Sunday, 13 April 2014

"We were all medium size once"

Last night I ran a bookstall at the Nottinghamshire NUM 30th anniversary commemoration of the 1984/1985 miners' strike. The shop was particularly promoting Harry Paterson's book on the strike, published by Five Leaves. We sold a bucket load, particularly after Henry Richardson, former general secretary of the Nottinghamshire NUM (sacked by the working miners) said in his speech "This is your story. Every striking miner should have a copy of the book in their house to tell your children and grandchildren what you did."
I'd felt that the Nottinghamshire story had never previously been fully told. Keith Stanley from the NUM published a short memoir of the strike, Jonathan Symcox published his grandfather's diaries, Canary Press published some books at the time - all worth reading - but no book had looked at the background, the detail and the aftermath of the strike and explained why Nottinghamshire was so important to the Government, told the full story of the 1,800 men who stuck it out to the end out of 32,000 in the Notts coalfield, the secret dealings leading to the formation of the UDM and their ultimate downfall. That was the aim of the book, and I think we have mostly succeeded. I say mostly as since the book came out people who Harry interviewed, or others in casual conversation, have told us the most astonishing personal stories of the strike year. We're proud of the book, but will perhaps publish a later edition including more of these stories - of the picket line staffed, by agreement, one day only by women where the only men who turned up were police infiltrators who'd not heard it was going to be women only; of the Manton miner who was charged with attempted murder, sacked of course, only for the charges to be dropped later; of the local "major" picket set up by six people, and only for six people, to draw police away from Orgreave (which also proved that phones were tapped as the police turned up in droves thinking it was to be a major event)... I could go on. There were so many stories.
It was an honour to be there last night with the men and women of the strike year. All of us thirty years older, and some of us thirty years wider than before - XXL T-shirts ran out quickly (hence this posting's title). Most of those present were NUM or from women's support groups from the period, but we were joined by many from the Clarion Choir and friends from the Trades Council and UNISON. It was sometimes hard to hear the speakers or the choir as people had some catching up to do. There were a fair few Scottish notes in the bookstall takings as a number of ex-Notts people had travelled back for the occasion. Nobby Lawton came back from London and managed, the night before, to get a lifetime ban from his old Blidworth Miners' Welfare when he took over the mike to celebrate his fellow strikers! I think he might have been exaggerating to say he went down fighting, still clutching the mike and singing the Red Flag... but there is still ill-feeling in the coalfields between those who supported the Tory Government and those who supported their national union. In Harry's book he analyses the voting figures in Nottinghamshire, indicating just how many miners actually voted Conservative. Of course they were thrown on the scrapheap too.
Of those who spoke, I was pleased that Margaret Nesbit from the women's group in Ollerton spoke about Liz Hollis, who killed herself after the strike. So many people from the coalfields remember Liz with love and affection. Ian Lavery MP reminded us of the beatings people took at Orgreave, but demanded a wider inquiry into the state of siege that took place in Nottinghamshire. The very youthful looking Owen Jones provided the best crack of the evening, referring to himself as looking more like a minor than a miner. Owen was given a standing ovation and, interesting, given the ethnic make up of the coalfields, got most applause in his speech when he referred to the scapegoating of migrants and the National Front-style lorry touring immigrant areas telling people to go home.
The meeting opened with a minute's silence, for Davy Jones - killed on the picket line at Ollerton - and for other NUM members who did not make it through to the 30th, and supporters of the NUM like Bob Crow and Tony Benn.
At the time of the strike my main focus had been CND. I am proud that the day we held the biggest ever Nottingham Peace Festival we shared speakers and ran buses between our event and a major NUM rally elsewhere in the city. Our causes were one. Perhaps because of that most of those I knew personally from the strike days were women who'd been involved in the peace movement - Ida Hackett from Mansfield, Joan Witham from Newark, both now dead, and Pat Paris, now living abroad.
I think it was Henry Richardson who remarked that the NUM never lost, as the Big Meeting in Durham attracts more and more people every year to celebrate the NUM and the working class communities which it created and here, in Kirkby, in the heartland of the strike-breaking miners, it is the NUM that lives, not the UDM.
The evening was very ably organised by Eric Eaton and Alan Spencer from the Notts NUM Ex and Retired Miners Assocation.
Nottingham readers might want to attend the Five Leaves Bookshop commemoration on 25th April with speakers being Seamas Milne (Guardian associate editor), Harry Paterson, Keith Stanley (NUM), Bianca Todd (Left Unity) and Joyce Sheppard (Women Against Pit Closures). Full details on

Monday, 7 April 2014

Dan Tunstall

One of the pleasures of being a small publisher is that you often get to know your authors well, sometimes making long-term friendships, sharing in their individual joys and pain as they do in yours. Sometimes the relationship is brief but intense, going quiet once the book or books in question are out of the way. Sometimes your authors die. Five Leaves has lost several writers and editors over the years. In no particular order these include Adrian Mitchell, Ray Gosling, Stanley Middleton, Walter Gregory, Richard Boston, Michael Hyde, Daniel Weissbort and Colin Ward. Leaving aside that they are all men, what they have in common is that even though some died before their time, and all are missed, none were young.
It was a shock this morning though when the agent Penny Luithlen rang to say that our author Dan Tunstall had died yesterday, it seems by his own hand. Dan had been troubled for some time, but we all hoped that he would pull through. He was only in his forties. It was a difficult conversation with Penny, who had done so much to try to help Dan. Agents, perhaps more than publishers, can get very involved with their clients.
Penny came to me some years ago about Dan. I knew her slightly. She wanted me to take a risk on a young, new writer with a challenging book about football hooliganism. I doubted we would sell a lot of copies but Penny persuaded me to take the book on on its value, but as a great agent she wanted to get Dan's career going and he needed that book to do that. In fact the sales were pretty good.
Being a book on football hooliganism it required careful editing and the three of us had great fun in a cafe counting each individual swearword and working out whether they were necessary. ("I'll trade you one XXXX for one XXXXXX."). We had to get this book right as it was his first book and because it was a difficult subject. That we did so was marked by Dan's Big and Clever being shortlisted for the Bradford Boase Award for first young adult novels. Joined by Carey, Dan's wife, we had a tremendous night out in London, which included Jacqueline Wilson being photographed with Dan, or was it the other way round? It was a real publishing highlight for us, though we did not win.
Dan's second book was Out of Towners, a young adult novel about a group of lads on their first holiday away. It was another great editing experience. We could not get the cover right, and eventually it was designed by Dan and Carey - Dan providing possibly hundreds of versions of the agreed artwork! By now Dan was doing school visits. He was particularly popular with teenage boys who could identify with his characters, and with Dan himself as Dan could with them. We were not surprised when his next book was for a bigger publisher and he then contributed to a four-author anthology with Alan Gibbons and others. Our job was done.
Though Dan continued to write, he ran into personal problems which he could not overcome, with the result we know.
Dan was great company, a talented writer and is a great loss. He was mentored by Bali Rai and had a number of other writer friends who tried, as much as they could, to support him through his difficulties which we all knew. Dan and Carey also designed the cover of Bali's book with us and Bali and Dan were close.
Most of the Five Leaves writers in the East Midlands knew Dan of course, and will join with Pippa and I in sending our condolences to Carey and the girls. This has been a sad day.