This month’s professional bookworm is Ross Bradshaw, owner of Five Leaves Bookshop in Nottingham. After training as a librarian and a community worker, Ross sold books at Nottingham’s (now sadly RIP) Mushroom Bookshop for 17 years – before leaving to set up his own publishing imprint, Five Leaves, in 1995 (yes, the name is a private homage to a Nick Drake album…) For a while, Ross ran the press and at the same time held down a day job as a secretary for a Labour MP – later becoming Nottinghamshire County Council’s Literature Development Officer! Eventually, the publishing side of things took over completely – Five Leaves grew, took on staff, and Ross was able to expand by opening his own bookshop in November 2013. It’s situated in the very centre of Nottingham, but tucked away in an alley – making the rent affordable, and meaning the team “can stock whatever they like without having to sell their souls to pay the bills”. It also – when combined with a keen commercial mind – allows Ross to pay his booksellers the Living Wage (“not the Government’s pale imitation”). As well as everyday bookselling, Five Leaves organises loads of events – 63 last year in fact, and just shy of 40 this Autumn alone (follow them on Facebook to keep up to date). This activity has become very much part of the shop’s identity – Five Leaves prides itself on being a professional bookshop, a radical bookshop, an independent bookshop.
His three big books
‘Anarchy in Action’ by Colin Ward: Leaving aside that I became a friend of Colin’s and one of his publishers, this book (still available from Freedom Press) shows the positive side of people doing stuff for themselves, rather than simply protesting against what is wrong with the world – though protest is important too. His examples are dated – the book came out decades ago – but everything he said is still valid. And it’s not what you call yourself, but what you do, that matters. His jointly written book ‘The Allotment: its landscape and culture’ was the first “proper” book I published, though there was a pre-flight under the name of Old Hammond Press. William Morris fans will know where that title came from.
‘Goodbye to All That’ by Robert Graves: I disliked secondary school, not least English. This was probably the first – perhaps the only – book I read as part of my school work that had any impact on me. I was shocked at the waste that is war, and it probably pushed me into politics, or helped me on that road, more than most things. It also turned me into a pacifist, though ironically I am no longer a pacifist… It was working in anti-fascist campaigns that took that out of me. Not that I go round bashing people…
‘Vida’ by Marge Piercy: I used to read this novel most years. I loved it – I read a lot of Marge Piercy. It’s set in the aftermath of the Vietnam War, and could be loosely based on the Weathermen – the group of Students for a Democratic Society that turned to violence and went underground. As a novel it is terrific, as the Vida of the title tries to keep her life together – her relationships and her politics – while being cut off from the normal world and constantly on the run. It was a reminder that what you do has to be relevant to people. Naomi Klein is good like that, in her new ‘No Is Not Enough’. Makes the links.
His two contemporary titles
‘Reservoir 13’ by Jon McGregor: This one is by a Nottingham writer – our very first customer in fact! A young teenage girl tourist goes missing from a small Derbyshire village. This book follows the lives of the people in the village over the next thirteen years as the seasons turn, as time passes, since the biggest event that has ever happened in that community. It should have been shortlisted for the Booker.
‘The Boy with the Perpetual Nervousness’ by Graham Caveney: Another one by a Nottingham writer (a former employee of ours, in fact). It’s had rave reviews in the broadsheets. It’s his memoir of growing up in Accrington – a working class child who is introduced to a world of books, theatre, and culture in general by his headmaster, a priest. But that is not all he is introduced to… he is being groomed. And this affected Graham through to the present time. He is now in his 50s. But the abuser was no cut-out evil character – it’s much more complex.
The one on his ‘to read’ list
‘Gluck: Art and Identity’ by Amy de la Haye: Gluck was an artist who, famously, always wore “men’s clothes” and had her hair cut in “men’s styles”. She was independently wealthy and drew her female lovers from high society, including the Queen’s flower arranger. I’ve just watched a BBC documentary about Gluck, and one of the stars of the programme was de la Haye, an academic specialising in fashion. It’s hard to think the book (out in November) will be less than interesting. It also ties in with an exhibition on the artist and her life in Brighton next spring.