Friday, January 26, 2007

Oldie oddments

My son's Christmas present to me was a subscription to a UK monthly magazine called The Oldie. This, as its name suggests, is aimed at the grey market. It was founded in 1992 by Richard Ingrams, who edited Private Eye for 23 years.

The overall tone of the magazine reminds me somewhat of the once-famous but now deceased Punch; i.e., it's more than a little irreverent. The front cover carries a note: Warning -- contains innuendo. And on the top right corner of the cover is a mobile phone with a text message on it: No! I won't text my vote for every stupid sodding little thing.

So you get the idea. It's aimed at ever-so-slightly grumpy old folk.

The articles and cartoons inside are suitably entertaining for oldies, with a good deal of book coverage, but what really caught my eye was a page of adverts at the back. Headed 'Books and Publishing', it proved to be the route to all sorts of interesting writers and services.

The biggest ad is for the work of Eleanor Berry. Ms Berry turns out to be the 'youngest daughter of the late Lord Hartwell, former editor in-chief of the Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph, and maternal grand-daughter of barrister and Lord Chancellor F.E Smith.' She also 'formed a controversial 23 year friendship with the late Mirror magnate Robert Maxwell.'

An interesting life then. Ms Berry, it seems, has been turning out books for some time: 16 of them, by my count. And there are lots of photographs of her with well known people, including several members of the Maxwell family. There is also a shot of her posed after 'one of her arrests in Marseilles.'

More brushes with the law are described in the anecdotes section. There you will find an account of her 'attractive personality traits and posing as a consultant psychiatrist and her ability to relieve Depression in others.'

Any idea you might have had that English eccentrics are always male is clearly mistaken.

And who, you may be wondering, publishes Eleanor Berry? The answer, at any rate in some of the instances that I've checked out, is the Book Guild.

The Book Guild is the UK firm which publishes, among others, Julian Fane. Here's what I said about it in connection with Mr Fane's work:

And what do we know about the Book Guild? Well, it's no great secret: the Book Guild does about 80 books a year and is one of those firms which makes most of its money from authors (or companies) who have written a respectable book, can't find a mainstream publisher, and are willing to pay for publication. Which is not to say that the Book Guild will publish just anything: far from it; they are looking for workmanlike, professional-standard books, but books which no big publisher is going to regard as sexy.

The next advert that caught my eye in the Oldie was one for the ancient firm of A.H. Stockwell.

Stockwell claims to have been in the publishing business for 100 years; and I certainly remember their ads in the Times Lit Supp in the 1950s. Stockwell, I would say, very definitely is a vanity publisher. They advertise for authors to approach them. Pay them the right money and they will put the book out. And it need not, I suspect, be of any great quality.

I can't remember ever having seen a Stockwell book in a bookshop or a library, and having gone through some of their current catalogue I can't say that I'm surprised. It's not that the work is bad -- some of it looks quite interesting -- but it's of strictly limited appeal. I am all in favour of people writing their memoirs, if only because they constitute a wonderful resource for future historians, but such books will find few readers outside the family.

Speaking of limited audiences for books, another ad in the Oldie comes from a firm which has faced the problem head on. The Lifelines Press is run by a couple of highly skilled and experienced professionals, Alan Wilkinson and Rebecca de Saintonge. What these two do is take a set of memoirs, or a collection of poems, and turn it into a book that really looks like a book -- well designed, well printed and properly bound.

These books are 'not for sale, but to be enjoyed as family heirlooms, creating something that writers will be proud to hand down to their children and grandchildren - a lasting testimony to lives worth remembering.'

This is a mighty clever idea, though I dare say it will cost a pretty penny. On the other hand, you can't take it with you.

Another biggish ad, so discreet that I almost overlooked it, is from the Biography Company. This runs a service very similar to that of Lifelines, in that they take a set of memoirs and turn it into a book for private distribution. In this case they will even write it for you.

And the cost? At the start it's impossible to say, they admit. But they do claim to be be clear about their charges. They charge a fixed rate for their time, and a mark-up on design and print costs. Which seems straightforward to me.

A few other ads:

Bibliophile Books is a company which seems to deal in remainders, but they do an excellent job of describing what they have to offer and making it look worth buying.

Amateur Authors is exactly what it says on the label: a bunch of amateur authors selling their work online. And it does, I fear, look a bit amateurish too. But who knows? There might be a hidden gem there.

Simon Watson is a man who has had a distinguished career in education, having been, among other things, headmaster of Hurstpierpoint School in Sussex. In retirement, he has embarked on a series of novels about a young man's life. The early volumes deal, not surprisingly, with schooldays, and more are intended to follow.

This is a self-published venture. The novel sequence, the author says, is not directly autobiographical. 'It is written to entertain, to bring to people's minds the conditions we lived in during the fifties and sixties, of what it was like to be a young person undergoing a middle-class upbringing and education. But essentially – like all novels – it is a fantasy.'

Should you wish to go the self-publishing route yourself, yet another firm in this field is York Publishing Services, which offers the usual range of services, including editing, printing, and so forth. YPS claims, however, that their customers include major publishers and university departments. They also offer distribution.

Finally, the Oldie offers an ad for another nostalgic publication. It's called SEx. This is a new magazine, published by Jamie Maclean, who also founded The Erotic Review. It offers fiction, commentary and 'serious stuff'. 'SEx,' says the Independent, 'leaves the smut behind.' So presumably it's classy stuff.


Anonymous said...

Only a few posts back I wondered aloud if any true "vanity" presses (as opposed to print on demand) were still able to make a living, and I see Stockwell and Lifelines are doing so. I'm not sure, cost-wise, why anyone would pay only to have a set number of books printed unless it's just for Aunt Maude and the kids...yeah, you beat me to it.

Anonymous said...

I cannot remember the exact terms but I recall my mother had some poems published as part of a 1957 Stockwell hardback anthology ; I believe that she was paid a couple of guineas and was required to purchase a certain number of books - possibly 30.

The layout and production was very professional, I still have a couple of copies stored away.

Mum was very happy with the work, Gran even more so !!

Anonymous said...

"The Oldie" sounds a sad name to me. One of my best and most brilliant friends will turn sixty this year and his mind is as active as the one of a thirty-year old. He's haunted by the passing of time, though.
As regards the "nostalgic publication", one could always take a look...

David Isaak said...

Yeah, yeah, vanity presses, blah, blah...

I'd just like to congratulate you on producing such perspicacious offspring. Apart from the classifieds, it sounds like a potentially entertaining magazine. (And, hell, including the classifieds, look at how much fun you've had so far! Model child, I'd say...)