Monday, 25 April 2016

The shape of things

Don Paterson’s introduction to his little Faber anthology (part of their 101 series) of sonnets gave a lot of space (I can’t quote because I don’t have the book to hand) to the shape of the sonnet, proportion of width to height. The sonnet shape is roughly exemplified by Malevich’s 1932 Red House (which was on the cover of the original edition, 1990s I think; later editions dropped it, a shame). The Malevich, above.

The sheer shape of it has to do with the sonnet’s persistence. Portrait, not landscape. It’s roughly the shape of the notebook you carry around and write in, and of the A4 paper you print your poems and stories on when when you send them out (for those places that still don’t take online submissions) and of the magazine (except for Stand) or book that they may, god willing, get printed in.

I’ve been wondering (as one does) why the standard delivery system for poems in my lifetime has been the roughly sonnet-shaped book of 64 pages, in which so many of the poems have occupied a single page. The 64 (or 48, or 80, etc) has had to do with with a certain period of printing technology, which required a page extent divisible by 16, and needn’t apply to digital printing, but the basic shape? There’ve been other delivery systems in the past, but even the scroll was portrait not landscape.

Television and cinema screens are landscape. So are computer (but not tablet or smartphone, unless you swivel) screens – yet almost certainly, the window on the computer in which you do your writing is portrait.

About a decade ago an exact contemporary of mine (we were in the 6th form at school together; then he sailed off on a fishing boat to Iceland; much later, he had twin girls in Scotland, I had twin boys in England, all born within the space of about a year, a Shakespearian comedy in the making, and we met up; and then he died) published an online translation of Mallarmé’s L’Après-midi d’un faune with links, artwork, video things, innovatory for its time, and I got a little excited: if online rather than printed book becomes the regular delivery system, the shape of a poem (or page) that I’m used to becomes just one of a possible many?

So far, it seems not. There are writers whose default medium is the screen rather than the A4 or printed-book page, but nothing (or very little) to date whose format simply has to be something other than portrait. (Correct me; I live a sheltered life; I may be wrong, often am.) The interaction between traditional publishing and online is generally dull. Ebooks are convenient, but reproducing print in an online form that mimics that of printed books is hardly an innovative use of the medium.

It’s possible – no? – that just as a wheel has to be round – a square wheel wouldn’t function as a wheel – a poem has to be portrait rather than landscape. For various human reasons. There are only so many words that a reader can take in per line before getting befuddled (text design kicks in here: type size and leading and line measure, to make the reading experience as reader-friendly as possible). For the length that one breathes out before needing to breathe in. In, out.

All kinds writing and reading key in. The lovely kerching when, writing on a typewriter, you have reached the end of a line and have to lever the carriage back to the left again and the page jerks up a little. Watching on the Tube someone opposite reading a book: the way their eyes move from left to right and back to left, and again, and again, the rhythm of it. It’s how people watch tennis. The shape of the buildings in which we, many of us, live, and do our reading and writing and all the other things we do. (I’ve spent a good proportion of my life going up or down stairs.) Further, some kind of predisposition to vertical hierarchy: upper-middle-lower. The ‘conscious’ and the ‘subconscious’ – as though these things were arranged in layers, levels, vertically.*

* ‘If we are trained well, we can do three or four things together at the same time: ride in a car, cry, and look through a window; eat, love, think. And all the time consciousness passes like an elevator among the floors.’ – Yehuda Amichai, ‘Nina of Ashkelon’

PS: The title of this post is cribbed from a 1999 book published by Reaktion (and designed by, guess who, Ron Costley): Vilém Flusser, The Shape of Things. He’s sharp and witty. ‘Umbrellas are relatively complicated contraptions which refuse to work just when they are needed (when it is windy, for instance).’ ‘Why do machines stutter? The answer is, because everything in the world (and the whole world itself) stutters.’ ‘Roofs are devices to make us subservient.’ ‘Until recently our world consisted of things: houses and furniture, machines and motor vehicles, clothing and underwear, books and pictures, tins and cigarettes.’

Thursday, 14 April 2016

The new brown

From 2007 to now, all (well, almost all) CBe books have had brown card covers. These, as the website puts it, ‘allude with respect and thanks to the paperback London Magazine editions published by Alan Ross in the late 1960s and early 70s’ – a series designed by Ron Costley, who I’ve written about here before and who died last year. For a number of reasons – a main one being that I don’t want to be limited to printing with a printer who carries the brown card as regular stock – I want to change.

Alan Ross also published a hardback series. Here are three off the shelves: Bernard Spencer (1965), Tony Harrison (1970; ‘Loiners’, by the way, are people from Leeds, as I am); Tomas Transtromer (1972; translated by Robert Bly).

Keeping the Alan Ross and Ron Costley link, here (below) is what I’m thinking of for the new look. As before, usually no cover image (but yes if appropriate). First print runs of a new title will have flaps, reprints probably not. All new titles like this; and any existing titles that run out of stock and that I’d like to keep in print will move into this design. Any thoughts?

Saturday, 9 April 2016

'No flair but he plods on'

In the interests of accountability and full disclosure, here are quotes (all genuine) from my school reports between 1959 and 1964 (which I found last night while looking for something else):

1959 He is a neat, reliable worker.

1960 Rather slow progress.

1961 With more practice he should improve.
Moderate. He does not think fast enough.
He tries hard but is sometimes disappointingly inaccurate.
Rather slow. A more incisive approach would help.

1962 There are signs of improvement.
Trying hard but finds the work difficult. Never really shows his ability in exams. Working under stress seems to worry him.
Quality at the moment not impressive.
He finds advanced work difficult but has time on his side.

1963 No flair but he plods on.
Slow progress.
Rather pedestrian pace so far.
Elementary mistakes mar his compositions. Much ground remains to be covered.
Moderate standard but time is still on his side.
He plods on but finds none of the work easy.

1964 Works hard but the syllabus has become a tall order.
He has made progress but much of his work is below the standard required.
He is doing good work though a little slow.
Less confused but still not readily capable with grammar.
He is an excellent Scout, Secretary both of Library and Bird Club. He has played good rugger. His reading at the Carol Service was quite splendid.

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

On the afterlife of deceased books

One of the books that meant the world to me and still does is Leila Berg’s Flickerbook – a memoir in fragments, telling her life from birth in 1917 (Manchester working-class Jewish background) up to the moment when, on a bus, she hears of the outbreak of the Second World War. Granta published it in 1997. It went out of print. I went to see Leila Berg in around 2008, wanting to re-issue the book with CBe. That didn’t happen (long story). Leila died in 2012. Not one of her books (she published around 50) is currently in print.

Some more books that have meant the world to me and that are now out of print (or in print but only just, to the point where they may as well not be; or in print, just, in the US but not here): Alfred Hayes, In Love; James Kennaway, Silence; James Buchan, Slide; Gianni Celati, Voices from the Plains; Denis Johnson, The Name of the World; Aleksander Wat, Selected Poems; Hanna Krall, The Woman from Hamburg. I could go on, of course I could.

What happens to books when they die?

If they are very, very lucky, they get get re-issued by NYRB – a completely superb publisher whose list I could live off, whose re-issues are well designed and carry expert and passionate introductions from contemporary writers. Less lucky, they get re-issued by Faber Finds – which is, compared to NYRB, tacky: no introductions, badly designed, print-on-demand, over-priced. Barely lucky, they have an afterlife on abebooks or amazon ‘used & new’ (Flickerbook is there for a penny; I’ve bought so many copies myself and then given them or ‘lent’ them that I’m happy to see it still flickering). Or on a trestle table at a primary school summer fair, which was where I picked up Nina Fitzpatrick’s Fables of the Irish Intelligentsia, another book I’d go to the wall for. Or they get a post on one of those blogs that specialise in dead books. No luck, then no afterlife at all.

Earlier this year, someone I was talking to about my vain attempt to bring Flickerbook back into print used the F-word. ‘Oh, no point in fetishising books’ – something like that. I’m thinking that he’s maybe right. Books can die, vanish. Almost all of them do just that. Survival is pretty random. Ars longa, vita brevis is just one of those things your granny tells you.

Friday, 1 April 2016

On the BBC

The BBC is embedded in my life. The first TV we ever had coming into the house: 1950s, black and white. I remember it being delivered, and where to put it. I remember Andy Pandy, and Bill and Ben. I have no memory of the switch to colour. I was allowed to stay up an extra half hour to watch Tonight, presented by Cliff Michelmore, who died last month. The Wednesday Play: David Mercer, Dennis Potter, David Rudkin, Cathy Come Home. I remember watching these with my mum and feeling awkward, I think both of us, when there was sex.

A lot of people still do watch TV. Occasionally, I do too: some sport, some films. And then, recently, an episode of the BBC’s costume-drama adaptation of War and Peace, and most episodes of The Night Manager, which was awful for so many reasons: sexist in its treatment of the female characters, racist in its treatment of the Middle Eastern characters; almost no acting, because of the poverty of the script (does anyone seriously think that looking serious and quizzical at the same time is good acting?); plot-heavy, while whizzing by so many holes in that; sex and violence input at quota percentages. All-star posh cast. Lavish scenery. £18 million, I’m guessing, from the mention on the BBC’s own website that it cost around £3 million per episode.

(There was a Guardian piece in the past day or so about a number of the male lead actors having a particular Oxford private school background in common: the continuing triumph of rich white males.)

The BBC is publicly funded through the licence fee, and is independent of political control. Good. But it is not independent of market control: most of the money we give it goes into fancy things that can sell to foreign networks. When they have to make cuts, they cut the bits that show on their minority channels, the bits that are surely the whole point of public broadcasting – that it doesn’t have to be dependent on the market. I have never really understood why the BBC has to be engaged in a ratings/numbers battle with the commercial channels: the latter depend on advertising revenue, so of course they have to appeal to as many viewers as possible; the whole point of the publicly funded BBC is that it bypasses that, so why can’t it just be good? BBC is currently not, by any stretch, a ‘jewel in the crown’ of anything. I’m not sure what the point of it is.

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Bite-size CBe, part 2 (42–64)

Bites 1–41, written in 2014, are in the previous post.

42 February 2016: the new people at the post office are at the counter and the queues are long this week. Farewell to Jay and his wife (below), after 43 years’ service. Every single CBe book ordered from the website since 2007 – a number in the thousands – has been taken by me to their counter for weighing and posting. I’ve seen them at least three times a week, often more. Unwittingly, they have been by far my most regular co-workers in this little venture.

43 A rough audit of how the writers I’ve published have come to me. Author recommended to me by a writer already on the CBe list or by a close friend: 13. Me knowing an author’s work or coming across it and chasing it: 11. Unsolicited submissions: 6. Submission through an agent: 3. Can’t remember: 1.

44 Submissions: despite the huge amount of time and effort that they have put into their writing – and in many cases money too, in fees for CW courses – the great majority of people sending me work skip the 30 seconds of online research it would need to find out who, actually, they are sending to.

45 Number of titles (not including those published this year) published by CBe that have sold fewer than 100 copies through the distributor, Central Books: 15. Number of titles that have sold more than 1,000 copies through the same route: 4.

46 Money is necessary and also embarrasses me. Here is Anne Carson’s theory of money: ‘It’s just the inverse of the usual theory, which is that all money, indeed all numbers in life, should get to be bigger. But it doesn’t make sense that they should get bigger – why bigger? – so if you just switch it around and think all numbers should get smaller, it makes life better.’

47 I’ve hardly evolved from the times when ‘debt’ carried a lingering stigma and the purpose of a man was to be a ‘breadwinner’. As a writer (and especially as a writer who wanted to start a family), either I had to write books whose sales made me a living (which was never going to happen), or I took jobs and wrote on the side. (The oldest writer on the CBe list, Fergus Allen, 94, had a similar outlook: a working career, then publishing his first book at the age of 72.) I don’t claim this attitude is ‘right’; fear is involved, and playing safe. But I do take a perverse pride in CBe’s record of publishing more than 40 books over 9 years without any ACE money.

48 2014 was the glitzy year: Beverley Bie Brahic winning the Scott Moncrieff Prize for her translations of Apollinaire; May-Lan Tan on the Guardian First Book Award shortlist; Will Eaves on the Goldsmiths Prize shortlist; a re-issue of Agota Kristof’s The Notebook selling well and being on several ‘books of the year’ lists. I wore a tie.

49 This: different writers I’ve published meeting one another – at a reading, an event, a party, or just online – and clicking. Readers too. I could very easily get sentimental about this. Family. (Despite families being, in media-speak, either ‘hard-working’ or ‘dysfunctional’.) This kind of by-play has been the richest thing.

50 Social media. Facebook aggravates, and I aggravate in return and get in a mess. Twitter’s lighter, funner. CBe has, I think, a low-level, intermittent core following, some of whom do one platform but not the others, some of whom read the irregular newsletter but nothing else, and a least a couple of whom never go online at all, so I probably do need to keep all the channels open, a way of reminding that I’m still around. That’s all.

51 Ebooks. The books about Finland are available as ebooks because there may be English-speaking potential readers in Finland who are keen to buy but baulk at the postage costs for a printed book. Two of my own poetry collections, first published by Faber, are now available exclusively (as they say) as CBe ebooks. Take-up has been less than tiny.

52 Printed books are the CBe thing, but I’m not 100 per cent Luddite. I read a lot of things – poems, prose – online. Online writing doesn’t need to bow to the design restrictions of the printed page, and this can get interesting; to publish a 64-page poetry book (the standard delivery system for poetry over my lifetime) and then issue it as a 64-page ebook doesn’t feel interesting at all.

53 UK orders from the website are free of any postage or packing costs. For orders from Europe (and yes, that does include Ireland) and ‘rest of the world’, there’s a little clickable menu on every book page that adds on a postage cost. It’s surprising – but maybe not – how many people ordering from outside the UK don’t see this. Do I send them a school-teacherly email asking them to send postage? Do I just shrug and send the book anyway? It depends on my mood.

54 I’ve done this twice: taken on an ‘intern’ and paid them a sum of money and then been stumped as to what to ask them to do.

55 Oh, yes: I got one of them to teach me how to make spreadsheets. But then I never followed through. The old system – writing numbers down in columns in a ledger – isn’t broken so doesn’t need fixing.

56 My dad (who died 60 years ago) had a ledger in which he kept track of the business of a farm he ran: wages, cattle bought/sold, tractor repairs, etc. I remember it, and have lost it. It seems pretty clear that I am trying to re-create that ledger. It also seems clear that the way in which CBe publishes – printed books; the lugging around of heavy boxes; the queuing at the post office; the tiny sums of money and the small-scale-ness of it all – is essentially a 1950s way, with a couple of technological advances (the internet, digital printing) added on.

57 The price of a new book of poetry should, surely, be index-linked to the cost of a packet of cigarettes. On the whole this seems to be the case. (Except for Faber: £10.99 for 64 paperback pages?)

58 I made a half-hearted attempt, about two years ago, to stop publishing. And then realised that, as with smoking, stopping is a lot more difficult than simply carrying on. But I can cut down.

59 The course of Sonofabook magazine, whose first issue was published in spring 2015, has not run smoothly: delays, illnesses. I came to believe that there was a curse on it. Someone suggested I rename it The Accursed.

60 In the agent’s office there is a cricket bat, and we talk about cricket as well as books. That this agent has poets on his list, and also the son of the teacher who got me through Eng Lit O-level at school, feels good. Minutes after leaving, I buy a bunch of Victorian lantern slides from an antiquarian bookshop. Two of them show watercolours of worms. I come home and read Darwin on worms: ‘Worms have played a more important part in the history of the world than most persons would at first suppose.’

61 Helpful tips. CBe author Dai Vaughan’s advice to ‘aspiring writers’: ‘Be sure that a life of humiliation and disappointment is what you really want.’ Me on lesser things: for editing you need to be awake and alert; typesetting can be done while reasonably hungover.

62 Burger vans (below). The left one is outside the printer in Acton, the right one is outside Central Books in Hackney Wick, the distributor. Snap. I collect boxes from the former, bring home and re-pack, and deliver them to the latter (17 trips in the past year). If just 2 or 3 boxes, by Overground; if more, by car. (Central’s building is perhaps my favourite in London: see photo in previous post.)

63 Inpress are asking me what my ‘targets’ are for the sales of the new titles. I have a feeling this is going to end badly.

64 Ron Costley, text designer at Faber while I was there, died in February 2015. Guardian obituary here. Anything I know about design, I have from him. When I wasn’t sure, when I had about six different ways in play of putting text to page or cover and had succeeded only in confusing myself, I’d email Ron and we’d go to Pizza Express. House red, extra chili flakes. He was a great supporter of small presses in general. It’s not the same without him.

Monday, 21 March 2016

Bite-size, part 1 (1–41), déjà vu

I posted the below in February two years ago and re-post today because I'll add another few bites in the next few days and this is the back-story:

Off-cuts, paper cuts, 2007 to now:

1 After months of batting cover try-outs back and forth, one of the books still had a name spelt wrong on the cover. The mis-spelt editor had noticed this on the proofs but had assumed it was a joke. My fault.

2 Natural Mechanical by J. O. Morgan was an editor’s dream: 40 lines arriving out of the blue as an attachment to an email asking if I’d like to read more, from an author who had never before had anything published, and the book going on to win a literary prize. The title tells it true: this is Rocky’s workshop when I visited him in 2009 in Inverness-shire, during the early stages of his complete restoration of a 1929 Brooklands Riley from a rusted chassis:

3 I did a short print run of J. O. Morgan’s Long Cuts with a colour cover for a shop which said that trying to sell the standard edition was like trying to sell a brown paper bag. Some of those are still in a box – free to anyone who orders any other title from the website and asks for one.

4 Naive early error: to assume that a fair few of the people I’d worked with in publishing would buy a book or two. In fact most people who work in the trade expect to get books for free. There have been honourable exceptions.

5 Best CBe-related headline (relates to Jennie Walker’s 24 for 3, McKitterick Prize 2008, one of the first four CBe books in 2007 and now published by Bloomsbury):

6 Number of trips to Blissetts in Acton, who print most of the books, in 2013: not logged, but around 20 at a guess. Chris the printer once house-sat my cats; during that period he was side-swiped by a fork-lift truck and sent to hospital; bandaged, patched up, he bypassed the queue for painkillers at the hospital pharmacy and instead came back to the house, fed the cats, drank the malt whisky I’d left him and went back to work.

7 Speediest printing turnarounds: ordering a reprint from Blissetts one afternoon and collecting the books the next day. Sending files of a new book to the other printer, ImprintDigital in Devon, and receiving a proof copy for approval next day in the post.

8 Number of trips over to the distributor Central Books in Hackney Wick with boxes of books in 2013: 16. Regine in the upstairs office once asked me to sign copies of my own old poetry books; a warehouseman in the downstairs delivery space comments on my very occasional TLS pieces. These people read books and they care. Below, Central Books, a very fine building:

9 A box of a given size holds more slim books of poetry than 200-page novels; the slim books are also cheaper to post. On the other hand, all boxes of books, whether containing poetry or fiction, are heavy. A large proportion of peasants’ work used to consist of carrying things; this manual-labour aspect of the job is something I enjoy (which explains in part my dilly-dallying about ebooks).

10 It’s pouring with rain as I lug boxes of books from a Tube station for a book launch at Waterstones Piccadilly (it was going to be in an art college, but the author had been having a hard time and she really did need a place where she could wear a dress), and I’m running late and I’m thinking, this is OK, this is publishing, and I’m saving money. At another book launch I’m drinking in the Colony Room in Soho and because I’m happy I sign a fat cheque for membership and the club closes a few months later and this is OK too. But I could have saved a little money there.

11 Number of trips to the post office in 2013: 139. Best conversation overheard while standing with CBe book packages in the queue: woman in front of me, very loudly, to man standing in doorway: ‘And you shagged that bitch down the Askew Road and you didn’t even wear a rubber.’ Man moves forward, I think he’s going to hit her to I step between them. Man to me, quietly: ‘Fuck off. I’m having a private conversation with my wife.’

12 Highest sales out of Central Books to date (i.e., not counting sales from the website, and people/bookshops I’ve talked into buying direct) for titles published before the end of 2013: just under 1,000. Lowest: just over 10. I look at these numbers, look hard, as if they’re trying to tell me something. It’s a kind of staring competition, who blinks first.

13 Is there any other trade in which shops can order the wares and then, if they can’t sell them, return them and get their money back? With books this is standard. Except on the occasion on which I sold several hundred copies of a title to a chain of bookshops, which several months later wanted to return most of them and have their money refunded. No, I said. And because I’d sold them direct, and there was nothing about returns on my basic invoice, they were stumped. A tiny and incidental victory.

14 Most over-qualified book-carrier: Anthony Thwaite, OBE, born 1930, carrying bundles of Nicky Singer’s Knight Crew on his trial shift as a warehouseman in 2009:

15 I’m not sure that Shakespeare & Co in Paris, where the CBe authors Beverley Bie Brahic, Gabriel Josipovici and Wiesiek Powaga read on an evening in November 2010, ever paid for the books sold but it was fun. This is Sylvia Whitman, brandishing:

16 Built in 2011, a roadside shrine to St Nicholas Lezard, patron saint of small presses, whose ‘paperback of the week’ columns in the Guardian have featured seven CBe books:

17 The man in the rear-view driving mirror on the website home page is my father, 1940s I think. (He wasn’t a reader. When he was courting my mum he took her to a wrestling match; she, then working as a librarian at the Brotherton in Leeds, took him to the first play he’d seen. He died aged 51.) The children on page 70 of Nights and Days in W12 are my own, many years ago; the writer in the café on page 107 of the same book is a man I’m vaguely related to (son of a cousin) and he wasn’t just idling: his first novel will be published this year.

18 The man who was in prison for 22 years and sent me his writing from there, and then we met in a café in Shepherds Bush market. The woman who called round with her portfolio of poems and modelling photos: this one, she said, pausing at a photo in which she’s lying on a sofa and wearing about 3 millimetres of clothing, would be good for the cover? Her mother had doubts. What did I think?

19 The manuscript of Jonathan Barrow’s The Queue really was found in a drawer of his office desk on the day after his death: this is not a literary conceit.

20 Two things that give Gabriel Josipovici’s Only Joking a slight period feel: you can’t now smoke in restaurants and cafés, and the classified football results on radio at five o’clock on Saturdays are no longer spoken by James Alexander Gordon.

21 The average age of the authors published by CBe in 2010 was 80-something. I tried and failed to sell a story on this to The Oldie and Saga magazine.

22 The causes of death of over 500 writers, composers, etc, are listed in This Is Not a Novel by David Markson, who himself is one of three authors who have died since their books were published by CBe. (The youngest was Erik Houston, at the age of 37. His novel The White Room was one of the first four titles; it’s now out of print but I still stand by it. He was a concert violinist who played around the world, then teacher. He had one of those very rare afflictions. In hospital, there was a day when he was technically dead for something ridiculous like ten minutes, and then was alive again. And then, later, not. I think about Erik a lot.)

23 In the flat of Dai Vaughan – who died in June 2012; whose Sister of the artist CBe published in February 2012, a month and a bit after he’d sent me the manuscript – there were tiny sculptures that he’d made out of Edam cheese. Last year I made things out of crushed beer cans; before all this started there was a period when I made ships (and a mermaid) in bottles.

24 The CB of CBe was not intended to be just me. Long story. (Nor, at the time of the first four books, were there any plans to do more.)

25 There is a customer who has bought one copy of every single CBe book direct from the website and I have no idea who this person is.

26 Entering a book for a prize that required an author photo, I sent a photograph of the author’s poem titled ‘Self-Portrait in Shades’ because I had no other visual evidence to offer, and nor did he and nor did the internet. Offered readings, the author responded: ‘I’d prefer not to.’ I can understand this. I can understand it very well.

27 When one of the books wins a prize – to date, a fiction prize (McKitterick, best first novel by a writer aged over 40), a translation prize (Scott Moncrieff), and the really freaky thing of each of the three first poetry collections from CBe winning the Aldeburgh First Collection Prize (and each of them also being Forward shortlisted) – I feel like a parent watching their child in the school nativity play: pride, even though one knows it’s just a play, and next year there’ll be a different Mary and Joseph.

28 That some agents are willing to accept my minuscule offers for rights to publish fiction is due to the extreme generosity of larger publishers who wish to buy rights to cookery books and the memoirs of footballers.

29 The agent who accepted my offer for UK rights and then spent what must surely have been more than my offer on getting the contract checked by their legal department, which suggested I add in something about second serial rights, which I did, though I still don’t know what second serial rights are.

30 The big-name agents who simply don’t reply to emails, and the mainstream publishers too, and others. It may be company policy. More likely, in any company over a certain size there’s an assumption that receiving and opening an email or envelope is a sufficient task in itself. If anything else needs to be done, there are servants for that.

31 Or if they do reply, they do so with same degree of attention as a former literary editor of the Observer who, after I’d sent him the first four books, all prose fiction, and then followed up by sending again, assured me that he’d passed on the books to the poetry editor.

32 There is a clause in the standard contract that basically states that if after signing the author gets an offer from someone richer and better-looking, altogether more eligible, then the author is free to go off with them, as long as I can have the first four months. It’s a sort of prenuptial.

33 I’ve turned down books and seen them published elsewhere and thought, good for them, I was wrong. On the other hand, I’ve turned down books and seen them published elsewhere, by publishers posher than me, and thought, I was still right. On the third hand, I’ve turned down a book and two years later changed my mind and emailed the author at 5 a.m. in the morning to ask whether it has been placed elsewhere and by lunchtime the book was on track.

34 February 2013, letter from Arts Council England: ‘I am sorry to tell you …’ Three in a row. Ho-hum. (Can one apply to the Arts Council for cigarette money, for alcohol money? Without those two legal drugs there’d have been nothing.) The three stages of reaction: (1) slump; (2) shrug; (3) a light-headed sense of freedom.

35 What continues to surprise is how much can be done without any funding at all, and with small amounts of money. Back in 2007, £2,500 covered the printing & binding of 250 copies each of the first four books, author advances, a basic one-page website and a couple of lunches for proofreaders. CBe has been, roughly, self-sustaining ever since but only because editing, design, typesetting, time, etc, are not costed in.

36 Letters addressed to ‘The Accounts Department’ or to ‘The Reviews Manager’ or ‘The Art Director’ or ‘To whom it may concern’: the cat (one of five) who resides on my desk stirs, stretches, yawns, curls back on the low heap of manuscripts.

37 The emails asking for my ‘submission guidelines’. I honestly don’t care: email attachment or hard copy, double-spaced or single, margins wide or narrow, name on every page or not, whatever. If you write and want to send, then just do. It’s not for me to tell you how.

38 The Circulating Library – the idea was to send off a bunch of free books, asking the recipients to pass on to others after reading, and so on (and thereby expand awareness of CBe and maybe generate a few sales from the curious) – was a drowned duck: no emails from happy strangers, not one (as far as I know) extra sale.

39 This desk in the living room, but also the in-town office: the café on the first floor of Foyles, Charing Cross Road. (Deals have been done there, on backs of envelopes. And all praise to that shop, which actually asked to stock the books, rather than me having to make the first move.) If it’s too busy, the Pillars of Hercules. Once, the place around the corner where you can get a bottle of wine for a fiver.

40 The two points in time at which I knew the Free Verse Poetry Book Fair was worth the effort: (1) when in 2011 I was being shown a church hall in Exmouth Market by the woman who was in charge of hiring it out and her labrador dog, chasing a ball, went skittering and scrabbling across the recently polished floor; (2) lunchtime on the day of the first fair when, out for a cigarette, I said to the busker in the street, Brooke Sharkey, there was a book fair going on, and she said she’d move on, and I suggested she come in and do a set onstage instead and she did. (The book fair was repeated in 2012 and 2013, with over fifty presses participating; from 2014 CBe is ducking out, leaving it in the more than capable hands of Chrissy Williams and Joey Connolly.)

41 The stuffed gorilla that sat outside the CBe/Eyewear pop-up shop in Portobello Road in July last year appears to be one of a limited edition made for the California zoo where Koko (born 1971) lives. How it came to a junk shop in the Askew Road, Shepherds Bush, I have no idea. (Below, Koko on the right; on the left, seated, Wiesiek Powaga, translator from the Polish of Stefan Grabinski’s In Sarah’s House and Andrzej Bursa’s Killing Auntie and other work.)