Friday, 31 May 2013

Staffing changes at Five Leaves

For those who are interested in this kind of thing... Pippa Hennessy, who has worked at Five Leaves for the last three years, has been appointed Development Director of Nottingham Writers' Studios - an organisation conveniently situated approximately half a second from our office. I hope she will be a quiet neighbour. Pippa has worked on a number of Five Leaves projects during the three years. These range from turning 25 or so of our books into eBooks through to organising, typesetting, designing and launching our latest poetry book Versions of the North. I won't bore you with the other things that she has done, not least because she will still be at Five Leaves for two days a week until September, then dropping to one day a week. Someone will have to do our eBooks... Over the summer she will undertake a stocktake (that's teach her to reduce her hours) and more constructively be reviewing and replacing our website, which has got a bit creaky.
It is a good step forward for her to move to NWS, but I am pleased that Pippa will still be around, even if on reduced hours.
Pippa can't have a leaving do 'cos she is not leaving, but Five Leaves Towers did stretch to a small tart and a handful of grapes served on our best chipped plate. We are all heart. Good luck in the new job, Pippa!

Unrelated to the above note, Angela Foxwood will be working as an intern at Five Leaves one day a week, her role being to research book and other festivals to try to secure more bookings for Five Leaves writers. She has meantime been sent home with a sack of books to get to know our writers better. Though we did not save her any grapes.


One day all bookshops will be as good as the London Review Bookshop

...and all cafes as good as their cake shop, which has this nice window display.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Iron Press at Forty - the festival

From time to time I give talks on independent publishing. I often draw on the story of David Almond. David was a writer of short stories, often based on his own North East working class background. He was not the most successful writer of short stories, though he was regularly published in small literary magazines and even broadcast on the BBC. In 1985 Peter Mortimer's Iron Press published a collection of his short fiction. It sold modestly. Twelve years later Iron Press published a second collection of stories. It sold modestly. David's next book was Skellig, which became an international commercial best seller. At the fortieth birthday festival for Iron Press David launched a third collection of short fiction for Iron, Nesting, which included many of the early Iron stories and some new material. In the book he gives credit to Iron Press for its early support for his work, a support which kept him going, kept him in print and thus enabled David to become an internationally known writer. The introduction to Nesting should perhaps be read by every Arts Council administrator, owners of bookshop chains and reviewers of books. It might change their mind on the value of small presses.
There were 200 people at that launch reading, and the next day there were 200 people at a discussion of, and reading from, the 1991 Iron collection The Poetry of Perestroika. The book was introduced by Jackie Litherland, with readings by local actor and activist Charlie Hardwick. It was one of the best readings I've attended, with people listening with great attention to Jackie's tales of how the poems were sourced and received, the tour to Russia by North East poets and the tour to the North East of Russian poets. The event, and Charlie's readings, brought to life a collection that marked such a change in the lives of Soviet citizens and writers. 200 people, listening to poems translated from Russian, first published twenty-two years ago! And all in a community centre in a small fishing village - Cullercoats, home to Iron Press for the forty years.
Few small presses last forty years, only the recently retired Tony Rudolph's Menard Press comes to mind. If Five Leaves lasts that long I will be 82 - though Peter is knocking on a bit. Not that you would know, from his boundless energy and enthusiasm, his rattle of bangles and bright clothes. Five Leaves is pleased to have published half a dozen of his own books, but this weekend was all about Iron. And the arts community of the North East coast. There were few people from Newcastle itself - city folk! - but plenty from up and down the coast, from Durham, from rural Northumbria, and three from Nottinghamshire. I use the words arts community on purpose, because there were artists, luvvies, musicians, community activists as well as literary types. Plus which (to use one of Pete's own phrases) the events were generally a mixture of music and literature, with local bands playing ranging from an a cappella women's group to some very imaginative new folkies.
Peter tells something of the Iron story in Through the Iron Age, an A6 pamphlet. I wanted more, but this will have to do. You can order it through or send Iron Press £3 and a copy will be yours.
I thoroughly enjoyed my weekend - including talking with editors from North East publishers Red Squirrel, Bloodaxe, Smokestack and fellow visitors Route as well as seeing Pete and his partner, the writer Kitty Fitzgerald. Fortunately I was stuck behind a bookstall so did not have to even  pretend I would have loved to have gone out to sea to write Haiku, one of the Iron Press Festival's oddest moments. But the sea was too rough and the sea Haiku trip was called off. Is this the first time a rough sea has ever cancelled a poetry event? There were other odd moments - it takes some doing to get lost in a fishing village in the middle of the night, but I did so ("I know the sea is here somewhere...") and it took two policepeople to help me buy a ticket at Cullercoats Metro on leaving so that I did not have to commit the crime of travelling without a ticket. But I did get to see the sea, a bonus if you live in Nottingham normally, and in its honour, here's a photo of a boat taken at the beautiful house of my host for the weekend, Jill Clarke, Cullercoats' answer to Mrs Madrigal.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Pushkin sonnets explained

Andy Croft - author of 1948 and Ghost Writer - explains how to write a Pushkin sonnet at Beeston Poets: For the avoidance of doubt, the image is Pushkin, not Andy Croft. The clue is that Andy  is never seen without his leather jacket on.

Amazon is more expensive shock!

There are many reasons to avoid ordering through Amazon. Their policy of ripping us off collectively by choosing not to pay taxes, their anti-union regime, the enormous discounts they charge publishers and because we do value bookshops. But, it is easier to say than do. You might not live near a bookshop (increasingly that is the case, thanks to Amazon), you might need a book in a hurry (and there is very little chance of Waterstones stocking a specialist book) or you are on a low income and need to watch your expenditure. But a good way to save money is to not use Amazon, or at the very least shop around.
Here are the prices of some current Five Leaves books, four recent and one backlist. These may not be fully representative of our 200 books, but the message is obvious (though we would still prefer you to buy from an independent bookshop, over the counter). Note that Book Depository is owned by Amazon, though is less grasping on discount, and is the only way to my knowledge of overseas customers obtaining books post free.
The Killing of Emma Gross (retail £7.99)
Amazon: £7.99 £7.99 £6.39
Book Depository: £7.99 £5.59
London Fictions (retail £14.99)
Amazon: £14.24 £14.24 £11.99
Book Depository: £11.68 £10.49
Talking Green (retail £7.99)
Amazon: £5.99 £8.99! £6.39
Book Depository: £6.10 £5.59
Versions of the North (retail £8.99)
Amazon: £6.74 £8.99 (with the book marked "availability uncertain") £7.19
Book Depository: £6.74 £6.29
Jazz Jews (retail £14.99)
Amazon: £21.24 £24.99 not available
Book Depository: £19.74 £17.49

In summary, in five out of five cases is the cheapest in every case. Waterstones is the most expensive in every case (and seemed to have difficulty with book information). Amazon's prices vary between second cheapest and equal most expensive.
I am only commenting on price rather than service, but if I was a regular or even occasional book buyer I would go to as my first choice, or at the very least check their prices. I should say though that they only give post free if orders are over £10, so if the books are cheaper than £10 it is best to wait until you have more than one book. Foyles is a tax-paying company with bricks and mortar shops, which normally charge full price. For the avoidance of doubt, I have no direct connection with Foyles, nor have I ever discussed prices with them or offered them extra discount. Indeed, Foyles asks for less discount than any of the other companies mentioned. I was not aware of this significant price differential until half an hour ago.
If anyone were to buy all five books, this would be the charge:
Amazon: £56.20 £65.20 - excluded from total comparision as one book not carried
Book Depository: £52.25 £45.25

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

The London Radical Book Fair - where next?

It is perhaps premature to start discussing where next for the London Radical Bookfair when it has only just happened, but we have to. It was a success. Around 50 publishers took part - large and small, mostly "movement" publishers with commercially published radical books represented on the stalls of radical booksellers. This alone seems a way to go. I can recall operating from a tiny space at the big socialist bookfairs of the 70s and 80s (where you had to pay to get in!) next to enormous displays of radical (if academic) books published by the likes of Routledge and Cambridge University Press who were keen to take part. They could buy big space, we groundlings could not. In addition, the bookselling beneficiary was Bookmarks - they had organised it, so fair play - whereas we need to ensure that the new radical bookfair benefits all the radical bookshops, including those outside of London. We need, for example, to ensure that everyone attending at least has a list of such book shops, and find a way of making it economic for them to attend.
The title "London" is deliberate. There is already a longstanding radical bookfair in Edinburgh run by Wordpower. But London is where most publishers are based and the centre that more people can come to. Perhaps - as has happened with the spread of anarchist bookfairs - others can organise their in their own area.
Certainly the exhibiting publishers and bookshops did seem to do pretty well this year. The public came. The public spent money. More than I thought would come - 750? 1,000? - nobody was counting. But we have only scratched the surface - with more notice it would be easy to increase the number of stalls, and to ensure that advance publicity goes out in such a way that radical readers see the day as an important fixture in their calendar, as anarchists do for the London Anarchist Bookfair. And with the radical bookfair involving a wider range of publishers we should be able to reach a wide audience. New Internationalist, for example, has 30,000 people on their database, and Occupy London also contacted thousands of people. With a longer lead up, and with a commitment from all participants to promote the event it should grow.
Copying the anarchist bookfair is not a bad thing. For many years Cliff Harper created beautiful posters for the fair, which are still sold to help the funds. It would be useful to find another artist who can make radical bookfair posters as memorable. Mugs? Postcards? Other merchandise? We have to think that way because big halls cost money  and it would be good to be able to at least pay travel expenses to speakers rather than draw on Londoners only.
The hall... At the busiest times, Conway Hall was stuffed full. There was no more room for stalls, and gangways between stalls were too narrow. There were, at the busy times, too many people.... Well, we don't want fewer people so we might need a larger venue... which costs more money...
Organising... the event really leaned on the work of one person, Nik Gorecki at Housmans. Good in that Housmans - that was the original idea - is a radical bookselling hub, but bad in that the team is too small. We  don't want to clog our diaries with meetings or arguments but we do need one or two more people who will do a lot of work for no reward and without fuss. It would be nice if there was money around to do a bit of rewarding... unions, trust funds, left wing solicitors...
It is not that every event should be enormous, but we need to reach a natural level and this event will do the world of good for radical bookshops and publishers if it does grow.
The linkage with the Bread and Roses Award was deliberate and it worked well. We got to announce the winners in front of hundreds of people rather than a social for fifty, and shortlisted books were bought. The shortlisted authors found it useful, I hope, to present their books to bookfair audiences and there was a lot of interest in their meetings. But we only had one at a time... and there are so many other radical books out over a year. Perhaps next time, let's take it gently, a series of meeting around the shortlisted books and a series of meetings around other books or themes, perhaps curated by an author or well known activist. And of course we need to ensure good chairing and better publicity about when each event is on, and, oh yes, technology so that speakers will always be heard and can show images.
There's a lot to think about. Nik and I are exploring other venues, the participating publishers are all being asked for feedback and we have to think about money. The bookfair about broke even with stall holders income providing all the funds, plus some generous support from a Trust as a fall back. We have some money in the bank but can't take risks as there is nobody and no organisation with deep pockets in the background. Yet.
Do contact me on if you have any suggestions, or talk to Nik at Housmans. Meantime, here's a couple of pics of the first radical bookfair, those attending the Bread and Roses/Little Rebels award and of people browsing. As you can see, though these pictures only show part of the main hall, we need more room.

Bread and Roses... and Little Rebels... and the winners are...

The 2013 Bread and Roses Award for Radical Publishing, for the best radical book published in 2012 goes to Scattered Sand: the story of China's rural migrants by Hsiao-Hung Pai, published by Verso. The winner was announced on Saturday at the new London Radical Bookfair organised by the Alliance of Radical Booksellers. Unfortunately Hsiao-Hung was ill on the day, but the award was accepted on her behalf by Sarah Shin from Verso.

 The winner will receive a cheque for £500. Scattered Sand is essential reading for anyone interested in how the economy of a quarter of the world works. The author is not an outside commentator, but was able to travel throughout China, and her books give voice to the millions of internal and international migrants on whom the country depends. Nina Power, speaking for the judges, said that the book was their unanimous and clear choice.
This year, only the second year of the project, saw the inaugural Little Rebels prize, for radical children's books. The winner of this section was Sarah Garland for her book Azzi in Between, published by Frances Lincoln, which was written and illustrated by the author. The award was presented by Bookstart founder, Wendy Cooling and included a framed picture of "little rebels" by Guardian cartoonist Ros Asquith. The Little Rebels section was organised by Letterbox Library, a member of the Alliance. Sarah will also receive a cheque for £500.

Her book is a short graphic novel which details one family's escape from a country at war and their adjustment to life in a new country. The book is endorsed by Amnesty International in the UK and is aimed at children aged 7-11.
The full shortlists for both prizes, information on the judges and the Awards, appears on and
The Trustees of the Award (Nik Gorecki from Housmans Bookshop in London, Mandy Vere from News from Nowhere Bookshop in Liverpool and Ross Bradshaw from Five Leaves Publications in Nottingham) would like to thank all the authors and publishers who submitted books.
The Trustees hope to include a third, young adult, section next year.
For further information on either award please contact
Submission information for books published in 2013 will be announced later this year.
The two awards were presented at the first London Radical Bookfair, held at Conway Hall on Saturday 11th May, which looks set to become an annual event. For details of next year's event please contact Ross Bradshaw via

Monday, 13 May 2013

London Radical Bookfair interim report

In 1991 I wrote an article for Tribune. concerned that the number of radical bookshops in Britain had fallen to close to a hundred. Innocent that I was, not thinking that the next decade would wipe out most of those shops - the economic and political impact of Thatcherism bringing radical bookselling and publishing to a low ebb.
About three years ago a group of us associated with Housmans Bookshop in London noticed that sales had picked up and that there was a new interest in radical books, particularly those trying to explain the economic crisis. There was a spring in the step of radical publishing not seen for a while, and attendances were picking up at events. Out of those discussions came the Alliance of Radical Booksellers, the first organisation for many years, operating on a light touch basis. We discussed, and set up the Bread and Roses Award for Radical Publishing. We - the Trustees being Nik Gorecki at Housmans and Mandy Vere at News from Nowhere in Liverpool - wanted to encourage radical publishers, to encourage radical writers and to encourage the commercial sector to value radical writing. Following the prize-giving social at the first year, the idea developed that it would be useful to provide a forum for the shortlisted writers to discuss their work in front of an audience... some events... and why not have a small bookfair around that discussion?
By now other publishers were becoming interested, though nothing yet was firm. Various cheap and unsuitable premises were discussed. We were keen not to be in competition with the longstanding  London Anarchist Bookfair held every autumn. The Anarchist Bookfair had weathered the downturn and - more than that - had flourished to become  major event, but we wanted a bookfair that would appeal to a wider audience - socialists, greens, radicals of all sorts - including anarchists. The London Radical Bookfair idea was developing... Suddenly one of the group discussing the project indicated he knew of a Trust that might help, a bigger venue was found, Conway Hall, and the idea took off.
At this stage difficult family commitments got in my way, Andrew Burgin became overwhelmed by the growth of his and his partner Kate Hudson's Left Unity initiative and Nik Gorecki at Housmans found himself with a looming bookfair on his hands. With Zen-like calm, and the support of Michael Gilligan, also from Housmans, stalls were booked and publicity started. Around this time the Bread and Roses Award changed to include the Little Rebels Award, organised by the Letterbox Library. There would now be a bookfair, events and two awards. But would people turn up, with next to no advertising budget, no dedicated staff, half the expected organisers gone AWOL? On Saturday the answer was a resounding YES.
Here's the evidence:

This is only a partial view of the main hall. Elsewhere there were meetings with the Bread and Roses shortlisted writers, the food area and the bar... and the usual milling about and conversations outside the main area.
There were stalls from the London radical bookshops, Housmans, Newham Bookshop, Bookmarks and others; distributors including Turnaround and Active; publishers including Pluto, Merlin, Verso down to smaller outfits like Five Leaves; trendy young things whose books I could not understand and wizened veterans selling heavy duty texts. Fifty stalls in all - including the one below, offering hundred year old copies of Arbeiter Fraynt, the Yiddish anarchist periodical banned by the British Government during WWI.

What was encouraging was the level of interest and the absence of sectarianism. There was a collection at the end with half the proceeds going towards a radical bookfair next year and half to the anarchist Freedom Bookshop, rebuilding after an arson attack. People warmly welcomed the speaker from Freedom at the plenary closing event as much as they did the children's writers from the Little Rebels prize. I was MCing the plenary and got a big ovation for the main organiser Nik Gorecki, who was of course busy on some practical thing elsewhere in the building so never heard it. But he and his colleagues at Housmans deserve all our thanks. Radical bookselling is on the move again. And I'm pleased to say that Housmans itself is doing well.
I'll shortly post a report on the Bread and Roses/Little Rebel award winners, and put down some thoughts on how the radical bookfair might continue. It is many years since the old socialist bookfairs, and the third world and black bookfairs so we have a fairly clean slate. This is exciting.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

London Fictions at The Londonists (we like this one)

The introduction to this new book immediately got our attention: “We asked a selection of contemporary Londonists — the term is coming once more into fashion but is originally Marcus Fall’s from 1880…”. Well, blimey.
The 26 contemporary ‘Londonists’ — and most do have strong London connections — were each asked to critique a London-based novel. Their choices certainly intrigue. Dickens is missed entirely, and the list also steers clear of “that quartet of modern sages and visionaries of the city, J.G. Ballard, Michael Moorcock, Peter Ackroyd and Iain Sinclair”. Also absent are Conrad, Amis, Carter, Gaiman and Self. As the Afterword says, the editors make no claims to comprehensiveness, instead relying on the individual enthusiasms of the contributors.
The resulting list, then, is far more interesting than another slog through the usual suspects. A few old favourites do reel us in (Conan Doyle, Virginia Woolf, Patrick Hamilton), but then we’re drawn to a dozen less-familiar authors such as Pamela Hansford Johnson and Thomas Burke. We begin with George Gissing’s The Nether World and end with what seems to be its abbreviation, NW by Zadie Smith.
The contributors are also well chosen. Sarah Wise tackles A Child of the Jago, Rachel Lichtenstein analyses Simon Blumenfeld’s Jew Boy, Cathi Unsworth takes on The L-Shaped Room… Some writers really tubthump their choice, others are more critical. Andrew Lane’s appraisal of The Sign of Four, for example, imagines Conan Doyle piecing the action together from a London gazetteer, rather than drawing on any first-hand knowledge of the capital’s streets.
All in all, this is a surprising and approachable collection, which can be enjoyed by a general audience as well as literary types. The mix of familiar and not-so-familiar sets it apart from the numerous other London anthologies from recent years. Our reading list just got several novels longer, and the application of the word ‘Londonist’ just got broader.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

39 years of News from Nowhere

I was pleased to be part of the Liverpool radical bookshop News from Nowhere's 39th birthday party, where we had an evening session based on the Five Leaves' book Utopia. The book featured a long history of the bookshop by Mandy Vere, who has been at NfN for 37 of those years. I worked in a radical bookshop for seventeen years, indicating some lack of commitment issues compared to Mandy. Indeed, the other four paid staff at the bookshop look like they'll eventually get a gold watch too. Gillian Darley also spoke, on the utopian Moravian community (from her chapter in the book) and other self-organised utopian communities and the local philanthropically-built Port Sunlight. We were interested to hear, from the audience, about some local housing schemes in Liverpool that are being self-organised, particularly in areas of high Irish-background occupancy, as a counter to the desperate economic situation people are in.
The event was also supposed to have Alun Parry singing utopian songs, but a family illness kept him away, with the wonderful Tayo Aluko (from Call Mr Robeson) depping at the last moment.
My own contribution - aside from talking about the contents of the book - was to draw out some strands from major utopian novels. Attitudes to decision-making and money, for example, in Thomas More's Utopia (actually, if NfN is really utopian the workers would scorn gold watches when the time arrives, as in Utopia gold was considered worthless metal and used only for cheap jewelry and chamber pots). News from Nowhere itself was written in response to Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward - if socialism comes. Re-reading Bellamy I was impressed how many of his ideas came about. He predicted the credit card, that could be used internationally, and he called it "a credit card". His vision of retail was based on the model that Argos and, to some extent, Amazon use. He suggested a personal economic system which looked like the citizen's income idea popular in the Green Party, and some of the centralised services that did come about in the Soviet bloc.
News from Nowhere was, of course, more libertarian, more rural, more feminist, more child-centred... but re-reading the book I was aware it was written just a few years before William Morris died, after an exhausting political, artistic and personal life. The book opens with "William Guest" after an evening "Up at the [Socialist] League" wanting to know what would happen "on the Morrow of the Revolution". Guest remarks "If I could be see a day of it... If I could but see it". The book is Morris's attempt to envisage such a future, but re-reading it the repeated call of "If I could but see it" felt like a cry of pain from someone who knew he would not see the socialism he so worked for.
I mentioned in passing Marge Piercy's utopian novel Woman on the Edge of Time, but Mandy remembered Piercy's Body of Glass where she wrote about something very close to the internet. Utopian novels have a habit of predicting the future.
What of course few would have predicted 39 years ago was that News from Nowhere would still be around, in a building owned by the workers-cooperative, a bit chaotic but buzzing with activity from groups as diverse as the Woodcraft Folk (meeting elsewhere in the building) and those running a vegan cafe on Saturdays.
Happy birthday, News from Nowhere