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IRON Press Editor PETER MORTIMER on his midwife role


Copies of the latest IRON Press book arrives from the printers and I realise why I am left cold by online printing.

Good luck I say to those aspirant authors who have found a voice by publishing online; those brave souls who have faced the indignity of waiting six months for a response to their magnum opus from a publishing house, only to receive a  two line rejection slip. Even here the writers can count themselves lucky. An increasing number of publishers have pulled up up the drawbridge entirely against new work unless supplied via an agent.

And  the chances of a new writer getting an agent are as likely as the homeless being offered a ticket to a BuckPal garden party.

I am not suggesting that out there is a huge seething army of brilliant but frustrated writers. Good writing is rare and much outnumbered by the mediocre. The fact that much work that is written remains unpublished  is not necessary a bad thing. Who would want to read it?

This humble opinion has no statistical evidence apart from 45 years of editing IRON Press during which time I have read a quantity of manuscripts which in a single pile would reach the moon – and a less expensive way of getting there than NASA.

I applaud every one of these many thousand authors for committing themselves to the written word. And there is always Amazon if they want to self-publish. Good luck to them!

But I have yet to meet an author, be they self-publishing or publishing online who would not prefer their book to be given out to the world by a recognised and respected publishing house.

For the birth of such a book, the publisher acts as midwife; a midwife  who has overseen this fragile creation through its every stage - months probably years of gestation, first in the writing, then in working on the design of the book and its cover. So that finally comes that unique aesthetic pleasure, that unrivalled moment of holding the book in your hand, flicking  through its pages, a faint whiff of ink emanating as you do so.

This feeling is unlike any other. And the tactile sensation is important. A book on the web is like a baby in an incubator; you can look but you cannot touch. Here you can touch, stroke, fondle, caress, put down, pick up, put down, pick up, put down, pick up.

No-one can take this book away. Ever. And it is not simply floating in the ether.

IRON Press only publishes four or five books a year, but even after 45 years that sense of a small miracle remains at that moment of holding the book in your hand for the first time. It is what makes worthwhile all the frustrations, the sheer exhaustion, the penury, the occasional sense of irrelevance, the constant sense of being on the losing side, the absence of holidays and all the other  emotions/experiences that are everyday for any publisher of a small press. Some IRON Press books are also published on kindle. I can’t ever be arsed to check the sales figures - pretty disgraceful, I agree.

At this moment. I am one of a handful of people yet to see and hold this book (I assume  a few at the printers will have done so). I have no idea whether it will receive a rapturous reception, one of total indifference, or even  derision. Such matters are now out of my and also the writer’s hands (or in this case, the writers, as it is an anthology of six authors).

But it is here. It is out in the world. And right now, I can’t stop looking at it.


(The IRON Press book Peter Mortimer can’t stop looking at is This Cullercoats  - The Work of Six Village Writers, to be launched at the IRON OR Festival, Cullercoats on June 22nd.)