book events

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.

Next week at Blackwell’s…

As you may already know, next Wednesday 18th and Thursday 19th July we will be hosting author talks with hedgehog fanatic and author of The Beauty in the Beast Hugh Warwick and author of new historical thriller Sacrilege, SJ Parris.

It promises to be a very interesting couple of days, so why not come down and join us? Tickets are £2 for each talk and are available from our Customer Services Department or by calling 01865 333623.

However, if you’re away or previously engagement then never fear, look out on Broad Conversation in the week afterwards for interviews with our speakers – and if you’ve got some questions of your own then why not let us know? Either Tweet us with the hastags #hughquestions or #sjpquestions, or leave us a comment – we’ll try to put as many as possible to Hugh and Stephanie, and they’ll be posted to Broad Conversation along with the rest of the interview!

You can also request signed copies of The Beauty in the Beast and Sacrilege by dropping us an email at


Events in July at Blackwell’s Oxford

Another set of cracking bookshop events in July, music, storytelling, natural history, one of oue very best comic writers and Elizebetah espionage! It would be lovely to see you at any or all of these:

Tuesday 3rd July at 7pm

The Bookshop Band

Blackwell’s Bookshop, 48-51 Broad Street, Oxford

Price: £5

The Bookshop Band write and perform songs inspired by books and the members of the band take it in turns to describe the inspiration for each song. During last year, they have completed 18 author events, and written 36 songs inspired by 21 diverse books.

The band is made up of three British musician/songwriters: Ben Please – part of indie-folk band Urusen who have recently recorded an album with platinum-selling producer Steve Osborne (KT Tunstall, The Happy Mondays, U2, Doves); Poppy Pitt – an artist and sculptor who also tours with her own band, Poppy and Friends; and Beth Porter – has played with Peter Gabriel, currently tours with Eliza Carthy and has recorded for Newton Faulkner, The Unthanks, and Maximo Park.

This promises to be a stunning evening and one that, we are sure, will be talked about for years to come…

Tickets cost £5 and can be obtained by telephoning or visiting the Customer Service Department, Second Floor, Blackwell Bookshop, Oxford. 01865 333623


 Thursday 5th July at 7pm

Walking the Landscapes of Britain

Blackwell’s Bookshop, 48-51 Broad Street, Oxford

Price: £2

Philip Hughes will be joining us to discuss Tracks: Walking the Ancient Landscapes of Britain. This book focuses on eleven iconic walks across beautiful ancient areas in Britain, each expressed through Hughes’ artwork in paintings and drawings as well as maps, aerial photographs and short introductions about the surrounding area.

Tickets cost £2 and can be obtained by telephoning or visiting the Customer Service Department, Second Floor, Blackwell Bookshop, Oxford. 01865 333623


Saturday 7th July

Alice’s Day

Blackwell’s Bookshop, 48-51 Broad Street, Oxford

Free activities throughout the day – come and join us!

Join us for a day of frabjous activities taking place in our magical children’s department here at Blackwell’s Bookshop from 11am – 5pm. Loose yourself in our all day storytelling of Alice in Wonderland or take part in our Alice trail in the Norrington Room. Be transformed by our face-painting artist or entertained by our comical Alice’s Day musicians. Have a balloon made by our balloon sculptress and get creative with our range of Alice themed craft activities, there’s lots to do for all the family and we hope you can join us!

Alice in Wonderland: The Big Story Read:

We’ll be celebrating the 150th anniversary of the telling of Alice in Wonderland with an all day reading of the story by a range of exciting special guests including children’s authors Sally Nichols, Steve Feasy, Jen Campbell and MG Harris! Drop in to listen to a chapter or stay all day to hear the story in full, join us in celebrating this wonderful occasion. If you are as mad as a hatter and would like to take part as a storyteller, a sign up sheet is on display in the children’s department, please sign up before Alice’s Day to have a guaranteed place

For further information, please telephone our Children’s Department: 01865 333694


Friday 13th July at 1.00pm

Lunchtime book signing:

Jasper Fforde / The Woman Who Died a Lot 

This is the new Thursday Next novel from Number One bestselling author Jasper Fforde.

The BookWorld’s leading enforcement officer Thursday Next is four months into an enforced semi-retirement following an assassination attempt. She returns home to Swindon for what you’d expect to be a time of recuperation. If only life were that simple.

Thursday is faced with an array of family problems – son Friday’s lack of focus since his career in the Chronoguard was relegated to a might-have-been, daughter Tuesday’s difficulty perfecting the Anti-Smote shield needed to thwart an angry Deity’s promise to wipe Swindon off the face of the earth, and Jenny, who doesn’t exist.

And that’s not all. With Goliath attempting to replace Thursday at every opportunity with synthetic Thursdays, the prediction that Friday’s Destiny-Aware colleagues will die in mysterious circumstances, and a looming meteorite that could destroy all human life on earth, Thursday’s retirement is going to be anything but easy.

Jasper Fforde traded a varied career in the film industry for staring out of the window and chewing the end of a pencil. He lives and works in Wales and has a passion for aviation.

All are welcome, no booking required, please just come along!


Wednesday 18th July at 7pm

Hugh Warwick / The Beauty in the Beast

Blackwell’s Bookshop, 48-51 Broad Street, Oxford

Price: £2

The Beauty in the Beast is a delightful portrait of some of the UK’s best-loved wild animals and birds and the colourful enthusiasts who champion their causes. Meet the water vole-woman from Shropshire, the owl-man from Somerset and Gordon, the dancing toad-fancier. These and many other fabulously engaging characters carry a deep knowledge of their chosen species within a distinctly quirky shell. Other animals making an appearance include otters, bats, dolphins, dragonflies, foxes and adders. Hugh Warwick, animal enthusiast and hedgehog fanatic, writes a series of affectionate and lively homages to the animals of the British Isles, composed of fieldwork and interviews with the people who love and conserve them.

Tickets cost £2 and can be obtained by telephoning or visiting the Customer Service Department, Second Floor, Blackwell Bookshop, Oxford. 01865 333623



Thursday 19th July at 7pm

SJ Parris / Sacrilege

Blackwell’s Bookshop, 48-51 Broad Street, Oxford

Price: £2

Perfect for fans of C.J. Sansom and The Name of the Rose, the third historical thriller featuring Giordano Bruno, heretic, philosopher and spy. In the pursuit of power, nothing is sacred! Summer, 1584. The Protestant Prince William of Orange has been assassinated by a fanatical Catholic, and there are whispers that Queen Elizabeth will be next. Fear haunts the streets of London, and plague is driving many citizens away. Giordano Bruno, radical philosopher and spy, chooses to remain, only to find that someone is following him through the city. Confronting his stalker, he realizes it is the woman he once loved — she is on the run, having been accused of murder. Bruno travels to Canterbury to help clear her name, and also on behalf of Sir Francis Walsingham. The Queen’s spymaster has long suspected Catholic influence in the ancient centre of pilgrimage, and instructs Bruno to work to expose any enemy plots. As Bruno begins his hunt for the real killer, he is drawn into the heart of a sinister conspiracy hiding in the shadow of England’s holiest shrine!

Tickets cost £2 and can be obtained by telephoning or visiting the Customer Service Department, Second Floor, Blackwell Bookshop, Oxford. 01865 333623

I am not (just) a bookseller any more…

I love working in bookselling and feel privileged to have spent most of my career working at Blackwell’s on The Broad. Each year since 1987, when I started working in the book trade, the ‘death of the book’ has been trumpeted loud and clear. Each year the book has survived – sometimes thriving, sometimes taking a flesh wound.

Throughout this time I have seen my primary role (and that of the shop) as selling books. However, this perception has changed over the past year or so. With a ‘perfect storm’ of threats – the rise of Amazon and their ‘selling new books as a marketing tool’ approach, the significant take-up of ebooks, the sharp rise in tuition fees and the general malaise on the Hight Street and a double-dip recession – just selling books is not enough any more.

Now my role is focussed on making you fall in love with us. Yes, our passion for books will be the centrpiece to this, but it has to become a given that we need to offer much more. 

I was very struck by a recent book by economist John Kay called Obliquity; the central premise being that you are sometimes more likely to achieve a goal by taking an indirect path. Hence my commitment to making as many people as possible fall in love with us rather than just trying to sell as many books as possible. This way salvation lies.

The Damascene moment for me was when we agreed to Creation Theatre staging Faustus in the Norrington Room just over a year ago. It was abundantly clear that there were many hurdles to overcome and the success of the venture was by no means guaranteed. But it was ambitious, boy was it ambitious. I loved that fact. I also loved what it did for the shop – the feedback from audience and customers was overwhelmingly positive and it was the start of a relationship with Creation Theatre that is deeply respectful, mutually beneficial and above all fun. From that moment on our ambitions for many of the things that we do in the shop were raised.

Our events programme is undoubtedly the jewel in our ‘more than a bookshop’ crown – the variety and frequency can seem at times mind-boggling, from a sold out Sheldonian for Steven Pinker to our Writers Group and all points in between. Unbeknownst to most of our customers we run a small campus bookshop at Buckingham New University for part of the year and the size and success of our book tent at the Oxford Literary Festival goes from strength to strength (by my calculation it was probably the third busiest bookshop in the country on those nine heady days in March!) Some of the events that we run are not expected to make any reasonable amount of book sales but we see that being an active part of the cultural scene in Oxford as a fundamental responsibility. Barely a day goes by when we do not have some sort of event – maybe a bookstall in a college, an author talk in the evening or a group of visiting librarians who want a tour of the shop.

If you visit the shop you will, no doubt, notice that we are branching out into selling things other than books. This has the potential to be a tricky path to navigate – we must remain recognisably a bookshop – after all it is what our customers know and love us for and what we want to be doing for years to come. However, we are sourcing a range of quality items to complement our book offer. Examples of this are the ‘It’s All Greek’ statuettes that furnish our Classics Dept, top quality leather satchels or our bookish T Shirts from Out of Print.

It never fails to hearten me when I speak to customers; the esteem in which we are held is inspiring. Of course this can be a double-edged sword as expectations are incredibly high which can lead to disappointment when we fall short. We wouldn’t have it any other way – it truly is the customers – you – that allow the shop to hit the high notes that it does. The fact that genuine friendships are made between booksellers and customers is a source of great pride. We love to hear about the books that you are reading and we love to share with you those books that are dear to our hearts. No algorithmic ‘if you loved x you’ll like y’ here. Our aim is to inspire, delight, amaze and excite each and every person that walks through our doors.

Our relationship with other Oxford institutions – the Bodleian, the Story Museum, BookFeast and the Oxford University Alumni Office to name just four are a fantastic source of support and encouragement. We want to have relationships with all sorts of organisations throughout Oxford and will be working ever harder on this over the coming year. And just imagine if Oxford wins the UNESCO World Book Capital 2014 crown – I might just explode.

And not just Oxford institutions – thanks to all forms of Social Media we are building new and exciting relationships with authors, independent publishers, bookshops and book bloggers from around the world. I am seeking out the very best that is happening in the book world and working on bringing it to Oxford. But I am also keenly aware that the heritage and history that has been made inside our shop has been, to a large extent, hidden away from our customers – bringing that out, polishing it up and sharing it with the world is another part of my day job. One of my favourite phrases that we use here is about us being at ‘the cutting edge of tradition’ – we need to be a modern bookshop but we can best be guided in that by what we have achieved in the past 133 years.

I hope that I haven’t been too indulgent here – feel free to get down on bended knee and profess your love or come back to the shop and renew your vows. 

My final word is to quash the rumour that the job title on my business card says ‘Ambassador for Heritage, Tradition and Romance’ – maybe next year?

Do Awards Matter?

Ask any bookseller why they remain a bookseller and the stock reply is ‘I just kinda fell into it, but I love it.’ It is certainly not to get rich and it is often seen as a step to getting published or a job in publishing.

Equally, a significant amount of people who leave bookselling stay in touch and say how much they miss the camaraderie, the closeness to the books and the ‘essence’ of working in a bookshop.

We see it as honourable and important – there is nothing like the satisfaction of placing a book in a customers hands that you know they are going to love. It might even change their life. We take this ‘power’ seriously, and recognise that it is recompense for the inevitable monotony of much of the day job.

Most customers who thank us for what we do have no idea just how heartening it is for us to hear that. It validates what we hold dear. Sometimes it is unspoken, but we see the effect that bookseller recommendations can have on sales of specific titles (our current staff choice in Blackwell’s has seen an extraordinary uplift in sales of those books). Blackwell’s Broad St has just received validation on a grand scale.

This week saw the Book Industry Conference, where the great and the good of British publishing and bookselling gathered to talk about the present and the future. On the Monday night of the conference was the gala dinner and the annual awards ceremony. Blackwell’s was proud to have two nominations – Micha Solana for Young Bookseller of the Year and Broad Street’s very own Zool Verjee for Manager of the Year. We were blown away to win in both categories (Micha shared that award with Gorgina Hanratty of Tales on Moon LaneChildren’s bookshop). Will Gompertz wrote an excellent piece on the awards here

Zool winning has given a real boost to the whole of the shop this week – if a 132 year old bookshop can have a spring in it’s step then it has had that and more since the announcement. Zool may be reticent about me saying this but the award was truly deserved – he has been instrumental in raising our ambition as a bookshop. The fabulous collaboration with Creation Theatre wouldn’t have happened without him. He has taken on stunning events with the likes of Amartya SenShirley Williams and Richard Dawkins to name just a few. He has helped to build and build the bookselling activity at the Oxford Literary Festival over a number of years. Two weeks ago he took the Eurostar to Paris to sell buckets of books at an Oxford Almni reunion. His ability to manage detail whilst maintaining an impressive vision for the possible is extraordinary. Of course (and Zool would be the first to insist that this is said) many other people are instrumental in helping us deliver our Events and Marketing activity. That the British book industry explicitly recognised his talents is not only a reflection on Zool, but also a stamp of approval on the direction that we are working on taking one of the great bookshops in the world.

Zool, I salute you. And I love your rather marvellous trophy

More than words: revelling in the court of Tim Smit

“YOU ARE ALL GOING TO DIE” bellows Tim Smit, the charismatic founder of the Eden project, recounting a previous talk where having arrived late was rushed on stage and unable to think of anything to say. And so begins one of the most inspirational hours of my life. Brimming with great anecdotes and insights into both his own way of going about things and general observations on how people interact, Tim has all the verve and charm of a motivational speaker, while pouring scorn over all the jargon and empty posturing of “innovative” companies, where people “think out of the box”. This is a man who ambles into the Sheldonian Theatre, ruffled hair, creased shirt tucked into his jeans, looking like he could easily be heading over to the garden to do some weeding…although in his case potentially on a massive scale!

This is where Tim Smit spoke

The Eden Project is an £80million environmental initiative, and we’re told to date that it has generated £1billion. What do you do when you are trying to bring a project to fruition and you’re stretched to the limit, and feeling like you can’t possibly bring everything together asks Tim. As a rule? Well, you take one more step out on a limb. Getting the funding for the project required some good fortune and Tim largely credits his success to taking risks and the sheer positive power on others generated by believing in what you are doing.

Another principle Tim lives by is seeking out the great potential in unexpected situations. Organisations and institutions obsess about gathering together the “great thinkers” in “centres of excellence”, but what of the untapped resources bubbling away within us all? And who knows what spark can ignite when you get people in situations they never planned? Well funnily enough I didn’t know who Tim Smit was before today and (rather shamefully) I knew nothing of the Eden project. So I came to the Sheldonian Theatre with no expectations, and I left having been treated to a fantastically stimulating event.  I’ve had my mind energised by a vision of how this country could invest in sustainable energy and move into a new age of industry and production, an “exciting” time, which Tim believes could prove to be as historically significant as the age of enlightenment. And why not, if we can show some of the drive and commitment which has been on show today?

Tim has a cunning little method to encourage novel situations: he accepts every third invitation (providing there’s no clash with family commitments). So was Blackwell at the mercy of Tim’s social invite roulette wheel when we asked him to appear at the Oxford Literary Festival this year? I never thought to ask him. But I do know that all of us here at the Sheldonian Theatre today were very lucky to have been able to spend a little time in the company of this inspiring man.

– Tom Osman

The Rise and Rise of the Literary Festival

Once again we are delighted to be the onsite bookseller at the Sunday Times Oxford Literary Festival. Whilst the amount of time and nervous energy that this takes up is huge we wouldn’t want to be anywhere else in the world from 2nd-10th April. Logistically it is the biggest operation that we run outside of the shop. This year will be the 15th installment of the Festival, growing from a very small affair into arguably the third most important literary festival in the UK behind Hay and Edinburgh.

Against a backdrop of economic uncertainty, cuts to cultural programmes and the oft-predicted demise of the traditional book are we at the pinnacle of festival fever?

The growth of literary festivals over the past years has been much commented on, my observations on this are as follows:

  • whilst writing and reading are essentially solitary pursuits our general need for sociability and communality have not diminished over the years, but the opportunities for them have. Whereas location and family used to be the natural drivers of collective behaviour this is being supplanted by groups drawn together by common activity e.g. football and festivals
  • book festivals are seen as having an intellectual stamp of approval – being seen at them is a positive statement, and it gives a definite feelgood factor to attendees
  • whilst authors are not necessarily the best ‘presenters’ in the world they are often unnervingly honest and they are amazingly accessible at these events. To see the real person on whose printed words you have feasted on can be truly inspiring, especially those unexpected nuggets that shine new light on a book. I remember seeing David Mitchell a few years ago when he mentioned that, having written each of the narratives in Cloud Atlas separately, he hadn’t seen the finished structure of the book until it was published.

With our position at the geographic heart of festival means that we often see, feel and hear the ‘buzz’ when a particular event is so good that the enthusiasm of the audience spills out into the marquee and grabs the attention of everyone there. If you ever doubt the power of books then you should experience this – it is truly uplifting.

Books matter and this most communal of activities for book-lovers are the perfect place for you to renew your vows. So, who are you going to see?