British Fiction Focus

Daunt Undaunted

Welcome back to the British Genre Fiction Focus, Tor.com’s regular round-up of book news from the United Kingdom’s thriving speculative fiction industry.

We’ve talked a bunch about the Booker Prize already, so today’s column kicks off with the news that sixty-odd former managers have quit Waterstones rather than play along with managing director James Daunt’s bloody restructuring of Britain’s biggest bookseller. That’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg, too.

Later on, in Cover Art Corner, I introduce you to Perfect Ruin, the first part of Lauren DeStefano’s new utopian trilogy, meanwhile Gollancz recently revealed Truth and Fear, the sequel to Peter Higgins’ critically acclaimed debut.

Last but not least, An Evening of Dark Investigations leads a look at the coming month in genre-related events, including but not limited to Neil Gaiman’s Last Signing Tour.

Daunt Undaunted by Mass Departures

In late May, in an edition of the British Genre Fiction Focus tellingly subtitled The Culture of Money, we discussed managing director James Daunt’s plan to restructure the upper echelons of Waterstones, as part of an ongoing effort to escape the clutches of the financial crisis. “We have to book sell our way out of this,” Daunt told The Bookseller at the time, “and that really does mean changing our methods.”

He went on:

“These changes are not primarily about saving costs. We have restructured the business and moved to a cluster system which no longer requires a mainly administrative management in our shops. To ensure our long-term health our emphasis must be on traditional shop floor bookselling with those in the newly defined role of bookshop manager being a part of, and leading, a team of skilled, motivated booksellers dedicated to delivering excellent customer service.”

James Daunt Waterstones

As such, almost 500 branch and assistant managers of Waterstones stores across the United Kingdom were given a difficult decision: to face utter redundancy, or undergo retraining at so-called “assessment centres” with no guarantee that they’d be reemployed in equivalent positions at the end of the day.

It appears clear that sweeping changes must be made for Waterstones to remain in operation going forward, but last week, word came of the first casualties of the awful process of elimination Daunt devised: some 60 managers who have bid goodbye to their careers as part of Great Britain’s most visible bookseller.

One unnamed former manager had this to say about the affair:

“We feel all those with loyal service have been singled out and morale is at rock bottom. Many of those managers who have just left were not even thanked for their efforts by their regional manager… I would like to emphasise that I’ve always seen myself as a lifer—but not anymore.”

Other personnel have resigned in sympathy with the departing managers—or disgust, I dare say, with Daunt. One such employee, who has again opted to remain anonymous, explained that she has handed in her notice because:

“It seems to me unfair that so many department managers are losing their jobs. They have been offered redundancy or redeployment on inferior terms. […] All the managers have been dedicated and creative people with valuable expertise and years of experience. I think the redundancy process has been extremely unpleasant and unfair for everyone and, although, as a bookseller, my own position is not at the moment at risk, I no longer want to continue in this job.”

And this is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. The 66 employees who left Waterstones last week simply opted not to take part in the process. Of the remaining 421 I very much doubt all will qualify as Bookshops Managers, so expect more as the story develops.

In closing, let’s let the aforementioned managing director express his regrets:

“It goes without saying no one has enjoyed this process, including us, and there are some people who feel it should not have happened. I firmly believe we have run our process [in a manner] as fair and transparent as possible.

“Right from the outset I have said—pretty unpalatably for some—that some of our managers are not fit for the job and that is of course not very nice to hear. I have said quite a few times that I do not think that our bookshops are, or have been, good enough. Although I think that is improving a lot.”

But of course Daunt does. More meaningfully, I think, is whether anyone else is convinced…

 

Truth and Fear Revealed

Honestly, I have so many bad habits—not least digressing along the following lines—that it would be difficult to pick just one to be done with, but the way I horde the things I have reason to believe will be brilliant is a clear and present contender.

I have deadlines aplenty to contend with these days, so sometimes a book will pass me by accidentally, but there are others—so very many more—that I can’t seem to stop myself squirreling away for an imagined rainy day… not that I’ve had such a one in all the years I’ve been blogging.

Wolfhound Century Peter Higgins

These are books by my favourite authors; books that have been recommended endlessly; reading experiences I’m almost sure to treasure that for some reason I… I save. For when I really need an awesome novel to remind me why I love fantasy, or fiction full stop.

Long story less long, I haven’t read Wolfhound Century yet, but I absolutely will do one day. Probably when grandparents are the only people who still bother to blog! In any event, Peter Higgins’ debut was by all accounts a rare wonder of the weird, and recently, Gollancz revealed a few details about its sequel, Truth and Fear… including the back cover copy:

‘It is more than two hundred years since Antoninu Florian first watched a morning open across Mirgorod. Half as old as the city, he sees it for what it is. Its foundations are shallow.’

But even those who know Mirgorod of old cannot hope to predict what is coming. Nor would they want to. War is coming. A new age is coming. An angel is coming…

And on the day that the Chief of the city’s Secret Police places her hand on the heart of a man, Vissarion Lom and Maroussia Shaumian arrive in Mirgorod. They are on the run and they are on the hunt.

Peter Higgins’ extraordinary and beautiful creation, part fantasy, part history, part spy-thriller, reaches a new, and explosive, level of excitement.

Truth and Fear is coming next March, apparently. That is, if Amazon is to be believed. And hey, if you’re hungry for more info on Higgins’ next novel, they have a whole other blurb for you to peruse.

 

Cover Art Corner: Perfect Ruin

Perfect Ruin Lauren DeStefano

Last week, Harper Voyager uncovered the cover of the first part of Lauren DeStefano’s new series, The Internment Chronicles, which I confess hadn’t heard about till now.

I quite enjoyed the beginning of DeStefano’s last trilogy, The Chemical Garden, though for one reason or another I never read beyond book one. I wouldn’t say I’m saving it for a later date, as discussed above, but if the opportunity to read the remainder of the series was to present itself, I’d certainly be interested.

In any case, the cover art of DeStefano’s new novel reminds me a little bit of the gorgeous image adorning The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N. K. Jemesin. Obviously it isn’t nearly as nice, but beyond the book babe there, I quite like it.

Here’s the blurb for the book too:

On the floating city of Internment, you can be anything you dream. Unless you approach the edge.

Morgan Stockhour knows getting too close to the edge of Internment, the floating city in the clouds where she lives, can lead to madness. Even though her older brother, Lex, was a Jumper, Morgan vows never to end up like him. If she ever wonders about the ground, and why it is forbidden, she takes solace in her best friend, Pen, and in Basil, the boy she’s engaged to marry.

Then a murder, the first in a generation, rocks the city. With whispers swirling and fear on the wind, Morgan can no longer stop herself from investigating, especially once she meets Judas. Betrothed to the victim, he is the boy being blamed for the murder, but Morgan is convinced of his innocence. Secrets lay at the heart of Internment, but nothing can prepare Morgan for what she will find – or whom she will lose.

Sounds alright, doesn’t it?

But again I have to ask: like last week’s Lisa Ann Okane announcement, Perfect Ruin is being pitched as a utopia, yet this outwardly idyllic floating city has “secrets at [its] heart.” Dark secrets, I don’t doubt. Don’t these make DeStefano’s new novel a dystopia rather than the promised Promised Land?

 

Events in August

With August upon us, I thought the time was right to take the temperature of the forthcoming month’s genre-related events.

Hunting Shadows Evening of Dark Investigations

This Friday, at the Liverpool One Waterstones, Paul Finch, Alison Littlewood and Sarah Pinborough will be joining forces for An Evening of Dark Investigations courtesy of the fine folks behind Twisted Tales.

I’d love to be there, alas Liverpool is a little outside my stomping grounds. But if you’re in the area I’d very much recommend it.

Now for some other upcoming events. On Saturday, in Waterstones Stockport, A. J. Dalton introduces Gateway of the Saviours. In Waterstones Milton Keynes on the afternoon of August 8th, Adrian Tchaikovsky launches War Master’s Gate, the ninth novel of the Shadows of the Apt series, with a Q&A to follow in the Leadenhall Market branch later that same day.

In Forbidden Planet’s London Megastore on August 2nd, Tom Pollock will be launching The Glass Republic—a brilliant book, by the way—whilst Liesel Schwarz and Mark Hodder host a steampunk evening in the same location on the 9th. Then on August 14th, Paul Cornell will be signing copies of his new graphic novel.

Oh, and Neil Gaiman’s touring the UK this month too, though I can’t imagine tickets will be easy to come by.

Are you planning to attend any events in August? I’ll be in Dundee to meet Neil Gaiman again. For the last time, too, if this is indeed his Last Signing Tour.

On that note, it’s time to say goodbye for today. I’ll be back on Sunday with the latest edition of the Hitlist, and again next Wednesday with another round-up of book news from the UK. In the interim, please do continue the conversation in the comments.


Niall Alexander is an erstwhile English teacher who reads and writes about all things weird and wonderful for The Speculative Scotsman, Strange Horizons, and Tor.com, where he contributes a weekly column concerned with news and new releases in the UK called the British Genre Fiction Focus, and co-curates the Short Fiction Spotlight. On occasion he’s been seen to tweet, twoo.

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