Creativity in Lockdown
If there is a silver lining to the disaster that we are all witnessing – booksellers and publishers included – it must be that everyone seems to have more time to work on those postponed and unfinished projects that lurk in our filing cabinets. This has been true for me, and clearly for a great many first-time and repeat Hobnob authors. Consequently, with this post I am mounting details of no fewer than eight new titles, all published between 1 May and 1 July. Another seven or eight are almost ready to send out into the world, believe it or not. Frome, Swindon and Salisbury Plain seem to predominate in the latest batch, which includes four novels, two Wiltshire classics, a guidebook and an edition of records.
It is the last of these that has preoccupied me, both before and during lockdown – most of which has been spent in Yorkshire. The Wiltshire Record Society publishes each year a volume of edited historical records, which is issued to members who subscribe and is also available for purchase. We have been going since 1937, and I have seen through the press, (and for many years typeset), the volumes from 50 onwards – the new one is 73, so for nearly a quarter of a century. But this is the first time that a volume has been published through Hobnob and by print-on-demand – the only way we could ensure that the schedule is maintained. I have included details of the new volume among the latest batch of titles described below.
As I write, the lockdown is easing and bookshops are set to reopen. When it all started, in March, I wrote the following for Local History News, and I can only reiterate it now: ‘Many local history societies and individual local historians have good cause to be grateful to their local bookshops, especially the small independent concerns, who promote and stock their publications, often on very favourable terms. As with all small businesses that depend on customer footfall, bookshops face an uncertain and potentially catastrophic future, and many have begun to offer bespoke ordering and delivery services to their customers in order to survive. As it seems many of us will have more time on our hands than expected for the foreseeable future, and will probably spend some of it reading, I hope that you will consider – when you do decide to buy books – contacting first your local bookshop to see whether they can supply them. We shall all need bookshops in the future to convey the results of our enthusiasm for local history to others, so it is in everyone’s interest to help them survive.’
Rocketship, Mosaic and Foreboding
Writing this just as ‘Draconian’ isolation measures are introduced – which has led to the cancellation of everything I was worrying about getting prepared in time for – may mean that I can catch up with all the promised/ started/ half-finished Hobnob projects that my authors keep politely asking for progress reports about. Royalty payments for 2019 are almost sorted, and now there are at least ten books to work on for other people, as well as three of my own and a volume for the Wiltshire Record Society that I am editing. (Draconian, by the way, for those of you suffering from pub quiz withdrawal, describes the ancient Athenian law code devised by Draco in the 7th century BC, so harsh that stealing a cabbage was punishable by death – hoarding loo rolls would have been even more severe, if they had been invented.)
Four new books published since Christmas. First to appear – in February but launched in early March – was the third (of five) in the Gloucester Rugby Heritage series of large profusely illustrated hardbacks; this one describes every cup match the club has played. Much shorter, but great fun (and much easier to typeset and lay out) was the collected poems of Sue Kemp (aka the Bard of Bratton), Stuff the Bustard, which derives from her regular contributions to BBC Wiltshire’s breakfast show, with a foreword by its presenter. This appeared at the end of February. Eagerly awaited as I write are the first copies of Swindon photojournalist Richard Wintle’s first helping from his Calyx Picture Agency archive of millions of press photographs, covering events and celebrities around Swindon, A Picture is only the start of the story . . . I don’t think I have ever been involved with fitting so many images (must be getting on for a thousand) in just 125 pages, and the first time my Hobnob logo has been printed at a jaunty angle.
For me the highlight of the last few months has been working towards and seeing to fruition the publication of a new edition of my Salisbury, history around us. This culminated in a launch party on 13 March, just before such events became impossible. We held it at Jo Boyles’s excellent new indie shop in Salisbury, Rocketship Bookshop, and was attended also by the two artists, Helen Look and Anne Cardew, who created the beautiful mosaic which forms the front cover (and which is now hanging on my wall). See the picture above (left to right) Anne, me, mosaic, Jo, Helen.
In these difficult times please support our independent bookshops. I know that they are devising ways of keeping trading, including delivering books in person to customers’ addresses. After all, books are the perfect solace when you’re stuck at home (reading them, for most people, publishing them in my case).
Swindon and Gloucester Characters
Two more titles have slipped in before the end of 2019 – and plenty to come in the new year. The subjects of both the December books are extraordinary local characters, now largely forgotten, but who deserve a little limelight, and whose lives overlapped by about half a century. They may have met, since they lived only 30 miles apart, and probably had heard of each other at least. George Ewart Hobbs (1883-1946) was one of those indomitable Swindonians whose dayjob lives revolved around the railway works, but who really made their mark outside – self-taught polymaths who dabbled and enthused in everything. Hobbs wrote mostly for the local paper, the Adver’, on religion, philosophy, astronomy, spiritualism, engineering, and much more – poetry, current affairs, comic sketches, science fiction even. Part biography, part anthology, A Swindon Wordsmith celebrates this neglected local hero, brought to life by fellow enthusiasts, well-known Swindon authors Noel Ponting and Graham Carter. Very different, but no less remarkable, Walter Hadwen (1854-1932) came to Gloucester in 1896 as a family doctor, and established himself as a forceful presence in the local community, with strongly held beliefs, against vivisection, against vaccination, fervent evangelical Christian, and a fearless campaigner who was supported by his patients against the medical establishment of the day. Michael Till, his biographer, has written in his retirement Crusader with Compassion to celebrate the founder of the eponymous medical practice, now Hadwen Health, which he himself joined as a GP in 1969.
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