Friday, 22 July 2011

States goes west

Advance notice that States of Independence, our free, day-long event promoting indie publishers, has developed a sibling, with States of Independence (West) due in Birmingham on 8th October. The day will include stalls from many publishers from the West Midlands, and some from elsewhere (including Five Leaves and Shoestring from Nottingham and Happenstance from Edinburgh), readings, panels, talks and "flash fiction". The venue is Eastside Projects gallery, in Birmingham's creative quarter and forms part of Birmingham Book Festival. The main organiser is Jane Commane, of the energetic Nine Arches Press in Rugby, and Writing West Midlands. We'll include material on the day in a later blog posting, but meantime anyone from those parts interested in indie publishing should note the date.

Jewish Socialist mag

Here's a shout for the new issue of Jewish Socialist magazine (issue 62). The issue includes a couple of pages by J David Simons on the background to his two Five Leaves' historical fiction books set in Jewish Glasgow, The Credit Draper and The Liberation of Celia Kahn. The former stemmed from stories of members of his own family selling drapery on credit door to door, or more exactly croft to croft in the Highlands; the latter stemming from a meeting with me at Jewish Book Week when I talked about one of the characters in his first novel (the Celia Kahn character) "as if she was a real person" and that not enough had been written about Jews and socialism in Scotland, which "simple remark heralded the birth of a novel". I'm now worried that he was thinking I could not tell the difference between characters in novels and real people. (And that was before I mentioned my imaginary friend...). But he did write the second novel.

Elsewhere in the magazine our Jazz Jews writer Mike Gerber explores the connection between Jews and boxing, while the writer of our forthcoming Battle for the East End book on Cable Street, David Rosenberg argues with David Cameron about multi-culturalism. The other stand out pieces in a very good issue of the mag includes a long report of a speech by Afif Safieh, the PLO's Roving Ambassador for Special Missions (an old friend of the Jewish Socialists' Group) and an article by Paul Collins on Victor Gollancz, founder of War on Want, the Left Book Club and the once influential publishing house that carried his name. The current issue costs £2.50 including postage from Jewish Socialist, BM 3725, London WC1N 3XX and a four issue subscription costs £10 from the same address.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011


You know all those glitzy awards on television for films - BAFTAs and the like. Have you every wondered who is in the various "Academies" that select them? No? Nor had I until I discovered that I had become a member of the Academy of British Crime Writing (Publishing, Film & Television), or at least I will be when I cast my vote for the shortlist of the Specsavers/ITV Crime Thriller Awards to be held on ITV 3. The invitation to vote comes with no mention of why I have been chosen to join this prestigious Academy, though I can guess it is because a couple of years ago one of our titles was short-listed for the book section of the Awards. But I've not been invited to vote on books, but on film and television. Do I really care who wins the Best Actress Award for a television crime/thriller programme? I don't even watch television but here I am, a member of the Academy. I hope I am given a casting couch.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Virtual book launch

We'd like to have given all you some cake and let you explore Sue Dymoke and David Belbin's allotment yesterday, at the launch of Dave's Secret Gardens, but we could not get you all in their neighbouring house if it rained, and it did, but here's the start of the event:

The book is partially set in the ancient Hungerhill gardens in Nottingham, where I used to have a couple of allotments at one time. Hungerhill gardens are very secret - high hedges, mysterious winding paths, old brick sheds. You could hide there, and Aazim does, for a while. He is a refugee child. At one stage in the story he is asked "Why did you come here? Were you escaping something? Or did you come for a better life" [Aazim thinks} She doesn't want me to tell a story that will make her feel bad. I can tell. She doesn't really want to know. "Everyone wants a better life," I reply. "Don't you?"

Saturday, 16 July 2011

I don't like Murdoch either

... not that anyone does, of course, now. But there are reasons beyond the phone hacking. Rupert Murdoch owns HarperCollins, one of the UK's major publishers. HarperCollins publishes some great books, including - great irony here - Naomi Klein's No Label. It also publishes some terrible books, like the great unsold autobiography of John Major which netted Major a £400,000 advance. If you look at the HarperCollins list you will find that Murdoch has used his publishing firm as a kind of outdoor relief for politicians heading past their sell-by-date. Add in the serialisation of such memoirs in the Sunday Times and you can see that many politicians have had sizable contributions this way. In 2004 Ian Jack, in the Guardian, referred to Robin Cook getting an advance against royalties plus serialisation fee that topped £400,000 for a book that did not even earn 10% of the advance alone. And there is David Blunkett writing for the Sun. Now, why would any media mogul chose to give politicians far more money than their words could possibly be worth?

There is one exception. Chris Patten, an honest man among Conservatives, wrote a book about being the last Governor of Hong Kong, on a realistic £50k advance from HarperCollins. The book was however never published as it included some of Patten's comments on the Chinese government. Murdoch was at the time getting into bed with the Chinese government on some business deal and did not want to publish anything critical of that Government. So Patten was dumped, and his book went on to be published, successfully, by MacMillan. I can only hope, as the Murdoch empire fades, that the excellent Times Literary Supplement survives, under new ownership.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Sometimes a book only tells half the story

Earlier this week we launched Maxine Linnell's second book, Closer, at Knighton Library in Leicester, with many of her friends and with colleagues from Leicester Writers' Club out in force. Probably most people knew that Maxine had a personal tragedy in the period leading up to the book's publication. The adage "the show must go on" is not always true but sometimes it is better if the show does go on. I'm sure Maxine would not want the loss of her son Ben to define her completely but we need to recognise it. She was asked to write the article below on a book blog, and we are linking to that with her permission.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Desperately seeking... Robert Poole

Robert Poole wrote one book only, as far as I can tell - London E1, published by Secker in 1961. There are more recent writers called Robert Poole, but the one in question was born in 1923 and appears to have vanished without trace. Secker - now part of Random House - still hold the rights. We have been in touch with them about republishing the book in our New London Editions series, but would like to contact him, if he is still alive, or his Estate and know more about the man. In the book he describes his career in somewhat racy terms. He was born fifty yards from Brick Lane, held various jobs, jumped ship in New Zealand, was jailed there for a month then deported. He sold clothes in Oxford Street, and in 1958 moved to Margate and ran the Bingo stall at Dreamland. And after that? We know nothing. And Google knows nothing either. A similar blog for another writer in the series turned up a daughter, so we step forward in faith again. The book itself is set in Brick Lane during the blitz and is of particular interest as it describes, in what must be true to life fiction, the relationship between the host community and the Asians then starting to settle in the area.

New young adult fiction book from David Belbin

Secret Gardens by David Belbin is Five Leaves' first book for "reluctant readers", a book that should also be of interest to anyone working with or interested in refugees, or allotments. Secret Gardens starts in the famous Hungerhill allotments in Nottingham, where all sorts of mysteries can happen behind the high hedges. In this book a refugee child meets a trafficked child and both go on the run, seeking work wherever they can find it. The book is illustrated by Brick AKA John Stuart Clark.
In earlier years Five Leaves published several books by refugees and about allotments. And here's these subjects brought together:

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Southwell Poetry Festival

It is strange returning to Southwell Poetry Festival. The festival was conceived as a one off event as part of the local council millennium celebrations in 2000, but proved to be so popular money was raised to return in 2002. This time the festival was to run for three years only, but at the end the local paper ran a "Poetry Festival Cancelled" front page where local traders and others talked about the economic and cultural impact of the festival on the town, so money was raised again and after a year the festival was back. I have to say that, save for the first year, it was one of those festivals that never quite succeeded and never quite failed, but eventually ownership passed to Southwell Library and having that as a base made the event finally reach its potential in terms of local attendance, with lots of specialist events boosted to big numbers by Carol Ann Duffy, Andrew Motion and, this year, by Simon Armitage.

Southwell Library is one of those libraries you dream about - great stock, committed staff, room to move books to one side to set up a stage and create a hall for 120, a drinks license and a year-round programme. The Minster and the Minster School are to hand for really big events - 400 came from Carol Ann Duffy in my last year of involvement. In the same year I persuaded the library to open all night, with a night-long arts programme as part of the National Year of Reading. The staff did not take much persuading and again the library was the talk of the town.

It is good to see the Council continuing to support the festival, though the library has lost four workers in the recent round of library cuts. Nevertheless, the library does what it can with less staff than it should have and the festival is a major part of Nottinghamshire's literary calendar. Everyone is pleased that the Council continues to organise the event.

And me? Well, Five Leaves had an Adrian Buckner pamphlet launch at the Festival and our writer Andy Croft gave a good reading (with Tom Warner) last night, together with a fascinating talk on "the common music of poetry", which brought in football chants, his work that day in a special school, the work songs of slave and the Odyssey. I hope the lecture is published. The festival continues until 9 July ( But I have to get used to buying tickets rather than swanning around pretending to be important.

Anyone coming to the festival can be sure it will succeed. At the opening event, in the wonderful soaring Minster building, standing below a gold Christ figure (pictured) suspended from the roof as if he was going to fly (or go SPLAT) the Dean of the Minster said a prayer for the arts. We have God on our side. We cannot fail.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Romans go digital

Five Leaves' current best-selling book is Roman Nottinghamshire. Four weeks in and we are planning a reprint. It is also quite obvious that at some stage there will have to be a second edition. A talk in Retford alone produced some gold dust. Meantime we have set up a dedicated microsite to gather all the latest Roman Nottinghamshire news. Who knew this was such a big area? We have also heard a rumour of someone else writing a book on Roman Notts. Typical, you wait 1600 years and two books come along at once. Here's the microsite.

New Adrian Buckner pamphlet from Five Leaves

Bed Time Reading by Adrian Buckner is our first poetry pamphlet since 2007, though Adrian is no stranger to our list as his full collection, Contains Mild Peril, was published by us the same year. I've long been an admirer of Adrian's slow, thoughtful poems, since being on the appointment panel for when he was Nottinghamshire's one and only local Poet Laureate. He had a very successful year but the project funding could not be continued so he must remain a difficult answer to a question in some local literary quiz of the future. This pamphlet - in true Adrian style - comprises a second look at the books he first read in youth - Anna Karenina, Tess of the d'Urbervilles, Auden, Primo Levi and others including, not surprisingly knowing his love of cricket, John Arlott's Test Match Diary 1953. This was a book written some years before Adrian's birth, but Arlott can only have had a reader like Adrian Buckner in mind while writing it. You can order via:

Sunday, 3 July 2011

New Maxine Linnell book from Five Leaves

Maxine Linnell's time travel young adult novel Vintage was well received. In her new Five Leaves book, now available, Maxine turns to a more difficult issue - what happens when a father gets too close. This was an difficult book to edit as we were keen that the father in question was understood, not demonised, yet we had to be clear on the impact of his behaviour on the whole family. It is a book about love, about families, and about teenage friendship and trust as well. Maxine has taken on a difficult issue and dealt with it sensitively. Copies are available on:

New Anita Klein book from Five Leaves

Anita Klein is one of my favourite artists. We used a few of her illustrations as book covers in the past, then moved on to publishing/distributing her exhibition catalogues. Her new book - Through the Looking Glass - is her best yet, mostly because it is a very large format, which brings out the best in her images. The book includes paintings from her two lives - in London and Italy, and her Italian paintings definitely move into the sensual. You can find examples of her work at The new book is £24.95, and the production reflects its price. More on: