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Oak Knoll author, Ryan Roberts, tells his story

January 18, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

Read the first post in our new series of blogs, where Oak Knoll authors take us through their experiences in their field and as an author. In this post, Ryan Roberts, author of John Fuller & the Sycamore Press, explains what sparked his interest in publisher John Fuller and how he used his interest to create his first book.

John Fuller & the Sycamore Press: A Bibliographic History developed from my interest in the works of the British poet James Fenton. Since 2005, I have maintained Fenton’s official website at www.jamesfenton.com, a privilege that arose from my experiences managing the official websites of Julian Barnes and Ian McEwan. As I compiled information to post on James’s website, I noticed his earliest works were published by John Fuller’s Sycamore Press. Fuller had been Fenton’s tutor for his first two terms at Magdalen College, Oxford, and the two remain close friends.  As I looked more deeply into the press’s output, I became intrigued by the scope of its production and became greatly impressed by Fuller’s keen knack for promoting young, exceptional writers, including Mick Imlah, Alan Hollinghurst, Elise Paschen, Fenton, and others.

James soon put me in touch with John Fuller and served as our host when my wife and I visited Oxford in June 2006, making sure to arrange lunch at John’s house so that bibliographer and subject could be properly introduced. I fondly remember that first visit — talking with John after lunch, my wife trying elderberry liquor for the first time, and the thrill I felt as John returned from the other room with a small stack of Sycamore pamphlets and his Sycamore Press ledger book for us to examine. He kept meticulous notes about his press work, including the cost of all supplies (paper, linen string for the sewn bindings, number of envelopes purchased, etc.) and, most importantly, the number of items produced and the date of publication. John graciously allowed me to keep the pamphlets, including some ephemeral off-prints, and borrow the ledger book to aid my research.

A collection of pamphlets published by the Sycamore Press

I returned to Oxford in early April 2007, and spent five days with the Sycamore Press archive, which John had organized in preparation for the Bodleian Library’s eventual acquisition. I again visited John to go through a draft of the bibliography and to discuss his work with the press. I recorded our conversation as a way of documenting details and notes about specific publications, only later deciding it might well serve as an interesting addition to the book itself. John’s recollection of details about the printing process for specific works was remarkable, and I hope the conversation reads not as a formal interview, but as a generous and open sharing of memories from the printer himself.

When I first conceived of the Sycamore Press bibliography, I remember talking it through with my wife on one of our evening walks: “In addition to a bibliography of the press’s output, wouldn’t it be nice to also have contributions from some of the authors about their experiences being edited and published by Fuller? A piece by James, for instance, or Alan Hollinghurst?” With this in mind, I wrote to as many Sycamore Press authors as possible and, in time, received replies from nearly everyone, which says a lot about how much the authors admire John’s work. The author contributions soon became more interesting than the bibliography itself, which is why they receive such prominence in the book. As I suspected, they show John Fuller to be a marvelous editor and judge of quality writing, and, especially for the younger poets, reveal the importance of his encouragement of their work.

Click here for more information on how to order Ryan Robert’s book, John Fuller & the Sycamore Press. After all, even Ryan’s son knows a good book when he sees one!

Keil Roberts with his father's book

Keil Roberts with his father's book


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