Friday, 31 March 2017

Arrigo Beyle



‘Semi-retired’ is like that crop-rotation thing that farmers do: no harm in leaving a field fallow for a year, not forcing it.

This year, zero + 2. Two by me, under the Jack pen-name and riding upon the privilege of having under another hat an imprint to publish them with. The first is available now, from the website and from Central Books, the second in the autumn.

Today I posted off 50 copies of the first book to friends and it took a little time, because the post office has reconfigured the software: before, I was able to say this envelope and ten the same, please, and they’d rattle out the labels, but now they have to record the postcode for every label. Early afternoon, no one fuming behind me in the queue, it was OK, but we do, we Brits, at least 52% of us, insist on making life difficult for ourselves.

Out of those 50 I posted off to friends maybe two or three were to people in the trade, who write reviews or are similarly engaged. No more. And I have not solicited quotes for the covers, and I have sent them to no literary editors on the newspapers, the magazines, and they are not in any catalogues and there is no sales agent or publicist and I will not be entering these books for any prizes. (I don’t think they’re eligible for any, but that’s by the by, and makes it easier.)

A form of arrogance, yes. It’s also publishing lite, cutting out the tedious stuff. I can do this with myself, I couldn’t do it – this refusenik thing – with any other writer I’d taken on.

The first Robinson book puts to bed, perhaps, an obsession with Stendhal, and above is a photo of his tomb in Montmartre in Paris taken last week on the anniversary of his death, 23 March. Below is a nice 1940s edition of Le Rouge et le Noir picked up on the same day for 5 euros, and the Robinson book.

Monday, 27 March 2017

David Storey, 1933–2017

I've been neglecting this blog. Only one post this year, before this. I've been busy (how did I ever find time to publish books?), but that's a poor excuse.

David Storey died today. His early novels, more than the plays, were formative for me. I mean that for a certain time they were the most important books in the world. When I was at university, and the exam system allowed me to write an extended essay, I wanted to do this on Storey, and I wrote to him and he wrote back saying, basically, good luck, but you're on your own.

Here's a paragraph from a blog post I wrote back in 2012:

"David Storey’s first three novels – This Sporting Life (1960), Flight into Camden (1961), Radcliffe (1963) – didn’t so much speak to me as grab me by the goolies. Northern, father a miner, wrestling with the inner life and the social codes, he was, in a rough way, Lawrence, but alive and writing now (then). After those, plays, and other, cooler novels (he won the Booker in 1976), and long silences. Sometime while I was working at Faber they published a book by his daughter, the fashion designer Helen Storey; there was a party at some extravagant venue to which I didn’t go, and when someone told me there was an older man there, on his own, not mixing, I wished I had."

From a newspaper interview in 1970, almost half a century ago: "I dislike the whole social context of the novel, and where it is, the conventional apparatus which has featured so largely for so long. The novel in England in this kind of society is passed art. The tradition wanders on in a desultory fashion ... The novel is no longer a reliable metaphor for what’s going on."

After that first surge of early novels, there was a backing away. Every so often, I've thought about Storey's silences. And now there is just one silence. If I had gone to that Faber party, what would I have said to him? Embarrassment all round. But still, I should have gone, if only to say thank you.

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

2007–2016



Since 2007 CBe has been a one-person freelance activity, easily the most enjoyable one I’ve ever had. But fifty-odd books in print is as far as that model can stretch, and I appear to be unsuited to any other, so CBe is going into semi-retirement. No new titles have been taken on for 2017.

In practice: the website stays up and all books in print will continue to be sold, both from the website and (for ‘the trade’) through the distributor, Central Books. Please do carry on buying. By semi-retirement, I mean that CBe is retreating into ‘hobbyist’ mode: I may well publish the occasional book (there’ll be a new Jack Robinson book this year, and maybe two), but without committing to the marketing and publicity that are necessary if the books are to reach as wide a readership as possible.

A part of the fun has been proving – to myself as much as anyone – what can be done with little money and no funding. Extracurricular activities have included a London book fair for poetry presses in 2011 (now an annual event, independent of CBe: website here) and a pop-up shop in Portobello Road for a week in 2013. Should I mention the gongs? CBe titles have won the McKitterick Prize, the Scott Moncrieff Translation Prize and the Aldeburgh First Collection Prize (three times), and have been shortlisted for the Goldsmiths Prize, the Guardian First Book Award, the Forward main prize (twice) and the Forward first collection Prize (four times) and more. Well, I have done now, but the risk here is that it turns the whole thing into one of those feel-good small-press stories which reek of worthiness. That was never the point. Quite simply, I’ve had a ball, and met extraordinary people, and for every single purchase of every book I am truly grateful to readers.

I did suggest a couple of years ago that I was stopping, but on that occasion found that (as with smoking) stopping was actually harder than carrying on. This time it’s different.

For the record: 57 titles, rough count. Heinz Means Beans. Placed in a pile on the floor, the total run of these books comes to around 64 cm, just over 2 feet, not much above my knees. Around 30 authors. Some titles are now out of print, others may follow. Two titles first published by CBe are now with other UK publishers, and half a dozen are now available from publishers in other countries. Three of the authors have died since I published their books, one at the age of 37. The oldest author on the list is 95. I have stood in line at the post office 1,147 times.


2007
Erik Houston, The White Room
Jennie Walker, 24 for 3
Stefan Grabinski, In Sarah’s House, trans. Wiesiek Powaga
Jack Robinson, Days and Nights in W12

2008
Gert Hofmann, Lichtenberg and the Little Flower Girl, trans Michael Hofmann
Greg Loftin, Saxon
Francis Ponge,
Unfinished Ode to Mud, trans. Beverley Bie Brahic
Elise Valmorbida, The TV President

2009
Andrzej Bursa, Killing Auntie and other work, trans. Wiesiek Powaga
Christopher Reid, The Song of Lunch
J. O. Morgan, Natural Mechanical
Nicky Singer, Knight Crew
Jack Robinson, Recessional

2010
Fergus Allen, Before Troy
Gabriel Josipovici, Only Joking
David Markson, This Is Not a Novel
Marjorie Ann Watts, Are they funny, are they dead?
Tony Lurcock, Not So Barren or Uncultivated

2011
D. Nurkse, Voices over Water
Nancy Gaffield, Tokaido Road
J. O. Morgan, Long Cuts
Jonathan Barrow, The Queue
Jack Robinson, Days and Nights in W12 (new edn)

2012
Apollinaire, The Little Auto, trans. Beverley Bie Brahic
Beverley Bie Brahic, White Sheets
Joaquin Giannuzzi, A Complicated Mammal, trans. Richard Gwyn
Stephen Knight, The Prince of Wails
Miha Mazzini, The German Lottery, trans. Urska Zupanec
Dai Vaughan, Sister of the artist

2013
Todd McEwen, The Five Simple Machines
Dan O’Brien, War Reporter
Fergus Allen, New & Selected Poems
Alba Arikha, Soon
Andrew Elliott, Mortality Rate
J. O. Morgan, At Maldon
D. Nurkse, A Night in Brooklyn
André Naffis Sahely and Julian Stannard, eds, The Palm Beach Effect: Reflections on Michael Hofmann
Tony Lurcock, No Particular Hurry

2014
Will Eaves, The Absent Therapist
May-Lan Tan, Things to Make and Break
Agota Kristof, The Notebook, trans. Alan Sheridan
Agota Kristof, The Illiterate, trans. Nina Bogin
Dan O’Brien, Scarsdale

2015
Matthew Siegel, Blood Work
Agota Kristof, 2 Novels: The Proof, The Third Lie, trans. David Watson and Marc Romano
Paulette Jonguitud, Mildew
Dan O’Brien, New Life
Tony Lurcock, A Life of Extremes

2016
Beverley Bie Brahic, Hunting the Boar
Will Eaves, The Inevitable Gift Shop
Patrick Mackie, The Further Adventures Of The Lives Of The Saints
Julian Stannard, What were you thinking?
Jack Robinson, by the same author
David Collard, About a Girl: A Reader’s Guide to Eimear McBride’s A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing
Diane Williams, Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine
Lara Pawson, This Is the Place to Be
Ananda Devi, Eve out of Her Ruins, trans. Jeffey Zuckerman (co-published with Les Fugitives)