Monday, 25 September 2023


A CBe event at the Barbican scheduled for Wednesday this week, the 27th, has been postponed (to 31 January next year) because of poor ticket sales. How many tickets were sold? As many as a tree-surgeon friend could count on his right hand, after having lost two fingers on that hand to one of those chopping machines into which fallen branches are fed.

Ouch. It’s dose of realism. Event organisers who schedule Ian McEwan or Zadie Smith or Marie Kondo or Michael Palin can stroll into the box office, quids in; event organisers who schedule small-press writers have to run ten times faster for often, as here, zero result.

The Barbican event was ticketed. They pay the writers. Many book events don’t. This is tricky: earlier this month I heard a librarian speak about her unease at having to charge £3 for an author event when for many of the people she wanted to come that was a barrier. The regular charge for book events in London is £10, which equals 2.5 Costa coffees and the food budget for a week for many. We want open access; we want writers to be valued; and it’s depressing how often money gets in the way rather than helping.

Once, a friend and I were the only people to turn up to a stage adaptation of Kafka in a pub theatre and they put on the show just for us.

On the plus side: for publishers whose authors cannot fill stadia, every reader matters. There are no pictures on the CBe site of authors hand-signing (or rubber-stamping) massed ziggurats of new books. For record, the books we were going to talk about on Wednesday evening are: Caroline Clark, Sovetica and Own Sweet Time; Julian George, Bebe; Charles Boyle, 99 Interruptions. Available from the website now, and on the CBe table (with other books) at the Small Publishers Fair in London on 27th and 28th October. Free entry.

Friday, 8 September 2023

Ducks in a row

Things are happening. Here are some of them, in no particular order:

The autumn books, all delivered: Philip Hancock, House on the A34; Caroline Thonger and Vivian Thonger, Take Two; Julian George, Bebe; Ann Pearson and Charles Boyle, The Simplon Road. There’ll be a launch party for three of these at 49 Great Ormond Street, London WC1N 3HZ, on 9 October – email if you’d like to come.

CBe now has an Instagram account. This will be run by Vik Shirley, who is helping in other ways too and who is also working with Shearsman and Sublunary Editions. Both I and Vik Shirley will be at the Small Publishers Book Fair on 27 and 28 October at the Conway Hall in London – do come.

This month the Redstone Press publishes Seeing Things, subtitled ‘the small wonders of the world according to writers, artists and others’ and with a foreword by Cornelia Parker: an anthology of images posted on Instagram by David Byrne, Roz Chast, Amit Chaudhuri, Jarvis Cocker, William Dalrymple, Elizabeth Day, Peter Doig, Neil Gaiman, Marc Quinn, Jon Ronson, Elif Shafak, Nina Stibbe, Rachel Whiteread and others. Interspersed with texts (‘droll’, says the TLS) by Charles Boyle. Available from bookshops and the Redstone Press online shop.

An exhibition of objects from The Camden Town Hoard, curated by Natalia Zagorska-Thomas, opens this week at the Bower Ashton Library in Bristol and continues to the end of October. Full details here. The book is available here: Camden Town Hoard.

A brief history of CB editions, written in instalments over the past decade – Farthings: CB editions in 113 bites – is now available exclusively from the website (it’s not an official publication, doesn't have an ISBN and won’t be in bookshops) at the exorbitant price of £10. But if you click a button for one of the Season Tickets on the Home page – 6 books of your own choice for £40, or 12 for £75, post free in the UK – I’ll add in a copy of Farthings for free.

I may have to re-think that ‘post free’. Something you don’t want to hear, and nor do I, is that the cost of posting 2nd-class a slim book of poems or prose, which last increased in April this year, will be going up again next month by more than 50p. But to date, all UK orders from the website are post free.

Sunday, 13 August 2023

Table for 6

Table for six at one o’clock … The four September and October CBe titles are now available on the website: House on the A34 by Philip Hancock, Bebe by Julian George, Take Two by Caroline Thonger & Vivian Thonger, The Simplon Road by Ann Pearson & Charles Boyle. And two recent reprints: BB Brahic’s translations of Apollinaire and JO Morgan’s Natural Mechanical.

The new titles: poetry, literary essays, and a couple that booksellers may shelve under fiction (Bebe) and non-fiction: memoir (Take Two), but like a number of CBe titles they are not as clear-cut as that. I know that when I sit down at the table I do want the menu arranged in a way that helps me to choose – starters, mains, desserts; fish, meat, vegetarian – but sometimes it works to just say that one, because I want to be surprised. I may like it, I may not. If the latter, I really haven’t lost much. Maybe think of this table as one big sharing platter. You can have all six books for £40 – or indeed any six CBe titles of your own choice for the same amount: see the Season Tickets on the home page of the website.

Tuesday, 4 July 2023


A slow start to this year: a reprint with new cover of Apollinaire, The Little Auto, translated by Beverley Brie Brahic, winner of the Scott Moncrieff Prize for translation, and a reissue in new format of J.O. Morgan’s first book, Natural Mechanical, first published by CBe in 2009, winner of the Aldeburgh First Collection Prize and Forward-shortlisted (his more recent fiction and poetry have been published by Cape). For the first orders of Natural Mechanical (I’ll stop when I start to get worried) I’ll add in copies of Morgan’s At Maldon and a Poetry Archive CD of his reading that for free. In September and October, a rush: House on the A34, new poetry from Philip Hancock; Take Two by Caroline Thonger and Vivian Thonger, a memoir of growing up in London in the 1950s and later told in the contrasting voices of two sisters, with objects and playlist as well as stories and playscripts; Bebe by Julian George, a fantasia on Bebe Rebozo, Mafia-related buddy of Nixon in the 1970s, in the spirit of Philip Guston’s drawings of Nixon (coinciding with the opening of a big Guston show at Tate Modern); The Simplon Road by Ann Pearson and Charles Boyle, who have both written novels about Stendhal and write here about literary obsession.

Into next year … Joe Hill Makes His Way into the Castle by Katy-Evans Bush, poems of justified rage delivered with skill and lightness. Do Not Send Me Out Among Strangers by Joshua Segun-Lean, a journal in which on days when the author cannot write he lets photographs, iPhone drawings and paintings speak for him. A playscript, Newtown, by Dan O’Brien, coinciding with the play’s first production. Spent Light by Lara Pawson: one of those books of which many have already said can’t wait (but they will have to). Invisible Dogs by Charles Boyle, the diary of a writer visiting a country in which (officially) there are no dogs. Paris 1935 by Jean Follain, the first English translation of an impressionistic prose book by a French poet I hugely admire. Ghost Stations, essays by the scholar, poet, translator, editor and novelist Patrick McGuinness.

I need help with this storm of new titles. To say that current sales are sluggish is an insult to slugs – even they can move faster. CBe is run single-handed and has had no Arts Council support for any of its books. I need help in the form of a freelance publicist who has experience and a Little Black Book whose contents will help the new books gain some attention in the world. If you are interested, please email me. If you know someone who might be interested, please let them know.

In other news: congratulations to Studio Expurgamento, whose Bookworks, a gathering of mini-artist’s-books by UK, European and Cuban artists curated by Natalia Zagorska-Thomas and exhibited in Havana, Cuba, in 2018 and then at Studio Expurgamento in London in 2019 and most recently at Bookartbookshop, has been purchased by the archive of University of the Arts, London, with proceeds going to the Cuban artists. Bookworks includes work by four CBe writers. There are affinities: without public funding, CBe has published books by more than 50 writers over 15 years and Studio Expurgamento has shown the work of around 80 artists over 10 years. There are two co-publications: Blush and The Camden Hoard. For both outfits, the goal is not profit but survival.

The photo above is here to advertise the Season Tickets available from the website home page – 6 books of your choice for £40, or 12 books for £75 (UK addresses only; free postage) – and I need more people to press those buttons because the lady in the post office is worrying that she has done something wrong, why don’t I come to see her as often as I used to?

Friday, 30 June 2023

Nicky Singer

Nicky Singer has died, aged 66. Notice in The Bookseller here. Nicky may not be familiar to most readers of CBe books because, after four novels for adults, she wrote mostly for the readership that publishers term ‘YA’. Her CBe title, Knight Crew, is categorised as a YA book but it got to me, and made me cry, and is serious and strong. She wrote the books that she had to write – latterly, about climate change, migrants, borders, refugees – and when publishers made offers on condition that she change the ending, or simplify her language, she refused their conditions and found other ways of getting her books into the world. She was fierce and dedicated and tireless and had a wonderful laugh and was immensely generous. And she wrote good books.

Knight Crew was performed as an opera at Glyndebourne; Island was performed on stage at the National Theatre. Her website includes terrific pieces on prison-visiting while writing Knight Crew and on money and books as ‘market commodities’. Below, the day copies of Knight Crew were delivered in 2009; the carrying man is Anthony Thwaite (1930–2021), who had the bad luck to arrive at the house (to talk about the copy-editing of one of his Larkin books for Faber) at the same time as the delivery. Copies of Knight Crew are still available from the website; or email me directly with a post address and I’ll send for free.

I was going to write this newsletter about CBe’s publishing programme for this year and early next, but that will have to wait.

Wednesday, 10 May 2023

Coronation Soup

I was named after him and I’m around the same age and I was expecting, I think, at least some kind of tonal recognition of what was on the TV last Saturday, on and off, in the other half of the room, expecting to nod in familiarity, but no, nothing. It was a tin can with sellotaped ribbons, tap it and you can hear how hollow.

This, a couple of weeks after the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry report into the minor public school I was at in the 1960s: violence, bullying, sexual abuse, from the 1950s through to the 2010s. Him on the chair with his orb was sent to a similar school in Scotland. They are a continuing institution, these schools: like the royal family, like hospitals, except these ones are designed to make you not better but ill, and then take out your fucked-up-ness on others, and they are good at this and at delivering prime ministers this country votes into power and they have charitable status.

I did say ‘the other half of the room’. That’s being a white male of a certain generation who lucked into housing when it was still possible. Others have far, far more reason to be angry. I’m not measuring my anger against theirs. A part of my own anger is of course anger at myself and at my own privileged generation that has wasted what was – late 1940s, early 50s – the promising start of a decent society. Today I put into rough proofs Katy Evans-Bush’s new poetry collection, Joe Hill Makes His Way into the Castle, publication early next year, which is angry not least at people like me. ‘Goddamn us all & our/ carefully sorted recycling’. She doesn’t take hostages.

Thursday, 20 April 2023

Public schools: stupidity and awfulness of

Today, the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry published its report (pdf, 200 pages; will forward to anyone interested) on the bad, horrible, minor public school I went to in the 1960s. Loretto. Violence, bullying, sexual abuse and a culture of silence. I myself was not actively abused (unless I count being told to bend over so that a boy two years older could cane my arse because I had walked on grass or put my hands in my pockets: compared to what others suffered, this was the everyday norm). I got off lightly. I survived (survival is random).

Two years ago, up in Edinburgh, I went out to that school and I stood outside the building in which an invited speaker from South Africa told us how apartheid was necessary and good, and I looked from the street (private property: nearer would be trespass) at the building – that window, that room – in which I put a knife to my wrist and wondered and took it away because I am a coward. I still have that Boy Scout knife. In my desk drawer.

Loretto is not Eton but it is part of the private-school, public-school delivery system for prime ministers that needs total dismantling. Star old boys from that school include a Formula 1 racing champion and a Tory MP (and Solicitor General for Scotland) accused of sexual assault and child rape.

In my last year at that school I was anorexic (without knowing it; diagnosed later). I withdrew. I was feeling but didn’t know how to express, articulate. No one to express to. Culture of silence. Still don’t know. Today, telling a friend who phoned about what I’d been reading today, I only realised how angry I am – not just the ruined lives but how damaged people go on to damage others – when I started breaking up.

Tuesday, 18 April 2023


Here’s the cover of a new reprint of poems by Apollinaire translated by Beverley Bie Brahic, a book which won the Scott Moncrieff Prize for translation ten years ago. (BBB’s translations of prose poems by Francis Ponge is also reprinting.) Reprinted not because of public demand – just 2 copies were sold last year – but because if I didn’t have boxes of the thing I’d want to run out and buy this book myself.

More numbers. I’ve been writing them in columns for the last financial year (still no spreadsheets). The average number of books sold per year since the start of CBe is around 2,500, and last year was a little below that. No bookshop could be run on that. For the authors’ sake I should be selling more. On the other hand, I’m still here, having stumbled upon a way of doing this that doesn’t require me to abide by all the prescriptions of the industry experts.

Stendhal’s The Charterhouse of Parma was written in November and December 1838 and published the following April. I once took on a book in December and, when the author told me he was dying, published it the following February, but in 2023 that’s not usually how it’s done: books are not published for at least a year, often longer, after they are taken on because you need a marketing campaign and Advance Reading Copies and puff quotes on the cover, all the stuff I don’t enjoy and am therefore not good at.

I don’t think CBe is a throwback. Nor is it the work of a man who lives off-grid in a shed in a field. I use the internet and typesetting software and digital printing and can learn new tricks when it suits me. I mean: when it suits someone of a certain age and temperament. I am lucky and privileged (not rich) to be able to do this.

You can buy BB Brahic’s translations of both Apollinaire and Ponge for £16: scroll down to bottom of the Books page. Or have them as part of your 6-books-for-£40 or 12-for-£75 Season Tickets on the Home page. I do try.

Monday, 10 April 2023

A New Season

It’s April, and having been asleep since January – at which time the only new CBe title on the horizon was Patrick McGuinness’s essays, carried over from last year – I wake up to find there are now eight, or maybe nine, new books in preparation for publication later this year and early next.

For starters, a reissue of J.O. Morgan’s first book, Natural Mechanical, first published by CBe in 2009: winner of the Aldeburgh First Collection Prize, Forward-shortlisted, all that kind of stuff and more. His more recent fiction and poetry have been published by Cape. The reissue is in A-format size, part of the little gang that started coming together last year: photo above. Available from the website now. For the first orders (I’ll stop when I start to get worried) I’ll add in copies of Morgan’s At Maldon and a Poetry Archive CD of his reading that (from memory: an hour) for free.

Among the other new titles: a memoir of growing up in London in the 1950s and later told in the contrasting voices of two sisters, with objects and playlist as well as stories and playscripts; an essay on grief and isolation that has more pages of images than text; a fantasia on Bebe Rebozo, Mafia-related buddy of Nixon in the 1970s, in the spirit of Philip Guston’s drawings of Nixon; the diary of a writer visiting a country in which (officially) there are no dogs; poems of justified rage delivered with skill and lightness.

Below, a drawing by Ron Sandford of Dai Vaughan, found last week in a back-issue of Ambit. I hadn’t seen it before. He’s at work in the cutting room: Dai was a documentary film editor. He was also a writer: ‘One of the most imperiously intelligent fiction-writers alive’ – Neal Ascherson. But not alive now. CBe published his Sister of the artist in 2012, a few months before he died, and also a pamphlet of his poems (14 short love poems written in the 1960s and another 14 written to the same woman, re-met after an absence of half a century).

Which reminds me … To fund the new titles I do need to keep selling the old ones. Season Tickets on the website: 6 books for £40, or 12 books for £75, post free. (And I’ll add in extras, such the Dai Vaughan pamphlet.)

Tuesday, 10 January 2023

Plan B

Beginning in 2007 with four books and no intention to publish more, CBe has been humming along fine for 15 years: here a prize, there a shortlisting, quite often semi-silence but every one of the books was more than worth publishing.

It’s now 2023 and print costs have been escalating and postage costs too; there are other small presses who can sell X’s new novel or Y’s book of poems into bookshops better than CBe can; and I’m into my 70s and getting smaller. From this year CBe will concentrate on publishing, perhaps exclusively, small A-format books, the model being the three books published last year in that size and with covers with image on white card (Agota Kristof, The Illiterate; Caroline Clark, Own Sweet Time; myself, 99 Interruptions). This will mean goodbye to the brown covers (those books are more expensive to print: retro costs). It will mean hello to more short books: if prose, fiction or non-fiction, say 10 to 20,000 words (rough guide only). And poetry, yes: Cape Editions did poetry in A-format, and so now do NYRB.

It feels like a good time to change tack. For the first time in 15 years, I’m entering January without any new titles (other than one delayed from last year) in preparation.

An agent or mainstream publisher will probably tell you that a book of prose of between 10 and 20,000 words is not a thing at all. But there are many different ways to skin a cat. CBe has a track record of neither-fish-nor-fowl books which don’t fit easily into the traditional bookselling categories. Is it a duck, is it a donkey? It’s writing. I’m looking forward to seeing what this bastard word count may bring to the surface.

Meanwhile, 1: the Season Tickets (6 books for £40, 12 books for £75) are still up for grabs on the website homepage. Meanwhile, 2: The Camden Town Hoard, co-published with Studio Expurgamento, is the new must-have for this year. There Will Be A Party.