A long long time ago, in a galaxy far away or, rather, in Cambridgeshire I was given a copy of The Pooh Cook Book. Here it is and there, on the endpapers, is my name and address and proof that I was about 10 when I got it (3R being my third-year in junior school).
Though I barely cooked anything from it, apart from appallingly hopeless peppermint creams, and though I didn’t know it till many years later, it was the start of a love affair with food, cookbooks and recipes. Now, much MUCH later, I am turning that love into a business. And I want to share how it happened with you, since this blog is so much part of that love.
In 2013 a friend launched a brewery, called Bad Seed Brewery. I helped edit the business plan, some of the labels and some of the website text. His excitement and enthusiasm for his product was palpable and infectious and, stuck in yet another dull publishing contract job, which I could do but which didn’t thrill me, I kept wondering how come I was surrounded by creative people, like him and like Antic Disposition, for whom I work part-time, who were both doing wonderful things, whereas I seemed to keep working just for the money.
On the brewery’s launch day I was on the bus to work, thinking about this and I asked the questions I always ask, when stuck: ‘what do I really love doing and what would I do right now if I didn’t need to earn any money?’ They are clichés, I know, but they work. What I really loved was writing this blog, finding simple, great recipes and sharing them. And, as much as I adore the practical and social side of cooking, the creativity of making something and the conviviality of feeding friends and family, I also adore the publishing side of it, in the true sense of the word: the sharing of information, which in this instance, helps other people to make and eat great things, and the physical aspects: the paper, the design, the heft of a well-produced book.
From there it was a hop, skip and a jump to thinking about setting up a cookbook publishing company. I had enough experience of the sheer expense of publishing books, especially ones full of glossy paper and photos, to know that I would have to do it differently, and find alternative sources of funding such as Kickstarter, but I also knew that enthusiasm and determination counted for a lot.
Two months later I went to visit my good friend Jerry in Paris and on the last morning, as always, I went off to look for some books. This time I went via BHV, a department store in the Marais, where I wanted to buy fountain pen cartridges. To my surprise I discovered that they had books, not many, but enough to distract me on my way to my usual haunt, FNAC. With the embryonic publishing company idea very much in my mind, I gravitated towards the cookbooks and, again, as always, I made choices based on one question: are there five things in here I want to cook? And one of the books I bought was this:
It’s a compilation of several books by the same author, Héloïse Martel, a French mother of four who has written, according to FNAC, 157 books (no, I don’t think they all feature in this…) and sold, according to her publisher, over 3 million books. By the time I got back to St Pancras I could see why. My five-recipe-rule had been completely overtaken; there were at least 100 recipes in here that I wanted to try, both dishes I had heard of and ones that were new and the recipes were short and straightforward. I was suddenly adamant that a translation of it would be my first book. Since it was already written, researched and published, a translation was a much simpler, and cheaper, prospect than starting a new commission from scratch. And I LOVED the landscape format.
I got a rights-director friend to find out who I should contact at the French publisher and, once I had found out that the English rights were available, I put in a bid and, almost a year ago, they agreed to sell them to me. I was on my way…
Since then, so much has happened. I set up a publishing company, called Poach My Lobster, a name which came from a combination of trying to find a food-related dot.com that was still available whilst, erm, drinking too much fizz and the desire to have a very clear and recognisable logo/colophon (the image at the base of the spine of books). Here it is, in all its glory:
The name seemed a little silly at first, but now it seems perfect. Lobster, after all, is marketed, at least in Europe, as a very luxurious and upmarket dish but cooking it, especially poaching it, is the simplest thing in the world (albeit, perhaps, not for the squeamish). And those are the sort of recipes I plan to publish: ones where simple steps create great results.
Finally, since I am a print and publishing geek, I wanted the recipes to be presented in the best format possible. The William Morris quote, ‘Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful’ is very much at the heart of my approach which is why Poach my Lobster’s trademark is ‘Books Good Enough to Eat’. These will be books that are as delicious to look at as they are to cook from. So I approached Richard Ardagh, a specialist in letterpress and typography, the traditional art of printing, to come up with some type-led designs. Within three rounds of designs we’d found what we wanted and suddenly I had content and a cover design, based on referencing (very clearly!) traditional French street signs.
Fast-forward a few months, through font tweaks, recipe editing and masses of crowdfunding research and, last week, all of this became reality, when I launched a Kickstarter campaign for my English version of Héloïse’s book, The French Home Cookbook. I need to raise £24000 in four weeks, to pay for design, printing, indexing, proofreading, distribution and Kickstarter fees and though that seems a lot, I am certain that there are lots of people who will love the inside and the outside of this book as much as I do. I can’t quite believe where a moment of clarity on a bus has brought me but I am truly very excited.
If you have read this far, you are either a real friend or a real fan so thank you. And I hope you will enjoy the company’s development, and the books, as much as I will. Here’s to publishing books and poaching lobsters.