Five Bodley Head authors discussed their upcoming books at a dinner in London’s Balthazar on Tuesday evening (19th March), with publishing director Stuart Williams praising the “rich time” for non-fiction books.
Religious affairs writer Karen Armstrong, historian Tim Bouverie and political reporter Jack Shenker revealed the inspirations behind their books for the Penguin Random House imprint, along with scientist academics Shane O’Mara and Merlin Sheldrake.
As well as editors from Bodley Head such as publishing director Williams, editorial director Will Hammond and newly appointed editorial assistant Lauren Howard, guests also included journalists Tom Gatti, deputy editor of the New Statesman and Times literary editor Robbie Millen as well as representatives from retailers such as Waterstones.
Ahead of the dinner at the Balthazar restaurant in central London, Williams described how it was a “rich time for non-fiction”, revealing how the five authors would be “forcibly rotated” across the 40-strong crowd to ensure maximum discussion between writers, retailers and journalists.
Armstrong kicked off the author insights with her presentation into how her book, The Lost Art of Scripture, urges a review of the “use and abuse” of holy text in the modern world.
She said of scripture: “It should make us uncomfortable. It’s not a matter, scripture says, of saying our prayers nicely and singing a few hymns and going home to a Sunday lunch. It’s about feeling uncomfortable so you go out and change the world, rectify both the planet and the inequities that are tearing our worlds apart. Let’s look anew at our scriptures… it’s not about certainty, it’s about making us uncomfortable in the world that we live in… the fragility of our beleaguered planet.”
Meanwhile political reporter Jack Shenker described the appetite for new experts away from the Westminster bubble as the public tries to understand the tumultuous political situation, as previously reported in The Bookseller. Shenker's book, Now We Have Your Attention, is billed as a “gripping and urgent insider’s tour based on exceptional access to the radical political movements that are transforming Britain’s future”, slated for publication on 5th September 2019.
He said of the shifting emphasis from traditional commentators: “The people we’ve traditionally relied upon to help us through the political landscape are throwing up their hands in confusion…Part of the problem is for far too long, commentators understood politics as something that plays out solely amongst the parties and personalities and parlour games of Westminster, by staring at the wrong places and holding outdated maps in their hands, they’ve missed the bigger picture. My book is a field guide to that bigger picture. It explores, not so much the earthquakes and volcanoes on the surface, but rather the tectonic plates that are shifting underneath.”
The evening’s historian, Bouverie, formerly a Channel 4 political journalist, detailed his research into Appeasing Hitler, and described how “too many historians tended to see the period backwards”. In his book, to be published next month, he recommends that the 1930s should be viewed with a new perspective, rather than simply a prelude to the Second World War.
Scientific insights were also discussed with O’Mara emphasising the links between walking and creativity. Of his book, In Praise of Walking, the professor of experimental brain research at Trinity College Dublin said: “Walking, to my mind, is integral to the experience of being human and it offers many, many benefits that we don’t understand…. It turns out for creativity, that going for a short walk such as 10 or 15 minutes can boost the amount of ideas you can create compared to someone who sits at a table.”
Fellow academic Sheldrake is calling for a greater appreciation of the world of fungi. The tropical ecology scholar said: “When people think of the word fungi they think of mushroom but that is the fruit of the fungus so it’s like thinking only thinking of apple trees in terms of their apples, how much would you miss out?” His debut, Entangled Life, is scheduled for publication on 7th May 2020, with Bodley Head promising “an entrancing literary and scientific journey” into the fungi.