Bookshop Bliss: How Portsmouth Blackwells Supports Local Writers

A display of books at Day of the Dead 3 event at Southsea Castle, arranged and staffed by Jo West, Blackwell's manager as part of the shop's ongoing support to Portsmouth writers.

Following recent news that Portsmouth Blackwell’s is under threat, local writer Will Sutton explains the huge difference the team there have made to his own career and to the wider writing community in the city.

Writers write alone.

It’s what we do. It’s how we are. But, but, but… sometimes it is hard. And when it is, where better to look for a focal point than your local bookshop?

I have always loved bookshops, as much as libraries. I seek them out whenever I am in a new town. When I hear of a good bookshop, I am more likely to visit that area: Oxford’s Broad St, Wigton, London’s Judd Street, Hay-on-Wye, the Seine in Paris, under Waterloo Bridge.

Can’t I buy online? say the unbookish. They deliver the next bla bla bla–

Sure. But where’s the fun in that? And if we book lovers buy online, there will soon be no bookshops left.

Will Sutton and fellow Portsmouth crime writer Diana Bretherick at a Q&A event hosted at Blackwell’s Portsmouth.

Blackwell’s in Portsmouth has been a massive supporter of local writers and Portsmouth Writers’ Hub. I’ve had fun events at other bookshops too, but nothing beats the relationship you can establish with your local shop. We are lucky to have Joanna West as manager there, enthused, articulate and passionate about books.

I have actually lost count of how many events I have been to at Portsmouth Blackwell’s.

I’ve launched all three of my novels there. (One of them twice.)

I’ve done Q & A sessions with Diana Bretherick, Victoria Leslie, Matt Wingett and JS Law for their novels. I’ve watched Orenda Books Nordic crime tour and the launch of Closure: Contemporary Black British Stories. I’ve taken part in the Dark Victorians panel for Darkfest. And I’ve seen many other writers and readers, such as Polly Morland in Portsmouth Bookfest speaking about Metamorphosis.

I’ve even written a song about it.

For us published Portsmouth writers, it’s wonderful to see these impressive displays of our books in our local bookshop.

For unpublished writers, it can be even more important. Publication is not such a distant dream: look, people I know are doing it, just down the road.

Blackwell’s display profiling story collections from Portsmouth writers.

Blackwell’s have been supportive of Portsmouth Writers’ Hub publications such as Portsmouth Fairy Tales for Grown Ups, Dark City, Day of the Dead (in which I have short stories) and the wonderfully titled Octomorphosis. I’ve seen my book displayed along Stevenson, Wilkie Collins, Philip Pullman and Dickens.

Jo and her team are so encouraging that I’ve ventured further and further into performance at these events. I began with little readings, moved into ukulele ditties, and have now burst into full cabaret. I love a reading that’s a little different.

Jo and her staff not only host events for Indie Bookshop week and World Book Day, they also come along unstintingly to sell books at our events around the city: Day of the Dead storytelling evenings at the Square Tower, CSI Portsmouth, Matt Wingett’s Holmes Fest, Crime Fact Crime Fiction and many more.

When I moved to Portsmouth, I thought I was the only writer here.

I soon heard of Graham Hurley (now moved away), Pauline Rowson, and Quentin Bates. Now I’m part of the 600-strong Portsmouth Writers’ Hub, I know so many more, not just the writers I’ve already named, but local writers like Lane Swift, Tom Harris, Miriam Halahmy, Amber Lee Dodd… and that’s not even starting on local poets like Maggie Sawkins, Katie Gill, or Lord Byro, and dramatists like Zella Compton, Stuart Olesker, or Roger Goldsmith.

It’s all thanks to Blackwell’s I’ve had the chance to be meet and join this community of Portsmouth writers. And it’s thanks to them that I was able to enjoy launching my third book there on 1 September this year.

Will Sutton and Diana Bretherick at Lawless book launch at Blackwell’s Portsmouth.

At the moment, the future of Blackwells hangs in the balance. If you want to keep one of only two dedicated bookshops in Portsmouth open, shop there once in a while.

But even more urgently, you can sign and share this petition to persuade the University that their community-minded remit ‘to support and influence the economic, educational, social and cultural life of the city‘ could not be better served than by keeping Blackwell’s bookshop open.

Find out more

38 Degrees Petition


A version of this article appeared on Civilian Reader as part of The Electric blog tour to celebrate the launch of William Sutton’s third Victorian mystery novel with Titan Books, Lawless & the House of Electricity. Lawless & the House of Electricity by William Sutton, third in his series of Lawless mysteries exploring the darker sides of Victorian London, is published by Titan Books.