Network News: North West’s Relationship with Waterstones

by Gill James 

It’s incredibly useful that we meet for our critique group in Waterstones. We’re lucky to get the events room for free in the atmospheric Manchester Deansgate branch. It’s part of an older building and Deansgate is a rather smart street filled with some upmarket shops, bars  and  restaurants and some other beautiful literary buildings such as the John Rylands Library  and Eliot House, the temporary home of Manchester City Library. The events room is on the second floor and opposite the very elegant House of Fraser.

The events manager at this branch is quite proactive and some fantastic events are arranged there anyway. Many are free of charge or cost very little and this particular manager is quite supportive of new local writers. So we are able to meet in this room for our Sunday afternoon critique sessions.
However, there is a puzzle. If you attend an event the room is elegantly arranged, with audience seating laid out landscape-style, usually facing the window. There is no sign of any clutter. Yet when we arrive on a Sunday afternoon the room tends to resemble an attic full of forgotten furniture and we have to find a floor space, the comfortable chairs and enough tables for the number of people we’re expecting. The climate control is erratic and defeats the Sunday afternoon staff.  So be prepared to boil or shiver. And every so often an “event” takes place on Deansgate- maybe a fun run or a protest of some sort so we experience some interesting background noise. None of this matters, though, because it reminds us we are in the world. That is so important to writers.   

I’ll leave telling you exactly how the critique groups run for another time but I will just say three things now:

  •  We run mixed genre sessions (though we are looking at doing some more genre specific sessions) 
  • We email work in advance
  • We favour the sandwich method – good points, less good points, suggestions for improvement.    

And it does work well in this extraordinary room.

Waterstones Deansgate benefits from a bar, and often members meet beforehand there or grab a hot drink to bring into the meeting. It has a quite big children’s section. One of my own students is in charge of teen titles there and runs a club for teen readers. Most of us check out the books either before or after the session or both and it’s like having a great big reference library to hand.         

I’m always delighted to see books there by SCBWI members and have been known to do a little gentle promotion. Have my own ever been there? Yes, actually. The very first week I was here in 2007. Believe it or not three of my educational books were actually in the window and were part of three for two offer. What a welcome! Alas, never again since.

We writers and other people in the book-producing industry have a strange relationship with Waterstones. They’re a huge chain that may have squeezed the indie bookshop out. They are cautious about small press. They seem to have some control and influence over the market. Yet in the end, with big companies like this, it always comes down to the people working locally. I’d say the ones working at the Deansgate branch, Manchester, are top notch.

We must remember anyway, that books are business. And fanatic that I am I’d still rather visit a bookshop than a fashion store even if Waterstones is the only one available. If you’re in Manchester, do visit this branch. Let me know you’re coming and I’ll meet you there for coffee if I can.      

Gill James writes mainly for young adults. She is your Network News editor and is interested in news stories about your network. Contact her at networknews at britishscbwi dot org.

Steph Williams is the Network North West coodinator. Contact her for details of meetings at northwest at britishscbwi dot org. 


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