Lyrical prose

Coming up at Backstory

  • Prisons, inside and out, with Chris Atkins and Alex South

    Wednesday 1st November, 7.30pm

    Join us to discuss life inside — and after — prison with Chris Atkins, whose book ‘Time After Time’ tracks the fortunes of a dozen repeat offenders to understand why recidivism remains stubbornly high, and Alex South, who recounts her experiences of life as a female prison officer in ‘Behind These Doors’.

  • KIDS EVENT: Alasdair Beckett-King, Montgomery Bonbon: Death at the Lighthouse

    Thursday 2nd November, 4pm

    Are you a keen detective in the making? Do you have a sharp eye for detail and a nose for hidden clues? Then come and meet Alasdair Beckett-King at Backstory! Alasdair invites you to meet Montgomery Bonbon, the world's finest detective. (And Bonnie Montgomery, his ten-year-old alter ego.) Find out how to walk, talk, and detect like a world-class sleuth, and discover mystery and adventure in the world of Montgomery Bonbon! This kids event is free, but you do need to book.

  • KIDS SIGNING: Anna James, Pages & Co: The Last Bookwanderer

    Sunday 12th November, 11.30am

    Bring the kids to Backstory for a book signing with the author behind the Pages and Co. series. It is open to all, but we recommend reserving a space. You can buy Anna's new book Pages & Co.: The Last Bookwanderer and pick it up on the day to have it signed by Anna.

  • Janice Hallett — The Christmas Appeal

    Wednesday 29th November, 7.30pm

    Meet the “Queen of Cosy Crime”. The author of The Twyford Code and The Appeal discusses her new festive mystery.

  • MATT: The Best of Matt 2023

    Wednesday 6th December, 7.30pm

    The award-winning cartoonist for the Telegraph discusses drawing the world's ups and downs which he always does with a gentle humour, never malice.

  • Coming up at the Non-Fiction Book ClubCaroline Knowles (Serious Money: Walking Plutocratic London), Christina Lamb (Our Bodies, Their Battlefield)

  • Coming up at the Fiction Book ClubBobby Palmer (Isaac And The Egg), Andrew O’Hagan (Mayflies)

Rory McNeill, the shop’s manager, is its maestro too. From Spotify playlists to programming our music nights to the occasional performance himself, he always brings the vibe. This week he writes about the joy of making music in a bookshop. Please join us at a music night soon!

IT WAS HARD TO TELL, at first, whether Tom was enjoying the ease of Ben Cipolla’s voice. Occasionally, I find him hard to read. It often takes a few songs for us to relax into the night’s atmosphere, and I spotted him watching faces in the audience more than Ben. You have to take it all in like this; the fairy lights over the bookshelves, the smiling faces of people falling into a trance. Then, as has now become his stamp of approval, Tom turned to me and gave a huge, thespian’s thumbs up.

Now, several thumbs up later, we’ve hosted two Sofar Sounds evenings, and a summer of Thursday music nights. Hosting regular music was always in Tom’s plan for the shop, and hearing this among his other ideas pricked up my ears. We made sure to sort our live music licence early on, and I started gathering a list of all the musicians I thought were perfect for a bookshop.

I think Tom was glad at my enthusiasm to take on the music mantle. It’s in my blood, after all: one way or another, my family are all musical. Growing up watching my parents at local gigs turned me into a musician. I was soon performing jazz with my brother on guitar, sister or dad on double bass and mum joining on vocals. I’ve been incredibly lucky to meet brilliant singers and performers along the way. So when programming at Backstory, I wanted to start with musicians I could vouch for.

Ben Cipolla comes from the village over, and is now rocketing through the jazz scene. Ann Liu Cannon performs around North London now, but we used to share a singing teacher. I knew I could rely on these guys to bring a slice of magic to the bookshop.

I’ve noticed that our backdrop of book spines encourages singers to tell more stories between songs more than they normally would; Ben introduced a love song by reading an excerpt from a book. We know our regulars’ reading habits well, but now we get to discover what music makes them light up too. I remember hearing “doesn’t she sound like Joni Mitchell?” from the crowd when Ann ended a song. Normally after a gig, you’re chuffed if someone in the crowd buys you a pint. Here, people insisted on paying for the books Ann looked at during her set break.

It really is special: come and see for yourself. We’ve got some exceptional artists lined up over the next few weeks, from a singer-songwriter whose voice could fill the Albert Hall (Miranda Joy) to an incredible Tom Misch-esque sax player and singer (Flo Blue). The variety is a delight.

Here’s who we’ve got coming up. The music starts at 7pm each Thursday, so get comfy with a drink before that:

26th Oct - Miranda Joy A London-based singer-songwriter with a massive voice that’s full of soul.

2nd Nov - Alex Cambridge Alex writes songs from the soul, navigating coming of age, traumas and personal relationships through music. Her voice is stunning.

9th Nov - no music

16th Nov - Eden Howells A London-based queer creative, they thrive in their exploration of love and the mind.

23rd Nov - William Jack An Australian cellist, guitarist and songwriter who explores multiple genres and styles. Musically excellent, brilliantly edgy.

30th Nov - Flo Blue Flo Blue’s voice is a breathy, ethereal sound-hug. She writes jazz/funk songs and plays sax.

As an added incentive for those of you who are London based, here’s a secret offer for a drink on us when you come down for a music night. Use it by the end of November! (To redeem — once per person — print it off or just show it to us on your phone.)

And of course, if you like what you hear, remember to throw us a big thumbs up.


Team pick of the week

Darby recommends: The Vaster Wilds by Lauren Groff

Lauren Groff's writing is lyrical and atmospheric. Set in the 17th century in America, The Vaster Wilds follows a servant girl after she escapes from an English settlement struck by famine. It switches between the story of her struggles in the wilderness and her past in England, filled with its own trials and joys. Through the girl's story, Groff explores survival, human nature, fear, and determination. Perfect for anyone wanting something a bit strange, a bit historical, which makes you think - Darby


October’s bestsellers

  1. Backstory magazine — issue 1

  2. Stay True by Hua Hsu - our book of the month

    In less than 200 pages, Hsu writes one of the most nuanced accounts I have read of the discombobulating effects of emigration, tracing his parents’ move from Taiwan to the US and back again, and their attempts to keep in touch via fax with a son and a culture now halfway round the world. More remarkable is that this merely serves as the backdrop to the main thrust of the narrative, about Hsu’s college friendship with a classmate called Ken and what this tells us about the nature of friendship.

    I challenge anyone to read it and not reminisce about their own uni days: the dazzling intensity of those relationships, friendships forged as freshers that seemed sure to last forever, conversations deep into the night that very nearly did so, intimacies shared as casually as cigarettes. Tom

  3. Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin

  4. Really Good, Actually by Monica Heisey

  5. Milk Teeth by Jessica Andrews

    Andrews is great on what it means to be young and living life precariously. Her descriptions of Barcelona are so good, you can taste them. Tom

  6. The Dinner Table: Over 100 Writers on Food by Ella Risbridger and Kate Young — signed by Ella Risbridger

  7. So Late in the Day by Claire Keegan

    I won’t spoil So Late in the Day by telling you too much about it - any précis would be almost as long as the real thing. But I will say that it again pulls off the trick of being both small and big, of being the story of one man and one woman and one evening on the outskirts of Dublin but also of love and regret and the long shadow of patriarchy. Tom

  8. Politics on the Edge by Rory Stewart

  9. Trust by Hernan Diaz

  10. Yellowface by Rebecca F. Kuang