Category Archives: Publishing

Mazes, opium and publishing deals

An autumn 2017 commission that I received from Wellfleet Press (an imprint of US publisher Quarto) led to a winter researching and writing an illustrated history of labyrinths and mazes. I spent many short days and long evenings absorbed in the joyful task of piecing together what is hopefully an informative and engaging recitation of this fascinating 4,000-year old phenomenon.

During this time I also managed to deliver a few talks on the history of Heffers of Cambridge and have more coming up in the diary. (I did however, have to pause much of the college servants research, apart from a most interesting conversation with a retired college porter from St John’s — in September last year I wrote about The artist, the college, the bursar and his cook.)

The history talks are such a pleasure for me to deliver, especially when members of the audience share their own memories of enigmatic Heffer people and places. And then, on 5thJune 2018, I had the pleasure of being a guest speaker for the Cambridge Publishing Society. My talk, entitled ‘Some Truths About Opium’, provided a welcome excuse to delve further into another aspect of Heffers — their extraordinary publishing history.

I chose the title because the first half of the twentieth century was clearly an intoxicating time for Heffers publishing. It is taken from a short paper by Herbert A. Giles, published by Heffers in 1923.

A British diplomat and sinologist, Giles was ‘the’ Cambridge Professor of Chinese and much of his output was published by the University Press. This title however, along with his exposition, ‘Chaos in China: A Rhapsody’, was published and printed by Heffers who produced  2,000 copies of the former and 1,000 of the latter. In 1924 Giles paid Heffers £10 to cover a deficit on the publishing costs of the opium paper and ten years later it was taken out of the firm’s catalogue.

Giles had originally sent his treatise to The Times. However, his stance on the topic directly opposed that of the broadsheet. In his sketch of opium in China as a drug from 874AD to the present day (early 1920s), Giles concluded that in view of the historical facts, we had better leave China to work out the opium problem themselves, without the interference of foreigners. Inevitably, the paper was returned as unsuitable. He then tried an academic journal, only to have it rejected once more. Finally, he approached Heffers.

This appears to have been a common scenario for authors published by Heffers. A scout through the old publishing diaries (kindly loaned by Richard Reynolds of Heffers) reveals that in many cases the firm provided a kind of vanity publishing service (a precursor of Troubadour perhaps?).

Extract from the Heffer publishing diaries, 1933.

Anyone who wanted Heffers to publish their book had to be interviewed by Mr Heffer (most likely ‘Mr Ernest’ or ‘Mr Reuben’ — I’ve previously written about Mr Reuben, Penguin Books and Lady Chatterley). Examples of Heffer publishing deals reveal the extent to which the financial risk was offset by some authors: 

  • ‘Agreement by letter. Author has agreed to pay £60 towards productions costs on publication and a further £20 if necessary in a year’s time.’
  • ‘Author agreed to guarantee us against loss up to a limit of £10, and to surrender the first £5 of profit to our Firm. Thereafter, profits to be divided equally between Author and Publisher.’
  • ‘No agreement, but Prof. Whitney called and agreed to be responsible for the costs of publication.
  • ‘No Agreement. Author pays all costs of production. To be published but Not Catalogued. All stock to be returned to Author, and any orders for book to be passed to her.’

Heffers first described itself as a publisher in advertisements in the early 1900s and the firm’s list grew with William Heffer’s expansion into printing. Between 1889 and 1959 the firm published around 2,000 titles. The publishing was wound down in the 1960s and ceased altogether in 1975. Several publications were cast into the bargain bin, never to reappear. Intriguing titles such as,

The Problem of the Future Life (1925)

Whatsoever Things are Lovely …Think on these Things(1927)

Mathematical Snack Bar(1936)

The Delights of Dictatorship(1938)

Finland in Summer(1938)

Prayers for a One-Year-Old(1927)

The Two Coins: An English Girl’s Thoughts on Modern Morals(1931)

Those who work in the book trade may know about the annual Bookseller/Diagram Oddest Title of the Year (of a book), instigated by Diagram Group director, Trevor Bounford, at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 1978. Many Heffer publications would have been worthy contenders for the prize. (In March 2015, I wrote a post, The oddest title for a public lecture?, as I fondly remembered the late Bruce Robertson, co-founder of the Diagram Group.)

I’m pleased to report that I did not have to pay Wellfleet Press to publish the maze book. I’m also pleased to report that the book was illustrated, designed and packaged by my talented husband, Trevor Bounford whose next book, ‘Bend the Rules’, has recently been published by the Tarquin Group in the UK.

 The Curious History of Mazes is due out in October 2018. I’ll be writing more about this in due course, and I’m already taking bookings for illustrated talks.

Do get in touch if you’d like me to come and talk to your group – julie@gottahavebooks.co.uk

Micro publishing from an English Tudor cottage

I run Gottahavebooks.

Three years ago we decided to set up a publishing arm for our long-established graphic design business. My husband Trevor Bounford (illustrator, artist and author) has been designing and creating books for over 45 years. With our shared interest in social history and the prospect of more ‘free’ time on my part after completing the PhD, we set up Gottahavebooks in 2015.

What we now have is very much a cottage industry.  And that’s not just because we run the business from our Tudor cottage in a village near Cambridge. We like being small scale. For me this is especially appealing after many years of working in large organisations with highly rigid structures and politicised cultures. I’m loving the new freedom and flexibility of working independently as a writer, editor and micro-publisher.

Our publishing is driven by a desire to share people’s stories, and our titles and activities reflect this.

In 2015  Richard Houghton needed to publish the memories he had gathered from people who had attended Rolling Stones concerts in the 1960s. Richard and Trevor jointly devised a concept they named as ‘You Had To Be There’ and we set about getting Richard’s book to press in double-quick time. We also liaised individually with his 500 contributors, confirming their place in the book and keeping them up to date with the production. This was very time-consuming but worthwhile, and we were pleased to have helped Richard with his first publication.

Our second book, ‘Days of Sorrow, Times of Joy’ by Frances Clemmow (2016), is an extraordinary family memoire, interwoven with the grand picture of modern Chinese history from the late nineteenth century through to the Second World War. Trevor had previously assisted Fran with the design, layout and production of a self-published edition in 2012. We offered to publish a new extended edition as a way of helping Fran to share her story with a wider audience, and we were delighted when historian Michael Wood agreed to contribute a foreword. Professor Anthony Bradley describes the book as a,

‘living history, in which the actors in a far-reaching drama speak in their own words. We need not today endorse all aspects of the missionary enterprise, but readers of this impressive and enjoyable book will surely long remember the vivid scenes in which one family’s commitment enabled its members to play a part in events that have helped to shape our world.’

And ‘Philatelic Evangelist’ Devlan Kruck extols the art of Victorian letter writing in a delightful blog post.

We’re pleased to support Fran when she gives talks to local history societies and we’ve recently made this brief film, featuring a cameo from her book:

Our third publication is my own illustrated social history of Heffers of Cambridge. I’ve already written quite a lot about it in previous posts. I too give talks and very much enjoy the audience feedback.

Our forth publication is an unexpected and delightful outcome of the research for the Heffers book. We’ll be announcing this quirky title over the next few weeks.

I’m currently editing another forthcoming Gottahavebooks publication, ‘The Singer’s Tale’ by Carol Grimes. This is Carol’s captivating story in her own words,

‘Forever entwined, my young and my old mind, the voices inside me that chatter and chide, encourage and rage, as I look both outwards and in with the curiosity of a benign, yet wary stranger.’

Born in 1944, Carol spent the late 1960s and ’70s living in a ‘so-called community of freaks, immigrants and photographers, artists, writers, musicians and filmmakers, drug dealers, models, fashionistas, groupies and hangers-on.’

In 1967 Carol married artist Larry Smart and their son, Sam, was born. If you hurry, you can catch a retrospective of Larry’s work at The Muse Gallery, Portobello Road, London. It finishes on 2 July 2017.

Through Gottahavebooks we get to meet and work with really inspiring authors, and we get to hear and share many fascinating memories.

It is a joy and a privilege.