Can Liz bring some Harry Potter magic?
Four creative big-hitters, including one who helped bring Harry Potter to our attention, have settled here and are on a mission: to celebrate East Anglia's literary and artistic talent.
Four creative big-hitters, including one who helped bring Harry Potter to our attention, have settled here and are on a mission: to celebrate East Anglia's literary and artistic talent. Steven Russell reports
BOOKS, some folk would have you believe, are on their way out: vellum dinosaurs that are victims of the electronic age in which data is ethereal and wafts through the air and down fibre-optic cables. It's certainly not touchable. And printed on thickish paper, using ink? How very 15th Century! It's not a message bought by four enthusiasts who have banded together to start a new publishing company with a distinctly, and unashamedly, old-fashioned ethos. They cherish excellent writing, top-notch art, and adore attractive books that cry out to be handled. “At a time when many other publishers are falling over each other towards a digital future, Full Circle Editions' publishing philosophy is rooted in its founders' belief that, even as new technologies gather pace, there is a continuing - and indeed growing - demand for arresting writing and art in beautiful, collectible books,” they state. Game on . . .
Basically, it all came about because the principal players - two couples - were by chance drawn from London to Suffolk at about the same time and shared the experience of renovating rural properties before they could properly move in.
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When the works were pretty much finished (barring that little bit of painting that always needs doing, and those still-to-be-emptied boxes piled in the corner) thoughts turned to the future. Wouldn't it be great, they mused, to set up a publishing house producing fine-quality hardbacks showcasing the work of writers and artists with East of England connections? The dream became flesh and Full Circle Editions launches this month - the birth of a cottage industry, more or less, with potential to grow quickly. The plan is to issue fiction, poetry and non-fiction by both nationally- and internationally-known authors and artists, and to showcase some of the region's emerging talent.
First up (published next Friday) is The Burning of the Books - 14 poems by Norfolk-based George Szirtes to complement etchings by Ronald King. The artist was inspired by Elias Canetti's “famously grotesque yet marvellous” novel Auto da F�, set in pre-war Vienna, and commissioned Szirtes to write a text. The results appeared last year in a large-format, limited-edition run of 30 copies. The Full Circle version - and 1,000 have been printed - aims to bring the book to a wider audience.
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Following on next year, given a fair wind, will be a volume by East Anglian naturalist Richard Mabey. A reprint of a hidden gem - George Ewart Evans's 1956 Ask the Fellows Who Cut the Hay, based on the memories of rural folk from the Suffolk village of Blaxhall - is also being prepared.
Each title will have a different-coloured cover, and be numbered on the spine, but they'll have a uniform look about them. Lined up on a bookshelf, they should cut rather a dash.
The folk behind Full Circle, meanwhile, have impressive credentials. There's Liz Calder, one of the founding directors of Bloomsbury Publishing, who lives between Woodbridge and Halesworth. She's credited with launching the careers of Salman Rushdie and Anita Brookner, and encouraging the work of writers such as Angela Carter. At Bloomsbury, where she was in charge of the fiction list, highlights included the Booker Prize winner The English Patient, by Michael Ondaatje. And, of course, Harry Potter was a Bloomsbury triumph beyond anyone's wildest dreams.
Husband Louis Baum has to his credit seven books for young children, including I Want to See the Moon, and was a long-time editor of The Bookseller, the magazine for the publishing trade. He and Liz were founding directors of Soho's Groucho Club, for media and arty types. They are also co-founders of an international literary festival in Brazil.
Genevieve Christie, meanwhile, worked in TV production for more than 20 years. After training at the BBC, she worked at London Weekend Television as an associate producer on programmes such as Aspel & Co, the Audience With . . . series and the Baftas ceremony. Genevieve later formed her own company and, working with husband John, co-produced programmes like Addicted to Death - The Harold Shipman Story, the long-running series Tales from the Black Museum, and Queen Mary II - Birth of a Legend.
John, who has worked as a cameraman with the BBC, has been a maker of books on artists since 1975 and also an artist in his own right. It's John who had the initial link with Liz Calder. “From the mid-70s I was making expensive, limited-edition books with proper artwork and printed in letterpress - quite a lot of them I wouldn't have been able to afford myself! - which were bought by collectors. They were big, big books that mainly went into museums.” They could cost up to �2,000 each.
In the 1990s, John filmed the writer and artist John Berger. It led to collaboration, with John C producing a limited-edition book of John B's work, called Pages of the Wound: Poems, drawings, photographs, 1956-94.
A couple of years later came John Berger's 70th birthday. His work had been published by Bloomsbury, so John C suggested the company produce a smaller version of the book, “because it seemed a shame there were only 90 copies of this book. So they did a little version as a surprise for him”.
Leap forward a decade or so and John Christie and Liz Calder were chatting. They realised they were both about to move. Liz said he'd never have heard of where she and Louis were heading. Well, blow me, thought John, that's not far away from the new Christie family home on the edge of Framlingham.
John and Genevieve sold their converted warehouse in Chiswick and upped sticks to Suffolk in 2006, renting in Framlingham while their 400-year-old barn was converted. Louis and Liz had made the switch a little earlier.
Not surprisingly, the two couples saw a lot of each other - going frequently to the cinema in Aldeburgh, for instance, and then enjoying discussing what they'd seen, and also attending events at the town's literary festival.
They realised there were lots of creative folk in the east of England. Once the four had their houses pretty much sorted, says Genevieve, they started thinking about doing something locally that would reflect the sort of energy they'd seen.
They reckoned there was a gap in the market, too. “We saw there were some kinds of travel books about the area, but we felt there was something missing for a region so rich in artists and writers.
“When we went through those we already knew who lived here, or had a home here, or had links with the University of East Anglia [famous for its creative writing department] or Cambridge, we thought 'Hang on. A trick is being missed.'
“That's when the four of us talked about wanting to create a series of books that would reflect the quality of writing we knew was generated from this area, balanced with some really nice visuals that were not necessarily illustrative but complemented the work and could stand on their own as well.
“We were also inspired by a series of books from the 1940s and '50s, called Britain in Pictures, that many people would recognise. The covers were in wonderful vivid colours, with really nice typography.
“We wanted to create a collection of books that people wanted to buy, that were accessible: not 'cheap', but not too expensive, and beautifully produced - and quality through and through, in the writing, visuals and production. That was our raison d'etre.
“We arrived at something we thought we would like, and believed there were enough like-minded people both in this region and beyond it. This region can speak, if you like, to the country a little bit more.”
Perhaps unshowy East Anglians are rather adept at hiding lights under bushels.
“I think that's a very British trait,” says Genevieve. “It's quite attractive, in a way. It's one of the things that attracted us to this area. It's like driving down a lane in Suffolk and you look round and see the most beautiful house, but people don't shout about it. You stumble across lovely little gems of architecture, like the church at Iken. But, you're right, sometimes it does take a bit of a fresh eye.”
One of the joyous aspects has been the contact with interesting people and like-minded organisations.
“All four of us are excited by the people we can work with. You read Richard Mabey and think 'Gosh, he's such a beautiful writer. How lucky are we to be able to meet him, work with him and produce a book with him?'”
Full Circle has formed an association with the University of East Anglia - Genevieve's alma mater - and has got some useful steers about potential writers. There's a link, too, with Writers' Centre Norwich, the literature development agency.
The new outfit has also won the backing of the Arts Council, which is keen to raise the region's profile on the international stage. It might be that, in the future, foreign writers and artists come to the East of England and create books with the publisher.
Genevieve adds: “We're not Neanderthal in our reaction to things like Kindl [Amazon's electronic reading gadget]. We know there will be a place for electronic books, and there will always be people who want to be at the front of that kind of technology. But we're so linked to screens nowadays - television screens, Nintendo, computer screens, Kindl screens - that the pleasure of stepping away from that and enjoying a beautiful artefact - the pleasure of buying books, having books, opening a book and keeping a book - is simply a wonderful sensory experience and I hope people will always enjoy it.
“Maybe it will be the 'airport books' that suffer; and it could be those books where a little more care has been taken in their production that might make people stop and think 'Hmm, I'm going to treat myself with this . . .'”
The Burning of the Books costs �16. A limited-edition collector's slipcase version - signed and numbered from one to 100 - is �39. They can be bought from Aldeburgh Bookshop, Browsers Bookshop in Woodbridge, online at www.fullcircle-editions.co.uk or from Full Circle Editions, Parham House Barn, Brick Lane, Framlingham, Woodbridge, IP13 9LQ. Inquiries: 01728 72 33 21
An exhibition of etchings by Ronald King is being held at Aldeburgh Cinema Gallery until July 16. It's open daily from 10am until 5pm. The book can also be bought at the exhibition.