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: events.oxford@blackwell.co.uk

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

Inspired By Blake Festival

492px-Laocoon.b.p1.300 from wiki
I am delighted to announce the upcoming Inspired By Blake festival, which will be taking place from 18th-31st January. A celebration of the genius of William Blake’s work, and his continuing relevance to so much art and culture today, the festival will run in conjunction with the Ashmolean Museum’s major exhibition, William Blake: Apprentice and Master.

Inspired By Blake is  absolutely chock full of fascinating events – we have a pretty fab website with tons of information about the festival, what’s on, and why Blake is so brilliant. The Blake blog, on the site, will be filled with exciting behind-the-scenes content from our booksellers, and exclusive pieces from bestselling authors. We’ll be posting on Tuesdays and Fridays, all the way up to and through the festival. Of course, Broad Conversation won’t be forgotten, so keep your eyes peeled on both sites!

We would love to hear from you, too, especially if you take any photos at the events! We’ll be using the hashtag #inspiredbyblake, so do join in!

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

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…)

World Humanist Congress 2014 – Saturday’s Speakers

The World Humanist Congress is in full swing today, and we have another four great talks from some remarkable speakers laid on in the bookshop today – just pop down to the Norrington Room for any or all of these free 20 minute talks! Yesterday’s talks were very well-attended, so please arrive early to be sure to get some space.

At 12pm, we’ll be kicking things off with Peter Tatchell, who’ll be giving a talk entitled ‘Organised Religion Is The Greatest Global Threat To Human Rights’.


Then at 2pm, we’ll host Nick Cohen – no confirmed subject as yet, but it’s sure to be fascinating.

Nick CohenNext up, at 3pm, Simon Singh will be asking ‘Trick or Treatment? Alternative Medicine on Trial’.

Image of Simon Singh

 And finally for today, at 4pm Martin Rowson will discuss ‘Laughing with Disbelief’. 

martinrowson200As you can see, today’s line up is another four fantastic speakers, and a unique opportunity to hear a wide range of free short talks by some of the world’s most renowned thinkers. We have a great selection of their titles available to buy from our dedicated World Humanist Congress Section in the Norrington Room. Even better, after each talk, there’ll be a chance to have your books signed.

And in the meantime, check out our fab World Humanist Congress page here, where you can see books by all our Congress speakers, and other relevant titles.

Don’t forget to follow along on Twitter, using the #WHC2014 hashtag – we’re at @blackwelloxford.



World Humanist Congress 2014 – Today’s Speakers

It’s Friday, and that means it’s time to kick off our programme of free 20 minute talks from some fantastic speakers from the World Humanist Congress!

First up, at 12 noon Richard Dawkins will give a talk entitled ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’. 


Then at 2pm,A.C. Grayling will be discussing ‘How Does Humanism Relate to Ethics?’ Grayling2

At 3pm, we’ll have Jim Al-Khalili, the president of the British Humanist Association, speaking on ‘A Rationalist’s View of the Greatest Paradoxes in Science’.jim-al-khalili-large

And finally for today, at 4pm Peter Atkins will speak on ‘The Limits of Science’. Prof Peter Atkins

All four of these speakers are widely renowned, and we have a great selection of their titles available to buy from our dedicated World Humanist Congress Section in the Norrington Room. Even better, after each talk, there’ll be a chance to have your books signed.

So come and join us in the Norrington Room this afternoon – it’s sure to be an amazing time! And in the meantime, check out our fab World Humanist Congress page here, where you can see books by all our Congress speakers, and other relevant titles.

Don’t forget to follow along on Twitter, using the #WHC2014 hashtag – we’re at @blackwelloxford.

Acts of Kindness or #24DaysOfKindness

You may know Zool or @cadmus08 from his position in the shop putting together a world-class events programme and building sustainable beneficial relationships for the shop with institutions and organisations throughout Oxford. If you fall into this category then the following piece may not astonish you as much as the people out there who don’t know him. Having said that I have known Zool for many years and he astonishes me each and every day.


Buy the book here

The entire Blackwell’s business has been doing a lot of work over recent weeks about what ‘values’ are important to us as individuals and as shops. Zool has played the key role for our shop in championing, cajoling and coaching so that we settle on a representative, realistic but aspirational set of values. At one of our evening shop meetings Zool read a length from ‘This is Water’ by David Foster Wallace, a piece that specifically talks about empathy. I love the fact that in a staff meeting we had a 20 minute reading from a David Foster Wallace book. Zool has that sort of ambition. It is just one of the reasons why we love and admire him so much.

Acts of Kindness

How can we create more delight in the world?

This is a personal piece, partly about our own interior emotional landscapes, and there’s also some stuff about books in it too.

It is based on a very simple starting point which is that life can be tough, bewildering, unfair and aggressive.

If I ask myself what I want to do with my life, there are many answers to that question, but one answer is that I really, really want to be able to say to the sort of ‘looking back on your life’ type question –  that at the very least I added to the sum total of the pool of human kindness.

I think that we all need to take steps to make the world a little bit less frightening, a little less anxious-making, a little more uplifting.

There’s a classic catch-all disclaimer that I need to add in at this point which is to say please don’t view this article as being righteous or churchy.

Stewart Lee has this great line in one of his comedy acts where he says (I paraphrase just a tiny bit) that there’s been much discussion about what the last existing taboo might be, and that having thought about it, he’s decided that the last existing taboo is simply to do something sincerely and well. That line always cracks me up because it rings so true.

One of the beautiful things about Acts of Kindness are that they do not need to be universe-altering in scope, in fact they are often merely what many people would call good manners or common acts of decency. Saying “bless you” when a stranger on a bus sneezes. Helping someone with a pushchair who is trying to get into or out of a building. Telling a friend or a colleague that you admire them for something they have said or done. As many a sage grandmother is wont to say, a small action that costs nothing but means everything.

MindfulnessIn Mark Williams’ book, “Mindfulness”, Mark talks about a concept which we would all benefit from embracing – it’s the concept of kindness to oneself. If you are anything like me, heaven help you, but if you are, then you will often take one difficult thought – perhaps a work or a social situation which you feel you could have handled better – and that thought will then reverberate like razor-wire in your brain over the next 24 hours. If you’re not careful, this whirring piece of psycho-shrapnel can do terrible harm to your self-belief and your self-esteem. Let this happen too often, and it can leave you in shreds. Kindness to self is about remembering that the person to whom we often show least compassion is oneself.

verybritishAnother book/phenomenon that has speaking to me of late is “Very British Problems”. Let me tell you about this book / Twitter account. I’m probably being overly-serious about this, I do that sometimes. I know it’s meant to be a bit of light comedy – and it is, it’s uproariously funny, but I think it also taps into something that runs deep. I need to restrain myself from quoting a zillion examples now, but to give you a flavour, “Very British Problems” compiles the many examples of social awkwardness that – who knew? – we all suffer from. Such as –

Being unable to hand over the change you’ve just counted seven times without saying “I think that’s right”
Going into a shop in error but feeling that you have to walk around and browse for a bit because it would be rude otherwise
Losing faith in your delivery halfway through telling a joke, so opting to just explain what the punch line is going to be and why

I’ll stop there, but you get the idea. What do you think? Droll observational stuff, no doubt. But these snippets of insight also help me to realise something that we all need reminding of – very few of us feel comfortable in our own skin! This is a lightning bolt revelation! There really is a huge club of people – most humans I’d say – who give themselves an extraordinarily hard time about the day-to day idiosyncrasies of living.

Kindness is very closely linked – in my mind at least – with Empathy. There’s a new book that’s coming out in February next year by Roman Krznaric, called “Empathy”. On the very first pages, Krznaric makes something very clear – he says ‘Empathy is the art of stepping imaginatively into the shoes of another person, understanding their feelings and perspectives, and using that understanding to guide your actions.’ So it’s not the same as sympathy or the Golden Rule – it’s about something more thoughtful than atticus2that – it’s the Gregory Peck talking to Scout on the stoop in ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ speech – the one about not knowing what it’s like to be someone else unless you really try to understand them, walk about in their shoes for a little while. I can’t wait to read Krznaric’s book – he’s a very wise writer and speaker who comes at life from different angles and always suggests new ways of thinking about the world (take a look at “The Wonderbox” if you want to see what I mean).

The Kindness/Empathy relationship is most prescient in my mind when I think about how we all leap to judgment on occasion. I don’t think that it’s a case of anyone wanting to think the worst of anyone else, it’s just the lives we lead mean that sometimes our patience with one another wears thin and when we are tired, or emotional, or just peeved, it’s very easy to think that someone is being intentionally obstructive, or rude or whatever.

I love Acts of Kindness not simply because of the fabulous, life-affirming actions themselves, but because it brings to the forefront of our minds the thinking process of what it is to be kind and how much of an effect it can have on the world.

We’ve kicked off a smashing little initiative here in the bookshop which we’re calling #24daysofkindness

From Sunday 1st December (and going all the way up to and including 24th December), we have been providing two nice new hardback books to two different members of staff who work here. One of those members of staff is told that they can give the book to any customer that they choose on that day. The other member of staff is told that they can give the book to any colleague of their choosing

There are minimal parameters as to who the lucky recipient should be – the whole point is that it’s a gift to bestow as the giver wishes. As far as the gift to a colleague goes, I have suggested that perhaps it should be to a colleague who has been especially supportive recently, practical support, moral support, however you define it. Or perhaps simply a colleague who you think will really enjoy the unexpected gift!

The end result by Christmas Eve will be 48 acts of kindness carried out by 48 individual people. That’s kind of special.

There have already been some heartwarming stories and responses out of all of this as you can imagine. One customer lost a £20 note which was found by someone who works here, who then decided to make that customer the lucky recipient on that day – a delightful double whammy! Similarly, people who work here, who have received books from colleagues, have been surprised and enchanted. Hang machismo and keeping feelings in check, I don’t mind telling you that it’s been really emotional so far!


Monty – the tallest bookseller we have – receives a copy of Schottenfreude from James. Kindness rocks!

And this leads me to tell you about The Giving Tree. This is a scheme which invites
customers at Blackwell’s to choose and donate books which will then be wrapped up by  staff in our Children’s Department and delivered by The Children’s Society to disadvantaged children who may otherwise go without this Christmas.

Children's Society logoOur decision to collaborate again with the Children’s Society reflects the success of last year and the amazing work that they do throughout the UK. Their priority is children who have nowhere else to turn. Ultimately, they want to build a better childhood for every child, and believe that every young person should be given the chance to reach their full potential. With over 75 programmes and children’s centres throughout England, they offer care, respite, legal support and mentoring schemes that help turn lives around.

We are only too aware that many children and young people may not have the opportunity to visit bookshops such as ours. More to the point they may not even have access to books at all. We want to help change that, and The Giving Tree has proven to be a brilliant way to do so.  Pretty much all of the staff who work at Blackwell’s buy a book themselves to put under The Giving Tree!

Having invited children represented by our chosen charity, The Children’s Society, to choose a book they would like as a present, we then hang their wished for title on a tag on our Tree ready to be picked off by our customers to buy for the child. There is also the option of buying a book not specified by a particular child but which you have fond memories of or feel would make the perfect gift, which will then be presented to an appropriately aged recipient.

So here is another scheme which depends on ongoing acts of kindness for it to be successful and we are so grateful to everyone who contributes. If you are not able to get to the shop you are able to participate in Giving Tree 2014 online. Anything that you can do to spread the word, be it on social media or in person, very definitely qualifies as an Act of Kindness. Thank you in advance.

Christmas is a time of joy for many people, but remember, Christmas is also an astonishingly powerful amplifier of feeling. So, if life is joyful for you right now, Christmas will probably make it more so. If life is a little tough, however, Christmas can make it seem like an even more despondent time than usual.

There are so many people who choose to sprinkle a little bit of generosity of spirit in this tumultuous world. Let’s start a kindness revolution – let’s blast this world with so much kindness, that we mesmerise each other with the wondrousness of it all.

Zool Verjee
5th December 2013

“24 Days of Kindness” has been going for 12 days now, with a further 13 days to go. Each day, one customer and one member of staff here at Blackwell’s bookshop has been the recipient of a beautiful, exciting new hardback book. There have been some moments of great emotion, surprise and astonishment. And there will be plenty more – right up to and including Christmas Eve!


For all your mapping needs

“They were maps that lived, maps that one could study, frown over, and add to; maps, in short, that really meant something.” Gerald Durrell ‘My Family and Other Animals’ 

Maps have been part of our offer for many years – whether that be small scale maps for ramblers, large scale maps for architects or even historical maps for the insufferably curious. The maps that we sell come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. With Christmas fast approaching we thought that we would share with you just some of the variety of maps that could be the perfect gift for a loved one of yours.

CassiniOxfordA set of three matching Cassini maps from three different periods, designed to appeal to anyone who wants to discover the hidden history of their local landscape.
Cassini Old Series Maps first published between 1805 and 1874
Cassini Revised New Series Maps first published between 1896 and 1904
Cassini Popular Edition Maps first published between 1919 and 1926

These maps are taken from Ordnance Survey’s Old Series, Revised New Series and Popular Edition maps. Each map in the Box Set has been carefully scanned, digitally re-projected and enlarged to match the present-day Ordnance Survey Landranger® series. The maps are also directly comparable with the corresponding Ordnance Survey Landranger® and use the same sheet number and grid references, so enabling the past and the present to be compared with ease and accuracy.

Cassini’s Landscape History 3-map Box Sets have the same name, reference number and coverage as the appropriate Ordnance Survey Landranger®. Presented in a handsome box set and a snip at only £24.99


Bespoke maps: Available as a Flat or Folded Map these are centred on a post code or place name that you provide and, perhaps best of all,  you are able to give the map your own title and sub-title. Scales available are 1:25,000 ideal for walkers and 1:50,000 ideal for motoring and cyclists. The customer gets to give is their own Title and Sub-Title. Cost of them is £19.99 and we require 24 hours to produce them.

underhillsOxford’s first ever punting and boating map offers a bird’s-eye view of a much-loved stretch of the city’s two rivers. The panorama covers the three miles of the Cherwell and the Thames between the Victoria Arms and Folly Bridge, the most favoured area for punting. Hand-drawn by local artist Francesca Shakespeare, it captures the traditional flavour of a quintessentially English pastime and of the unchanging riverside landscape. The accompanying text not only identifies the principal sights along the riverbank but also offers tips on punting technique, a guide to the rivers and a brief history of punting. The map measures 670cms by 25cms, and has seven panel folds and costs only £3.99

crumpledcitymapsIf you are planning to travel further afield then you should consider packing the relevant Crumpled City map.

Unlike traditional paper maps which can be awkward to deal with, the Crumpled City™ Map can be easily crammed into your pocket, backpack or the carrying pouch provided. without having to worry about refolding it along the original creases. Moreover, the maps are printed on special technological material that makes them the lightest and most resistant maps on market, as well as 100% waterproof.

The collection includes some of the most interesting cities on the globe. Each map provides details about a large part of the city, including streets, monuments, museums, art galleries and much more.

Crumpled City maps include a sightseeing index and a list of unique “Soulsights”. The City Maps cost £10.

Of course we also carry a full range of OS Maps and Road Atlases and Globes – do come and visit us whatever your mapping needs are. Our Maps department can be contacted directly on 01865 333677 or maps.ox@blackwell.co.uk