8* Biteback Books on the Foreign Office Ministerial Reading List

  • July 15, 2014 16:30
  • Sarah Thrift

We’re delighted that 8* books from Biteback Publishing and The Robson Press have made their way on to Keith Simpson MP’s famous summer reading list.



Clement Attlee: The Inevitable Prime Minister
Michael Jago

Attlee is always rated highly as a Prime Minister by British political scientists and has been well served by biographers including Kenneth Harris, Frances Beckett and Thomas-Symonds. So perhaps not much more to add? Well Michael Jago in Clement Attlee: The Inevitable Prime Minister has discovered some new sources and has admirably reworked old ones to show that that whilst Attlee was lucky, he has experience, determination and grit. One for Ed Miliband.



Prison Diaries
Denis MacShane

For those parliamentarians unfortunate enough to have fallen foul of the law and thus served Her Majesty under constraint, there is always the opportunity to keep a diary and write about those experiences – Jeffrey Archer and Jonathan Aitken being two examples. Now the former Labour MP Denis MacShane has followed that example and written Prison Diaries.



The Eye of the Storm: The View from the Centre of the Political Scandal
Rob Wilson

Rob Wilson, Conservative MP and PPS to the Chancellor, wrote a very good study on the formation of the present Coalition. In The Eye of the Storm he considers how politicians and ministers deal with political and personal crises, including Charles Clarke, Jacqui Smith, William Hague, Jeremy Hunt and Vince Cable.



How To Be A Minister
John Hutton and Leigh Lewis

In their time, both David Davis and Gerald Kaufman have written “bluffer’s guides” on how to be a minister. Now former Labour Cabinet Minister John Hutton with Leigh Lewis, have brought their experiences up to date with their own How To Be a Minister. A must for ambitious thrusters in the Conservative Parliamentary Party 2010 intake.



The Last Victorians: A Daring Reassessment of Four Twentieth Century Eccentrics
W. Sydney Robinson

Famously, Lytton Strachey’s Eminent Victorians (1918) ridiculed the great ones of the nineteenth century. Now W Sydney Robinson, who recently wrote a well received biography of the Victorian investigative journalist W T Stead, has written The Last Victorians: A Daring Reassessment of Four Twentieth Century Eccentrics. They are William Joynson-Hicks 1866-1932, the moralising Home Secretary; W R Inge (1860-1954), the gloomy Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral; John Reith, 1889-1971, the moralising and intemperate founder of the BBC, and Arthur Bryant (1899-1985), the ultra patriotic popular historian and journalist.



The Too Difficult Box: The Big Issues Politicians Can’t Crack
Edited by Charles Clarke

Government, like many professions and businesses, is susceptible to kicking difficult problems into the long grass. The former Labour Cabinet Minister Charles Charke, experienced government under Blair and has been fascinated by the habit of Whitehall to prevaricate and avoid taking difficult decisions. In The Too Difficult Box: The Big Issues Politicians Can’t Crack he has edited a series of lectures by former ministers and experts on all the big issues frequently avoided, from Europe, national security, climate change, pensions, banking regulation, immigration, Lords reform, to assisted dying, just to mention a few. Proactive and stimulating as an editor, Charles Clarke shows what a loss he is to the political world.



Tennis Maestros: The Twenty Greatest Male Tennis Players of All Time
John Bercow

Speaker Bercow has always been a very keen, competitive tennis player and coach. He has written Tennis Maestros: The Twenty Greatest Male Tennis Players of All Time. Perhaps he will also write a second volume on the twenty greatest female tennis players of all time?



Finding The Plot: 100 Graves To Visit Before You Die
Ann Treneman

Ann Treneman the Times parliamentary sketch writer has written a fascinating if at times macabre book Finding the Plot: 100 Graves to Visit Before You Die. She accepts it is a personal choice and is open to suggestions regarding omissions. I have suggested she includes the gravestone of Parson James Woodforde the eighteenth century diarist who was rector of Weston Longville in my Norfolk constituency.


For the full reading list click here

*Apologies for our initial error, there are in fact 8 Biteback books on the summer reading list!


July Releases

  • July 04, 2014 13:30
  • William Coningsby-Brown

As the weather really starts to heat up, it’s time to indulge in some great summer reads from Biteback. Whether you want espionage from WWI & II, the emotive tale of a man and his plane, or the personal stories behind the Westminster scandals we have an excellent selection of new releases for you. They will all be available on our 2 week price promise, so don’t miss out.

Six Weeks of Blenheim Summer

Six Weeks of Blenheim Summer: An RAF Officer’s Memoir of the Battle of France 1940
Alastair Panton, edited by Victoria Panton Bacon

Written during the war, but discovered just last year by his grandaughter, this exceptional memoir of the RAF reconnaissance pilot Alastair Panton provides a gripping and truly human narrative of the camaraderie between a man, his comrades and his Blenheim plane.

“One can’t help feeling awe and reverence for people like this. There are enough adventures here for a lifetime, let alone six weeks.” Louis de Bernières

The Eye of the Storm

The Eye of the Storm: A View from the Centre of a Political Scandal
Rob Wilson

The expenses scandal, Plebgate, and Michael Fabricant’s recent tweets have shown that we live in a world where politicians are more accountable than ever. With the benefit of in-depth perspectives of those who have weathered the storm, including senior politicians such as William Hague, Charles Clarke and Jeremy Hunt, this book reveals the political and the personal stories behind the public dramas.

“A very well-written, important and authentic book.” Peter Oborne, Chief Political Commentator at The Daily Telegraph

MI5 In The Great War

MI5 in the Great War
edited by Nigel West

Based on a document only recently declassified by the government, Nigel West reveals the top secret history of MI5’s involvement in the First World War. German pre-war espionage, individual MI5 dossiers compiled on enemy spies in England and the attempts made by the enemy to infiltrate MI5 with double agents are all revealed, showing the extraordinary individual and joint effort of the British spy network to subvert the German intelligence threat.

They Fought Alone

They Fought Alone: The True Story of SOE’s Agents in Wartime France
Maurice Buckmaster with an introduction from Michael Smith

A new addition to the Dialogue Espionage Classics series

Established in 1941, the French Special Operations Executive provided a war network that grew to become a crucial part of the allied war effort. Ingeniously engineering acts of sabotage, resistance and terror in the face of the occupying Nazis, the SOE dealt devastating and fatal blows and at the head of it all was Colonel Maurice James Buckmaster. The memoir now includes an introduction from expert Michael Smith regarding the legacy of Buckmaster, and offers a unique insight into the trials and triumphs of these brave SOE agents.


Xavier: A British Secret Agent With The French Resistance
Richard Heslop

A new addition to the Dialogue Espionage Classics series

Delicately balancing clandestine missions and dangerous wartime operations on a daily basis Colonel Richard Heslop, codename Xavier, was a spy like no other. This untold story of the spy who ingeniously orchestrated resistance groups and ruthlessly sabotaged German operations is a dramatic account of the courage and endurance faced everyday by one of Britain’s greatest ever secret agents.

The Young Atheist's Handbook

The Young Atheist’s Handbook: Lessons for Living a Good Life Without God
Alom Shaha

The British Humanist Association made headlines earlier this year after sending every state secondary school in the country a copy of Alom Shaha’s book: The Young Atheist’s Handbook. The book received rave reviews in hardback, and the paperback will continue to help inform all people what living a life without God can be like.

“A very special book.” Stephen Fry

Happy reading everyone.


The fun of putting noses out of joint - Biteback turns five

  • July 02, 2014 13:00
  • Iain Dale
Iain cuts the cake

Iain Dale once hoped to be an MP, but after a tilt or two he decided to start a publishing company. Launched in the eye of recession, Biteback has thrived – despite ever-increasing trade challenges.

It has been five years since Biteback Publishing opened its doors. In that time we have consistently sought to publish books that have set the political agenda, and I truly believe we have established ourselves as one of the leading specialist independents in the country. We have published bestsellers by Anthony Seldon, Peter Sissons, Peter Hennessy, Ann Treneman, David Sainsbury, Damian McBride, Peter Hain and Andrew Adonis, among many others. We may be small but we are incredible noisy, exploiting excellent relations with the British press in order to secure often record serialisation deals and unparalleled media coverage.

No lesser names than Charles Moore and Peter Oborne have proclaimed us Britain’s best political publisher, for which we are grateful and very proud, and it is a rare weekend you will open a Sunday newspaper and not find one of our books serialised, or reviewed, or providing inspiration for the cover splash. I have to say it has genuinely been a lot of fun, though hard work. We have made a lot of friends and put a few noses out of joint along the way (nobody who has worked with us would describe us a shrinking violets), but we have enjoyed ourselves tremendously.

The last five years has also been a time in which the face of publishing has changed almost beyond recognition. When I started the company in July 2009, I, along with everyone else in the world of publishing, could not have predicted how rapidly that change would take place. Since 2009 we have witnessed the dramatic shrinkage of the high street, with Borders disappearing, Waterstones cutting its cloth, and WHSmith pushing up marketing costs to create its own cottage industry of fleecing publishers. We have seen the inexorable rise of the ebook, a sector that now comprises 20% of our business, and perhaps most importantly the irresistible consolidation of Amazon’s domination over the book trade (as, according to some noises-off, it seeks to tighten its Ming-the-Merciless-like stranglehold on our sales, pricing and stock-control), more of which later.

Unsurprisingly, some independents have very publicly struggled. It has been sad to watch companies with fantastic lists having to refinance, seek investment, sell up, or close their doors. But those of us looking for green shoots can, in my opinion, forget it. It will take a long time for recovery to trickle down to us, and besides, the economic downturn has just been the latest dramatic twist in a narrative that began with the abolition of the Net Book Agreement and will end, I believe, in a radical and wholesale restructuring of the industry business model. A change that will hopefully see an end to the farce of returns.

But let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater – the patient is not yet terminal, and the doomsayers can crawl back into their holes, for the time being at least. Challenging times also bring opportunities, something I banked on when I opened Biteback in the eye of the recession. The downturn allowed me access to suppliers and retailers who would not have looked at me twice in fatter times. More importantly, I was able to recruit some of the most talented people in publishing; some of whom are still with us, some have gone on to work for bigger houses, but all of whom I regard as friends, and a vital part of what Biteback has achieved in half a decade.

I do believe that, in some regards, small publishers have the upper hand in this brave new world. Large publishers may have the resources but they are constrained by their unwieldiness and vassalage to the shareholder. They lack flexibility and are less able to manage their cost bases. It was this inflexibility that got me back into publishing. In 2009, I identified what I perceived as a gap in the market for, frankly, the kind of book I like. Even back then, larger publishers were shying away from some areas of serious non-fiction; refusing to consider anything that was likely to sell less than 10,000 or 15,000 copies (anything selling that now would likely be considered a bestseller!). Consequently I was able to pick up a number of brilliant books that would not otherwise have seen the light of day. I may not have published a Harry Potter, 50 Shades of Grey or Da Vinci Code, but I have published a lot of books I’m terrifically proud of and that have more than washed their faces, which is imperative at this level of publishing.

In tough times the truth of the maxim “adapt or die” becomes starkly clear. In 2011, realising that we were effectively competing against ourselves in our own niche, I invited Jeremy Robson to form our imprint, the Robson Press, and help us broaden our trade appeal and our sales horizons both domestically and overseas. Cue books by a plethora of household names, including Michael Winner, Andrew Sachs, Esther Rantzen, Sandi Toksvig, Barry Cryer, and London 2012 multi-gold medal-winning Paralympian David Weir. The days of sky-high author advances are long gone, and there are no longer any free lunches in this industry.

The publisher/author relationship is now, more than ever, a strategic business partnership, with the author having to adjust his or her expectations to the realities of the current trading environment and the publisher having to work at least twice as hard to identify and supply alternative sales channels (every one of my staff at Biteback is an enthusiastic hand-seller, often selflessly giving up their evenings). The truth is that none of us is likely to become a millionaire, so trust is more important than ever, and graft is the name of the game.

Interestingly, I think the role of the literary agent has become the most precarious in these lean times, with agents having to work that much harder for their 15%. So it’s not all doom and gloom. With a smaller pot from which to draw on, times are challenging but the rewards are out there if you are brave and prepared to work harder than the other guy. Any blueprint for successful independent publishing in the current environment must include a renewed understanding between author and publisher, a healthy spirit of do-it-yourself, a keen eye on the bottom line and a willingness to cover all the channels, not to mention having a killer online offer and a desire to exploit new media to the hilt.

Some of what I read about Amazon’s alleged proposed new terms in the trade press doesn’t sit well with me. As you may have guessed by now, I am not a man who likes being told what to do. If true, the idea of signing a new contract which guarantees my books cannot be sold for a lower price than Amazon’s anywhere, including on our own website, is anathema to me. Every publisher, indeed every company in any industry, should have the right to market its wares directly to its customer base, at whatever price it deems appropriate. Taking control of pricing away from the publisher is, I would suggest, bad for all of us. Similarly, I don’t much like the idea of allowing Amazon to sell print-on-demand editions to customers if books are out of supply. Any company has the right to maintain its own stock and its own cost base, otherwise there is simply no point being in business. Besides which, no matter how much people try to persuade me otherwise, I think PoD still looks crap.

In Amazon’s favour, I would say this, however. Everything Amazon does is geared towards presenting the customer with the best deal and the best service. As a principle of business it is irresistible, and all independents could do worse than adopt it as a guiding virtue in a marketplace unrestricted by the need to shop outside your living room.

Five years ago, Biteback did what any successful publisher has to do: we began a conversation with our customers. That’s a conversation we are still having today, underpinned by the conviction that if we concentrate on publishing the right books and marketing them to the right readers, we will prevail. Roll on the next five years.

Iain, Lord Ashcroft and politicians

Image were taken by Liz Thomson, BookBrunch


Lobster Bisque à la Klop Ustinov

  • June 27, 2014 16:30
  • Sarah Thrift
Lobster Bisque

With a license to bemuse and seduce the enemy into revealing their deepest secrets, ‘Klop’ Ustinov, codenamed U35, tricked his way into the confidence of Soviet commissioners and Gestapo Gruppenführer. Passing on his gift in trickery to his actor son Peter Ustinov, Klop’s untold story is one of intrigue, flirtation and beguilement. The extraordinary life of Klop Ustinov can sometimes read like a fantasy, but biographer Peter Day is quick to point out any of Klop’s ‘tall tales’ too. Apparently Klop would regale friends and family with an unfortunate incident with some slippery seafood on a train to Gloucester:

Klop maintained that he had somehow procured enough lobster to concoct a lobster bisque, complete with cognac, cream and cheese, and had decanted it into a jar, which was travelling with him and his defectors on the train from London to Gloucestershire, securely contained in his father’s old top hat box. Unfortunately Klop then placed the hat box upside down in the luggage rack and halfway through the journey observed, with a mixture of amusement and horror, that the bisque was dripping steadily on to the unwitting defector’s Homburg hat.

And you thought your morning commute was bad… For more ‘tall tales’, trespass and train journeys, you’ll need to order your copy of the book.
Klop is available on our 2 week price promise now

Klop Ustinov by Peter Day


Competition Giveaway

  • June 18, 2014 13:00
  • Sarah Thrift

Celebrate the world cup with Biteback Publishing and Jim Murphy!

We’re giving away 3 copies of The 10 Football Matches That Changed the World …and the One That Didn’t by Jim Murphy.

’The assertion that ‘football isn’t a matter of life or death, it’s much more important than that’ has been verified repeatedly throughout modern history. It has bolstered tyrants and helped depose them; contributed to conflict and created ceasefires. It has been an incubator of racism at home and helped bring down a racist regime abroad; shaped cities, changed cultures and inspired resistance. Its impact is as dynamic as the game itself.

In this fascinating exploration, Jim Murphy takes us on a journey around the world and through the years, from Franco’s Spain to Africa’s Alcatraz, Robben Island. Charting the match that sparked a Central American war, the Barcelona team threatened at gunpoint, and the game that helped save Rupert Murdoch’s media empire, among much else, Murphy lends a fresh new perspective to some of the most iconic moments in international football.

Blending a love of the game with an appreciation of its place in global events, this is an authoritative and often humorous mix of sport and history, featuring fascinating first-hand insights from those most involved in the ten matches that changed the world … and the one that didn’t.

To enter, simply send an email with your name and address, and answer to the question below here. We will not pass on your personal details to any third party.

“Which football match do you consider to be the most significant and why?”

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The Ten Football Matches That Changed The World by Jim Murphy