Kulgin and I had wanted to produce a really fine book for George for some time, and we knew that the printers we would ask to undertake this would be Martino and Gabriella Mardersteig at the Officina Bodoni in Verona. The Officina Bodoni was set up by Giovanni Mardersteig, Martino's father, in Montagnola in 1922, before moving to Verona in 1927. Giovanni had printed three poems, or collections of poems, by Hugh MacDiarmid for us previously, copies of which were to be seen on display in the Keiller Library in bindings by Edgar Mansfield and James Brockman, Trevor Jones, and Sandy Cockerell and Joan Tebutt in 2004. The Officina Bodoni press has been called 'one of the outstanding achievements in the history of the hand press, perhaps its last great flowering.'

We had known both George and Gunnie since the early 1960s when we had a flat in Rose Street, Edinburgh. George had studied at Newbattle Adult Education College, Dalkeith when Edwin Muir was warden and was now taking a teacher training course at Moray House. He used to come up to the flat when the pubs closed - The Abbotsford, Milnes Bar, and Rose Street in general being the literary centre of Edinburgh at that time - so living there, though exciting, was not tranquil. George was not cut out to be a teacher and, after half a day at it, he left and returned to Orkney. Gunnie, married to the artist Tam Macphail, also lived in Edinburgh at this time. She later moved to Argyll before going to Orkney where inevitably she met and became a close friend of George.

At some stage Gunnie mentioned to me that as she walked along the shore near her house with her collie, Nuff, she took photographs of the myriad pools, stones and rock formations, and the patterns made in sand by water. She showed these to George, who told her that he had written a number of poems that were associated with stones, though in a rather wider context than the photographs. We liked the idea of bringing two of our longest-standing friends together in one publication, and, although the poems were not written in response to the photographs any more than the photographs illustrated the poems, George and Gunnie thought it was a good idea too.

Our first problem was a technical one. The obvious ways to produce the book appeared to be to have the book printed with the photographs tipped in on art paper, or to have the entire book printed on art paper. However, we were not willing to consider either of these options. One of the pleasures of producing a book with the Officina Bodoni is that every aspect is carefully considered and the right sort of paper for the text and layout chosen (and in the case of A Drunk Man looks at the Thistle, specially made for the publication). The quality of letterpress from the Officina Bodoni calls for a fine paper, but there seemed to be no way of printing the photographs onto handmade paper until Martino came up with the solution - coating the paper where the photographs were to be printed. Having resolved this, we set about preparing the text and photographs. From a large number of poems - and George continued to write more as the book germinated - we chose sixteen between us, and from something like a thousand photographs we eventually selected nine.

The four of us liked the look and feel of the book as it progressed through selection and proof stage and agreed that it would be appropriate for the poems and photographs to stay together, so we bought the copyrights from George and Gunnie with the intention of producing a more affordable trade edition in due course. However, to our surprise all the poems were reprinted in George's next collection and we felt there was no alternative but to give the copyright back to him.

Faith had already made two bindings for our 1975 British Bookbinding Today catalogue and we have always admired her bindings for their sensitivity, inventiveness, and technique, so I asked her to bind my own copy of Stone. She liked the book and suggested binding two copies. After some time, she said that she had so many ideas she was finding it difficult to know where to begin, or stop, so we asked her how many copies she would like. And so Stone took over her life, or filled a very large part of it. It was very exciting to have a preview in her studio of what was mysteriously evolving over the years; where pebbles and stones or perhaps a beautiful piece of slate sat on window ledges now, they might turn out to be inspiration for a box for one of the bindings. We felt honoured too, as even Sandy her husband was not allowed to see things until they were finished, a process which took something like seven years.

Colin H. Hamilton


2008 © Faith Shannon. All rights reserved.