Thursday, 27 August 2009

A Little Tea & A Little Chat at Persephone Books

Serendipitously both Darlene and I today have written about having tea at Persephone Books. Where Darlene was lucky enough to attend one of the shop's book chats, I was visiting to collect the prize copies that Persephone so very kindly offered Verity and I for this week's give-aways.

Last month I popped in on my way home from a job interview and spent a couple of hours in the pleasant and wonderfully welcoming company of Nicola and Lydia. Imagine my disappointment though when I first arrived to find the door locked! Lydia had to go to the loo, you see, which I promptly forgave her for. My first stop was the basement where I was in Persephone lover heaven to see all the titles stacked up and the wonderful bookcase of slightly damaged copies. If I hadn't been wearing a suit, I would have plopped myself down in front of them, amongst dust and some cobwebs (Lydia warned me of spiders), and meticulously chose copies but as it was I chose at random whilst Lydia kindly carried a box of Good Evening, Mrs Craven upstairs and put them in a lovely jute bag. As well as thanking Persephone for their generosity, I would also like to take the opportunity to express my wonder at their customer service and quality of book provided: I have bought or been sent new books in worse condition from other booksellers than the ones supplied for prize copies but Persephone are unwilling to sell anything less than pristine, which is admirable.

Whilst waiting for Nicola, who was on her way, Lydia and I discussed our mutual Master's degrees as it transpired that we had both done similar courses at different Universities and then the Booker longlist as it had been announced the previous day (Lydia, like me, was most excited about The Quickening Maze by Adam Foulds), leading to a longer conversation about The Little Stranger, which Sarah Waters had sent as a gift to the shop, as she is a huge admirer, and which Nicola later said I was welcome to borrow if I hadn't read. Following Nicola's arrival and settling down to Elevenses (Nicola, I was charmed to notice drank from a Nancy Mitford, Pursuit of Love Penguin Classics mug) we engaged in some general literary chat, as well as discussion covering blogging and Verity's and my challenge, Simon at Stuck in a Book who is thought of highly (and rightly so), my career goals, and publishing.

The literary chat was fascinating and, in my opinion, you would be hard-pushed to find someone as enthused and passionate about literature and the book industry as Nicola Beauman. We spoke of The Group by Mary McCarthy which I had recently read and loved. I told Nicola that I thought it should be a Persephone and she is of the same mind but, regretfully, she was unable to obtain the publishing rights to it. Interestingly, the Persephone title that took the longest to obtain the rights to was The Wise Virgins by Leonard Woolf and she would also love to possess the rights to The Expendable Man within the United States.

We also touched upon Stella Gibbons and the possibility of Persephone publishing one of her titles but Nicola told me honestly that she hasn't found a book that challenge Cold Comfort Farm. Indeed the vision of Persephone is to publish wonderful books because, as a reader, Nicola only wants to publish wonderful books.

The new Bloomsbury Group project was covered as was the original and beautiful cover art of Virago Modern Classics; the Editor-in-Chief of Bloomsbury, Alexandra Pringle, began her career in Virago editing and choosing the artwork for those iconic covers. Nicola also told me about this article, at that time forthcoming, and enthusiastically recommended the novel Hearts and Minds by Amanda Craig.

Another highlight to my shop visit was spying the reproduction endpapers for the new books (forthcoming - Oct 22nd) which, of course, are typically beautiful.

I was struck by how friendly, welcoming, and warm both Nicola and Lydia were and not just to me but to their customers. The customer service is fabulous and their passion for books is apparent as they happily discuss non-Persephone titles with visitors to the shop.

There is definitely an endearing quality to the shop as well as to the imprints. India Knight describes Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day and The Making of a Marchioness as "bed books", along with beloved classics I Capture the Castle, Pride and Prejudice, My Cousin Rachel, the Anne of Green Gables books and everything written by Nancy Mitford (The Shops p. 108). I love "bed books" and the indulgence of comfort reads and fairy tales for grown-ups but there is also a lot of substance amongst Persephone Books, some of which we have seen this week.

I spent a lovely morning at Persephone having tea and I am only sad that Verity wasn't there to join me.

I had to include in this post the beautiful artist's reproduction of the shop by David Gentleman as it is one of my favourites.


verity said...

Soooooooo envious! But am glad you went :)

Anonymous said...

It sounds like you had a wonderful time. Thank you for sharing with us!

farmlanebooks said...

It is lovely when people are so welcoming and have great customer service. I'm pleased to hear that you had a lovely time.

Darlene said...

Such a wonderful visit! Can you imagine going to work every day in such a shop, sheer bliss.

Paperback Reader said...

Danielle, it was and you are very welcome.

Jackie, it really makes the difference doesn't it? My local independent bookshop (new and secondhand) is lovely but the staff never speak to you and are quite rude to one another, which is awfully off-putting.

Darlene, it would be a perfect place to work. Nicola told me that she couldn't work in a normal, dark, airless office and had to have the breezy colourful one that is Persephone.

kimbofo said...

It sounds like a wonderful visit, Claire. I've popped in there a few times, but I'm always too shy to say who I am even though Persephone has linked to my blog a couple of times and included snippets of my reviews in their Quarterly or whatever it's called.

Tracey said...

What a wonderful post - sounds like a lovely,enchanting morning. Thank you for sharing it.

Nymeth said...

They really do sound very friendly! How wonderful. The next time I visit London I will go to the shop for sure.

Paperback Reader said...

Kim, I think I would feel the same in that position and only had this experience through the challenge and the fact that I had to introduce myself to be allowed to make off with some books! They are incredibly friendly though so perhaps you won't feel as timid on your next visit.

Tracey, it was my pleasure! It really was a joy.

Ana, the next time you are in London I will take you to Persephone myself! I can just imagine the detriment to our bank balances... :s

claire said...

What a heavenly experience, Claire. Btw, did you mean The Wise Virgins or is there going to be a new book out by Leonard Woolf? Re: Bloomsbury Group, I gave up on Henrietta's War. I know. I couldn't sympathise, even though she was funny and made me laugh. I got tired after a few letters and just lost interest. Maybe because I'm not English and couldn't relate? It's not because it had no plot, but that, being plotless, there was nothing else to engage me.

Paperback Reader said...

Claire, yes, The Wise Children; I thought it was interesting to discover that title was one of the most difficult to attain.

Re: Henrietta's War, I'm sorry you couldn't engage but I can understand why; I found it difficult to relate to but still entertaining and very quick to read but appreciate that it's not for everyone. You must be so disappointed :(.

claire said...

Oooh.. when is The Wise Children coming out?? I can't wait!!

Re: Henrietta's War, no worries. Of course I wish I had ordered something else, but that's how it goes. At least it wasn't the price of a Persephone! Lol.

Paperback Reader said...

Claire, forgive me but I am an idiot. Sorry for the confusion but I meant The Wise Virgins. When I read your first comment I didn't notice my mistake. Wise Children is an Angela Carter novel (completely unrelated to Persephone) and I automatically wrote that and brain did not compute when you queried it. D'oh. Apologies for getting your hopes up.

verity said...

I just stumbled upon this post again when looking at your Spark/Pym post and am getting excited about our tea-outing. MUST book train tickets.

Paperback Reader said...

Hee, me too! It will make a wonderful post-Christmas treat.
I think that a future guest post for VVV may be on Pym... I am planning on eventually reading her in November.