Saturday, March 11, 2023

The Ides of March

I know we're actually still a few days away from the official Ides of March, but as out of whack as the world feels these days, it's not impossible to imagine that it arrived this year on March 6th by mistake, with all its sense of tragedy intact. As many of you already know, that was the day that Rupert Heath, founder of Dean Street Press, my friend and inspiring collaborator on the Furrowed Middlebrow series (not to mention his trailblazing work with others rediscovering Golden Age mysteries and other fiction and non-fiction as well), died suddenly of a heart attack, only a little over a month after the sudden death of his beloved wife Amanda. Rupert's sister Victoria has written a wonderful obituary for him here, which is uplifting and devastating in equal parts. Rupert was only 54.

It's difficult to know how to write about the loss of someone I had never actually met face-to-face, though we worked closely (I typed "we have worked closely" and am suddenly pained and distinctly pissed off to have to correct the verb tense) together for seven years, in some periods of intense effort emailing each other a dozen times in a day. Most of the time, both of us were equally, geekily excited about the work and how much it mattered to get it right, and having fun with the fact that we were lucky enough to be doing it.

And of course, I had the luxury—for a long time only fantasized about—to be excited about working (in however modest a way) "in publishing" purely because Rupert, apparently fairly spontaneously, had handed it to me on a platter. From the depths of my blog archive, I went back to look at a post I vaguely remembered having written but hadn't looked back at in years. This is my announcement that the fantasy was becoming reality and the first Furrowed Middlebrow books were in the works. It gives me a rather desolate feeling to read it now, but at the same time, what an amazing experience it has all been.

If it's difficult to know how to write about the loss of someone one never met, it's likewise difficult to know how to grieve for them, though grieving I certainly am. I've had many lovely emails from readers and colleagues in the past few days—you who understand how attached one can be even to people known only "virtually". Every morning since learning the news, I have, first thing in the morning, as always, checked my email and caught myself expecting to have one from Rupert. For seven years, it was always exciting and fun to have Rupert's name in my inbox, even if he was writing with bad news about the rights for books I hoped we might reprint (though, with Rupert's acumen, contacts, and professionalism in the business, it rarely was bad news: oh, how I will treasure the memories of receiving emails from him confirming that we could move forward with the likes of Stella Gibbons, or Margery Sharp, or D. E. Stevenson). I imagine I'll keep expecting that email for a long time to come.

I don't want to go on being all maudlin, and I have a feeling that Rupert would have hated such a tone, but I will say I very much regret now that we didn't get a chance to know each other better on a personal level. He sang (and played ukelele!)? He headed an Oscar Wilde appreciation society at school? He once wrote an article about French chanteuses? Clearly, we had more we could have discussed! What fun it would have been to have a pint with Rupert (and Amanda, who was a fashion expert and offered invaluable advice on some of our book covers, most recently our Susan Scarlett reprints, in which fashion was a major concern). Perhaps this is a lesson, if we need it after the past few chaotic years, in taking the time to delve deeper with the special people we come across, make it meaningful, make it count, and not assume that you can always get to know them better later.

I know many of you are wondering about the future. I am sorry to say that this does certainly mean there will be no more Furrowed Middlebrow reprints to come, though Rupert and I had had lots of great ideas for future projects. I will likely post a bit about some of those in the future (I expect that the blog will go on, though exactly how is, as they say, TBD), but for now, I am simply happy to report that the 96 (!!) Furrowed Middlebrow titles already in print will remain available. I'm delighted that they will remain as a testament to Rupert's passion, curiosity, and collaborative spirit. I might also, perhaps a little smugly, note that, when Rupert offered me the wonderful opportunity of working with him back in 2014, our line of reprints of (primarily) rather cozy middlebrow fiction was a bit of an anomaly. Today, the middlebrow is at least a bit more mainstream than it was, and there are a number of small publishers engaged in similar kinds of projects of rediscovery, not to mention some major publishers actively scouting for neglected, deserving works. As heartbreaking as this week has been, it's some comfort to know that the work will go on, and that we may have played our small part in ensuring that it does.

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