Wednesday, 15 January 2014

60 SECOND INTERVIEW: Julian Nangle

Julian Nangle is a publisher, poet and former bookshop owner with, at one time, five Words Etc shops in Dorset, including Dorchester and Bridport. Over the years he has published poetry anthologies, with some of the country’s best-known names on the pages of those books. He ventured into magazines and today still earns a living from the literary world, dealing in rare books, specialising in modern first editions. He is one of the founders of a group of poets which have recently started staging public events in Dorchester. The next gathering will be on Saturday, February 1st at 7:30pm in the King’s Arms, Dorchester when the theme for the evening will be “love.” The last meeting attracted around 50 people.

HOW did your love of books come about?
Largely from school where I was encouraged by one of the teachers, Harry Guest, who was a published poet, featuring in Penguin Modern Poets. He taught me English and French and was rather avant garde and quite an influence on me and other boys at school. I used to send some of my poems to my mother who was much impressed and showed them to a poet who she knew, Anthony Naumann. He took me under his wing and encouraged me. We would meet up and talk about poetry and what I had written. In many ways, became an alternative father and greatly influenced me.

HOW did you become involved with the book trade?
I think we all realised there was little hope of making a living out of writing poetry so my mother, thinking laterally, thought that if I couldn’t get into new books I could get into old books and found me a job in a bookshop. I went off to work in a posh bookshop just off Bond Street in London where we had no end of famous people coming in. I remember delivering books to Jean Shrimpton’s home and one day helping George Harrison who was looking for books on Art Deco. 

AND had you continued to write?
Yes, I had a collection of poems published and sold them to everyone I could think of at eight guineas a throw. I had a hundred copies printed and managed to sell all of them. The next year I published Words Etc which featured poets such as Brian Patten which did quite well.

AND when did your first bookshop come about?
In 1975 I moved from Godalming where I had been managing a bookshop for someone else and opened the first Words Etc in Islington. I was also still publishing other people’s works and did about 20 in all. Then I decided I wanted to do some poetry reading and managed to persuade the Arts Council to give me some funding and, somehow, managed to persuade some of the big names of the day to take part. I had a friend who seemed to know everyone who helped a great deal. It was quite a strange period. I remember interviewing Vikram Seth and thinking to myself at the time how bizarre it was. I was also publishing a sort of Private Eye for the book trade which was also good fun.

WHEN did you come to Dorset?
I was together with Anna by this time and we initially bought a house in Childe Okeford, moving in 1992 to Marnhull and then, in 1992, I opened the bookshop in Blandford and then in Dorchester in 1994. I realised I had rather cut myself off from the world so it was nice, when I got fed up of working alone, upstairs on the rare books, to be able to come down, have a coffee and talk to people.

WHAT were you first impressions of Dorchester?
It was rather run down at the time. Half of South Street seemed to be up for rent at that point, but there was a Blackwells bookshop a couple of doors down which I thought would be good for me and was a good sign that people were at least interested in books. Luckily it all went well and I was still doing the rare books and first editions which was some security.

AND were you made to feel welcome?
It was a bit slow at first, but Alistair Chisholm (town crier and local tour guide) was through the door almost as soon as we opened and got me involved with the local business community. He was trying to get the Business Improvement District set up at the time and got me involved, including writing down my thoughts about how the town could make the best of itself. I remember talking about how we needed a feelgood factor, having a future people could share, that sort of thing.

AND you also branched out into local publishing?
In about 2005 Alistair presented me with his suggestions for a series of Dorchester Walks. I think we managed to sell about 5,000 copies in all. There were also small publications on William Barnes and Thomas Hardy.

But the world changed and the likes of Amazon, must have affected your business?
It did, it’s been something I would have rather done without. We had five shops at one point – one in London and others in Blandford, Bridport, Weymouth and of course Dorchester. We sold them off one by one, the last, Dorchester in 2006, which in many ways came as a huge relief, but throughout the rare books have continued although that has also seen a decline and there are fewer collectors now than there were.

BUT you decided to stay in Dorchester?
Yes, although we did moved to Chichester for two years where I again ended up running a bookshop for some of that time, until we decided to come back. There is something about Dorset and Dorchester. Our children have largely grown up here and we have good friends here. I also love the literary connections – Hardy, William Barnes, the Moule family and the Powys family and we also love the countryside and the coast.

Julian Nangle has just published Windfalls, a collection of 36 of his poems, which is available via post at £6, including postage, via 22 Frome Terrace, Dorchester, DT1 1JQ, or can be ordered at the Custard Hall shop in Antelope Walk, Dorchester.

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