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Five Leaves Interview

Posted on 16 February 2004. © Copyright 2004-2018 WriteWords
A longer version of this interview is available to WriteWords Full and Community Members.
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WriteWords talks to Ross Bradshaw, publisher at Five Leaves, who launch four collections of short stories in March 2004, including Zoe Fairbairns (see interview on this site) and Michelene Wandor

Tell us something about your background.

I worked in a radical bookshop - Mushroom Bookshop in Nottingham - for seventeen years. While I was there I played around with pamphlet publishing, under a couple of long defunct imprints, and in my last year started publishing a small handful of books. When I left, in 1995, nobody wanted to look after the publishing side of the business so I took it with me, changed the name of the imprint and changed what was published. Five Leaves' best selling book, however, is one that I first published at Mushroom - The Allotment: its landscape and culture. The book has now run to a second edition and five reprints. In bad years that's the book that keeps Five Leaves afloat! By the end of March 2004 Five Leaves will have brought out 75 titles, though not all are still in print.

What kind of ethos is behind the company?

I work for a living - appropriately as the literature development officer for Nottinghamshire County Council - so I don't need Five Leaves to contribute to my income. That has enabled me to publish the books I want to, rather than those I need to. That has enabled me to publish, for example, a reader on Yiddish film - a very large book for a very low audience. Nobody in the UK would have published such a book commercially. But sometimes I can be surprised. Five Leaves published a big anthology of socialist poetry - Red Sky at Night - and has sold 2,800 copies so far, with no sign of sales drying up. Several big publishers had turned that one down. A small press has its limits though - a few years ago Richard Zimler asked me if I was interested in publishing The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon. This was a tremendous manuscript but what would I have achieved? An unknown writer who lives in Portugal... a first novel, a murder mystery set in the 15th century, in the last days of the Jewish community of Lisbon. What could I have achieved here? 500 sales? 750 sales? This book deserved better. I made an introduction to an American publisher, who took Richard on, and from there The Last Kabbalist has sold in many languages. The American publisher sold it to Arcadia here. Last I heard it had sold 44,000 in the UK as a trade paperback. I couldn't have done that. I've turned away three more books that I knew would be sure winners - they were, one ending up on the Booker long list. I can spot 'em. Just can't (yet) publish in such big runs, or have the ability to get such books around well enough.

What kind of writers do you publish and why?

I publish quite a few writers from the East Midlands, who I know and whose work I respect. There's a Jewish side to my list too, and social history. These are, I suppose, my main interests. Five Leaves is also the world's biggest publisher of books on allotments! OK it became so when I published a second allotment title, but there's been four so far (two are out of print), and two more in the future.



A longer version of this interview is available to WriteWords Full and Community Members.
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Comments by other Members



Jumbo at 10:45 on 19 February 2004  Report this post
Ross sounds like a nice person (male? female?) but all the way through the interview bells were ringing that this is not a publishing house for me.

It wasn't expressed explicitly, but I think I'm too far south, too middle-class, to near the centre of society - and I don't have (at least, I don't thinkI have) a memorable voice!

Good interview. So, thanks for that. But not one for me, I don't think.

John


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