Tag Archives: Handheld Press

Business as Usual by Jane Oliver & Ann Stafford: A perfect comfort read

Cover image of Business as Usual by Jane Oliver and Ann CliffordThis blog tends to be all about the shiny and new but several titles reviewed on Ali’s HeavenAli blog from Handheld Press caught my eye, including Business as Usual first published in 1933. Then Covid-19 struck and the world turned upside down. Small presses seemed likely to be the hardest hit so I posted two lists of ten indies still valiantly mailing books to customers, including Handheld Press who turned out to be based a few miles from my home. My own order was delivered by co-owner Kate Macdonald who cycled over and left it on my doorstep before ringing the doorbell for a socially distanced ‘Hello’. Just as I’d hoped, Business as Usual turned out to be a glorious piece of escapism, an epistolary novel in which Hilary leaves her Edinburgh home and heads for London finding herself a job at Everyman’s, a smart Oxford Street department store.

The daughter of genteelly poor parents, Hilary has been first a teacher then a librarian but her local library no longer needs her. Engaged to Basil, busy making a name for himself in medicine, she has a year to fill and decides to spend it in London, taking herself off to the Minerva Hotel and finding a job at Everyman’s writing out labels in their book department. Hilary is not the neatest of employees but she has lots of ideas. When she’s put in charge of Fiction C, the cheapest of their circulating library subscriptions, she ruffles a few feathers and makes an enemy. Despite her clumsiness and irrepressible sense of humour which tends to get her into trouble, Hilary deals with customer complaints with tact and intelligence devising a new more efficient system much to the annoyance of her bête noire, Miss Sparling. Soon, Hilary is promoted, not once but twice, which all proves too much for Basil. In between times, Hilary has tea with her socially well-connected, kind-hearted aunt, roars off for a weekend with her friend in a dilapidated car and is offered the chance of a stint on a research trip to Greece. By the end of the year, Hilary’s life will be entirely different from the one she expected.

And what about a Bookshop? A Degree, they said, would matter less there. It might almost cease to be a disadvantage

Oliver and Stafford’s novel is hugely entertaining. Hilary is funny and bright, her letters full of gentle fun-poking often illustrated with amusing line drawings. Her ripostes to Basil are smart and to the point. We never see his side of the correspondence but it’s clear he’s a self-important prig. Despite her parents’ financial embarrassment, Hilary has not been exposed to disadvantage; Everyman’s ‘Nine till Six’ employees offer her a glimpse of a different more constrained life from her own. Some of her observations stand the test of time: Customer-in-state-of-acute-complaint-and-seeking-victim rang a loud bell from bookselling days for me. Kate Macdonald’s introduction puts the book in its context, offering background information on its two authors, both astonishingly prolific, individually and as a team. Everyman’s is based on Selfridges, apparently, and Handheld have included a quote from its founder on the back of the book who clearly loved it as much as I did.

If you like the sound of Business as Usual, please consider ordering direct from Handheld Press. I’m sure Kate will be more than happy to bike a copy to the Post Office for you.

Handheld Press: Bath 9781912766185 242 pages Paperback

Ten More Small But Perfectly Formed Publishers Who Will Send Books to Your Home

Last week’s small publisher post attracted so many hits I thought I’d do another in the hope that Cover imagesome of that interest might have led to a few sales. This time I’ve included a few whose lists I like the look of but have not yet got around to exploring despite having my interest snagged by other bloggers’ reviews. Now’s my chance to put that right. At the time of writing, the ten publishers below are valiantly continuing to mail books to customers – some also sell ebooks. I’ve included links to them plus reviews, either on this blog or to recommendations from blogger pals.

Charco Press published one of my books of 2019. They’re run by translators, keen to bring Latin American literature to the English-speaking world. They sell both paper and ebooks.

My recommendation: The Wind That Lays Waste

Scribe  has one of those lists I’ve been meaning to explore properly for some time, ranging from contemporary fiction to interesting looking non-fiction. They’re currently running a promotion on parenting books with 50% off if you use the STAYATHOME discount code.

Rebecca at Bookish Beck‘s recommendations: The Animators, In Love with George Eliot and Heartland

Little Toller Books specialise in nature writing which might offer some solace now that we can’t get out much. I don’t read nearly enough non-fiction but books from Little Toller often catch my eye on Twitter.

Paul at Half Man Half Book‘s recomendations: Arboreal, Cornerstones

Gallic Books and Aardvark Bureau are one of my favourite publishers and would have Cover imageappeared on last week’s list but I was a little confused by the message on their website and thought they were no longer mailing out books. It turns out they are but through the publishing section of the site.

My recommendations: The President’s Hat, All Day at the Movies, Little

Vagabond Voices have what looks like a nicely varied list promising ‘literary novels, translated literature, poems and polemics penned at home and abroad’.

Annabel at Annabookbel‘s recommendation: 18

Lizzy at Lizzy’s Literary Life‘s recommendation: Stillness of the Sea

Fitzcarraldo Editions have a wide-ranging literary fiction list, both in translation and English-language, plus interesting non-fiction. You may recognise their distinctive cobalt blue jackets from those halcyon days of bookshop browsing

My recommendation: Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead

Galley Beggar Press publish literary fiction recognised by the judges of all manner of literary Cover imageawards including the Women’s Prize for Fiction, The Wellcome Book Prize, The Goldsmiths Prize and The Desmond Elliott Prize. Last year, Lucy Ellman’s doorstopper, Ducks, Newburyport, bagged them a place on the Booker Prize shortlist

Eric at Lonesome Reader‘s recommendations: Ducks, Newburyport, A Girl is a Half-formed Thing, The Weightless World

Seren Books are a Welsh publisher whose list includes fiction, poetry and non-fiction. They’re currently offering a 20% discount if you join their book club.

My recommendation: Significance

Honno Press call themselves the Welsh Women’s Press which does what it says on the tin, to quote an ancient advertising strapline

Karen at Booker Talk‘s recommendations: White Camellia, Ghostbird

Handheld Press are based a couple of stones’ throw away from me. They publish what they Cover imagecall ‘forgotten fiction’ as well as some contemporary novels and non-fiction, and tell me they’re using their permitted one bout of exercise to bike orders to the local Post Office which will be including one from me, shortly.

Ali at Heavenali’s recommendations: Blitz Writing, The Caravaners

Jacqui at Jacqui Wine’s Journals recommendation:  Business as Usual

I hope you find something there that takes your fancy, and remember many independent bookshops are happy to mail out books to you. There was a short wobble in supply thanks to wholesalers being hit by coronavirus-related problems but that seems to have been steadied for now.