Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Plus ca change

Ginsberg found himself confronted with the typewriter. A story a day, that was his minimum task; two thousand words, preferably with a plot, development, a climax and a twist. After six months of this routine, he was beginning to feel an intense hatred of the short story, in fact of all writing. What an abominable occupation it was! What a struggle! For what meagre prizes! Only the middlemen, he felt, were to be envied; the publishers, editors, anthologists and functionaries who stood between the raw material and the public purse. ...the thought of writing another short story disgusted him. He had had enough of battering his head against a brick wall. In six months, three acceptances, by obscure magazines published from addresses deep in the countryside. Three stories at three or four guineas each; a little over ten pounds for six months' hard labour, exclusive of expenses or paper, postage and so on. He put the cover on the dusty typewriter...
From Scamp by Roland Camberton, republished soon by New London Editions

Friday, 21 May 2010

Tolpuddling around

Five Leaves is putting out a new edition of Alan Brown's (or rather Alan James Brown as he must become because someone else nicked the franchise on his first name) children's book, Tolpuddle Boy, in time for the annual Tolpuddle Martyrs Festival in July. Rooting around on the Tolpuddle Museum's website I was strangely thrilled to find God is our Guide: the Tolpuddle Martyrs and their Methodist Roots. This pamphlet tells of the Tolpuddle Martyrs and how their faith guided their actions but made them rebels in the eyes of the established church. The booklet tells of the Tolpuddle Chapels built by the village Methodists. It is published by the Dorchester Circuit of the Southampton District of the Methodist Church. I think it was the publisher that made it an exciting find. Who needs HarperCollins?

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Lowdham at eleven

The programme for the eleventh Lowdham Book Festival in Nottinghamshire (15 June - 1 July) is now available online at, though the box office is not in operation until Monday. Five Leaves jointly organises the Festival with The Bookcase in Lowdham. The Festival was meant to be quite slimmed down after the big tenth Festival, particularly as we did not attract Arts Council funding, but, y'know, 75 writers and an even longer Festival. It just happened. If you have never been before come on the 26th June - 26 events, all free, a children's programme, a large book fair and a cafe. And if you only have one evening free, come on June 21st to hear Mark Cocker on birds followed by quite a lot of bat stuff, or on Friday 25th when John Harvey, Jon McGregor and Berlie Doherty talk about what they read, rather than the books they have written, or on... You could also put your name down for our literary weekend in Paris. Email with your address if you want a printed programme sent.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

The Year of Alexander Baron

We are very pleased to see that Black Spring has published two classic Alexander Baron books, From the City, From the Plough and The Lowlife. Both were high on our wants list for New London Editions but we are not complaining, and wish Black Spring the best for these editions. From the City... is generally regarded as being one of the best novels about WWII, while The Lowlife is a great book about one of the Jewish characters who did not take the north west passage, continuing to live in Hackney, still gambling down the dog tracks. Black Spring also promise the release of Baron's book of war short stories, The Human Kind, next spring. A tremendous book. Meanwhile we have just received Andrew Whitehead's introduction to Alaxander Baron's Rosie Hogarth, due out in October from Five Leaves, to add to our King Dido. More on that one later.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Vimtos all round

You need something to wash down Dairylea white bread sandwiches, Victoria sponge and the like, a major feature of Maxine Linnell's 1962 food table at the launch of her book Vintage on Thursday night. I was too busy with bookselling to get anywhere near the '62 or the 2010 food tables (her novel is set in both times) but the crowds got stuck in. And there were crowds too, so thanks to Kate, Terry, Rod Duncan and the others at Leicester Writers Club for organising a great launch. Maxine was a bit shocked at the numbers, but proved to be a great reader and good in conversation. The audience also got stuck into debating the differences between then and now, and it was good to have a teenager debating as well as some of the older crowd. It was a great night. Well done Maxine.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Memories of Ted Hughes

Today's Observer: " exceptional memoir, Memories of Ted Hughes, 1952-63 by his Cambridge friend Daniel Huws (Five Leaves, £5.99), published in an exquisite paperback edition by the contemporary designer Richard Hollis. Huws believes "Ted's character has been traduced" by the "highly distorted picture" derived from Sylvia's letters and journals. For him, Hughes is an enthusiastic, romantic figure, a young undergraduate "dressed in grey flannel trousers and a black corduroy jacket". This tantalising fragment will make any Hughes fan impatient for Jonathan Bate's projected biography. Letters, memoirs, a renewed sense of the poet's importance; the time is ripe for that life of Hughes."
Robert McCrum

"Keep beavering away" - Stanley Middleton 1919-2009, a celebration

Tamar Hodes, one of the speakers at the Nottingham celebration of the life of Stanley Middleton repeated this (a variation on the less polite army version), his advice to her as a young writer some 27 years ago, in describing how Stanley took her under his wing in Cambridge, leading to so many years of correspondence. Various of us read from or commented on his literary work, or talked about his life outside of the book world. Paul Binding gave a critique of some titles, which will certainly drive me to read or reread the ones he discussed. We were accompanied by songs from Caroline Danks, one of his grandchildren. The highlight of the day for me though was Philip Davis reading a section from Stanley's last novel, A Cautious Approach, to be published this August by Hutchinson. Philip read, wonderfully, a very moving passage about a son and father relationship, a difficult relationship. I hope the rest of the book, Stanley's 46th I think, will be as good. The event was largely organised by David Belbin and supported by both Nottingham universities, Five Leaves, Writing East Midlands and The Bookcase. The celebration was fully booked, the audience largely from an older generation of readers and those who had known Stanley from his teaching days and from his church as well as from his writing. A very fitting occasion.

Sunday, 2 May 2010

Small presses versus commercial presses

I'm often, well, occasionally, asked about the difference between small presses and commercial publishers. That is hard to answer, but just as a duck is hard to describe but you know one when you see one, so is a small press. Even though our production values are often higher than big publishers, and even though we often publish the same writers.
But what is the difference? Here's a clue. On my wedding day one of our regular writers, a witness at the wedding, brought along his next manuscript. Indeed, the day after the wedding Five Leaves had a book launch... Another clue. A couple of us from Five Leaves recently met up with a writer we may be publishing at dusk outside Cathcart Jewish cemetery. It felt more like something out of The Sopranos than the Frankfurt Book Fair. Small press and proud of it.

So farewell then, Sphinx

My favourite little press mag, Sphinx, has closed down its print edition, after five years and twelve issues, in part migrating to Fittingly, this magazine focusing on the small press world had black endpapers. The last issue includes interviews with editors at Salt, Two Ravens, Candlestick and Templar. Gerry Cambridge from Dark Horse talks about typesetting, Tess Rainsford reports on the lively Scottish poetry pamphlet scene while Eleanor Livingstone discusses the Scottish poetry festival StAnza. There is more, but that should be enough to encourage anyone interested in small presses to order this issue from the website above, and if you are feeling flush to buy some of the back issues. Helena Nelson, one of the few but increasing numbers of women editors in the small press world, deserves congratulations for running something that covers "our" world, and Sphinx is going out with a bumper issue. £3.50 well spent. You may have to fiddle about a bit on their website though, clicking on issue 12 I get 9. But you can manage.

Reading independent

One of the more annoying, but fascinating trends in the book trade is to do something, or do without something, for a year. Write the book, get in the colour supps, and then go back to normal life. Recent examples include having sex every day for a year with your partner, living according to the Bible. I don’t fancy any of them, besides they have been done. The literary version is Susan Hill’s Howard’s End is on the Landing: a year of reading from home, where the author spent a year re-reading from her book collection. I thought of this in January when noting down the first books I read during the year – the first seven were all from indie presses. Right then. No book deals, or colour supps, but this year I’ll only read books from indie presses. For years I’ve banged on about indies, this time I’ll put all my book buying money where my mouth is. There will be sacrifices. Sorry, no, I have not read the new Andrea Levy, and – dammit – I was going to finally read Madam Bovary, but it is published by Penguin. And not just buying new; second hand, library and personal borrowing will only be from indies. So far I can’t say it is a hardship. There have only been two occasions when I struggled to find a book from the right type of publisher. In the WH Smith Carlisle station, the much reduced bookstock indicated that the long journey ahead would include reading every word of the Cumberland and Westmoreland Herald (“Firm’s Haulage Depot Appeal Rejected” looked an interesting story) and a dog-eared solitary New Statesman. Fortunately I remembered that White Tiger, which won the Booker Prize last year was published by Atlantic. The second time, also journey related, was trying to find an indie book in a British Heart Foundation charity shop. Well, the Bedside Guardian of 2008 seemed expensive at £2.50, but needs must. Shame it was an Olympic year but the rest of it was good. There are big indies – Verso, Bloomsbury, Faber, Granta as well as the groundlings, so I’m hardly going to be spoilt for choice. And look, Quercus has the Stieg Larssons. Nae bother. I’ll report back sometime.

Saturday, 1 May 2010

Trade secrets

Any readers who regularly take the 45 bus in Nottingham might recognise the two teenagers in the image below for the book Revolution. We'd been struggling for ages to find the right two teenagers. The first couple we photographed were too young, in the second the boy looked wrong for the character in the book... and then on the bus were the ideal couple of teenagers. They were on a local college advert, together with a very sultry female and a boy with a mohican. The subliminal message was come to our college and you could look as cool as this. I rang the college PR department to see if I could get permission to use the image of these two local students, thinking that they might be excited being on a book cover. Local? Nope, bought from an American website of stock images, $29 for six. So, off to the website, wading through stock images suitable for lingerie ads. Hoping nobody would come in to my office... "No, don't worry, I'm not looking at these, I'm, um, looking for teenagers..."

New this month from Five Leaves

Big month at Five Leaves Towers for young adult fiction... Maxine Linnell's Vintage is out, her first novel, a time slip novel set in 1962 and 2010, where two girls unwillingly change places. The Ivy Crown by Gill Vickery is a re-issue, set in pagan times and modern times. Robert Swindells joins our list with a re-issue - another time slip novel - set in Bronte country, with a strong Bronte connection, Follow a Shadow. Finally, Sherry Ashworth joins Five Leaves with a new novel, Revolution, where some school students' protest against their school closure gets a bit out of control. More on