Tuesday 8 December 2009

To Hell With Boring: London's most exciting bookstore

It would seem to be a strange time to open a bookstore, but it's actually the perfect time for a well-focused independent store that knows exactly what it wants to do and be. Laurence Johns of To Hell With Publishing has clearly grasped this, and the result is To Hell With Books at 10 Woburn Walk in London, a store unashamedly specialising in quality literary fiction. Which makes it as perfect credit card candy as I can imagine.

To Hell With Publishing was set up in 2006 as a company that aimed to kick life into the independent publishing industry. It has since branched into To Hell With First Novels, doing what we strive to do at Year Zero, support new authors writing amazing literary fiction, and has even launched To Hell With Prizes, a great prize for unpublished novels (I'm not 100% sure I approve that it'f for agented authors but they already do more than anyone else for the unagented lit fic author). They love journals, chapbooks, novellas, and limited editions. Which are all reasons why I love them. I'll be heading down there to meet them and the shop in a week or so, and I'll let you know if it lives up to the considerable expectation, but I was lucky enough to be able to ask a few questions of the team behind To Hell With Books as they busied themselves for launch:

1. You are very clear on your website what you'll be stocking - signededitions, special editions, your own journals etc. What I'm less clear aboutis whether this is ALL you'l be stocking. In other words, how focused are you being?
We'll be stocking high end literary fiction and anything that we reallylove. We'll be very focused on our personal selection so that we can giveour customers the right recommendations. So we'll be extremely focused onquality.

2. I love the special edition idea. just how exclusive are we talking?Limited edition, hand-touched runs of 10, for example?
It'll vary between 10 - 200 in terms of copies. We've just published a limited edition of Kevin Cummin's Manchester (150 copies bound in light blue, light grey or dark grey cloth and boxed with a signed print in a perspex slipcase sealed with the glue used in Formula One racing, paddedand boxed in packing that's been tested by being sent to China and back - details on the website www.tohellwithpublishing.com) which should give you an indication of the kinds of things we do.

3. It's great that you are opening a shop like this when many are claiming
the industry is on its knees. What gives you the confidence to believe you can succeed?
Laurence has been an independent book seller all his life and I think we all feel that the time is right to start up a boutique bookshop.

4. I'm a huge fan of multi-arts and love the idea of combining books and art. And the literary crossover element is great, but will you have the same quality controls in place for the art as the books?
Quality is at the heart of what we do in Amuti and at To Hell with Publishing. Details on the art side of Laurence's interests and how properit all is are at amuti23.com.

5. You say you'll be sharing space with your publishing wing. Don't you worry that you'll get a buch of authors camping out in your shop?
We hope we will.

6. How do you intend to promote the shop? I imagine an exclusive club or newsletter like a fine wine appreciation society. Is that the kind of thing you have in mind?
Yes - we'll be sending regular mail outs and organising regular events. It'll be a fine book appreciation society and pobably involve a certain amount of wine too.

7. You mention journals and you mention quality - from my literary fiction collective point of view, I have to ask: will you be stocking the things we can't get elsewhere - high quality chapbooks, novellas, poetry, even high quality special editions from self-publishers?
Yes - we're keen to support other independents as well as self-published work, just as long as its high quality. We'll be importing hard to find stuff from the US and rest of Europe too. I've heard you can buy poetry on Amazon these days, but it won't be as fun as buying it from us.

8. What's the space going to be like? I have two conflicting visions in my head - one is a gentleman's club with Hogarth prints and button-back chairs (I guess that's because of the address); the other is throw-covered sofas and graffiti walls like some of the cool arts places on Brick Lane. Is either of these close?
It'll be gentlemen's club meets Brick Lane. But without the throws - we're not really throw kind of people.

9. Do you intend to be a venue for people to come and hang out and talk literature? It's often struck me, as someone who's trying to create an online community that feels like the Left Bank of the 60s, that if literature's going to move forward we need places where anyone can come and swap ideas with anyone, where ideas can ferment (I imagine Malcolm MacLaren& Vivienne Westwood together on the King's Road). Do you see the shop as the physical home for a movement that encompasses your publishing wing and website, or is a shop just a place to sell books?
We're going to have a large dining room table in the middle of the roomfor everyone to sit round and chat and read at. Berets optional.

10. Because I'm asking everyone at the moment: are there any writers out there doing something exciting and new with the novel?
There are loads. We think our first novels novelist Grant Gillespie is possibly the finest example of one of them. We're publishing his book The Cuckoo Boy in April 2010. It's a quiet and beautiful story of an adopted child's disturbed and disturbing behaviour that succeeds in being funny too. And we love Richard Milward.

11. A question that sounds impertinent, but matters for setting the tone, let's play launch party balloon game. Suppose you knew they'd say yes: which of these makes it to your launch do:
- Nick Cave
- Nick Serota
- Beryl Bainbridge
- Kurt Cobain
- Jimmy Dean
- Dorothy Parker
- Max Clifford
- Brian Sewell
- Tracey Emin
- the skinhead who plasters haikus to the MacDonalds window on the corner
- Ian McEwan
- Salena Godden
- Jamie Oliver
We would rather the alive ones. And would quite enjoy seeing Brian Sewell and Nick Cave together.


  1. This place sounds like a dream. I need to move to London.

  2. It could have been made for you by the sound of it. Will let you know when I go next week - but the special ed thing - they should really have a Sarah E Melville corner.

  3. I'm so glad that I noticed this one! I'm just sad that I missed the launch party on Wednesday. Good work on spreading the word.

    This is the bookstore that I have dreamed of opening . . . and I WILL be visiting soon.

  4. I may well see you in there - it sounds like a drea,m. I'll be heading down on Monday :)