Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Guided Literary Walk

After featuring two literary trails (Women of Words and Bookshops) Nottslit is working on other trails for those wanting to explore our city's heritage. Meanwhile, there’s an excellent new guided walking tour that takes in many of our literary hotspots, and includes information and stories about our writers.

Join Felicity Whittle, an experienced Blue Badge Tourist Guide, for the first of her official outings on Sunday, 3rd December. The tour is called Nottingham Booklovers Walk (in reference to the Booklovers' Library) It is sure to be interesting and entertaining.

Please email to book your place on a walk or to register your interest in future walks.
Costs are £10 per person (£8 concessions) and it lasts around 2 hours starting and finishing in the city centre at the Tourism Centre, at 11am. 

Felicity wanted the tour to last no longer than 90 minutes but she’s so much to show and tell you that it had to be 2 hours.

Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature Article

Our Writers

‘Exploring Nottinghamshire Writers’ by Rowena Edlin-White is OUT NOW!

A perfect Christmas present for anyone with an interest in Nottinghamshire as a literary landscape.

This unique book surveys Nottinghamshire’s long history as a literary county, from Walter Hilton in the 14th century to some of our best modern-day writers, from poets to playwrights, and from hymn-writers to crime authors.

Ross Bradshaw, publisher of the book, said: “It’s our contribution to the celebration of Nottingham’s UNESCO City of Literature status, and we hope it will inspire the county’s residents and visitors to search out and rediscover the rich literary heritage that has made Nottinghamshire the literary county it still is today.”
Read more about this important new book.

Attend the official launch at Five Leaves Bookshop:

Friday, 17 November 2017

Being Human in 2017

It’s time for being human.

The 2017 Being Human Festival has been launched with the Nottingham events kicking off at Broadway Cinema. Being Human aims to engage the public with the best of the innovative research taking place across the humanities. Many of the free events happening locally will appeal to those of a literary leaning as Nottingham's theme is "How to lose and find yourself in words".

The launch celebrated the art of short story writing and featured the BBC National Short Story Award winner Cynan Jones. Jones may have taken a six and a half hour train ride to be there but the other two guests were more familiar in these parts. Jon McGregor and Alison Moore, themselves fine exponents of the short story, were joined by Nottingham University professor of modern English literature James Moran, compère for the evening’s Q&A.

It was a well-attended, top quality offering at an excellent venue, all supported by Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature whose Director Sandeep Mahal introduced the speakers.

Jones treated us to a reading from his winning tale ‘The Edge of the Shoal’ - which you can hear here - and talked about his use of suggestion and triggers. He’s an engaging, interesting speaker who likes the idea that if a novel is a bonfire then a short story is a firework, and he’s especially interested in what happens after the bang has died. He applies universalities but also asks questions of his readers.

Another writer that demands his readers put a shift in is Jon McGregor, who approaches short story writing in much the same way he writes his novels. The insight into his writing of BBC Radio 4’s The Reservoir Tapes however was most revealing. Rather than expecting commitment from a reader he wrote each line as though the listener has a finger hovering over the off button. You can hear The Reservoir Tapes via this link.

Another link for you is the Collected Stories of Lydia Davis which McGregor recommended.

Alison Moore added to the debate on what constitutes a Short Story, Novelette, Novella and a Novel? Moore’s novels are exactly that, not novellas, as they are often called, and for the record she likes novelette more than novella anyway. Moore spoke about her darker short stories and how the shorter form lends itself better to her horror.
McGregor’s distinction (between a short story and novel) was clear: a short story is read in one sitting, a novel usually isn’t. For Jones, the story dictates the length. He doesn't set out with any word limit in mind. 
If you want to attend a great devout in one-sitting event take a gander at these:

(Re)connecting with nature through the power of wild words
A Free Event at Attenborough Nature Centre, November 18, 10am–3pm, organised by University of Nottingham and Nottingham Wildlife Trust
Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust and Dr Rob Lambert will host a day exploring our lost connection with nature (particularly in modern urban environments) due to our busy, fast-paced technological lives. Explore the value of ‘wild words’, writing and language in a wild setting. Through discussion, workshops and interactive sessions participants will unlock and share the power of language to reconnect minds and bodies with nature all around us. Connecting with nature is, after all, part of being human. Activities will be suitable for a wide range of ages.

Gallery Tour of the exhibition ‘Collected Words’
A Free Event at Weston Gallery, Nottingham Lakeside Arts, on November 20, 11am-12pm
Join one of the curators for a guided tour of the Manuscripts and Special Collections’ City of Literature exhibition ‘Collected Words’. Hear some of the stories behind the unique archives, manuscripts and rare printed books on display. Learn why DH Lawrence’s Pansies had to be smuggled into the country, discover the writings of Margaret Cavendish of Welbeck Abbey, the world’s first female science-fiction author known as ‘Mad Madge’, and view a masterpiece of medieval poetry.

Migration stories – then and now
A Free Event at Nottingham Central Library on November 18, 1pm-3:45pm, organised by University of Nottingham and Nottingham Library Services
Explore and create stories about migrants to the East Midlands from over a thousand years ago. Men, women and children from Scandinavia settled across the region in the Viking Age (AD 750-1100). Once here, the new residents engaged and interacted with existing communities in farming and trade, while maintaining aspects of their own culture such as language, dress and religion. Today their traces can be seen in the place-names of the East Midlands, and in the objects they brought with them and used here that survive until today. Get creative! With the support of creative writers, participants will develop short stories, poems and plays which weave together the experiences of past and present migrants.

The rise, fall and revival of the modern bookshop
A Free Event at Five Leaves Bookshop, on November 21, 7pm-8pm, organised by University of Nottingham and Five Leaves Bookshop. 
A few years ago it appeared that bookshops were in a state of terminal decline. Between 2005 and 2011 nearly 2000 bookshops had closed in Britain, a sign that the days of physical bricks and mortar bookshops were coming to a close. However, in 2015 the American Booksellers’ Association announced a rise in the number of new independent bookshops, and boldly claimed that the word ‘endangered’ could be decoupled from the word ‘bookstores’.
This discussion, led by Professor Andrew Thacker, will explore how independent bookshops such as City Lights in San Francisco (publisher of Allen Ginsberg’s Howl) and Shakespeare and Company in Paris (publisher of James Joyce’s Ulysses) have been important institutions in the development of modern literature and culture. The discussion will consider what the modern bookshop can learn from looking at these earlier examples of book selling, and what the future prospects are for the independent bookshop.

Your first digital story
A Free Event at The Mac Suite, National Videogame Arcade, on November 22, 5pm-7pm, organised by University of Nottingham with National Videogame Arcade.
Ever thought about creating and publishing your own digital story? If so, this event, hosted by the National Videogame Arcade, is for you. Participants will take part in a two-hour ‘storyfest’ workshop led by Dr Spencer Jordan, in which you’ll be introduced to the Twine digital platform and taken through the basics of interactive, digital narrative building. You’ll create your own story and then be shown how you can publish it to the web.
No skills or knowledge of digital storytelling is necessary. Simply bring enthusiasm and lots of creativity.

Losing yourself in a book – the ‘Boots Booklovers Library’
A Free Event at Five Leaves Bookshop on November 22, 6:00 pm - 7:00 pm, organised by University of Nottingham and Five Leaves Bookshop.
Between 1899 and 1966 Boots the Chemist operated an extensive, national, circulating library, one which was renowned for service and the environment it created for subscribers. Come and find out why Jesse Boot went to the trouble of running such a popular service as a loss leader. This talk will remember the style and elegance of the libraries which were show pieces of contemporary interior design and most importantly the stories of the librarians who worked there.
Drawing on archive research and oral histories, hear how the libraries celebrated the reading year with a calendar of displays, subscription drives, holiday influxes and joining in with local events.
Discussion led by Dr Nickianne Moody of Liverpool John Moores University and Boots archivist Judith Wright.

Lost authors: Geoffrey Trease
A Free Event at Weston Gallery, Nottingham Lakeside Arts, on November 24, 2pm-3:30pm, organised by University of Nottingham.
Nottingham-born Geoffrey Trease was a successful 20th-century writer of historical fiction for children. This workshop will re-exam the impact of Trease through two of his books, his very first book, Bows Against the Barons (1934) and Tales out of School (1949). Both are radical books in their very own way: Bows Against the Barons is an early depiction of Robin Hood as a radical anti-establishment leader in the shape of Wat Tyler, and Tales out of School challenges ideas about the role of fiction in the education of young readers.
This talk, which explores literature and its place in Nottingham’s local history and culture, will be led by Dr Gaby Neher.

Saturday, 11 November 2017

Boots Booklovers’ Library

In David Lean’s 1945 film Brief Encounter, the character Laura is pictured in what looks like a public library; there’s a ‘holiday reads’ section, a smiling librarian, and a desk surrounded by shelves of books. Laura narrates:  “I changed my book at Boots. Miss Lewis had at last managed to get the new *Kate O’Brien for me. I believe she’d kept it hidden under the counter for two days.”

*Kate O’Brien explored gay themes in her writing and she spearheaded a challenge to the Irish Censorship Act.
From here Laura walks seamlessly into a chemist’s in a move that wouldn’t have surprised viewers at the time, many of whom would have recognised that she was in a branch of Boots. Brief Encounter is reflecting the opening scene in Noel Coward’s Still Life (the play on which the film is based) in which he states that an attractive woman ‘is reading a Boots library book at which she occasionally smiles.’

You might not be aware but between 1899 and 1966 Boots ran a circulating library: Books and Boots were known bedfellows. Within John Betjeman’s poem ‘In Westminster Abbey’ are the lines:
‘Think of what our Nation stands for,
Books from Boots' and country lanes,
Free speech, free passes, class distinction,
Democracy and proper drains.’

So how did a Nottingham enterprise became the largest library of its type in the world, lending 38 million books a year?
Let’s start at the beginning. Nottingham’s Sarah Boot of Woolpack Lane in the Lace Market was keen on natural remedies or ‘medical botany’. Her Methodist son, John, was drawn to these treatments as a means of providing affordable healthcare to the poor. To this end he opened a shop on Goose Gate in Hockley, uncatchily known as the British and American Botanic Establishment. Back in the mid-19th Century the shop provided homemade remedies and private consultations.
The store's is now home to The Larder restaurant and a branch of Oxfam

 John Boot’s own health suffered and he died in 1860 leaving a young family. His only son Jesse, aged 10 at the time, revived the business (with the help of his mother and friends) and Boots grew. Work-related stress now began taking its toll on Jesse’s health, so much so that he considered selling up. While on a forced holiday - his sister insisted he take a break - in Jersey, Jesse met Florence Rowe, the daughter of a book seller. She was 12 years his junior and the life and soul of any party. Opposites attracted and Jesse returned to Nottingham a year later with his Mrs Boot (today, a branch of Boots sits on the site of the Rowe family’s bookshop in St Helier’s).

Florence Boot, nee Rowe, she'd probably be known today as FloBo.  
Florence quickly became a key member of the business influencing its direction. Even when their children came along she took them to work with her, placing a cot in the corner of the office. It was Florence that came up with the idea of the stores having a book department and, later, libraries. Wanting to boost poor literacy levels amongst the working class she installing a revolving bookcase in the smaller Goose Gate store. Boots first proper library followed in the building/store on Pelham Street that’s now Zara. This shop was the first Boots that was more of a department store, or as they called them, a ‘Wonderstore’, with a café, hairdressers and gift department.

Unlike the many subscription libraries that were around at the time, Boots libraries, known as Booklovers’ Libraries, were well-stocked with fiction, even titles they’d rather not stock. In 1905 Jesse Boot acknowledged:  “Whilst we do not intend to dictate to our readers as to either the quality or the range of their reading…we afford for the perusal of all literature, including some books that, personally, we regret to see published…”

Harrods, WHSmith and The Times all had similar libraries but by the turn of the 1900s the Boots Booklovers’ Library was the largest of its type in the world. In the big stores the libraries were upstairs, with the stairs at the back, making readers pass through the merchandise. Rivals often had their libraries in basements. Boots libraries had views. They also had a much more organised distribution system uniquely offering an inter-store exchange of books.

Mercer Stretch was their first Head Librarian, a prestigious position which commanded the same salary as the Head Pharmacist and General Manager. F R Richardson, head librarian from 1911 to 1941, had previously selected books for Queen Victoria. Any work within the libraries was a desirable role. The ‘First Literary Course’ provided librarians with an understanding of the publishing trade and knowledge of bestsellers, on which they were tested. Whilst all the chief librarians were men, all the shop floor librarians were women. The juniors would be required to dust the books every morning, a task that taught where each title was placed. By the age of 21 the workers were often moved to other stores, sent ‘on relief’. It was said that working at a Boots library helped a woman’s social standing and marriage prospects. As the women had to leave work when they got married some were reluctant to wed, with reports of long engagements. As 70% of the libraries’ members were also women, they provided an important social hub and, unlike in many public libraries, talking was acceptable.

There were many marketing campaigns for the libraries.
Boots had three types of membership. Their most expensive subscription being ‘On-Demand’, entitling readers to borrow any volume in circulation which, by the 1930s, meant any book from any branch, delivered within 3 days of ordering. Snob-appeal existed with this more expensive membership. The Class A books were at eye level, with the Class B ones requiring bending or tip-toeing for perusal. There were special rates for book groups and educational societies, with schools taking advantage of the offers (and yes, they also stocked children’s books).

All members received a token and date of renewal. This could be attached to the borrowed book through a hole in the spine, the token then acting as a bookmark. Red labels were displayed on potentially offensive books which, once returned, were placed below the counter (as in Brief Encounter). All the other books wore green labels.

The libraries presence gave Boots a status that helped them gain trust for other services.  Many years later Amazon adopted the same strategy, knowing that an association with items as enriching and respected as books would help sell other products.

Inside the Pelham Street 'Wonderstore'
Once inside a Boots library there was no sense that you were inside a chemist’s. The architect Percy Richard Morley Horder, who specialised in English country houses (and was responsible for the Trent Building in the University of Nottingham), was hired to design the departments, and they were adorned with rugs, sofas, plants and flowers.

The libraries ran as loss leaders but managed to break even most years. At the height of their popularity a staggering 38 million books were exchanged in one year via hundreds of Boots stores. With overseas subscribers and foreign travellers taking books with them the famous green label was found all over the world. During the Second World War the number of subscribers increased to a million and books were being bought for the libraries at the rate of 1,250,000 a year. Boots had real buying power and some publishers pandered to them. If a new title was not chosen by Boots it would most likely suffer.

One publisher that turned the tables on Boots was Penguin who became, in part, responsible for the demise of the library departments. People liked to ‘own’ books and affordable Penguin paperbacks made this possible. And the publisher was canny enough not to make their books suitable for hardcovers. Libraries needed a way to make their books protected against the damage of rereading. TV was another nail in the coffin, as were improvements in public libraries with fiction much more accessible.

WHSmith’s libraries closed in 1961, The Times’ a year later. Boots held on a little longer, selling off 800,000 second hand books in one year and by 1965 the end was nigh. The book departments began moving into the libraries and in 1966 the Booklovers’ Libraries closed. Social lives suffered.

For 67 years, Boots libraries had brought books to the people, and it all began here in Nottingham.

There’s a book about the story of Boots Booklovers Library by Jackie Winter, entitled ‘Lipsticks and Library Books’.

You might prefer to discover more about the Boots Booklovers’ Libraries on November 22nd, 2017 as part of the national Being Human festival.

The free event: Losing yourself in a book – the ‘Boots Booklovers Library’ is at Five Leaves Bookshop, Nottingham.

There will be a discussion led by Dr Nickianne Moody of Liverpool John Moores University and Sophie Clapp Head Archivist at Boots, on November 22, 6:00 pm - 7:00 pm. Light refreshments included

Please book your place via