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40 Years of BookTalk

On the 18th June 1982, a few days after the launch of the Ipswich and Suffolk Book League, a newsletter, two pages of typed A4, was posted out to members. The first paragraph of what was headed ISBL NEWS, read:


‘FIRST, welcome to membership of Ipswich and Suffolk Book League. Thank you for joining. Immediately after the public launch on 7th June we had sixty members. Recruitment goes forward steadily and it is important that it should do so, because we must have sound membership and financial bases to be able to support a varied programme throughout Suffolk, and a ‘newspaper’ by means of which we can all keep in touch. So, will you please do what you can to interest your friends and acquaintances in joining? We should aim to have 200 members by the end of September, if possible, to make our future reasonably secure.’


The second newsletter was sent out in September 1982, edited by Peter Labdon, then County Librarian of Suffolk and a member of the executive committee of the National Book League. It declared that the newsletter should have the name BOOK TALK and this newsletter became issue No. 2.


This manually typed version continued until issue No. 82 in the autumn of 1996 after which a form of desktop publishing, including some occasional colour, was used until issue No.167 published in July 2016. From the summer of 2017 BookTalk went upmarket with the next ten issues, Nos. 168-177, being printed in a glossy format of 24 A5 pages.


The production of BookTalk hadn’t always been plain sailing. One particular crisis came in late 2012 when the editor wrote under the headline ‘The Future of Book Talk’:

‘I am sure (or hope) that many of you will have realised that the September edition of BookTalk did not appear. What you may not know is that for the whole of its existence BookTalk has been printed and distributed for us by the Suffolk County Council Libraries Department (in all its many guises) over the last 30 years. This cheerful and efficient support has been a marvellous subsidy for us, but with the transfer of the libraries to the new IPS [Industrial and Provident Society] things will have to change; quite understandably the IPS cannot commit to subsidising another organisation when they are trying to save so much money themselves to maintain essential frontline services. They have very kindly allowed us to produce this latest edition [no.149] under their auspices, for which we are very grateful.’


Two solutions were submitted for members’ consideration. One was to reduce the number of printed and posted issues and to look at making savings elsewhere, the second was to send each issue on email as a pdf for the members to print out themselves. The latter solution was not popular, and other savings were made. It was another ten years before printing and postage costs were mostly eliminated when at the beginning of 2022 BookTalk went online, available to members immediately on publication via our website with past editions, at present going back to issue No. 168, accessible to all.


Since 1982 our lines of communication to our members and other interested parties have changed radically. Apart from email we have our website which first went live in 1998 and our social media platforms including Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter (or whatever it calls itself nowadays). However, BookTalk is still at the heart of the Suffolk Book League, continuing to promote ‘the never ending joys of books and reading’ in the county.


Over the last forty odd years BookTalk has only had a handful of editors. In the beginning, as the newsletter of the Ipswich and Suffolk Book League (ISBL), the editors were Peter Labdon, Dick Tucker and James MacGibbon. The latter was editor in late 1986 when the ISBL became the SBL and continued as such until late 1994 when Anne Parry took over the reins. In 2001 Anne handed them on to Kay McElhinney and she carried it until the end of 2015 when she passed them to Louise Denyer.


In issue no. 166 of Book Talk Brian Morron, on retiring as long standing chair of the Suffolk Book League wrote:


‘In my time as a member of the SBL BookTalk has only had 3 editors: James MacGibbon, Anne Parry and Kay McElhinney. James used BookTalk as a soapbox, filling it with anecdotes, pronouncements and snippets found in other publications. He was not reluctant to drop the occasional name. If he was still with us he would now be writing BookTalk as a blog.


Anne was the first editor to encourage members to contribute, issuing invitations we couldn’t resist, such as to nominate “The book I love to hate”. She forgave me for choosing Anna of the Five Towns. James would almost certainly have chosen Lord of the Rings. Inevitably, Anne also wrote much of BookTalk herself, maintaining a strong editorial voice. She and James had both spent their working lives in publishing.


So, when Kay agreed to succeed Anne she must have been apprehensive. No need. She immediately did what every editor needs to do: she adopted and adapted it so that it was very much her own progeny. In her summaries of past meetings she often found the fascinating nugget which made the reader who’d missed the meeting wish they hadn’t – and occasionally made those who had been there wonder whether they were at the same meeting as Kay. Of course Kay, like her predecessors, has written large parts of BookTalk despite asking others to contribute. Reading BookTalk over the years has been like having a pleasant conversation with a good friend – with other people joining in every now and again.’


More recently, and particularly with the arrival of BookTalk online, production has become much more of a team effort with the result that we have a publication well set for a successful future.


Jeff Taylor











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