Monday, 29 October 2012

Cecil-Day Lewis symposium at the Bodleian

The Poems of C. Day-LewisOn 30 October , the Bodleian Libraries are hosting a special one-day event to celebrate the gift of the Day-Lewis papers which belonged to the poet Cecil Day-Lewis (1904-1972) and his wife, actress Jill Balcon (1925-2009). The archive was donated to the Bodleian Libraries by their children, Tamasin and Daniel Day-Lewis and accompanies an initial literary bequest from Jill Balcon, following her death in 2009.

During the symposium, the poet's daughter, Tamasin Day-Lewis will discuss the life and work of C. Day-Lewis with known scholars of English literature. Participants will have the opportunity to listen to recorded readings of Day-Lewis's poetry by Jill Balcon and live reading by actor Gabriel Woolf. Photographs, manuscripts and correspondence from the archive, never seen in public before, will also be on display during the event.

An Oxford University alumnus Cecil Day-Lewis was one of the most notable Anglo-Irish poets of the 20th century. He also wrote mystery novels and short stories under the pseudonym of Nicholas Blake. Day-Lewis studied classics at Wadham College, Oxford from 1923 and became a prominent member of the Auden group of poets and intellectuals in the 1930s. He was later elected Professor of Poetry at Oxford University in 1951 and appointed Poet Laureate in 1968. In 1951 Day-Lewis married his second wife, Jill Balcon. Jill Balcon was an actress on film, radio, and the stage who had long used her voice ('a rich, expressive, finely modulated instrument' in the words of Peter Stanford) for verse-speaking. C. Day-Lewis and Jill Balcon shared a love of poetry and frequently gave readings together. After Day-Lewis's death Jill Balcon continued to read in public and promote her late husband's work.

David Whiting, Co-literary executor, Estate of C Day-Lewis and Jill Balcon: 'The family papers now given to the Bodleian encompass the wide ranging work of Day-Lewis not only as poet, but as novelist, critic, academic and public servant. They offer a kind of microcosm of his professional and private life, and a real insight into his world and that of his wife Jill Balcon is given by the range of letters from their correspondents, from EM Forster to Alec Guinness. There are, amongst much other material, manuscripts and typescripts of Day-Lewis poems, and the detective fiction written under his alias of Nicholas Blake, much of it now being republished'

The only CD of C. Day-Lewis poems is read by Jill Balcon and is published by Five Leaves. Copies are available from

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Salad (cream) days

For Five Leaves, this year's London Anarchist Bookfair was a great success. Aside from meeting many old friends, and sketching out a possible publishing project with Martyn Everett, this was was economically our best outing there yet. It helped having two new and relevant books, Colin Ward's Talking Green and this year's new journal, Utopia, hot off the presses. Thanks to Housmans Bookshop for helping us get the books there. The Bookfair seemed busier than ever and busier for longer and the average age seemed lower. I rather felt that the generation brought up on Colin Ward, Nicolas Walter and Albert Meltzer had passed. The stall was too busy to leave for long and, flying solo, I was unable to attend any meetings this year. Congratulations to the organisers for another great Bookfair.
But there was an unpleasant incident. Five Leaves stall was next to that of Northern Voices. Early in the day a small group from Manchester asked the one person at NV to leave. It was not clear to me at that moment why. It turned out that the magazine had some time ago written a rather unfavourable and, indeed, rather unpleasant obituary of the Manchester anarchist Bob Miller. Some time later in the morning a large group of people, from Manchester and elsewhere, returned to the stall, and when the stall holder refused to leave, wrecked it, stealing most of the material on display and covering the stall-holder and the stall (and one unrelated stall-holder behind NV) with salad cream. Though the stall-holder was uninjured, save for a bruised face when he fell and some irritation from the cream getting into his eyes, he was pretty shocked, as was anyone seeing the incident. I have no doubt that his original article was unwise and should not have been published - the best critique of it appears on NV's own rather good blog, October 4th at - but a dozen or so people attacking one person and his stall (with little heed for collateral damage) was bullying.
I've mentioned in a previous posting (about David Hoffman vs. Freedom magazine) that when negotiations between injured parties break down that people must find a way of resolving their difficulties without going to law or, in this case, force of numbers and salad cream - ideally by arbitration. Fortunately this incident took place at a quiet time, in a quiet corner of the Bookfair. The Bookfair is one of the outstanding successes of the wider racial and alternative publishing movement. I would not discourage anyone from attending. The three or four thousand people there over the day happily debate, argue, buy books and socialise with a wide range of opinions on offer. I hope it stays that way.

Friday, 26 October 2012

Pick up a Penguin.

There are few publishers so influential as to define an age, or even a household, but they do exist. For a generation the yellow spines of the Left Book Club were common on the shelves of politically aware working class households. More recently, no feminist household would be without a shelf or three of the green-liveried Virago books. Somewhere in between the two there was Penguin. Penguin was not the first publisher to publish mass market paperbacks (that's another posting sometime) but it might as well have been because for a generation Penguin was both the epitome of cool and, with their green crime jackets and red fiction jackets, the standard of good reading. When I came to book buying properly in the early seventies Penguin was of great cultural importance. For a period I rarely left the house without a Penguin book in my bag or pocket. Some of them I even read.
Significantly, today's Guardian illustrates their report on the Random House/Penguin merger talks with a view of a shelf of Penguin books from the 1960s - perhaps their heyday, in the wake of the Lady Chatterley trial and the cultural changes in the 1960s. Of the sixteen books in the illustration there are, I think, nine in my house.
There were also the black spined classics, the blue spined Pelicans, and some hugely important Penguin Specials including EP Thompson's Protest and Survive which alone almost defined an era. Yet I can't remember the last Penguin book I bought. Probably it was a Puffin picture book.
Penguin lost its cool, outscored by Picador, and, rather than remaining a market leader, the sign of quality, it became just another publisher. The Random House group is, if anything, much better. Leaving aside Fifty Shades of Money, Random's Vintage list alone is fantastic.
It is hard not to be sad about the merger. Though it makes sense. Leaving aside that the ultimate owner of the Random Group, Bertelsmann, was set up by a Nazi (something Random does not boast about) both publishers still have a kind of liberal veneer. Penguin, despite publishing Jeremy Clarkson, still stacks up that way. I suppose if I could put this in American terms, Penguin and Random are Democrats while the Rupert Murdoch owned HarperCollins is Republican. Does that analogy work?
Thee is no doubt that size matters. It is not so long ago that the significant fiction publisher Serpent's Tail moved in with Profile, the two independents being stronger together. And the Independent Alliance, and Faber's sub-alliance are mergers in many ways. I know there will be more of this as publishers big and medium seek succour in a market dominated by Amazon and one centralised chain. But it might all be good news for the smaller indies. The presence of three of them on the Booker list was a sign of the times. I hope.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

New from Five Leaves, Talking Green

Talking Green
Talking Schools, Talking Houses, Talking to Architects
... all the subjects of previous sets of lectures by Colin Ward. His interests were far wider than these concerns. Five Leaves alone has published books by him, sometimes with others, on squatting, allotments, the plotlands of the south of England, British holiday camps and anarchism. For various reasons a planned set of lectures on green issues was never published during his lifetime, but we are glad to rectify that omission now.
The twelve essays in
Talking Green cover environmental pollution, urban life, allotments, the uses of nature, land settlement, regionalism, squatting, small-holding, the green personality and the shires of Southern England. Together they provide discussion points for anyone interested in taking green politics further than climate change and recycling (important as these are). Colin Ward connects green politics and lifestyle to everyday living and working, always providing positive proposals for future living. All the essays are based on lectures given by Ward at a
variety of institutions. They are titled:

A Doomwatch for the Pollution of our Land
The Urban Predicament
The Shires of Southern Britain
Who Owns Nature? Possession and Dispossession
The Allotment Garden as a Green Affirmation
A Century of Land-settlement in Essex
Regionalist Seeds Beneath the Centralist Snow
Whose Land is it Anyway?
Small Holdings
The Green Personality
Escaping the City
Is Conservation More Than Nostalgia?

Talking Green is 160 pages, £7.99 and can be ordered from or any good bookshop

Utopia, new from Five Leaves

UtopiaOne of 2012's forgotten anniversaries is that this is the year that the visitor goes to London, fifty years after the revolution and is led around by Old Hammond. The revolution in question being the one predicted in William Morris's News from Nowhere. Our collection of essays is never far away from this area - indeed Morris himself has a chapter, there is a history of News from Nowhere bookshop and we reprint the lyrics of Leon Rosselson's song about William Morris. The chapters on utopian fiction of course include a discussion of News from Nowhere and we mention the pubs named after William Morris in a revolutionary pub crawl. Utopia is dedicated to our friend Peter Preston, whose long essay on London utopian fiction is included. Peter will be missed by the adult education movement, the William Morris Society, the DH Lawrence Society and many individuals.

Utopia is the second annual themed compendium of writing by Five Leaves’ authors and friends. 240 pages, £9.99. The first compendium, Maps, received positive reviews in the Guardian and Time Out.

Copies will be in the shops soon - Housmans, News from Nowhere, London Review Bookshop especially, or order, post free, from Inpress


Mike Marqusee - Let's Talk Utopia
Ken Worpole - Tolstoy in Essex
Gillian Darley - Moravian Graveyards
John Payne - The Putney Debates
William Morris - A Factory as it Might Be
Colin Ward - The Factory We Never Had
Mandy Vere - News from Nowhere Bookshop
John Lucas - In New Zealand
Chris Moss - In Paraguay
Deirdre O'Byrne - Woman on the Edge of Time
Paul Barker - New Lanark
Marie Louise Berneri - Utopias of the Nineteenth Century
Dennis Hardy - Catching the Bus to Paradise
Paul Summers - The Shadow of Chimneys
Pippa Hennessy - Keeping it in the Family
Leon Rosselson - The World Turned Upside Down
Ian Parks - Welsh Utopia
David Rosenberg - Freedom Without Territory
J. David Simons - Kibbutz: The Golden Era
Will Buckingham - The Trouble with Happiness
Andy Rigby - Communes Revisited
Ross Bradshaw - Down the Pub
Jeff Cloves - Stroud and Whiteway
Ian Clayton - My Grandmother's Kitchen
Peter Preston - Dreaming London
Haywire Mac - The Big Rock Candy Mountain
240 pages, £9.99, from bookshops or, post free (UK) from

Friday, 19 October 2012

Who is Mr J Smith?

I've been accused of many things in my time, including being a poet (how low can people get?) but I was rather pleased when someone accused me of being the editor of,  a regular blogspot about literature in Nottinghamshire. I'm not he, or even, when I asked Mr J Smith - the name that comes up when you email with information - she. The anonymous author likes to play it that way.
I knew it could not be me because the list of local lit websites includes a group of self-published writers. No offence and all that, but anyone who knows me...
I do have an anonymous walk on part though as I filled some gaps in the listings of local writers and have just sent a further list of novels set locally. But you could do that as well by adding "nottslit" to any local-to-here lit press releases and sending further information to fill in the gaps in their listings.
I've just suggested about a dozen novels set in Notts that are not on the list, there must be many more.
But who is he/she? I thought at first that it was the woman who runs but it was her who thought I ran it. I've thought of all sorts of people but for example, the list of local novels includes one, The Hosanna Man, which was pulped just after publication, decades ago, and I've only met four others locally who've heard of it. One of them is dead, one of them wouldn't know what a blog was if it came up and hit him and there are other clues indicating that it could not be either of the other two, mostly because of gaps in the list that they would know to fill.
What I can say is that Mr or Mrs J Smith is doing us all a service locally and the blog should be better known. But keep us guessing. It's more fun that way.
And keep listing things from Five Leaves Towers. We appreciate it.

Five Leaves October Newsletter

Too much fancy formatting to cut and paste into here, but this is it (email us on if you want to go on our newsletter list in future):

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

New ebook edition from Five Leaves, Zoe Fairbairns' Benefits


Having long lost touch with everyone with whom I went to school, I think I've known Zoe Fairbairns longer than anyone who is not a blood relative. I came across her as an author in 1971 when I was working in a library, one of my jobs being to daily tidy the "f"s. I have to say that she was not the most popular author in Hawick Public Library so I dusted down her early novels quite a lot. She had been taken up by a major publisher as a teenage prodigy, which can happen. She returned to fiction later, as a grown up. By then I'd got to know her, by chance, as a student activist and subsequently as editor of CND's then journal, Sanity. Zoe became a very successful novelist, her usp being an ability to write traditional novels, family sagas, airport novels and the like but with a strong feminist slant. Novels like Stand We at Last were hugely popular. Benefits was an exception, being a feminist dystopian novel set in the dying days of the twentieth century. The country was in chaos and the government had nothing better to do than attack welfare benefits for women. And women fought back using unorthodox means.
Benefits was a real feminist classic and did well for Virago in 1979. It was reprinted in a Five Leaves edition in 1998 and again did well for a few years. A spin off from the book was the alternative Xmas card giving a quote from the book - "The birth of a man who thinks he's God isn't such a rare event". Printed with text only, elegantly on card, it sold - what? - 30,000 copies over a few years for Mushroom Bookshop in Nottingham, with royalties going to the Women's Research and Resource Centre. Five Leaves later published Zoe's collection of short stories, How Do You Pronounce Nulliparous?
Now, yet again, the country is in a mess and welfare benefits are under attack. This is the right time to publish a new edition, with a new introduction by Zoe, giving the book a modern context. The print book is still available, but the ebook edition includes the new intro - and it is out now at £2.99. Available here:

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Three bookish nights in Leicester

Over the last few days I've been developing Leicester envy. I know that in Nottingham this is heresy, but there is a lot going on there. On Sunday I was the guest speaker at the Leicester Secular Hall, talking about the history of radical bookshops. It was nice to meet such well read people - some of whom even follow Five Leaves' progress - in such a historic setting, and to speak where many of my heroes, William Morris, Emma Goldman, Colin Ward and others had spoken. I suspect that one or two of the audience had heard them all, which is the problem there. A couple of literature/political regulars from Notts are the youth wing, being in their early 50s. The Secular Hall has a regular meetings programme and is in desperate need of younger people to take the Hall onwards. I'd love to have such a hall in my hometown.
But literature in Leicester, or at least those parts of it around De Montfort University, does have its young people and there were plenty of them at the reading to inaugurate Ian Parks as the Royal Literary Fund Fellow at DMU for the next year. Ian is currently editing an anthology of contemporary Yorkshire poetry for Five Leaves so I trucked along. I'd already reading his The Exile's House (Waterloo, £10) but it was nice to hear him read from the book, as well as some of his earlier love poetry and his recent translations from Cavafy. Ian's family on both sides were from mining families in Mexborough, and, to me, his narrative poems, including those written in memory of his family's involvement in the 1984/85 strike. I particularly liked his "Standards", a short poem about his father who "...sang the standards / through the long months of the strike", ending the poem Speak Softly Love, My Kind of Town. / There was snow and bitter fighting. / My father slicked his hair back, / disappeared into the night / and one by one / the earmarked pits shut down."
Back in Leicester the next day, with an older crowd again, for the launch of the film of The Dirty Thirty, a documentary about the thirty Leicestershire miners who struck out of a coalfield of 2,500. 28 years on it was still hard not to feel enraged about the Government's attack on the people of the coalfields. The highlights of the film for me were the long interviews with Michael "Benny" Pinnegar, the leader of the group (who died very recently) and Mick "Richo" Richmond, who could easily have had an alternative career as a comedian. Prominent in the film was the song of The Dirty Thirty by Alun Parry, which he wrote after reading David Bell's Five Leaves book on the group. The showing was part of the excellent Leicester Everybody's Reading book festival, which aims to take literature festivals into the whole community. After the film we managed to find the last eight members of the local labour movement who had not yet bought their copies of David Bell's book before he gave me a lift back to the station to complete a great set of Leicester visits. Or at least that was the plan. The last I saw of David as I hoofed it was him wailing "I've forgotten where I parked me fuckin' car!". I hope  he got home safely.

Monday, 1 October 2012

Sheffield Independent Publishers' Book Fair

Do drop by our stall if you are near Sheffield on 3rd November. There are also readings from our writers John Lucas, David Belbin and Danuta Reah while Liz Cashdan is taking part in a panel discussion. Not that we're trying to take over or anything.