When your bookshop's cooler than you are

Event announcement

Iraqi author and activist Haifa Zangana will read the tale she has written for the fourth anthology of Refugee Tales. She will be joined by a person with first-hand experience of immigration detention. The event will be chaired by Arthur Smith, the self-appointed “night mayor of Balham”.

Backstory is donating all revenue from this event to Wandsworth Welcomes Refugees, a charity that builds links between local refugee organisations and the wider community.

Book Your Tickets


Other upcoming events:

  • ANNA FUNDER, Wifedom — 5 June, 7.30pm

    Anna Funder is coming to Backstory! We’re thrilled that the Stasiland author will be joining us in person, all the way from Australia, to talk about her latest book, a biography of Eileen O’Shaughnessy — George Orwell’s wife. Get your tickets here

  • Fiction book club on Zoom, 14th May: Michael Magee, Close to Home

  • Non-fiction book club on Zoom, 28th May: Daniel Chandler: Free and Equal

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Excitingly dozens of boxes of Backstory magazine are now mid-Atlantic on some container ship! They’ll be hitting most branches of Barnes and Noble in late June.

But you can grab your copy right now for as little as £8.91 a year, and we even throw in a tote bag and online access to live streams of our in-store events (coming soon!).



THERE’S SOMETHING QUITE LIBERATING in admitting that your bookshop is way cooler than you are. In my case, it’s undeniable. Backstory is packed to the brim at weekends with Gen Z types knocking back Chin Chin and posting about their latest reads on Instagram and TikTok. And me? Well, I remember the look — somewhere between horror and pity — an American ex-colleague once gave me when he asked me to name any band for some new technology he was demonstrating. I paused for a beat. “Oh, er… Dire Straits.”

Backstory has many claims to cool. Our wine selection, our in-house mag, the amazing authors who come to events and, um, the air con (see what I did there?). But few things are cooler than a bookshop music night.

We tried a few as an experiment last year and they were so successful that we kept on booking more and more. We hosted more than a dozen different musicians in the end, from funk to chilled singer-songwriter vibes. When I wasn’t behind the bar, I was usually to be found with a cool beer in a chair near the back, surveying the crowd, taking in the sound and wondering how on earth this could possibly be my bookshop.


So we’re doing them again this year. But with a slight twist. We found last year a little unpredictable: we didn’t do bookings so we never knew how many would show up. This caused logistical challenges — trying to squeeze yet more chairs into the space mid-set — and more than a few nerves. It also wasn’t very fair to the artists: some played to a buzzing crowd, crammed into every corner of the bookshop; other weeks, fewer punters showed up.

So this year we’ve chosen quality over quantity. My colleague Darby has picked four amazing artists, two of whom you might recognise from last year (see the full line-up below). We’re calling them Backstory Summer Sessions — because, you know, cool.

You can reserve your space now for only £5 for each night. This way, we know who is going to show up and we can make sure there’s a seat waiting for you. And we’ll lay on some nibbles, of course.

They’re on Thursday evenings, every fortnight throughout June and July. Doors will open at 6pm to give you time to grab a drink and catch up with your friends before the music starts at 7pm.

So browse the line-up and get booking! See you there. I’ll be the one at the back, tapping my toe slightly out of time.


Summer Session 1 6 June: Lionhaire

Lionhiare is a British singer-songwriter, who was born in the UK but spent her childhood in Paris. Growing up between the two countries has influenced her music, as she casually flips between languages to tell her story. A gifted guitar player, she plays jazzy songs with amazing vocal riffs, power, and guitar licks that will stun you. She has smooth vocals that carry echoes of Lauryn Hill.



Summer Session 2 20 June: James Or

James Or is an Irish singer-songwriter, whose sound is a bit folk, a bit indie-rock. His music is beautifully melodic and introspective, drawing from the same wells as compatriot Glen Hansard and Elbow’s Guy Garvey. He’s been praised for his authenticity, earning him numerous plaudits, including a place on Irish music bible Hotpress’s ‘Ones to Watch’ listings.


Summer Session 3 4 July: Harriet Perring

Harriet Perring is a singer songwriter. She's loved performing since she was a young girl and has been writing for just as long! She's heavily influenced by country writers (such as Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers), and elements of that style work its way into nearly all of her music.


Summer Session 4 18 July: Matilda Garcia

Matilda Gracia is a half Irish, half Spanish singer-songwriter, musician, and producer based in London. She intricately intertwines introspection, female empowerment, and the essence of the human experience in her evocative music. Influenced by the likes of KT Tunstall, Nina Simone, and Lianne La Havas, Matilda's songwriting prowess shines through in her alternative pop compositions, which are characterised by soulful rock vocals, dark folk-inspired melodies, and a Spanish twist.