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.)