Former leading New Zealand publisher and bookseller, and widely experienced judge of both the Commonwealth Writers Prize and the Montana New Zealand Book Awards, talks about what he is currently reading, what impresses him and what doesn't, along with chat about the international English language book scene, and links to sites of interest to booklovers.
Why would you go to the trouble of setting type letter by letter, line by line, page by page, as Dr John Holmes does, when you could print it almost instantly by computer? Charmian Smith talks to the 2012 printer-in-residence at the university library. If you are going to the trouble of printing something by hand on a letterpress, make sure it's worth printing, Dr John Holmes says. It's advice he was given as a student, when he was taking up what has proved to be a lifelong hobby. You don't want to spend all that time and effort printing something ephemeral like tickets for whist drives, he says although he admits he has printed tickets for his children's school plays. The Dunedin craft printer, who in his day job is Otago Southland medical officer of health, is this year's printer-in-residence in the Otakou Press Room at the University of Otago Library. He is printing Distractions, a booklet of poems by Dunedin poet Kevin Cunningham, a tribute publication to mark the 10th anniversary of his death. His widow, Prof Charlotte Paul, commissioned his friend and fellow poet Bill Manhire to select them and write the introduction. The book will include a keepsake, a separate page with poems about Cunningham by Bill Manhire and Alan Roddick, says Dr Donald Kerr, special collections librarian at the University of Otago. Growing up in the United Kingdom, Dr Holmes became fascinated by printing as a boy when he inherited a small press from his uncle. "I'd been taken to printing works and done school trips to see the newspaper, but in fact the letterpress printing was more interesting - the pe-dom, pe-dom of the letterpress rather than the circular press spinning of a newspaper," he says. Although improvements have been made to letterpresses through the centuries, the design dates back to Gutenberg in the 15th century. It uses moveable type, which is hand-set letter by letter, locked into the bed of the press, inked, and paper is pressed against it to form an impression. "[Printing] just takes you away. As a doctor you do different sorts of things, and I find it's a time when I can get away and think about things, but you can't think deeply because you have to concentrate on what you are setting - look at the text and set it and you are working upside down and back to front. You have to get the lines so they are the right length and the letters don't drop out when you pick them up. Then the challenge is to get it nicely printed, evenly inked and printed - you have to make sure it's lined up with the printing on the other side. Then you clean it all up and put it away, all the type in the right boxes so it's ready for the next page," he says. Full story at Otago Daily Times