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Wild Swan Books Ltd
History

Following the publication of "The Highworth Branch" by T.M. Smith and G.S. Heathcliffe in 1979 (the very first book to appear under the "Wild Swan" name) Paul Karau and June Judge went on to establish an unassailable reputation for producing meticulously put together, well written and beautifully produced railway books on a wide range of topics.

For the record, and right up to the sale of the business at the end of 2014, Wild Swan had produced 317 books. This number includes all the "monograph" titles but excludes the magazine issues of British, Model and Great Western Railway Journal. To save you working it out this is an average of 9 books per year, although numbers produced in any one year have varied and from scrutiny of original documents I can reveal that the largest number ever produced in one year was 20 in 2007.

With very few exceptions the combination of subjects chosen, the care with which the books are put together and Paul's talent for layout and design have consistently set Wild Swan titles at the apogee of railway publishing, they are that rare book that you can buy unseen without fear of disappointment.

Just as Oxford Publishing arguably led to Wild Swan being set up, Wild Swan has in turn nurtured a number of individuals into the publishing world and in the process given rise to Irwell Press, Lightmoor, Noodle and numerous other smaller publishing ventures along the way.

Of course the books and Paul have not escaped criticism over the years. Criticisms have included the exclusion of history after the end of steam, a lack of colour photography, the lack of clever technologically driven graphic devices, the non completion of series, occasional odd mixes of softbacks and hardbacks within groups of books,a lack of future announcements, lack of a website, lack of an e-mail address and excessive editorial control.

Strangely, the biggest criticism has come to be Paul's apparently quixotic reluctance to lay out his work on a computer, instead sticking with the traditional "paste up" method of laying out books. I say strange because this fact doesn't really bear any relation to the quality of the finished product, it may indeed limit "graphic freedom" in designing layout, but I would argue that it also contributes to Wild Swan's style. To be fair this might not suit everyone, but if push came to shove I'd go for restrained halftone conservatism over exuberant graphic tomfoolery every time.

Another thing I frequently hear with regard to Paul's methods is that "it can't possibly go on" - "the only person who can cope with Paul's methods at the printers has retired" - "it relies upon ancient equipment that won't be replaced" and so on. Well, without getting bogged down in detail this is all nonsense - the only real downside is that it adds cost to the production process, which probably is reflected in the price of the finished books. And that's all, well alright, it probably makes drop shadows tricky too.....

Simon Castens

Ethos Wild Swan Books Future
Retail stockists Rarities
Sales and booklist