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Our backstory

Welcome to our independent bookshop!

Set up in Balham in October 2022 by former journalist Tom Rowley, Backstory is all about celebrating the story behind each story...the backstory. That’s why there’s a long bar and comfy chairs all along one side of our bookshop in south London. We want to encourage browsers to linger over a coffee or a glass of wine, to share bookish conversation with friends new and old - and to leave not only with books, but with stories of their own to tell.

It’s also why events are at the heart of what we do. We host author talks most weeks, delving deeper into the backstory behind a new release. And why not join us at one of our regular live music nights, where words of a different kind come to life?

If you’re not local to London, you can join our thriving literary community. Our two book clubs - fiction and non-fiction - are held monthly on Zoom, so you can take part from anywhere in the world. Better still, the author of the book joins each discussion. Or we’d be delighted to bring the Backstory experience directly to you with one of our tailored book subscriptions. We have so much fun picking out the perfect books for each of our subscribers.

And don’t forget that we can post thousands of books anywhere in the UK, fast and with free delivery. Why not ask your friends and family to support an independent next time they’re shopping for books online?

However you join us, we look forward to giving you a warm Backstory welcome very soon.

Tom, Denise, Amy, Savannah, Megan, and Darby

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Our team

Tom Rowley smiling in the bookshop

Tom Rowley

Tom was a journalist for 11 years before committing to opening his own bookshop in a moment of madness. He reported from 29 countries and 17 American states for The Economist, The Washington Post and The Daily Telegraph, covering everything from famines and terrorist attacks to the funeral of the last King of Yugoslavia. He is now enjoying being in one place for more than a few days at a time.

He loves narrative non-fiction (of course!), literary fiction and a cheeky thriller or two. His favourite drink at the Backstory bar is a glass of Gran Cerdo. He chairs our non-fiction book club.

Browse some of Tom's current favourites below.

Milk Teeth by Jessica Andrews

At Swim, Two Boys by Jamie O'Neill

In Memoriam by Alice Winn

Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe

Rory McNeill

Rory is Backstory's Manager. He joined Tom shortly after hearing all about his crazy idea in 2022. He's been in the book world for three years now, having graduated with a degree in English Literature and Creative Writing. Between writing his first novel, writing lots of existential songs about London, and helping Tom bring his vision for Backstory to life, Rory loves working with stories. He organises (and sometimes performs at) Backstory's live music events.

Rory is a science fiction freak at heart, but enjoys being steered one way or another by Backstory colleagues and customers. He is reading heaps of literary fiction in this job (a younger Rory would be horrified), and runs our fiction book club.

Browse some of Rory's current favourites below.

Small Worlds by Caleb Azumah Nelson

Children of Paradise by Camilla Grudova

A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke


Denise Wallin

Denise is Backstory's Manager. After 20-odd years heading up marketing campaigns for leisure and entertainment brands, Denise decided to try something new and indulge her lifelong love of reading and open a much needed bookshop in Balham. She joined Backstory as it opened in 2022 and feels pretty vindicated that being surrounded by books every working day is definitely for her. Although she hasn't quite escaped marketing just yet.

Denise reads lots of fiction and loves books with interesting characters and relationships (family, friendships, romance...) at their heart. If there is some dark humour in there, even better.

Browse some of Denise's current favourites below.

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Romantic Comedy by Curtis Sittenfeld


After the Funeral by Tessa Hadley


Family Politics by John O'Farrell


Ordinary Human Failings by Megan Nolan

Amy Strong

Amy is originally from Northumberland and has a BA and an MA in Classics from Durham. She moved to London in 2022 and joined the Backstory team just before the physical shop opened in October. Her hobbies include going out for cake, looking for cats to fuss over, and reading. As a lover of myths and magic, Amy's favourite genre is fantasy, but she is open to any fiction that is well-written and preferably character-driven.

Browse some of Amy's current favourites below.

Elmet by Fiona Mozley

Treacle Walker by Alan Garner

The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

We Have Always Lived in the Castle

Darby Brown

Darby is originally from Nashville but hopped the pond in 2021. She has a BA in English/Creative Writing and Spanish from Butler University and an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Birmingham. In addition to selling books at Backstory, she is a writer and poet (currently querying for her first book) and teaches creative writing workshops in Balham. In her free time, she loves watching films, going on adventures, and spending way too much time making elaborate meals in the kitchen.

Her favourite genres are fantasy and literary fiction, though she is happy with anything that is well-written and makes you feel and/or think. She has a special love for anything that experiments with genre and form, particularly between poetry and prose.

Browse some of Darby's current favourites below.

Dept of Speculation by Jenny Offill

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

Salt Slow by Julia Armfield

Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson


Savannah Sullivan

Savannah is Backstory's newest member, a Bookseller and Marketing executive. She has an MA in English Literature from Edinburgh University. Between doing cryptic crosswords and completing the daily New York Times connections, She loves illustration, lying in the sun and open water swimming (any time of year!)

Savannah is a lover of  fantasy and sci-fi at heart with a sweet spot for magical realism - but will argue she likes everything.

Browse some of Savannah's current favourites below.


A Day of Fallen Night by Samantha Shannon


The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck


What You Can See From Here by Mariana Leky


The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

Megan Steller

Megan is from Melbourne, Australia, and moved to the UK to work as an artist manager for classical musicians and opera singers, which she does when she’s not slinging wines and paperbacks at Backstory. She studied piano and musicology at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, and writes programme notes and pre-concert talks for orchestras and concert venues across the UK and Australia.

Megan is passionate about literary fiction, but will read anything convincingly recommended. She also likes pina coladas and getting caught in the rain.

Browse some of Megan's current favourites below.

To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

Grief is the Thing With Feathers by Max Porter

The Lost Daughter by Elena Ferrante

Serious Concerns by Wendy Cope