Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Carousel review for Closer

We occasionally post summaries of reviews, but sometimes it feels like we should post entire reviews. In this case, our author Maxine Linnell is very pleased with this review of her young adult novel Closer. The review appears in the current issue of the children's/young adult review magazine Carousel and is written by Yvonne Coppard. Closer is available in paperback and as an eBook.

Mel is a teenager who feels increasingly disconnected - from life, from family, and from any hope of happiness with Raj, the boy she really likes but whom she can’t believe is interested in her. She wars with her older sister and is irritated by her younger brother Only her stepfather seems to know how to reach her. And as the story goes on, we realise there is something Mel isn’t telling us - the darkest secret of all, the fear that hovers in the heart of every careful parent. Her stepfather is too close, and Mel doesn’t know what to do about it. There are many autobiographies in the best-seller charts that deal with the manipulation and sexual abuse of children. Strange then, that the most realistic, most compelling read I’ve come across for a long time is this piece of fiction. For most abuse is not defined by abduction, enslavement and involving terrified obedience. No, most of it is manipulation, a distortion of genuine love and buried in the heart of a family that becomes increasingly dysfunctional without understanding why it is happening. Mel’s hesitant, half-told account of what’s going on builds the suspense; there are no gory details; we kind-of know what’s coming but can’t be sure what will happen next. It’s impossible to make a story like this ring true for everyone, but as a sensitive and realistic portrayal of the complexity of incest and the quiet devastation it wreaks on a family, this is up there with the best I’ve read.
Yvonne Coppard

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Joanne Limburg book launch

Publishing the future, in Leicester

The grass may not always be greener, but Leicester is fortunate to have Leicester Writers Club - which is, I believe, the second oldest such club in the country. The format has been the same throughout the decades - a weekly manuscript meeting where people can read out their work, for comment; regular speakers; an annual dinner; presentation of prizes (some annual cups are a bit battered these days); a residential weekend. If I was a writer living in Leicester, with £50 to spare I'd join it. The crime novelist Rod Duncan said that he would have been a writer without LWC, but definitely not a published writer. But at a time when many writing groups have bit the dust, in part overtaken by the spread of university creative writing courses, LWC continues to flourish, drawing in new writers all the time.
Earlier this week I attended a packed session on E-publishing, which both inspired and worried me. At the start Chris Meade of the Institute for the Future of the Book (If: Book) said that the publisher was dead, that there was no need for them (hang on - that's me he's talking about!), that the future was the direct relationship between the author and the reader, filtered only through the hands of new technology. He was big on apps. Chris was followed by Amanda Grange, a successful writer who has become much more successful by moving to self publishing. Her biggest criticism of the outgoing publishing model was the time element - any "new" book takes at least a year to come out, while ebooks enable the same book to hit the computer screens the same day. Editing? Proof-reading? Typesetting? Design? Buy it in. Stephen Baker, who runs a company dedicated to conversion of the written word to ebooks concurred. John Martin from Leicester Libraries outlined his authority policy on loaning ebooks, pointing out some difficulties in that Kindle ie Amazon in the UK will not sign up to have their formats loanable, so you need a tablet to read a borrowed ebook from Leicester Libraries. By this time some members of the audience were reaching for their medical tablets, others had been noting down every word. I got the feeling Amazon was about to be hit by many previously unpublished or out of print backlist books, uploaded by the morning.
Save for John Martin, the whole panel was evangelical about the new future we are marching towards. Bookshops? Never mentioned. I'm pleased that LWC ran the session, an indication of their confidence, though I'd have preferred to have seen someone (not me) on the panel from the traditional publishing industry.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Wittering on

Some people have already seen this interview via Facebook, but I thought I'd post it here too a this is a slightly more permanent record. The youtube interview by Ambrose Musiyiwa was undertaken live at States of Independence in Leicester, and is about small press publishing and States itself. When I say "a slightly more permanent record" this is not because I normally would want my words to be chiseled into stone, but simply because it does explain something about the ethos behind States, and Five Leaves. Not that book fairs/conventions of this nature are anything new, it is just that there is more of a spring in the step of indies about events like this nowadays and they are spreading, like a rather benign rash, across the country. Here's the interview:

Monday, 19 March 2012

Penny Lace

Hilda Lewis was one of Nottinghamshire's most popular writers in her day. Her historical fiction, with dust jackets designed by the local artist Evelyn Gibbs were widely read. In recent years several have come back into print, though her best-known work now is The Ship That Flew, something of a classic children's book first published in 1939. The historical fiction was well researched and is admired by modern genre writers such as Alison Weir for the author's use of witchcraft, murder, scandal and a rich collection of rogues. Titles include a I am Mary Tudor and Wife to Charles II.
Hilda Lewis was born in London, in a Jewish family, but lived in Nottingham most of her life, dying in 1974. One of her novels, Penny Lace, stands out from the others though - not for its quality (of which more later) - but for its setting, in Nottingham's lace trade. Although the book ran to several impressions after first publication in 1942 it slipped from memory. Indeed, it was the only one of her books that Humphrey Lewis, Hilda's son did not own. I eventually picked up a battered copy from a second-hand bookshop. Humphrey wanted to buy it off me - at twice the price! - but I offered to reprint the book instead as part of the Bromley House Editions series, which revisits forgotten Nottinghamshire classics first found in the recesses of Nottingham's membership library, Bromley House.
What had attracted me to the book was not its overall quality - it would not have won the 1942 Booker Prize had it existed then - but the novel gives a real feel of the factory of the time, the 1890s: "He cast an impatient eye down the great bare room, lit, thought it was barely ten in the morning, by fish-tail flames; driven by draught, they jerked like live creatures imprisoned in their wire cages. As far as he could see, all the other machines were at work - every one. Clatter, clatter, shrieked the machines. Pistons rose and fell. His feet pricked with the vibrations. The whole place was full of deafening, rhythmical sound." The "he" in question was Nicholas Penny, a factory worker. Penny had similar attitudes to Arthur Seaton in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. He was a manual worker who was all out for himself. He hated the bosses but had no time for the union either; he saw women as objects for his own use. But unlike Sillitoe's Seaton Penny decided to take on the bosses at their own game. He learned the trade inside out, working out how he could do all the jobs - making twist-lace, burnt-lace, wool-lace, nets, bleaching, dyeing - with new, modern Continental machines operating in factories over the border in Long Eaton, outside the reach of Nottingham unions. This is not, as I said, the best-written novel in the world - Hilda Lewis must have worn out the exclamation key on her typewriter in the writing - but it is an important book for anyone interested in lace making or Nottingham's industrial history.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Time marches

Five Leaves two big March projects were the Lowdham Book Festival Winter Weekend and the Leicester States of Independence day. No offence to the rest of March, but I'd like to catch up with my sleep now. Lowdham hasn't had a winter weekend every year, but returned to the idea to fill the gap left by Flicks on the Sticks. After ten years our successful, but loss-making, film weekend, was put to bed - at least for a while. The winter weekend's theme was Local Heroes. It's not on the same scale as the summer festival, but 600 attendances over the weekend was encouraging and, unlike Flicks, we turned a modest profit which will help towards the summer funding. The highlight for me was the evening with the screen writer Billy Ivory (as in Made in Dagenham), who used to empty the bins in Lowdham in an earlier life.
The Five Leaves staff is, however, most in need of a few zzzzs following States of Independence, run jointly with our friends of the Creative Writing Team at De Montfort University. This was not a good year to run it for any of us due to other commitments but we worried about losing momentum, especially within DMU, and decided to run a "full strength" States rather than cut back. We were pushed but we did it. States is a celebration of (small scale) independent publishing - somewhere between a book festival and a convention. And it's free. This year attendance was a bit down, around 420, but people stayed for longer, usually several hours, attending the performances and discussions, buying books or just networking. The initial idea was to focus on the East Midlands with some help from Our Friends in the West (Midlands) but this year there were stalls from CB Editions in London, Shearsman in Bristol and Inpress from Newcastle as well as our home grown publishers. Poetry was well, possibly over, represented in the programme but that also meant excellent sales at some poetry presses (Longbarrow from Sheffield for example) which specialise in crafted publications in unusual formats - the kind of material only seen at such book fairs.
I was stuck on admin/Five Leaves duty all day but I heard very good things especially about the future of the book industry panel (chaired by Pippa Hennessy from Five Leaves on her first outing as a panel chair in any setting) and the discussion about small press comics run by the Leicester enthusiasts from Factor Fiction. The level of co-operation in the day was shown by several poets deciding to run Candlestick's session after the editor had to pull out at the last minute due to illness. None of the readers have been, I think, published by Candlestick and they had little prep time but it was lovely that they ran an emergency reading service rather than just let that session lapse. Another couple of presses ensured that Candlestick's stall was delivered and returned, with DMU students staffing it. I like also that this event is always younger and more multi-cultural than any other literature event I go to.
Events like States involve hard work from a lot of people but they are a way that independent presses can showcase their work and talk to their friends and relations. Friends in Birmingham are discussing how best to move forward with their own States of Independence, while on September 8th CB Editions is organising their second Free Verse, see: http://www.poetrybookfair.com/.
The programme for our States of Independence is still on http://www.statesofindependence.co.uk/.
ps An important part of the day comprises publishing workers buying from other publishers. My purchases were the latest issue of Dream Catcher, to pamphlets from the Nottingham "People's Histreh" group (though as one Nottinghamian said, if they really want to mirror the accent it should be 'istreh), a David Morley poetry collection from Templar that I'd not seen before and Jack Robinson's Days and Nights in W12 meditation (CB Editions). My Five Leaves colleague Pippa bought most of the other books on sale judging by the weight of her rucksack.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

New from Five Leaves - This Bed Thy Centre

Now available - This Bed Thy Centre by Pamela Hansford Johnson was first published in 1935, causing something of a sensation because of its treatment of sex, religion and class. The book is set in South London where to star-crossed lovers explore issues of first love, burgeoning sexuality and painful early marriage. Meantime a religious tub-thumper offers one way to salvation while the wonderfully rowdy, immoral but sadly doomed Mrs Maginnes shows that life is for living in the here and now. Zoe Fairbairns contributes an introduction to this New London Editions printing.
Pauline Hansford Johnson went on to write 27 novels in a career which also involved being a critic and a playwright. Copies are available at £8.99 post free from: http://www.inpressbooks.co.uk/this-bed-thy-centre/

Monday, 12 March 2012

East Midlands Book Award shortlist

The Trustees of the East Midlands Book Award are pleased to announce the shortlist for the best book published by an East Midlands writer in 2011. The winner will be announced during the Derbyshire Literature Festival, at Haddon Hall on Thursday 24th May 2012, and will receive a cheque for £1000. The shortlist will be promoted via bookshops, libraries, book groups and events.
This year’s East Midlands Book Award is sponsored and supported by Gardners Books Services and Haddon Hall, Derbyshire. The judges who arrived at the shortlist are bookseller Debbie James (The Bookshop at Kibworth) and Professor Marion Shaw. The chair of the judges, who will join them to decide the winner, is composer Gavin Bryars.
The shortlist comprises:
· Gregory Woods (Nottingham) An Ordinary Dog, Carcanet Press - Poetry
· Sunjeev Sahota (Derbyshire) Ours are the Streets, Picador - Novel
· Kerry Young (Leicester) Pao, Bloomsbury - Novel
· Paula Rawsthorne (Nottingham) The Truth About Celia Frost, Usborne Publishing - Young Adult Novel
· Anne Zouroudi (Derbyshire) The Whispers of Nemesis, Bloomsbury - Crime Novel
· Laura Owen (Leicestershire) The Misadventures of Winnie the Witch, Oxford University Press - Children's Stories
Kerry Young's novel was also shortlisted for the Costa First Novel award. This is Anne Zouroudi's second appearance on the shortlist. A full list of nominations can be found at www.writingeastmidlands.co.uk/awards.
Trustee Jane Streeter, who is currently the president of the Bookseller's Association, said: 'Once again it is fantastic for booksellers and libraries to be able to promote regional writers through the East Midlands Book Award. I look forward to sharing this really interesting list with our customers and with local reading groups.. Celebrating writers and reading in our own locality is very important for all booksellers, large and small, and this year’s shortlist gives us all a great opportunity to do just that.'
In addition to Jane Streeter, who is also joint organiser of the Lowdham Book Festival, the Trustees include Ross Bradshaw (from Five Leaves) and Five Leaves' writers David Belbin and John Lucas, all acting in an individual capacity.

The single of the book of the strike

Our author David Bell sent a copy of his The Dirty Thirty to the Liverpool song writer Alun Parry, asking him to write about the strike. He did, performing it at a Leicester Trades Council do with many of the Dirty Thirty present. Here's the final version of the song, downloadable as a single for 69p: http://parrysongs.co.uk/go/2012/03/new-single-released-the-dirty-thirty/

The book is available for slightly more (£7.99 to be exact) from http://www.inpressbooks.co.uk/the-dirty-thirty-heroes-of-the-miners-strike/ for those who prefer the written word to the work of popular music combos.

Well done Dave and Alun.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Bread and Roses Radical Publishing Award shortlist

Five Leaves has been working with the Alliance of Radical Booksellers to establish the Bread and Roses Award for Radical Publishing. The shortlist for books published in 2011 is below. The judges are Michael Rosen, broadcaster and poet; Nina Power, academic and feminist writer; Madeline Heneghan, organiser of the Writing on the Wall radical literature festival in Liverpool. The judges will choose one winner, who will receive £1000 on May 1st at the, appropriately named, Bread and Roses pub in London, owned by the Workers' Beer Company. Full details of the award are on http://www.bread-and-roses.co.uk/
Counterpower: Making Change Happen by Tim Gee (New Internationalist, £9.99) What makes some campaigns succeed while others fail? In this accessible primer on power and rebellion, Tim Gee encourages us to think critically about the forces at work in struggles as diverse as the women's suffrage movement and the Arab Spring. Counterpower provides today's activists with inspiration for the future.
Debt: The First 5,000 Years by David Graeber (Melville House, £21.99) Contrary to the fairytales told in economic textbooks, human beings didn’t start with barter, discover money, and then develop credit systems. In fact, as anarchist and anthropologist David Graeber argues in this wide-ranging work, drawing on a vast panoply of evidence, exactly the reverse is true. Moreover – and whether we recognise it or not - debt has been at the heart of our political and moral systems ever since.
Tweets from Tahrir: Egypt's Revolution as it Unfolded, in the Words of the People Who Made it edited by Nadia Idle and Alex Nunns (OR Press, £8.00). The story of the Egyptian uprising – through the toppling of Mubarak – by the people who made it, told in 140-or-fewer-character Tweets. Editors Nadia Idle and Alex Nunns have created an inspiring and coherent narrative that not only explains the evolving strategies of both sides but also allows the participants’ personalities to shine through.
Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class by Owen Jones (Verso, £14.99) In order to deflect blame from their own role in increasing inequality and decreasing social mobility, Britain’s political and media elites have wilfully promoted the notion of the working class as an object of fear and ridicule. Expertly researched and highly topical, Owen Jones’ book is already a bestseller in radical bookshops around the UK.
Magical Marxism by Andy Merrifield (Pluto Press, £17.99)
Urban theorist Andy Merrifield imagines a Marxism that moves beyond the stale debates about class and the role of the state, drawing inspiration from – and connections between - The Invisible Committee’s The Coming Insurrection Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle and Gabriel García Márquez’s 100 Years of Solitude. Highly readable.
Penny Red: Notes from the New Age of Dissent by Laurie Penny (Pluto Press, £12.99) Whether filing a report from inside a police kettle in Whitehall or analysing the feminist implications of Stieg Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Laurie Penny's writing is always sharp as a knife. Angry and articulate, this is essential reading for anyone wanting to understand and engage with the new generation of UK activists.
Treasure Islands: Tax Havens and the Men who Stole the World by Nicholas Shaxson (Vintage, £8.99) Nicholas Shaxson’s exposé of the mechanics of tax havens reveals a collusion between governments and the wealthy that perverts democracy, sidesteps the law, and leaves the poorest paying the price. Clear, gripping and incendiary, this is an essential primer for anyone trying to understand today’s global economy.