Friday, 17 December 2010


The delicious Grub Street Press recently issued South Wind through the Kitchen, which is a charming collection of favourite passages from the writer and cook Elizabeth David, selected by various people. It is no coincidence that the title of the Capuchin Classic South Wind (by Norman Douglas) overlaps with the David anthology. Douglas and David became friends in Capri - where our novel is set, albeit under another name - and Douglas is mentioned several times in Grub Street's book.

If you haven't yet completed your festive acquisitions, what better a pair of books to present to a loved one who appreciates great writing and fine food?


Thursday, 16 December 2010


I have been stimulated by a discussion on Facebook, initiated by a Friend of a Friend (there must be a Facebook term for that) which aims to unearth the best ever rhyming couplet in pop music.

One of my favourites is from a musically quirky and eclectic and lyrically ingenious group called Slap Happy (featuring the cartoonist, musician and all round maverick polymath Peter Blegvad). Their albums are full of brilliant, literate, referential lyrics that would put many writers, let alone pop lyricists, to shame, but the one that sprang especially to mind is, from a song called Michelangelo,
Pope's on the phone, calling Buonarroti
But he's not home, he's gone a little potty.

And to offer just one example from the peerless Leonard Cohen:
I fought against the bottle, but I had to it drunk,
Took my diamond to the pawn shop, but that don't make it junk.

I'd be keen to read your nominations.


Wednesday, 15 December 2010


Here is a delightful missive from Nielsen Bookdata, who maintain the most widely used bibliographic database in the UK. A book has no real existence until it is registered with NBD, and there is a fiendish system of categories and sub-categories into which each book must be placed. NBD is here reporting on an updated version of these categories, recently released.

Howard Willows, Senior Manager Data Development of Nielsen Bookdata, the editor of the scheme notes: “Overall, perhaps the most significant additions are categories for Fantasy Romance, in both adult and teenage sections. The term 'Young Adult' has been replaced by 'Teenager' throughout, as research showed that 'Young Adult' carried connotations of explicit material that was not always justified or intended. The Computing section has been overhauled and updated, and finally recognises the concept of Social Networking.

Other signs of the times include new categories for Budget Cookery, Outsourcing and Energy Efficiency. We already had a heading for Financial Crises & Disasters.

Examples of modifications of headings include changing Global Warming to Climate Change and extending Olympic Games to include Paralympic Games.

The other additions and changes taken individually are perhaps not particularly eye catching (though mathematicians will be thrilled to see that Bayesian Inference now has its own category)."

This brought to mind other categories that may be necessary to reflect modern social and writing trends. We surely ought to have:

Autobiographies of sportspeople who have not reached 25 and have therefore had no real lives to of which to speak

Pointless, saccharine, animal-based books which only sell to desperate shoppers on Christmas Eve

Over-priced extracts, repackaged under a spurious theme, (often a contrived anniversary) which are already available from the same publisher much more cheaply.

Your suggestions welcome.


Wednesday, 1 December 2010


The lovely Hodges Figgis bookshop in Dublin, Ireland's largest, is currently running a Capuchin promotion. The shop dates back to 1768, is referred to in passing in Ulysses, offers some 60,000 titles over four floors and has even been a publisher. The Ulysses reference runs thus:
She, she, she. What she? The virgin at Hodges Figgis' window on Monday looking in for one of the alphabet books you were going to write.


Tuesday, 30 November 2010


The exercise in repetitious discomfort and inconvenience that is commuting is occasionally enlivened by a moment of magical transcendence. One such recent example was produced by reading an A.E. Housman poem (presented in the highly commendable series of 'Poems on the Underground', displayed in tube trains) with which I was not familiar.

Here dead we lie, because we did not choose
To live and shame the land from which we sprung.
Life, to be sure, is nothing much to lose,
But young men think it is, and we were young.

Like much brilliant poetry, great power of thought and emotion are conveyed here in deceptively simple-seeming fashion. I love the way in which the most startling line (the third) is also that which most diverges from the iambic rhythm, embodying in sound the contrast between the more mundane, even perhaps naive, sentiments of the first two lines and the shocking philosophy behind this statement about life.

Since reading this poem, I have been tediously reciting it at people, and it has stayed with me far longer than have the quotidian irritations of people walking through 'no entry' areas in the tube and sitting on one and a half seats on the overground.


Thursday, 25 November 2010


Julian Mitchell, author of The Undiscovered Country, which we reissued this summer, is appearing at the Hay Winter Festival on December 5th. Julian will be in conversation with Julia Gregson, winner of the 2009 Prince Maurice Prize for Romantic Fiction. Julian will be discussing the novel and his other work, and the Festival holds many other literary and other treasures in store.

My wife and I had a brief but enchanting holiday in the town one Easter, but narrowly missed the spring Festival itself (the second time I've achieved this feat) and I can certainly recommend Hay as a beautiful and magical pace for any lover of literature and landscape.


Tuesday, 23 November 2010


A friend of mine has shared a delightful article about a Washington Post competition, which invites readers to coin new definitions for existing words. I believe regular listeners to I'm Sorry I haven't a Clue are already regaled by the same practice.

Here is a selection from the splendidly ingenious current winners:

Coffee, n. The person upon whom one coughs
Flabbergasted, adj. Appalled by discovering how much weight one has gained
Abdicate, v. To give up all hope of ever having a flat stomach
Gargoyle, n. Olive-flavored mouthwash
Balderdash, n. A rapidly receding hairline 

Rectitude, n. The formal, dignified bearing adopted by proctologists.

Here's one from me:

Internet, n. A female intern.

Over to you......


Friday, 19 November 2010


As our trade organ The Bookseller reports daily on rushed announcements of new books related to the engagement of Prince William and Kate Middleton, I thought I'd get in early with a few examples of existing (albeit slightly modified) titles.

(No Longer) Just William
Kate Expectations
Gone with the Windsors

And for the more cynical -

Bored of the Rings.

But I'm sure you can think of better examples.....


Thursday, 18 November 2010


The highly reputed American books magazine The Bloomsbury Review recently carried an enthusiastic response to our republication of Rose Macaulay's The Non-combatants and Others. The Review, which enjoys a readership of some 35,000, called the book
a valuable recovery
and say that author Rose Macaulay remains significant for
incisive portraits of a society during and between the world wars.
Dame Rose Macaulay was born in Rugby, Warwickshire, and educated at Oxford. She belongs to that noble but perhaps now undervalued tradition in British letters of writers who paid serious intellectual attention to Christian ideas and themes, and strove to weave these into their work. Macaulay had a problematic engagement with religious belief, and this was mirrored in her personal life by her affair with a former Jesuit priest. She reached the point of being able to return to the Anglican church in 1953, five years before her death.

Her strong interest in and involvement with the pacifist movement was reflected in her sponsorship of the Peace Pledge Union, and pacifism is an important element in Non-combatants, in which the heroine, Alix Sandomir’s, goes through a process of discovery, self doubt and reaffirmation of pacifist principles during the First World War.

Macaulay is responsible for what must be one of the best opening lines in literature, from The Towers of Trebizond:
"Take my camel, dear," said my Aunt Dot, as she climbed down from this animal on her return from High Mass
while a character in Staying with Relations asks:
"Is rabbit fur disgusting because it's cheap, or is it cheap because it's disgusting?"


Friday, 12 November 2010


I have, with superhuman restraint and forbearance, mentioned a mere 9 or 10 dozen times on this blog and other social networking outlets that Flann O'Brien's The Third Policeman is simply the best novel ever written. The thought has often occurred to me that this strange and wonderful story would make an excellent film, but that it would be difficult to realise on celluloid (or even, nowadays, in a computer's memory).

Imagine then, dear reader, my surprise on learning that Brendan Gleeson is working on a film adaptation of O'Brien's even stranger and apparently more unfilmable opus, At Swim Two Birds. This novel mingles various mythological charcters (including the giant Finn Mac Cool and Mad King Sweeney - who is transformed into a bird - and the Pooka MacPhellimey, "a member of the devil class" (who has a fairy living in his pocket)) with ones from everyday life. Among the latter is a student, who writes a book in which a man writing a book is imprisoned, tried and tortured by his own characters, who resent his treatment of him.

All this is used to comment on the relationship between fiction and reality, knowledge, learning and language, and to deliver some darned good jokes.

A rom-com it ain't, and I can't wait to see the results.


Wednesday, 10 November 2010


I suppose we all have a list of writers whose work we have come across occasionally and enjoyed, but who we have never fully explored. One such poet for me is Edwin Morgan, whose death earlier this year was mourned by his substantial body of admirers, which includes Carol Ann Duffy and Alex Salmond (Morgan was named as the first ever 'national Scottish poet'). I frequently came across his work in anthologies - especially his quirkier 'science fiction' poems, and was delighted by what I read. Sadly, it has taken his passing to convince me finally to read more.

Here's one of the first works of his I met; it's both delightful and seasonal.

"The Computer's First Christmas Card" 1968.




Tuesday, 9 November 2010


Apologies for the long gap in posting; again, the pressure of grown-up work has been overwhelming my blogging intentions.

My attention was cheerfully drawn today to an article in The Guardian on the topic of saving endangered words., an offshoot of OUP, offers concerned lovers of rare linguistic specimens the opportunity to 'adopt' words and reintroduce them into - as it were - the wild of everyday speech.

Some examples given in the article are:

Oncethmus - The loud and hard cry of a donkey
Suffarcinate - Pack tightly
Weesquashing - Spearing of fish or eels by torchlight from canoes.

My own favourite underused word is

Poodlefaker - A man who seeks out the company of women (often for
selfish reasons).

Over to you.....


Friday, 22 October 2010


As regular readers of the blog will know, we are going to use a new cover artist, alongside our current one, from spring next year, the parties involved being Candida Thring and Angela Landels respectively.

That esteemed organ of the book trade, The Bookseller, was kind enough to devote most of a page to this news today, illustrating the article with the covers for When I was Otherwise and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

About the latter; I have a strange suspicion. Has anyone ever seen these guys in the same room together? You don't suppose.....


Tuesday, 19 October 2010


Today's Bookseller e-bulletin, a very effective and useful digital hoover which collects all kind of publishing fluff, pointed its subscribers towards a Daily Beast feature on what is being read by the current crop of supermodels. Here is my own list of recommended titles.

Less Than Zero
Westwood, Ho!
The Woman who Walked into Dior
The Satanic Versace

But I'm sure you can think of more.....


Monday, 18 October 2010


Some of my colleagues attended the inaugural Katherine Mansfield Society birthday lecture last Friday. This event was sprinkled with literary and other celebrities, including Jacqueline Wilson and Kirsty Gunn, who provided the foreword for our edition of Mansfield's The Aloe. The event took place in New Zealand House, which (see photograph) affords a panoramic view of London rivalled only by The London Eye. The lecture was given by Professor Angela Smith and was entitled: ‘Mansfield and Dickens: “I am not reading Dickens idly” ’. The full text can be downloaded from the KMS website.


Thursday, 14 October 2010


Its always a delight to learn about readers and booksellers championing the Capuchin cause. I was recently contacted by Waterstone's in Nottingham, where they have been running a dedicated display, accompanied by posters and catalogues. This is the work of one particular bookseller, whom I shall not embarrass by naming, and we are grateful for the energy and initiative he's shown, and for the backing of his managers and employer.

Those of you who are lucky enough to live in the vicinity of this splendid city might like to investigate this display and any other interesting selections that the store has produced. There is also an impressive line up of forthcoming events, including one with Jo Brand tomorrow. The 'Events' tab on the main Waterstone's website will guide you to these.


Wednesday, 13 October 2010


Lest any of you should have taken yesterday's blog as some kind of indication that I don't serve my employer effectively and well at all times, let me just say: 'I was at the Buchmesse all day Sunday'. Not, you might think, any extraordinary evidence of duty, unless you have been there and realise that Sundays in the anglophone hall (Hall 8) now make an excellent and challenging environment for playing 'spot the publisher'. I always had problems conceptualising the Catholic concept of Limbo until I encountered this phenomenon.

Back, as the hoodied rapscallions say, in the day, publishers used to live in fear and trembling of the Fair organisers spotting their stands unstaffed for a few seconds, leave alone a whole day. Such behaviour used to be rewarded with the placing of a stern notice (as only German notices can be) on one's table with a curt invitation to explain yourself - or your lack of self - before some kind of Star Chamber, probably deep underground in a secret location. Those with weak bladders lived in perpetual terror, and would often leave cunningly fashioned dummies of themselves at their stands while they answered a call of nature.

How different now, when many publishers don't turn up on Sunday at all, and many more, including some really major ones, start packing up early in the day, again in defiance of the regulations. I am proud to say that our stall stayed intact and inhabited throughout. I was entertained, as the day went by, through watching members of the public strip the books from an unpeopled stand opposite, often loading many books at a time into capacious wheelie bags. A kind of moral hierarchy prevailed, with some people assuming that the books were available, or not caring if they were, others asking me first and - on recieving the reply that I did not have any information on this point - taking books anyway and one (yes, one whole person) saying that if I wasn't sure, then he wouldn't take them.

It was good to get back home after a busy and productive few days. Only 358 days until Frankfurt 11.


Tuesday, 12 October 2010


Here, as promised, is a faithful and true account of a typical day's activity in and around the Frankfurt Bookfair.

9.30 Arrive at stand, sweep glossy brochures left on table by Chinese printers into the bin.

9.35 Fatigued by previous activity, go to Bar /Cafe and purchase tasteless coffee and sandwich, wondering for the umpteenth time which is more remarkable: the ability of every German to speak better English than most English people, or the audacity of German snack manufacturers in pricing their wares. Decide that the purchase of food at the Buchmesse is solely responsible for strength of German economy.

9.40 First Chinese printer of the day approaches and leaves glossy brochure.

9.45 Meeting with Danish publisher who cannot believe our unwillingness - to buy the English rights for an encyclopedia of Scandinavian flour - can be ascribed to anything but stubborn wrong-headedness.

10.30 Constructively tour round other publishers' stands, extending network of associates and cementing existing relations, activities easily confused - to the untrained eye - with wandering aimlessly around and gossiping.

11.30 Second Chinese printer of the day approaches and leaves glossy brochure.

12.00 Lunch, paid for with small wheelbarrow of Euros, the vehicle having been rented for an immodest fee from the Buchmesse Facilities Office (Tri-wheeled division).

1.00 Meeting with distributor from developing country, who, pleading the general level of poverty in his nation , the Kafkaesque hierachy of bribes and import duties and intense competition, becomes cross when we refuse his reasonable offer of buying our books at 110% discount and acquiring the deeds to our houses.

2.00 Post-lunch coffee, following remortgage of our London office.

2.15 Meeting with author who is touring all publishers gullible enough to allow him to start a conversation. He gives a multi-media presentation about his novel which, through the sheer velocity of his will, holds us transfixed, (wedding-guest in Ancient Mariner style), for several hours. Say, lying, we will consider publishing 'The Angel Vampire Code'.

4.30 Accidentally have useful meeting about something real.

5.00 Torn to psychological shreds by the attempt to decide which publishers' parties to be seen attending, despite consulting IPhone app which cross-indexes all the various parameters, including predicted quality of wheat-based snacks, trendiness of publisher and optimal route between stands. Take so long to try and decide that the hall closes. Ambushed by posse of Chinese printers on way out. Curse own lack of vigilance and improper use of cover.

6.00 Accompany publishing cronies to restaurant and, despite being urbane, sophisticated metrosexual man, become involved in competition to see who can drink the most apfelwein without bowels exploding or face meeting floor.

8.00 Confidently clutching map of train system and street plan, at least one of which is upside down and relates to Berlin, head for hotel, which is in a sufficiently distant suburb to be within the means of a small publisher. Manfully board wrong train, alight at suburb on opposite side of city and begin trek of epic scale on foot, (possibly towards hotel), later to be immortalised by rising German poet. On way encounter, huddling in an underpass, warming themselves through the meagre remnants of their clothing around a makeshift brazier, the employees of a small poetry publisher who came to the Fair three years ago and are still looking for their hotel,which is a dog kennel in Baden-Baden.

10.00 Find hotel. Stagger into room and, pausing only to throw Chinese printer out of window, fall asleep, to dream of isbns.


Monday, 11 October 2010


My Managing Director and I have been away representing our publishing activities at the Frankfurt Book Fair, or as it's delightfully and properly called, the 'buchmesse'. This is a formidably venerable institution, with a history stretching back over 500 years, and now attracting over 7,000 exhibitors and a quarter of a million visitors to its mini city of 9 huge exhibition halls, each one of which could swallow whole the London Book Fair without even needing to belch afterwards. Above is a picture of our stand in Hall 8, with a panel of Capuchins proudly facing the world of publishers, agents, scouts (of the literary, not the dibbing and dobbing variety), printers, members of the German reading public, etc. We had a good level of interest from some European publishers, and as always many folk were kind enough to coo in admiration over the elegant yet striking design of the books.

Over the next few blogs, I'll post a brief diary of some typical days at the Fair.


Monday, 27 September 2010


I attended a very entertaining lunchtime recital last week, as part of the commendable and very imaginatively constructed Hampstead and Highgate Festival. The organisers have taken dance, and especially Diaghilev as their inspiration and binding theme, and the event I went to in Burgh House (itself a treat to visit, café attached) comprised poetry, prose and even some nicely delivered song, on the broad subject of dance.

The pieces were cleverly selected and exquisitely performed by Piers Plowright, Diana Bishop and Valerie Sarruf. Among many I had not met before, there was Auden in full horror nursery rhyme flow:

The desires of the heart are as crooked as corkscrews
Not to be born is the best for man
The second best is a formal order
The dance’s pattern, dance while you can.
Dance, dance, for the figure is easy
The tune is catching and will not stop
Dance till the stars come down with the rafters
Dance, dance, dance till you drop.

a hilarious piece from Beachcomber, satirising ballet culture (in the shape of a 'Madame Tumblova'), trade unions and a wide range of other targets; the sadly undersung Louis MacNeice, with 'Bagpipe Music' (an absolute tour de force) and a smattering of work by contemporary writers, including India Russell, whose collection The Kaleidoscope of Time is published by our parent company, Stacey International. India's new collection is, appropriately, The Dance of Life, available from Godstow Press.

There is much more literature, music, dance and even walking available from the Festival, (full details of which are in the link above), with some star performers, including Jonathan Miller and Simon Callow.


Friday, 24 September 2010


I performed a highly pleasurable duty today when I visited a recently opened bookshop in Belsize Park. England's Lane Bookshop, delightfully but unsurprisingly named for the road in which it sits, is an absolute treat for bibliophiles, where carefully selected and well displayed books, betraying wide knowledge and good taste on the part of the buyers, very politely threaten one's wallet from every corner. The stock includes a very good range of recent books at reduced prices, but there isn't the frenzied rash of discounts one sees in certain chain outlets. The staff are friendly and helpful, and the atmosphere is enhanced by interesting but unintrusive music. All this, combined with the presence of a very good cafe and other businesses of similar quality, on the very same street, will reward the time and effort of anyone journeying there from inside or outside the capital, especially if combined with a jaunt onto Hampstead Heath and a tour of Keats' house.

I'm taking my wife there with my Christmas books list.


Wednesday, 22 September 2010


Today's edition of The Brontë Blog features our forthcoming edition of Agnes Grey. As well as its regular postings on all things Brontë, this blog has an impressive number of links to new and forthcoming books and existing e-literature, runs a campaign to fund a blue plaque at Smith, Elder and Co. (the Brontës' publisher) and generally carries a wealth of information and opinion on all aspects of the subject.
There's also a weekly quote feature, which is currently occupied by a stirring piece of poetry from Branwell Brontë, pictured to the left.

It's well worth a click.


Monday, 20 September 2010


You are probably all familiar with the quandary of being in a bookshop and having to select, according to time and budget, which new books or authors to take home. I must confess to being a fairly ruthless exponent of the 'first sentence' method, and have probably passed over many a dazzling literary experience because of some perceived deficiency in the opening words of a novel (I don't apply the same test to non-fiction).

Today I learnt that Ford Madox Ford, (author of The Good Soldier, recently adapted for the stage by Julian Mitchell, whose The Undiscovered Country is published by Capuchin) developed the 'page 99' rule thus:
Open the book to page ninety-nine and read, and the quality of the whole will be revealed to you.
See this blog for more details and the results of various books being judged in this way.

Do please post comments with your results.


Thursday, 16 September 2010


It was gratifying to learn that - as commentators gleefully vie with one another to paint the gloomiest scenarios for physical books and bookshops - a new bookshop has opened in Bermondsey.

Woolfson & Tay (see picture above) had, by all accounts, a splendid opening day last weekend, and combines a bookshop function with those of a café and art gallery. Interestingly, the owners have chosen to focus on biography and autobiography, using the exhibition space to run events which will encourage people to tell their own life stories.

In a statement which is admirable on all levels, one of the owners explained:

We are aware that we are putting ourselves on the line, but there is no compelling alternative to purposeful living.

I hope to visit next time I venture south of the river.


Wednesday, 15 September 2010


A wonderful story is told in the current issue of The Spectator.
We now leave digital clues with our every mouse-click. Last week a friend of mine was mildly annoyed to find that, following his purchase of a box-set of Will & Grace, the Amazon site immediately assumed he was gay. In fact he is gay, but doesn’t believe his literary tastes should be defined by his sexuality. Half an hour spent browsing power tools failed to shake the site from its assumption. Only when he added The Autobiography of Geoffrey Boycott to his order list did things return to normal.

This is from Rory Sutherland's highly engaging - and amusingly named - column on technology and the web, 'The Wikki Man'.

I'm off now to see if I can recreate my personal profile as that of a spinster from Essex with slight schizoid tendencies and an interest in Peru. Perhaps this could be a new national sport.


Tuesday, 14 September 2010


While stumbling around Facebook the other day (I'm still waiting for the OS map) I came across a reference to Nightjar Press, and was impressed by a subsequent visit to their website. To quote said site:
Nightjar Press is a new independent publisher specialising – for the time being –in limited edition single short-story chapbooks by individual authors. It is brought to you by the people behind early 1990s British Fantasy Award-winning publisher Egerton Press, responsible for Darklands, Darklands 2 and Joel Lane’s short-story collection The Earth Wire. The publisher is Nicholas Royle, the designer John Oakey. We are open to submissions from writers who have taken the trouble to research what kind of stuff we like.

Having kindly been sent a copy of A Revelation of Cormorants, by Mark Valentine, I can certainly vouch for the attractiveness of the design and quality of the writing. I look forward to seeing this publisher develop and perhaps produce books in other formats.


Thursday, 9 September 2010


Here is my traditional post-holiday homework, focussing on literary endeavours, but mentioning in passing that dans Haut Languedoc, nous avons visite une grotte et une gouffre et that the region is now moins beaucoup de cakes.

My wife spent the evenings discovering Nancy Mitford with great delight. Just as a monastic peace would be settling each night, and as our friend Ian and I were nodding sagely over our respective tomes, stroking our chins as our minds moved in subtle and profound meditations, she would shriek: 'This is great; why haven't I read her before?' I finished Don Juan and read Mitford's Highland Fling (published, as previously mentioned, by Capuchin Classics) with equal pleasure. Mitford is brilliant at comic set pieces, and is supremely adept at representing her characters through a shrewd but humane satirical gaze. I failed to read The Dark Horse by the reliably inventive Marcus Sedgwick (I defy you to be unimpressed by his beautiful website), but Ian did it for me.

Related activites including playing the game of 'lists' by thinking of words beginning with each letter of the alphabet in specific categories. Eerily, shortly after one of these bouts of verbal jollity, I came across a passage in 'H. Fling' describing this very pastime and, moreover, listing 'diseases' as one of these categories, the very one which I had just introduced in what I thought was a highly original moment. I also introduced my holiday chums to the structure of the vilannelle, and produced one on the subject of Ian's aquatic antics.

We came home fatigue mais heureux.


Monday, 23 August 2010


From The Bookseller e-bulletin, today:

Library Use Falls Dramatically

There's an institution in my humble home town of Hitchin that offers amazing literary experiences at practically no cost. It calls itself a 'library*', and rumour has it that there may be one or two of its ilk across the land. Astonishingly, this 'library' will, once you have obtained a small, easily portable segment of plastic, (which may be done without undue effort or inconvenience) allow you to take home a number of books - and what is more, read them - for absolutely no fee, providing they are returned within three weeks. This astonishing offer extends across the entire spectrum of the written word, and what is not present on their shelves can be requested from other 'libraries' (here I must admit that a fee of £0.60 is levied for such a service, proving that there is nothing perfect in this fallen realm). I wonder if readers of this blog have discovered similar facilities?

*from the High Middle Etruscan, meaning 'woefully underused institution'.


Friday, 20 August 2010


One of the peculiar side-effects of reading Byron's Don Juan is that one begins to think in Byronic style. Here is the refined version of one such example. You're most welcome to send me your own, and we can have a mass cod-Byron festival. I am aware, by the way, and deeply ashamed, that my last line has eleven syllables, and that I have taken poetic liberty with singles and plurals.

Commuting is to voyage twice, for we
Not only take our body but our heart
From one place to another. We may be
The tranquillest of persons when we start,
But, bludgeoned by the rude stupidity
Of blind and selfish drones, our better part
Will, I fear, in every instance shirk us,
Especially when we change at Oxford Circus.


Wednesday, 18 August 2010


On my daily journey to work, I am currently reading Byron's Don Juan for the first time, and am meeting surprise, delight and amazement at every stanza. Not to mention exuding an aura of insufferable smugness about reading such proper, grown-up literature. I have to work very hard at exuding this, because I'm reading it on my Sony e-reader, so am not visually projecting the identity of my reading to fellow commuters.

The technical virtuosity of Byron's verse is extraordinary, as he conjures a variety of landscapes, situations, moods and characters in chronicling the odyssey of travel, romance and sexual encounters that make up Juan's story, all within a rigid stanza pattern of rhymed pentameter, mostly iambic, and embracing reflections on politics, history and the arts.

The humorously contrived rhymes Byron employs have passed into literary legend, perhaps the best-known being:

But O ye lords of ladies intellectual,
Inform us truly, have they not henpecked you all?

But there are hundreds of exquisite examples, leading me to believe the author was deliberately setting up rhyming challenges for himself in his vocabulary selection. Byron also uses rhyme to more conventional comic effect, as when, in this passage, he undermines his own mock-seriousness:
And she bent o'er him, and he lay beneath,
Hush'd as the babe upon its mother's breast,

Droop'd as the willow when no winds can breathe,
Lull'd like the depth of ocean when at rest,

Fair as the crowning rose of the whole wreath,
Soft as the callow cygnet in its nest;

In short, he was a very pretty fellow,
Although his woes had turn'd him rather yellow.
There are also beautifully expressed passages of meditation:
O Love! O Glory! what are ye who fly

Around us ever, rarely to alight?

There's not a meteor in the polar sky

Of such transcendent and more fleeting flight.

Chill, and chain'd to cold earth, we lift on high

Our eyes in search of either lovely light;

A thousand and a thousand colours they

Assume, then leave us on our freezing way.
Yet again, I find myself marvelling at the brilliance and energy of a 'classic' writer, and struggling to find parallels in the modern world, aside from Vikram Seth's verse novel, The Golden Gate.


Friday, 13 August 2010


The Guardian ran a blog earlier this week about 'the most under-rated authors'. Apart from the fascinating lists of books and authors which people have recommended (also intimidating if , like me, you are a slow reader with many gaps in their literary knowledge) there has also been a running debate in the comments about how fixated British readers are on Anglophone literature, with contributors almost seeming to compete with each other to recommend the most obscure writers from around the planet.

I contributed my own remarks to recommend (as ever) Flann O'Brien and Leonard Cohen (at least, in the case of the latter, Beautiful Losers, as I don't rate The Favourite Game so highly).

It's well worth visiting this blog for the usual inspiration, affirmation and exasperation that such lists provide.


Wednesday, 11 August 2010


At Capuchin Classics, the design, appearance and physical qualities of our books are as important as the texts themselves. Until now, each of our covers has borne a black and white line drawing by Angela Landels, whose unwavering eye for selection and detail have in no small way helped to define the Capuchin brand, and to make it succeed. Her work, and the Capuchin design, have received many plaudits, ranging from a feature in The Independent to highly favourable remarks on the respected ‘Caustic Cover Critic’ blog.

Beginning with the batch of titles to be published in March 2011, we have opted to intermingle Landels’ covers with those of Candida Thring, and also to introduce colour, as you will see from this striking rendition of the more primal member of the Jekyll and Hyde partnership, from our March 2011 edition of this seminal novel.

We hope you enjoy the work of this new cover artist.


Wednesday, 4 August 2010


It's good to see very positive reviews appearing for Julian Mitchell's dramatisation of Ford Madox Ford's The Good Soldier, which is running at the Theatre Royal, Bath until 14th August.

The Guardian's Elisabeth Mahoney said:
While its themes offer a tantalising prospect for stage adaptation, Ford Maddox Ford's 1915 novel also presents the challenge of a non-chronological tale told by an unreliable narrator through a vexing tangle of flashbacks. One of the striking achievements in Matthew Lloyd's stylish production is the reworking of this by playwright Julian Mitchell into something more approachable, without losing the ideas that swirl through the original.
While The Stage observed:
This alternative programme is launched in impressive style by Julian Mitchell’s resourceful adaptation of Ford Madox Ford’s seminal 20th-century novel of marital infidelity and eventual tragedy.
Our edition of Julian's remarkable novel, The Undiscovered Country, is also performing well, with good opening orders having come in from bookshops and individuals across the country.

We're hoping Julian will be asked to appear at the Hay Festival next year, so look out for news on that.

Finally, a reminder that - unlike some other websites named after legendary females of formidable martial prowess - the Capuchin website offers 3 books for the price of 2, plus postage and packing.


Monday, 2 August 2010


The latest four Capuchins have now manifested themselves on the physical plane and are in bookshops across the country. They are The Undiscovered Country by Julian Mitchell, The Island Pharisees by John Galsworthy, Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad and Highland Fling by Nancy Mitford.

Thanks to all who organised and attended the launch of Highland Fling at the marvellous Heywood Hill bookshop in Curzon Street. The equally sparkling champagne and guests, together with a reading from the book by foreword writer Julian Fellowes, (pictured, right) made for a delightful evening.

Should you need any other reason for visiting this bookshop than the inspiring stock and knowledgeable staff, there is the fact that they are currently celebrating the life and work of Nancy Mitford, (who used to be one of those very booksellers) in a new exhibition: Love from Nancy, running to Friday 10th September. The exhibition includes many items from the Mitford Archive at Chatsworth, set up by the author's sister Deborah, Dowager Duchess of Devonshire.

Thursday, 29 July 2010


The perspicacious writer of the literary blog: Frisbee, a Book Journal, recently posted an interesting piece on short stories, in which she celebrated the Capuchin Classic On Horseback and other Stories. This was one of the first four Capuchins to be released into the wild, and it canters on very steadily to this day.

Reading this blog reminded me of my own ignorance about the short story genre. Although one of my favourite books is such a collection - On Becoming a Fairy Godmother, by Sara Maitland - I remain woefully under-read in the area of the classic exponents of the genre. Time to open the Maupassant, I think.

I am pleased to note that the Frisbee author shares my passion for cycling as well as reading, and adorns her blog with a photograph of a very elegant bicycle, smartly accessorised with a classic pannier. I think panniers are the second best human invention, after the bicycle itself.


Monday, 26 July 2010


Thanks again to that consistent champion of Capuchin Classics, Val Hennessy, who celebrated Peking Picnic in her Retro Reads column on 23rd July.

Val discusses the contrasts of beauty and foreboding evoked by the novel, before describing how the heroine, Mrs. Leroy, meets an acquaintance from her Cambridge world during a trip (sans husband) to some distant ruins, and has to confront the possibility of middle-aged, illicit passion.

Val concludes by saying:

Bridge's gentle 1932 novel paints an indelible picture of old China, her most unforgettable image being the pigeon orchestras -- flying birds making ethereal music, each bird with a tiny pipe fixed to its pinion feathers, creating 'a faint winging of music, as from small harps overhead'.


Wednesday, 21 July 2010


I was impressed and amused by an American library's promotional video, which has become the latest Youtube phenomenon. With our own library sector under threat from various quarters, including the currently planned public spending cuts, I wonder if something like this would be an effective marketing tool for them.

My own recent reawakening to the wonder and glory of regular library use has been documented in these virtual pages, but my attempts to spread the word to my friends and family have so far resulted only in my wife reading my own library books. I suspect I'm not cut out for evangelism. Having now become proficient in the use of The Great Machine which now performs most of the basic library functions, (see Attack of the Robot Librarians) I now derive a certain childish pleasure from seeing less experienced folk struggling with same. You will be relieved to know that I immediately feel guilty on experiencing this emotion, and am now considering borrowing an appropriate book from the self-help section to enable me to engage with this issue and move on.

I am, however, currently reading Imprimatur, borrowed from my library.


Friday, 16 July 2010


Further praise for The Man who Loved Children will be found in a book which should go on your Christmas present lists. I know it's only July, but with our alloted fortnight of sunshine apparently over, I make no apologies for using the C word.

In December Beautiful Books are publishing a book by John Waters - Role Models - in which there is a chapter devoted to his favourite books, within which the author lists Christina Stead’s The Man Who Loved Children as one of the novels which most influenced him. Mr. Waters has tickled many of our cinematic fancies with films such as Hairspray and Pink Flamingos. He is illustrated opposite.

I didn't know much about this publisher before they alerted me to Waters' book, but their website revealed a very interesting publications list, ranging from Dario Fo to Anthony Burgess, and is well worth taking your mouse to.


Wednesday, 14 July 2010


Apologies for the Blog lacuna - I wrote a series of Pulitzer-quality articles, but my virtual dog ate them before they could be posted.

Great excitement was unleashed in the Capuchin office today (above the quotidian variety associated with working for such a vibrant and chic publisher) as The Guardian published an on-line piece about The Man who Loved Children. This all stems from the New York Times article by Jonathan Franzen (see previous blog) which has caused ripples of renewed interest in this extraordinary book to spread through the ether.

We are described in the article, for which many thanks must go to Alison Flood, as
tiny press Capuchin Classics, an imprint dedicated to "reviving great works of fiction which have been unjustly forgotten or neglected"

Call us wildly ambitious, but one day we hope to be small.


Monday, 5 July 2010


Those lovely people at The Observer published a review of Herbert Read's The Green Child yesterday. The reviewer (Octavia Morris) notes the recurring theme of the narrator's death (symbolic, feigned or actual) as one of the unifying themes in this wonderful, strange visionary novel, and comments that:
With bizarre comic irony, this imaginative, philosophical novel perfectly balances fantasy and reality.

As I work my way through the Capuchins, The Green Child will remain one of the most powerful and visionary novels in the list, and I look forward to revisiting it in the future. In particular, Read's vision of an alternative, utopian society stands out from its multitudinous counterparts - from all kinds of writing - for its sheer novelty and thoughtfulness.


Monday, 28 June 2010


I was wondering what those renowned bibliophiles - the England football squad and associated staff - might be reading for consolation as they fly back to Britain. The following candidates suggested themselves, but if you can think 0f others, please let me know.

Out of Africa by Karen Blixen
Always Coming Home by Ursula le Guin
Four to Score by Janet Evanovich

...and the oft mistitled Muller's Tale by Geoffrey Chaucer.


Friday, 25 June 2010


I'm currently plastering over one of the many gaping cracks in the semi-detached cottage that is my reading. This is to say I've been discovering the lovely travel writing of Robert Louis Stevenson, in the form of Travels with a Donkey and Across the Plains. The clarity and detail Stevenson offers, together with his sense of humanity and appetite for adventure and not least his naturally elegant style, have made my vicarious journeys across Languedoc and America an absolute treat, not to mention enabling me to discourse at length on donkey goads.

Stevenson moves across subjects - place, religion, food, work - with all the ease the hapless donkey lacks, making these books an educational journey also. Here are a few samples, beginning with the plains of Nebraska:

To one hurrying through by steam there was a certain exhilaration in this spacious vacancy, this greatness of the air, this discovery of the whole arch of heaven, this straight, unbroken, prison-line of the horizon.

moving to a frosty Dutch woman with whom he shares a train carriage:

Her parting words were ingeniously honest: 'I am sure' said she 'we all ought to be very much obliged to you.' I cannot pretend that she put me at my ease; but I had a certain respect for such a genuine dislike. A poor nature would have slipped, in the course of these familiarities, into a sort of worthless toleration for me.

and from Languedoc:

We struck at last into a wide white highroad, carpeted with noiseless dust. The night had come; the moon had been shining for a long while upon the opposite mountain, when on turning a corner my donkey and I issued ourselves into her light. I had emptied out my brandy at Florac, for I could bear the stuff no longer, and replaced it with some generous and scented Volnay; and now I drank to the moon's sacred majesty upon the road.

All this is not entirely unrelated to Capuchin, as in January we are publishing our an edition of Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, to follow on from Kidnapped. The former will be the first Capuchin to carry a new cover design, but more of that later.


Wednesday, 23 June 2010


We are launching our edition of Nancy Mitford's Highland Fling at Heywood Hill's Bookshop at 6 p.m. on Thursday July 15th. Julian Fellowes, who has provided the Capuchin foreword, will be reading from the book.

Not only because Nancy Mitford worked at Heywood Hill, but also because it is rightly one of London's most renowned bookshops, we are delighted to have arranged this event.

If you would like to receive an invitation, please e-mail

Monday, 21 June 2010


I have just read that Eoin Colfer's Artemis Fowl has been declared 'the best Puffin book ever'. Although I quite enjoyed reading this book, and possess no ill will whatsoever towards Mr. Colfer, I could not believe that any books other than The Earthsea Quartet by Ursula LeGuin had been allowed to carry this mantle.

The award was voted for by children, which makes me wonder if LeGuin's exquisite quartet, (I thought the fifth book, The Other Wind was very disappointing) is being forgotten amongst the tide of more slickly-marketed and facile literature.

I hope not.


Thursday, 17 June 2010


Given the nature of the list, arranging to have lunch with a Capuchin author can be difficult. Bram Stoker never answers my calls, and Rudyard Kipling always has an excuse. I did, however spend a delightful time yesterday with Julian Mitchell, whose novel The Undiscovered Country (not to be confused with the Star Trek film, which also borrowed that quote from Shakespeare) we are to republish in July.

In the intervals between discussing cutting-edge ideas for marketing and sales, we rambled over several topics, and discovered a shared love and awe for R.S. Thomas, the man and his poetry. Thomas was far from noted for his sunny disposition and casual bonhomie: he once described the Welsh as:
An impotent people
Sick with inbreeding
Worrying the carcase of an old song.

Julian described how one poor servant of a renowned society drove half way across the British Isles to Thomas' rural Welsh home in order to present a prestigious prize, only to have Thomas, with a snatch of the trophy and a 'Thank you very much', slam the door in his face. Julian had considerably better success, having succeeded in wresting a cup of tea and a full quarter hour of the great man's time from him on one occasion.

It's wonderful to be working with such an interesting and successful writer, whose Another Country (play and film, both featuring Rupert Everett), although his best-known work, is but one among many acclaimed dramatic and prose achievements, including much television work and the screenplay of the biopic Wilde. Julian is currently attending the rehearsals of his new play, an adaptation of The Good Soldier, the novel by Ford Madox Ford. This will play at the Theatre Royal Bath from July, and may then migrate to London.


Monday, 14 June 2010


I couldn't resist, having all but finished The Unbearable Bassington, sprinkling a few Saki bon mots across the blog. You may like to use them and pass them off as your own in social situations.

Of a pompous and shallow gentleman who specialised in dominating dinner parties with his own brand of smug piety:

(he was) a skilled window-dresser in the emporium of his own personality

On dressing:

some people are born with a sense of how to clothe themselves, others acquire it, others look as if their clothes had been thrust upon them.

and a characteristic barb from the arch putter-down of stupidity and pretension, Lady Caroline:

'I can generally manage to attend to more than one thing at a time' said Serena, rashly; 'I think I must have a sort of double brain.'
'Much better to economise and have one really good one,' observed Lady Caroline.

But the book is much more than a collection of waspish observations; Saki writes about the serious aspects of life with equal conviction and power, as the final section, set in an African country, well demonstrates:

Somewhere in the west country of England Comus had an uncle who lived in a rose-smothered rectory and taught a wholesome gentle-hearted creed that expressed itself in the spirit of “Little lamb, who made thee?” and faithfully reflected the beautiful homely Christ-child sentiment of Saxon Europe. What a far away, unreal fairy story it all seemed here in this West African land, where the bodies of men were of as little account as the bubbles that floated on the oily froth of the great flowing river, and where it required a stretch of wild profitless imagination to credit them with undying souls.

The book also delightfully and poignantly observes the various stages of romantic relationships between young people, as well as painting a general and fascinating picture of decadent Edwardian society.


Thursday, 10 June 2010


The New York Times recently published a lengthy celebration of this book by the renowned contemporary author Jonathan Franzen.

Mr. Franzen writes:

Although its prose ranges from good to fabulously good — is lyrical in the true sense, every observation and description bursting with feeling, meaning, subjectivity — and although its plotting is unobtrusively masterly, the book operates at a pitch of psychological violence that makes “Revolutionary Road” look like “Everybody Loves Raymond."

and meditates at length on the reasons why the novel is not as recognised as it deserves to be. The essay is replete with erudition and wit, and makes some fascinating observations on the whole business of publishing and reading novels and places this book in the context of literature in general and several specific related novelists and novels.


Friday, 4 June 2010


It had been many years since I exposed my soul to the caustic brilliance that is the writing of H.H. Munro, immortally known as 'Saki'. Yesterday evening, even through the fog of a tired brain further enshrouded by the vicissitudes of commuting, I began reading The Unbearable Bassington, and was instantly refreshed, through all parts of my being, by the playfulness,wit and elegance of his prose. It was like literary mouthwash.

Here's the opening:

In her younger days Francesca had been known as the beautiful Miss Greech; at forty, although much of the original beauty remained, she was just dear Francesca Bassington. No one would have dreamed of calling her sweet, but a good many people who scarcely knew her were punctilious about putting in the ‘dear’.

Her enemies, in their honester moments, would have admitted that she was svelte and knew how to dress, but they would have agreed with her friends in asserting that she had no soul. When one’s friends and enemies agree on any particular point they are usually wrong. Francesca herself, if pressed in an unguarded moment to describe her soul, would probably have described her drawing-room. Not that she would have considered that the one had stamped the impress of its character on the other, so that close scrutiny might reveal its outstanding features, and even suggest its hidden places, but because she might have dimly recognised that her drawing-room was her soul.

There is another link to Capuchin in one of the two favourite theories as to how the author's pseudonym was chosen, namely that it is a reference to the South American primate of the same name, 'a small, long-tailed monkey from the Western Hemisphere', that is a central character in 'The Remoulding of Groby Lington.' The other contending explanation is that the name was chosen after the cupbearer in the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyam, a work satirised in 'Reginald on Christmas Presents' .


Thursday, 3 June 2010


You will, being people possessed of sensitive literary antennae, have been aware of the recent and very thorough coverage of the Hay literature festival. Although I've visited Hay-on-Wye twice (once on a cycling holiday that involved a devious circular route from Hertfordshire to Wales and back, and once as a birthday treat supplied by my wife), I've never made it to the Festival itself, but intend to do so one of these years. While studying at that august and attractively environed temple of learning, UCW Aberystwyth, I also organised an English department outing to Hay-on-Wye, only to find that only three people went, two of whom came back totally unburdened by books (although one of those did buy some clothes).

I note, as they say, with interest that there is now an event which is an adjunct to the festival and has a philosophical theme, called How the Light gets in. The name is a quotation from a song by that supreme modern music lyricist, mystic and sage, Leonard Cohen, about whose prodigious talents and work I could wax lyrical for much more time than I have available and you probably have inclination to attend. The song in question is called "Anthem", from the album "The Future" and the full phrase is:

There is a crack, a crack, in everything,
That's how the light gets in.


Tuesday, 1 June 2010


What's not to like about Gallic Books? They publish French novels in their first English translation, which are not only brilliantly selected but also look very attractive. I must confess a personal interest here, in that I used to work for the sales team that helped Gallic to launch into the book trade, and nicer people you could not hope to meet.

Gallic started with period crime novels (although written by contemporary French writers) but have branched out, and at the moment I am, as it were, sitting very happily on one of these branches, to wit 'The Elegance of the Hedgehog'. This delightful novel is narrated alternately by the secretly cultured concierge of an apartment block in Paris and the precocious daughter of a resident family. The latter keeps a journal to record her (numbered) profound thoughts, which have led her to the conclusion that the only way to make sense of her life is for her to commit suicide on her thirteenth birthday. Imagine a Left Bank version of Adrian Mole, and you won't go far wrong. Meanwhile, the concierge pursues her clandestine passions for philosophy, literature and art, weaving a screen of ordinariness and anonymity around her to deflect the suspicions of her employers, and her musings on both activities are beautifully rendered, with the smallest whiff of irony and parody.

This goes on until a death in the apartment brings change, in the form of an enigmatic Japanese man.

Here's a taster, from Renee the concierge:

This morning, while listening to France Inter on the radio, I was surprised to
discover that I am not who I thought I was. Up until then I had ascribed the
reasons for my cultural ecleticism to my condition as a proletarian autodidact.

and Paloma the junior philosopher:

I wonder if it wouldn't be simpler just to teach children right from the start
that life is absurd. That might deprive you of a few good moments in your
childhood but it would save you a considerable amount of time as an adult.

The book is suffused with humour, wit and humanity, and is one I can see myself rereading, preferably in Paris.


Friday, 28 May 2010


What better way to start a bank holiday weekend than skipping merrily to the tube station clutching advance copies of the four new Capuchins.

Arrived in our office this week and appearing in bookshops a few weeks hence, are:

Peking Picnic, Maurice Guest, The Man who Loved Children and The Unbearable Bassington. Of the four, I'm most excited by Peking Picnic, as the Chinese setting promises to be exotic, and the story - of intense passions and a clash of cultures - sounds as if it will make an interesting comparison to A Passage to India.

I'll write my holiday reading report next week.