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Ever-expanding madness

(AKA a toffee-vodka-flavoured rant: add one packet of Werther’s Originals to a bottle of vodka, shake occasionally till dissolved, drink in liberal quantities, nip onto WordPress and blog drunkenly)

Came home to Nottingham today from Dorset. Hit Junction 26 and as if by magic, snow appeared. Gosh. Had been down at Mum’s, and had seen just a few flakes of snow. Lots of frost, mind. And cold weather, but I didn’t see much of that, because I was working hard. Ish. So much work going on at the moment, but it’s all fantastic stuff. I currently have three jobs, just in case you didn’t realise. I’m Development Director for Nottingham Writers’ Studio (major tasks at the moment = getting newest NWS Journal typeset and launched, and working out ways to persuade shy writerly types to get together and be active members of NWS), Project Director for the Nottingham City of Literature bid (major tasks = quantifying just how fan-f***ing-tastic Nottingham is as a City of Literature – VERY), and where it all started, Publishing Assistant at Five Leaves.

Ross Bradshaw is one of the most wonderful people on this planet. He’s going to be completely mortified to hear me say that, so do him a favour and ignore this paragraph. Five Leaves Publications has published books that should be available to everyone but otherwise wouldn’t be. For instance, in 2011, he commemorated the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Cable Street by issuing no fewer than FIVE books about the events of that day. One of the most memorable days of my life, my #2 son and I pretended to be Jewish Socialists in a march along Cable Street, and helped Ross and Myra man a stall at a celebration of the anniverary, selling over £1600 worth of books and seeing The Men They Couldn’t Hang playing an amazing acoustic set at Wilton’s Music Hall. I sang along at the top of my voice, which was thankfully drowned out by the band. We also saw Billy Bragg, who was not totally disrespected by Marie Thompson at the Bread and Roses festival this year… it all comes back to haunt us in the end. Anyway. I wouldn’t be where I am today without Ross’s mentoring and support, so that’s, um, I think, something worth saying.

Um. I’m proud of where I am. And I’m intensely grateful to the people who’ve helped me get here. Ross is very high on that list, of course. Mum and Dad are also up there, of course — hope you’re as proud of me as I am of both of you. Ann Hardwick, Sophie Hollinshead, Niki Valentine and Matt Welton, all of whom had faith in my academic learning and teaching abilities when I wasn’t particularly convinced. And my friends… too many to name. You know who you are. You all kept me going.

Oh, this has diverted from the rant I was planning to write. I was going to go on about how idiotic people are, and how the human race is doomed. But there are lots of you I love. In fact, I love the whole bleedin’ lot of you. (yes, that’s the toffee vodka talking)

Enough. Resolutions. I’m going to give more to charity, and I’m going to do more Good things. Not sure what, but there have to be many of them that need to be done, so I’m going to find out what they are and do them. I’m going to write more blog posts. Not sure what about, but probably thoughts inspired by books I read. I was thinking, on the way back to snowy Nottingham today, that there are many things that need to be sorted out in the world. Not sure how, given how contrary (selfish/greedy/idiotic) people are as a rule. There must be a way though. I will find it. And then everything will be ok. That’s my promise to you for 2015.

Oh, and I’m going to write more.

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Five Leaves Bookshop

Yes, you read it right…

Five Leaves is opening a bookshop in Nottingham!

Press Release: immediate
New independent bookshop to open in Nottingham

Five LeavesThe Nottingham-based publisher, Five Leaves is to open a bookshop in Nottingham, the first independent bookshop in the city since 2000.

The bookshop will open in mid-November at 14a Long Row, opposite the Tourist Information Centre, in premises that have been used as an art gallery and a café and will trade under the name Five Leaves Bookshop.

Ross Bradshaw, owner of Five Leaves, said “When I came to Nottingham in the late 70s there were several independent bookshops and in subsequent years various chains were represented, but for many years there has only been Waterstones in the city centre. It’s a great shop but there’s plenty room for an independent as well.”

The new bookshop will specialise in history, politics and landscape; fiction and poetry; lesbian and gay books; and international writing, with an emphasis on independent publishers

Ross BradshawRoss Bradshaw added “Nottinghamshire has a flourishing literature scene, with more professional writers than ever and a very active events programme including the longstanding Lowdham Book Festival which I’ve been involved with since the start. The bookshop will provide another focus and we will work with local and national writers to build the shop’s own programme. The premises became available suddenly and we are working hard to open by mid-November. Several of our own writers and other local publishers are pitching in to help.”

Initial events will include a memorial evening for the Nobel Literature Prize winner Seamus Heaney and a speaker from the peace movement in Israel.

Jon McGregorOne of Nottingham’s leading writers, Jon McGregor, said “I’m hugely excited at the prospect of a new independent bookshop in Nottingham. Despite the impact of online retailing, there is still a place for the personalised experience of a well-run independent bookshop; not just as a place to buy a book, but as the hub for a community of readers and writers. Ross Bradshaw has many years of experience in publishing and bookselling, and I’m sure will make a fine job of it; I’m equally sure that Nottingham’s thriving community of writers and readers will support the venture from day one.”

The Five Leaves Bookshop will complement other local independents including The Bookcase in Lowdham and the graphic novel specialists Page 45 in Nottingham city centre.

For further information please contact Ross Bradshaw, info@fiveleaves.co.uk, 0115 9895465 (w) 0115 9693597 (h).

Background

Ross BradshawRoss Bradshaw worked at Mushroom Bookshop in Nottingham from 1979-1995 (the shop closed in 2000) and since then has run Five Leaves Publications, initially part-time while working as Nottinghamshire County Council’s literature office, then full time. He is a trustee of the East Midlands Book Award and the Bread and Roses Award for Radical Publishing. Five Leaves jointly runs the Lowdham Book Festival with The Bookcase in Lowdham, the biggest book festival in the region. Together with Housmans Bookshop in London, Five Leaves established the London Radical Book Fair in 2012.

Five Leaves Publications’ forthcoming books include a collection of essays on Crime, a biography of the architectural writer Ian Nairn and A Brief History of Whistling by Nottingham writers John Lucas and Allan Chatburn.

Five Leaves Bookshop will be linked to the social enterprise Howie-Smith Project, which supports small creative enterprises in Nottingham.
The Five Leaves Bookshop will open for trading on 9th November, but there will be a grand opening on 16th November with events in the shop all day.

ENDS

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The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern is yet another desirable object. This book caught my attention because of the associated online game – a great publicity stunt. I wouldn’t have noticed or bought the book if I hadn’t been following Alison Hennessey from Random House on twitter (@vintagebooks)… just goes to show, this social networking thingy does work sometimes. Despite (or because of) that, I’m very glad I discovered this book. It’s just the sort of strange and wonderful story I like to read.

The Night Circus: Title Page

The title page

The Night Circus is a mysterious place that moves from town to town, appearing over the space of a few hours and staying for a random length of time. It opens at sunset, admitting anyone who cares to roam its labyrinthine pathways and investigate the many tents. This is the background for a game (or possibly a battle) between two young people – Celia and Marco – who haven’t been told what the game involves, apart from their skill at magical illusion. Things get complicated when they fall in love…

The Night Circus: back jacket

the back jacket... note the ribbon bookmark

The story is set in late Victorian times and is full of whimsy and weirdness – just the sort of thing I like. It’s told out of chronological order, and to my mind that’s the only downside. There’s no reason for shuffling the timeline, and it makes it harder to keep track of what’s going on. But once you’ve got the hang of the necessity to actually read the date at the top of each chapter, the story is fantastical and strange and gripping and uplifting all at the same time.

As I hope my photos demonstrate, the book itself is an example of how innovative design can lift a story from the very good to the extraordinary.

 

The Night Circus: edge

black page edges

The black page edges make a striking contrast to the red case-binding, and the black-and-white jacket completes the effect.

 

 

 

The Night Circus: endpapers

Even the end papers are themed

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Christmas

Christmas Dinner

#1 Hairy Brat poses for a photo

OK, I love Christmas. I really do. This year I do, anyway, even though it’s been a bit disjointed. #1 hairy brat and I spent Christmas Day together watching silly TV and stuffing our faces with chocolate while #2 hairy brat ate lots with his step-family in the Netherlands.

I got some lovely presents and spent the whole day making presents for other people.

Home-made presents

Some of the presents I made for people

In fact, I spent the whole of Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Boxing Day and the day after making presents. It was fun and rewarding, and I watched the first two seasons of Angel while I was at it. I think I like Angel more than Buffy, although the lack of Willow is a bit upsetting. I also watched the BBC production of The Borrowers, which was very good indeed. And some other stuff I can’t remember.

 

 

Ho Ho Ho

Ho Ho Ho - just up the road from Mum's cottage.

 

On the Wednesday after Christmas #2 hairy brat and I drove down to Dorset, where we were welcomed by this very Christmassy sight.

I love Dorset 🙂

 

 

We visited Lyme Regis on the Friday (New Year’s Eve Eve) where Blake met up with his girlfriend (aaaah bless!) and Mum and I explored, eventually discovering the most AMAZING bookshop in the whole country, if not the whole world. The Sanctuary Bookshop is literally crammed from cellar to attic with second-hand books of all types and ages and genres – it’s a treasure-trove, and it has two B&B rooms! I’m going to stay there for at least one night next time we’re down in Dorset.

Modern Typewriting and Manual of Office Procedure

Modern Typewriting and Manual of Office Procedure


This time I bought only one book, but what a book… I thought I might find an etymological dictionary, but somehow this caught my eye… it’s brilliant…

 

 

Today we went for a walk. I love Dorset.

Dorset countryside

Dorset countryside

This is Weston Farm. I don’t know what it’s like inside, but I don’t care. Just look at it! It is now my ambition to acquire it somehow and turn it into a writing retreat.

Weston Farm

Weston Farm

Sheep and Mother

A sheep watching my mother looking at the countryside

Mushroom and sheep shit

This mushroom caught my eye...


Drain

... and this drain...


Dead ivy clinging to a wall

... and this dead ivy still clinging to a wall

I didn’t take any pictures of the lane we walked up… but it was muddy. Having good grips on the bottom of my walking boots didn’t help much once they were clogged with clay. Good exercise, mind you!

Got to go and roll out some rough puff pastry for mince pies now.

Happy New Year! Hope everyone had a Christmas as nice as mine, and that 2012 is fun and prosperous and healthy and all that guff…

🙂

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School days

Southwell Workhouse Schoolroom

The Good Old Days

Things have certainly changed since Victorian times… this is a photo of the schoolroom at Southwell Workhouse, which I visited last week. The children spent most of their days in this room, which has obscured windows so they couldn’t be distracted by the sight of their parents working in the yards. They were looked after by the schoolteacher, and were only allowed to see their parents on Sundays.

Their diet would have been something like this:

Breakfast:
Bread, 4 ounces, and milk, 1/2 pint.
Or: Bread, 4 ounces; and milk-porridge, 1/2 pint, made with boiled milk, 1/2 pint; and oatmeal, 5 drachms.

Supper:
The same as breakfast; except that cheese, 1 ounce, may be substituted for milk, or for milk-porridge, when milk cannot be procured.

Reverend John Becher

Reverend John Becher, who built the workhouse and specified this diet.

Dinner:
On Sunday: Boiled beef, without bone, 5.5 ounces; and potatoes, boiled and peeled, 1 pound.
On Monday: Bread, 4 ounces; and beef broth, 1 pint – thickened with flour, 2 drachms; and flavoured with leeks and parsley.
On Tuesday: Dumplings, 9.5 ounces – made with flour, 5 ounces, and barm; sauce made with treacle, flour, and water.
On Wednesday: Rice-milk, 1/2 pint – made with boiled milk 1/2 pint; rice, 1.5 ounces; and flour, 1 ounce.
On Thursday: the same as on Sunday.
On Friday: Pea soup, 1 pint – made with beef broth, 1 pint; peas, 2 ounces and 4 drachms; thickened with potatoes, boiled, peeled and mashed, 1 pound; seasoned with black pepper, and flavoured with onions.
On Saturday: Hasty-pudding, 1/2 quart – made with flour, 2 ounces and 4 drachms; milk, 1/2 pint; and water. Sauce made with treacle, flour, and water.

I’ll be leading a group of Humanities students in their individual research projects about the Workhouse next term – we’ll get our hands on the archives, and will be able to let our imaginations roam free – I can’t wait! I’m not sure the students are all that keen, as a rule they’re not up for unfettering their imaginations, but I’ve got seven weeks to batter them into submission. I’m determined to get them thinking creatively. Watch this space…

Back to the present

Yesterday I was privileged to meet a great bunch of Year 8 (12-year-old-ish) kids at Springwell College near Chesterfield. The irrepressible, brilliant and, quite frankly, barking mad Mark Gwynne Jones is leading a group of 20 youngsters in a Lyric Lounge project to use artefacts from Chesterfield Museum to generate performance poetry for next year’s Lyric Lounge in Chesterfield.

What’s not to like? How could I fail to be excited about the opportunity to shadow Mark on this project? (thank you, Writing East Midlands and Cathy Grindrod).

Children are scary

Children are scary

Actually, I was terrified. I’ve run workshops for adults, but apart from dragging two now-teenage (and almost-housetrained) boys into the world, I’ve had nothing to do with children.

What a pleasant surprise… the school is fantastic, the teachers are totally engaged, and the kids are absolutely delightful – not at all scary! Mark chucked me in at the deep end by involving me in the first exercise – something I used to do with my kids, we called it ‘story circle’ – you tell a story by taking it in turn to say words. We split into pairs or threes… all the stories were weird and wonderful, ours involved going for a run in a muddy field, jumping into a pond and meeting a smelly newt, then coming across a dragon who was cute but didn’t want a flower on its neck, so we went home.

Really really scary

Really really scary

Then Mark got everyone to write two stories about an object they’d brought in, one true and one made-up. While that was going on I took the opportunity to go round and meet most of the kids. What a great bunch they are, with amazing imaginations and the confidence and articulateness to put them to good use. We all told our pairs of stories, and had to guess which was the true story. Many of us managed to fool people into believing the made-up story… and the teachers did particularly badly!

I can’t wait till next week – we’re going to the museum, and we’ll get to rummage around in the storerooms. Superb! I think I’m going to love this project, and I feel very honoured to be a part of it.

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Giving Thanks

I went to a thanksgiving dinner yesterday at a friend’s house. It was a delicious meal, and a lovely evening spent with some of my favourite people in the whole wide world, for which I give thanks.

Light over Lundy

The professional-looking book (the other one shall remain anonymous).

When I got home, I had to write a 1000-word essay discussing the design of two books, one of which was self-published and awful, the other was professionally published and lovely. I thoroughly enjoyed researching and learning more about book design, and putting all this knowledge into practice. I love the way my brain works, for which I give thanks.

This morning was beautiful. The sun was shining, University Lake was speckled and calm, and the birds were friendlier than usual (perhaps because they’re not turkeys, I dunno). I took nearly a hundred photos on the way to my class, trying to keep every precious image. It was a wonderful start to the day, for which I give thanks.

I’ve spent much of the last five years in the pits of a deep episode of depression. With the help of some amazing people I now feel healthy, confident and happy, for which I give thanks.

Simon and Blake

Simon, me and Blake

Most of all, I give thanks for my sons, who are the most important part of my life, who are the finest young men I have ever had the pleasure of knowing, who have saved my life more times than they know, and who will doubtless cringe if they ever read this.

I give thanks for many more aspects of my life. I give thanks to lots of people and to the world in general… if you’re out there and you feel you deserve my thanks, I’m here and I’m giving them.

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Random Editor

Scorpius and friends, in happier days

Scorpius and friends, in happier days.

In breaking news, my car (known as Scorpius – if you don’t get that reference, watch Farscape immediately – I can lend you the DVDs) is in the garage again. I’ve given up asking what’s wrong with it, I just hand my credit card over, stick my fingers in my ears and go ‘lalalalala’ while they tell me how much the repair will cost.

Despite that, I made it to the CPW Monday seminar this evening – the lovely Alison Hennessey from Vintage – Random House’s literary fiction imprint – came to tell us what being an editor is all about. [yes, I know she spells her name strangely, but she’s from London, what can I say?]

In a fast-paced and fascinating session Alison took us through the acquisitions process, what editing a book for publication involves, and a typical day in the life of an editor at a big publishing house. I took pages and pages of notes, so I won’t repeat them all for you here. There were some interesting points though:

  • It really is worth getting an agent – they know exactly which editors to pitch your novel to and exactly when to do it.
  • Editors tend to look for qualities over and above good writing – if you have a ‘platform’, will work well with an editor, are ‘marketable’, and have ideas for further novels, you are more likely to have your work picked up.
  • If you’ve been in a writers’ group, this indicates you’re used to accepting criticism and will therefore work well with an editor.
  • Short stories are selling better now – because of e-readers.
  • Good writing and good ideas are both important, but ideas can be brushed up whereas if an author can’t write there’s no fixing it.
  • People in publishing are expected to do all their reading outside office hours… yes… I could do that job…

At least nobody asked her when one could start sending abusive emails to a publisher after submitting a manuscript for consideration. Yes. Someone really did ask that last time.

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