a counterculture support system and - as a result of writing about the street scene - a gradual move into academia. Phil's eventual academic career is covered, though in highlight only, as the book turns into a memoir of reading.
The Reading Room at the British Museum had been his escape from the pressures of activism, and the remainder of the book is devoted to an exploration of the culture of the Reading Room, reading in general, the private library and the world of the book collector. The book runs to a close with a discussion of the ten books that changed the author's life.
In keeping with the subject, this is one book we are not turning into an ebook, and Reading Room Only is hardback only, but at an affordable, £14.99 price.
At the event, introducing Phil Cohen, I talked about how - until the third rewrite of the book, which introduced a discussion of the name - Cohen - and his namesake Phil Cohen I'd thought he was the other Phil Cohen, with whom I'd been discussing book projects by email but had never met. The two Phil Cohens lives and careers have overlapped, though they have never met. I said that this book was only published because I thought he was the other one, as we'd continued to discuss book projects. There were a few cheap laughs at my and Phil's expense about this confusion. Only afterwards did I find that my fellow publisher L & W was well into publishing the other Phil Cohen's Children of the Revolution when they found out he was not this one. As a result of the Olympics book (naturally, both Cohens have had an involvement in the Olympics, even if this one was in critiquing it) L & W have two Phil Cohens on their list, and I almost did at Five Leaves, and hope one day that I will.
If there is a third Phil Cohen out there writing books of interest to either publisher, please change your name.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

A report from the London Book Fair I didn't quite get to this year

"See you at the book fair?" is a common greeting among us publishing types, the book fair in question being the London International Book Fair. The grown up part of the trade staggers from book fair to book fair, and occasionally kind-hearted but naive writers ask if I am going to Frankfurt this year. Why? To do what? Am I made of money? It costs £200, last I looked, to have a shelf at the London Book Fair on the Five Leaves distributor's stand, that's six books, face out, ie insignificant when some publishers hire spaces the size of a small city but it gives you a base to leave your bulging bag of catalogues, somewhere to sit and somewhere to arrange meetings in order to pretend you are doing business. To go to Frankfurt, the really big fair, would bankrupt us.
The London Book Fair is huge - over at CB Editions' blog ( Charles Boyle gives the flavour of the place quite nicely. It is crammed with young women in little black numbers and important looking men and women all doing important deals with each other though you do wonder, in an electronic age, why it is all so necessary. Certainly as a bookseller it was good to see the advance books by publishers, and to think ahead, but mostly I find myself wandering around aimlessly, looking as lost as the occasional everyday writer or reader who has accidentally strayed into something almost, but not quite, to do with them.
Of course the days of the big deals are over and there is more going on now for the groundlings, otherwise attendance would drop off. There are more seminars, talks and meetings and, perhaps, the scale is a little more human.
There are plenty receptions. One year - gatecrashing a party I found my then partner in an animated discussion about Canadian literature with a rather distinguished-looking man. "Why did he start talking about Canadian literature, and who was he anyway?" she asked me on leaving... It was the Canadian publishing village and he was the Canadian ambassador, but somehow she had not noticed. Another year a colleague and I attended the Swedish publishing reception as the seats looked comfy, hoping that nobody would talk to us about Swedish writers, none of whom we could remember.
One year I decided to do the book fair properly. Fixed meetings, tried to sell rights, obtain distribution deals. Be a joiner. Be professional. I came away having sold nothing, but bought rights to two books from an American publisher I'd tried to sell some of our rights to. They saw me coming.
Sadly, the economy means there is less to pick up for free. One year I wrote an article for The Bookseller  about the freebies at the book fair. For years afterwards people in the trade would mention the article.
I'm sorry not to go this year. It is time, and I rather feel that I am somehow not being a publishing professional by missing the book fair. So, next year, I'll dust off my little black number. Meet me at the Canadian book trade reception. Time to catch up with that ambassador.

Friday, 12 April 2013

New from Five Leaves, Ship of Fools by Rod Madocks

Some years ago I got an email from someone called Graham de Max, offering his new book, a novel. The subject sounded interesting, but I was not looking for new material. However I knew Graham de Max slightly, a housing officer in the town I live,  and didn't want to be rude, especially as my partner had worked with him on refugee matters. An email conversation ensued that soon began to make less and less sense. To cut a long story short, the approach had been by one Rod Madocks, wanting Five Leaves to publish his novel, but because of the sensitive nature of the novel he wanted to use a pseudonym. One of his favourite writers is Graham Greene, and the de Max came from the interesting character of Max de Winter in Rebecca - hence Graham de Max.
In due course Rod's real identity came out - I knew of him too, he was a mental health worker in Nottingham, who'd worked directly with my partner. He'd never heard of the real Graham de Max.
I thought I'd look at the manuscript to give a bit of friendly advice, which I normally try to avoid... But in the end we published the book, and it did well, being shortlisted for the ITV Thriller Award, enabling us to change the cover from a rather dire brown set of stairs to a moody secure hospital corridor.
I insisted Rod publish under his own name, as I wanted to set up readings for him, and in any case he was not the best picker of pseudonymous names. And so No Way To Say Goodbye appeared, a rather creepy novel about a mental health worker who obsessively tries to trace what happened to his murdered girlfriend among the ranks of his charges in mental health secure prisons. Well worth reading.
Last night we launched his second book, Ship of Fools - stories from the mental health front line. These stories comprise twenty in number, one for each year Rod spent in mental health. Though the stories are in the first person, they are fictional, but like his first book real places and real cases are mentioned to give the impression of personal experience. The narrator - as in the first book - is not necessarily a nice person, especially to his colleagues, and veers from being bored and sick of his charges through to the most tremendous empathy for them. In some stories the narrator just watches, reports and tries to be a reliable witness. The "ships of fools" - the narrenschiffe - were packed with the insane, and sailed off down the Rhine by Hanseatic cities five centuries ago, and aboard this ship are the narrator, his many charges and those whose lives intersect with those who are insane.
The book will be of interest to anyone working in mental health, or living with serious mental health problems, or people trying to understand mental health.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

The Iron Age 1973-2013

Stormy Sea at Cullercoats by John Falconar Slater

If you are anywhere near the North East there is only one place to be between 15-19th May and that is at Cullercoats for "A seaside words and music festival" celebrating Iron Press's fortieth anniversary. Iron Press has been run since its inception by Peter Mortimer - he is also the author of five or six books published by Five Leaves. I well remember him in bookshop days in the '80s coming to Mushroom Bookshop in Nottingham with copies of Iron Magazine. He had more hair back then but his fashion sense remains the same, lots of rings, lots of bright reds, yellows and oranges, a hat with a haiku on it...
His home in Cullercoats is no less vivid. At one time his Marden Terrace home had a neon haiku on its roof and the kitchen has a wall covered in panels painted individually by dozens of north east artists. And it is the connections to other types of writers, musicians and artists that will make the Iron weekend "not your average literary festival".
Where else can you put to sea in a boat to write haiku (an Iron specialism) or find most of the readings followed or interspersed with musicians from the north east? The sea - predictably - plays a major part with events at the RNLI, the local fish and chip shop and the fishermen's mission. Though Peter will be introducing some events the weekend is about Iron, not him, but we'll be there throughout the weekend with his books on a bookstall and take part as much as we can get away - though perhaps skipping the Iron Press Snooker Tournament.
I know I'll come back with a few publications but these will include Nesting, a set of short stories by David Almond, published for the anniversary - David Almond's first two books were published by Iron - and Through the Iron Age - an editor's forty year journey, a pamphlet by Peter. The other writers involved in the weekend include Melvyn Bragg - published by Iron in 1975 and the former assistant editor of Iron magazine, the shy and retiring Ian McMillan.
Apart from Peter Mortimer, other Five Leaves writers appearing include Andy Croft, in a short reprise of his Iron Press Great North, a collection written for The Great North Run. Participants in a two and a half mile run on the seafront will be given a signed copy of the book. Good job I bought mine years ago. There are also a few authors who have appeared in Five Leaves' anthologies.
But compared to Iron, Five Leaves is a young whippersnapper, twenty-two years younger. When Iron Press started Ted Heath was Prime Minister and Margaret Thatcher was quite unknown.
It is quite something to run a small press for forty years. Well done Iron Press! Well done Peter Mortimer!

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

New from Five Leaves, Things of Substance by Liz Cashdan

Things of Substance: New & Selected PoemsLiz Cashdan's Laughing All the Way was the third book to be published under the Five Leaves imprint, sometime in 1995 and Liz appeared in our collection of Jewish women's poetry - The Dybbuk of Delight, published in same year. We haven't been her only publisher, which is fine of course, but her most regular one. I'd known her from a previous collection shared with others, published by Smith/Doorstop. I was particularly taken by the "The Tyre/Cairo Letters" sequence that won the Wingate Award and which made up the back end of Laughing All the Way. It  re-appears in her newly published New and Selected collection, Things of Substance. Among the Selected there are "threads" that appeared in her 2009 Five Leaves pamphlet The Same Country, some of her other threads - South Africa, Israel, landscape, run throughout this book.
Liz - a resident of Sheffield - also appears in our new collection of contemporary Yorkshire poetry, Versions of the North, of which more soon, and it was good to see her again at the small press fair in Sheffield and to have been publishing her off and on for eighteen years.
This collection was organised, designed and typeset by Pippa, from the Five Leaves office, with external editing advice from Cathy Grindrod (who has graced Five Leaves anthologies and pamphlet series before). I came in only to say nice things about the cover and for a final proof-read. Of course if you are proof-reading you don't quite take in the text so I'll shortly have the pleasure of sitting down to read the book properly from cover to cover. Being something of a control freak it can be difficult to let Five Leaves' books appear without shaking my head wearily and saying "I woudn't do that personally" but when it happens I quite like it. Copies of Things of Substance are available from or from bookshops.