Friday, 25 May 2012

Pork scratchings optional

East Midlands Book Award 2012

Anne Zouroudi is the winner of this year's East Midlands Book Award, for her crime novel The Whispers of Nemesis (Bloomsbury), set, like her others, in Greece.  Anne was shortlisted last year, but this year only had to travel across the hill from her home to the wonderful venue of Haddon Hall in Derbyshire. Of course, come the revolution, every working class family will live somewhere just as splendid, but it was great to be welcomed into one of the most attractive buildings in the county. The EMBA award was held as the final event of Derbyshire Literature Festival, so thanks to Lord and Lady Manners for opening their home, to Derbyshire County Council (whose leader proudly announced that they had not closed any libraries, unlike other authorities - it has always been, Labour or Conservative, a big supporter of literature) and to Writing East Midlands for organising the Award on behalf of the trustees.
Anne picked up a cheque for £1000, presented by the composer Gavin Bryars, the celeb judge brought in at the shortlisting stage to join bookseller Debbie James and academic Marion Shaw. Gavin gave a terrific extempore speech about each book, and compared the craft of composing to that of the writer. We have already signed him up for Lowdham Book Festival next year.
Of the other shortlisted writers, Paula Rawsthorne was already glowing having been in Leeds that afternoon where she picked up the Leeds children's book award for her The Truth About Celia Frost (Usborne), her shortlisted title here. She was a bit shell-shocked from speaking to 500 teenagers.
The other shortlisted writers were Gregory Woods (An Ordinary Dog, Carcanet), Sunjeev Sahota (Ours Are the Streets, Picador), Laura Owen (The Misadventures of Winnie the Witch, OUP) and Kerry Young (Pao, Bloomsbury).
Five out of six titles then were from independent publishers. Three are first books, which indicates great promise for the future health of writing in the region.
We don't have our external/celebrity judge yet for next year, but we are pleased to announce that the two judges who have to read ALL the books will be Mel Read (former MEP for the East Midlands, now an active member of Leicester Writers Club) and Robert Gent (Robert ran Beeston Poets series for, I think, seventeen years and edited the celebratory collection Poems for the Beekeeper for Five Leaves in 1996).
Nominations for the 2013 award, for books published in 2012, are now open - see for details.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Lowdham Book Festival 2012

The programme is now available, at, where it can be viewed or downloaded. This is the thirteenth Festival, and though the programme is in the name of Jane Streeter and I, Jane has had to do most of the work this year. Every draft copy of the programme seemed to add another event or two. These range from a dog walk (there is a bookish reason, but nonetheless a rarity at book festivals - next year we go for the gerbil market) through to an evening with Ben Fogle. The Festival runs throughout June, with the last ten days being the core. Several Five Leaves "irregulars" put in an appearance - John Harvey, Jon McGregor, Chris Arnot, Stephen Booth, John Lucas, Alan Gibbons - but the only event dedicated to one of our books is Peter Mortimer talking about his new Made in Nottingham on 30th June.
Lowdham regulars will immediately notice that the traditional "last day" jamboree is not happening this year. This is largely because that has always been one of my jobs and I've not been around much, but it will return, refreshed, next year. Nevertheless the Festival includes 36 writers, 7 musicians, several craft workers, two storytelling troupes, one dog walker, six writers groups (in the fringe festival) and one rather large food festival.
Back in the mists of time, after the first Festival, we surveyed our public - did you want us to carry on with book festivals or would you prefer an arts festival? Opinion formers said "arts festival", but vox pop said "book festival". At the time such things were less common, and we concluded that people liked the prestige of a book festival, but were happy for us to cover other arts under that banner. So we've done theatre, film, early music, rock music, classical music, sports (OK, that isn't an art form, not even at my home town team of Hawick Royal Albert), and we've dabbled in food - but an all day food festival is new.
If you can't go to everything... my recommendation is our annual Readers Day (on June 30), with Jon McGregor performing his own man show based on This Isn't the Sort of Thing That Happens to Someone Like You after which he will interview John Harvey. Oxygen Books is running a "City-Pick Nottingham" session, reading from local writers from the past and present. The whole day costs £20, which includes lunch, tea and coffee and a comp copy of McGregor or Harvey's latest hardback. A bargain. This annual day is being used as a model around the country.
I may not have had such a big hand in the Festival this year, but Pippa at the Five Leaves office did, designing and typesetting the programme.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

New from Five Leaves: Blood Tears by Michael Malone

Michael Malone's Blood Tears is now in our office - bookshop stock will start to go out next week. We have described this novel as Scottish Catholic Noir, though the biggest problem in publishing it was not the wrath of the big man upstairs, but trying to get our two proof-readers to understand that people from the West of Scotland really do say "Come aff it", and that "aff" is not a misprint. There were many such changes where the Scottish wing of Five Leaves had to recorrect the corrections, sometimes twice. Perhaps I should have sent my colleagues on a training course involving reruns of early editions of Taggart. Michael Malone comes from Ayrshire, the home of Burns, though there is little poetic about his rather dark book. It did raise the issue of "dialect" though. The main text and the dialogue had to be comprehensible to Michael's readers outside of Scotland, but had to sound right to those within that country. By and large I share the general view in creative writing that dialect should be avoided, save for a little salting of the text to give flavour. Some writers, Lewis Grassic Gibbon for example, used mostly standard English but you can feel the rhythms of Scottish speech in his Sunset Song. With Blood Tears we were aiming for something more direct but I hope we have not clipped too much off Malone's coin in pandering to the southerners. Blood Tears is the first of a series by Michael Malone, meaning we now have two Scottish crime series running, with a new Russel McLean out this autumn.
Blood Tears is available from, though overseas readers will find it cheaper to order via to get free overseas postage.

Friday, 11 May 2012

Letter of the week

Hi there Ross,
I'm writing to invite you to come along as a special guest to The Millionaire Bootcamp for Authors from 8th to 10th June in London. Do let me know if you'd like to attend, and I will send you a complimentary ticket. 
The 14 speakers - who include millionaire authors and bestseller experts - will be revealing their personal 'set it and forget it' strategies for selling thousands of books and making seven figures in under 5 years.
Over 400 entrepreneur-authors will be attending, so it will be a fantastic opportunity to network with authors, literary agents and publishers. 
Topics Include:
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How To Push Your Book Up The Amazon Bestseller Charts
How To Become A New York Times Bestselling Author in Six Months Or Less
How to Make $20K A Month Publishing Books On Kindle
How To Make Seven Figures With EBooks and Self-Publishing
I'm offering 100% commission to all JV partners who help me to sell tickets. Would you be willing to give the event a plug to your subscribers, or on Facebook/Twitter? If so, let me know and I will set up an affiliate code for you. 
I look forward to hearing from you. Have a brilliant day.
Warm wishes

Allotment Gardens: A Reflection of History, Heritage, Community and Self

Here's Lesley Acton limbering up for her Five Leaves book on allotments, due 2013. The article, in Papers from the Institute of Archaeology, is currently their most read article on line.

Are poets intrinsically evil?

Recently, on facebook, my States of Independence colleague Jonathan Taylor posted: "I'm with Shelley, who wished for a world of poets. At least that would be better than now, when we have a world of too many murderers, too many war criminals, too many bent politicians."
The debate that followed concentrated on whether there was a shortage of poets or just good poets. Curmudgeonly as ever, I argued with Jonathan - and Shelley - suggesting that just because someone is a poet does not make them a good person, who might improve our world. I call as expert witnesses the shades of Stalin and Mao Zedong, two of the three biggest mass murderers of last century. Poets. At least Hitler stuck to art. They were not the only poet-leaders with a penchant for doing people in. Ho Chi Minh wiped out the biggest Trotskyist party the world has ever seen, which did not stop British and American Trots dancing through the streets chanting "Ho Ho - Ho Chi Minh". Ho Chi Minh could have suggested something that scanned better.
I cannot comment on the poetry of those mentioned, but I can say that some of the most moving lines on the death of a father appear in Egils Saga (see the Everyman edition, translated by the Five Leaves writer John Lucas), when, that is, Egil could break off from describing the assorted delights of chopping people to bits. So even good poets can be murderous. We also have the recent book of Taliban poetry, indicating that the nexus between murder and poetry is modern as well. Indeed, one could easily put together a Bloodaxe Anthology of Poems by Mass Murderers, and my choice of Bloodaxe is because of their name, and the man who inspired the name, not a criticism of their anthologies.
Even the poetic canon is not devoid of people of dodgy opinion - Ezra Pound for one, or the anti-Semitic TS Eliot. Stevie Smith was not a lot better. And what of the homophobic and anti-Semitic Wyndham Lewis? I am something of a fan of Lewis' paintings, but I would not like to be in a poetry group with him. Nor with TS Eliot - "Come on Tom, that Waste Land poem is OK - can't see anyone publishing it though - but all that stuff about Bleistein and his cigars?"
On the propaganda front... how about Hatikva, the Israeli national(ist) anthem, based on a poem by Imber. Most towns I've been in in Israel have streets named after Bialik, the Zionist poet. Indeed, Jabotinsky, as close to a fascist you will get in Israeli history, was also a poet. And what of Uri Zvi Greenberg, poet supporter of Herut and a Greater Israel occupying the whole of the West Bank?
Sorry Shelley, sorry Jonathan, but personally I would not like to live in a world of poets. The only art form I can think of where the artists are free from mass murderers, occupation justifiers, racists and the like would be jazz. No army has every marched to war with a jazz band leading it.
For the record though, not all poets are mass murderers, war criminals and bent politicians! Especially Jonathan and Shelley.

Bread and Roses Award for Radical Publishing

Five Leaves is pleased to announce the winner of the first Bread and Roses Award for Radical Publishing - Debt: the first 5000 years  by David Graeber (Melville House). Appropriately, the award was given on Mayday at the trade union owned Bread and Roses pub in Battersea. The author was working abroad at the time, so Bill Godber, from Melville House's UK distributor, accepted the award on David's behalf. It must have felt like a journey into the past for Bill Godber, something of a veteran in radical publishing. The runner up was Nicholas Shaxson's Treasure Island: tax havens and the men who stole the world (Bodley Head).
The award was presented by the author Nina Power, one of the judges, who described Graeber's book as "brilliantly researched, motivated by a clear political will and utterly indispensable, not only for understanding the terms of the world we live in, where we came from, but also for what we can do about changing them."
David Graeber wins a trophy and a cheque for £1000.

The Bread and Roses Award was funded and initiated by Five Leaves with the Alliance of Radical Bookseller and the support of Red Pepper, Peace News and the Morning Star.
The trustees of the award are Nik Gorecki (Housmans Bookshop), Mandy Vere (News from Nowhere Bookshop) and Ross Bradshaw (Five Leaves).
Five Leaves provided the prize money to establish the award and will continue to support Bread and Roses for two further years. We would welcome others as sponsors for this year's award, for books published in 2012.
I would like to thank Nik at Housmans for carrying through most of the work on the award when I had to drop out in the last few weeks.
Debt will be published in paperback on 12 June at £14.99 and carries the ISBN 9781612191812.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Pamela Hansford Johnson exhibition

Five Leaves latest ebook - After the Gold Rush: a bycicle journey through American history

John Stuart Clark's After the Gold Rush has been unavailable for a while, so, hip to the times, we have re-issued it as an ebook, but only as an ebook, with new maps added since the print edition. John - otherwise known as the illustrator Brick - decided to cycle across America, following the path of the gold rush. He met some unusual and interesting people, visited half deserted townships, cycled through areas nobody ever goes by bike and, in short, had the sort of crazed adventures you'd expect to find in an endurance based travel book. His book gave an insight into America that was so insightful he lost his original American publishers! He also took the photo on the cover, and, indeed, designed it.

This week in books

It has been a busy seven days at Five Leaves Towers. On the Saturday we did a bit of basking in the glory of a big Guardian review of our 1948. I've already mentioned it on this site so instead I'll suggest you read this blog, by Charles Boyle, about Nicholas Lezard:
The same day we had a book launch in Nottingham for Joanne Limburg's collection, The Oxygen Man. This was the first in an occasional series of joint events with Nottingham Poetry Society. I was up in Scotland at the time but our Pippa Hennessy(who is, handily, secretary of NPS) struggled through without me. The event was well attended and Joanne read well from a rather difficult book - difficult because it is about the suicide of her brother, a scientist and the "man" of the title.
Another good launch this week, which I was able to attend, was that of our writer and occasional editor David Belbin who, promiscuously, is published by other publishers too. In this case the launch was for his second "Bone and Cane" book with our friends at Tindal Street. What You Don't Know is, I think, the better of the two books - indeed, I think it is excellent, and the author is clearly getting into his stride in this series. Meantime, time to do some work on his Student, coming out from Five Leaves later this year. More on that to follow.
On Tuesday the first Bread and Roses Award for Radical Publishing took place. I'll post about this fully, soon. Suffice to say that my fellow trustees also managed to struggle through without me on the night. Maybe I don't need to actually go to anything ever again.
Just as well though that I did turn up at Lowdham Book Festival's First Friday event with the Nottingham writer AR Dance (the man who proves that some self published books are worth reading, as I introduced the session and did the tea for 60 people. These First Friday events have rather taken off. For family reasons I can't do much of the organising of Lowdham events this year, but my Lowdham colleague Jane Streeter looks quite calm about having the programme out in a couple of weeks for our summer events. One date I have set up though is the "Lowdham Lecture" on September 20th, with Alan Gibbons talking about "Libraries, Education and Literacy". More on that nearer the time.
Meanwhile, the proof for Michael Malone's novel Blood Tears has landed on my desk. We should have finished copies next week and, so far, it looks like it will get a lot of coverage in Waterstones branches in Scotland. We had some fun proof-reading the book as our internal and external proof-reader kept trying to change Scottish rhythms into standard English. No, kiddos, they really do speak like that in the West of Scotland.
We are carrying on turning backlist into e-books and this week - announcement imminent - we have turned our out of print travel title After the Gold Rush by John Stuart Clark into an e-book, which will please the mad cyclists of America who keep asking for it.
Finally, a couple  of pieces to read. Fresh from his geographically challenging pair of readings in Inverness and Berwick, J. David Simons has been interviewed by Scottish TV about his writing. Read that here:
And, finally, in this weekly round up, here's a set of reviews in the Newcastle Journal that brings together reviews of poetry publications by three Nottingham presses, Candlestick, Shoestring and Five Leaves, together with books published by our  friends in the north, Iron Press and Smokestack whose editors are regularly published by Five Leaves. Long live this Midlands/North East twinning! Read them here:

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

North East literary history

Not for the first time do I find myself consumed by North East envy. Living in the East Midlands it is always hard to grasp our regional identity. Our patch covers Louth, in Lincolnshire  (try getting there by public transport) and King's Sutton, which is I think to the south of Oxfordshire but technically in Northamptonshire. I'll give a fiver to anyone who has every travelled between those two outposts.
The North East is easier to understand. In Fix This Moment: writers respond to North East literary history, joint editor Stevie Rennie remarks that the four areas making up the North East have in common their "industrial heritage, geographical isolation and the lilt to our voices". What the area also has is a strong independent publishing sector, reflected in this book from New Writing North (£6.99, 978 0 9558829 7 5) which is well worth reading by anyone interested in either the literature of the region or the small press scene. I would have liked to have seen a much bigger book, with more earlier  history and something about people's reading rather than the concentration on writing, but the book is still of great value. Michael Chaplin provides an personal record of his family's writing (he is the son of Sid Chaplin), Andy Croft (a Five Leaves regular) gives the history of writing in Middlesbrough, David Almond tells of the Panurge years, Ellen Phethean describes the women's writing scene, Neil Astley provides some material on Bloodaxe's history, Jackie Litherland goes through the exciting 35 years of the Colpitts poetry readings, another Five Leaves' regular Peter Mortimer describes his 40 years or so running Iron Press, Nolan Dalrymple provides an academic essay on David Almond and the book concludes with an essay on the Morden Tower venue by Stevie Rennie.
The other joint editor is Claire Malcolm, head of New Writing North, which is itself worthy of attention though I would not envy her going to work every day to their office in Holy Jesus Hospital in Newcastle.
The book could easily have had other chapters on, say, Jon Silkin and Stand and... so much more, but then I'd be really really jealous.