Book reviews book shops Circaidy Gregory Press Earlyworks Press Hastings

Can you see us under all these bushels?

I always thought it was something leafy and twiggy we were hidden under but it turns out it’s a kind of bowl.

Bushels (or in some translations, ‘vessels’)

“And no man, when he hath lighted a lamp, covereth it with a vessel, or putteth it under a bed; but putteth it on a stand, that they that enter in may see the light. For nothing is hid, that shall not be made manifest; nor [anything] secret, that shall not be known and come to light. Take heed therefore how ye hear: for whosoever hath, to him shall be given; and whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that which he thinketh he hath.”

— Luke 8:16-18

Hidden things

No, I haven’t gone all religious unless that really is the bit in the Bible where Jesus is telling everyone about how small presses work. It’s a huge task, bringing a new title to the public. It’s not just that you can’t afford the posters on the railway stations, the stand at the London Book Fair and all the rest of it – it’s also that distributors and corporate bookshops tell lies about you.

Yes, all our books are available through the standard supply chain as well as from our friends, the local indie bookshops but if you look in the big online bookstores, they tend to be labelled ‘unavailable’. They may even be missing the cover image. And if you go to closed-system shops like Waterstones and ask for one of our books, the staff may not even admit they exist.

The Titans

The reason for this is distributors. Big businesses don’t like ordering from little businesses, they like ordering in bulk from big distribution companies. We little presses do  supply the distributors, but if they don’t happen to have a pallet-load in the warehouse, their automated system punches out that word ‘unavailable’ – not true. My own little press is particularly bespoke here because we happen to be just a few miles  away from one of those gargantuan book warehouses so every week, our Jim bravely goes over there on the train, clutching a weeksworth of individual shop orders – sometimes even just one book – and weaves his way through the security gates, the articulated lorries, the pallets and the forklifts, and hands his little packet over to the giant, book-munching system. That means that even if the great big store labels one of our books ‘unavailable’, you can still order it, and you’ll probably get it within a week. Indie bookshops generally do this willingly. Even Waterstones do, if you can convince the innocent person behind the till that the stock list they are logged onto is not the be-all and end-all.

So why do they say ‘unavailable’? It’s because they’re all – knowingly or not – part of a big global plot to get everyone in the world reading the same hundred books. It’s so much easier to manage, if everyone’s reading the same hundred books. ‘Unavailable’ means ‘we’d have to make a small effort to order this so why not save us the bother and buy one of this week’s top sellers instead?’

The Good old days

What used to happen was that we’d go to all the local events and exhibitions, and do our own marketing.

Kay Green and Lesley Samms at Pure Arts Exhibition in Battle

Here I am with Lesley Samms at one of her amazing Pure Arts Festivals, with our Hastings Modern Art Beach Book, and What’s the Story?  – a beautifully illustrated account of some of the artists and printmakers at work in their studios in and around Hastings.

Unfortunately, recession came along, closely followed by COVID and Brexit and – how long ago did I last do a real world book event? They are starting to happen again now. They’re few and far between, though and in the meantime, we really need to tell you that we are NOT UNAVAILABLE!

Here I am at FantasyCon – oh, feels like decades ago! With the glass-twiddler from George Street, Kate O’Hearn, Terry Pratchett and er… the Green Knight.

At Fantasy con with Kate O'Hearn and Terry Pratchett

The world is beginning to open up again. I’ve recently seen authors Chris Tennent and Simon Edge announcing their presence out in the world…

All being well, Earlyworks Press and Circaidy Gregory Press will be out there again in due course. It’s vital, because once people have actually seen and handled a book, maybe had a chat with the author, it becomes familiar and once the book is familiar, people will go into shops and order it. If the distributors get orders for a book regularly enough, they will actually stop pretending they’re ‘unavailable’, take in some stock and admit they’re ready to take orders. That’s how small press titles ‘break through’ to the level where even Waterstones will admit they exist.

Meantime, I tend to put Foyles links in blog posts, for people to buy their books because Foyles are the best known of the stores that are pretty good at ordering small press books without making a fuss – or else I put local indie shop links such as Printed Matter and Bookbuster in Hastings. If you’re not in Hastings, the chances are, the indie shops where you are will be just as good so please ignore those ‘unavailable’ tags. They are telling Porkies.

Buy The Hastings Modern Art Beach Book at Foyles

Buy What’s the Story? from Pure Arts

Or if you’re in Hastings, drop in to Printed Matter or Bookbuster or contact me for free home delivery.

Book reviews book shops

I know the date the world will end

Every generation, someone says that – and there are other favourite dramatic ideas that come round again and again. And when they do, people rally to them so eagerly. What is belief, that it can light such fires? Some get involved because they’re just longing to believe something. Some get involved because it’s such fun trying to shoot down a stupid idea (go on, admit it – are you one of the ones who clicked through to this blog to tell me I’m deluded, and that I do NOT know when the world will end?)

Most of us (I think) laugh at those ideas about illuminati and lizards and things but most of us have also, at one time or another fallen for ‘the myth of the day’. Perhaps it was the one about how leaving the EU would automatically make us rich and powerful, or the one about Jeremy Corbyn being anti-semitic, or the one about COVID being a government plot (or a Bill Gates plot). Or perhaps you reckon those are true, and some of the things I believe are red herrings. Please don’t worry about that – I know either of us could be right or wrong on some of them.

Are you sure the world is round?

Cover - the end of the world is flat by simon edge

Surely no-one would doubt that….. Surely? ……. What many of us are currently worried about is how quickly and efficiently those mad ideas spread, now we have social media, and that is why I’m recommending a Simon Edge novel today. He planned the book with one particular wild-idea effect in mind but he chose his own myth – that of the world being flat, and imagined how someone well placed to do so might spread the idea.

I asked Simon how he found out how it was done. He really appeared to have a startling amount of inside information. Turns out, he didn’t. He told me he’d looked at a series of the plague-like myths that had flown round the world, looked at the people who appeared to be behind them, and asked himself how he would go about such a project. Read this book! I think he’s right!

I asked which particular plague-like myths he had looked at. He replied…

Part of the power of social media is that it allows us to sort ourselves into self-selected bubbles where certain narratives dominate and, in some cases, go completely unchallenged.

During Brexit, the Leave campaign worked out they could use Facebook to target a particular anti-foreigner line to anyone they thought would be receptive. Remainers never even saw the ads – which meant the other side could get away with whatever false claims they wanted.

Twitter doesn’t permit that kind of covert operation, because all posts are available for everyone to see (unless you’re blocked). Nevertheless, it does organise people into echo chambers which can be immensely deceptive. If you support a certain party at an election and you spend a lot of time on Twitter, you can get a nasty shock when not everyone in the real world votes the same way as your bubble.

In those bubbles, misinformation and disinformation can spread like wildfire. The anti-vax movement has come out of nowhere, gaining extraordinary traction. My hunch is that it stems in large part from fear of needles: the entire conspiracy is a way of refusing the jab without admitting to the phobia.

Meanwhile two-thirds of Republicans still believe the November 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump, despite zero evidence. That’s frightening: if they sincerely believe the election was rigged, which they genuinely do, it’s no wonder they’re angry and mutinous.

So those are three pretty major con tricks, but the one that drives me up the wall is the distortion of my own history. No, a transwoman didn’t throw the first brick at the Stonewall riots, because the person in question a) was a gay man and b) wasn’t even there until much later. This narrative has been deliberately created for political reasons, to make ‘LGBT’ seem like some natural grouping, rather than an invention of the past six years. Thanks in large part to social media, it has stuck fast.

– Simon Edge, author of The End of the World is Flat

You’re probably with Simon on some of those issues and not others – but either way, we all need to understand how the plague-ideas spread, and what the consequences can be.

The consequences of believing your own soc media bubble

My own favourite example of the blinding effect of social media is the recent battle for the top job at Unite. Looking on Facebook and Twitter, I was sure, like most of the people I knew (on Facebook and Twitter) that it was a battle between Howard Beckett and Steve Turner, and we were all worried about whether the vote would split between those two, and allow a third candidate, Gerard Coyne, to get the job. Well, we all know what happened. There were FOUR candidates. But one of those candidates wasn’t spending so much time battling for our social media likes. She was touring the country, talking to Unite members about their workplaces. Guess who blind-sided all of us, and won the top job!

Sharon Graham, GS of Unite

If you are one of those who *did* notice Sharon Graham, you will understand why those of us who *did* think sex matters had a good old laugh the day the social media hacks finally noticed us. On the left, one poor soul who thought the mysterious appearance of a journalist who wanted to talk about women – lesbians in particular – must have been nobbled by some kind of BBC Stazi. On the right, a bunch of his friends who thought we must have come out of nowhere. In their twitter-bubbles, they had actually convinced themselves that only ‘transphobes’ and conspiracy theorists knew, or cared, about why sex matters.

But battles over delusions started long before social media. Why else have we all heard of the Spanish Inquisition?

Let’s face it, we’ve learned to expect them

If you haven’t been involved in any of the battles of our generation, I think it’s really important to better understand how the rich and the powerful manipulate the public conversation, so please consider reading Edge’s novel, and join the conversation about how they happen, and how societies can find their way back to demanding evidenced truths.

If you have been involved in any of those battles, I think it’s really important that you get some relaxation, therapy and reassurance that you’re not mad. Edge’s novel will do that for you. Read it!

Cover - the end of the world is flat by simon edge

It’s also a seriously good laugh – especially Edge’s examples of what passes for conversation on Twitter. I really did hurt my ribs, reading those.

Buy The End of the World is Flat from Foyles