Nicola Beauman and Persephone Books

Question: how do you get 44 people into a small bookshop?
Answer: you take out all the books!

(Well, the book tables anyway). Oh, and you invite a star guest to speak - and on Tuesday evening we welcomed Persephone Books founder, head and guiding light Nicola Beauman to Mostly Books to talk about the company she founded, and the books that it publishes - and she so obviously loves to bits.

We discovered Persephone Books just a couple of weeks before we opened the bookshop - on our pilgrimage to the then independent bookshop of the year, Wenlock Books in Shropshire. We hurried back to Abingdon, got our order in - and Persephone Books were a range we stocked from our opening day, and has (with Eland travel books) been one of our signature ranges ever since.

Simon Thomas over at Stuck In A Book was off the mark quicker than me (which isn't hard at the moment) in blogging about the event - and it's an excellent write-up - so mine will be brief.

Nicola talked about how she came to found Persephone, the nervous start-up phase when she feared it wouldn't work, up to how the Persephone Classics came about and plans for the next three to be launched (more below). We had a good debate about the grey cover versus Classics cover, with several of our regular Persephone 'groupies' claiming that they would stick to the grey covers - simply because it matches the other books already on their shelves (I for one am very grateful for the Classics, because their keener price-point means that, for example, we can suggest one for our bookgroup. I think it gives a wider number of people the chance to discover these books, which I guess is the whole point).

After an hour I curtailed the 'formal' part of the evening - there were a few very flush looking people in the audience given the slightly muggy evening, and I wanted to give people the opportunity to pop out for air before they keeled over. The rest of the evening had people chatting to Nicola - and to each other: there were several people who had only ever met 'virtually' through blogs, and it was nice to see the bookshop putting people together in the real world.

I reprised the frenzied bookselling role I had performed at the weekend, until - pausing only for the obligatory photo (I'm looking a bit flushed meself in that one) - I had the pleasure of giving Nicola a lift to the station, and a chance to chat about some of the practicalities of ordering books from the various wholesalers, amongst other things.

I took a sneaky shot of the covers of the next three Persephone Classics (due to be launched in the Autumn). These are (from left to right) "Mariana" by Monica Dickens, "Kitchen Essays" by Agnes Jekyll and "Little Boy Lost" by Marghanita Laski.

Nicola was an utter joy to have as a guest, and I am very hopeful of tempting her back for another event in the not too distant future. A very sincere (and big) thank you to Nicola for coming all the way out to the sticks for what was a great event.

Nicki and I go off on holiday for a week from tomorrow (in fact, looking at the clock, we set off in just over 8 hours - which means I definitely need to go to bed). It's another important milestone for us - as the shop will be staying open (unlike last year). Alison, James, Julia and Karen (not to mention Yaxkis, who will be doing work experience all next week) will be ensuring Mostly Books runs smoothly all next week. We do have the most amazing staff - good luck everyone (we'll try not to phone all week!). Oh, and "Little Boy Lost" is one of several books on my holiday reading list...


  1. An excellent write-up, Mark, which makes me feel nostalgic for the evening already! Such a wonderful event. Hope you've managed to replenish your Persephone shelves - I was foolishly sitting near them when the horde descended!

  2. Have a good holiday, Mark!

  3. Great stuff. I think that Book shop is really Doctor Who's Tardis

  4. A wonderful event. And I'm glad you like the glorious Wenlock Books: my sister lives nearby, and it's one of my favourite places.