Five Minutes with Samantha Shannon

To celebrate the publication of ‘The Mime Order‘, Samantha Shannon’s follow up to ‘The Bone Season‘, we will be hosting a very special afternoon event, on Saturday 31st January at the Sheldonian Theatre. Joining Samantha to discuss her books and the wonderful world that she has created will be Andy Serkis, best known for his acting roles as Gollum, King Kong and Caesar from ‘Planet of the Apes‘. Andy is also the founder of Imaginarium Studios which has purchased the rights to Samatha’s ‘The Bone Season‘. 

Samantha was kind enough to answer a few questions for Broad Conversation, in order to whet your appetite for the event…

Let’s start with an easy one – are you reading anything good at the moment?

I’ve got a few books on the go at the moment. The first one is Stone Mattress, the new collection of short stories by Margaret Atwood, which is full of her wonderful, dark wit. I’m quite a long way into an early translation of The Key, the final book in the Engelsfors trilogy by Sara B. Elfgren and Mats Strandberg. It’s a gritty, complex urban fantasy set in a small town in Sweden, following the struggles of six young women who discover that they’re witches. I’m also looking forward to starting The Chimes by Anna Smaill, a dystopia based around music.

The Mime Order comes out in the UK on 27th Jan. How was writing the second book different to the first? Are there any sneak peeks you can tease us with?

Unlike the first book, The Mime Order isn’t based in Oxford at all – it’s solely set in my home city of London. It follows Paige as she returns to London after her ordeal as a prisoner, determined to bring the truth about Scion to light, but it’s more of a challenge than she could ever have anticipated. It’s nerve-racking to have a second book coming out, but it was fantastically good fun to write, as I was able to show the reader much more of the Bone Season world – including some new characters – and delve deeper into the relationships between Paige and her fellow gang members.

You’re one of the most contactable authors I’ve seen, and are always answering fan questions and interacting with readers on your Tumblr. Has answering these questions had an impact on your view of the world you’ve created? Does it make you consider aspects of the books that you maybe hadn’t thought about?

It hasn’t affected the way I write the books, but it’s definitely thought-provoking when someone asks me a question about something I hadn’t thought about.

Has there been any scene in particular that was the hardest to write? What do you do if something just isn’t coming together?

The dénouement of The Mime Order was tough to write, as it’s a very long, action-heavy scene, spread over several chapters, and involves a large number of characters. The ending also took a few tries to get right, but I’m pleased with how it turned out.

And one really obvious question – how did you feel when Imaginarium Studios took on ‘The Bone Season’?

I was over the moon. A few studios were interested in acquiring the film rights, but as soon as I heard that Andy Serkis was one of the co-founders of Imaginarium, I was intrigued. I admire Andy’s dedication to developing his particular field of interest within the film industry, and I was certain that if any studio was going to make The Bone Season look amazing on the big screen, it would be this one. I’ve really enjoyed working with the Imagineers so far. They’ve since teamed up with Chernin Entertainment and Twentieth Century Fox to make the film, and they now have a double Oscar-nominated screenwriter on board.

If you’re a fan of ‘The Bone Season’, and can’t wait for ‘The Mime Order’, book now to see Samantha and Andy in conversation! Tickets for the event cost £5. You can also pre-order ‘The Mime Order’ (published 27th Jan 2015) and get a free ticket to the event.

Simply visit the Customer Service Desk in the Broad Street shop, or phone them on 01865 333623. For enquiries email:

Don’t forget, you can follow us on Facebook and Twitter for all the latest info.

Blackwell’s Book Gift Club

Anyone with bookish friends and family knows the joy of being handed a book you’ve never heard of, accompanied by a glowing recommendation, and discovering a real treasure. Sometimes the books you didn’t know you wanted are the books that grab you the most… Mark Forsyth’s essay The Unknown Unknown discusses ‘the delight of not getting what you wanted’ from a bookshop who can work magic in providing unknown, unmissable books.

The Blackwell’s Book Gift Club works on this very principle – we will choose a brand new book for you (or your favourite book-lover), and send it to you each month. It’s a little bit of literary magic in your letterbox!

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We choose the most interesting and high quality books published during the year, so you’ll always receive a brand new hardback book, published within the last three months, and worth at least £16. Books will be sent out on the 1st of each month, and should be with you/your chosen recipient within five working days.

There are five categories to choose from:

1. Fiction

2. History

3. Politics, Philosophy and Culture

4. Science

5. ‘The Perfect Mixture’ – a selection of books from all categories

You can subscribe for 6 months or 12 months, and the prices are as follows:

12 months: £199 for the Fiction category, and £221 for the other four categories.

6 months: £99.50 for the Fiction category, and £110.50 for the other four categories.

If you would prefer to receive paperbacks, then for 12 months it’s just £120 for the Fiction category, and £150 for any other category, and for 6 months, it’s £60 for Fiction and £75 for the other categories.

Postage within the UK is free – if the subscription is a present for somebody else, we can send the payment details to you and the books to another address. Please email, with the subject ‘Book Gift Club’, for advice on international postage costs.

To leave you with some temptation, here’s a selection of some previous Gift Club choices…



Folio, Beautiful Folio





Did you know that Blackwell’s is the only stockist of Folio Society books in the whole of Oxford? These beautiful, luxurious hand-crafted editions of classic, iconic books are so gorgeous, it seemed like a great idea to showcase some of these beauties for you here on the blog! (more…)

Student Welfare Week – Beat those Fifth Week Blues

If you are reading this and are, or have been, a student at Oxford, then the term ‘Fifth Week Blues’ needs no introduction. For the rest of you: Fifth Week Blues describes the feeling of misery, stress and generally being overwhelmed that inexplicably seems to hit every student in the fifth week of term.

Colleges try to combat Fifth Week Blues with a lot of TLC for students, and since Blackwell’s loves students, we thought we’d show them some love as well! We’ve designed a Student Welfare Week full of relaxation, fun, and laughter to put a smile on student faces all week long.

Firstly, we’re going to be running a Student Lounge in the Norrington Room. Comfy chairs, a space to relax, loads of fun activities… You can sit and read a book or a newspaper, play a game with friends (Dreaming Spires, anyone?) and even get back to childhood with some giant dot-to-dots and colouring in!

We’ve also laid on some fab comedy and music events:

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On Monday 10th at 1.30pm, we have a special performance from the Oxford Gargoyles, Oxford University’s finest jazz a capella group, ahead of their sold out Christmas events on 27th and 29th Nov (visit their website for more details)! Full of charm and glamour, the Gargoyles are entertainment at its finest.


Then on Tuesday 11th at 12.30pm, join us for a smorgasbord of light-hearted improvised comedy with the marvellous Oxford Imps. Hugely successful on the Oxford comedy scene and beyond, the Imps are here to help you laugh away the blues…The Imps have a weekly show at the Wheatsheaf pub on the High Street, Mondays at 8 (and visit their website for more info)

Finally, on Wednesday 12th at 3pm, renowned comedy writer and actor John Finnemore, best known for his Radio 4 comedy shows “John Finnemore’s Souvenir Programme” and “Cabin Pressure”, as well as his appearances on “Miranda”, joins us for an afternoon of shaggy-dog tales and brilliant humour. There’s nothing like a giggle to make you feel better! Check out his blog to see what he’s up to.

Perhaps most exciting of all, we’re pioneering bibliotherapy sessions. Put your feet up and have a five-minute consultation with one of our skilled booksellers, and let us prescribe you a book that suits you perfectly. Plus, you’ll get 10% off whatever we prescribe!

So if you’re feeling the Fifth Week Blues, pop into the shop and take a look at our Student Welfare fun! Don’t forget to join the Facebook event to keep updated.

A Very Short Introduction To…

Very Short Introductions “Speed-Dating” Evening

Thursday 30th October at 7pm
Blackwell’s Bookshop, 49-53 Broad Street, Oxford

Experience an evening unlike any other – sign up to participate in our Very Short Introductions Speed-Dating Evening!

The Very Short Introductions (VSIs) series is an extremely popular series of books from Oxford University Press in which expert authors make often challenging topics highly readable.

We are bringing eight of the VSI authors together to provide for you an intellectually nutritious smorgasbord of enlightenment! Want to know more about Modern China? The Ice Age? Consciousness? Free Speech? Then this is the night for you, as you spend approximately seven minutes with each of our eight authors in turn.

Our experts for the evening (and the topics they will cover) include Julian Baggini (Atheism), Rana Mitter (Modern China), Sue Blackmore (Consciousness), Peter Atkins (Physical Chemistry), Jonathan Slack (Stem Cells), Nigel Warburton (Free Speech), Jamie Woodward (The Ice Age) and Robert Eaglestone (Contemporary Fiction).

This is highly experimental! Anything could happen! This could all prove remarkably, mind-blowingly educational!

Tickets for this cerebral extravaganza cost only £3 and include a glass of wine. Tickets can be obtained from our Customer Services Department or by telephoning 01865 333623 or emailing
There are strictly EIGHTY PLACES ONLY for this event so please book early so as not to miss out.

Books Are My Bag II – a date for your diary


Last year was the inaugural ‘Books Are My Bag’ campaign – a day organised by The Booksellers Association for everyone to have the chance to celebrate bookshops. It was wildly successful with thousands upon thousands of book lovers making a trip to their local bookshop up and down the country. The Saatchi-designed orange bag flooded the streets and sales across the country rose by 18% on the Saturday launch day

It certainly made an impression on Richard Ovenden, Bodley Librarian, with one of my favourite ever tweets about the shop

Richard Ovenden BAMB tweet

So, book lovers, let’s do it all again!

On Saturday October 11th BAMB II is happening.

Fiendish plans are underway to make sure that we play our fullest part here in the shop. The plan is to put on an amazing carnival of bookish loveliness that puts a smile on your face and a book in your bag.

Follow Books Are My Bag on Twitter or their website to keep abreast of news and developments


Philip Pullman on the power of the book

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In addition to all the fantastic free short talks right here in Blackwell’s during the World Humanist Congress, I was also lucky enough to attend Philip Pullman’s talk at the Sheldonian, mysteriously entitled ‘The Cuckoo’s Nest’. Pullman is one of Oxford’s most well-known authors, and it was a real pleasure to hear him speak about the life and responsibilities of writers – the metaphor of the cuckoo’s nest was perfect for discussing the way one’s writing can take over one’s life.

One particular point that Pullman explored was the difference between the relationship of book and author, and that of book and reader.

“Writing is not democracy; writing is tyranny. But reading is democracy.”

What he means by this is that the author may have total control over a book while it is being written, but that the moment it begins to be read, he ceases to have control over how it is read. The reader is free to derive whatever they wish from any book – “when you open a book, it is secret, private” and the relationship is “precious, individual”. This freedom of interpretation fitted in perfectly with the theme of the World Humanist Congress, “Freedom of Thought and Expression”, and was extremely thought-provoking. Certainly I know that the books I’ve fallen most in love with have been the ones I’ve discovered by myself, and not the ones that school teachers demanded I interpret.

Pullman was insistent about the power of literature and the arts to influence children and young people, and lamented that there is little chance for children to discover literature at their own pace. Literature, he argues, shows us what it is to be human, and can be used to equip a reader with an understanding, a model, of how to live – however, this is most powerful if the discovery is organic, and something read as a child suddenly bursts into flower years later, meaning one more facet of humanity makes sense. But, he says, if there is someone watching over the reader’s shoulder, telling them what to think of it, then this magic bond is lost. Pullman is fond of using the words ‘magic’, ‘enchantment’, ‘spell’ – and I think anyone who loves to read will understand why!

As a reader (and I’m sure most of you are), I know that much of my childhood reading, and even the reading I do today, worked to subtly influence how I see the world, and who I am. Watching Anne Shirley grow up through the Anne of Green Gables books gave me a model I still subconsciously aim for; Hermione Granger was the perfect comfort to a frizzy-haired, bookish schoolgirl. So to hear Pullman acknowledge the special bond between reader and book, reader and character, to be as strong if not stronger than the relationship between writers and their own works, was extremely powerful.

Would you agree? Is there something secret between the reader and what they read? Which books and characters have influenced how you see the world?

If this has inspired you to read something by Philip Pullman, then why not pop into the shop, or check out our online store here?