Bookseller Briefing 32/18 – week ending 10 August

The Bookseller

 

Bookmarks calls for solidarity after ‘frightening’ attack by far-right mob

Socialist London bookshop Bookmarks was attacked over the weekend by a “far-right mob” and is now calling for solidarity following the “Nazi attack”.

The Bloomsbury-based shop, known for selling books on a range of socialist topics including Marxism and women’s and LGBT+ rights, was invaded between 6.30pm and 7pm on Saturday evening (4th August).

Around 12 men bearing placards and wearing baseball hats reading “Make Britain Great Again”, thought to be in their 20s and 30s, entered the bookshop and destroyed displays, wrecked books and chanted alt-right slogans, according to bookseller Noel Halifax. One was wearing a Donald Trump mask.

Halifax, who was there when the attack happened with just one other member of staff, told The Bookseller that while no one was physically assaulted the experience was “shocking”, “frightening” and deeply “unnerving”.

Two customers browsing “fled” when the group entered and began to be abusive towards staff, making racist comments about Islam and threatening the shop. Halifax described some individuals as “bellowing” in his face, with one saying, “I hope you burn down.”

The gang also tore up issues of Unite magazine, an anti-racist publication, and, confusingly, also took issue with a book called The Jewish Question by Belgian Jewish Trotskyist Abraham Leon, who died in the Holocaust, for being anti-semitic.

Halifax said he suspected the “incoherent” cohort had been protesting at another event locally and had decided to invade the shop afterwards, with some members of the group carrying placards refering to the BBC as the “British Bolshevik Cult”.

“We said, ‘We’re a bookshop, will you quietly browse, we’re not a speakers’ corner or a debating society; if you object to the books then don’t buy them’,” Halifax recalled. To remove the gang from the shop Halifax said he and his colleague resorted to ringing the customer handbell repeatedly as “a warning to get out”, which alerted the shop next door, which in turn called the police. By the time the police arrived, however, the group had left.

A group called Make Britain Great Again is said to have posted clips from the group’s visit on YouTube. Halifax said this showed they “weren’t ashamed” of the incident.

“There was another bookshop attack four or five months ago. I don’t think it is particularly co-ordinated. I think because of the whole Trump alt-right thing, people like this feel empowered by it and feel confidence in saying and acting on things they wouldn’t have done before. It’s the general atmosphere we’re living in,” said Halifax.

 

 

A silver lining, however, is that the shop is being “inundated” with support – so much so it will be holding a “solidarity event” in store with authors on Saturday 11th August.

“It’s chilling,” said Halifax. “But since the attack, it’s been very busy here because we have been completely inundated with messages of support, it’s been hard to cope with the volume.” Well-wishers have included singer and activist Billy Bragg, Rupa Huq MP, historian Louise Raw and Guardian columnist Owen Jones.

Dave Gilchrist, manager of Bookmarks, said: “This horrific attack on a radical bookshop should send shivers down the spine of anyone who knows their history. The Nazis targeted books because they knew how important radical ideas are for challenging racism and fascism. The same is true today, and that is why we have to show that we won’t be intimidated.”

Meryl Halls, m.d. at the Booksellers Association, has also thrown her support behind the store. “It’s appalling and shocking that this attack has happened now, at a point where we need bookshops, and all they stand for, more than ever,” she said.

“Bookshops should be safe spaces, and are very often the refuge of the oppressed, the fearful and those looking for guidance at difficult times; they are special places for so many reasons, and should never find themselves on the receiving end of hate-filled, violent outpouring.  They are also the locus for community, and we know that the bookselling community itself has already rallied round Bookmarks on social media, pledging support and expressing outrage at what has happened.  Added to the cowardly attack earlier this year on Gay’s the Word Bookshop, also in central London, these attacks are a worrying sign of growing polarization and intolerance in our society, and we must do all we can to stem it.  Bookshops will continue to stand as places for the free exchange of ideas, where all are welcome.”

Bookmarks is also calling on supporters to donate funds to help bolster security in the shop and to replace lost stock. Donations can be transferred to: Sort Code: 30 93 29 A/c: 00089719.

A Met spokesman said: “Police were called at approximately 18:35hrs on Saturday, 4 August to reports of a protest inside a shop on Bloomsbury Street, WC1.

“No other offences were disclosed at the time. Police received a second call a short time later stating that the group had left the premises after causing some damage inside the shop. There were no injuries. An appointment has been made for officers to speak with the complainant. No arrests have been made.”

Writers’ groups reveal increasing demand for hardship grants

Authors’ organisations have revealed an “ever-increasing” demand on financial hardship grants, with new applications to the Royal Literary Fund (RLF) up a third in four years.

The RLF is a 238-year-old benevolent fund which helps writers in financial difficulty. New applications from writers applying for the first time increased from 23 in 2013 to 34 last year, chief executive Eileen Gunn told The Bookseller, while many others reapply each year. Altogether the RLF helped support 200 writers last year including those who have suffered debilitating illnesses, accidents and housing problems.

Meanwhile the Society of Authors (SoA) has revealed an “ever-increasing number of applications” to its contingency funds “from authors who are struggling to make a living”, its chairman Nicola Solomon [pictured] told The Bookseller. The society has also called on the government to take action in its newly published evidence into a parliamentary inquiry into authors’ earnings.

Gunn believes that “writers are certainly finding it difficult”, partly due to small advances as well as the fast turnover in publishing companies.

“I have been told the following by authors: that advances are smaller, and even where they remain the same they have done so for years, so (due to inflation) many writers were better off in the past,” she told The Bookseller. “Established writers are finding it hard to have new work published.  There is more staff movement in the publishing houses – older writers say that their editor used to work with them over a long career. One of the reasons writers apply to the RLF is because their editor has left the company and the new staff member has different priorities.”

One of last year’s RLF grant recipients was a fantasy writer whose latest book had apparently been delayed by 19 months because of staff turnover at her publishing house. This had affected her project budget and caused her great concern, according to the fund’s report.

Gunn also described how “part-time jobs which supplemented literary earnings have become harder to obtain because of the general financial climate”. She revealed that authors often apply for “multiple reasons” but that “sometimes it takes a major setback before writers decide to ask for help”.

“As well as many writers applying to the RLF for the first time, there are many writers who have to reapply for further or longer term help,” she said.

Some of the other authors helped by the funding last year included a novelist who had suffered a series of strokes which had left her with decreased mobility and loss of speech. She was given an annual grant by the trustees. Others included a children’s writer with Parkinsons Disease, an author recently released from prison who was trying to find somewhere to live whilst struggling to access benefits, as well as a writer of espionage thrillers had been in hospital for eight months following surgery for a brain tumour.

Solomon agrees that diminished advances have had an effect as well as large discounts on books.

She told The Bookseller: “Deep discounting, diminishing advances and low royalty rates all have an impact on authors’ incomes. We want to work with publishers to improve financial transparency and find ways to ensure that authors who produce quality work can make a sustainable living, and will no longer have to resort to crowdfunding healthcare because the state and industry have left creators out in the cold.”

The SoA’s submission to the All Party Parliamentary Group for Writers’ (APPWG) on author earnings calls for changes in legislation and industry practice. The society is asking for fair remuneration from publishers so that “profits are fairly shared along the value chain”, as well as fairer contract terms, more support from the government for the self-employed and more action from Amazon and similar platforms on combatting piracy.

Solomon writes in the submission how “the reasons for the decline in authors’ earnings are complex and varied” and that “the landscape for writers has changed beyond recognition over the last two decades”. The APPWG’s inquiry ran from June until Thursday (2nd August) and the findings will be presented at the Group’s winter reception on 4th December.

The comments follow the latest income survey released from the Authors Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS) in June. It revealed that writers’ average earnings have dropped to under £10,500-a-year, a fall of 15% in real terms since its last review in 2013.

Gunn is keen to encourage as many writers, who have a minimum of two books published, to apply to the committee which is governed by members such as Tracy Chevalier, Anne Fine and Joanna Trollope.

“We want to reach as many writers as possible who may need our help,” Gunn said. “Writers sometimes hesitate to apply and end up in a worse situation by the time they do.”

The RLF was established in 1790 by Reverend David Williams, described as “a dissenting minister apt to quarrel with his congregations” who was inspired by the death of an elderly translator and scholar Floyer Sydenham in a debtors’ prison three years earlier.

For more information on the RLF grants, visit rlf.org.uk or visit the SoA’s page on contingency funds.

Bookmarks attackers sent books to help ‘broaden their minds’

Index on Censorship is sending political party UKIP a bundle of books, including The Handmaid’s Tale and a copy of the Quran, in the hope it will forward them on to those of its members involved in Saturday’s attack on Bookmarks bookshop.

In a post on its website, the freedom of expression organisation said it was sending a selection of the books that it has been featuring ahead of next month’s Banned Books Week to UKIP because it believes “reading broadens the mind and helps to create a more tolerant and inclusive society”. It further told The Bookseller it thought the books “might help them understand why their actions only end up limiting their own freedom”.

Other books being sent to UKIP include The Jungle by Upton Sinclair, a book burned in the 1933 Nazi bonfires because of Sinclair’s socialist views, and Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Color Purple.

“We’re sending them to UKIP, which has suspended the attackers as members, in the hope they will forward these on to them as something to read during their suspension,” read Index on Censorship’s blog.

The move follows an incident on Saturday (4th August) in which a far-right group of around 12 people stormed a socialist bookshop Bookmarks in central London before proceeding to shove and verbally abuse staff, tear up magazines, and throw books to the ground. One of the two booksellers on duty told The Bookseller fascist slogans were chanted, including nonsensical insults against Islam. They also bellowed at staff, “We hope you burn down”. Many were wearing red caps reading “Make Britain Great Again”. One wore a Donald Trump mask.

The attempts to intimidate the bookseller were recorded and posted online, prompting an outpouring of support from its authors, customers and the trade. It also led to the suspension of three members of UKIP, Elizabeth Jones, Luke Nash-Jones and Martin Costello, who were believed to have been involved.

However, following an investigation by UKIP, Jones has since been “exonerated” and reinstated into the party, according to UKIP Daily.

UKIP Chairman Tony McIntyre said in a statement: “There is absolutely no evidence at all of Ms Jones having any knowledge of, or involvement in the actions which allegedly took place inside the bookshop.

“Ms Jones just happened to be in the approximate central London area solely because she had attended an unconnected event earlier that Saturday afternoon. I am delighted to absolve Elizabeth totally, and welcome her back in the fold. I only regret we had to suspend her initially, however briefly this has been, due to the false allegations made against her.”

Jones responded: “I am deeply grateful to our Chairman Tony McIntyre for expediting his investigation and upholding the truth in his findings in my favour so I can carry on serving UKIP. I have nothing further to say, as this matter had nothing to do with me in the first place.”

Index on Censorship has told readers if they would like to help it raise funds to cover the costs of the books it is sending UKIP, or support its work more generally in tackling censorship, they can donate here. It also provided UKIP’s address, should others wish to follow suit and “send a bookbasher a book”.

A “solidarity event” is due to be hosted by Bookmarks at the shop this Saturday (11th August).

Book-ish suffers ‘despair’ as HSBC shuts bank account for 12 days

A bookshop was left stranded after HSBC closed its bank account for 12 days as part of a crackdown on financial crime.

Emma Corfield-Walters, who owns Book-ish with her partner Andrew Corfield-Walters in the market town of Crickhowell by the Brecon Beacons, told The Bookseller she was driven to “despair” by the situation which saw her racking up late fees and battling to keep suppliers on side when direct debits bounced.

Corfield-Walters said she completed an online form for HSBC in April as part of its monitoring of financial crime, but then her account was closed without her knowledge on 27th July. The bank was criticised last September for apparently suspending hundreds of small business accounts without prior notification as part of a crackdown on financial crime. Other businesses affected included food importers, marketing and design companies.

The situation has prompted The Booksellers Association to write to the bank asking it to ensure other booksellers are not affected by the action.

Corfield-Walters said: “Apparently it’s part of the safeguarding programme, they’ve clamped down on it. They said they sent letters but I haven’t received them.

“I didn’t have any confirmation that it had closed so the first I knew of it was suppliers calling me to tell me the direct debits hadn’t gone through. I went into the bank branch and asked why, and they told me it was about safeguarding, and after three hours said we couldn’t get it back, I’d have to open another bank account.” The situation left her three-floor bookshop and café in dire straits as dozens of suppliers contacted her to ask why the money was failing to transfer.

Initially the former chemist was told she would have to wait until 10th August, but then a cancellation arose meaning she could open it on Monday (6th August) and was then told there would be 10 days until it was activated. Shortly after The Bookseller lodged the press inquiry with the HSBC media team on Wednesday (8th August), a customer care representative contacted her to say her original bank account had been reinstated.

“I have had to spend so much time on the phone to suppliers as you can imagine, explaining what has been going on. It definitely impacted on me financially, I incurred late fees. I’ve also had to put back the preparation for my Literary Festival for a week because I didn’t have time to proof the programme. I haven’t had so much time to spend on the crowdfunder for the The Lost Words. It means our book bus hasn’t got Vehicle Tax because that’s a direct debit through the DVLA.”

“Everytime I spoke about it yesterday I burst into tears, it’s so frustrating,” she said.

She has been concerned about the ripple effect on the small businesses she engages with as well as the impact on the relationships.

“I’ve spent a long time building up relationships and something like this makes it suffer. My coffee man is one-man band from Hay on Wye, and all these people who own their own small businesses need to be paid. I’m going to the Green Man festival to host a bookstore next week and need to pay them and this is all really difficult…We have been taking bank payments which are going somewhere above my head… I have to pay my 15 staff in cash. I have had to delve into my personal account to pay some of this.”

She recently took to Twitter to urge people to buy online to boost the store’s Paypal account so they could pay their suppliers, which prompted a flood of supportive messages from authors such as Beth Underdown as well as fellow booksellers and others in the industry.

“I have felt despair but the support from everyone in the industry has been wonderful, and shows how much you are part of a wider community,” Corfield-Walters said.

“Now lots of people have been buying off our website. I’ve had booksellers offering us everything from their Apple card-reader to a loan. Booksellers are amazing. I’ve heard of other booksellers experiencing similar problems. It clearly affects small businesses.

“Lots of people in publishing have been contacting me to say ‘how can we help?’. What I think is if I didn’t have the support network, I’m concerned about what it could be like for others. I’ve been in tears and been given hugs and a pat on the back but, given all these conversations about mental health we’ve been having, I’m concerned about the impact on others.”

She describes the treatment from HSBC as “very poor in all the senses of the word”.

Meryl Halls, m.d. at the Booksellers Association, said she was concerned to hear of small busiesses being treated in this way.

“It seems counter-intuitive for a bank to be closing the accounts of thriving small businesses. Not to mention that this is on top of the wholesale closure of high street bank branches in small towns, leaving the business owners in those towns not only inconvenienced, but without a key driver for consumers to visit their local high street too. This kind of action has the potential to put some out of business altogether, which is to the detriment of us all – our high streets, our banks, and our communities.”

Halls told The Bookseller that the BA was now writing to HSBC calling on the bank to ensure that other booksellers were not affected.

An HSBC spokesperson said: “As part of our efforts to tackle financial crime, we are conducting detailed ‘KYC’ reviews in which we ask customers to provide information about themselves and their businesses. We allow several months for this process because we may need to speak to customers multiple times to acquire additional data and to clarify what they’ve told us. We apologise for the inconvenience this causes, but urge customers to respond to our requests as promptly and comprehensively as possible. If we don’t receive all the information we need we may be forced to restrict services or, as a last resort, to close an account. We want to work with customers to ensure we don’t have to do this.”