By rights we should have met in (‘lark‘s. It was there countless Friday nights ago. in a backroom groaning with emphysema outpatients. that I was first introduced to Bill and Pete. (‘ampbell and MacKenzie. ‘the boys from Mainstream‘. as they were described to me by the then literary editor of The .S'misman. "The boys‘ came in off the street like Sicilian brothers. Both wore leather jackets. one was black-bearded. the other patented an anorexic moustache. On their lips lit cigarettes were already at anchor. ‘Whadyllyihave'.". rasped Pete in a voice which could have terroriscd Caligula. I have been asked the same question many times since and it still strikes a chill in my heart. I wish I knew why for there is mickey take in the eyes and generosity in the gesture and the hours pass by as if on the back of Shergar.
(‘lark‘s is the unofficial annexe of Mainstream Publishing where deals are struck. heads banged. ideas floated. authors. editors. designers hassled. pampered. pinned down. Eventually someone will put up a blue plaque commemorating Bill and Pete‘s residency. But I decided it would not be prudent to meet there. It would. I reasoned. be too easy to give the wrong impression. Publishing after all is not the last resort of the bibulous amateur. It is. if you read the newspapers. all about six-figure advances. gobble or be gobbled. paperback and film rights. merchandise endorsements. bumper serialisations and enough wheeling and dealing to make you dizzy. It is a big. grubby. nasty business.
In this crazy. international circus Mainstream have survived for ten years. not by punishing pints in (‘lark‘s but by publishing books that sell. So I went to the nerve centre. to their headquarters in Albany Street. on the fringe of Edinburgh‘s New Town. Mainstream occupy two ﬂoors of the building which also accommodates Mercer Holdings. the company owned by the Chairman of Hearts FC. Wallace Mercer. soon to be on Mainstream‘s books as the co-author of Heart to Heart. Freshly minted books are piled everywhere. clogging the stairwell and landings. These are the latest of the ()2 titles Mainstream are committed to publishing this year. among them William McIlvanney‘s poetry. Mo Johnston‘s story. a novel by Russell Galbraith. Douglas
Ten years old this year, Edinburgh‘s Ma
n "" ‘- " 2h-tl‘v
,. ~ I“. ' " a: 3" 't ’
instream Publishing has survived floodsand
famines to tell the tale. Bill Campbell and Pete MacKenzie told it to Alan'l‘aylor.
Corrance‘s aerial photographs of Glasgow and a biography of film-maker David Puttnam. This has been their most productive year so far but both Bill and Pete feel that they could cut back the number of titles to 40 or 45. ‘We will hopefully expand the sales of less titles.‘ says Bill. ‘In other words we‘ll try and make them bigger books. in terms of quality. publicity and everything else.‘
Making the most ofwhat they can get their hands on is the test ofevery small publisher and in the early years each Mainstream book had ‘to wash its face‘. ‘Up until a couple of years ago.‘ says Bill, ‘we could have claimed never to have published a book that did not make money. Now we can claim to have published a few books that have not made money. But that‘s almost inevitable.‘
What is now accepted reluctantly could have sunk the company before
it was properly afloat. The first book-
was the journal Robert Louis Stevenson kept in preparation for his famed Travels with a Donkey which came to Mainstream by default after Canongate decided not to publish. ‘Stevenson.’ says Pete laconically.
‘seemed like a good enough name to kick offwith. It seemed appropriate. It also tied in with this Frenchman who was walking his donkey from the Cevennes all the way to Kathleen MacFie‘s house in Heriot Row. Stevenson‘s boyhood home.‘
What Bill describes as ‘the sales double act‘ was up and running and Stevenson was followed by George Rosie‘s The Ludwig Initiative — ‘about one of the world‘s richest men who keeps himself busy chopping down Amazonian rainforests‘ — and a reprint ofJohn Prebble‘s The Darien Project. How well did they do? ‘We could still conjure up a few copies ifyour interested.‘ says Pete. ‘We were — I was going to say — ambitious but perhaps optimistic is a better word. as far as print runs were concerned.‘
At that time Mainstream operated from Bill‘s first-floor flat in Barony Street and it was not until they moved to Albany Street. after a sojourn in an eyrie in Thistle Street Lane. that the company really took off. That year— 1984—5 — they were both able to devote themselves fully to publishing and they were rewarded with a bestseller. Light in
(he Nari/1. which sold 26.0fm copies. After that came other successes like Billy Kay‘s Knee Deep in (‘lureh a biography of the boxer Benny Lynch. the reprint of William Mcllvanney‘s [)m‘lzerrv and illustrated books like the late ()scar Marzaroli's Slim/es n_/'(ire.\'.
Later they have published a plethora ofsports books and I asked to what extent personal taste governed what they published. "The great thing about being our size and independent.‘ says Bill. ‘is that you can indulge your whim. In that sense. yes. we're obviously interested in sport. but we‘re also interested in moving into illustrated books like the Joan Iiardley.‘ Now in better situation to finance themselves. to secure authors with advances and to sell foreign and paperback rights — [)avid Milstead's first novel ( ‘ltrrml‘e/es ()fC 'ruig/ieI/i has been sold fora ‘five figure sum‘ — Bill and Pete see the next decade as one of consolidation. ‘We‘re at the stage.‘ acknowledges l’ete. ‘in terms of personnel and numbers of titles that we want to reach. We're quite happy to see if we can make everything work at that level.‘
'l'he IN so Sept 1.? ( )et lass 49