I update this page every few months with information about new books and other related publishing activity. I also maintain a Hobnob Press facebook page, on which I post more frequently.
2020 - 20
As I predicted, the 2020 tally of new Hobnob titles will be 20 – satisfying in a curious way, during a year when precious little has seemed orderly. And a glance down the page will show that they have ranged in time from the Saxon period to the present, in subject from rugby to photography to medieval nuns, and in location from Cheltenham, Bath, Belfast, the Devon borderland, even a German prison camp – as well as the Hobnob staples, of Salisbury, Swindon and Frome. Alongside the town and village histories have been novels and poetry, biographies, classics reprints and edited texts. What they all have in common is some connection to the west country, and a great deal of dedication and enthusiasm from their authors to their subjects, without any great expectation of handsome financial reward. But who knows, one day there may be a Hobnob blockbuster which will bankroll all the rest – I’ll dream on.
The 2020 score is completed by two December titles, very different but both rather exceptional. Norman Beale, for his fourth Hobnob title, has painstakingly uncovered the valiant but often horrific war record of his father, Ron, from Lydney in the Forest of Dean, who served in the Gloucestershire regiment and was part of the Dunkirk rearguard captured and imprisoned under squalid and brutal conditions. He eventually escaped from a death march, was sheltered by a Czech family and returned home, where he locked up his nightmare experiences and never described them to his family. Norman has meticulously pieced together the near miracle of Ron’s survival, but for which Norman himself would not have existed. Not always a comfortable read, but a marvellous filial homage to a brave man.
Pamela Slocombe’s history of Whaddon, a tiny village near Melksham, is an extraordinary achievement. For one thing, she has been working on it since 1969, over 50 years; and for another it runs to more than 600 pages. And all this for a place that during perhaps 1000 years of existence has probably always had a total population wavering between about 30 and 60, at times even fewer. Mind you, it was for centuries one of the principal seats of a leading west country family, the Longs, and their story occupies nearly half the book. If ever you could describe something as the last word, this must be it – there can’t be anything left to say about Whaddon. So Pam joins an exclusive club of two, the Hobnob 600+ club – the other member is Norman Beale (see above) for his previous book on Jan Ingen Housz. I daren’t ask either of them what they are planning to do next.
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.’
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8 Lock Warehouse,