Friday, January 20, 2012

Fighting High flying high

In this age of e-books and online resources you’d think anyone who started up a new, specialist publishing company to produce real, tangible, high quality books would need their head read. With some authors preferring to make their work available in electronic form, and the media screaming the end of paper books is nigh to whoever will listen, it would certainly seem a risky venture. Established and respected author Steve Darlow, however, had other ideas and, with a good network of fellow authors and interested parties, saw the opportunity to try a few things that were a little bit different.

A perfect example of this is the recent announcement that the official book of the Bomber Command Memorial, currently being constructed in London’s Hyde Park, will be designed and published by Fighting High Publishing. We Will Remember Them – The National Memorial to Bomber Command is quite a coup for the Darlow-led publishing house as it was only back in about June 2009 – not long after the release of his challenging Flightpath To Murder by Haynes - that the decision to self-publish Steve’s Fighting High book series was made.

Since then the business has made a name for itself by producing books with high production values. Like all publishers considerable effort is put into the look of each title and the results speak for themselves. Following the publication of the two Fighting High volumes the first ‘stand-alone’ title was released. Richard Pinkham’s On Wings Of Fortune, a remarkable story of flying in three different theatres during the war, was proudly presented as a small, 200-page hardback. The way it was put together – from the glossy dust cover to the well-reproduced photos from Burma (always a fun thing to print given the humid conditions in which the photos were taken) – still impresses me. It just looks right.

This attention to quality of production continued with the next book – Great War To Great Escape (incidentally, the only FH book I have read to date and soon to be featured in a review here). However, as good as these books are, they were always going to be in competition with the, admittedly and fortunately, well-populated aircrew memoir market. The next two books from Fighting High are, from where I sit, groundbreaking and in a class of their own.

Portraits Of The Few features paintings of more than 60 Battle Of Britain veterans accompanied by accounts of their actions in a large-format hardback. While using paintings to illustrate text is nothing new the portraits make for a very personal and striking look at the contribution these men made to a conflict that continues to stir emotions today. Indeed, the intimacy provided by the paintings could perhaps only be matched by a memoir written by one of the men themselves. The book offers, in many cases, the first opportunity to see these men, during their finest hour, in ‘living colour’ – a stark contrast to the black and white war we are all accustomed to.

Matching Portraits’ quiet emotion and intimacy with stories of loss and sacrifice is Bomber Command: Failed To Return. An ensemble cast of well-known authors has come together to present accounts of just some of the thousands of bomber crews who were killed or became prisoners (those who failed to return). Such ‘short stories’ are usually the realm of historic aviation magazines but putting them all together in, again, a large format hardback means men whose exploits may not have come to light now get the recognition they deserve. Like the Bomber Command Memorial mentioned above this is a powerful tribute that owes its existence to a team of dedicated people.

As you might imagine the memorial has featured heavily in Fighting High’s recent history. Veteran and author signings have been held at book launches and as standalone events with proceeds from the latter going towards the well-known fundraising efforts for the memorial. Fighting High’s passion for honouring the bomber crews is evident and, coupled with the already well-established reputation for quality mentioned above, would have made the task of selecting a publisher for the memorial’s book that much easier.

2012, however, is not just about one new book. The success of Failed To Return has spawned a sequel that will no doubt do well with the added ‘bonus’ of the increased interest in Bomber Command as the new memorial is completed. A return to the Battle of Britain and a foray to Malta will come with the June release of ‘Tich’ Palliser’s They Gave Me A Hurricane – a book written by the man himself but, sadly, unpublished at the time of his death late last year. It is the reprinting of a classic biography, though, that will prove the publisher’s commitment to do things right but mix it up a little.

Pathfinder Cranswick was written by journalist Michael Cumming in the early 1960s. Over 40 years it has appeared in several guises, the most recent paperback being self-published. Wanting to keep the story fresh and keep the name of Alec Cranswick (bomber pilot who flew the most ops) ‘out there’, the author researched new material and created an e-book for sale on Amazon. The book has always been regarded as one of the classic Bomber Command biographies so Fighting High, realising the opportunity to bring the book back in its 50th year, has teamed up with Cumming who, again, has discovered further new material to include in the anniversary edition. This, obviously, is more than just a simple reprint with a fancy new cover or, god forbid, a new title. This will be a classic updated and fresh and at an affordable price which is more than can be said for the old editions on the secondhand market!

You may be wondering why I’ve gone to great lengths to promote one publisher seemingly over the others. There is no favouritism or ‘preferred’ publishers on ABR but credit where it is due. What I have seen over the past few years, from the start of Fighting High to the current success, has been an ability to think a little differently and challenge what is expected of a publisher in this genre. The desire to contribute to the memory of aircrew beyond peddling a product is commendable. High quality, the utmost respect and honouring the memory of aircrew should be paramount with these books and Fighting High does it exceptionally well.

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