Five Leaves Publications (www.fiveleaves.co.uk) was set up in 1996 and has published around 200 literary, political, social history and other titles, including a strong Jewish list and, previously, books for young adults. In October 2013 we secured a lease on 14a Long Row and in November we opened a bookshop with a stock much wider than we publish, but with a strong emphasis on independent publishing.
Five Leaves was involved with Lowdham Book Festival for twenty years since its inauguration in partnership with The Bookcase in Lowdham. We jointly organise an annual celebration of indie publishing in Leicester – States of Independence – in association with the Creative Writing Team at De Montfort University. Five Leaves initiated the Bread and Roses Award for Radical Publishing, which now includes the Little Rebels Prize for books for children, and the London Radical Book Fair. We also have our own mini-festival, Bread and Roses, which, in 2017, included the first Nottingham Radical Bookfair.
We continue to publish, though the bookshop is now our main activity. Our publishing website is www.fiveleaves.co.uk.
Five Leaves is a member of the Alliance of Radical Booksellers, The Booksellers Association and the Inpress group of independent publishers.
We work in partnership with others, but we are completely independent. We pay our taxes and do not have headquarters in a tax haven!
What we sell
Five Leaves Bookshop stock is orientated towards independent presses, but we have a good representation of major publishing houses too. We like the reprint house Persephone, political publishers including Verso and Freedom, poetry publishers such as Carcanet and Bloodaxe, translation houses including Pierene and Pushkin Press, the landscape publisher Little Toller…
Our current best-selling sections include politics, landscape/cityscape, poetry and general fiction.
The sections in the shop include books about books, Jewish interest, The Beats, Roma, self-help, counselling and psychotherapy, creative writing, landscape/cityscape, music, young adult/teenage, spirituality, general and translated fiction, poetry, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, travel writing, politics, feminism, social history. We have a children’s section which specialises in diversity. All Five Leaves titles are carried.
We also have some terrific greetings cards and postcards and, leading up to Christmas, a range of diaries, calendars and tea-towels.
Five Leaves sells 60-70 magazines covering the range of interests in the shop. In some cases we will be the only stockist in the region.
Whilst smaller independents are our priority, many of our books are drawn from the output of big publishers. There is no conflict in this – a good book is a good book, regardless of the publisher.
Our independence means that we do our own buying and are not beholding to shareholders. The shop has to make a profit so that we can pay staff wages, rent, overheads and pay for the books, but beyond that our income will be used to develop the shop and our publishing side. We are radical in that the shop supports those who want to change the world for the better. This is reflected in the books we stock and the events we promote. It would be impossible to pay the rent if we ONLY stocked politically radical books… but radical is a broad word. Personal change, political change, understanding history, understanding the world we live in… anarchist, socialist, green… we are not prescriptive. Independent publishing, independent thinking, independent writing. That’s good enough for us. We pay the Living Wage.
Unless stated, all our events are held in the Bookshop. The shop has full disabled access.
Tickets are available on the door on a first come, first served basis. In some cases we will ask people to buy tickets in advance.
Events will also be circulated in our newsletter, on Facebook and Twitter.
Getting here – use the map on our website, not SATNAV as that takes you away from the shop as we are in a pedestrian area right by the City Council, opposite Nottingham Tourism Centre.
If there was any doubt that Five Leaves is a radical bookshop it was dispelled the day after the 2015 General Election when a stream of Labour voters, Greens and assorted lefties drifted into the shop seeking comfort after the storm. We found ourselves providing an open therapy group for the forlorn (as we were ourselves). We printed up some badges – Don’t Blame Me, I Voted Labour/Green/I’m an Anarchist, as well as a set carrying the Joe Hill slogan, Don’t Mourn, Organise… This happened again after the Brexit vote and again after the American Presidential election! But not after the 2017 election… In 2019, well…
But how can a political bookshop survive on the high street? We were, in November 2013, the first independent of any description to open in a city centre this century, and there are not many radical bookshops around. Like any good independent, we prioritise customer service – we offer next day supply for most UK books and one or two weeks for most books from the USA. Overall, our stock might be different to most other independents but some months our best-sellers are those that also appear on the best-sellers lists generally. We make sure that there is enough choice for anyone coming into the shop, regardless of their views. We have one very regular customer, for example, who only buys books on Buddhism. Others head straight for our cityscape and landscape sections and quite a few other regulars never get further than poetry. Poetry is important to us, not least as it is a strong interest of two members of staff, and we regularly put on readings.
But in any case, radical books do shift – whether they be academic, polemic or historical. Many of our customers, however, come for the specialist areas of the shop – Autism, Travellers/Roma, Anarchism, Jewish interest (our best selling magazine is Jewish Socialist!), Transgender, Black History… We might not stock celebrity biographies but for some of our customers it is more important that 25% of our fiction is in translation, with its own dedicated section. And in 2017 several hundred people came to Nottingham’s first radical bookfair which we now hold annually.
Five Leaves Bookshop works with dozens of local community groups including trade unions, the Quakers, Nottingham Irish Studies Group, Nottingham Women’s History and various departments at our two local universities. We run an events programme with at least one meeting in the shop every week. Our own mini-Festival, Bread and Roses, attracted 850 people in its first outing, with packed events for Owen Jones, Natalie Bennett (leader of the Green Party) and cult-writer Iain Sinclair. In 2017 Iain Sinclair returned, and other guests included George Monbiot, and Shami Chakrabarti. The week also included a theatre show on Paul Robeson. All in all, over 5,000 people attend our events each year.
With six full years and seven Christmasses under our belt we are moving forward steadily – steadily enough have paid the staff the Living Wage since just after the shop opened. Nobody in the booktrade should earn less than the cost of a standard paperback novel.
The bookshop grew out of the longstanding Five Leaves Publications, which has been publishing literary, social history and political books since 1995. One of our staff wrote the bid for Nottingham to become a UNESCO City of Literature. We published a 5,000 print run book of commissioned stories by local writers including John Harvey, Alison Moore and Paula Rawsthorne as part of a literature development project in the city run jointly with Nottingham Writers’ Studio and Bromley House Library, in support of the bid.
If there was ever a time when independent bookshops simply waited for customers to show up we feel that is long gone. We work hard to involve and be involved with as many groups in the city as we can. And not just in the city – from its previous publishing base and now from the bookshop we work with the Leicester Centre for Creative Writing to run the annual States of Independence celebration of independent publishing. Five Leaves also set up the Bread and Roses Award for Radical Publishing and, with Housmans Bookshop in London, initiated the London Radical Bookfair. In 2016 – as well as events at Lowdham Book Festival and States of Independence we ran 63 bookshop events and set up our own reading group. in 2017 there were 88 events. And in 2018 we launched Feminist Book Fortnight nationally. Last year we had around 100 events but unfortunately live events are on hold just now due to COVID-19.
City centre rents make it difficult for any small businesses to survive. Fortunately our city has many alleyways and cut-throughs which provide spaces for “destination” shops. Five Leaves could not be more central to Nottingham. We are one minute from the city’s main square and City Council offices and happily occupy an alleyway which once included the headquarters of the Universal Suffrage Association.
Nottingham is a multi-cultural city and many of our customers are new to the city, joining those who have long been involved in the local literature or political scenes. We’ve doubled the stock since opening. We are doing fine.
Nottingham is increasingly seeing itself as a “rebel city”. In literature terms we draw on the tradition of DH Lawrence, Lord Byron and Alan Sillitoe. The first radical bookshop in the city was opened in 1826 by one Susannah Wright and there were several others in our local history. Nottingham’s radical bookshop tradition lives on!
In 2017 we published Exploring Nottinghamshire Writers and were pleased to find that our local writing history has a long history of dissent, particularly with women writers. Our local and national publishing programme continues. See our publications website on www.fiveleaves.co.uk