Monday, 23 January 2012

World Book Night

Writing on Facebook, our writer J. David Simons said about the forthcoming World Book Night: I'm not sure what to think of World Book Night. Of course, it is a noble cause to get great books out there into the hands of readers. I wonder what kind of deals these already well-known writers have with their publishers - is there anything in at all for the writers apart from the proliferation of their books? [I know a couple of the writers on the list- I must ask them]. If it's all for free, could we have other such nights of free services for other noble causes? A World Boiler-Fixing Night, A World Car-Servicing Night, A World Free Banking Night, A World Free Bottle of Wine Night, A World Free Cinema Night, A World Free Insurance Night. Why does it always have to be the writers that give away their work for free?!

My own experience of WBN is limited. Last year I was a "giver" but rather than send the books to my appointed pick up point, a bookshop, WBN sent them to a library miles from where I live and work. Two buses away in fact (I don't drive). I was not keen on carrying 48 copies of The Spy Who Came in From the Cold on the buses, but I did not need to as the books never actually arrived. They are out there somewhere. I did, however, make up part of a panel at an arts association in deepest rural Leicestershire, with a writer, a librarian and a bookseller. Several of the association were givers. We had a very good discussion on all things bookish, and WBN was the trigger.

I can see David's point, but I know that he and most other writers do want to create a reading culture whereas I doubt the bloke who comes to mend our boiler wants to put boilers at the heart of public life. And, locally, some people have from time to time organised free cinema showings on giant screens for all to see. Certainly we give away some overstocks from time to time - usually anthologies lest any individual author gets upset - as freebies in, for example, Library Reading Day goodie bags.

My main concern about WBN is that as that it relies on well known writers giving their work away free (I presume it is free) it will perpetuate the dominance of those big name writers. Wouldn't it be grand if WBN also had some dosh to pay deserving writers, and deserving small publishers to enable, well, us to give away 25,000 books to help draw the reading public's attention towards, say, J. David Simons?

WBN givers often do try hard to get books into the hands of those who don't read very much, but I confess that over the last year I've got my hands on several of last year's list, introducing me to writers I'd been meaning to read. We all like freebies. I mentioned recently to Robert Chandler, the translator of Life and Fate, that I'd recently found a copy of his book in goodie bag at a Vintage event, having already bought two copies. He said that he was recently at a similar event and on leaving found his goodie bag had that book in it too.

Some bookshops have been concerned about books being devalued by being free, or taking up people's reading time to the exclusion of bought books. I don't accept that. Most book readers read from all sorts of sources, bookshops, second hand bookshops, libraries, book sales at summer fetes, borrowing from friends. But I'm interested to see how this argument develops.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

August 12 1952 commemoration

Advance notice
From Revolution to Repression: commemorating the Soviet Yiddish writers executed on August 12th 1952
Five Leaves Publications and Jewish Music Institute are holding an international event to mark the 60th anniversary of the executions
Sunday 12th August 2012
2.00pm to 5.00pm
School of Oriental and African Studies, lecture theatre G2, Russell Square campus, London (Russell Square tube)
Speakers: Gennady Estraikh, Associate Professor New York University on the Soviet Yiddish writers; Robert Chandler, translator of Vassily Grossman's Life and Fate, on Vasily Grossman and Isaak Babel
Music from the Soviet Jewish world: Polina and Merlin Shepherd
This event will also launch From Revolution to Repression: Soviet Yiddish writers 1917-1952, edited by the late Joseph Sherman, published by Five Leaves
Admission free
Light refreshments will be available
RSVP and further information
The illustration here is by Chagall, the cover of a small volume of poetry "Troyer" (Grief) published in Yiddish by the Kulture Lige in Kiev in 1922, as a fundraiser for a Jewish orphanage. The poems are by Dovid Hofshteyn, one of the poets killed on August 12 1952, and will appear in translation in From Revolution to Repression.

Laure Del-Rivo and Michael Horovitz in conversation

Tuesday, 31st January 6.30 for 7pm LAURA DEL-RIVO and MICHAEL HOROVITZ In Conversation with Julian Mash, formerly of the Travel Bookshop
Ladbroke Grove Underground
This event brings together two local writers to discuss their work, and the lives and times that influenced them.
Laura Del-Rivo's debut novel The Furnished Room was published in 1961, and filmed in 1963 by Michael Winner as West 11. Recently re-published, the novel was described in the Guardian as "an evocative taste of black-coffee blues". She was part of a loose collective of writers and artists including Colin Wilson and Alexander Trocchi, and was photographed by Ida Kar. In addition to writing, Del-Rivo had a series of jobs, including working as a bookseller, a Lyons' counter hand and an art-school model before she started running a market stall in Portobello Road, where she is still a regular stall-holder.
Michael Horovitz is an internationalist polymath. He has edited and published New Departures and coordinated the Poetry Olympics festivals for 50 years ( He was described by Allen Ginsberg as a "Popular, Experienced, Experimental, Jazz Generation, New Jerusalem, Sensitive Bard", and his magnum opus, A New Waste Land, was selected as Book of the Year by D.J. Taylor in the Independent as "A deeply felt clarion call from the radical underground". He has been a Notting Hill resident for most of his adult life, his artworks and picture-poems continue to be exhibited locally and internationally, and he currently performs in a jazz poetry duo with Stan Tracey as well as with the ebullient William Blake Klezmatrix band.
All events cost £5, include wine and take place at the Lutyens & Rubinstein Bookshop, 21 Kensington Park Road, London W11 2EU

We are a small venue and our events sell out quickly so please purchase a ticket to guarantee a seat. Tickets can be bought in-store or by contacting or calling 020 7229 1010.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Here comes trouble!

Here comes trouble! The radicals of Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire is our next book by David Bell, author of the successful book on the Leicestershire miners' strike Dirty Thirty. Trouble will be written for a general audience (I almost used the word popular, but that might be pushing it) and include radicals of all types - political, of course, but also religious - think George Fox of the Quakers, trade union, literary, lesbian and gay... whatever we come up with. David and Five Leaves are keen to spread our net widely to include well known radicals (Byron) as well as people who should be better known, or whose work was or is (cliche alert) ground-breaking. Any ideas are welcome, either here or to

The UK Beat Scene

Our recent series of reprints, Beats, Bums and Bohemians, has started us thinking... why not do more than those three? We're also in discussion with one of our regular writers about a book on the British Beat Scene, a structured anthology, with a linking narrative. But we need to know more than we do. Any suggestions or ideas on this would be very welcome. Please contact Five Leaves on or add a comment with suggestions - even just names to check out. Free polo-necked sweater to anyone coming up with ideas. (Note: this gift can also be declined.)

Jaba juntz

Well, the Times Literary Supplement likes our recent set of New London Editions' books. That will do our reputation a power of good, even if the headline was "Drugs, murder and books", thereby destroying our respectability at the same time. For seventeen years I worked at Mushroom Bookshop in Nottingham which, when I started, sold scales and skins as well as high quality literature. The shop was also raided by the police under the Obscene Publications Act - for drugs books, not sex books* - and although we won costs against the police and most of the books back (the magistrate impounded the Child's Garden of Grass joke book lest any unwary child bought it instead of the Child's Garden of Verse) the shop was forever linked in the public mind with drugs. The name did not help. I've mentioned of course that Five Leaves is unwittingly also a drugs reference, which shows my innocence rather than guilt, but most people don't know that, and here we are again, on the drugs front. Still, I knew that when we published Terry Taylor's book so I can hardly complain. Here's the TLS review: The reviewer draws attention to the contemporary language in the books, all first published in 1961, asking though if anyone remembers the phrase "jaba juntz" which failed the google test. The team of linguists working in the Five Leaves undercroft has never heard the phrase either. So let's get it into circulation. What does it mean? With a very vague memory of the drug era I would say: whatever you want it to mean.

* The police haul did include one sex book, a manual on female masturbation. This was eventually returned to the shop by the police. But whereas it left in mint condition it was returned very dog-eared and unsaleable. How did that happen?

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Catching up on our writers

Many, if not most, Five Leaves writers have written for other publishers, before or after we have published them. That's fine. Maxine Linnell and Dan Tunstall, for example, were first published by us but their third young adult fiction novels have gone to bigger publishers. Nothing wrong with that. Sometimes books we have turned down have gone on to other publishers - that's fine too. Horses for courses and all that. By chance the first three books I read this year were all by Five Leaves' writers, but published elsewhere. The earliest of them was by Bernard Kops - his Awake for Mourning was published by the great MacGibbon and Kee in 1958. The book is of its era, with a good story of the entwined lives of two ex-prisoners, one of who is taken up by a far-right adventurer. The opening story of the prisoners' entwined lives works, but the ending doesn't. There are good cameos - of the party which included a visit by "The Group", of whom "Two are playwrights, one is a novelist, and one is a philosopher, playwright and novelist. All very up and coming. All genuine geniuses. I hate them." I wonder who they were based on. Just so you knew what you were getting into, the cover had a sort of teddy boy on it, with a miserable looking pregnant woman in the background.
Dominic Reeve is hardly a spring chicken either, though his Green Lanes and Kettle Cranes was only published in 2010 (Lamorna, £9.99). Reeve's classic of Romani life, Smoke in the Lanes, is out now with Abacus, a major publisher that has published or republished Romani books. Our revised edition of Reeve's Beneath the Blue Sky has been a bit delayed but will be out soon. The first edition was a steady seller for us, and while Smoke in the Lanes described the "waggon years" Blue Sky covered the 60s, when Anglo-Romanies were moving fully into mechanised transport. In Green Lanes Reeve wittily has a go at those who think that these people were not "real Gypsies", as they should still be travelling with horses and trailers, selling clothes pegs door to door, comparing that attitude to thinking that farm workers should still be wearing smocks and ploughing with oxen. The main thrust of his book though is to describe how, though there is strong evidence of the author being of partial Romani descent, he ran away to join the Gypsies. He fell in with Romanies local to him as a boy and gradually moved into their circle and way of life. His pleasure in finding he was the only gadje (non-Romani) at a big family gathering still appeals, though he is describing the late 1940s. Dominic has always been rather secretive about his life and his real name (still not mentioned here) so this is probably as close to the truth as we will get. The book could have done with a bit of editing, and is repetitive in places but it is a good insight into Romani life in the late 40s in southern England. Dominic still sells compost door to door, and still travels.
The youngest of the three writers mentioned here, being merely in his 70s, is John Lucas, the critic and poet. Several of his books are published by Five Leaves but his first novel, yes, a novel, is published by Greenwich Exchange. The book is called Waterdrops (£9.99) but due to a Greenwich glitch it is not on their website, nor is it on Amazon or listed yet with any booktrade bibliographic information. The book does exist though, the evidence is in front of me, and anyone trying to find it should know that Central Books has it in stock. I'm sure that it will officially exist soon. Waterdrops is a story of World War 2, and if you can get over the awful cover and don't mind a few typos (yes, yes, "pot" here) and stick with it you will find a rather good novel. It is a little hard to get into, but worth it. The novel is based round "letters home" from a soldier then serving in Malta, his life there, the life of his wife and children back in blighty (there is a lot of WW2 language in the book) and the impact of something major on their later lives. I'm not going to give it away, but the hook is a misunderstood passage in Troilus and Cressida. The whole subject is "the terrible things that happen in war, and not only on the battlefield."

Friday, 13 January 2012

A sack of post

Today was just like Xmas, with a sack of post from friends and (literary) family of Five Leaves. The biggest box comprised returns from the bookstall at the Jewish studies Xmas Limmud conference, which answers the question of what some Jews do for Xmas. They buy some Five Leaves' books in breaks from their conference. I also received the programme for Jewish Book Week (, which I'm a bit grumpy about as JBW did not ask the biggest publisher of Jewish books outside London (that's Five Leaves) if we had anything new. But I'll get over it, and the programme has some good features, including our local Dickens' nut Michael Eaton on Fagin, and old Bernard Kops is there with his new David Paul book. One to avoid is Colin Shindler and Nick Cohen lashing themselves into an intellectual frenzy about how the left is anti-Semitic. But there is good stuff in the programme.
Colin Ward - no stranger to this blog - is the subject of a special issue of Anarchist Studies (in stock at Housmans). Anarchist Studies is a spined journal edited by Ruth Kinna, who has appeared at our States of Independence and Lowdham Book Festival. In the same post was was the "Wardist" journal The Land, which I hope is also on sale in Housmans. The last journal in the post was a recent issue of Tribune, which included a nice review of one of our Cable Street books. Trib has been struggling of late, so do buy it when you see it. A few days into the new year and I'm already behind with my reading, but it was kind of London Books ( to swap some of our London titles for their new reprints of John Sommerfield's May Day and Simon Blumenfeld's Jew Boy, the latter having an introduction from our friend and author Ken Worpole. I must say that London Editions produces some very attractively-designed, and affordable, hardbacks.
The final batch of post comprised booking forms for stalls at our next States of Independence day event in Leicester, on March 17. I'll post about this soon, but stalls are booking nicely and the programme is coming together.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Stop what you're doing and read this!...

... is a new title from Vintage, published to encourage reading. So I did stop what I was doing, which was reading, to read this book, on the train today. And mostly it was very worthwhile. The opening chapter, the best in the book, was by Zadie Smith entitled "Library Life". There was no mention of previous publication but I thought I had read a version of the chapter elsewhere. No matter, her article was one of the best pieces of advocacy for public libraries I've read. Tory Government Minsters should be strapped to chairs and made to read it. They'd still hate people reading books "on the rates" but at least they might be marginally ashamed. Might.

Zadie Smith described her own family's reading history, and the importance of public libraries in opening up the possibility of other libraries for her - the university libraries she frequents now. But she does not want to pull up the drawbridge behind her. She also sees that even with the university libraries and her private library in her private house that there is the call of spending an afternoon with a toddler in a public library, or the need to research your street in 1894.

Jeanette Winterson reminds us of other things the working class has lost - the brass band, the choir, telling stories down the pub, mending kit, walking - to force-fed adverts and consumerism. Nicholas Carr draws attention to what is on offer to the modern reader of Kerouac's On the Road - apps that come with maps, audio, video clips, slideshows, touchscreen interface. Great, "but I doubt it would have rattled my soul in the way my tattered paperback did." Finally I could have kissed Mark Haddon when he wrote that he often could not remember what happens even in some of my favourite novels, mentioning that he was halfway through the third volume of Proust before coming across marginal notes in his hand showing he had "read it before and forgotten everything". I'm pretty sure I haven't read Proust, but was so pleased to find that another reader just, well, forgets important books while still loving them. And he's younger than me.

I doubt whether any non-reader will be turned on to reading by picking up this book. But we need to remind ourselves of the importance and joy of reading, and this books is good reading and good company. Awful cover though, which is not illustrated here.

ps Five Leaves is a voice in the crowd in this book. Michael Rosen, in an article that was also published in the Guardian, talks about his father Harold Rosen reading aloud to his family, Dickens especially, and from his own memoir Are You Still Circumcised? - which we published, and reprinted, and foolishly allowed to slip out of print.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

How not to approach a publisher # 1

I would not normally mock poets but I've just had another submission from someone offering their new book who had politely been told before that we were not reading submissions and asked not to send more... So I think he is fair game and it's a good email. My previous rejection is not referred to but my eager correspondent does refer to his previous email in which he attached 607 pages of poems as an attachment. He writes that as he hasn't heard from us he is optimistically sending the new collection. I like an optimist. This time he has gone for a more modest 210 pages as an attachment. It's a good job he did not send his collected works as he boasts that he has nearly 7,000 pages of poetry available. Not bad for someone aged 34. There is nothing to suggest his poetry which is "unique and has never ever been written before or experimented on the mortal planet by any mortal" is targeted at Five Leaves (whose poetry output last year was one small pamphlet) so I imagine there are many small publishers whose inboxes are blocked up. Nor do I imagine the person knows anything about poetry since he is asking for "an author advance and uninhibited distribution of my book via earth's major bookstores". But why stop at the earth for his books which are also on line so that we can "witness the extent of the spread of (his) poetry on the Internet"? After all, he has God on his side - heaven's best known literary critic has bestowed on my correspondent his, ie God's, "invincibly astounding grace on (him)". Good old God. Well, our list is full, but our correspondent suggests I could forward the email, with attachments, to "any of (my) esteemed contacts in the publishing industry." Now, what was the name of that editor at Faber?

Thursday, 5 January 2012

The year just ended - annual report

Given the current Dickens' craze, we shall report Five Leaves' 2011 as the best of times, the worst of times. On the positive note, we published more books than ever, and, save for an historic reprint and a new edition of an old Five Leaves' title which were held over, managed to bring out 28 new books this last year. These included new young adult fiction from David Belbin, Maxine Linnell and Dan Tunstall, all of whom have we have published before; the relaunched Crime Express series; five books for the Battle of Cable Street 75th anniversary; two Catalan interest titles; a new Bromley House editions historic reprint; new and old fiction by J. David Simons; a new art book by Anita Klein; one poetry pamphlet; a very creative book on Roman Nottinghamshire (which went to reprint within weeks); a memorial anthology for our writer Colin Ward; the first issue of an annual journal; three books in our New London Editions series, fifty years after first publication - much to the pleasure of the writers, all of whom are still with us. Such output is challenging, but it was possible with the first full year of Five Leaves no longer being a one person business - with Pippa Hennessy picking up an increasing range of work.
Of these, some performed much better than expected - Roman Nottinghamshire has already been mentioned. Others needing reprinting within their first year included the new edition of our Crime Express title Claws, which keeps on selling, the New London Editions' book Baron's Court, All Change and - twice - our journal. The first edition was called Maps, the second, Utopia is coming along nicely. We also reprinted one of the Cable Street books, The Battle for the East End: Jewish responses to fascism in the 1930s thanks to the author running a long series of meetings on the subject of the book. Others - and here is the bad news - did not perform well, primarily our more commercial titles that depended on Waterstone's. Anybody reading this will know that bookselling has had a rough year, and unfortunately we published our commercial titles at exactly the time Waterstone's was up for sale, then sorting itself out. It is no great surprise that the book trade does not see small press publications as their saviour... but on the other hand competing on 50% off, 80% off does nobody any favours either, leading only to books being seen as cheap, while holding less and less specialist stock drives people to Amazon. There is good news from the radical sector, with the formation of the Alliance of Radical Booksellers, where we remain strong, and from many good stockholding independents, or those with a great programme of readings and events.
Overall our sales slipped slightly during 2011 - a few percent down in terms of money banked, but the latter part of the year picked up very well meaning we go into 2012 without a lot of cash, but with a lot owing on trade sales for the last three months which will underpin our trading this year. We are happy with that.
Being very small we have little spare capacity but, a bit late, we are turning many of our books into eBooks, with thirteen of our backlist now available as eBooks, with many more moving into that format in the New Year. By summer it should be standard practice to publish eBooks at the same time as our real books, if it seems appropriate. We don't think eBook sales will replace sales of standard books, on our list, or even form a very significant part of trading income, but we could be wrong.
It has not been an easy year financially (since we are not hedge fund pillagers) but careful control of stock and the use of digital printing to keep our live backlist working has helped a lot and stopped books going out of print when there was still a small but regular demand for them. This compensates for the steady drift to wholesaler buying by shops and chains (where we need to give larger discount). With some reluctance we are now supplying Amazon direct (at 60% discount!) but increased availability of and information on our titles there should lead to increased sales. Do feel free to add customer reviews to Amazon - it does help.
Five Leaves is known for its projects and events. Our second Leicester States of Independence day event for small publishers was well attended, and Lowdham Book Festival continued to thrive. We have set up the Bread and Roses prize for radical publishing which will see its first award this year (and Ross Bradshaw is one of the trustees, in an individual capacity, of the East Midlands Book Award). We were particularly pleased to be involved in the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Cable Street - for its own sake, and to publish five books (a novel, a young adult fiction book, an oral history of the Street and an academic title). We had about 350 people at our joint book launch and about half that at our seminar on the literature of the 1930s. We were also involved in local campaign against library cuts leading to a 500 strong read out and mass borrow at one Nottinghamshire library and a letter signed by 100 local writers in protest against the cuts.
Our review coverage this year ranged from international (Romani, Gujarati) to parochial (Nottingham Post, Camden New Journal) to national (two recent reviews in the Guardian) to specialist, in print and online. Modesty forbids repeating the Time Out review of Maps but that aside, this is our most recent review - covering the three new New London Editions titles, which we rather like.
We have have lost some friends this last year, Peter Preston passing away recently. These deaths are a reminder that publishing is never just about the books.
We ended the year, however, in celebratory mood, in Nottingham, with a knees up attended by regional writers, friends, a couple of writers from London, one from Coventry, trades union activists and a surprising amount of people who form the wider Five Leaves' team.
We posted our plans for this year a few days ago. In summary, it was a busy and difficult year but we got through it, and we are looking ahead with a degree of confidence.
Thanks to those who support Five Leaves by organising events, helping with particular books, by writing and editing, by doing practical things and by buying our books.