The long-awaited new flagship Foyles store at 107 Charing Cross Road opened to much fanfare last week. Emma Smith went to the launch party to check it out.
White walls, bright lights, airy spaces, sleek lines and celestial voices (in the form of Foyles Festival Chorus choir) greeted the eager throngs of publishing industry guests at the Foyles launch last Monday. This is the bookshop upon whose brand new shoulders lies the hefty weight of bookselling hope.
Awash with those staples of any book event worth its salt – champagne and canapés – there was a great hum of conversation and curiosity at the former Central St. Martin’s site. Even Nick from The Apprentice was there. People were hungry to see what this bookshop was capable of delivering. Way back in February 2013, I went along to a Foyles workshop to help re-imagine the store – talk of gin palaces and ‘retail theatre’ buzzed around the room. And now it’s come to life. But without so much gin.
Light from the central atrium filtered down onto company chairman, Christopher Foyle, as he welcomed the crowd. Brothers William and Gilbert Foyle opened the Charing Cross branch in the 1920s and it has stood as a pillar of London literary life ever since. Christopher likened the developments in independent bookselling to that of the relationship between electric lighting and candles. Despite new technology, the earlier method sells on. Foyles hopes to be that eternal flame; a source of illumination rekindled to serve book buyers and to continue being ‘the greatest bookshop in the world’.
In reality, everyone knows what Foyles is up against – referred to graciously as something to do with ‘great rivers’ or ‘female warriors in Greek mythology’ – yet you can’t help but admire what they’ve done and what they might become. Staff working overtime to move half a million books just shows the collective goodwill towards this new venture. And with an ambitious star-studded launch festival (guests include Grayson Perry, Hilary Mantel, Jarvis Cocker and Michael Palin to name a few) there are no signs of momentum wavering. It’s a very human kind of warmth which ultimately pervades this shop; the personal knowledge, the heritage and the sheer drive, culture and spirit of Foyles leaves you with a feeling of optimism, albeit a cautious one for now.
Paring back the whizz-bang ideas of the workshop last year, they’ve created a streamlined and realistic cultural hub – keeping books at its heart, of course. Four miles of shelving is definitely enough to get lost in. Branching out from the standard bookseller remit, Foyles have introduced literary tours, built café space, created an exhibition area and have produced a healthy roster of events and talks to reach out to customers. They are really trying to make books come alive and speak to people.
At the launch, Caitlin Moran declared bookshops ‘the sexiest places’ to hang out in. While I’m not sure I totally agree with her hypothesis, I do think that there is something visceral about being in a bookstore; a physical feeling that isn’t experienced in the same way online. They should be places of excitement, exploration, intimacy and inspiration all at once (and maybe also a place to buy that last minute birthday card). Familiarity and nostalgia is one thing to encompass, but shining a light on a new bookselling path is quite another. Foyles have certainly gone at it all cylinders firing, and I, for one, hope that they will remain as a beacon burning bright.
The Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award – reputedly the world’s richest short story prize, awarding €25,000 annually to the author of the year’s best short story collection – has revealed its six-strong 2014 shortlist. The field is led by A. L. Kennedy and Lorrie Moore, both writers who have found great success with short stories in the past. Their respective titles All the Rage and Bark are joined on the shortlist by Laura van den Berg’s The Isle of Youth, Ben Marcus’ Leaving the Sea and the work of two debuting authors, Phil Klay’s Redeployment and Colin Barrett’s Young Skins. Four of the six authors are American, with Kennedy and Barrett the only representatives of, respectively, Scotland and Ireland.
The prize’s winner will be announced in July after deliberations by a judging panel consisting of novelists and short story writers Manuel Gonzales and Alison MacLeod and poet Matthew Sweeney. MacLeod told The Guardian ‘The stories in these collections moved me, provoked me, and knocked the breath out of me. They take the reader down deep; they bring him or her up short. With every great short story – and they are numerous across these six collections – the world expands. So does life itself. With a powerful collection, one grows bigger by at least several lives.’
The award was established in 2005 by the Munster Literature Centre in Cork as an offshoot of the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Festival, itself named in honour of the famed Irish writer, with its first prize given to Yiyun Li for A Thousand Years of Good Prayers. Since then, it has been awarded to authors including Haruki Murakami, Miranda July, Jhumpa Lahiri, Edna O’Brien and Nathan Englander, with other notable nominees including Joyce Carol Oates, Colm Tóibín and T. C. Boyle. Last year’s winner was David Constantine, for his Tea at the Midland and Other Stories.
If you’re an eccentric, philanthropic tycoon who is really into grisly fantasy and just wants what’s best for wolves, then 1) congratulations, because you sound like you’re terrific 2) your ship has come in. Game of Thrones overlord George R. R. Martin is spearheading a campaign on Kickstarter-style celebrity charity prize draw site Prizeo on behalf of New Mexico’s Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary and the Food Depot of Santa Fe.
This year’s Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction has gone to Eimear McBride for her debut novel, A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing. The book has already won the Kerry Group Irish Novel of the Year award and the Goldsmiths Prize, is nominated for the Desmond Elliott Prize and has been shortlisted for the inaugural Folio Prize. McBride took the Baileys over presumed favourite Donna Tartt’s third novel, The Goldfinch, as well as similarly big names Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Jhumpa Lahiri and fellow first-time novelists Hannah Kent and Audrey Magee (not to mention the longlisted Margaret Atwood, Rachel Kushner and Eleanor Catton). The book’s triumph is a major coup for its original publisher, the small Norwich independent Galley Beggar Press, for which it was a launch title (it was subsequently picked up for paperback by Faber & Faber).
Accepting the award, McBride said: ‘I hope it will serve as an incentive to publishers everywhere to take a look at difficult books and think again. We are all writers but we are all readers first. There is a contract between publishers and readers which must be honoured, readers can not be underestimated.’ It took McBride nine years to find a publisher willing to take on her innovatively-styled manuscript, having written the novel a decade ago, aged 27.
Former MD of Penguin Helen Fraser, head of a judging panel comprised of Mary Beard, Caitlin Moran, Denise Mina and Sophie Raworth, told The Guardian: ‘Very early on Eimear stood out from the crowd. We all put ourselves into purdah to re-read the shortlisted books but it was only when we started cautiously exchanging emails in the past week that we realised what a strong contender it was. It took us one hour to get the shortlist down to two books, and the remaining three hours to decide between them – but this is a truly worthy winner.’
Shots fired in the ongoing dispute between Amazon and Hachette in the US over profit margins on ebooks: so little faith does the online retail behemoth appear to have in resolving the situation quickly that, in a post on its Kindle forum earlier this week, it recommended that anyone in urgent need of a Hachette title ‘purchase a new or used version from one of our third-party sellers or from one of our competitors.’ That’s Amazon – the company so keen to retain your business that it hopes to integrate drone technology to make its deliveries more efficient and might use your browsing history to send you items that you didn’t even order but probably want – turning away your business rather than accepting Hachette’s terms. In this ‘mum and dad are going through some things’ scenario, dad just rented a flat on the other side of town.