Friday 31 December 2021

Old year, new year

In 2021 CBe published eight books and paid its bills and made 215 trips to the post office. The financial adviser may differ but it was an excellent publishing year.

Also in 2021 I abandoned the pen-name Jack Robinson. The cover it originally served as (explained in The Other Jack) has long since been blown. But I’m still interested in the whole matter of Robinson (Good Morning, Mr Crusoe) and I’ve been reading and enjoying Peter Robinson’s learned, clever, funny, angry The Constitutionals – in which the narrator (nicknamed Crusoe in childhood) perambulates around the town of Reading, ‘hoping to trigger the end of neoliberalism by going for a walk’.

Among writers who died in 2021 was Michael Horovitz. He lived nearby and I was very fond of him. The photo above shows Michael arriving at Buckingham Palace for the poets’ jamboree a few years ago. Great jumper, but the pose is surely ironic: if he is proclaiming ‘To the barricades, citizens!’, he is also amused and even happy to be here, welcomed in to the heart of the establishment. He was invited, and he accepted. (As did I. I drove him there. There were checks under the car for bombs and checks under the car bonnet – which then refused to close, so we drove in through a very high archway with the bonnet clanging.) The contradiction here is often apparent in the national annual pantomime, the New Year’s ‘Honours List’.

As usual, getting the books into bookshops has been head-against-brick-wall. Roy Watkins’ Simple Annals was called ‘a masterpiece’ in the Literary Review and ‘an astonishing achievement’ in the TLS; on Leila Berg’s Flickerbook in the TLS, ‘Reading it is a joy; brutally honest depictions of childhood liberate the child within … This reissue is wholly welcome.’ Sales into bookshops: around 50 copies of each.

I liked the Republic of Consciousness tweet that said Carmel Doohan’s Seesaw was unlike even those other books that are unlike anything you’ve ever read. They meant it in a good way. And I liked the very recent review of Nuzhat Bukhari’s Brilliant Corners that had an informed argument and recognised the book’s context.

Small indie presses (and CBe is as small as they get) are often independent to the point of, when you dig down, loopiness. Titles that have sold in serious (to me) numbers – David Markson’s This Is not a Novel, Agota Kristof’s The Notebook, Will Eaves’ Murmur, May-Lan Tan’s Things to Make and Break, Christopher Reid’s The Song of Lunch – are now not on the list because my license to publish ran out or someone with a faster car came along. That’s hardly a way to run a business. But publishing both is and isn’t a business, and it’s the isn’t bit that I enjoy more.

Looking back: click here to read a snapshot/bite-size history of CBe, 2007–2021. (If the link doesn’t work, you can download it as a pdf from the ‘About and News’ page of the website.) Despite the titles that have wandered off there are still around 70 in print and for the Season Ticket arrangement you can have 10 of these (you choose which) and usually a couple more for £70, post free. I am very, very grateful to everyone who has pressed that button – some of them three times, some four. CBe receives no Arts Council funding.

Looking forward: four or five new books in 2022. I can mention Paul Bailey’s Joie de vivre, which officially publishes in February, because finished copies are in, but I can’t spell out the others because I’m not that organised. Or I am organised but in a different way. Happy New Year.

Sunday 5 December 2021


This country is a nation of shopkeepers, as Napoleon may or may not have said, and he didn’t mean it as a compliment. Publishers whose rejections say ‘We think this is a wonderful book but sorry, no, we don’t think we can sell it’, politicians who decide what policies to adopt on the basis of how many people they think will vote for them … This is infantilising, and the attendant media embed this process.

But I happen to have a shop and it’s shopping season and I do want to sell more books. Not cupcakes. While thinking that four books a year might be about right for a one-person operation, CBe has published eight this year. I have failed better. In chronological order of publication: Roy Watkins, Simple Annals (‘an absorbing masterpiece’, Bernard O’Donoghue, The Literary Review; ‘an astonishing achievement’, Brian Morton, TLS); Dan O’Brien, A Story that Happens (‘a book for our times’, Alice Jolly, TLS); Nuzhat Bukhari, Brilliant Corners (‘Real-world violence juxtaposed against the page, the proximity of the singular self to the wider brutality of history’, Andrew McMillan, PBS Bulletin); Leila Berg, Flickerbook (‘Reading it is a joy; brutally honest depictions of childhood liberate the child within’, Norma Clarke, TLS); Charles Boyle, The Other Jack (‘Whatever a novel is, I feel this is what I want a novel now to be’, Jane Feaver); Tony Lurcock, Finish Off with Finland, the fourth book in his trilogy (‘entertaining, fascinating, astonishing’, Finland Forum); Carmel Doohan, Seesaw (‘an unexpected, novel challenge to binary thinking’, Laura Waddell, Scotsman); Caroline Clark, Sovetica (‘I was moved, in several directions: inwards, outwards, backwards in time and into my present’, Patrick McGuinness).

All orders from the website are welcome. Especially welcome are buyers who sign up to the Season Ticket, which works like a Book Token: 10 books of your choice for £70, post-free in the UK, for yourself or for Uncle Arthur. You’d pay the same for designer socks.

Below, the pop-up shop in Portobello Road run by CBe a few years ago: