The Early Years

first office

The first “office”

The Do-Not Press first stuttered into life in October 1994 with a 192-page offering called Rock Talk. The brain-child of music promoter and journalist Jim Driver, The Do-Not Press was conceived as a variation on the theme of ‘record label’. In this case – because he didnÿt particularly want to get involved in the record biz racket – the variation on this particular theme was that the end product would not be albums, singles or CDs, but books.

Rock Talk – which was a kind of ‘compilation album’ containing some rather fine and interesting writing from the likes of Roy Harper, Tom Robinson, Jon Ronson, Vince Power (owner of the Mean Fiddler empire), Miles Hunt, Laura Lee Davies and Daevid Allen – was transcribed, edited, laid-out, designed and proofed on a trusty Apple Mac LCIII in the Driver bedroom (see picture). The ‘biography’ in Rock Talk reads:

Jim Driver was born in Yorkshire in 1954, and has spent most of his life successfully avoiding a 9-5 routine. He is a publisher, writes regularly for Time Out Magazine and has been working on his debut novel for approximately twenty-three years. It is expected to appear soon (or shortly thereafter). He lives in south London with a large number of books, a television set and a stutter.

Funny Talk, a similar enterprise featuring eminent comedy types including Michael Palin, Mark Lamarr, Max Bygraves (!) and Paul Whitehouse, followed six months later and the publishing industry recoiled with indifference. Again it was assembled on the trusty LCIII and sold and distributed from the bedroom warehouse. One minor niggle was that the words “Rock Talk”, appeared in the header of every page. Driver attempted to get round this problem by insisting that it was a subliminal advertisement for the previous volume. Few believed him.

It was clear from those first dry runs that The Do-Not Press needed professional distribution and sales (both were eventually found) and that more had to be done than just publish contributions from famous people in a series of Talks. Where would it end? Farm Talk? Pub Talk? Builder & Decorator Talk? – and so Jim Driver searched around for complete books written by other people to publish.

He takes up the story:

I have always been interested in crime – especially of the Elmore Leonard/James Ellroy/Eugene Izzy/Arthur Lyons type, so it seemed a good idea to try and saunter down those mean streets. And I already knew a crime writer.

I first met John B Spencer in my days as agent and promoter. Apart from being a noted singer/songwriter, record producer and illustrator’s agent, Spencer was a writer with a couple of crime books published in the 1970s by Fontana. I asked him to write another Charlie Case adventure for The Do-Not Press. He agreed and Quake City – with one of the best covers of its time, designed by Time Out Art Director, Kirk Teasdale – was scheduled for publication in April 1996.

A conversation with Maxim Jakubowski of London’s Murder One bookshop came up with two more titles, including a volume of his own “dangerous and erotic” short stories, Life in the World of Women, which was marked up for publication in April ’96. Scheduled for the same date was the Fresh Blood anthology he and Mike Ripley had been working on for a couple of years. Intended as a showcase for the new British school of crime-writing, it came with the slogan “Move over Agatha Christie and tell Sherlock the news…”. Between them they managed to rope in writers of the calibre of Mike Phillips (writing as Joe Canzius), Mark Timlin, John Harvey, Ian Rankin, Chaz Brenchley, Stella Duffy and Derek Raymond (a posthumous, unpublished extract). Each author wrote an introduction defining their view on crime writing in modern Britain and Mike Ripley provided a definitive five page foreword.

The search for an imprint name was easier than I thought it would be. BLOODLINES was on my first list of possible names, scribbled on the back of a beer-mat during a brain-storming session at the local pub. I couldn’t believe it wasn’t taken, but it didn’t seem to be and so I nabbed it. Like The Do-Not Press before it, Bloodlines had just the right ring to it and success seemed just around the corner.

Next on my list was a reissue of my Time Out colleague Brian Case’s brilliant dark-satire from 1968, The Users. All four titles were published as planned in April 1996 and received far more press than we expected, including an amazing boost around the British crime-writing boom. Sales didn’t quite live up to expectations, and so retirement had to be postponed.

Over the next few years The Do-Not Press published an eclectic variety of books: a charity collection for NCH Action For Children (For The Children edited by Susan Penhaligon), a contentious history of the madcap group who invented bungee-jumping (The Strange Adventures of the Dangerous Sports Club by Martin Lyster) and a collection of Ray Lowry’s work over the preceding 30 years (Ink).

We took on new and exciting young authors and published first novels or short story collections – Christopher Kenworthy, Conrad Williams, Simon Skinner and Frank Downes among them. The Do-Not Press also published a book called C*nt that got us into hot water (not totally unexpectedly) and took on Jenny Fabian’s notorious 1960s roman à clef, A Chemical Romance. We are very proud to have been associated with Miles Gibson since 1998.

But most of all The Do-Not Press is known for its strong contemporary crime list. Aside from a strong showing from the now sadly departed John B Spencer, we are the UK publisher for a virtual who’s-who of British crime writers: Ken Bruen, Bill James, Paul Charles and Russell James among them. Then there’s the articulation imprint, launched in 2002 to publish high quality photographic books. But that hardly counts as The Early Years’…

August 2002