Writer’s passion speaks volumes

The fickle hand of fate has a habit of striking when you least expect and so it was for author Garry Martin.

A year or so ago he and his partner, artist Sue Lewis-Blake, had just moved to Stanton-in-Peak and, wanting to get to know their neighbours, invited them to dinner.

As Dr John Basford browsed through his host’s bookshelves that evening he spotted a collection of books by B S Johnson and remarked that there was one missing, but being a fan himself he had a copy he could lend to Garry.

Thrilled that his guest shared his interest Garry revealed a chapter of a book he had written which paid homage to the novelist, poet and film maker they both admired.

At that moment a new relationship was forged that by the end of the year will have resulted in the publication of four books by G J Martin.

For John, who is the owner of the publishing firm Colley Books, was looking for a new project and Garry, who had manuscripts written, needed someone to help him tackle the time-consuming task of preparing them for a wider audience.

“John read the chapter when he got home and then came straight back to ask if I had any more. ‘Three volumes’, I told him – and I could hardly believe it when he said he wanted to publish them.”

In the six months since then they have published the first volume. The second is being launched at Scarthin Books, at Cromford, on March 12 at 6.30pm and the third will be out in June in time for the Lowdham Literary Festival.

A novel set in the present day linked to the trilogy will be out later in the year.

Beneath Napoleon’s Hat: Tales from the Parisian Cafés is a collection of pieces set in the famous literary cafés of the French capital.

Explaining the reason for the title Garry said: “During research trips to Paris I scribbled, sketched and stared as I people-watched sitting at a table in the Café Procope beneath a glass case containing Napoleon’s hat.

“The story is that the future Emperor had left the hat there as security for an unpaid bill when he was a young officer and it had never been reclaimed,” he said with a smile.

The resulting three volumes from his meticulous research – Eagles without a Cliff; A Black Violet; and Sylvia Beach and the Melancholy Jesus – are a series of imagined exchanges between the real life visitors to the cafés of the past; the famous and the would-be famous such as writer and publisher Robert McAlmon, his wife Bryher and her lesbian lover Hilda Doolittle, Ernest Hemingway and James Joyce. The story about Johnson is in the third volume.

“I think our collaboration on this project has worked really well for both John and me,” said Garry.

“We want these books to be keepers. Beautiful objects that the reader will enjoy holding and reading.

“John was determined to publish these stories as art objects in their own right. He is almost evangelical about it.

“They are printed on fine quality French paper specially imported from Paris, in a 20s style font with a beautifully designed cover. There are also extra surprise elements to the second and third volumes.”

After graduating from Cambridge in the 60s Garry has managed to fit in a diverse work-life including a short career as a systems analyst, broadcasting for the BBC, running a restaurant and a bookshop and teaching English at schools in Essex, Birmingham and Nottingham.

As a teacher he has nurtured several authors and journalists including the landscape writer Robert Macfarlane, who has described Garry’s new work as being full of ‘vim and vigour and repartee…’ and novelist Jonathan Coe, who wrote Like a Fiery Elephant the story of
B S Johnson.

However, despite his disparate life, the one thing which remained constant was his writing and, as well as these new works, he has produced several other books over the years, although it was not until he retired that he was finally able to put all his energy into the work he loved.

“I was once asked why I write and I simply replied ‘because I am a writer’.  It has taken me a long time to be able to declare this is what I do but I was a writer in 1967 and I remain so today.”

The second volume of the Beneath Napoleon’s Hat: Tales from the Parisian Cafés trilogy is launched at Scarthin Books, Cromford, today at 6.30pm.