Wednesday 16 December 2015

Roses and Revolutionaries

Big spread in today's Newcastle Journal about Roses and Revolutionaries, the story of the Clousden Hill colony by NIgel Todd (pictured). The book is launched tomorrow at Newcastle Library with Rob Turnbull's book about the Plebs League in the North East.

Monday 20 July 2015

Colin Ward and Five Leaves

I started reading Colin Ward in, I think, 1973, at Aberdeen People's Press. APP was a magazine with its own print-shop, one of many such papers throughout the country such as Leeds Other Paper and Rochdale Alternative Paper. One table at APP was devoted to “swaps”, magazines exchanged with APP, and some national magazines for sale or reference. It was there I came across Peace News, which I hooked up with for many years, and Freedom. The latter listed many local anarchist groups across the country and, tantalisingly, its appeal fund often listed significant donations collected at anarchist picnics in America, sometimes from groups with foreign language names. For a young man living in the north east of Scotland in those pre-internet days this was heady stuff.
Freedom was respected (and criticised) for being the journal of record of the anarchist movement, the paper of “official anarchism”. There were brasher papers, with more exciting layout, but often with only brief lives. With Freedom you got tradition and continuity and you had access to the work of Vernon Richards, the scarily pedantic historian Nicolas Walter and, the subject of this magazine, Colin Ward. I found some copies of Colin Ward's Anarchy which, though it closed in 1970, was still thought relevant, certainly more so than the second series produced by the group that succeeded him as editor. I've spent years trying to complete the set of 116 issues he edited.
Over the years I got to know Colin's work, starting with a wonderful series of books on work, on vandalism and on utopia for Penguin Education and of course his Anarchy in Action. This is still the book I recommend to people wanting to understand what anarchism is all about. Anarchy in Action remains in print from Freedom Press, even if the Freedom empire no longer really reflects Colin's view of anarchism.
I got to know Colin – he spoke at one or two meetings in my later and current hometown in Nottingham - and found him as good company in person as his books were to read. The long defunct Old Hammond Press published pamphlets by him on housing and on William Morris and, in 1995, I became a “proper” publisher when Mushroom Bookshop published his Allotment: its landscape and culture (jointly written with David Crouch), buying paperback rights from Faber. Typically, Colin said he did not want any royalties, simply being glad the book was again available. The Allotment kept Five Leaves Publications afloat for many years after we took over Mushroom's publishing side. We reissued several of his other books including Arcadia for All, a new title Cotters and Squatters and a selection of his essays, Talking Green. Colin preferred to emphasise the positive, with no time for “tittle tattle” about the anarchist movement. The nearest he came to that was the extended interview with David Goodway, Talking Anarchy, which we published and is now with PM Press.
Unfortunately the last few years of Colin's life were not kind to him. He was unable to complete his last commission, to edit a set of essays by other writers whose ideas chimed with his. I last saw Colin at the relaunch of Anarchy in Action at Housmans Bookshop in London. I'd been asked to speak and was proud to do so. My guess is that everyone at the launch already had the book, but everyone wanted to see Colin again and to honour one of British anarchism's most influential figures. It was, I think, his last public appearance.
Our last Colin Ward publication was Colin Ward Remembered, a collection of the speeches given at his memorial meeting – funded by those who generously chipped in to hire Conway Hall for the event. People sent so much money we were able to publish the memorial volume from the surplus.

The meeting was attended by hundreds of people Colin had influenced. In my own case the Five Leaves publishing firm and the more recent Five Leaves Bookshop would not have happened without his early encouragement and his infectious belief in doing positive things, not just damning what is wrong with the world.
This article first appeared in Anarchist Voices Volume 9 number 1

Saturday 20 June 2015

Five Leaves Bookshop, the story so far

If there was any doubt that Five Leaves is a radical bookshop it was dispelled the day after the General Election when a stream of Labour voters, Greens and assorted lefties drifted into the shop seeking comfort after the storm. We found ourselves providing an open therapy group for the forlorn (as we were ourselves). We printed up some badges – Don't Blame Me, I Voted Labour/Green/I'm an Anarchist, as well as a set carrying the Joe Hill slogan, Don't Mourn, Organise...
But how can a political bookshop survive on the high street? We were, in November 2013, the first independent of any description to open in a city centre this century, and there are not many radical bookshops around. Like any good independent, we prioritise customer service – we offer next day supply for most UK books and one or two weeks for most books from the USA. Overall, our stock might be different to most other independents but for week after week our recent bestseller list included H is for Hawk and we've sold masses of Penguin Little Black Classics. We make sure that there is enough choice for anyone coming into the shop, regardless of their views. We have one very regular customer, for example, who only buys books on Buddhism. Others head straight for our cityscape and landscape sections and quite a few other regulars never get further than poetry. Poetry is important to us, not least as it is a strong interest of one member of staff, and we regularly put on readings.
But in any case, radical books do shift – we sold over a hundred copies of Owen Jones The Establishment in hardback and the paperback hit the national best-seller charts. Many of our customers, however, come for the specialist areas of the shop – Beat writers, Travellers/Roma, Anarchism, Jewish interest (our best selling magazine is Jewish Socialist!), Transgender, Black History... We might not stock celebrity biographies but for some of our customers it is more important that 20% of our fiction is in translation, with its own dedicated section.
Five Leaves Bookshop works with dozens of local community groups including trade unions, the Quakers, Nottingham Irish Studies Group, Nottingham Women's History and various departments at our two local universities. We run an events programme with at least one meeting in the shop every week. Our own mini-Festival, Bread and Roses, attracted 850 people in its first outing, with packed events for Owen Jones, Natalie Bennett (leader of the Green Party) and cult-writer Iain Sinclair. Bread and Roses is probably the only book festival funded by trade unions. As we are not yet two, we are still taking baby steps in bookselling but the business model is working well enough to pay staff the living wage.
The bookshop grew out of the longstanding Five Leaves Publications, which has been publishing literary, social history and political books since 1995. One of our staff also works at Nottingham Writers' Studio, heading the current bid for Nottingham to become a UNESCO City of Literature. The two sides of the business are getting closer – this summer we publish a 5,000 print run book of commissioned stories by local writers including John Harvey, Alison Moore and Paula Rawsthorne as part of a literature development project in the city. It's being launched at Nottingham Waterstones, reflecting the way that everyone in the industry locally pulls together [update - had to move because of a double booking!]
If there was ever a time when independent bookshops simply waited for customers to show up we feel that is long gone. We work hard to involve and be involved with as many groups in the city as we can. And not just in the city – from its previous publishing base and now from the bookshop we work with the Leicester Centre for Creative Writing to run the annual States of Independence celebration of independent publishing. Five Leaves also set up the Bread and Roses Award for Radical Publishing and, with Housmans Bookshop in London, initiated the London Radical Bookfair.
City centre rents make it difficult for any small businesses to survive. Fortunately our city has many alleyways and cut-throughs which provide spaces for “destination” shops. Five Leaves could not be more central to Nottingham. We are one minute from the city's main square and City Council offices and happily occupy an alleyway next to a bookies!
Now that we have been going for eighteen months we can compare like to like sales. Nottingham is a multi-cultural city and many of our customers are new to the city, joining those who have long been involved in the local literature or political scenes. We've doubled the stock since opening. Our staff has increased including appointing a part-time events workers. We are doing fine.
Nottingham increasingly seeing itself as a “rebel city”. In literature terms we draw on the tradition of DH Lawrence, Lord Byron and Alan Sillitoe. The first radical bookshop in the city was opened in 1826 by one Susannah Wright and there were several others in our local history. Nottingham's radical bookshop tradition lives on!

A slightly different version of this article will appear in Booktime magazine

Sunday 17 May 2015

Remembering David Lane

David set up the Nottingham radical bookshop Concord Books. After the shop closed Concord became a national wholesaler for vegetarian/vegan and green books which David supplied to bookshops and wholefood shops. After he retired he moved to Bakewell where he remained active in the peace movement. David was a vegan when it was hard enough to be a vegetarian. A pacifist, he refused conscription but accepted alternative service as a hospital orderly, a period he always looked back on fondly. The years before his death were not kind to him but he continued to distribute Peace News with the help of others and was always keen to know what was going on in the booktrade, at Five Leaves and Housmans.

Remembering David Lane

Sunday 7th June 2015

Starts 14:00

Details from
On Sunday June 7th at the Sumac Centre there will be an informal memorial meeting for our late supporter, life-long peace activist, conscientious objector and vegan, David Lane [1934 – 2014].

David's friend & follow campaigner, Bruce Kent, honorary vice-president of CND, will join us, as will a number of people who worked alongside David in the book trade and on many campaign trails over the years.

Vegan catering will be provided Veggies Catering Campaign, whose very existence, let alone 30 years of campaigning, came about through David's constant support.

Further information from Moyra, Chesterfield CND [email] or phone 07732 128480
or 07870 861837
or Ross, Five Leaves Bookshop:

Please pass this on to others that will wish to remember David

Monday 30 March 2015

Five Leaves, the movie

Sunday 8 March 2015

Five Leaves and the strike year

On Saturday I travelled up to Wakefield by train with more boxes than is sensible for a bookstall at With Banners Held High, a celebration of the end of the strike year, thirty years after the defeat of the National Union of Miners strike against pit closures. There were hundreds of people there - a thousand maybe over the day - packed into the old Co-op stores, now reinvented as the Unity + Works centre. As at all the other celebrations it was as if the NUM had won. I talked to and joshed with old comrades and friends - from the Orgreave Truth and Justice Committee, from the Notts minority who struck, to miners who'd written about their experience, to young people who were not even born when the strike took place, to women whose lives changed forever during the year...
Thatcher destroyed the mines but she did not defeat the spirit of those who stayed loyal to their union. The Cabinet documents released on the thirty year rule showed the NUM was right in saying that the Government always planned the massive pit closure programme.
The journey back was a lot easier - not least as the Durham miners cleaned us out of Dennis Skinner books and all our Pride DVDs were sold. In the past, could anyone have believed that a best seller at a miners' event would have been a lesbian and gay film?
Our involvement with the NUM has been one of the highlights of the last period for Five Leaves. With the anniversary coming we commissioned the rock journalist Harry Paterson to write a short book on Nottinghamshire and the miners' strike. Harry came from a mining family and his father-in-law was out the full year, his mother involved in a women's support group. There had been a handful of books about Notts in the strike, personal experience books, but nobody had told the full story of the minority who struck and the subsequent rise (and fall) of the UDM. We'd previously published David Bell's Dirty Thirty about the Leicestershire strikers, a tiny minority, but here we wanted to publish the definitive story, or as near to it as we could. The book was unashamedly pro-strike but interviewed everyone who would speak to Harry to create the narrative. The book grew and grew (and is still growing, the new e-book editon includes some additions) becoming Look Back in Anger - the miners' strike in Nottinghamshire, thirty years on. This was Harry's first book and, if not blows, we certainly traded a lot of emails. Harry is still scarred by my comment on his first draft that this was like a Mills and Books novel written by Lenin. We are proud of the result and became good friends over the duration which means I have to now support his football team, if that is what Alloa Athletic really is!
We did not have a book launch somehow, but Harry went on tour to union branches including Notts County UNISON, UNITE and even Ayrshire UNISON. The book was well reviewed and well received and was reprinted quickly.
If ever we had any doubt about the book it would have been dispelled at the Notts Retired and Ex-Miners celebration of the strike when Henry Richardson, former General Secretary of the Notts NUM, said to the 400 people at their event in Kirkby that  "This is your story. Every striking miner should have a copy of the book in their house to tell your children and grandchildren what you did." That, shall we say, helped sales on the night. It was a grand night anyway. Not least as the Notts NUM brought in a vegetarian alternative to their (meat) pie and pea supper, giving me a doggy bag of fifteen more veggie pies to freeze and bring back to other NUM events! We sold a lot of Coal Not Dole T-shirts on the night too - mostly XXL. As one miner said, we were all medium size once. The outside speaker was Owen Jones (who would later come to our own Bread and Roses weekend) who started by saying he looked like a minor rather than a miner. The most applause came when he mentioned the Government's then current advertising campaign against immigrants. This touched a chord with a 99% white audience and, like the Pride CD showed how much the militant minority in Notts know the word solidarity.
The Kirkby event was really for NUM members and their families, so Five Leaves took on organising a Nottingham city commemoration. Harry spoke, the Clarion Choir sang, Joyce Sheppard from Women Against Pit Closures, Bianca Todd from Left Unity, Keith Stanley from Notts NUM and the Guardian's Seamas Milne all spoke too. 150 people packed the Friends Meeting House. We sent a donation to the Doncaster Care Workers, then out on strike, who were at our evening. This was an important event for Five Leaves as we had only opened a few months beforehand and we wanted to see if we could pull off the sort of event we thought Nottingham should do to remember the strike. It was another great night.
As a result of the Nottingham event the Retired and Ex-Miners booked Seamas to speak at an event in Mansfield, which we supported, and at Christmas two of the staff were honoured to attend the NUM Christmas dinner with Dennis Skinner as the speaker. Another occasion when we ran out of books.
Over the summer two of the team also set up stall at the big event commemorating Orgreave, using our new gazebo (which did not survive its second outing, but that's another story) coming back again with big sales but also hearing lots of miners saying "got that one, read that one, I'm on the cover of that book, there's a picture of me in this one..."  We also did a bookstall for Derby People's History at which our local NUM colleagues Alan Spencer and Eric Eaton spoke, the Clarion choir sang... And recently we did a stall for the Notts and Derby Labour History Group with Huw Beynon speaking, Huw gave the clearest presentation on the Ridley Report and government preparations for the strike - a strike they provoked, yet (read Harry's book!) came so close to losing.
And throughout the year our miners section in the shop has been popular - especially Harry's book, Seamas's latest edition of The Enemy Within and the DVD Still the Enemy Within.
Thinks will be much quieter now - but in the coalfields people still organise. At Wakefield there was a big present from those who organise the "Big Meeting", the Durham Miners Gala - now bigger than ever, as the NUM remains committed to community organising and social change. This was instanced by the "Darlo Mums" NHS march when it passed through Mansfield to a tremendous welcome organised by the Retired and Ex- gang.
It's been a great year. My only regret is that so many involved in the strike are no longer with us. I've mentioned before four women who did so much to support the strike but who died, in some cases well before their time. The Nottingham meeting was dedicated to them: Ida Hackett from Mansfield, Liz Hollis and Pat Paris from Nottingham and Joan Witham whose book Hearts and Minds, sadly now unavailable, recorded the activities of the Nottinghamshire Women's Support Group.

Friday 13 February 2015

New ebook from Five Leaves: David Jackson on the Bulger case

Another e-book only title from Five Leaves. Destroying the Baby in Themselves: why did the two boys killed James Bulger? by David Jackson. This is a reprint of one of the first titles published by Five Leaves in 1996 and is an examination of the actions of James Bulger's killers in the light of the culture which pressurises boys to be ever more agressively manly, harder, stronger, more commanding yet these two boys had chaotic backgrounds which led to the paralysing horror of the event.
Destroying the Baby in Themselves has been unavailable for many years but consistently in demand as a course book. It is available at 99p
from all e-book platforms.

Thursday 12 February 2015

New from Five Leaves: David Jackson on the killing of Stephen Lawrence

Now available as an e-book, as an ebook only to be precise. The Fear of Being Seen as White Losers: white working class masculinities and the killing of Stephen Lawrence, by David Jackson. 99p from all ebook platforms.

This essay extends anti-racist debates by taking a close look at some of the possible reasons for the murder of Stephen Lawrence. His murder was a part of the rise of extremely violent racism in Britain (particularly in south-east London) and in Europe over the preceding decade. The neglected links between Stephen Lawrence’s murder and the wider issues of English national and young white working-class masculine identities are explored, to more clearly understand the complex reasons for the killing.

Sunday 8 February 2015

A message from Alan Gibbons about National Libraries Day

Four years after I called for a National Libraries Day, an event that is now an annual celebration, I fear for their future. On May 25th that year I said:
“We are delighted to launch National Libraries Day, a week of events in early February leading to a day of celebration of reading, libraries and librarians around the United Kingdom. A reading child is a successful child. A child who goes to the library is twice as likely to be a good reader and that child becomes a literate adult, a lifelong reader. There are 320 million visits a year to our libraries but we can make them even more popular,”
Four years on, the annual number of visits has fallen by forty million. The fall has been steepest in deprived communities, according to research by the House of Commons library commissioned by the Labour Party. The research follows the Cipfa figures in assessing that there were 282m visits to libraries in England in 2013-14, compared with 322m four years earlier.
In deprived areas, the percentage of people using libraries has dropped by more than a fifth from 46.2 per cent to 36.8 per cent.
A third of people aged 16 and 24 had visited a library in the last year, compared with nearly 40 per cent four years earlier.
There are now at least 330 fewer libraries open for 10 hours or more a week, a fall of eight per cent.
A few months ago William Sieghart, author of an independent report on libraries, warned the network was at a “critical moment.” Even the prestigious Birmingham of Library faces devastating service cuts.
Add the number of library closures to branches being handed over to an uncertain future in the hands of trusts and volunteers, book stock reductions and ever shorter opening hours and you have a recipe for possibly irreversible decline.
During my years of campaigning to save our libraries, I have debated with MPs, councillors and the Culture Secretary. I have yet to hear a single comment from any of these people to reassure me that the service is safe in their hands. So let’s celebrate National Libraries Day, but we will have to fight for them if it is to mean anything.
Alan Gibbons, Campaign for the Book

Monday 19 January 2015

Is there a siffleur in the house?

If you were listening to the radio today and heard a new word - siffleur - referring to Ronnie Ronalde who has just died, you have not yet read the Five Leaves' book A Brief History of Whistling. Ronalde is of course covered in the book. A siffleur is a professional whistler. The female version is siffleuse, and our book was launched with a siffleuse, Sheila Harrod, who knew Ronalde, stealing the show. The book also retells John Gorman's story of Ronalde appearing on Sundays at a bar in Hackney, deserted during the week, but an upmarket bar with drag queens on Sundays. This was in the 1950s. Ronalde's whistling was popular in the 1940s and 50s, when he was regularly on the radio, had best-selling records and you could even by a Ronnie Ronalde whistling aid which looked like a polo mint but made of tin.
As far as we know, our book is the only book on the history of whistling!

Tuesday 13 January 2015

Mike Marqusee

Five Leaves is sorry to read that Mike Marqusee has died, aged only 61, after being ill for several years with cancer. He was a great supporter of the NHS and in his writings often talked about the number of people who'd kept him alive and the way the NHS is being abused by this government.
Mike could be correctly described as unique in that he was the only London-based American Jewish Marxist who wrote about cricket, including for the Indian newspaper The Hindu.
Though I knew of his political, music and sporting writing I'd never met him until he rang to ask if I could put together a team of people to help him leaflet Trent Bridge announcing the formation of an anti-racist cricket organisation. I was happy to help as long as nobody asked about cricket! Later Mike came to Lowdham Book Festival, then jointly organised by Five Leaves, to talk about Bob Dylan, the subject of two of his books.
His other books included the important If I Am Not Myself: journey of an anti-Zionist Jew and, recently, The Price of Experience: writings on living with cancer.
Mike was a committed socialist activist, involved in the anti-war movement who went public on how the Socialist Workers Party abused their position within the Stop the War group. His socialism was ethical, inclusive and visionary. I was pleased, then to include his essay Let's Talk Utopia as the editorial essay in the Five Leaves publication Utopia. In that essay he wrote "We need to find ways to connect to the utopian yearnings that move millions of people, and which the right-wing and the advertising industry know too well how to exploit. We have to offer something more participatory, concrete and the same time more dynamic, more of a process, a journey than an end product polished by the intelligentsia. In doing that, we can draw on a rich tradition going back to the Biblical prophets and found in almost every society." In a sentence he summed up his argument "We need the attraction of a possible future as well as a revulsion at the actual present. ... we don't 'talk utopia' nearly enough."
Mike helped make the left more inhabitable and his influence was widespread.
Typically he asked for contributions in his memory to go to Medical Aid for Palestine and to St Joseph's Hospice which looked after him towards the end.
Our condolences to his partner, comrade and co-thinker, Liz Davies.

Wednesday 7 January 2015

Allotment publishing, then and now: this blessed plot, this earth, this realm...

I used to work in a radical bookshop in Nottingham called Mushroom Bookshop. Somehow I'd missed buying Colin Ward and David Crouch's book The Allotment: its landscape and culture when it came out as an expensive Faber hardback before it went out of print. In 1994 I got fed up waiting on the paperback and suggested to Faber that Mushroom buy the rights and that we publish in paper ourselves. This seemed a bit excessive as I only wanted one copy (the internet had not been invented yet) but needs must. Colin - a friend of mine as it happened - and David were keen to see new life breathed into the work. Faber set a reasonable price and, hey presto, I was a publisher of real books under Mushroom's name. I'd previously published pamphlets under various guises, but this was a 311 page book of some import.
It turned out a lot of people had been waiting, and waiting, and we had a steady seller on our hands. It was one of the very few books that came up on searches for allotments and was particularly popular among those new to allotmenting who wanted to know their history. At the time I had two plots myself on the famous Hungerhill site in Nottingham. The book was reviewed, mentioned, referred to, sent to John Prescott when he was in charge of allotments, drawn on for everything anybody else was writing on allotments and bits were lifted without permission or credit by one Sunday newspaper!
In 1995 I left Mushroom and their publications went with me (we'd published a few other books by then) and The Allotment became the book that underwrote the rest of what was now Five Leaves' list. It was not long before Five Leaves became the world's biggest publisher of books on allotments. We became so when we published our second such book, One Woman's Plot by Geraldine Kilbride. It sold out. Indeed, if anyone has a spare copy I'd like one as our file copy here has some missing pages! Then came City Fields, Country Gardens, a collection of allotment essays that first appeared in the Guardian from Michael Hyde.
The book was edited by David Crouch and Martin Stott, with wonderful photos by Martin. We learned that Michael was very ill and brought publication forward. He received copies just in time, in hospital where he presented a copy to his favourite nurse, and though he was far too ill to attend the launch he said a few words down the phone. Michael had kept allotment writing alive during the dark periods and we were proud to have published him. That sold out too.
We added The Art of Allotments by David Crouch and couldn't help but feel a BIG book on allotment art and photography would be a good thing.... but that is for others, because by now allotment publishing was not uncommon and it was time for Five Leaves to move on, our job done on that front. Yet Crouch and Ward kept selling and we kept reprinting it, thinking it was time for that book to leave the stage but still nobody else had written an accessible yet well researched book on allotment history.
Until we met Lesley Acton. It was time to let Crouch and Ward go and, after a decent interval, replace the book. Sure, there are one or two others, but aimed more for a popular market (and we don't do popular) rather than social history. How did we meet Lesley? Not sure, because she normally writes on ceramics but had moved on to allotments and runs
So... on March 14 in Leicester and March 16 in London we launch A Growing Place: a history of the allotment movement by her. You can't order it yet, but will soon.
This history investigates how changing economic, political and cultural conditions have affected the demand for plots. Allotmenting is far from being a benign activity for the poor but a highly politicised issue reflecting debates on land use, good food, planning and, now, "redevelopment". In tracing the ups and downs of the movement and its culture the book discusses whether allotments will continue to survive.
And Five Leaves returns to its roots. In more ways than one.
ps - this blessed plot quote is from Shakespeare's King Richard II