As an independent bookshop, customers come to Pages of Hackney looking for recommendations for something new, and often that means they want to discover a new, young writer.
I’m always astounded at the pure talent of young writers and how articulate they are, not just in their narrative capabilities but their ability to capture psychological truths and experience with skill and style beyond their years. I’m thinking particularly of writers like Olivia Sudjic, Sally Rooney, Rowan Hisayo Buchanan, Kayo Chingonyi, Megan Hunter, Amy Liptrot, and last year’s winner, Max Porter.
It’s exciting as a bookseller to recommend young writers because of the urgency and potency of the subjects they explore: relationships in the digital age, trans issues, migration, race, the difficulty of belonging, the new wave of female existentialism, dependency, loss – often mixing genres and defying categorisation in the process.
I believe a solidarity exists between indie bookshops and young writers – we are both underdogs, we have to prove ourselves and we work hard to be successful. It suits us, as an independent (without a head office telling us what to buy) to choose, champion and hand-sell those writers who are not yet established, who are breaking new ground and who are experimenting with content and style.
Young writers strike a good balance of being humble yet enthused, they don’t take their position for granted and are not yet embedded in the institution and expectations of the industry. When they visit the shop, having emerged from the solitary existence of the writing process, they are overjoyed to see their book on the shelf. They thank us when they see it, and then we thank them in return for giving us a book that has struck us so personally that we can’t not recommend it to our customers.
It’s in this interaction that young authors recognise the role of a bookseller in getting their book into the hands of the readers and the importance of real conversations over algorithms. Last year’s Young Writer’s Award winner Max Porter is a perfect example of such a writer: we have hand-sold hundreds of copies of his book, Grief is the Thing With Feathers, not just because Max is a lovely man (and a former bookseller himself) but because his book is experimental yet accessible, life affirming, mischievous, sad and funny. And most importantly, it has been the starting point of so many of those bookseller-customer conversations that end up transcending the small talk and remind us why we exist, not just as booksellers, but also as people trying to understand life through shared experience.
Jo Heygate, Shop Manager, Pages of Hackney
Jo Heygate is the bookshop manager at Pages of Hackney, an independent bookshop based in Clapton, where she is responsible for all aspects of running the shop including buying stock and programming literary events. Jo has worked in book selling and publishing for the last 18 years. Her interests include feminist literary ﬁction, philosophy, psychology, memoir and she is a keen long distance cyclist. In her spare time she is working with author Jet McDonald to publish a book about cycling and philosophy which is coming out via Unbound in 2018.