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13th October 2023

After many months of hard work the two new books are about to be published. The work aspect is not often talked about, partly because describing the process from gleam in the eye to publication is usually seen as no more interesting than supermarket shop to cooking stove to meal on the table. But here is a glimpse of what happened chez nous with Sofia Petrovna, which is published next week.

Last year someone came in to the shop and recommended it, scribbling down the title and author on a bit of paper. We had never heard of it. A few days later we bought a 1960s copy (confusingly, with a different title) from (we tell ourselves it’s more independent than but actually it’s probably owned by a mega corp as well). We all read it and were more than a little overwhelmed. We decide to publish it.

The first issue is copyright. This is tricky because the author, Lydia Chukovskaya, was Russian. However, we manage to trace the family of the 1960s translator Aline Werth and offer them an advance on royalties (which means we pay them a lump sum up front and they receive royalties of seven and a half per cent of cover price once that lump sum has been ‘used up’). So we can send the book to be typeset by our marvellous typesetter Karl (well of course the text is put into Indesign but we call it typesetting). Three of us proof read. There is a consensus on most of the errors but inevitably each of us finds a few errors nobody else has found. This is always sobering. We re-proofread. 

Meanwhile, Jess does some detective work to find the person who told us about the book. All we remember is that she was in Bath for the afternoon because her son was having Bibliotherapy at Mr B’s Reading Spa. We work out the rough date she brought the book in (by knowing when we ordered it from Alibris). We go to Mr B’s and they are incredibly kind about looking up their records and narrowing the lad down to a few people. We find him. And his mother. She agrees to write the Preface, and she is very pleased we are reprinting the book!

We look up the list of ISBN numbers (you buy a hundred at a time) and assign one. We search for a textile for the endpaper, in this case by finding a book of Russian textiles and choosing the most beautiful and most appropriate (the colours are lovely, and it has a motif of cranes – as in building cranes not birds – and construction). We write an email about a copyright fee for this (although we have no idea if the designer might have died before 1953, in which case no fee is necessary) and hear nothing back; if we ever do, we shall pay the fee. We write the biography for the flap and choose the quotes for the front flap and the bookmark. We have quite a lot of back and forth with the printer about the colour of the fabric/endpaper. We proof read for a final time. And we go to press ie Karl sends the electronic files to our printer in Poessneck in Germany. Six or seven weeks later 3,000 finished copies arrive in the warehouse and we receive half a dozen advance copies. Our heart's in our mouth when we open one of them, braced for the inevitable typo. When/if we find it we try to be philosophical, because these things happen and we SO did our best. We celebrate. We feel pride and joy, quietly. And that’s the process.

In other news. The cyclamen are in the window boxes.

It gets dark earlier and earlier; it seems as though the children have only just gone back to school but soon it's half term; the best book we have read recently is Tomorrow will Come, a memoir of her life in Russia until 1923 by E M Almedingen (1898-1971) (good god, the twentieth century in Russia! words fail one)now we have bought Frossia by the same author, has anyone read it?; and it’s the season for Hippocrates Soup ( celeriac, celery, leeks, onions, potatoes and tomatoes simmered for two hours and blended) which, touch wood, is such an ace opponent of colds and flu.

Radio 3 had an excellent discussion about Betty Miller and Marghanita Laski, find it on catch-up here; in the FT Enuma Okoro wrote a sweet article about the need for peace and quiet in cities and she reproduced this lovely painting, ‘After Breakfast’ (1890) as an example of a quiet moment. 


It’s by the Finnish painter Elin Danielson-Gambogi, one of the first Finnish women artists to go to art school. And a Gwen John exhibition, which Persephone Books is sponsoring, opens at the Holburne museum next week, do go if you can.

If you have not already read it, do read this article (it was in the New Statesman) by Simon Jenkins called ‘The Battle for the Soul of London’. It describes some of the horrors that might have happened to London, for example ‘the grandest proposal of all were to be Patrick Abercrombie’s ring ways, liberating London from bondage to its Georgian and Victorian streets and made fit for a city of cars. The innermost was dubbed the Motorway Box, to run through neighbourhoods occupied by London’s most vociferous citizens, the boroughs of Islington, Camden and Lambeth. This was to be its undoing.’ A million chapeaux to all these vociferous citizens: present-day Londoners cannot thank you enough. 

Damien Gayle wrote the most heartrending article about the solastalgia (‘the distress that is produced by environmental change impacting on people while they are directly connected to their home environment’) he and his family felt when a tree was cut down by their neighbour. ‘My daughter’s jaw dropped in grief and she mangled her words as she tried to articulate what had happened. My son, speechless, turned to face the wall of our house and wept.’ Yes, we know, we know about Ukraine and Israel and Afghanistan and migrants and the climate catastrophe and in the scheme of things what is one small elder tree? But solastalgia is why people worldwide minded about the tree at Hadrian’s Wall. It felt theirs. 

So the news has been too terrible to mention and we won’t – except to say that like everyone else we are distraught. But we nevertheless found the time to cheer, quietly, ‘our’ preface writer Rachel Reeves and her speech at the Labour Party Conference. Btw, for anyone looking for a really good book about politics, we so recommend the book for which she wrote the Preface, National Provincial by Lettice Cooper. Reeves also has a new book out, it’s about the great women economists (forgotten and unsung, naturally).

Let’s also pay tribute to Lady Eve Balfour, who was born 125 years ago and founded the Soil Association. 

We are very happy that a group of cartoonists, including our favourite Ros Asquith, have contributed to a Welcome to Britain colouring book, a response to the recent pointless and mean-spirited destruction of a mural of cartoon characters at a migrants’ reception centre. Glasgow Women's Library has bought a medal awarded to the first suffragette to go on hunger strike, Maud Joachim:



And the Guardian ran a leader about the rediscovery of lost works by female composers, including the upsetting detail that Mendelssohn stopped his sister Fanny from publishing her music (and purloined some of it in order to publish it under his own name) on the grounds that ‘it would only disturb her in her primary duties of managing her house’.

Finally, we had the most marvellous concert in the upstairs room at Persephone last night. Miriam Wakeling (cello) and Ben Socrates (playing our 1847 Erard piano), both of them superb musicians, played a dozen pieces of music for an hour, we listened, sipped champagne, and admired the beautiful room where our ancestors have been doing the same for 250 years (since the 1770s). It was all rather heavenly.

Ben and Miriam are playing the same programme in Chichester Cathedral at 1 pm (it's a free concert) on October 31st; if anyone reading this lives in or near Chichester, we would highly recommend they go. The next Persephone concert is the excellent Trio Paradis on November 9th at 7pm.

Nicola Beauman

8 Edgar Buildings, Bath

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