Ryan Roberts, purveyor of the official websites for Julian Barnes, Ian McEwan, James Fenton, Hermione Lee, and Ian Hamilton, has authored “John Fuller and the Sycamore Press: a bibliographic history.”
The book contains a descriptive bibliography, an interview with John Fuller, and lots of personal notes by Sycamore Press authors about John Fuller, the press, and the works it produced.
John Fuller and his wife Prue launched Sycamore Press on a whim, setting up in their garage in Oxford, but eventually publishing works by some of the most influential and critically acclaimed writers of the past half-century. Some of the names include W. H. Auden, Philip Larkin, and Peter Porter, as well as young poets including James Fenton and Alan Hollinghurst.
The most entertaining parts of the book have to do with the pitfalls of the printing process. Among other things, John mentions how he had once run out of fs while “setting a particularly clotted double-spread of Mick Imlah’s poem about Quasimodo.” So what did he do?
“My simple solution (at least, it seemed simple to me) was to ask him to rewrite the poem here and there, losing two or three fs. I now marvel that he was willing to do so, turning ‘foul as water’ to ‘pale as water’ and so on. On the other hand, I can’t imagine what the alternative would have been. We couldn’t wait for weeks while I ordered more type. Nor could I be bothered to reprint a whole impression of a Fenton broadsheet when I got the title wrong (the actual title!).”
There are more spectacular mishaps like this. Besides the thoughtfully edited, thorough bibliography, John Fuller and the Sycamore Press is a good read into the British small press movement.
John Fuller and the Sycamore Press: a bibliographic history
By Ryan Roberts
Published in 2010 by Oak Knoll Press and The Bodleian Library (New Castle, Delaware and Oxford)
6 x 9 inches
Hardcover, dust jacket
“Setting type by hand is laborious, and it was never more than a weekend activity, a booklet taking almost a year to produce. Typesetting sometimes seemed to be little more than an excuse for gossipy lunches; getting an edition sewn and guillotined often needed the bribery of stiff vodkatinis. And having sometimes to machine on into the dusk by lamplight seemed a romantic thing to be doing.”
— John Fuller on the work of Sycamore Press