A Double Century, Not Out
For those not familiar with how ISBNs are organised – those barcodes and numbers on the back covers – I can explain that the 13 digits are packed with meaning. The first three (978 in the case of a book) mean just that, it’s a book; the next (usually 0 or 1) means it is from an English-speaking country; then comes a sequence of numbers denoting the publisher, followed by a unique number given to each publication by that publisher; and finally a check digit, the result of a mathematical calculation on the other numbers. Publishers buy blocks of 10, 100, 1000 etc ISBNs, and I’m telling you all this because in 2009 I bought my second block of 100, and now 11 years later, it is time to fork out for another 100. In fact, with the five books published about now and three more that are imminent, I shall have run out. I think that means that I shall have published 20 books during 2020, far more than ever before, and largely the result of the virus giving my band of authors more time to complete their projects.
Peter Maughan, a novelist with a devoted following, approached me with Under the Apple Boughs, a short, beautifully-crafted ‘journey through the seasons of a West Country year’ very much in the style of Laurie Lee, with a hint of Dylan Thomas, and I have done my best to turn it into an attractive paperback. Meanwhile, and for some time, I have been working with John Payne, a Frome author who has published previously on Catalonia, Bath, the West Country and various literary topics, to bring to fruition a finely conceived book which is partly autobiography and partly social history based on recent generations of his family and his own experience – an experiment in writing history backwards, firmly rooted in Bath and surrounding areas of Somerset and Wiltshire. The first copies of A West Country Homecoming should be delivered to his door about now. William Smith, a retired archivist whom I have known and admired for some 40 years, offered me a characteristically erudite and scholarly study he had just completed on the nuns of Shaftesbury Abbey, and this has become Hidden Lives, which is published with the co-operation of the abbey museum. Another, much younger, archivist, Ally McConnell of Gloucestershire Heritage Hub, was responsible for introducing me to George Dowty, whose father, Sir George, founded the pioneering firm of aeronautical engineers which bore his name, and which was one of the largest employers in Cheltenham and Tewkesbury. Ally is cataloguing the Dowty archive, amongst which is Sir George’s autobiography, dictated by him shortly before his death in 1975, discovered by his son and never before published. And hot, not quite off the press, comes the second instalment from the picture archive of Richard Wintle, Swindon’s master press photographer, entitled Another picture . . . another story – some amazing material, and a great celebration of Swindon’s vitality.
In between all this I have finally achieved my ambition to produce a new edition of a book I first edited for Alan Sutton in the 1990s, the ‘madcap adventures’, as I have sometimes called them, of a 17th-century traveller, raconteur and not-terribly-good poet, John Taylor. Born in Gloucester he sought fame (successfully) and fortune (unsuccessfully) in London, where he produced hundreds of broadsides and pamphlets, including 14 journeys all over Britain and to Germany and Prague, as well as lists of carriers and inns. If you would like to sample his work for free, go to the homepage where you can download some of it. And finally, with issue number 20 which has just been published, Ruth Newman, Jane Howells and I are retiring from the editorial team of Sarum Chronicle, the annual journal which we founded in 2001 and with which Hobnob has always been very closely associated (see the Hobnob and Friends page). The journal is in safe hands and will continue, but without us. Sarum Chronicle 20 is a bumper issue, by the way.
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).
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