Bookseller Briefing 37/19 – week ending 13 September

Booker Prize authors to meet Front Row listeners in new BBC coverage

BBC Radio 4 series “Front Row” has announced Booker Prize-shortlisted authors will meet its listeners as part of new plans to cover the award.

Designed to encourage debate and discussion as part of the wider year-long literature season on the BBC, six book groups will be launched ahead of the 2019 Booker Prize winner announcement on 14th October.

The groups will feature the six shortlisted authors, who will meet listeners to discuss their works. Over three weeks, starting on 23rd September, the groups will offer insight into the novels vying for the coveted award.

Margaret Atwood will be joined by listeners to talk about The Testaments (Chatto & Windus), while Lucy Ellmann meets her group to consider her epic Ducks, Newburyport (Galley Beggar Press).

Girl, Woman, Other is under the spotlight when listeners sit down with Evaristo (Hamish Hamilton) and the group meeting Chigozie Obioma discuss his second Booker Prize-shortlisted work, An Orchestra of Minorities (Little, Brown).

Former winner Salman Rushdie brings his group Quichotte (Jonathan Cape), a reimagined Don Quixote while Turkish writer Elif Shafak examines the themes in her latest title, 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World (Viking).

Elsewhere, on 9th October, 5 Live’s Sarah Brett will be speaking to some of the shortlisted authors as part of Must Read, her new late night programme on air from 10.30pm to 1am every weeknight.

As in previous years, BBC News will also report on the award ceremony on 14th October across the BBC News Channel and associated news programmes.

Margaret Atwood sheds light on hackers’ efforts to steal The Testaments

Margaret Atwood has spoken of the “phoney emails” from cyber criminals attempting to access The Testaments (Chatto & Windus), at a global press conference in London on Tuesday (10th September).

Speaking with author Erica Wagner at the hour-long conference at the British Library in King’s Cross, central London, on the day of publication – Atwood spoke of the pressures of returning to the world of Gilead 34 years since The Handmaid’s Tale (Jonathan Cape) was published. The 79-year-old Canadian author addressed the worldwide media, before posing for a photo-call flanked by two silent Handmaidens dressed in silver – less than 12 hours after she had read the Booker-shortlisted sequel at the Waterstones Piccadilly midnight opening.

When asked about her “rock star” status, she revealed her gratitude to her team and how they fended off numerous attempted cyber hacks, following revelations from her agent Karolina Sutton in The Bookseller on Friday (6th September).

“Am I overwhelmed by it? I am very pleased and grateful to the readers who have stuck with me for all these years and the teams of people here, and in the US and Canada, who have been working an amazing number of hours putting it altogether and trying to keep the lid on, because there were concerted efforts to steal the manuscript which would have been used, I’m told, for phishing expeditions in which ‘download The Testaments’ and then you do the fatal ‘click on the link’ and get malware on your computer and all your information is in the hands of the people who can steal your identity,” said Atwood. “So that did not happen, as far as we know, but not for lack of trying. There were lots of phoney emails from people trying to winkle even just three pages, even just anything.”

Discussing the writing process, Atwood revealed how, “I know I sent a two-paragraph summary to my publishers to my publishers on February 17th 2017, saying what it was and who was going to be in it… I think probably they were terrified. It does sound like a mad idea, usually I never tell anyone what I’m doing because they always sound mad and I think with books you have to read them. I must have been far enough long to tell them what I was doing.”

Margaret Atwood with Erica Wagner at global press conference (photo credit: Craig Simmonds)

The six-time Booker shortlistee and one-time winner revealed how the political changes in the US had affected the context of her imagined world of Gilead. “So it goes back into probably thinking about in 2015, starting to building it up in 2016 and writing the summary in February 2017, the serious work in April 2017… Election [of US President Donald Trump] happens 2016 at which point everyone in the cast and team [of the Hulu TV adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale] woke up and said ‘we’re in a different show’. Nothing in the show changed, the frame changed, it would be viewed differently which it was.”

When asked if she would return to the Handmaids’ world for another book, Atwood said: “Never say ‘never’ to anything because I have said ‘never’ and been wrong, I’ve also said ‘I’m writing this’ and then didn’t. So I think It’s best not to tell anyone what you may or may not be doing because otherwise there will be endless questions about why you’re not doing what you said you were going to… I’m not telling you my platform.”

She also revealed that she wrote a lot the sequel in a dome car (a railway passenger car that has a glass dome on the top of the car) travelling across Canada, after winning the trip in a raffle fundraiser. “It was a great place to write because nobody phoned – they couldn’t,” she said.

The launch comes after The Testaments was sent out almost a week early in the US last Wednesday by Amazon, for which the e-retailer later apologised. This led to reviewers in America and then the UK breaking press embargos.

Atwood described the incident as a “boo-boo” and a “big fracas” when speaking to the BBC and suggested there should be financial penalty for such errors whether “on purpose or by mistake”.

She said: “I think anybody putting an embargo in place in the future should attach a dollar amount. They should say if you violate the embargo, this is what it will cost you and that money will go to independent bookstores.”

The Bookseller introduces new fully compostable magazine wrapper

The Bookseller magazine will now be delivered in fully compostable material for the first time, replacing its previous recyclable polythene wrap.

The new 100% compostable material (BIOPLAST 300) is made using potato starch mixed with biodegradable polyesters and is ‘OK Compost Home’ certified, so subscribers to the magazine can now dispose of the wrapper in their garden compost heap, green waste bin or kitchen food waste caddy.

The magazine has also this week published its first ever Sustainability Special, shining a focus on the important work publishers and booksellers are putting into eco-friendly activities, as well as the publishing that is being commissioned around the subject.

The green agenda came to the fore at the Booksellers Association conference earlier this week, with BA president Nic Bottomley arguing that it was time for “big collaborative conversations”, adding: “We may be great at recycling our waste material, but let’s have a think about how many books we’re destroying as an industry. And how much fuel we’re burning, shipping too many books into our shops in the first place just so we can ship back the ones we don’t sell to be efficiently recycled.”

This new wrap is just one of many steps in The Bookseller’s overall commitment to become a more environmentally friendly organisation and to reduce its carbon footprint. The creation of a new Green Committee at the company has already led to significant improvements in these areas, including a review of energy efficient appliances within the office, the sourcing of items and materials such as cleaning products and paper, and research into tree planting schemes to offset carbon emissions from staff travel to/from book fairs overseas. Additional changes include the use of bamboo lanyards for The Bookseller’s regular publishing conferences, a material which is sustainably sourced and biodegradable.

Philip Jones, editor, said: “There are small day-to-day things we can do now that will have an incremental impact, but we’ll also be supporting the trade in the wider conversations that are beginning around how we make the business more sustainable and less wasteful. There are good business and ethical reasons to do both.”