Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Lowdham - a round up

"I love Lowdham, mostly because it is a village festival and isn’t suffocating. There is always something I want to go to, somebody I want to hear... Anyway, who can fault a book festival that one year featured cartoonists Posy Simmons, Steve Bell and the irascible Martin Rowson." This from an interview with the cartoonist "Brick" in LeftLion, online. Brick has spoken at the Festival a few times. Over on www.dumbles.co.uk there's a nice flavour of the Festival as well. There have been many other comments, but I like this website because we've always tried to create a quality book festival, but with the atmosphere of a village fete and that comes across. These days we also have events in other local villages, Caythorpe and Woodborough, but the heart of the Festival (for me) is the "last Saturday" in Lowdham, where we have a complete day of free events, a book fair, a cafe, a children's programme. We joke that my fellow organiser Jane Streeter's job is to bring in some big names over the Festival to make a profit, which I blow on marquees in one day. The biggest name this year was Stella Rimington (stepping in at the last minute for John Simpson - Lowdham must have been too scary for him). Stella is a spy novelist who used to head up MI5. Not so much the spy who came in from the cold as the spy who came in from Nottingham Girls' High School. She was certainly one of the best speakers we've had in our twelve years. There is some irony that the profits from her event, attended by 450 people, enabled us to put on an introduction to anarchism, held in the heartland of rural revolution, the Lowdham WI. Except it is not irony. We love and need "big names" at the Festival but have no time for Festivals that are only that. Equally important to us has been a range of smaller events - this time, for example, we included a talk on Buddhism and a friend of the Festival organised a Byron bike ride. But even small events are not that small - about 50 people came to the intro. to anarchism and a talk on the Moomins and philosophy was packed out. We also do our best to give platforms to East Midlands' writers - this year being particularly pleased that Stephen Edden (AKA Steve Hill) is now the second person in the village to become a professional writer (the other being the children's writer Elizabeth Baguley). The Festival also hosted the first East Midlands Book Award, with two of the Festival team and two others close to the Festival making up the Trustees.

The "last Saturday" started off with four full houses - talks on Roman Nottinghamshire, on England in the 1950s, on Shelley as punk rocker and on letter-writing in Jane Austen's novels. Meanwhile the children's marquee got going, which, later in the day, included appearances by the local Catfoot Theatre and children's writers Tom Palmer and Helena Pielichaty. By four the cafe was down to teabags - it was one of those days. But it was not the real last Saturday and we continued the next day with the Ian McMillan Orchestra in Nottingham (Lowdham Book Festival on Tour) and carry on, in fits and starts, until July 14th. The shape of this year's Festival is like a python that has swallowed a large meal - long and thin with a big bump in the middle.

One minor problem is money. After an exhausting tenth year (65 events in one week, plus a school's programme and a total attendance of about 6,000) the Festival was unable to secure Arts Council funding. We've had to scale back our schools' and outreach programme somewhat but still manage some work in nurseries, schools and care homes - calling in favours or drawing on our resources to pay for this important part of our work.

What does the future hold? Next year we enter our early teenage years. I hope we do more than sit in a corner and grunt or spend all our time staring at our mobiles, waiting from incoming texts. We'd like to revive our former schools' work, work with prisoners and excluded pupils, and we hope to put on the "green weekend" that we've been talking about for a few years but never got round to. All it takes is money and time... time and money. Meantime, there's a Five Leaves backlog to take care of.

Monday, 20 June 2011

East Midlands Book Award - a result

There is no doubt that that Shod, by Mark Goodwin, published by the small press Nine Arches, was the surprise - but unanimous - choice of the judges Ian McMillan, BBC man John Holmes and newly-retired Derbyshire Chief Librarian Jaci Brumwell at a well-attended awards ceremony last night. Mark said afterwards "I'm delighted to receive this award especially because it highlights poetry in the East Midlands, an area that is rich in poets". It was also a triumph for Nine Arches and their very active publisher Jane Commanne who edited this book. Mark lifted a cheque for £1000 and a trophy which Ian McMillan thought looked like that flame thing that British Gas used to use as their logo (I think he thought we bought it cheap), querying whether there really should be two "D"s in East Midlands and saying he was sure there was an "e" in East. Had people known I'd organised the trophy and proof-read the engraving some might have thought it was not a joke.

Ian talked through the whole list before returning to the winner saying that the judges found it hard to compare "apples to trombones" as they had to chose from entries across a range of genres. They agreed that the way to do it was not to try to compare in this way but to ask which book most clearly addressed its own genre, stood out from it, and said something new in that genre. The answer was Shod.

The local magazine LeftLion features reviews of all of the shortlisted books, as well as interviews with all the shortlisted writers. Read it here: http://www.leftlion.co.uk/articles.cfm/id/3742.

It's been an interesting project to work on for this last year. The founders and Trustees of the award are Jane Streeter (from Lowdham Book Festival), John Lucas (Five Leaves' writer and publisher at Shoestring Press), David Belbin (another writer at Five Leaves, but currently best known for his Tindal Street novel) and me. The project has been supported and administered by Aimee Wilkinson and Antonia Bell at Writing East Midlands. We have secured private funding to guarantee running the award for ten years but local legal firm Nelson's ensured a more comfortable budget for this first year. Hart's Restaurant provided a lovely reception for the shortlisted writers, the judges and Trustees, and Gardner's, the book wholesalers, printed attractive point of sale material.

Nominations are already open at Writing East Midlands for books published by East Midlands' writers in 2011 (www.writingeastmidlands.co.uk/awards). The new set of judges are Marion Shaw, former Professor of English at Loughborough, Debbie James from the bookshop in Kibworth in Leicestershire and the Rutland composer - our celeb judge - Gavin Bryars. Now that the project is established we expect more than the 46 entries of this year, so lots of reading for them. None of the judges live in Notts and as we push on to ensure that the EMBA is truly an East Midlands project the award ceremony will also be outside of Nottinghamshire.

Hopefully in this first year we have cleared up a lot of small details - what do we do if people live part-time in the East Midlands only? What about the writer who lives here but is published in the USA? How big should the shortlist be (next year it will be six maximum - easier for bookshops)?

What pleased us all was the enthusiasm from publishers, big and small, from well-published and less well-published writers. We found writers in the area we did not know lived here and are pleased that the East Midlands as a place to be a writer is just that little bit better than we were when we started.

Talking with Mark afterwards he said that he'd been pleased to get onto the shortlist, feeling that it was job done. The judges had been charged, however, with only shortlisting books that they would be comfortable with as winner so no book was shortlisted as a make weight or to appease particular constituencies. This year there were eight novels, and two poetry books. Next year the shortlist might only be children's and history books, or the same again. I'm looking forward to seeing the shortlist.

Well done Mark Goodwin. And well done to the shortlisted writers, who at least took a bottle of something nice home with them to drown their sorrows.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Ladino review

I mentioned here a few days ago that one of our books had been reviewed in a Catalan and Romani journal. Collectors of small languages will be pleased that our The Chaste Wife is reviewed in the current issue of Aki Yerushalayim, revista kulturala Djudeo-Espanyola. I can't help but feel that Elia Karmona's book (translated by Michael Alpert) should have had more attention as there are barely a handful of Ladino-related books published in Britain. The book includes a long introduction by the translator on Ladino literature. Ladino? The language spoken by the descendants of those Jews expelled from Spain in 1492, just holding on in Turkey and Israel and a few other places, spoken mostly by an ageing and decreasing number of people. Despite that the journal lists six other periodicals in Ladino, five dedicated websites, thirteen organisations and two radio programmes. Not bad for a language spoken by, what?, 20,000 people. As outlined in the introduction, Ladino has a weak literature tradition with books mostly being translated into Ladino rather than originating in the language. This is in marked contrast to the song writing tradition - as Ladino music is listened to all over the world.

The review itself is written in Roman script (as is the Ladino part of our book) rather than Hebrew or the Rashi script that Ladino was more traditionally written in - now that was a good way of securing its difficulties in continuity. Anyway, here's a section of the review:

The Chaste Wife... La Mujer Onesta es un livro ke puede ser meldado kon plazer i intereso no solo mar la majen ke mos da de este kampo del la kreation en ladino sino ke tambien por los komentarios del Dr Alpert sovre el estilo i el nivel literatario de este roman i las razones ke se topan al la baza sus karakteristikas, o sea la mizura en la kuala estos romanes bushkavan a responder a la demanda del publiko de lektores djudeo-espanyoles de fin del siglo 12 - prinsipios del siglo 20.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Baron in the news again

Alexander Baron continues to rise. Here's Iain Sinclair on Alaxander Baron on Open Book, for as long as it lasts on Play it again, Sam, while Tribune has included an interview with me, about London books including Baron. The actual Trib page is not on line, but the article appears complete on the magazine's author's blog: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b011tw7z#synopsis, http://benbrill.tumblr.com/post/6182121621/interview-with-ross-bradshaw-five-leaves-publishing

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Out of Towners - new from Five Leaves

Dan Tunstall's second young adult novel is now available. Out of Towners is about a group of lads who, GCSEs over, go away for their first weekend without parental supervision. What could possibly go wrong? Well, it would be a very short novel if nothing went wrong so I think you can assume that things happen. At the book launch earlier this week in Leicester a mate of the author was nervously looking through the book since the basics of the story were of Dan and his chums' own first weekend away, some twenty or so years back (though the novel is set in modern time). He seemed to be concerned that it might not be such a fictional story. He has nothing to worry about; writers make things up. I think.
Dan's writing career is taking off. His first Five Leaves' novel, Big and Clever, was shortlisted for the Branford Boase award for first novels for children and young adults, he has a story in a new big-league anthology about being a boy and he also has a young adult novel for reluctant readers on its way, also from a big publisher. His school visit programme is building up, including a lot of return visits. Dan has been ably supported by Penny Luithlen of the Jennifer Luithlen Agency, and fellow Leicester writer Bali Rai has given him a lot of support as well. Bali too will be joining our roster next year, albeit with a new edition of one of his early books. You can find out more about Dan's book, maybe even buy it, here:

Thursday, 9 June 2011

The West Dumbartonshire Question

On the 1st of the month I posted about the storm concerning West Dumbartonshire Libraries not banning Israeli books. It is a manufactured storm. The situation has got more laughable with the front page of the Jewish Chronicle running a front cover saying "Israeli books banned... but look what I found" with one Scottish Friend of Israel member posing with copies of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and Mein Kampf. The implication being that those nasty anti-Semites at the library won't let their readers near the latest Amos Oz, but there's plenty ugly stuff out on their shelves. Apart from no Israeli writers have been banned, and most significant Israeli writers are still on their shelves, these books were not "found", they were specifically ordered by that Scottish Friend of Israel and the library had to buy the books in. His pose reminds me of the Daily Mail - "Ban this disgusting filth - see pages 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9". Staff at West Dumbartonshire Libraries might be well advised to sit down with a cup of coffee and a Kafka novel to try to understand this. And Mr Vallance, if you want to read Israeli novelists, why not just borrow them from your library and stop wasting public money by ordering Nazi books?
Of course, before Mr Vallance "found" the offending books, West Dumbartonshire Libraries did not stock them. They do now. Well done that man.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Pleased with Mr Postman

Great post today, from the further reaches of Five Leaves' tentacles. Firstly there was Assent, the poetry magazine edited by our writer Adrian Buckner (whose new Five Leaves' pamphlet will be mentioned here shortly). Assent used to be Poetry Nottingham and, to show that those bitter football rivalries don't intrude on poetry, it is now published in association with the University of Derby. Links with Nottingham remain, with this issue, 64/3, featuring the winners of the Nottingham Open Poetry Competition. Surprisingly, there is no website for the mag.
The first issue of Mistress Quickly's Bed arrived, the direct successor to Penniless Press, mentioned here before as one of my favourite little mags. With many of the same contributors (Croft, Lykiard, a couple of Dents) and with even the fifth part of a translation from Victor Serge, it is not at all obvious why the mag. changed its name. Penniless, and its review section, The Northern Review of Books, continues on line at http://www.pennilesspress.co.uk/.
Hearing Voices, a literary magazine from Crystal Clear Creators has reached its third issue under a rotating editorship, and I think this issue is the best yet, with a good cover. There were only three planned but a fourth is now announced. Many of the contributors are regulars from the burgeoning East Midlands small press scene. More on http://www.crystalclearcreators.org.uk/.
The Gypsy Roma Traveller History Month is now well established, and the National Association of Teachers of Travellers has produced an excellent magazine to go with the month. This is, I think, the first time NATT has produced the annual magazine and it has an orientation towards the classroom. Many aspects of Traveller life are covered, from Romani music to Romani language, from reminiscences of life on the road to Romani art. NATT has also produced a further excellent publication, Gypsy, Roma and Traveller Resources Catalogue. Both would be useful in schools with and without Traveller children and are available free from http://www.natt.org.uk/.
The final piece of post was the Catalan Romani magazine O Tchatchipen which includes a late review of our young adult book of Romani short stories, Spokes, bu Janna Elliot. The magazine is in Catalan, with summaries of the major articles in English and Romanes. A Spanish version is also available. See http://www.unionromani.org/.

Friday, 3 June 2011

Lowdham Book Festival

Regulars here, and anyone who knows Five Leaves will be aware that I jointly organise Lowdham Book Festival in Nottinghamshire, now entering its twelfth year - see http://www.lowdhambookfestival.co.uk/ - with Jane Streeter from The Bookcase in Lowdham. This year's Festival runs from 14 June - 14 July and includes about 40 events featuring 60 or so writers. This year's stars include John Simpson, Kate Morton and Gervaise Phinn, but they are all sold out already - in Simpson's case that means selling out a 450 seater in one week. We programme late and quickly and, unlike most book festivals, we release the programme about four weeks in advance, finishing the programming sometimes about one day or even on the day the presses roll. Don't think I am kidding. Jane is busy running her bookshop (this year and next also being President of the Booksellers Association) and I'm busy with Five Leaves so it suits our schedules to work that way. Scary though. A couple of years ago, being our tenth year, we had 65 events over ten days and a full programme for children. Boy, that was fun. It really was. One year we postponed printing the programme, feeling we were not there yet, and one week later did the same again. On the absolute last weekend we could possibly have printed and distributed the programme we booked three major acts which were the making of the Festival and people got barely any notice. That year our attendance was the biggest to date.

John Simpson, Kate Morton and Gervaise Phinn are hardly Five Leaves' writers and we do keep a curtain between the press and the Festival to avoid being seen as too self-serving though naturally we use our contacts, as Jane uses hers, and if it feels appropriate we programme Five Leaves' writers about as much as we would similar writers from any local publisher. This year, for example, Mark Patterson gives his first proper talk on Roman Nottinghamshire, John Lucas dusts off his talk on England in the 1950s, Danuta Reah represents the Crime Express lot and some other writers - David Belbin especially - are published by us but are speaking to their work with other publishers. The Festival also provides the venue for the first East Midlands' Book Award which Jane and I (and John Lucas and David Belbin) have set up and act as trustees for, with Ian McMillan chairing the judging panel. The winner gets £1000 and the shortlist has been promoted as widely as we could. We're not the judges though, and no Five Leaves' or Shoestring (run by John Lucas) writers, Bookcase contacts or graduates of the MA in Creative Writing (run until recently by David Belbin) are on the shortlist. Honestly, you ask the judges to act completely independently without fear or favour and then they do! What sort of world are we living in?

If you can only make Lowdham on one day, come on 25th June. We have a huge book fair, an all day cafe, a full children's programme and 16 events for adults. That day, all events are free and a we put up a pile of marquees to host talks and stalls. Traditionally that is mostly one of my programming days so we have talks on the Moomins and philosophy, anarchism for beginners and on Shelley, but this year Jane has sneaked in talks on the footballer Tommy Lawton (he used to run a pub on Main Street) and invited Jasper Fforde whose auntie lives in the village. I'm not complaining. We also have some talks over the festival on music - Rob Young on visionary music, Graham Jones on the last of the record shops and Ian Clayton on "Bringing it all back home". With the local Warthog Promotions we have live music too - Barbara Dickson and The Demon Barber Roadshow. All part of the fun, and while Barbara Dickson has written a book we never worry too much about that, and the Festival has included early music, rock music, classical music and Indian music. Nobody ever asked why Kiki Dee has appeared twice at the Festival, with not a book in sight. What is important to us is that we provide a platform for our local talent as well as provide entertainment or inspiration from "national" figures. And we can be a bit cranky, hence a talk on Buddhist meditation and a Byron bicycle trip. I should point out that Jane booked the former! Our first step into "inner life".

All the fun of the fair

Book fairs are nothing new. Those of us close to or well into the bus pass years will recall the annual Socialist Bookfair and the assorted international and third world and black book fairs. The only survivor from that era is the Anarchist Bookfair, mentioned here before, doing spectacularly well, and now being around twenty years old. The next is on 22nd October (http://www.anarchistbookfair.org.uk/). The advance leaflet for this year's fair says it is the London Anarchist Bookfair. Has it said that before? I am not sure but it now does seem pointed since May alone saw anarchist bookfairs in Sheffield and - particularly well attended - in Bristol. Our Lowdham Book Festival has always had a book fair on one day, with many talks and lectures (http://www.lowdhambookfestival/) which became the model for States of Independence in Leicester (http://www.statesofindependence.co.uk/). This has become the model for an as yet unnamed fair likely to be on October 8th in Birmingham. Meanwhile the comic and artists book scene held a proletarian "International Alternative Press Fair" last weekend (http://www.alternativepress.org.uk/) and the Arnolfini in Bristol held a more middle-class, artist book, Bristol Artists Book Event (unfortunate acronym there). This advertised "prices starting from a few pounds" but on some exhibits you would have needed a mortgage. Up in Durham the date New Writing North is organising a Christmas Market over the first weekend in December. In short, as the high street struggles, independent publishers, from pamphleteers to purveyors of locked glass cabinet books are responding by organising a book fair near you. The more the merrier.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Banks of the Clyde

On 11th May, on this blog, I discussed boycotts, based round a university boycotting Tony Kushner because of his views on Israel. Now there is a more serious issue. According to an article in the Jewish Chronicle on May 21st "books by Israeli writers could be removed from Scottish libraries" as a result of West Dumbartonshire Council (hands up all those who can list any town covered by WDC!) passing a "boycott" resolution. The paper was not exactly first with the news here since the Council passed the boycott resolution in 2009, but never mind. Following that article the Scottish Daily Express, owned by the pornographer Richard Desmond, quotes someone from the Israeli Embassy comparing the Council to Joseph Goebbels burning books by Jewish authors. Well, if true it would certainly make a change from the Royal Scottish Pipe Band Championship at the Council's Loch Lomond Festival. It gets worse; the Pipe Band lovers' plans became (Jerusalem Post) a wave of censorship that had spread all over Scotland while the Israel YNet News Service said bookshops too were subject to such censorship. The outgoing Israeli Ambassador, Ron Prosser, thought that a wave of book burning could erupt. Well, it could, though perhaps not immediately as the next activity on the WDC website is the Vale of Leven Fun Run so they will be a wee bit busy for a while. Prosser said that "A place that boycotts books isn't far from a place that burns them". Oddly enough he did not take issue with Jonathan Hoffman of the (British) Zionist Federation who called for a boycott of this year's entire Jewish Book Week because one of the many events featured one Israeli writer whose views he did not share.

Anyway, two and a half years after passing a policy saying the Council would not buy goods "made or grown in Israel", which presumably means you can't buy an Israeli date with your bottle of Irn Bru in the Council canteen, we're talking about book burning. Only, in that time no books have been withdrawn from stock; the Council continues to buy books written by Israeli or Jewish writers and bookshops are awash with The Hare with Amber Eyes. Libraries and bookshops will continue to stock books by Israeli and Jewish writers. Easy to check on that - that Council, for example, has its entire library catalogue on line. Perhaps the critics could have spent a minute on that interweb thing before getting overexcited. They could have found that WDC stocks 276 books of Jewish interest, including many by Israeli writers. Rather a healthy number I would have thought, given the tiny number of Jews and less Israelis likely to be living in the area. I should point out, because I have checked the catalogue, that my fellow deep-fried Mars Bar eaters from WDC do appear, however, to be boycotting (or, rather, not have many) Five Leaves' books by Jewish and non-Jewish writers. Now that is the serious issue.