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October 2016

Publisher Stephen Page Pays Tribute to P D James
21st October 2016 - Stephen Page

P. D. James (1920-2014) was born in Oxford and educated at Cambridge High School for Girls. From 1949 to 1968 she worked in the National Health Service and subsequently in the Home Office. She was a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and of the Royal Society of Arts and served as a Governor of the BBC, a member of the Arts Council, where she was Chairman of the Literary Advisory Panel, on the Board of the British Council and as a magistrate in Middlesex and London. She won awards for crime writing in Britain, America, Italy and Scandinavia, including the Mystery Writers of America Grandmaster Award and The National Arts Club Medal of Honor for Literature (US). She received honorary degrees from seven British universities, was awarded an OBE in 1983 and was created a life peer in 1991. In 1997 she was elected President of the Society of Authors, stepping down from the post in August 2013.

As the acknowledged 'Queen of Crime', P. D. James was frequently commissioned by newspapers and magazines to write a special short story for Christmas. The Mistletoe Murder collects four of the best of these drawn from the archives. From the title story about a strained country-house party on Christmas Eve, to another about an illicit affair that ends in murder, and two cases for James' poet-detective Adam Dalgliesh, each treats the reader to James' masterfully atmospheric storytelling, always with the lure of a mystery to be solved.

Below you can read publisher Stephen Page's tribute to P D James.





From Stephen Page's Tribute to P.D. James , given at the Memorial Service in London on 29th April, 2015.

The Memorial Service for P.D. James in 2015 bore witness to the extraordinary range and fullness of her life. All the many strands of her life were represented; through her family, the church, her role as a peer, her numerous charitable works, and, or course, her writing. Her honours, including her life peerage and many fellowships and her international awards were genuinely too numerous to mention. As her publisher I spoke about Phyllis as one of Britain’s finest, most celebrated and widely read writers since the Second World War. In the book world it remains a mystery that Phyllis had any time for anything beyond the demands of being such an accomplished writer. Perhaps those who knew her in the other parts of her life might have wondered when she had time to write those books. In truth, the way she lived is one key to her brilliance as a writer, as she participated so fully in the world, knowing about life’s struggle, about work, family, loss, desire, love and death.


Phyllis had a long writing career of over fifty years that began surprisingly late. She embarked on Cover Her Face in her mid-thirties. In her autobiography, Time to Be in Earnest, she admitted some regret that she didn't start earlier, saying that 'a streak of indolence...made it more agreeable to contemplate the first book rather than actually write it'. Yes, the well-known indolence of P. D. James!


Despite a later start she leaves an impressive body of work comprising nineteen brilliant and original novels, and three works of non-fiction, all of which continue to be read throughout the world. To her the choice of detective fiction was simply obvious, but she made it her own and stamped an originality and literary quality upon the genre like no other writer before her. She said that she wrote detective novels for the reasons readers are fascinated by them, for what she called 'the catharsis of carefully controlled terror' and the bringing of order out of disorder.


The story of her arrival at Faber is well known. At a dinner at All Souls, Elaine Greene, Phyllis's newly acquired agent, sat next to Charles Monteith, a director from Faber. He said that Faber was looking for a new detective-fiction writer since the recent death of Cyril Hare, and Elaine replied, 'I think I have what you are looking for.' Faber took on Cover Her Face in 1960, prompting the marvellous image of Phyllis, in her own words, 'prancing up and down the hall' on hearing the news. A treasure in the Faber Archive is the first book report, written by a perceptive female editor who quickly saw Phyllis's talent, and also perhaps one of the less discussed keys to the success of the Dalgliesh books. She commented that maybe it required a male editor's opinion, and I quote, ' rather carried away by the inspector's compelling blue eyes.'


Inspector Dalgliesh was never far from Phyllis's thoughts, and not, I think, for his blue eyes. He is a good man, a poet, and he stands and speaks for Phyllis's humanity, a humanity that meant she could imagine what it was to be so overrun by desire or envy or anger or vengefulness that a person would commit a terrible crime. This gives the books their toughness and believability, and makes the reader's feeling for Dalgliesh all the greater as he seeks to restore order. Phyllis's compassion and love are visible both in and for Dalgliesh. Her kindness to her hero in the last three books, with his marriage to Emma - with more than a nod to her beloved Jane Austen - is so moving, and gives her readers the most encouraging and deeply affecting portrait of love's healing power. It's a gift to us all, as also are the final pages of Death Comes to Pemberley where Darcy and Elizabeth survey their world kindly despite the preceding traumatic events.


The belief that good can prevail in a difficult world remains Phyllis's central message. Phyllis was a good person and a great writer. She was an inspiration to readers, publishers and to our nation's literary culture. In Time to Be in Earnest she refers to W.H. Auden's essay on detective fiction from 1946 in which he says, 'The phantasy, then, which the detective story addict indulges is the phantasy of being restored to the Garden of Eden, to a state of innocence, where he may know love as love and not as the law.' The Private Patient, her final Dalgliesh novel, ends, 'The world is a beautiful and terrible place...If the screams of all earth's living creatures were one scream of pain, surely it would shake the stars. But we have love...we must hold fast and believe in it, for it is all that we have.'


Phyllis knew love as love, and was able to give it, both in her life and in her fiction. We will all miss that; her beloved family, her friends, those she worked with and her readers. But the joy is that her love remains in the lives of those who knew her and, more lastingly even, in her books, which will continue to thrill, nourish and entertain each new generation of readers, as is the gift of all great literature and great writers.


Photo of Stephen Page © Marta Gala



Read an Extract from Stalin and the Scientists
17th October 2016 - Simon Ings

Simon Ings began his career writing science fiction stories, novels and films, before widening his brief to explore perception (The Eye), 20th-century radical politics (The Weight of Numbers), the shipping system (Dead Water) and augmented reality (Wolves). He co-founded and edited Arc magazine, a digital publication about the future, before joining New Scientist as its arts editor. Out of the office, he lives in London, writing for the Guardian, Times, Telegraph, Independent and Nature.

His new book, Stalin and the Scientists, tells the story of how the Soviet Union's scientists became both the glory and the laughing stock of the intellectual world. It weaves together what happened when a handful of impoverished and underemployed graduates, professors and entrepreneurs, collectors and charlatans, bound themselves to a failing government to create a world superpower, and shows how Stalin's obsessions derailed a great experiment in 'rational government'.

Read an extract from the preface below.


Come, brethren, let us look in the tomb at the ashes and dust, from which we were fashioned.

Verse from the Orthodox burial service


Stalin and the Scientists describes what happened when, early in the twentieth century, a motley handful of impoverished and under-employed graduates, professors and entrepreneurs, collectors and, yes, charlatans, bound themselves to a failing government to create a world superpower.

Russia’s political elites embraced science, patronised it, fetishised it and even tried to impersonate it. This process reached a head in 1939 when the supreme patron of Soviet science established a prize in his own name for scientific research, the Stalin Prize. At the same time, the ‘supreme national scientific institution’, the USSR Academy of Sciences, elected him an honorary member.

Suspected, envied and feared by the Great Scientist himself, scientific disciplines from physics to psychology, genetics to gerontology (a Soviet invention) sought to avert the many crises facing the country: famine, drought, soil exhaustion, war, rampant alcoholism, a huge orphan problem, epidemics and an average life expectancy of thirty years. Their work, writings and wrangles with the political authorities of their day shaped global progress for well over a century.

Tsar Alexander II, a successful war leader and diplomat, was an ambitious moderniser. Coming to power in 1856, he transformed Russia’s military, its administration and its tax system, and spurred Russia’s industrialisation. But Alexander’s battle to push his country forward went disastrously awry in 1861, when he ‘freed’ the empire’s 20 million serfs into poverty and homelessness. The tsar became a target of numerous murder plots and, after several narrow escapes, he was assassinated.

Nicholas II ascended the throne in 1894, by which time Russia’s growing industrialisation had produced a revolutionary socialist movement. By 1905, following a string of embarrassing military defeats, support for the already unpopular government had dwindled. In St Petersburg, troops fired on a peaceful demonstration, sparking the ‘liberal’ Revolution of 1905.

The First World War brought another crisis, exposing Russia’s dismal command of its natural resources. War losses and crop failures caused the economy to collapse and in St Petersburg – now called Petrograd – riots broke out.

Nicholas II abdicated on 2 March 1917, and a shaky provisional government was declared. On 7 November, led by Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov (Lenin), the Bolsheviks seized power. But they were far from controlling the whole country, and a bitter civil war ensued. By 1922 Russia was devastated by battles, mass executions and, worst of all, by famine – a crisis that inspired many of the extraordinary scientific careers featured here.

Lenin’s New Economic Policy, introduced in 1921, relaxed the revolutionary government’s hold over the economy, reintroduced some limited private business and ushered in a period of extra ordinary social and cultural change. Stalin’s own son attended an experimental school run by psychoanalysts Sabina Spielrein and Vera Shmidt. Alexei Gastev, a poet and a leading architect of Russia’s industrialisation programme, trained tens of thousands in the subtle art of production-line engineering. His colleague Isaak Spielrein, Sabina’s brother, established a ‘psychotechnical’ community in Russia dedicated to the physical and psychological eman cipation of the Soviet worker. Lev Vygotsky and his colleagues Alexander Luria and Alexei Leontiev embarked on a staggeringly ambitious project, rewriting psychology from first principles. The group’s belief in practical, clinical experience led them from trauma wards to orphanages, and from the invention of the lie detector to expeditions in remotest Uzbekistan.

Following Lenin’s death in January 1924, the Communist Party was torn apart by a bitter power struggle. Lenin’s natural successors, including Trotsky, found themselves marginalised and ultimately destroyed by a man who had barely figured in the 1917 revolution. True, Joseph Stalin had been one of the Bolsheviks’ chief operatives in the Caucasus. He had organised paramilitary units, incited strikes, spread propaganda and raised money through bank robberies, kidnappings, ransom demands and extortion. But his appointment in 1922 as General Secretary of the Communist Party was not considered significant at the time. What Stalin spotted straight away, however, was that the post gave him control over government appointments. Stalin built up a base of support, emerged victorious from the power struggle and went on to rule the Soviet Union for a quarter of a century, becoming one of the most powerful and murderous dictators in history.

Stalin scrapped Lenin’s New Economic Policy and replaced it with five-year economic plans dictated from the top. This was good for some scientific disciplines, guaranteeing them virtually unlimited funds. For others it was a disaster.

Industrial development was pushed along at breakneck speed. Stalin’s repressions created a vast system of labour camps managed by a government agency known by its acronym: Gulag. The convicts’ labour, especially in Siberia, became a crucial part of the industrialisation effort. Around 18 million people passed through the gulag system, which became a sort of dark mirror of the state. Just as it boasted its own economy, the gulag boasted its own science base. Several scientists of world importance spent their careers in ‘research prisons’.

In the end, only obedience mattered. Stalin believed that science should serve the state. ‘Pure research’ was not merely an indulgence. It was counterproductive. It was tantamount to wrecking. Even as he invested recklessly in Russian science, Stalin was arranging the sacking, imprisonment and murder of individual scientists. Ergonomists and industrial psychologists vanished without trace. Psychoanalysis was made illegal. Geneticists, botanists and agronomists languished in gulags across the Soviet Union.

Even more damaging was the state’s approach to bureaucracy. Institutions were amalgamated with each other and centralised to the point where colleagues tore at each others’ throats in an attempt to keep their jobs. Incredibly, no one thought of intro­ducing a mandatory retirement age. Men conditioned to the acquisition and administration of power – we are talking about professors here, not ministers – clung on and on and on. Entire disciplines went to war with each other. Physiologists attacked psychologists. Laboratory pathologists denounced clinicians.

By the time Stalin died on 5 March 1953, the Soviet Union boasted the largest and best-funded scientific establishment in history. It was at once the glory and the laughing stock of the intellectual world.

Stalin and the Scientists is the story of politicians, philosophers and scientists who, over the course of half a century, found them­selves intruding – or being dragged by main force – onto each other’s turf. Tutting at this sort of thing comes naturally to us. Priests have no business in party politics. Scientists shouldn’t laugh at religion. The developed world maintains very clear boundaries between these different kinds of discourse and it is not kind to those who stray off their own path and go skipping over the grass.

It was not always so. In Europe, by about the middle of the nineteenth century, it did seem possible that religion, philosophy, psychology, science and politics might achieve some sort of mutual understanding. Even the Bolsheviks weren’t above reading religion in a psychological manner, so as to fold it into their own ideas of the good life.

What this meeting of minds required was that things be described completely in terms of their components. Imagine, for instance, that psychology is reducible to physiology, which is reducible to biology, which is reducible to chemistry, which is reducible to physics – this was pretty much the driving dream of mid-nineteenth-century scholarship.

Friedrich Engels, the German philosopher who cooked up the Marxist style of critical thinking called dialectical materialism, believed that, at some point in the future, all sciences would cohere to form one science, and this one science was bound to bring with it huge social benefit for mankind. In this respect, his thinking was absolutely, yawningly conventional.

Stalin and the Scientists describes what happened when this dream of science as a unified explanation of everything began to be eroded by scientists’ own discoveries. It describes what this failure meant to a state that justified itself through science, and regarded its own science, Marxism, as the capstone of the whole nineteenth-century enterprise: a science of everything. It is, ultimately, the story of how impatient believers turned on the scientific community and demanded that the future happen right away.


Read Ian Sansom's Essay on Foyles from Browse: The World in Bookshops
12th October 2016 - Ian Sansom

In Browse, Henry Hitchings asks fifteen writers from around the world to consider the bookshops that have shaped them; each conjures a specific time and place. Ali Smith chronicles the secrets and personal stories hidden within the pages of secondhand books; Alaa Al Aswany tells of the Cairo bookshop where revolutionaries gathered during the 2011 uprisings; Elif Shafak evokes the bookstores of Istanbul, their chaos and diversity, their aroma of tobacco and coffee and Ian Sansom remembers his time working in the Business Department at our very own Foyles. You can read his piece below.









The Pillars of Hercules by Ian Sansom

In 1991 I resigned from my job at Foyles Bookshop on the Charing Cross Road in London. I’d worked there for two years, two years which may or may not have been the happiest two years of my life: it depends on how you look at it; sometimes it can be difficult to tell.

I’d written in on spec, having been drifting aimlessly from job to job, and hardly expecting a reply, but to my surprise I was invited for an interview with Christina Foyle, daughter of the shop’s founder. Miss Foyle—everyone called her Miss Foyle—interviewed prospective employees in her luxurious apartment over the shop. (The other penthouse apartment over the shop was owned by the popular female impersonator Danny La Rue, who would sometimes arrive in the loading bay at the back of Foyles in a pink Rolls-Royce, a vision in grey chiffon, and who would call out to us as were unloading boxes from vans—“Hello Boys!”) All I can recall of my job interview is Miss Foyle sitting on a vast white sofa, surrounded by lamps and cushions and cats, and her asking me if I spoke French, to which I replied that I did, although the only French I could and can speak with any degree of confidence are the words “Je voudrais un sandwich au jambon, s’il vous plaît”, a phrase which had been drilled into us at school in preparation for day trips to France, and which certainly did the job when purchasing filled baguettes in Calais, but which I hardly thought would have passed muster in the Foreign Languages Department of the world’s greatest bookshop. Fortunately, Miss Foyle didn’t ask a follow-up about my French and I got the job, though not in Foreign Languages; maybe she sensed me bluffing. Over the next few years, working away downstairs, I often thought of Miss Foyle, perched high above us. I would think of Kubla Khan:
A savage place! As holy and enchanted
As e’er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon-lover!

Working at Foyles was not really a career choice; it was supposed to be a stop-gap. The old employment policy ensured that everyone was fired at the end of two years—in order to prevent them gaining any employment rights—but by then most people would already have resigned anyway from boredom, or been sacked for stealing books. I never stole any books myself, being both too timid and also in recovery from a long, draining, intense period of adolescent piety which meant that the mere idea of stealing anything, or of coveting another man’s wife, say, or his cattle, was simply unimaginable; I’d have been about as likely to nick the new Philip Roth as to rob a bank. Many of my colleagues, however, managed to combine both a great enthusiasm for literature with the kind of casual unscrupulousness which is common among people in their twenties, who are often more dangerous and unreliable even than teenagers, possessed as they are with the same giddy adolescent drives and desires but also suddenly with the confidence to fulfil them, and they managed to come up with any number of inventive ways of stealing books: some of them used to throw books out of the window to friends waiting down below; others used to just walk straight out the door with the books and sell them directly to the second-hand bookshops located farther down the Charing Cross Road, towards Leicester Square. Mostly, though, they were stealing simply for their own personal use and they’d take the books into the staff toilets, and walk out with them in their bags, or stuffed up their jumpers, and it wasn’t just that I thought this was wrong, although I did, of course; it was also that it was unbecoming; as is usual and traditional among ex-religious fanatics, I was gradually transforming from a prig into an aesthete. If there’d been a better, cleaner, more aesthetically pleasing way to steal I might perhaps have been led into temptation.

I liked working at Foyles. I worked in Business and Economics with a middle-aged Czech exile called Henry, which wasn’t his real name. He wouldn’t tell us his real name: he said it was too difficult for us to pronounce. Henry used to talk about life in Prague before the Communists came, and about Václav Havel, whom he despised, for reasons that I can’t now remember: it was either because he was too liberal, or perhaps because he was not liberal enough. Henry was like a mentor to me, the first person I’d ever met in a working environment who I felt I could really respect, the kind of bluff, no-nonsense bloke who taught you about the ways of the world and who told you rude jokes, but who was also intelligent and kind and well-read, and me and Henry and the others in Business and Economics used to spend many happy hours meeting sales reps and cutting open big cardboard boxes of books with sharp knives, and talking about life, the universe and everything, and after work we’d sometimes adjourn to a pub round the corner from Foyles, called the Pillars of Hercules, a
pub with all sorts of literary associations—Ian Hamilton had edited his magazines, the Review and the New Review from there, and I’d read about novelists and poets arriving at the pub, clutching their manuscripts to be edited by Hamilton over pints and cigarettes. The Pillars of Hercules was really just your average London boozer but to me it seemed impossibly, fabulously glamorous, even though Hamilton and the New Review crowd had
long since moved on by the time I arrived, and what I mostly remember about it is being sick in the toilets, and also that it was the first place I saw anybody drink themselves sober. Henry would often reach a certain point in the evening’s drinking where he would be slurring his words and ranting in Czech, and suddenly he’d snap back into consciousness, and into English. It was heroic drinking—totally pointless, and an act of self-harm, but in some way also an assertion of man’s free will and dignity. He missed Prague.

Working with Henry in Business was the closest I’ve ever come to actually working in business and paradoxically it gave me more time to read than I’d ever had before or since. I read business books mostly—books with titles like Negotiate to Win and The Genghis Khan Way of Management, books whose lessons I never quite seemed to learn. I wasn’t the only one. The authors of these books would sometimes turn up unannounced in Business and Economics, to sign copies of their work, or to try to persuade us to take more stock: they were the first authors I’d ever met, and I was shocked and surprised at how dishevelled and desperate they all seemed to be; men in shiny, crumpled suits, with shiny, crumpled faces. I thought authors were supposed to be above it all, like Ian Hamilton in the Pillars of Hercules, or like Henry James and Oscar Wilde, wearing smoking jackets, and trading bon mots. I didn’t expect them to have business cards and mobile phones, or to try to flog me job lots of
their soon-to-be remaindered books. These days, of course, I know better.

Working in Business, I also started to read Czech novelists recommended by Henry— Karel Čapek and Ivan Klíma; and Bohumil Hrabal and Josef Škvorecký. Škvorecký I liked, although I could never pronounce his name, and Čapek I admired. But Hrabal I loved, and have loved ever since. For better and for worse, reading Hrabal made me the writer I am today. I also started to read lots of American novelists I’d never really read before, picking them up from Fiction, down on the ground floor—Donald Barthelme, Cynthia Ozick, Thomas Pynchon, William Gass. I did Updike. I did Roth. I did Bellow. All the usual suspects. I’d spend all day every day—with one weekday and Sunday off—talking with other members of staff, reading, and trying to hide from the customers.

The Business department in Foyles used to be located on the fourth floor, next to Drama and Music and Religion and Philosophy, and I read, or at least browsed a lot of the books from the shelves all around. This was where I first read Descartes and Richard Rorty, where I first looked at books about jazz and the blues, and where I first discovered William James and Gershom Scholem, and the chord sequences for The Waterboys’ Fisherman’s Blues. I came to regard the shop as my own personal library. It was better than any library there’d been at college: there was no restriction on borrowing rights, and the stock was bang up to date. I used to stack up the books under the till and read them carefully, trying not to break the spines. One of the only things I didn’t read much of at Foyles was poetry, which was on the ground floor near the men in suits selling the Encyclopaedia Britannica—it was damp and badly lit down there. But I didn’t need the half-light of poetry: the world of the fourth floor of Foyles was my oyster. Life was good. Life was sweet.

And then one day my old Economics teacher from school came into the shop. I’d always liked her. Her name was Miss Legan. Once—it was when I was in the fifth form—she’d come into class and told us that she had changed her name and we now had to call her Mrs Koozekhanani. She wrote it on the blackboard. The rumour was that she’d met an Iranian student on the Tube who said he needed a visa, and she’d agreed to marry him. It was
certainly possible; she was an extraordinary woman. She wore cords and a donkey jacket, and she had a kind of Joan Baez hairstyle, twenty years after Joan Baez, and she had a National Union of Teachers bumper sticker on her 2CV that read “If you can read this, thank a teacher.” She used to give us copies of the Socialist Worker to read in class, and she would talk about the miners’ strike and the evils of free-market economics. There were also rumours that in the evenings and at weekends she worked as an usherette in the cinema in South Woodford. We were only allowed to study something called “Social” Economics at school— this was a comprehensive school, after all—but Mrs Koozekhanani invited a few of us to learn “Pure” Economics at lunchtime and after school, where she introduced us to the ideas of Karl Marx. In the end, she left—a copy of the Socialist Worker too far?—and we got a teacher who wore suits and who preferred Friedrich von Hayek. If we weren’t socialists before, we certainly were after.

“What on earth are you doing working here?” Mrs Koozekhanani asked me when we met in Foyles, years later, her hairstyle and cords still intact. “You’re wasting your life,” she said. “You have a responsibility to yourself and others to do better. You have a contribution to make to society.” I thought working in Foyles was my contribution to society.

After leaving school and a few false starts I’d eventually gone to university and studied English. Like most university students studying English I’d chosen to do English at degree level because I’d been good at English at school, or at least I liked reading books, and at school these two things—enjoying reading and “doing English”—happily coincide. Of course, the further you go on in education, the more they diverge, until you eventually meet people with doctorates on Abjection in Early Modern Literature who hate reading and who hate writers, and who haven’t read a book for pleasure or out of mere curiosity for years. Unfortunately, it’s not until you actually go to university and start reading literary theory and literary criticism that you realize your mistake, by which time it’s too late. I flirted with the idea of changing to study theology, or art history—something more useful—but in the end I stuck it out with English, despite, or perhaps because of the fact that I was told by one
supervisor, in my very first term at college, that I was, quote, the most inarticulate student it had ever been his misfortune to teach, unquote. I regarded it—as he probably intended it—as a challenge. I spent three years learning how to punctuate, and ironing the Estuary out of my voice.

After university I got married, travelled around for a while, slipped back into glottalstopping, gave up on semicolons, did a lot of odd jobs, moved with my wife to Belfast, worked as an adult literacy tutor, and eventually moved back to London. I did a TEFL course while my wife worked as a shop assistant at H. Samuel, the jewellers. For years we were happily going nowhere fast. Then I got the job in Foyles and my wife was accepted on a graduate trainee scheme: things were getting serious; things were looking up.

The great thing about Foyles was you got paid in cash every week in little brown envelopes, so it seemed like a real job, like you were working in a factory or in the shipyard. For the first and last time in my life I felt like I was paying my way. I felt like my dad and my grandad must have felt during their working lives—I felt that somehow I was providing. With commission, you could earn £150–£180 per week, more than I’d ever earned before. At the
time, we were living in a one-room flat in Crystal Palace. It was cramped, with one wall partitioned off from the next flat by a sheet of wallpapered hardboard: we could hear when the woman next door used her deodorant; when she entertained male guests we retired to the pub. We ate out occasionally in a cheap Chinese restaurant in West Norwood, went shopping in Brixton and to the cinema in Streatham.

And it was then that Mrs Koozekhanani came along and shook things up and spoilt everything. Maybe she was right. Maybe I was wasting my life. Maybe there was more to life thajn hiding from customers and reading books at random and pissing away my wages in the Pillars of Hercules.

So I moved on and didn’t return to Foyles for years. Then one Christmas I was visiting my family in London and I thought I’d look up Henry in Business and Economics. I went up to the fourth floor and sure enough, there he was, still there, hiding behind the desk, and we went out to the Pillars of Hercules, for old time’s sake, just me and him. We talked about books and about the book trade, and he told me about his plans to go back home to
Czechoslovakia, and how he was going to set up a factory manufacturing gloves, or maybe beer, or plastics, or something, and I said how good it was to see him again, and he said it was good to see me too, and how we should meet up again soon, and when I got home that night I opened my bag and in there was a big bottle of brandy—he must have bought it at the bar and slipped it in while I went to the toilet. A true act of kindness.

Six months later I moved back to live in London and again went to find Henry, up on the fourth floor, but this time he’d gone. Disappeared. No one working there had even heard of him. I never even knew his real name, and I haven’t seen him or heard from him since, and I don’t ever expect to. Foyles has gone as well now, of course: it’s not the same place. It’s moved a few doors down the road to the old St Martin’s School of Art and is now
indistinguishable from any other fancy bookshop in the city. Long gone is the strange payment system, with the Soviet-style double-queuing, and the big red heavy volumes of Whitaker’s Books In Print, and there is of course the obligatory coffee shop, and there are scanners and computers and a website. Life moves on, and everything changes, even in the greatest bookshop in the world.

The last time I was in London I took my son for a drink in the Pillars of Hercules. “This is where it all began,” I said, as we passed the building that once was Foyles, though what began there I’m not entirely sure—perhaps it wasn’t the beginning at all. Perhaps it was the end.





Ben Holden introduces Bedtime Stories for Grown-Ups
10th October 2016 - Ben Holden

Ben Holden is a writer and film producer. He lives in London and studied English at Merton College, Oxford. With his father Anthony, Ben edited the bestselling Poems That Make Grown Men Cry and Poems That Make Grown Women Cry. Now, in Bedtime Stories for Grown-ups, he challenges how we think about life, a third of which is spent asleep. He deftly explores not only the science of sleep but also why we endlessly tell stories - even to ourselves, as we dream. Some of today's greatest storytellers reveal their choice of the ideal grown-up bedtime story: writers such as Margaret Drabble, Ken Follett, Tessa Hadley, Robert Macfarlane, Patrick Ness, Tony Robinson and Warsan Shire. The book is published in partnership with Readathon, a children’s charity that provides books for children and their families whilst in hospital.

Below, Ben introduces his book exclusively for Foyles.





Seize the Night

One of the reasons that the anthologies that I edited with my dad Anthony – Poems That Make Grown Men Cry and Poems That Make Grown Women Cry – seemed to work was the way our contributors not only selected the verse that moved them but also explained – in the most revealing and brilliant ways – why that is the case.

With my new anthology, Bedtime Stories for Grown-Ups, I planned to excavate again, lightly, some scientific and sociological themes via great literature. This collection would explore storytelling, dreams and sleep (a state, of course, in which we spend a third of our lives), much as my other books had delved into tears, gender and emotions. It would be produced with the children’s charity Readathon, just as the Poems books are in partnership with Amnesty International.

While Bedtime Stories would prove a more personal offering – I have chosen most of the pieces myself – I remained faithful to our previous approach by writing my own introductions to many of them (though not all, as I wouldn’t wish to ‘talk over’ everything).

Moreover, I recognised from the outset that my selections would inherently lead to some personal emphases in milieu. To temper this subjectivity, I enlisted twenty or so great storytellers to select a favourite too: something that they would recommend as the perfect bedtime story for an adult. It could be prose or poetry, fiction or non-fiction. I decided that this select group of experts should all be writers (as opposed to actors, say, or filmmakers). I was soon blessed to have some brilliant people taking part. Their choices were fascinating, not least by way of insight into their own different sensibilities as authors.

I figured a good number of the contributors should have written tales for younger and older readers alike. The book is a celebration of the bedtime story routine, after all.

Anne Fine, former Children’s Laureate and creator of Mrs Doubtfire, selected a pastoral poem by Kipling that I had not come across. Called ‘The Land’, Anne acutely frames its powers via personal touches about her own life.

Patrick Ness, whose adaptation of his own A Monster Calls (2011) soon opens on the big screen, mischievously subverted my invitation. This was not a huge surprise. Patrick’s writing is frequently iconoclastic and always ingenious. He writes: ‘‘Dual Balls’ by Nicola Barker has nothing to do with sleep or circadian rhythms, but it is the funniest short story ever written and, as such, belongs in every anthology on earth.’ So it’s in this one.

Writer Daniel Hahn edited the Oxford Companion to Children’s Literature. He is also a celebrated translator and alighted on ‘She Frequented Cemeteries’ by Danish author Dorthe Nors (seek her work out). The story is captivating and, as its title suggests, amid lovelorn wanderings, contains gothic flourishes.

On which note: this book is not designed to give anyone nightmares. Far from it! Yet a collection of nocturnes (edited by the producer of The Woman in Black films) would hardly be complete without at least a touch of chiaroscuro. I was thrilled therefore when novelist Joanne Harris chose a stretch of Shirley Jackson’s masterpiece 'The Haunting of Hill House'.

Along the way, it was important to me that contemporary masters of the short story, a form the book celebrates, were represented too.

Tessa Hadley kindly selected a story by Jean Rhys. This pairing brought some pleasing serendipities of its own. First, because Diana Athill, who of course was Jean Rhys’ editor, would go on to write the afterword for the anthology and, secondly, because Deborah Treisman, who as the Fiction Editor of The New Yorker has published many of Tessa’s own stories, is another contributor.

Indeed Deborah’s selection immediately precedes Tessa’s. It is a remarkable Haruki Murakami short story called 'Scheherazade': a contemporary version of ‘A Thousand and One Nights’. As such, Deborah’s choice, in turn, led to another happy symmetry! Dame Marina Warner, author of landmark studies of folk and fairy tale traditions, herself picked out and introduced one of those timeless 14th century tales (that of ‘King Yunan and the Sage Duban’).

It is amazing how these third-party offerings – which could have felt like interruptions amid my own streams of moonlit consciousness – all seemed somehow to make their own nests. Each immediately found a nook within the manuscript, the shape of which follows that of a single night’s sleep.

Robert Macfarlane’s choice is a good illustration. I had already incorporated a very moving passage from his book The Wild Places into the manuscript when Rob agreed to select something himself too. His chosen extract from Wind, Sand and Stars by Antoine de Saint-Exupery – ‘nocturnal, dreamy, astral’, as he puts itis exquisite and otherworldly. Its landscaping reminded me of the wonders his own writing brings. The passage resides, dreamily, alongside two glittering poems – as selected by Malaysian novelist Tan Twan Eng and Somali poet Warsan Shire. Though very different, the three pieces form a triptych of sorts – they belong together, as all sweep us away in flights of the imagination.

The final contribution in the book comes from Ken Follett. The author of The Pillars of the Earth reveals that he always has a PG Wodehouse novel by the bed. Just as Ken vividly introduced Thomas Hardy’s poem ‘During Wind and Rain’ in Poems That Make Grown Men Cry, so here he expertly tees up the first chapter of The Code of The Woosters, breaking down Wodehouse’s unassuming artistry by explaining how ‘popular fiction is fractal’. It’s a succinct masterclass from an author whose novels have sold more than 155 million copies worldwide. The mind boggles as to how many people have one of his books on the bedside table!

Thanks to these contributors and others, there should be something for everyone in this book – fairy-tales and fables, reveries all – hopefully enabling readers not just to sleep well but also to seize the night.


Bernice L. McFadden Introduces her New Novel, The Book of Harlan
10th October 2016 - Bernice L. McFadden

The Book of Harlan

Bernice L. McFadden is the author of nine critically acclaimed novels including Sugar, The Warmest December, Gathering of Waters (a New York Times Editors' Choice and one of the 100 Notable Books of 2012), Glorious, which was featured in O, The Oprah Magazine and was a finalist for the NAACP Image Award, She is a three- time Hurston/Wright Legacy Award finalist, as well as the recipient of three awards from the BCALA. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.


Her new novel, The Book of Harlan, set in Paris and Germany during the Second World War, skillfully blends the stories of McFadden's familial ancestors with those of real and imagined characters.


Below, exclusively for Foyles, Bernice remembers her grandfather and describes the impact on her and her writing of his impromptu history lessons.



The Book of HarlanThey Don’t Teach You This Shit In School…

by Bernice L. McFadden


"The role of the artist is exactly the same as the role of the lover. If I love you, I have to make you conscious of the things you don't see." - James Baldwin


When I read this quote by James Baldwin I am reminded of my grandfather, Wilfred Nettles, a big, beautiful black man from Texas who met and married my grandmother a year before I was born. Officially, he was my step-grandfather but to me, he was the man who ignited my interest in Black history.


Those history lessons usually took place at the dining room table in my grandparents' two-storey, board and shingle, Queens, NY home. Over stacks of Saturday morning hot cakes, Sunday afternoon supper or a tumbler of wild turkey, at some point granddaddy, as I called him, would announce that class was now in session.


He had a book; a large leather-bound volume of historical factoids about Africans and the people of the African diaspora. I cannot remember the formal title of the tome. The only name I can recall is the nickname my grandfather christened it, which was: The Book of Negroes.


My grandfather would flip the book open to a random page and read aloud about Queen Nefertiti, Shaka Zulu, Langston Hughes, Count Basie, The Tuskegee Airmen, Richard Wright, Louis Armstrong and host of Black God’s and Goddesses that I’d never heard of.


He also shared stories about his sharecropping childhood, his time as a young soldier in World War II Europe, segregated lunch counters, lynchings, the crime of being born Black in America and the constitutional falsehood that all men were created equal. Sometimes he’d raise his hand to his ear, cock his head, wince and say: 'I ain’t never once heard freedom ring!'


Once, while my cousins and I sat watching Cleopatra on the television set, granddaddy stormed into the living room, blocked the screen with his wide body and growled: 'Don’t think for one moment that Cleopatra was a white woman with violet eyes. Egypt is in Africa. Cleopatra was African. Black African. Black! Black like me. Black like all of you!' He emphasized 'Black' and 'African' by jabbing his finger in the faces of his black and brown grandchildren.


My grandfather had a counter-narrative that rebuked every white lie and derogatory stereotype. 'Look here Bernice,' he said, pointing to a drawing in The Book of Negroes. 'This is The University of Timbuktu, the first and oldest university in the world. Do you know where this is?'


I did not.


'In Mali. Do you know where Mali is?'


Again, I had no clue.


'Africa!'  He bellowed triumphantly, adding, 'They don’t teach you this shit in school!'


He was right. What I’d been taught in school was the history of Black people began with slavery and that slaves were savage, stupid Africans that white people and their white god had saved from their savage selves.


In a 1938 NBC radio interview, Dr. Carter G. Woodson, the African-American author widely regarded as The Father of Black History, stated:

'The past of the Negro race has been so obscured and belittled by propagandists that little is known of the creditable record of the race.'


My grandfather was well aware of this and took every opportunity to undo the mis-education of his descendants. He could not imagine the effect his frequent, impromptu history lessons would have on my life’s work.


In many ways, The Book of Harlan picks up where my grandfather left off; untangling misconceptions, unearthing truth, revealing and eradicating outright lies about the cultural identity and contributions of people of colour here in America and abroad.


In 1988 my grandfather suffered a stroke that left him mute and bedridden until his death in 2007. Although he never read any of my novels or attended my readings, I always felt his happiness, pride and approval.


I dreamt about him recently. We were back in that dining room, his tumbler of white turkey at his wrist, The Book of Harlan open on the table between us. He drummed his fingers against the pages, hit me with his thousand watt smile and said:

'They don’t teach you this shit in school!'





#FoylesFive: Birmingham's First Birthday Fiction Bestsellers
9th October 2016 - Matt Blackstock

Foyles Five Fiction

#FoylesFive: Birmingham's First Birthday Fiction Bestsellers


Be it quick read for the train, or a long novel you can really sink your teeth into, fiction is at the very heart of what we do at Foyles Birmingham. Over the past year we have seen heartbreak and tears, violence and thrills, historical epics and fantastical adventures. A novel can take you away from everything, create a world that could never exist, or shine a light on a controversial subject and place it into our thoughts and our daily discussions.

Out of the hundreds of varying books we have sold over the last 12 months, here are our top five bestsellers, each telling a unique story, from equally unique writers.


A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James


One of the most engaging and thought provoking books I’ve read in the past year, A Brief History of Seven Killings centres on an assassination attempt on Bob Marley and is set in the middle of political upheaval in Jamaica. Told from the perspective of many characters, each spinning their own tale and told in a beautiful prose that forms part of the greater story. You can really breathe in the lives of these people as you ride along with them on this gripping novel.


My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante


 A stunning portrayal of two friends growing up in Naples in the 1950s, this evocative and heart-warming story has been an international best seller and it is so easy to see why. This is the first part of the outstanding trilogy written by the mysterious Elena Ferrante, and fills the reader with wonder and nostalgia. These books will stay with you for a lifetime.


A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson


Kate Atkinson’s Costa Award winning novel delivers a rare thing: a book that not only surrounds us in a completely believable, if magical, world, but also a fulfilling and beautifully written sequel that not only matches but surpasses it companion, Life After Life.


All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

 Winner of the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, everyone must read this dazzling achievement in writing. All the Light We Cannot See takes place during the Second World War, telling the tale of two intertwining people, Marie-Laure and Werner who are both trying to survive the devastation of war. Both thrilling and heart wrenching this book is a must for those who love contemporary fiction and a good story with real heart.


Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey


Elizabeth is missing, or is she? This truly unputdownable book is told from the perspective of Maud, our forgetful narrator who struggles to remember. But remember what exactly? This and many other little mysteries are unravelled in this gorgeous debut novel. The narrative slides back and forward gracefully; the gaps are slowly filled in as Maud endeavours to find the truth, a truth that might not be there at all….





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