I am one of the organisers of the Oxford Indie Book Fair in this Oxford Mail news item. Our aim is to showcase independent publishers, local authors, illustrators, independent booksellers and printers-  the independent book related scene. Why is it needed? My personal experience says it all.

After reviewing Qu Leilei’s exhibition Everyone’s Life is an Epic at the Ashmolean, I wondered why the world didn’t know and celebrate the courageous Stars artists (Beijing 1979). I realised that in China  that no one could  safely publish their story because it involved the Democracy Movement so I interviewed Qu Leilei in depth for 3 years and followed that with other eyewitnesses to the events in my novel Brushstrokes in Time. John Gittings was the Guardian’s Chief Foreign Correspondent in China at that time. He read it wanting to find fault but instead has endorsed it. I sent the manuscript to agents to try to get to the big five who dominate the bookshops and Literary Festival scene. They replied that my novel was well written, interesting and publishable but because I am not ‘Chinese’ they couldn’t sell it. It has only been able to see the light of day because a new start up ‘Indie’ publisher called Claret Press was prepared to risk it.

Thanks to Katie Isbester, Claret Press’s CeO, Brushstrokes in Time emerged into the strange world where empathy is not encouraged. It is trapped between a one party state that imprisons dissidents and a ‘progressive’ West which denies my ‘write‘ to tell their story. I’m optimistic that when this new film about the Stars is circulated that could change.

Claret Press was one of the exhibitors on Saturday with her exciting range of not exactly ‘safe’ books. Her latest is Jill Culliner’s ‘Contrary Journey’ a non- fiction book of the life hunting for memories of the unjustly forgotten Hebrew poet and Yiddish melodrama author, Velvel Zbarzher.

The illustrators included the wonderful Korky Paul of Winnie the Witch fame and Weimin He, who was artist in residence at the Radcliffe Obseravtory Quarter and has generously illustrated some of my non-fiction books.

The most famous and elusive exhibitor was John Buckley. You can’t enter Oxford through Headington without being gobsmacked by the house with a shark in its roof.  It shouts ‘expect the unexpected’ and was conceived when bombers were leaving Upper Heyford to bomb Libya -poignantly relevant at the moment. The City Council  spent six years trying to get the house owner, Bill Heine and the sculptor, John Buckley, to remove it. John rang me to say that he had found the paintings he made at that time .They were on display for the first time on Saturday.

We publish free online magazines. In the latest one I write about John Buckley.

The shark house is a theme in my memoir- Expect the Unexpected  Food of Love is ready to send out for endorsements. The first has arrived from internationally exhibited public artist Diana Bell.

The Food of Love

A book that can be read on many levels. It is a personal history while at the same time it is an honest portrayal of the post Second World War period.  We are faced with our attitudes to class, education, gender, religion, race, politics and the expectations of people’s position in society. It is a serious social comment as well as being amusing and entertaining.  The way food is used to link the chapters is brilliant.

Diana Bell