26 November 2010

Ukes & Books

Gaspereau Press’s unofficial ‘artist in residence’ and skilled bindery hand Basma Kavanaugh is presently wandering around in Alabama doing a little bit of printing. She sent me this wonderful Youtube link of Peter Thomas which features Ukes and books. Peter, be sure to come see us if you ever travel this far north.


24 November 2010

Gaspereau at work

Once the dust started to settle last week, Canadian Press reporter Michael Tutton and photo journalist Andrew Vaughan came down and shot some nice footage of Gaspereau's staff at work on The Sentimentalists. You can see that video on the Globe and Mail site.


16 November 2010

Finding the Way Through

Well, Scott McIntyre at D&M and Gary and I here in Kentville spent a lot of yesterday on the telephone and standing in front of cameras, talking about the plan to get The Sentimentalists out to Canadian Readers quicker, without compromising all the things we stand for as literary publishers. CBC's The National did a nice job of summing up the story on their broadcast last night.

Gary and I want to thank everyone who has expressed their support for Johanna and the work of the press. Literature, at the heart of it all, only thrives where there exists a community of shared interests, shared concerns, and shared fates. What I'm saying, I suppose, is that Johanna's story, and our story, is also your story, because you engaged it and helped make it all so.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I still have a hell of a lot of books to make, and I'd better get back to it if I want to make as many people as possible happy before Christmas.


15 November 2010

Skibsrud checks in from Turkey

Earlier today, Giller winner Johanna Skibsrud issued the following statement for the press through her agent, Tracy Bohan, at Wylie UK:

I am really pleased wıth the Gaspereau/Douglas and McIntyre deal -- am so glad that a solution has been arrived at that allows the books to be distributed widely wıthout sacrıfıcıng any of Gaspereau Press's practıses and ideals, whıch make them so unıque and special to work with. One thing that I really apprecıate is that Andrew and Gary took into account my own personal feelıngs and interests when makıng this business decision. Not many publishers would do that -- it makes me feel very grateful to be working wıth them.

Johanna is presently travelling in Turkey.


The Giller Plan


Responding to the high demand of Johanna Skibsrud’s The Sentimentalists, Gaspereau Press licenses Canadian trade paperback rights to Douglas & McIntyre, an imprint of D&M Publishers, who plan to ship stock by November 19

November 14, 2010 – VANCOUVER, CANADA -- Before Scott McIntyre’s head hit the pillow Tuesday night following the Giller gala, he sent a long email to his friend and colleague Andrew Steeves, co-publisher of Gaspereau Press, reporting on the extraordinary evening. McIntyre and Steeves immediately hatched a plan to make Johanna Skibsrud’s debut novel widely available to the Canadian book trade, while still honouring Gaspereau’s craft.

Andrew Steeves commented:

“It was important to us that no copy of the book would say 'Gaspereau Press' on the spine unless it came directly from our own hands; that’s simply the way we work. But when Johanna won the prize it was clear that our method of printing and publishing books wouldn’t meet the demand. It was critical to find a partner who shared our values. Douglas & McIntyre was the obvious choice.

“We’re delighted to be working with Douglas & McIntyre and Friesens to produce a new edition of The Sentimentalists for the wider marketplace. This alliance will ensure that our author’s accomplishment will be honoured, and that readers across the country will have ready access to well-made copies of the book.”

The first 30,000 copies of the Douglas & McIntyre edition of The Sentimentalists (ISBN 978-1-55365-895-5, $19.95, paperback), printed on high quality FSC eco-paper, will be shipped from the bindery on November 19, less than 10 days after the Giller was awarded. Paper is on hand for an immediate reprint of 20,000 copies. The e-book is already a bestseller on Kobo and Douglas & McIntyre will make it available through other e-book retailers, including the Apple iBookstore, Amazon Kindle, Sony eBook store, eBooks.com and Barnes & Noble’s NOOK Store. Gaspereau Press will continue to issue copies of its original edition ($27.95, 978-1-55447-078-5, sewn paperback with letterpress-printed jacket), giving readers a choice of two quality editions of the book.

McIntyre added:

“I have huge respect for Andrew and Gary’s dedication to their craft. This includes putting their author first. With our sales, marketing and distribution system onside, an exceptional novel will quickly reach the wide audience it deserves.

“Three proudly independent Canadian entities – Gaspereau Press in Nova Scotia; Douglas & McIntyre in Vancouver and Toronto; and Friesens in Manitoba – have combined forces to celebrate a remarkable writer, a wise and beautiful novel, and the gift Jack Rabinovich gave Canada when he launched the Giller Prize and dared us all to elevate our game.”

09 November 2010

Jack on the Giller Script

The National Post carried a thoughtful article on the Scotiabank Giller Prize today written by Jack Illingworth, the Executive Director of the Literary Press Group of Canada. In the article Jack makes an excellent explanation of the clash of cultures that takes place when literary presses find themselves nominated for prizes like the Giller, which are usually dominated by the giant multinational book factories in Toronto.

Says Illingworth: “This may seem like willful eccentricity on the part of Andrew Steeves and Gary Dunfield, Gaspereau’s co-publishers. It’s actually something much more interesting: a commitment to a thoughtful, rigorous, refined mode of publishing. While publishing is usually discussed as a business, or an industry, all of the finest small press publishers practice it as an art form. The books that they choose to publish aren’t chosen to fill out a season with a handful of products that stand a reasonable chance of selling. Their lists are cultural projects, embodying a few individuals’ ideas of what literature can be.”


08 November 2010

Gaspereau Press at Windsor Castle

At one time, if a Maritime literary publisher mentioned that something was going on at Windsor Castle, he was most likely referring to the poet Alden Nowlan’s nickname for his Fredericton home, but in this case I’m talking about the real thing. Gaspereau Press was pleased to learn that one of its printed pieces is not only in the collection of her majesty Queen Elizabeth II, but that is also presently on display in the gallery her offical residence, Windsor Castle.

This month, Windsor Castle is exhibiting the broadside "The Last Post" along with portraits of the two last surviving British First World Wat vetrerans, Henry Allingham (1896–2009) and Harry Patch (1898–2009) Mr Patch served with the 7th Battalion, Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry as a Lewis machine-gunner and Mr Allingham with the Royal Air Force as an aircraft mechanic. Both participated in the three-month Battle of Passchendaele in 1917: Mr Patch in the trenches, and Mr Allingham repairing the aircraft damaged in the fighting.

Vancouver Island University’s Institute for Island Studies commissioned us design and print this boardside in the fall of 2009 to mark a visit by Britain’s poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy. The commission required a quick turnaround and there was some difficulty getting enough sheets of ‘old masters’ handmade paper from Montreal’s Papeterie Saint-Armand. But in the end all turned out well. I hand-printed 133 copies of the 18 × 38 cm broadside. Jack McMaster and I collaborated on a stylized poppy fleuron specifically for the project too.

You can view the the boardside and the portraits and hear a reading for the poem on The Royal Collection’s web site.


02 November 2010

We're getting Sentimental

It is simply too busy to write a proper post at the moment, but here’s a quick glance behind the scenes into some of the work that’s going on right now as we race to put together more copies of Johanna Skibsrud’s novel, The Sentimentalists, which is shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize. The awards gala is a week away. Gary, who will be representing the press at the event, has been measured for a tux. He is threatening to get his wiskers trimmed even. Oh, the humanity!

I set up two Vandercook proof presses and printed jackets straight through the night last Thursday in order to have books at the International Festival of Author’s readings in Toronto on the weekend.

This clip shows Basma and Gary binding the sewn book blocks on a three-pocket Sulby binder.

Laura stayed late trimming books one night and it seems that trimming so many of the same book for so long drove her to some pretty creative stacking. Perhaps she is considering a jump to a career in setting up endcap displays in bookstores.


26 October 2010

Globe & Mail Visits Gaspereau

The Toronto Globe & Mail published a reasonable little piece on Gaspereau Press and its even-keeled, principled approach to the Giller madness in Monday’s paper. I think on the whole the article captured the story pretty well, though I wish it had tried to communicate the philosophical underpinnings of our approach. I talked a long time with the G&M’s Kate Taylor about the balance between local economy and global market forces, about the ecosystem of Canadian literary culture and the things literary publishing has in common with substance farming and the slow food movement. Newspaper articles infrequently have space for this sort of context, and reading the article may leave some readers asking “Why the heck would anyone want to do things this way?”

Perhaps the short quotation from Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience which we printed as a broadside during our weekend wayzgoose will begin to answer that question, though I’m anxious, once things quiet down again, to write more extensively about Gaspereau’s philosophical underpinnings and their pragmatic application to our day to day work:

How can a man be satisfied to entertain an opinion merely, & enjoy it? Is there any enjoyment in it, if his opinion is that he is aggrieved? […] Action from principle — the perception & the performance of right — changes things & relations; it is essentially revolutionary & does not consist wholly with any thing which was. It not only divided States & churches, it divides families; aye, it divides the individual, separating the diabolical in him from the divine.

Every time we make a book here, we change the world a little, not only because of what those books have to say, but because of what the way in which we make those books have to say too.


25 October 2010


Gaspereau Press hosted another successful wayzgoose and open house this weekend. I spent most of the day stuck back in the casting room showing off the Ludlow hot metal casters, so I’m grateful to those who took pictures. Below are a few snapped by Jack McMaster.

Our special guest artist, Alabama letterpress printer Amos Paul Kennedy, Jr., had a great time printing a keepsake on our Vandercook Universal 1 press.

Ellis Clayton and Adam Steeves manned a parlour press.

Gaspereau’s pressman Matt McLean talks to a visitor about the operation of the Heidelberg KORD 64 offset press – or perhaps about the ongoing relevance of Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience.

Matt again at the Heidelberg. That's author Susal Haley in the foreground, leaning on the press.

Laura MacDonald and Nic Dunfield (in a Tim Inkster like top hat) help a visitor ‘couch’ a sheet of handmade paper.

Nic Dunfield and Laura MacDonald beating scraps of old blue jeans into ‘stuff’ for papermaking.

Adam Steeves and Ellis Clayton setting up the parlour press with Basma Kavanaugh.

Here I am explaining the workings of the Ludlow hot metal linecaster.

And here I am helping a visitor to set a line of matrices for casting.

Letterpress printer and photographer Thaddeus Holownia of Anchorage Press, Jolicure, New Brunswick, talking to visitors about the Vandercook 219 letterpress in my office.

Thaddeus Holownia and author Peter Sanger printing a wayzgoose keepsake in my office.

Amos Paul Kennedy, Jr., signing posters for visitors.

We'll post some more photos and videos as the week goes on. Right now, we're busy setting the shop to rights again, and setting up to get some more The Sentimentalists bound.


21 October 2010

Bruce at the Goose

As well as binding some copies of The Sentimentalists (cut and paste that statement into any Gaspereau blog posting in the forthcoming months ...) we were collating copies of Bruce Johnson’s novel Firmament this afternoon, which will be launched at the Wayzgoose on Saturday. Here’s a short clip of me messing up what had been an otherwise orderly bit of table walking by Basma, Laura and Connie by introducing a camera into the mix.

Each of the sections they are picking up is a sheet folded three times to make a 16 page ‘signature’. After they are thus gathered, they are sewn together into a book block and bound in a cover.

Note the gumdrops on the table. Very important.

You can hear Bruce Johnson read from this new book on Saturday evening at 7:00 pm at the Kentville Rec Centre.


20 October 2010

The Goose Also Honks

We’re getting all cleaned up for the Wayzgoose this Saturday. I know it seems like we’re all type, ink, and paper all the time, but we’re also pretty musical around here and we like to have some musical guests at the wayzgoose too. A frequent guest at the goose is author and musician Bob Snider, captured here in a perfomance at a wayzgoose:

This year, we’ve invited Wolfville’s Mud Creek Boys to perform on Saturday evening. They will be setting the tone for readings by Bruce Johnson and Peter Sanger and for the discussion with Amos Paul Kennedy, Jr., and Sylvia Hamilton. I hope we’ll see you at the Kentville Civic Building at 7:00.


19 October 2010

Helvetica with a twist of Caslons

The Fundy Film Society will be screening the documentary Helvetica Wednesday evening at the Al Whittle Theater on Main Street in Wolfville, continuing their tradition of programming a type or printing related film in advance of Gaspereau Press’s annual wayzgoose. The film starts at 7:00 pm. General Admission is $8.

Helvetica is a feature-length independent film about typography, graphic design and global visual culture. It looks at the proliferation of one typeface (which celebrated its 50th birthday in 2007) as part of a larger conversation about the way type affects our lives. The film is an exploration of urban spaces in major cities and the type that inhabits them, and a fluid discussion with renowned designers about their work, the creative process, and the choices and aesthetics behind their use of type. The film was Directed by Gary Hustwit and written by Chris Greenhalgh and features typographic heavyweights (boldfaces?) Matthew Carter, Erik Spiekermann, Massimo Vignelli, Wim Crouwel and many more. Okay, so even if you don’t know who those people are and can’t pick Helvetica out of a line up, it’s still an interesting film.

Here in the printshop it has been a Caslony kind of day. Bruce Johnson’s novel Firmament is on both Matt’s Hiedelberg press and my Vandercook handpress right now. Matt’s got the first side of most of the lifts printed. The book is set in two digital revivals of Caslon, the body text in Carol Twombly’s version from Adobe (which is designed to withstand the rigors of offset printing in text sizes) and the display matter in Matthew Carter’s masterful Big Caslon. They make a good team, these types.

I’ve had a day of distractions thus far, but am working my way through printing the second colour on a stack of Hemlock-coloured felt-finish sheets of paper, what will be Bruce Johnson’s book jacket. I thought that I'd see how gold ink looked, though as I suspected it was too gaudy. Next I mixed some silver into a dark green ink and ended up with a mint-coloured concoction that works in the right tonal range on the paper. Sometimes you just don’t know until it’s all laid out in front of you whether it’s going o work, and I suppose that’s what keeps it interesting.

The top sheet is a makeready of the final colour (the first pull, so some of the stars are not fully inked yet); The bottom sheet shows the gold.


18 October 2010

Amos Kennedy on CBC's Maritime Noon on Tuesday

Soon-to-be Wayzgoose special guest Amos Paul Kennedy will be on CBC Radio's Maritime Noon tomorrow. CBC describes the program as:

"Ever dream of walking out of the 9 to 5 job, ditching the corporate world, and setting off on a bold new course doing something you truly love. Amos Paul Kennedy Junior did just that, in a most curious way: the Alabama man became a letterpress artist, turning out whimsical posters infused with wisdom and hilarity. His work is currently on display in Halifax. Never has a man in overalls been such an unforgettable example of a life lived fully and without regret. Amos Paul Kennedy is our guest as we ask 'What do you want to do with the rest of your life?'"

Phone-in: 1-800-565-1940

You can catch the program on-line by visiting CBC Radio's site and selecting the Halifax station between noon and 1:00 pm Atlantic Time.

Thanks to our co-hosts at NSCAD for arranging this public radio shin-dig for Amos.


Printshop notes

Well, Tim Bowling’s In The Suicide’s Library is now beginging to circulate. The first copies arrived in Alberta last Tuesday for a reading, and Tim says they were well received and much admired (and that’s before he even read from it). I notice Gary’s got a copy flopped opened on his desk, reading it on break. That’s usually a good sign.

We’ve finally got sheets for Johanna Skibsrud’s Giller Shortlisted The Sentimentalists printed and folded and ready for the bindery, but they will to have to sit caged up in a couple of giant postal bins until after the weekend’s Wayzgoose and Open House. Perhaps, I opined to Gary, we should set the book out and get everyone who comes to the Wayzgoose to help gather them into book blocks for sewing? Where else could a whole community take part in the production of a Giller shortlisted book? But likely we’ll wait until after the crowds go away, lest some visitor spill his drink or some bump the table, endangering many thousands of dollars worth of soon-to-be books.

Another reason to wait until next week to bind Giller books is that Newfoundland writer Bruce Johnson is coming to take part in the Wayzgoose celebration, and we’re hoping that with a little luck we’ll actually have copies of his novel, Firmament, available Saturday. They just started on the press today, so it may mean bringing him from the airport to the printshop on Friday night to help us bind and trim books. I started the letterpress jackets today, so at least those will be ready.

If you’re in the area, remember to join us Saturday at the printshop for a wide range of events, including our special guest Amos Paul Kennedy, Jr. I think Amos gets to Nova Scotia today, actually, and will be doing some things at NSCAD University through the week.


08 October 2010

What's good for the Goose is good for the Giller

Wayzgoose is creeping closer. And somewhere in the midst of all the fall book production and Giller reprint madness we’re going to have to find some time to sweep the floors and clear off some tables to make room for our company.

In the meantime, Tim Bowling’s book is nearly ready to go out the door and Bruce Johnson’s novel is going to film first of next week in the hopes of having copies by wayzgoose. Norm Ravvin’s novel is ready to go right on its heels.

And we’re now also hustling to marshal the paper and resources to start an initial reprint of Johanna Skibsrud’s The Sentimentalists. Whether or not Johanna actually wins the Giller Prize (and she’s got a great shot – it’s a pretty open field) it promises to be a pretty entertaining fall. It will be interesting to see how well the moneygrubbing corners of the book trade survive dealing with an independent literary press with it’s feet firmly planted on the ground, a press that deals with the world one book at a time off the tips of its publishers very fingers, where books are real things and made in-house and not simply widgets conjured into existence by the tens of thousands from corner offices with a cellphone call and a cheque book between meetings.

Yeah, I know we have an astonishing amount of work ahead of us if the ‘Giller bump’ actually pans out, a lot of labour, capital and material to get assembled and pointed in the right direction during what is already an overtaxed time of year here at the press. The reality is that people who want this book will most likely have to wait a bit for their copy. That’s the brute reality of making things the way we make things. But when they do get hold of a copy, they will get hold of a real thing, a book worth reading and rereading, and one equal to that task.

If The Sentimentalists does win, it will be the first time the Giller-winning book will also have been the winner of the Alcuin Society’s award for Excellence in Canadian Book Design (though if I remember correctly, Kong Njo got a third place Alcuin for Atwood’s Alias Grace and Spencer Francy Peters had an honourable mention for Richler’s Barney’s Version). So I feel that it is important that the 6328th copy of the book we manufacture (or, if you believe the numbers hype, the 20,328th) be every bit as well made as the first one, and not just a disposible rectangular hunk of woodpulp and glue temporarily propped into the shape of a mass market novel, a mere shadow of its beginnings. I’m not interested in that, whatever anyone else may think. I'm a crummy capitalist; I believe above all else that readers deserve books worthy of their content, and the content of this book is exceptional.

(And yes, for those indifferent to the physical world, we'll see about getting something out there for your ephemeral e-reader devices. When your eyes bug out, your thumbs drop off and your battery dies, we'd also be happy to sell you a real book.)

Okay, back to work!


06 October 2010

Skibsrud is on the Giller Shortlist

Johanna Skibsrud is on the Giller shortlist. I'll write more later when I have a minute to sit down for half a second. For now, here's the text of our press release:

On Tuesday 5 October the Scotiabank Giller Prize unveiled the 2010 shortlist for Canada’s richest literary prize for fiction. Included on the list was Johanna Skibsrud’s novel The Sentimentalists. The prize, worth $50,000, will be awarded at a gala event in Toronto on 9 November 2010. The shortlist, chosen by journalist Michael Enright, American novelist Claire Messud and British novelist Ali Smith, includes:

David Bergen’s novel The Matter with Morris (HarperCollins)
Alexander MacLeod’s short story collection Light Lifting (Biblioasis)
Sarah Selecky’ short story collection This Cake Is For The Party, (Thomas Allen Publishers)
Johanna Skibsrud’s novel The Sentimentalists (Gaspereau Press)
Kathleen Winter’s Annabel (House of Anansi Press)

According to the Scotiabank Giller Prize web site (www.scotiabankgillerprize.ca) CTV has confirmed that it will be the official media partner of the Scotiabank Giller Prize gala for a sixth consecutive year. Seamus O’Regan will host the gala, which will be broadcast live on Bravo! and CTV.ca with the CTV network premiere the following day, Wednesday, November 10, 2010. Subsequent encore broadcasts and complete broadcast details to be announced soon. CTV will once again support the broadcast with a dedicated website, giller.CTV.ca.

About the Book

Johanna Skibsrud’s debut novel connects the flooding of an Ontario town, the Vietnam War, a trailer in North Dakota and an unfinished boat in Maine. Parsing family history, worn childhood memories, and the palimpsest of old misunderstandings, Skibsrud’s narrator maps her father’s past.

Napoleon Haskell lives with Henry in the town of Casablanca, Ontario, on the shores of a man-made lake beneath which lie the remains of the former town. Henry is the father of Napoleon’s friend Owen, who died fighting in Vietnam. When her life comes apart, Napoleon’s daughter retreats to Casablanca and is soon immersed in the complicated family stories that lurk below the surface of everyday life. With its quiet mullings and lines from Bogart, The Sentimentalists captures a daughter’s wrestling with a heady family mythology.

"The real beginning of this story," says Skibsrud, "was a summer that I spent working on Flagstaff lake, a lake that covers four now submerged townships in northern Maine, and served as the inspiration for the lake and the buried town in my book. That fall, with the beginnings of a story in my head, my father began to speak for the first time about his experiences in the Vietnam War. I am still not sure exactly why he told me his story when he did, but I think it had to do – it was 2003 then – with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which had been for some time stirring in him a deep anger toward a government willing to repeat the mistakes of the past at the expense of innocent people; soldiers as well as civilians. My mother thinks that my father told me his stories because he knew that I would do something with them – what I did write, though, was not my father’s story, but my own. And it is not a true story. At its root, though, there are two true things. One is my father’s testimony following Operation Liberty II in 1967, in which he spoke out against the murder of a civilian woman by the Captain of his squad. The other is the feeling I got floating over the buried towns of Flagstaff Lake: a feeling of the way that everything exists in layers, that nothing disappears; it just gets hidden sometimes."

The Sentimentalists, designed by Gaspereau Press’s Andrew Steeves, recently won first place in the the fiction category of the Alcuin Society’s 2010 competition for Excellence in Canadian Book Design. Typeset in customized version of Eric Gill’s Joanna types, the book prompted Alcuin judges to hail Steeves as "a modern day Eric Gill updating the medieval." The sheets were printed offset, folded into signatures, Smyth sewn and bound into paper covers. They are enfolded in a letterpress-printed book jacket features an illustration by Wesley Bates. The book retails for $27.95.

About the Author

As well as The Sentimentalists, Johanna Skibsrud’s first poetry collection, Late Nights With Wild Cowboys, was published in 2008 by Gaspereau Press and was shortlisted for the Gerald Lampert Award. Her second poetry collection, I Do Not Think That I Could Love A Human Being, was published by Gaspereau Press in 2010. Originally from Nova Scotia, she now lives in Montreal.

Contact Information

For more information about the Scotiabank Giller Prize:

For general information, interviews, author photos, imposition advice … etc.

Gaspereau Press Limited
Gary Dunfield & Andrew Steeves, Printers & Publishers
47 Church Avenue, Kentville, Nova Scotia, B4N 2M7
e: info@gaspereau.com T: 902 678 6002 f: 902 678 7845

04 October 2010

Lunch with Matrix

Recently, Conundrum Press publisher Andy Brown sat down and interviewed me for the Montreal-based magazine Matrix. I’ll post a few excerpts from the interview below. You can find the full interview in Matrix 87, on newsstands now.

¶ On Wild Letterforms

ANDY BROWN: So here we are with Andrew Steeves in the King’s Arms Pub in Kentville, Nova Scotia. Wild Letterforms of Kentville Nova Scotia was a presentation I saw you give at the Wayzgoose last Fall and found it very interesting.

ANDREW STEEVES: The world we live in is full of letters. It’s so much a part of our lives that we forget about it. We pay more attention to clothes.

BROWN: Well I don’t! [laughs]

STEEVES: We forget that letters are this incredible system that’s married to language and the letters we deal with in society are, for the most part, prefabricated letters. Generally, people don't know how to form a letter with their hand these days, with a brush, pen, or chisel. Instead, we push a key and the letter magically appears. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but something is lost when you lose the connection with how things are made, with how the body shapes things. We have the same problem with hamburger and houses. We go to the grocery store and pull a cellophane-wrapped item off a shelf. We consume passively instead of create. Anyway, at the time I put this Wild Letterforms talk together, I was biking from Wolfville to Kentville everyday, traveling the back routes where there was graffiti …

BROWN: Well to call it graffiti would be misleading. It’s not even tagging really.

STEEVES: Well it’s not up to Montreal standards, no. It’s pretty bush league. There are other examples of hand-made letters around town. So I started documenting all kinds of stuff, from welded letters, to letters chiseled on old tombstones. There are examples of well-made local stones from the 1770s and '80s, letters made by some guy with a hammer and chisel and a unique idea about what a letter should look like. So I put a slide show together which talked about these spontaneously made letters, and about the ecology, the diversity, of letterfoms possible in a small town. From the stenciled “Don’t Park Here” signs to the crayon “Rabbits for Sale” notice. And what I discovered is that the wild letterforms were still holding their own against the commercial drone of pre-fab Tim Hortons and McDonalds signage. That stuff can really take over and kill out the native letterforms if you let it.

BROWN: What is the project your working on based on the old Planter tombstones?

STEEVES: That project was born of the methodology which got me into publishing and printing in the first place, the thinking being that if you want to learn about something, go back to its root form and figure out how it works. Don’t wait for the machine to break, just take it apart.

BROWN: You’ve figured out a way to import the letterforms off the tombstones into the computer to make a font?

STEEVES: When I got into printing and publishing I didn’t know anything about it. I came in blind. My background is actually in Criminology. [Laughs.]

BROWN: There are a lot of young offenders in publishing.

STEEVES: I’m not going to comment on your list, Andy.

BROWN: I publish a lot of them actually.

¶ On Cultural Funding

BROWN: A $15 paperback is the price of a movie now. Yet people still go to movies. You do need to be practical and have a market. Someone has to buy the $60 well made book.

STEEVES: But here's the question: Why is there no market in this country for Literary books? I wonder what effect the funding environment we function in here in Canada has on things when it comes right down to it. The government has its fingers in culture, and though it’s well intended it makes a mess of things. There seems, for example, to be this conception in government that if little presses had better marketing skills that they could sell all kinds of books, as if an ads ever sold a poetry book. It's nonsense. Culture doesn't work that way. This funding infrastructure has everything to do with supporting an industry and little to do with cultural at the grassroots.

BROWN: I would argue that the Canada Council’s mandate is not to support industry but rather culture.

STEEVES: The Council is constantly directing money into activities that they believe will help grow companies bigger and make them more like the big players. What we really need in this country is help fostering a readership. Think about hockey. Why do we view it as being a part of our culture? Because so many Canadians are involved in it when they are growing up in their communities. It dominates television culture for a certain portion of the year. It is hard to avoid. Almost every community had a hockey rink, most likely funded in part by public money. Even though few kids make it to the NHL, hockey is a part of their lives. Soccer is like this in other communities, or figure skating. But my point is that government invests in community sports infrastructure, and the result is a community of people who are interested in sport, both as participants and as consumers.

BROWN: How do you cultivate a culture of interest for esoteric beautiful books of poetry? How do you sell it to the average individual?

STEEVES: I guess to oversimplify the matter, I would suggest you invest heavily in the educational system, and in cultural infrastructure that everyone gets to use – not just in industrial infrastructure like publishing houses.

BROWN: But why would they be reading your $25 letterpress book? As opposed to The Twilight Series? There seems to be two things going on here. There’s reading and there’s the quality of the book. And those are two totally separate things. I think reading is being promoted but it’s middle of the road sold in vast quantities. There needs to be an appreciation of the book as opposed to ebooks or pulp, essentially just text, which is all going to go online anyway. For books to survive, any printed book, not just Gaspereau-style books, they will need to become an objet d’art since pretty much every piece of text will just be online.

STEEVES: That’s conjecture in the largest sense.

BROWN: That’s what I do. I’m a conjecturer.

STEEVES: I think books are only a small piece of the equation. What I’m really all about is getting people to pay attention. You take the small corner of the culture that’s devoted to books and writing and ask why no one is reading the types of books published by literary presses, the reflex response is that it’s because publishers are not professional enough about marketing and promotion. What I’m trying to suggest is that we dig deeper. If we build stronger communities culture will follow. Right now there are programs that fund the writing of book, the publishing of the books, the marketing of the books. Hell, governments fund everything except buying the books too. And yet despite all this investment in 'culture', very little benefit trickles down to the citizen in the street. Only the people directly involved in the industry (the writer, the publisher) really benefit. The average citizen has very little contact with this official literary culture. I don't like it. But let's say you take the same amount of money and instead of funding the arts from the top you fund it from the bottom. Let's say instead you gave every Canadian a voucher to buy one Canadian-published book this year. There are many problems with this suggestion, but the big advantage is that you have engaged the general populace with literary culture. Right now that’s kind of what’s missing. Right now we are propping up an industry that is dysfunctional. We all have a bunch of really great books in our warehouses that nobody’s reading, even though they helped fund their production through their tax dollars. I would rather get those books out there. Afterall, a good book is a ticking time bomb, it can sit there a long time. If it's well made, that is.

BROWN: Look at John Donne. Hundreds of years.

STEEVES: Or even more locally a book like Rockbound, a long-forgotten novel which became an overnight success with CBC's Canada Reads. Books are patient. If you make them well enough they can be very patient.

¶ On Stepping off the Ladder

STEEVES: I think that if you want to occupy a place outside of the mainstream you need to adjust your thinking. You need to get yourself off the ladder of advancement, plant your feet somewhere and focus on perfecting your art. You have to slow down and pay attention to your craft. Mind your own business, you might say.

BROWN: And you’re going off the grid.

STEEVES: Yes, quite literally. My wife and I sold our house and bought 35 acres of woodland, about 20 minutes outside town near a place called Black River. We are building a house, and doing most of the work ourselves. It's a good piece off the road, so we’re going to use solar electric, wood heat and some propane backup. In the meantime, we're pretty much living in a tent for the summer. It's awesome.

BROWN: And your children will have to bike to town to use the Internet. Is this what you mean when you talk about going off the ladder.

STEEVES: What I mean is that we get sold this bland idea about what is normal, what is possible, and what is important. And we tend to go along with it because it's too much work to imagine things being any other way. Sometimes as we mature we can see that it's not really that simple, and we rebel to whatever degree we are comfortable with. Or, we step of the ladder. I get a lot of joy out of designing and making things, our of solving problems. I also get a lot of joy out of the natural world. So building a house in the woods is a way of combing these things, instead of just buying the suburban home and large screen TV.

BROWN: You once said that if anyone put a canoe in her submission to you that you would publish it. [laughs]. That’s your editorial process?

STEEVES: Well, yeah, canoes are an interest of mine. But what I’m really looking for is people who are paying attention. People who pay attention to the world around them and are able to condense what they discover down into something worth saying.

BROWN: How does that translate to your publishing list? What is your editorial mandate for Gaspereau. There’s poetry, non-fiction, biographies, novels. What’s the link?

STEEVES: The link is engagement. The link is paying attention and finding some useful or entertaining way to talk about what's discovered.

¶ On The Alcuin Awards

BROWN: You just won five Alcuin design awards. Why are you monopolizing these awards?

STEEVES: No idea. I just make these books. I don’t know who is going to love them or hate them. Bringhurst's Selected Poems won first place in the Poetry category this year. There are eight categories, and I submitted to three categories and took first place in all of them. Which doesn’t always happen, mind you.

BROWN: Well it never happens for me. [laughs]

STEEVES: I have to add that I don’t put much stock in awards. So I have to be circumspect when I win as well as circumspect when I don’t. Regardless, it’s always gratifying when your colleagues take the time to say, This is good work.

BROWN: Do you think your particular design aesthetic is exactly what the Alcuin Awards jury looks for? Just coincidentaly?

STEEVES: There is an element of that, perhaps. The Alcuin competition tends to have a nostalgic sensibility. My design aesthetic is informed by 1920s and '30s British book typography. Houses like the Nonesuch Press and early Penguin were great infulences on my work. At that time, people like Francis Meynell and Jan Tschichold were trying to figure out how to marry centuries of typographic tradition with mass production technologies in order to produce inexpensive books that were not 'cheap' crap. They often succeeded. And that’s at the heart of what we do at Gaspereau Press, take the strange mix of letterpress and offset and digital stuff and to bring it all together in order to make good, strong functional books that are reasonably priced. So maybe if a press is doing more urban, gritty, modern design it has less appeal for the Alcuins juries. It's possible to do that sort of design well, however; but it's rarely done well. Usually 'designers' for literary presses just slop some type over an interesting photograph and stir it all around.

BROWN: You are not using colour photographs.

STEEVES: Not often. It's often a lazy approach, I think, to rely on a photograph to carry a book cover. But I'm biased. I'm into type. And remember, the Alcuins are about the book as a whole, not just jacket design. The people coming out of art school and doing book covers, they aren't usually typographers. They are graphic designers. Type is a mere visual element to these people, not a system with a history and a tradition to be learned and understood before it's mucked around with. There are very few good typographers in this country. I can list the living one's I've encountered on one hand: Stan Bevington, Tim Inkster, Glenn Goluska, Robert Bringhurst, Will Rueter. There's a younger generation starting to get the hang of it, though, including people like myself and Jason Dewinetz, and some encouraging work coming from the generation or two younger than me who seem hungry to learn. So I'm hopeful for the future of typography in this country.


Wayzgoose Approaches

Year of the Pig

I came across this old photo recently, which dates to about 2000 or 2001. In it, friend of the press Hudson Trenholm regales Gary Dunfield with one of his shaggy dog stories in our old printshop at One Church Avenue. Gary is using the remelt furnace (between them) to melt old lead slugs into molten metal so that he can pour them into moulds (on the stacked pallets) and make ‘pigs’ or bars of type metal. Both Hudson and Gary have shorter hair these days.


29 September 2010

Scoring Whylah Falls

Automative trouble stranded me up on the mountain most of the day, but drove down into Kentville as the sun was setting to get a few things done at the print shop. Namely, I had to score the jackets for our new edition of George Elliott Clarke’s Whylah Falls. We have to ship a substantial order for a university course already underway, so I didn’t want the books to sit here an extra day just because I spent part of my morning ineptly crawling around on the wet ground under a truck.

This cover was printed offset in two colours (black and gold) on a felt-finish cover stock. The image is a duotone, which combines the gold and the black. In order to score the folds, I hand feed book jackets into a 1930s vintage Chandler & Price platen press. It is one of my favorite machines in the print shop. We bought this one from a shop that was closing down in Halifax back in 2000. When scoring, the ink rollers are removed and the chase has steel rules locked into it which score the folds in the jacket. These presses look dangerous, but they are perfectly fine so long as you rigidly adhere to some pretty common-sense safety practices (like keeping your back straight and not following a mis-fed sheet into the closing mouth of the press). This press sheet is about 10 × 20 inches in size, so it takes a little practice before you can feed them this quickly. You have to grab it in just the right place and use the air under the sheet to float it into place.

George’s book should be available for shipping, ohh, by mid-morning Thursday.


28 September 2010

Press Notes

Tim Bowling’s new book is now on the press. I think it has the longest title of any book we’ve ever published, that is if you include the sub-sub-title that I invented when I was setting the title page. Perhaps I’ve been reading too much about 17th century books lately. Their long run-on titles have always amused me.

Bowling’s book is uses a version of Dwiggin’s Electra type, which are contemporary to much of the the subject matter in Tim’s book. Electra is a type that always looks gaunt and underfed without the ink swell of letterpress, so this book introduces a tuned up version of the face that’s a bit heavier and replicates the warmth and colour I have always had trouble achieving with it in offset printing.

Wolfville artist Jack McMaster did the illustration for the book jacket. Jack, Tim and I were putting the finishing touches on the jacket today.

Also sneaking through the pressroom early this week is a short catalogue for an exhibition of Thaddeus Holownia’s photographs at the Windsor Gallery in Vancouver which is opening next month. It contains a nice essay by Peter Sanger.


21 September 2010

Skibsrud on Giller Long List

Johanna Skibsrud: Pre-Giller Long List

Gaspereau Press is pleased to discover that Johanna Skibsrud’s novel The Sentimetalists is on the Scotiabank Giller Prize long list. The list, selected by CBC’s Michael Enright, American writer Claire Messud and UK writer Ali Smith, looks something like this:

David Bergen, THE MATTER WITH MORRIS (Harper Collins)
Douglas Coupland, PLAYER ONE (Anansi)
Michael Helm, CITIES OF REFUGE (M&S)
Alexander MacLeod, LIGHT LIFTING (Biblioasis)
Avner Mandelman, THE DEBBA (Random House)
Tom Rachman, THE IMPERFECTIONISTS, (Random House)
Sarah Selecky, THIS CAKE IS FOR THE PARTY (Thomas Allen)
Johanna Skibsrud, THE SENTIMENTALISTS (Gaspereau)
Cordelia Strube, LEMON (Coach House)
Joan Thomas, CURIOSITY, (M&S)
Jane Urquhart, SANCTUARY LINE (M&S)
Dianne Warren, COOL WATER (Harper Collins)
Kathleen Winter, ANNABEL (Anansi)

Johanna is over the moon, of course (and in Paris, which never hurts). Everyone here at Gaspereau is pleased too, but circumspect as usual. Long lists can mean very little for actual book sales, though the soft benefits are critical.

When we are running behind (and this year, we are running very behind) an award nomination can mean that we end up having to decide whether or not to delay fall books in order to print more copies of the nominated book in case there is a sudden demand that exceeds our present inventory. And what if you reprint a book and then the sales are illusionary? That can quickly take a book from break-even to loss. We have to consider whether it is better to fill big retail orders for the promotional displays that have been organized around the award instead of filling orders from small booksellers, and whether shorting the chain stores will preempt the inevitable returns or hurt sales. There's a lot of balance, and a lot at stake.

In fact, when all is said and done, we’ve often found that long lists and short lists only result in increased book returns (unless the book actually wins). Sometimes it feels like we’ve only loaned the big retailers stock to fill out their displays. But why would we think that a retail system that does a poor job of selling literary titles to the public all the rest of the year will suddenly succeed during awards season?

So where is the line between careful management and simply being an awards wet blanket?! When you run a literary press, and you run it on a shoestring, you have to be careful not to drop the ledger, the dictornaty, or the ink knife while you’re strapping the party hat under your chin and blowing up the balloons. You have to keep things in perspective.

Johanna Skibsrud: Post-Giller Long List

Having books on long lists or short lists can be reassuring and amusing too. Nominations bring us into contact with many aspects of the publishing trade from which working in a small Nova Scotian town usually insulates us. People who are usually disinterested in our press suddenly act as if they are diehard supporters. We get calls from journalists in Toronto who have determined the story’s angle (small regional press is dark horse nominee for important national award) before they even call, and boy are they frustrated if you suggest a more complex reality. Agents, editors and publishers come fishing for rights knowing little or nothing about the book, the author, or the press other than that it was on the Giller long list. And organizers and publicists call, working so hard to convince us all that something very, very important is afoot. Nice as some of these people are, these encounters reassure me that I'm not missing much by working outside the mainstream of the publishing world.

I know that for some authors who win major awards, the experience has a transforming influence on their career. Winning a prize can be the thing that lands you an agent, or a better publishing deal, or a deal in a foreign territory – to say nothing of the monetary prize and the psychological boost of approval. These are good things as far as they go. And as embarrassing as the boosterism of national awards can be, and as corrosive as their cattle-shoot effect can be on our thinking about literature, I think we sometime expect a little too much of these awards. They are what they are.

The Sentimentalists won first prize in the fiction ctegory of the 2010 Alcuin Awards for Canadian Book Design. Illustration by Wesley Bates

Why wouldn’t the Giller Prize be any less complex and contradictory than the culture and the literature it aims to promote? The Giller short list will be announced on October 5th, and I would like very much to discover that The Sentimentalists is on it. And we’ll happily wrestle with whatever complications, challenges or indignities come with it, approaching them with the same grin and tenacity as everything else we deal with around here. Because at the end of the day, I feel that we ought to take Mr. Rabinovitch and his ilk at face value as wanting simply to promote good fiction. While I wouldn’t want to live in the media cycle and trade publishing culture surrounding such awards indifferently, or engage them as my guide to literary excellence, The Giller Prize is at least doing something positive in aid of a cause that is important to me. I’ll embrace their way of helping literature, as I trust they also embrace mine.


16 September 2010


The fall list is well underway here in the shop, but I wiggled some time free yesterday to print a broadside commissioned by Halifax poet Matt Robinson. We’ve been doing a fall broadside for Matt for a number of years now, and I always look forward to trying to give his poems some sort of typographic presence. Sometimes we use an image, but more often than not we simple play with type. This year we used Rod McDonald’s type Slate.

I had some trouble with pin holes in my polymer. Sometimes no matter what you do you can’t get the dust out of wherever the dust is hiding. I ended up taking different letters from different plates and cobbling the form together, just as I would with wood type. The ink on the large type is a mix of blue and silver inks. Maybe 40% silver. I didn’t exactly measure things where this was a one-off.

Speaking of Matts, our own Matt has the first side of the sheets for the new edition of George Elliott Clarke’s Whylah Falls printed and will likely be printing the second side today or tomorrow. This page has a trumped-up newspaper clipping. George and I both get a kick out of small town-newspaper-speak, especially corrections and notices. For me, this interest goes back to my short career in journalism and my life-long interest in newspapers.

Today, I’m working on the jacket for Clarke’s book. We wanted to echo the imagery of the earlier editions of the book while doing something that was uncluttered and clearly in the Gaspereau look. The type is Jonathan Hoefler’s high renaissance flavoured Requiem. (Jonathan, like me, turns 40 this year.)

I’ve been blustering around the printshop like a dog with a bone, muttering, keeping odd hours, making strange utterances. Must be Fall. Gary, like me, is trying to juggle too many things all at once, managing the shopwork, dealing with orders and accounts, fixing broken equipment. Let’s just say I haven't seen the cribbage board out at lunchtime in a while. Well, we'll have to change that when Laura the queen of cribbage gets back. She is still away on her Nashville road trip. Basma has been filling in for her, helping Connie and Gary keep things moving through the bindery. Matt, our pressman, seems remarkably calm for a fellow who’s about become a father for the first time, and any day now. And speaking of firsts, the other day he quizzed Gary and I up about the upcoming wayzgoose (Saturday October 23), and seemed excited by the idea of the shop being full of curious people. But there's a lot to accomplish before then.


15 September 2010

Michael Winter declared Honourary Gaspereau Press Author in absentia

In this clip, Newfoundland author Michael Winter takes a page from that old Marx Brothers ‘cut the deck’ gag and demonstrates a high degree of editorial acumen. If you weren’t a fan of Mr. Winter’s work, you would of course add a quip or a barb here, but I like the man’s work. And I like the the way he cranks that chainsaw to life with one pull. (Likely warmed up in rehearsal.) Anyway, given his keen sense of humour and skill with the Stihl, well, by the power invested in me I hearby declare Michael Winter an honourary Gaspereau Press author, with all the rights and privileges conveyed with that high office (invitations to Christmas parties, scrap paper, typographic advice, free parking in downtown Kentville...). Michael, drop by the next time you’re in Nova Scotia and we’ll discuss your grand future as an honourary Gaspereau Press author.


Two Editions of Bringhurst’s Selected

Hard-core collectors and bibliophiles will be interested to know that our colleagues at the storied publishing house Jonathan Cape in London (now an imprint of Random House) recently acquired UK rights to Robert Bringhurst’s Selected Poems, which was originally published by Gaspereau in 2009. Cape's edition is now out, and was recently reviewed by Erica Wagner in The Times.

Jonathan Cape’s new edition of Bringhurst’s Selected Poems has a simple and attractive offset-printed cover. The colours are reproduced using a CMYK process. The book has cover flaps and a black end sheet. A pretty spiffy edition for a big trade publisher.

Gaspereau Press’s original edition of Bringhurst’s Selected Poems. The jacket employs a black felt-finish paper handprinted in two colours on a letterpress. I’m not sure that it’s better or worse than Cape’s; it’s just a different process and it gets a different result.

When we resell rights to publishers in other territories, I'm always excited to see how they handle the material. Editorially, the Cape edition is a somewhat different selected. They wanted a slightly smaller selection. They were also unable to budget for the printing of Bringhurst’s polyphonic works in multiple spot colours. Much of the polyphonic work was simply omited, but a few things, like “Conversations with a Toad,” appear in monochromatic form. Robert has only rarely been able to convince publishers to shoulder the expense of his experiments, so he is used to this problem. In the Gaspereau edition, however, we used a fair amount of spot colour.

The Cape setting of “Conversations with a Toad.”

The Gaspereau setting of “Conversations with a Toad.”

Neither Robert nor I had any hand in the design of the Cape edition, which was done by a firm in England. And Cape has a house style for its poetry series. On the whole, the typography of the Cape edition is clean, simple and workmanlike. The type is Bembo, which generally works well, though wonky spacing is a problem here and there. The generally over-wide word spacing, for example, seems at odds with the modest leading. (Compare the word spacing in the two samples above.)

What’s Robert thinking in this photo? Perhaps he’s thinking “You could drive a bus between the word spacing in that bio! Would a hyphen have killed you?” I know I am.

Well, a few typographic differences of opinion aside, it is a great little book and a credit to its publisher. Hats off to the gang at Jonathan Cape for bringing Bringhurst to the United Kingdom.