Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Messiah still late shock, but the band plays on

On 22/11 I wrote that this long awaited book was due, betting though that it would come still before the Messiah. Well, the Messiah may be late, but the book was early. Dropping into the office today just to check the post before going away for a few days I had to climb over mounds of Jazz Jews, with no time to do anything other than send the author a few copies. The dispatch note with the books was dated 4th January so they must have arrived by time travel as well as carrier.
If you are one of those waiting, that the book has arrived early will do you no good whatsoever, and copies will still be sent out in the second week of January. Sorry.

In that earlier blog I wrote that the earliest emails about this book were from sometime in 2003. Mike tells me that we actually started discussing it in 2001, which means we really can say this book was ten years in the making. It's big, it's heavy, it's hardback, it has 7,000 names in the index and it's £24.99.

We're happy to send it to anyone in the UK post free, but anyone wanting to order from overseas would be best to go via http://www.bookdepository.co.uk/ as it will be post free internationally from there.

Thanks to Darius Hinks, by the way, for this wonderful wrap round Blue Note inspired cover.

Friday, 25 December 2009

Books of the year

Everyone else does it, so here's ten books I read this year I would recommend... I wouldn't say they were my favourite books of the year (I published those ones) and they are in no particular order. Just ones that come to mind.
Deer Hunting with Jesus: guns, votes, debt and delusions in Redneck America by Joe Bargean (Portobello). Anyone reading this would have known the sub-prime market would collapse. See? One book could have saved the world's economy. Read this and weep. Yup, fucked over, heavily armed, anti-union... this lot will vote Palin for President if they get the chance.

Edward Carpenter: a life of liberty and love by Sheila Rowbotham (Verso). The big biography of the most interesting of sandal wearers, a socialist, a vegetarian, an adult education lecturer, a believer in “dress reform” and feminism who lived in an openly gay relationship near Chesterfield at a time when such things were considered impossible.

Homage to Caledonia: Scotland and the Spanish Civil War by Daniel Gray (Luath). This is the book that told me that in my home town workers took over a knitwear factory to make clothes for Spanish people and ran it as a co-op. Didn't learn that in school.

Every Secret Thing: my family, my country by Gillian Slovo (Virago). A re-read here, in prep for interviewing the author at Lowdham Book Festival. The family in question were Joe Slovo, who became a cabinet member in Mandela's government and Ruth First, assassinated by the apartheid regime.

Who was Sophie? by Celia Robertson (Virago). Celia's search to find out what had happened to “Sophie”, her grandmother, once a poet published by the Hogarth Press, who became a bag lady on the streets of Nottingham.
Cello by Frances Thimann (Pewter Rose). A book of short stories by a new press in Nottingham. Delightful cover, elegiac short stories about old age.

Writers on Islands edited by James Knox Whittett (Iron Press). An anthology by mostly well known writers about the islands around the coast of Britain and Ireland, including Kathleen Jamie, JM Synge, George MacKay Brown and many more. Lots of good short pieces.

Cold Granite by Stuart Macbride (Harper Collins). McBride's first tartan noire book, set in Aberdeen. Mentions many of my old haunts and it is good to know that police still feel unsafe visiting the Fersands estate where I used to live!

The One That Got Away by Zoe Wicomb (The New Press, USA). Internet only for this one for the moment, short stories set in South Africa and Glasgow, mostly with South African characters. One story, “N2” is near perfect.

Hackney, that Rose-Red Empire by Iain Sinclair (Hamish Hamilton, but due out in paperback in February). A rag bag, mishmash, rattle bag of Sinclair's usual concerns featuring a cast of the missing, the eccentric, the fictional, the even more unlikely factual.

There are probably others that would have been top tenners that I've forgotten, loaned out, returned to libraries, misplaced, but this seems a good enough selection. It was a good reading year, despite the misery in the book trade. Five of the ten were written by women and (phew) six were from independent presses.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Diary dates

We have some dates for some of Five Leaves' bigger events in 2010. All we need now is a diary, but most people are better organised...

Saturday March 20: 10am-4pm. "States of Independence" - an independent publishers' fair, with events, readings, launches.
De Montfort University, Leicester

Wednesday June 16: 7.30 (time tbc). "Old City, New Rumours" - launching our major anthology of Hull related poets, in support of Larkin 25. Andrew Motion, a contributor, will be reading and talking about Hull and Larkin. University of Hull

Friday 18 June - Saturday 27 June Lowdham Book Festival - the East Midlands biggest book event, jointly organised by Five Leaves and The Bookcase in Lowdham, Nottinghamshire.

Fuller details of all of these will appear in due course, and on our events listing at http://www.fiveleaves.co.uk/.

Meanwhile, congratulations to Richard Bolt and the team organising the Tower Hamlets Festival of Reading. Five Leaves were represented by John Harvey (OK, he does have another publisher too) and John Bennett (author of E1). The Festival was conceived and organised at short notice, but worked, and will reappear in the second week of November 2010.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Editorial dilemmas

A forthcoming Five Leaves' poetry anthology has to lose some material, because of the cost of republishing rights. Famous dead writers often seem the greediest. We have often winced at paying out to a wealthy estate run by a great niece or nephew of someone long dead, at the literal expense of paying some tyro poet starving in her garret. Anybody publishing DH Lawrence in the past had to pay out to the wealthy sons of the man DHL widow married after his death. There's plenty such examples of the undeserving and unrelated benefiting from the 70 years people's work remains in copyright after their death. But if you need the material, what can you do?

In this case we had to decide from among a group of living and dead poets which included one who was an anti-Semite, a Rexist, an admirer of Italian Fascism, an elitist and, according to one of the editorial team, "a baleful influence on British poetry for too long. Also a dull poet." Another editor, Jewish, disagreed that he should be excluded because he was an anti-Semite (the poem in question was not anti-Semitic) quoting in support that Daniel Barenboim can conduct Wagner, so chuck him out for poetic or financial reasons (and we did) but not on grounds of alleged anti-Semitism.

Should we always just go by the work, not the person? And what if the poet under discussion had been living? We would never - I imagine - publish the work of a living fascist supporter, even if they could turn out the most excellent sonnet. What if they were a wife-beater? A charlatan? A vivesector? A homophobe?


The Guardian's corrections column remarked (21/12/2009) that an obituary of Leonora Kay-Kreizman said "she had worked hard as the literary secretary for the Nottingham East branch of the Young Communist League; she was the literature secretary, charged with organising the sale of Communist party and YCL publications". This is rather a shame. I rather liked the notion that a YCL branch would have a literary secretary, and, possibly, a music correspondent, an arts organiser and a theatrical commission. And why not? The old Communist Party had writers by the library load, a relationship with the Workers' Music Association, the Artists' International Association and Unity theatre.

The original obituary mentioned that the Nottingham Communist Party was one of the only places in town where you could hear jazz and where men could kiss one another. So I think the Guardian was wrong to correct, and that Leonora must have organised the branch book group, reviewed the latest fiction in the branch bulletin and was probably assistant secretary of the YCL poetry circle. After all, the current Morning Star has a weekly poetry column and a monthly round up of poetry books. As CLR James almost said "What does he or she know of politics who only knows of politics?"

Sunday, 13 December 2009

"In my mind I'm going to Catalonia"

With apologies to James Taylor for the above title.

"The identification of one state with one national language is rather like monogamy - much praised as an ideal but as often ignored in practice," starts John Payne in "Mind Your Language", a chapter in the new edition of his Catalonia: history and culture.

Catalonia has just hit the streets, or perhaps the ramblas, and is Five Leaves' last book of 2009, just squeezing into the year. In addition to the important language issue, John's book covers - as the title does more than suggest - Catalan history and culture. As well as bringing his 2004 book up to date, this new edition includes a fresh chapter on Catalunya Nord, that part of historic Catalonia within France. It has been a good year for the author as his Signal book on the West Country has also appeared. For the avoidance of doubt the West Country here is around the author's home near Bath rather than, say Galicia or Asturias.

John Payne's book could easily be read in tandem with Michael Eaude's Barcelona, which went into a new edition last year.

Friday, 11 December 2009

Stanley Middleton

This week's Times Literary Supplement includes an overview by Paul Binding of the work of Nottingham novelist Stanley Middleton, who died earlier this year shortly before his 90th birthday. An overview was overdue. Binding picks out 1972-1984 as the key period of Middleton's work, starting with Cold Gradations and ending with The Daysman, with other high points including the earlier Harris's Requiem. While Trent Editions republished the latter, a small handful only of Middleton's late period titles are available. It would be wonderful if his main publisher, Hutchinson, could release some of his best work on print on demand, the equivalent of Faber Finds.

We were lucky enough to be the publisher of Holiday, Stanley Middleton's Booker winner, until Random House took back the rights earlier this year. It was fun having a Booker Prize winner on our list, and Stanley, gentleman that he was, refused all royalties and insisted on buying any copies he wanted at the full retail. We do still have some copies of Stanley Middleton at Eighty available.

Meanwhile, for those of you organised enough to have next year's diary, Paul Binding will be one of the speakers at a bookish celebration of Stanley Middleton's life on Saturday May 8th, from 2.00-4.30 at Nottingham University.

The event will be free but places will need to be booked. Full details are not available yet, but you can email Five Leaves meantime to make sure you are sent the programme.

Anybody really, really well organised may want to put a note in their 2013 diary that we will be publishing a critical overview of the novels of Angus Wilson by Paul Binding, that year being AW's centenary.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Hurry - final weeks!

Today's Guardian usefully sums up the disastrous state of bookselling today. On page 13 Waterstone's has taken out a big advert promoting Nigella Christmas for under a tenner, less than half price. For a penny under half price the main literary bookseller in the UK will sell you the Guinness Book of Records, and for the same low retail price you can buy a volume of letters to their younger selves by Rolf Harris, Jonathan Ross, the racist bigot Alan Carr and others of that ilk.

One page 19 WH Smith offer up to 75% off another bundle of useless books that is only redeemed by the presence of Andrew Marr's book on Modern Britain. The Guinness Book of Records is a tenner though - you can save a penny by sticking with Waterstone's.

Two pages on, Borders, in their last gasp, is offering up to 60% off their stock as they are closing down. I'd never noticed their mission statement printed next to their logo before - "Let's escape" it says. And they will, as fixtures and fittings are also up for sale.

Look again at the figures.... half price at Waterstone's, up to 75% off at Smiths, up to 60% off at a chain that is closing at Xmas.

Someone trying to tell us something here?

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Exiled Writers

Back to literature....
Saturday 12 December: 2.00pm
AGM of Exiled Writers Ink, home of many of the writers in Five Leaves refugee anthologies, Crossing the Border, The Bend in the Road (now out of print) and The Silver Throat of the Moon. The guest speaker is Daljit Nagra (pictured), contributor to the Anglo-Dutch pamphlet By Heart-Uit Her Hoofd (Five Leaves) though he is marginally better known for his Faber collection Look We Have Coming To Dover!, which won the Forward first collection prize in 2007.
The new issue of Exiled Ink magazine is now available, £5 cheque to Exiled Writers Ink, 31 Hallswelle Road, London NW11.
AGM venue: Universal Peace Foundation, 43 Lancaster Gate, London W2 3NA (Lancaster Gate tube)
This is a late entry, other Five Leaves events are listed on our main website.

Monday, 7 December 2009

EDL in Nottingham

Well, I never did get to the poetry reading on Saturday (see two entries ago). In case anyone was wondering why people were concerned about the EDL, check this one out:
www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dzvj06Ngt98. The moment around 2.20 seconds is a great one, presumably the EDL felt that a lamppost looked suspiciously Islamic.

Friday, 4 December 2009

The rise and rise of creative writing courses

The excellent Tindal Street Press from Birmingham is a well known publisher of fiction from Birmingham, whose modest output has a singularly strong record in being shortlisted or winning various literary prizes. They have just published Roads Ahead, short stories by 22 newish voices, some from the West Midlands, some from further afield. The book is edited by Catherine O’Flynn, one of their earlier big success stories. As the title suggests, the book is a marker for the future with most of the contributors being at a fairly early stage in their writing career.

Of the 22 writers, five mention that they have completed or are attending creative writing courses at university level. I know two of the others, both of whom used to live in the East Midlands and both of whom completed creative writing courses but did not mention doing so in their authors’ notes. It may be that some of the others have also completed such courses, but at least seven have certainly done so. Of the others, four currently teach creative writing at university level.. Thus at least half of the line up is involved in that world.

It takes a few seconds on google to find that there are many creative writing courses. Locally you can find them at Nottingham University, Nottingham Trent University, Derby University, University of Lincoln, De Montfort University, Loughborough University. Apologies if I have missed any. The number may well have increased since starting this article.
Creative writing courses may well have replaced the old style writing groups. They have, however, been subject to some criticism. Nottingham writer Jon McGregor, for example, as part of a most interesting article on making a living as a writer, comments “Some will find patronage within the great pyramid schemes of creative-writing courses…” as an alternative to his dressing up as a bear, handing out leaflets outside the pound shop in Barnsley, as a way of getting by as a struggling writer. (You can find the full article in Pen Pusher 12, orderable via http://www.penpushermagazine.co.uk/.)

I don’t think Jon was suggesting his ursine habit was a better option. Nor here am I criticising M.A.s in Creative Writing. Some of my best friends etc. And some of the authors I have published or have signed up have done such courses and some teach them.

But I don’t think it would be a good idea if the road ahead for any publisher has the equivalent of a bus lane for people on creative writing courses.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Spoilt for choice

This coming Saturday looks interesting. Here in Nottingham you can attend Nottingham Forest versus Leicester FC (only 1,000 tickets left) or go ice-skating in the Market Square, or pick up a present at the German Christmas Market. Cathy Grindrod is launching her excellent new Shoestring Press poetry collection, The Sky Head On at Bromley House Library. Meanwhile, elsewhere in town, the English Defence League will be showcasing the worst of England in protesting against Muslims, seig heils optional. There will of course be counter protests.

It is hard to imagine that poetry is a major debating point among the English Defence League. But on the other hand, I've only just hastily returned an unsolicited manuscript about the glories of Englishness compared to say, the beastly Scots, the unspeakable Welsh and the dreadful Europeans, which was in poetic form. It is always a good idea to look at a publisher's list before sending in material.

Not that there is anything new in groups like the English Defence League. Turning to the last posting here, Roland Camberton's Scamp, published in 1950, has a character picking up a leaflet from the fictional Association of Freemen and Yeomen of England "Britons! In times of old your forefathers knew how to draw the sword for liberty. It was they who carried the flag to the furthest corners of the globe... Alien influences dominate our native land".

No doubt there was a Pictish Defence League, demonstrating against alien Romans coming across here, stealing their woad...

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

John Minton

Five Leaves has got the go ahead to re-issue the two Roland Camberton books - Scamp and Rain on the Pavements in our New London Editions series. No date set yet, more details to follow etc. Camberton was one of the great mysteries of London literature, which meant of course that Iain Sinclair got on the case. Sinclair wrote a long piece on Camberton for the Guardian, which will be included in Scamp. We'll be using the original John Minton covers, which will gladden some hearts, and this led me to read Frances Spalding's Dance till the Stars Come Down (the title taken from an Auden poem), Minton's biography. Spalding's book is out of print, and not cheap on the net.

John Minton was a household name in his day, but died young, by his own hand, in 1957. He was part of that Soho set who would hang round The Colony Room and drink too much. Minton was part of the "homosexual freemasonry" (Spalding's phrase) and led a promiscuous life. He knew a sailor when he saw one, that's for sure, yet often fell in love with heterosexual men.

Minton inherited money, and was a successful artist. He supported many who needed his help and many who were spongers. He was never known to turn down a commission - it would be terrific to see an exhibition of all his book covers. As well as Camberton he produced covers for Martin Goff, Alan Ross and the cookery writer Elizabeth David, for John Lehmann and other publishers. A general retrospective would be good too.

Spalding has probably covered everything biographically, but her book is short on illustrations. An illustrated John Minton anyone? I'd buy one.