Saturday, 4 February 2012

This week in books

Like any job, publishing is full of small bits of unexciting detailed work that builds to a fulfilling life at the cutting edge of literature. That, at least, is what I keep telling myself when doing those bits of unexciting, detailed work. Not that I mind packing parcels for Amazon, a task so skilled that it can only be done by senior management at Five Leaves PLC. This week, however, has been exciting. On Tuesday I spent seven or eight happy hours on trains working on the first edit of Russel D McLean's next, third, novel, Father Confessor. We've already announced the book, signed a contract, designed the cover... and it is always a relief when manuscripts live up to their expectations. No slashing and burning required. In an earlier McLean manuscript I'd had fun tracking the route of every gun through the book as a shoot-out at the end seemed to have one firearm too many. No superfluous firearms in this book but it's still bloody dangerous to live in Dundee. McLean fans will be happy.
On the journey back, David Belbin's forthcoming Student lasted from Carlisle to Alfreton. This was my third read of the book, following some editorial changes by the author. There had been an interesting issue as one, now changed, chapter had previously included a lot of action around Second Life. How do you manage to make a novel about students read as current, when aspects of their behaviour pass so quickly? Nobody now uses MySpace, how many people have even heard of Second Life? Whatever students do now, or terms they use, will be out of date by publication date, which is challenging for authors and publishers.
The big local news is the new book of short stories by Jon McGregor, reviewed everywhere the last few days - This Isn't the Sort of Thing That Happens to Someone Like You. One of the stories appeared earlier in the Five Leaves' anthology, Sea of Azov, so we can marginally bask in the acclaim. At the launch Jon revealed that if he'd had his way the book would have been called (I think it was) "I Bought You a Shovel". His publisher, Bloomsbury, thankfully squashed that idea, but wittily and usefully sent him a snow shovel as a present on publication day, so that the sender could add a note saying "I bought you a shovel".
The same evening author Rebecca Buck and editor Victoria Oldham from the American-based lesbian and gay publisher Bold Strokes were giving a talk at Nottingham Writers Studio on their experience writing for and editing a mid-size publishing house. It was hard not to regret the loss of so many of our lesbian and gay publishing houses, Sheba, Brilliance, GMP, Oscar's... when hearing how successful Bold Strokes are, and how mainstream they are too, being stocked in major bookstores. Here there is no discrimination against lesbian and gay writers being successful - think Alan Hollinghurst, Sarah Waters, Carol Ann Duffy - but outside of Gay's the Word you will rarely see lesbian and gay books in any quantity or labelled as such.
Bold Strokes will be at our States of Independence day in Leicester on March 17 and this week the programme went on line at I'll post later about States, but if you are withing striking, or stroking, distance of Leicester do make a date. In short it is a free book festival in a day, with seventy writers taking part, with its roots in the independent publishing sector.
This was the week the programme had to be finalised for Lowdham Book Festival's winter weekend, held over the first weekend in March. And it has, though it is not yet on line. The theme of the winter weekend is Local Heroes, and it includes an evening with the film-maker Billy Ivory as the highlight. Lowdham's winter weekends have always been on a more intimate scale than the summer festival (intimate being code for smaller), which suits us just fine. The date, for those who follow all things Lowdham, is, however, the usual date for our Flicks in the Sticks film weekend. Well, after ten years Flicks has gone dark. It may return, we hope so, but ten years was a good run and frees up some time to develop our winter mini-festival in the future. Lowdham also now runs a "First Friday" lecture series, with one of our regular speakers, Mike Wilson, yesterday having to cover the whole of Dickens' life and work in a hour. Easy, given his last challenge was to cover the whole of English Literature in an hour...
The week closed with National Libraries Day. That is something. Last year there were dozens of protest actions (including one organised by Five Leaves and UNISON) about library cutbacks, but the day has morphed into a day to celebrate libraries - and protest where necessary. Our local Nottingham Post included a good article in support of libraries, with short interviews with me from Five Leaves and our writers David Belbin and John Stuart Clark (the cartoonist Brick), together with some national figures including the ubiquitous Stephen Fry.
Except the week is not over yet. There are many emails to get through and - hurrah - tomorrow night the next order from Amazon arrives, telling me exactly which books I'll be packing on Monday morning. I'm looking forward to it already.

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