Cygnus began as a book club and is now based at Angel, Islington. Our new warehouse in Eastbourne holds our handpicked list of 1700 titles that we have reviewed in our quarterly magazine The Cygnus Review. We also have access to a further 550,000 titles already on the warehouse shelves as well over a million or more titles that are available print on demand.
The Ugly Duckling. A Cygnet is born.
Once upon a time, during the summer of 1991 Ann and Geoff Napier took a day off and went on a book hunt in London.
"You see, we were hungry, hungry for ideas. We were looking for ways to live a life more in harmony with the earth, rather than dominating it, which it seemed everyone was telling us we should be doing. We were also searching for knowledge about our bodies and how to heal them with less pharmaceuticals, if possible. Most importantly we were starving for sources of spiritual wisdom. Both of us were brought up within the Christian tradition but found it supremely unsatisfying in its current form.
Since the age of twelve Ann had been reading the spiritual classics. We both felt a great affinity for the mystics of all traditions, whether it be sufis like Rumi, Bede Griffiths, the Catholic monk who lived in an ashram in India or the writings of Lao Tzu, from China. And as for the Celtic and Shamanic wisdom of the indigenous "primitive peoples", well they certainly felt to us that they had their hands on the golden thread that would lead to somewhere very fruitful.
We were aware that we could not easily find a good list of new books on spirituality, the environment and on health in one place.
In those days, the only thing to do was to take a day off and go up to Central London and spend a few hours in Watkins of Cecil Court to comb through their unmatched range of occult and spiritual titles and then perhaps a few more hours in another bookshop that specialises in health issues and finally we caught the underground up to Camden Lock for the long gone Compendium Books to browse through their collection of socially aware titles. We then collapsed with our arms full of titles, and ate a fine South Indian meal at Diwana in Drummond Street before trudging back home to Redhill, tired but triumphant.”
On the way back we chatted about all the new titles being published by lots of new publishers and noticed it was pot luck whether we could ever come across all the good titles. At the time we were running a publishing services partnership and were aware that the new fashion of desktop publishing was going to cause the bottom to fall out of the typesetting market, so we’d better start a new venture.
Well, we had no idea what to do. We thought of publishing the English edition of a book about the life of John Dee that had been written by Gustav Myrink (The Angel Of The West Window). There must be interest in such a famous man from the Elizabethan times. We then wondered how we could sell the book, once we printed it. Finally, the penny dropped, first we’d need to build up a mailing list of customers who might want such a book. A little more research and we found that we could start a book club. Suddenly, life was exciting, we went about feverously researching which publishers might publish the books we wanted. When we weren’t writing off to publishers asking for catalogues, we threw ourselves into the task of building a mailing list from scratch. After 12 weeks of frantic work we published the first edition of The Cygnus Review. It contained reviews of about 30 or so titles and went out to the grand total of probably 400 people. It was a rather blotchy affair with black and white photos and little blocks of text- we were very proud of our ugly duckling!
Within two years the fledgling had grown to include 4000 customers and had run out of space in our home: there were boxes stacked up in the shower (to keep them dry of course, from the rain outside!) That autumn we moved to a farmhouse in the village of Llangadog in Carmarthenshire, in the Brecon Beacons.
By now we had a clear idea of who our customers were and what they wanted.
They were curious, open-minded and wanted to explore new ways of living, they questioned their inherited beliefs and wanted to take on more responsibility for their health. At this time The Cygnus Review had become a 12 page black and white newsletter, The master copy was created by pasting together photos of the books and strips of text with hot wax. In those days artwork meant art work.
Each month we poured over the forthcoming titles, and chose just those titles that had something new and interesting to say. Sometimes we have bought from overseas, like the first edition of Masaru Emoto's book in Japanese and English from Japan. We published The Biology of Belief by Bruce Lipton in the UK.
Sometimes we have featured a classic, long since out of print in the UK. We sold 500 copies of the Voice of Silence by Mrs Bavatsky, the Theosphist. The previous year 5 copies had been sold in the UK. We were proving to publishers that there was a thirst for quality titles in our genre that were not aimed at only the novice or just mildly interested reader.
Our unique approach seemed to be valued. Our reviews are of the "can of beans" style. What you read about in our reviews is what you will get. No publicity hyperbola. our reviewer sets out to tell you the essence of the book. Even if you have no intention of buying a book, we hope you'll gain insights just from reading our reviews.
We launched our first website and we began accumulating members from overseas.
Fame at last, we had been noticed! Three new Mind Body Spirit book clubs are launched within six months by Book Club Associates, Time Life Books and The Readers Digest, all aimed to compete with Cygnus. We bit the bullet, changed printers and published in full colour to match the competition. All these competitors have since closed down, and we survived by the skin of our teeth.
Once again we were bursting at the seams and moved our book store down the road into a small modern warehouse in Llandeilo.
By now we had our 100,000 member join.
We shut the Lampeter bookshop, when the rent increased and moved our range of titles into a Unit of an antiques emporium, in Llandeilo. This remained open until 2015.
We put the finishing touches to the 4th generation of our website.
During the past 8 years or so We have a growing number of voluntary subscribers. Other readers receive a free copy from time to time, however postage costs have doubled, we're spending £20,000 each month, just to post out the magazine to 40,000 of our members.
We seem to have grown into a community without walls.
Our focus: Mind body & spirit, sustainability, food, health, nutrition, philosophy and new science.
Our most frequent request: Are there any Cygnus members in my locality? Yes, there always are, since we have a pool of 70,000 members who have never returned an issue of Cygnus. We trialled a local meeting in Leamington Spa in November 2014. It was a great success and we learned lots. by November 2015 we had approaching 90 local groups meeting in homes, cafes and community centres. Cygnus Cafes are born. See our map and list of cafe groups here.
Our goals: To give you half an hour of peace and reflection and a chance to re-connect with ideas that really inspire you. We aim to connect you to a growing community of people who have also resolved to dedicate this lifetime to serving the Highest Good to the best of their ability, however modest that may be.
We cannot keep up postage bills and cannot post out the magazine regularly.
Geoff Napier transfers ownership of Cygnus over to Watkins Media
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