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News from Hobnob Press, Spring 2007

The Christmas Rush. As it turned out, the three Christmas titles which created the most panic and overran the closest to 25 December were also the most successful, and all in different ways (this year I shall try to have all my new books in the shops by October). A Hundred Years of Speed with Safety has had a huge, and hugely appreciative, readership among present and former employees of the Westinghouse company, and the majority of sales were achieved by offers through specialist magazines, company outlets, and the ever supportive Chippenham Museum and Heritage Centre. The Definitive History of Wilts & Dorset has received rave reviews in the enthusiasts’ press and has had a brisk sale in Salisbury (not least at the bus station enquiry office), as well as through specialist wholesalers. We knew last year that another book about the company was due for publication in February 2007, so naturally wanted to be ahead of our rival. The tactic has led to the joke in Salisbury that ‘you wait ages for a Wilts & Dorset book, and then two come along at once’. Rex Sawyer’s Nadder has been selling like the proverbial hot cakes ever since December, mostly in the few remaining village shops between Salisbury and Shaftesbury.

Wiltshire Record Society. I stood down as general editor of the society last year but am continuing to typeset and oversee the production of volumes – Lorelei Williams’s edition of Marlborough Probate Inventories, completed by Sally Thomson, has just appeared as volume 59. Hobnob Press has entered into an agreement with the Society that it will store and act as distributor for all the recent volumes (from 52 onwards). This was in part precipitated by the relocation of the Wiltshire & Swindon Record Office (see below) from Trowbridge to Chippenham, and the Society’s need to weed its backlist.

Wiltshire & Swindon Record Office. The new building at Chippenham (close to the railway station) is now (June 2007) filling up with records, as daily pantechnicon trips are made from the old site at Trowbridge. The new facility, the Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre, will include (as well as the record office) the local studies library, buildings record, archaeological unit, and Victoria history staff (all of which I – and Hobnob Press – have been involved with over the years). When it opens at the end of October 2007 it will become the Mecca for students of Wiltshire local and family history and archaeology. More good news is that it will include a selling area, and I am assured that there will be room for Hobnob Press to display its wares.

Southern Map Distributors. Much as I like going to chat to booksellers, I just haven’t had time of late, and have decided (with the agreement of Roger Jones of Ex Libris) to hand over, for a trial period initially, the representation and distribution of Hobnob and Ex Libris titles in the local area (Wiltshire, Somerset, Dorset and Bath-Bristol) to Southern Map Distributors of Ilchester (phone 01935-842060: more details on the ‘About Us’ page of this website). I envisage that they will serve the local area for stocking and restocking on a regular basis, while Gardners will offer a nationwide next-day service for customer orders and more distant outlets. I plan to continue a vigorous mail order and internet trade, and will of course remain on hand to deal with the inevitable crises and urgent orders, as well as to keep in touch with all the friends I have made among the bookselling fraternity.

New Titles. One of the pleasures of small-scale publishing, and of typesetting in-house, is that one’s authors can be involved in the processes of designing their book. Val Knowles (Stanton St Bernard), Sue Robinson (Chitterne) and David Maclean (Donhead) have all spent hours sitting next to me at my computer as we ponder over layouts. Andrew Lawson, an old friend, is perhaps the doyen of Wessex archaeologists (he built up over many years as Director the enormously successful archaeological unit Wessex Archaeology – now one of the largest in the country). His book Chalkland: the archaeology of Stonehenge and its region, will be the most important academic title that Hobnob Press has published to date, and every page will have been discussed and experimented with on screen in my office. So although Hobnob Press has not actually published anything between January and May 2007, it has been a time of continuous and sometimes frenetic activity, which I hope will all bear fruit over the next few months.

Codford. Away from Hobnob Press (I do other things as well) I have been heavily involved in the Victoria County History’s lottery-funded project, England’s Past for Everyone. The first-fruit of this national endeavour has been a local history of the Wiltshire village, Codford, which (somewhat erroneously) has my name as author on the title page. It was launched in April, and is published by Phillimore (now part of Alan Sutton’s empire). It is intended as a prototype of how popular village histories could be researched and written by academic experts (not me), and will be followed by similar volumes in a dozen or so English counties. For me it has been a privilege to have been involved in the national local-history scene – which is emphatically not the contradiction it may seem

News from Hobnob Press, Autumn 2006

Devizes Grammar School. The school opened in 1906, and although it closed when comprehensive education came to the area in 1969 a strong camaraderie has continued ever since among its former pupils, who often meet for reunions. For the centenary this July a special celebration was held at Bromham and Dr Lorna Haycock, Devizes historian par excellence and former history teacher at the school, produced a book of reminiscences and photographs which we were delighted to publish. On the Crest of the Hill has been the bestseller in the town, especially in Tony Duck’s shop. This may have something to do with the fact that Tony figures quite prominently in the book himself.

Into Dorset. To launch A Round Dorset Walk in July Steve Crockford and two friends (none of them spring chickens, they won’t mind me saying) completed the 181 mile walk (jogging most of the way) in under five days. The book and their exploit generated a good deal of publicity, and some excellent reviews. ‘A first-rate guide book’, and ‘every keen walker should have a copy’, are the comments of the influential Blackmore Vale Magazine. It has subsequently been reviewed in glowing terms in Dorset Life and the Ramblers’ Association Magazine. The publication of this, and Geoffrey Brown’s book about Kingston Lacy (To Partake of Tea) has involved us in the pleasant task of getting to know more Dorset booksellers and tourist office managers, many of whom are reordering. Geoffrey’s book, launched with a signing at Gulliver’s Bookshop in Wimborne on 29 July, has also been doing well, with the National Trust shop at Kingston Lacy selling its first boxfull within three weeks.

Janet Forsyth. Trying to handle all the tasks associated with running a publishing house (small, but growing) defeats me sometimes, so I am delighted that Janet, who has long experience of bookselling and the book trade, has agreed to take over some of the areas that baffle me most – notably stock control and some aspects of direct and internet selling. This should come as good news to Hobnob authors too, as it should result in more regular and reliable royalty payments.

The Pedestrian. Hobnob’s anonymous author, the pedestrian on a Tour in search of Chalk, is managing to retain his (or her) anonymity up to a point (although everyone in Salisbury seems to know who he is). Earlier in the year the national magazine British Archaeology named the Tour ‘book of the month’, and now the Regional Historian (published by the University of the West of England) has published a flattering review (‘a cunning homage to early nineteenth century domestic travel writing’) which ends with the exhortation ‘Buy this book’. Hear, hear.

In-House Developments. September 2006 marked five years since the first publication by the revitalized Hobnob Press (Little Imber on the Down) in 2001. It was about then too that I bought the VW van that has done sterling service for Hobnob during most of those five years. Until, that is, a few weeks ago when head gasket failure put it beyond economical repair. The replacement, a zippy little Japanese number, looks odd but is ideal for country lanes and crowded town streets, and is already proving its worth, moving boxes to and from the Hobnob warehouse. ‘Warehouse’ is a bit grand, but our lock-up unit on a trading estate at Sutton Veny near Warminster, has been in service since late last year, and is proving a great asset.

Rex Sawyer. The qualities of our star author (three titles, and a fourth to come next Spring), and the most genial person one could wish to work with, have been recognized by the British Association for Local History. He is the recipient of their 2006 award for personal achievement, for which many congratulations.

Any book published with the name Heather Tanner on the title page had to be of such a high standard that it would be approved by the coterie of her admirers. So it was to my great relief that the launch of An Exceptional Woman at Chippenham Museum & Heritage Centre on 20 October was a great success. Among those present were Rosemary Devonald, her great friend, and editor of the book, and Frances McDowall of the Old Stile Press, who published the exquisite limited editions of several of Heather’s collaborations with her husband, the artist and etcher Robin Tanner. I took the liberty of photographing two of the guests at the launch (with their permission), and have started to use the picture on publicity leaflets. The Tanners’ work is to be commemorated and displayed in a special gallery, now in the planning stage, at Chippenham Museum.

The new Hobnob Catalogue was ready in late-October and has been sent to nearly 1,000 names on our mailing list (thanks to the combined efforts of Janet, Nick, Helen and especially Ruth, who stuffed the envelopes). It is now going out, with extra material, to local bookshops, and will soon be circulating also via local history societies throughout Wiltshire.

My stalwart printer, Salisbury Printing Company, suffered an appalling September with the tragic death of the proprietors’ daughter Jen in a road accident, followed three weeks later by her grieving father’s death as a result of a heart attack. Steve Tilley had founded the company with his wife Linda exactly thirty years ago, and I had known him for much of that time, respecting his integrity, his genuineness, his striving for perfection, and the loyalty he instilled in his staff. The sudden death of someone of my own age whom I was proud to count as a friend, only a few days after his daughter’s funeral, was almost impossible to comprehend; but equally so was the resilience of Linda and her staff, who are continuing the business to Steve’s same high standard of quality and service.

As proof of this, the first book they have printed for me since the tragedy has been The Primrose Wood, which as a piece of traditional book production I find immensely satisfying (Haynes of Sparkford, who bound it, must also take their share of the credit). It will not, I’m sure, make Hobnob’s fortune, but I am hugely pleased to have published it, and to have received from its author, June Badeni, the nicest letter of appreciation any publisher could wish for.

Running late as always, the last three of the books that must be out for Christmas have now (17 Nov) gone to press. It has involved me in very long hours over the last few weeks, with I suppose some 700 + images to scan, enhance and place within some 700 + pages of typeset text, and all the checking, adjusting, correcting, and liaising with authors that is involved. So now it’s the hurly-burly of Christmas, with a great deal of lugging heavy boxes of books around, visits to bookshops, the post office and (I hope) the bank. Maybe next year I’ll get back to writing and publishing my own books, which is why I started all this.

Thanks for reading this far.

John Chandler