Victoria is my entry point into London and usually as soon as I’m off the train and through the ticket barrier I’m striding across the forecourt aiming to catch a tube or bus into another part of the city. Consequently, I rarely explore the streets surrounding the station – with the exception of Vauxhall Bridge Road, if I am heading for Tate Britain or Walker Books, and Victoria Street, if I am headed for Westminster. I know it’s not much of a walk to Sloane Square and the Saatchi Gallery, but it’s only one stop on the tube and you’re there in a flash. Which explains why I had not ventured on foot in a westerly direction from the station for many a year. Not since Macmillan Children’s Books were based in Eccleston Place and hosted many a party in the 1990s, when Kate Wilson was at the helm.
So I was unaware of the existence of Belgravia Books, an independent bookshop that opened in September 2011 tucked away in Ebury Street, until I noticed a tweet from Scott Pack sending out a general invitation to a launch of one of his Friday Project titles.
If you’re a regular user of Victoria station, the shop is less than five minutes away. Best way to get to it is to go up the escalator to the upper shopping mall (currently undergoing reconstruction) and walk through to the upper exit into Buckingham Palace Road. Cross over into Eccleston Street (directly opposite), walk up past Eccleston Place then turn right onto Ebury Street. Voila, you will see the blue Belgravia Books shop sign.
Belgravia Books is an adjunct of Gallic Books, a small publishing company founded (by Jane Aitken and Pilar Webb, committed francophiles and previous colleagues at Random House) with the aim of making the very best French writing available to English-speaking readers. The bookshop, while specialising in books in translation, is by no means simply an outlet for Gallic Books’ own publications. They feature prominently in the window displays, but inside the shop itself they sit side by side with the wide range of other stock.
The shop is managed by Andy, a bookseller with over 18 years experience, many of them spent working in various branches of Books Etc, until the Borders/Books Etc. collapse at the end of 2009. On the day of my visit he had just returned from a 3-week break. I told him how many books I was seeing for the first time. “Well, there’s no point being independent if you just stock what Waterstones and Smiths have.” Andy is the only full-time person on the shop floor, but he is supported by three or four other part-time staff, including Emily, who had responded to my initial email enquiry, but was not working on the day of my visit. The Gallic Books office is immediately alongside the shop and Andy tells me that the publishing team are more than ready to help out on the shop floor at busy times.
“Crime never goes away” was something Andy repeated more than once in our conversation. And crime is a particular strength in both the shop and the Gallic Books catalogue . Many of the titles that Gallic Books has translated into English come from the French crime genre. And the shop holds a series of Crime Month talks that are very popular and attract audiences upwards of 40, many of them regulars. Each panel talk is country-themed; there has recently been a Latin-American Month (with two people from the independent Bitter Lemon Press presenting), a Spanish Month (with a professor from UCL) and an Italian Month. Coming up next in this series is a Polish Crime Evening.
The shop is also a favourite launch venue for Scott Pack (seen on the left in the image below), publisher at the Friday Project. Scott says, “Belgravia Books is the perfect place for our book events because it is easy to get to (right by Victoria station), is a nice space (not too big not too small), has a great team (Andy, the manager, always has a great display of the book set up by the time we arrive) and is one of those wonderful curated bookshops that it is impossible to leave without a pile of books you never knew you wanted. I am pretty sure most of the people who come to our launches return to the shop on their own at a later time and buy even more books!”
For a slideshow of images from this particular launch event, click the next image:
The shop has a mailing list that you can subscribe to via the website to keep informed of upcoming events, such as the crime evenings and book launches. Andy explained to me that the current bookshop web design will be changing in the not too distant future, to make it more responsive and mobile friendly. There will also be a different back-end system for book inventory and e-commerce.
Antoine Laurain introduces his novel, The President’s Hat [the first few frames show the author entering the bookshop from the street]