Tuesday 25 March 2008

Monkey Business

A week or so ago, in the middle of Hesperus Week (an annual custom which may become a yearly tradition, to paraphrase The Simpsons) we chatted a bit about a new publishing venture - Capuchin Classics. Very exciting - it's even occasioned the return of Stuck-in-a-Book's sketches, which I hope to keep up. Emma Howard, the 'chatelaine' of Capuchin, very kindly agreed to answer a few questions and tell us a bit both about the books, and herself. I did ask the questions, but Emma writes with such a beautiful flow that you'll just get the answers, and trust me when I say that they match the invisible questions! And you'll have to also imagine me squealing "hurray!" when you read about AA Milne... I'm almost as excited as if my own (hypothetical) novel were being published.

Capuchin Classics is a new imprint which aims to offer the book-lover a r
ange of reprints of outstanding works which have undeservedly been forgotten or are not easily available in the British market, alongside a choice of literary favourites which are themselves in the classic genre. Its driving principle is to bring back works of real quality which are in danger of disappearing, in the first instance fiction, leavened with some high profile and high quality classics which will boost the series in bookshops big and small. We hope that the Capuchin list will offer discerning readers a kind of instant library, its quality in a wide variety of titles.

We are looking for books of re
al quality across a wide range of titles and authors - those books which, in our opinion, should still be available to readers and not subject to the whim of fashion. Pure and simple, if it's not good enough we won't publish it.

The first four titles were chosen to give a balanced foretaste of the list to come - i.e. a "classic" (Plain Tales), stories by one of our favourite writers (de Maupassant) and two oustanding novels which were inexplicably not in print - The Green Hat was on our original longlist, and was also suggested by Kirsty Gunn (the foreword writer and an outstanding fiction writer herself) and An Error of Judgement was suggested to me by a friend - when I read it I was completely bowled over, and it just so
happened to be one of the first titles for which we reached an agreement - plus Hansford Johnson is most certainly a writer who should be available.

My own background is in fiction publishing - I was at Faber and Faber for 12 years until I left to have children. For
some time, like many of us concerned with really good books, I have been all too aware of the caprice by which one book or author survives for a year or a decade or a generation longer than another of just as fine a creative gift or depth of thought. When Tom Stacey and his colleagues Max Scott and Christopher Ind, with their existing publishing structure and wide experience, shared these same thoughts with me Capuchin Classics was conceived. It loosely takes its name from the Capuchin monkey, supposedly the most intelligent primate after man, and all its assocations with Capuchin monks and capuccinos!

We all agreed that we wante
d the books to look simple and elegant (not like every other book on the "3 for the price of 2" tables!), and have been tremendously blessed with the wonderful visual eyes of our illustrator Angela Landels. The mint colour was chosen simply because we all liked it, and the print for its clarity.

Capuchin already has fiction scheduled to 2010, which will include GK Chesterton's The Napoleon of Notting Hill, John Galsworthy's The Dark Flower, Elizabeth Goudge's Green Dolphin Country, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala's How I Became A Holy Mother, LP Hartley's The Hireling, Eric Linklater's Juan in America, a new selection of HE Bates' stories, Hugh Walpole's Mister Perrin and Mister Traill, Michael Bracewell's The Conclave, Norman Douglas's South Wind, AA Milne's Two People and You Shall Know Them by Vercors, amongst others (for a fuller list do visit our website.) I note that on your blog you mention some of the same authors, and do hope you will encourage your readers to give us any of their own ideas - we hope that the Capuchin enterprise will be an ongoing dialogue of likeminded souls.

And now to me! I always find it impossible to choose a favourite book or a
uthor, but I have to say that, like you, Tove Jansson's The Summer Book is high up on my list. I'm a huge fan of William Trevor (the last "non-work" book I read was Felicia's Journey) and count Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides and A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry among my more modern favourites. At the moment I'm reading The World My Wilderness by Rose Macaulay, another writer we hope to be publishing in the future.

Now, to sell Capuchin to a stranger in 5 words! I think the most appropriate phrase would have to be our shout line, Books to Keep Alive.

Ending with one word to spare(!) Thank you so much, Emma - and everyone else, get thinking about potential Capuchin titles - and get buying!


  1. 'Green Dolphin Country' was one of my favourite books as child. I didn't know it had gone out of print. I'm so glad that's not going to be a permanent situation.

  2. Thanks for sharing this Simon. I've been to the website and ordered my catalog. I think I may be in trouble once again. I always enjoy your drawings, so I'm glad you've decided to try to do more of them. Love the little capuchin!


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