Booksellers ready to relive midnight madness for Potter play

Booksellers ready to relive midnight madness for Potter play

Retailers are plotting a range of spellbinding evenings across the UK ahead of the release of JK Rowling’s "eighth Harry Potter book”, the play script for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (Little, Brown).

While the launch date for the book is almost a full two months away, booksellers are already busy planning parties and midnight openings for its launch on 31st July.

Looking to get its launch off to a flying start, Foyles will allow guests to have their picture taken with a live owl. Complimentary Harry Potter-themed food and drink will be available, alongside entertainment including a Harry Potter book quiz, a performing magician and a Hogwarts wand shop. The late-night opening is priced £8 for a ticket and £20 for a book plus a ticket, welcoming fans from ages "10 to 110" to The Auditorium at Foyles Charing Cross Road between 9am and midnight. There, staff will also be scouting for “the ultimate Harry Potter fan”, who will be the recipient of a "truly magical” Harry Potter prize worth £500. 

The cast of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child - (from left) Jamie Parker as Harry Potter, Sam Clemmett as Albus Potter, and Poppy Miller as Ginny Potter.

The event is part of the new Storybox Festival, Foyles’ second interactive children's and YA book festival, announced on Friday (27th May). Andy Quinn, head of events at Foyles, said: "The publication of HPATCC could not come at a better time, falling as it does in the first week of our company-wide summer children's festival, Storybox. We'll of course be celebrating in style, with a fabulous late-night opening, at which we'll be on a quest to find the ultimate Harry Potter fan. The event is certain to be one of the highlights of the festival.”

WH Smith is meanwhile opening eight of its "premium" stores at midnight with additional events, parties and “exciting" customer offers to be extended nationwide. A WH Smith spokesperson said the shop was "looking forward to the publication” readying a raft of events to promise "a magical experience for all". 

Waterstones has tantalised fans with billing its celebrations as “the most exciting book event of the year - possibly even the decade”. It is set to host parties in more than 100 of its shops nationwide as well as putting on a late night opening from 9pm at its flagship store in Piccadilly. The “exclusive" ticketed event will put on "loads of games and fun wizarding things to do” and encourages dressing-up. 

All pre-orders of the book will go through the Waterstones tills at half price. Due to Sunday trading laws - whereby shops larger than 280 sqm can only open for six continual hours between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. - Waterstones has emphasised that any copies being collected on the night will need to have been paid for before 11:30pm; book buyers can then have the coveted book on the stroke of midnight.

The Sunday launch date has inconvenienced some booksellers to the point of lobbying the book's publisher, Little, Brown, to change the day of release. Kate Skipper, books director at Waterstones, said in April that the shop would have “welcomed" an earlier publication date, "so that all our shops and customers can revel in the excitement of the release of the eighth Harry Potter story as much as they wish”, something which David Precott, m.d. of Blackwell’s seconded because “it would be wonderful if our customers in England could buy the title at the same time as our customers in Scotland”. A Little, Brown spokesperson however said it couldn't be helped due to the play’s opening-night timings.

Jamie Parker as Harry Potter.

Sandra Taylor, Head of PR & Events, Waterstones, added: “Everyone at Waterstones is hugely excited about the publication of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child at the end of July. We’ve held extremely successful Harry Potter celebrations in our shops in the past and we are looking forward to the arrival of the eighth Harry Potter story and, of course, the birthday of the boy wizard himself.  

"Fans can expect a magical evening with a lot of exciting activities. It will be a night to remember and we can’t wait for it all to begin.”

Independents have not been deterred by the chosen launch date either. Sanchita Basu De Sarkar, new owner of the the Children's Bookshop, Muswell Hill, said she “jumped at the opportunity” to get involved - especially looking forward to the launch of the playscript for having grown up with the boy wizard, “always the same age as Harry”, herself. The shop will be opening at midnight and celebrating with dressing up, quizzes and Harry Potter-themed games and snacks.

Of the new book, De Sarker said: "Everybody is intrigued. It will be a new introduction to Harry Potter, and it’s also a brilliant way to get children into plays."

The Big Green Bookshop is celebrating the occasion from 10pm on 30th July with a “spectacular" midnight opening - and in the spirit of charity will be donating book sale profits of the book to local schools and nurseries which each customers can nominate. On its website, it said: "We’re likely to get 50% discount from the publishers on the book, so if you buy the book from us, £10 will go directly to your favourite school!” Prizes for dress-up will also be awarded. Co-owner Simon Key told The Bookseller that the initiative was in keeping with the “whole point of Harry Potter” which has inspired a new generation of readers.

Sam Clemmett's Albus Potter is the cursed child in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

Sarah Rees at Cover to Cover in Swansea will open for one hour from midnight to 1am, inviting attendees to dress up as their favourite harry Potter character, with a Harry Potter themed window, in a bid to relive midnight openings inspired by Rowling’s Harry Potter in the past. She said: “I opened when book three, The Goblet of Fire, was coming out, and I had three teenage boys then. It was great fun. It’s going to be slightly different because it’s not being published as a novel, but I just think it would be so nice to relive those mad days about ten years ago of opening late."

She added: “Thank God for JK Rowling. She’s a wonderful credit to the children’s book world. To think that 10 years ago we had people queuing to get a book - amazing."

However, Alex Milne-White at the Hungerford Bookshop wasn't convinced the play was going to be a big hit with customers, calling it “a tricky one” although they will likely do something to mark the occasion. “While we sold lots of copies [for book seven], I don’t know if we’re going to sell massive quantities of this one,” he said. "It’s difficult to know how much to put into it and how much interest there’ll be. Plays are always tricky to know how they’ll go. Are the kids going to want to read the play scripts? It’s difficult to know really."

Rees added: “We haven’t had many people talking to us about it yet. But it’s the end of July, it’s two months away. I think there will be appetite as the publicity grows, as the media latches onto it, Harry Potter is 15 years older than when we last saw him in the Deathly Hallows. I think it’s a new Harry Potter story. I can see it gaining momentum."

Pottermore has confirmed it will be building a full digital marketing campaign around the launch to bring both fans and new audiences to the e-book edition of the Cursed Child script book and has released images of the cast of the play this week to whet  audience's appetites (see images).