Thursday, 23 December 2010

Books of the year, from indie presses

Deciding to put my money where my mouth was, in 2010 I only read books from independent presses. Excluding thin volumes of poetry, and children's picture books, I read 61 books. This is down on a normal year - Five Leaves' annual report (see last posting) makes it clear why. The year is not quite over but I know that the books I am due to read by the end of the year will not make it into my top ten, as they are for background research. I should confess the number does include three books from conglomerates - a William Trevor book I read to settle an argument (don't ask), a Stanley Middleton novel, because I wanted to remind myself what he was like and The Time Traveller's Wife, because I had to lead a discussion on it. There are some very big independents here - Bloomsbury being the most obvious, but they are members of the Independent Publishers' Guild, and Quercus. But I did say indies, not small indies. Here's my top ten - in no particular order. Not all were published in 2010.
* Bringing it all back home - Ian Clayton (Route) - a memoir of music, and working class life in Featherstone
* Just my type: a book about fonts - Simon Garfield (Profile) - stories about typesetting
* Once upon a country - Sari Nusseibeh (Halban) - Israel and Palestine, Nussebeibeh lives in East Jerusalem, and I read his book while staying down the road from his mother
* Even the dogs - Jon McGregor (Bloomsbury) - a novel, by the best fiction writer in the East Midlands
* The lowlife - Alexander Baron (Black Spring) - Hackney Jewish life in the 1960s, round the dog track
* Before the earthquake - Maria Allen (Tindall Street) - another Nottingham novelist. Her first novel, set in rural Italy a century ago
* A bookman's tale - Ronald Blythe (Canterbury) - not his best set of essays but many are still excellent
* Millennium Trilogy - Steig Larsson (Quercus) - cheating I know, but I read them one after another
* Common Cause - Francis Combes trans. Alan Dent (Smokestack) - the story of communism, in verse, on the basis that next time we'll do it better
* Depresso - Brick (Knockabout) - a graphic novel on depression; read it twice to spot the visual gags scattered throughout
runner up - White Tiger - Aravind Adiga (Atlantic)

Did I feel that I missed out by only reading books by indie presses for a year? Not really. But I would have read, and will soon start Tony Judt's The Memory Chalet, Colm Toibin's Brooklyn, and Stanley Middleton's posthumous A Cautious Approach. And, gritting my teeth, I'd better read The Finkler Question.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Five Leaves' annual report

The cliche of our time for anything related to business is "difficult trading conditions", which assumes that in the past business people would say "goodness, that was an easy trading year". But, forgive me, this has been a year of difficult trading conditions. The first year after Borders shut its doors, taking 47 major book outlets from the High Street, saw Waterstone's sales stagnate. There are a lot of great independents out there but there is no doubt dtc had an impact on us. Our sales are up, about 20% by the look of things, which is no reason to be complacent (another business cliche, like in the past we might have said "this is the year to be complacent") as our output of titles was up. What was noticeable was that when a book sells badly in the trade, even by small press standards, it sells really badly. This is fairly new. I guess there will have to be even more focus on our writers getting out there to sell, sell, sell.
Still, there are not many publishers that can say they have increased their sales by 20% this year...

The other big change is that we now have a city centre office and a second worker, Pippa Hennessy. Pippa was employed mostly to do promotions, but it looks like she will end up doing everything, currently shepherding four of next year's titles through to publication.

Apart from the publishing side, Five Leaves has various other duties. Lowdham Book Festival, which we jointly organise, ran well in its first year without public funding. Audiences were as high as ever and we are looking forward to our twelfth year. A new project was States of Independence, a major day event for and with indie publishers, in Leicester, jointly organised with the creative writing team at De Montfort University. Several hundred people and fifty small presses were involved. States of Independence II will be on March 19th and there is likely to be a States of Independence series in Nottingham. I've joined the board of Housmans Bookshop in London, which looks like it is catching the wind of radical protest, with sales rising steadily, enabling the shop to become better stocked and better looking, though you will always be able to notice the difference between Housmans and Topshop. We did however, fail in attempting to open a new bookshop in Nottingham when the landlord withdrew the property (and then let it to Silky Hosiery!).

Our friend and author Colin Ward died in February, and we were involved in a large memorial meeting, which was mostly organised by Ken Worpole. In the New Year we will publish a pamphlet of the speeches at the memorial event. Five Leaves took the lead in organising a day event celebrating the life of Alan Sillitoe in Nottingham which was a great day, attended by 200 people. It would be nice, however, to have a year without memorial meetings not least as this year also saw a big event celebrating the life of Stanley Middleton, mostly organised by David Belbin.

Five Leaves published 25 books this year. Take away a couple of weeks for holiday and that gives you a book a fortnight. We've been busy.

The titles were: Rosie Hogarth by Alexander Baron (New London Editions); Scamp by Roland Camberton (New London Editions); Rain on the Pavements (New London Editions); Vintage by Maxine Linnell (young adult); Tolpuddle Boy by Alan James Brown (young adult); Revolution by Sherry Ashworth (young adult); Follow a Shadow by Robert Swindells (young adult); The Ivy Crown by Gill Vickery (young adult); Golem of Old Prague - new edition - by Baruch Simons and Michael Rosen (children's); Personal Copy by Ray Gosling; Poems of C Day-Lewis read by Jill Balcon (CD); Things to Say by John Lucas (poetry); Next Year Will Be Better: a memoir of England in the 1950s by John Lucas; Swimmer in the Secret Sea by William Kotzwinkle; Holocaust by Charles Reznikoff (poetry); Night Shift edited by Michael Baron, Andy Croft and Jenny Swann (poetry); Old City, New Rumours - poetry from Hull edited by Ian Gregson and Carol Rumens; 40 Years in the Wilderness: inside Israel's West Bank settlements by Josh Freedman Berthoud and Seth Freedman; Stratford: another East End by John Gorman (pamphlet); Goodnight Campers! - a history of the British holiday camps by Colin Ward and Dennis Hardy; No Return by Romek Marber (Holocaust memoir, Richard Hollis); Poems and Journals by Susan Alliston (Richard Hollis); Memories of Ted Hughes by Daniel Huws (Richard Hollis); The Rose Fyleman Fairy Book (Bromley House Editions); Jazz Jews by Mike Gerber

This was the first year of our Richard Hollis imprint, an autonomous imprint run by Richard in London. The arrangement is working well. The first book in the Bromley House Editions appeared, late, thanks to the curse of the fairies, though it is one of the most attractive and unlikely books Five Leaves has published. Whimsy has not heretofore been our strongest feature. The second BH book is a novel of the lace trade in Nottingham by the late Hilda Lewis and has been delayed until 2011.

Press and review coverage has ranged from the Observer through to the newsletter of the Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park. One of the most interesting results has been Mike Gerber's Jazz Jews turning into a monthly radio programme of the same name.
Much of our programme would not have been possible without the support of Grants for the Arts support from the Arts Council. We have serious concerns about the impact of Government cuts in arts funding as well as funding for libraries, the Booktrust and other areas of culture. This led Five Leaves to organise a protest letter by 100 local writers to Nottinghamshire County Council about their library cuts. We also signed a national letter signed by 1,100 writers and publishers against library cuts nationally. I am sure we will return to this subject in 2011.

Monday, 20 December 2010

How not to get your poetry published

The wonderful Helena Nelson has cropped up in this blog before, over her editorship of Sphinx and a recent book launch shared between her and our writer (and her publisher, for she is a poet too) John Lucas. Last year Helena published How Not to Get Your Poetry Published, a nicely produced pamphlet available for a fiver from, or from bookshops via 978-1-905939-32-9. That's an ISBN, an International Standard Book Number, not, as she says in the pamphlet, an International Standard Serial Number, and not, as she says elsewhere in the pamphlet, an ISBN number ie an ISB Number number. But ignore these trivial errors, this pamphlet should be bought by every aspiring poet. If every aspiring poet read this pamphlet - as well as reading poetry - they would save themselves, and publishers, much time. I might argue with Helena over a later chapter where she, while not advocating self-publishing, gives some handy hints on that, but I would not argue with her when she says "publishing poetry makes me poorer". Publishing poetry makes most publishers poorer, and, even if it doesn't, it takes up a lot of time - Helena usefully describes what publishers actually do. Even more usefully she simply, chattily, and by giving examples, leads any poet aspiring to be published, through the maze. She also suggests that the poet might ask themselves why they feel they really need to write, to be published, rather than simply "become a quality reader". She ends by quoting the four lines from Lawrence Binyon "They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old:/Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn./ At the going down of the sun and in the morning/ We will remember them." - probably the only lines of his that we know, and most people would not know who wrote them, but the lines remind us that "[poets] end up trying to market .... ourselves... when the most important use of our time is ... to develop our skills with language and to write as well (and as simply) as we can."
ps - the image above is from the cover of the pamphlet under review, see for more, and for terms of use

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Lowdham year ends with A Little, Aloud

Given it was a Friday night just before Christmas and something like -6, we were pleased to have about 120 people at Lowdham Book Festival's last event of the year. Jane Davies and Angela Macmillan from The Reader Organisation ( were down from Liverpool to talk about the work they do, joined by Joanna Trollope as guest reader. Jane and Angela described their work in reading aloud with groups of prisoners, those suffering from dementia, the homeless. What was encouraging is that though Joanna was the guest reader (she read a long Saki short story, wonderfully) the questions were all to Jane and Angela about their work rather than to Joanna whose books are so well known. I'm sure Joanna would be pleased with that. The audience was visibly moved by many of the stories of individual success in opening up people's lives through reading. This was the first time we'd done an event where the ticket price (£15) brought people a book as well as the usual glass of wine (good wine too, thanks to a special deal with Weavers). People seemed really pleased with the book, A Little, Aloud (Chatto) and many people were asking when we would start a local initiative based on The Reader Organisation's ideas. It was a good way to end the year.

Friday, 17 December 2010

New Catalan interest titles from Five Leaves

Five Leaves is pleased to announce two new titles of Catalan interest, published in association with the Anglo-Catalan Society, in conference round about now in Barcelona.
The first is Trueta, a playscript in Catalan and English by Angels Aymar, translated by Montserrat i Puig, about Josep Trueta. Trueta was a surgeon who developed new techniques in treating emergency treatment during the Spanish Civil War. Part of the play is set in a hospital during the war, the rest in England where he settled, not easily, in exile.
The second, Where the Rivers Meet: Jesus Moncada, edited by Kathryn Crameri, is the first book length study of this important Catalan writer, whose work has been compared to Gabriel Garcia Marquez. He is best known in the UK for his book The Towpath. The collection discusses many aspects of his work and includes two new translations from his fiction.
Both books are listed to the trade as being published in April but are available by mail order meantime from and
Fuller outlines of the books also appear at the above sites.

Friday, 10 December 2010


We have just had printed some good quality postcards, the back simply giving our website and imprints. They can be used as postcards. Anyone wanting copies can email me on info(at) with a street address and the number required. No charge.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Cold war

Andy Croft and Paul Summers have just returned from Moscow, giving readings, freezing (welcome back to sunnier climes!) and trying to find a Russian publisher for our Three Men on the Metro, the Russian metro that is. There are good signs and some Russians have already started translating the work. Prior to that Andy has also been reading from his assorted books in America. Meanwhile, also in America, sections of Michael Rosen and Baruch Simons' The Golem of Old Prague are included in Monsters and Miracles; a journey through Jewish picture books, a major exhibition at the Eric Carle Museum in Amhurst, see

The bookshop that blew away

For the last ten years Nottingham has been a one bookshop city. (I declare an interest, having worked in the last indie, Mushroom Bookshop, from 1978-1995, which closed in 2000.) There are two good small indies in the County, The Bookworm at Retford - which is nearer Sheffield than Nottingham - and The Bookcase in Lowdham, but they can't do the job that a city independent can do so brick and mortar book buyers have a choice of Waterstone's or the book section of a single WH Smiths. However good or bad that one Waterstone's may be, that's not a lot of choice.
In September, I went to look at some offices with another book group as both of us were in need of bigger office space. The space they had found is pictured here - the old HQ of the wonderful Victorian architect, Watson Fothergill. On the ground floor you will see a shop... Immediately the plan changed to have a bookshop there, with the Five Leaves' office behind. A radical(ish) and a literary(ish) shop, with a big events programme the stock going way beyond what we publish. The rent was good as the premises are in a dead shopping area - fine if you are a "destination". But the premises are about three minutes from the arthouse cinema in town, three minutes from a main thoroughfare and seven from Waterstone's. The beautiful Grade II listed building would be our best advertisement. Perfect. We had to move fast. We sorted out terms with a wholesaler and some major suppliers, a computer package, agreed to buy shelving from a Christian bookshop that had just closed, semi-organised staffing and started drawing up the initial stocklist and events programme - to open in October. Everyone would want to visit - but they might only visit once before returning to Waterstone's and Amazon, so they had to visit at a time they would spend most money. We would open for the Christmas season. One Friday morning we agreed every bit of detail with the landlord's agent, with the lease to be signed on the Monday. That same afternoon the landlord decided to withdraw the shop from the market as he now wants to turn the offices upstairs into flats. And flat was how we felt.
Are we looking for alternative premises? No. This was the one. You can see why.
ps. Just to cheer myself up I walked past the premises yesterday (15th December) and found the landlord had let the shop after all. Good luck to "Silky Hosiery". So how did that happen?

Monday, 6 December 2010

"There are fairies at the bottom of our garden..."

... and, now, in our warehouse. The Rose Fyleman Fairy Book was first published in 1923 by Methuen. Fyleman was a prolific writer in her day and was best known for her many poetry collections of fairy poems. She was born in Nottingham in 1877, dying in London in 1957, and though she had a long writing career her whimsical poems remained popular. She wrote within a Victorian milieu where fairies were a popular subject, and within a tradition that included JM Barrie, Charles Kingsley and Kenneth Grahame. Fyleman rejected the darker side of fairy writing and her work is now perhaps more suited for the nostalgia and gift market (and the further reaches of the internet where you can still find her work). Our version of the book is a near facsimile of the 1923 edition, with wonderful illustrations by Hilda T. Miller, about whom we know little and would be pleased to learn more. This is the first of an irregular series of Bromley House Editions, hardback editions of once well known, but long unavailable books by Nottingham writers, found in the Bromley House collection.
Copies are available for immediate dispatch from our mail order agency:, and, yes, the heading of this posting is from one of Rose Fyleman's poems.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

The Cockermouth Poems

Sometime Five Leaves' book editor (The Night Shift, On a Bat's Wing) Michael Baron is endlessly energetic, despite, or possibly because he lives so far from metropolitan poetry circles and despite, or possibly because he is not exactly a young man. He crops up in all sorts of poetry projects up in Cumbria but I think he has excelled himself with his project "The Cockermouth Poems". Michael, who lives in Cockermouth, has set up a poetry trail round the town as part of the positive ways it is responding to last year's disastrous floods. He has persuaded a great range of poets with strong or loose Cockermouth connections to contribute to the trail - a great line up. Here's the story at greater length in the Guardian books blog.
ps I should also mention his own collection of poetry - More Than a Man in a Boat, which is very good. I can't find it on Amazon but its ISBN is 978 0 9565134 0 3 so bookshops can order it. Retail is a fiver.

Friday, 3 December 2010

Their tiny wings are frozen

I had hoped, tomorrow, to launch The Rose Fyleman Fairy Book at the Christmas social of Bromley House Library in Nottingham, the Fyleman book being the first of our Bromley House Editions, a new imprint. We had lots of technical problems with the book, having to use a printer that did "random" colour plates, though that is a strange word for it as the plates had to be in particular positions, just irregular positions. That printer discovered that they could not print the dustjackets as the size was too big, and their normal binder could not bind the books because the spine width was too small. There were other problems, lost computer files... anway, the book was guaranteed to arrive by December 1st. Except maybe not by December 1st, what about on December 1st - that being the date we'd given to BH members when the book would be available, but still in good time for the 4th. We had not counted on the local Interlink Express' depot, our printer's carrier being in Huthwaite, closer to God maybe, but the highest place in the County - and thus deepest in snow. The poor bloody fairies have been sitting in one of three container lorries for three days and nights in some feet of snow. So no Bromley House Editions books being launched at the very well attended event tomorrow. I don't even have a sample to use to solicit interest and orders, And will they be saleable anyway after several days and nights at sub-zero temperature? Paper does not like that kind of treatment. The curse of the fairies is on us.
More on the book when we have it.

Beirut or bust

Five Leaves' friends (and the many more friends of Peter Mortimer) will know that he brought a group of children from Shatila Palestinian refugee camp to the North East last year and plans were in place to bring another group in February. Money had been raised, venues had been booked (and we were gearing up to another big sale of his Camp Shatila book), and everything was in order. The perils of organising theatre between two places 3,000 miles apart became apparent when the UNRWA, which runs the school the children attend, said they would have to postpone the trip until later in 2011. Rebooking everything could at best be a nightmare, at worse cause the trip to be cancelled. Rebooking has been done, though some of the events/venues could not manage to reschedule. Pete Mortimer is currently in Beirut trying to sort out things at that end. It must have been so tempting to have given up - Pete has his own life and needs to earn a living - but hard to give up when incidents happen like some anonymous person from the North East putting £1000 in cash through Pete's door "for the bairns". You can catch up with the project on Pete's blog and through the Children of Shatila group on Facebook.