Fans of Sally Rooney queued up to hear her read from and sign copies of Beautiful World, Where Are You (Faber) at a Waterstones Piccadilly event last night (6th September), with some travelling up to 120 miles just to meet the author.
Held the evening before publication day, 150 people attended the event at Waterstones' London flagship store, with Rooney signing copies for attendees.
After reading the first chapter of her third novel, Rooney signed editions designed exclusively for Waterstones, featuring an extra short story by the author and yellow sprayed pages. Pre-orders of the new novel number more than 25,000, The Bookseller understands.
Audience members Emma and John Morris made the journey from Grantham, in Lincolnshire, on the insistence of their daughter who is a “superfan”.
"My daughter encouraged me to read her,” Emma Morris told The Bookseller. “I read her other books and thoroughly enjoyed them. We’ve come about 120 miles to be here tonight. We’ve jumped on the train, come down here, had a walk around Green Park and queued up. We were not quite on the front row but it was worth it. I stood there completely mesmerised.”
Another fan who works for the rights team at Penguin Random House, said: “Everyone wishes [they] were the ones who published Sally Rooney — and sold her rights too."
One reader made the journey from Oxford. Commenting on why she likes the books, she said: “I think she writes in a nuanced, balanced way about human connection. I feel like her books are both literary and accessible, people appreciate they’re not too esoteric.”
Bea Carvalho, head fiction buyer at Waterstones, told The Bookseller anticipation for the event “has been huge”.
"Conversations with Friends and Normal People were Waterstones Books of the Month, and Normal People was our 2018 Book of the Year,” she said. “The event completely sold out, the anticipation for it has been huge. Pre-orders have been her biggest to date; we’re expecting massive things for it all year and for it to be a perennial favorite for a long time to come. This is the first event of this kind of scale since the Mantel [The Mirror & the Light], long before the pandemic.”
“It feels like one of the year's most significant cultural moments — it’s unusual for books to reach this level of mainstream cultural awareness.”
Alongside last night's signing, a mix of 20 indie bookshops and 30 Waterstones stores have opened their doors early today to give readers a chance to get their hands on the new book, plus an exclusive goodie bag and merchandise. Independent bookshops including Villages Books in Dulwich and Gerrards Cross Bookshop provided croissants and pastries to early morning fans, courtesy of Faber. Islington bookshop owner Chrissy Ryan, founder of BookBar, said people had been queuing up outside the shop well before the earlier opening time.
"It's been a crazy morning," she said, "I arrived at the shop at 7.15am to people already queuing outside. It's been the most buzzy morning - BookBar always has a brilliant buzz to it, but it felt like our opening week again. People were having coffee and drinking the complementary bucks fizz we offered, and buying books in twos and threes. It was so special to see the same readers who queued outside bookshops at midnight for Harry Potter books do the same 15 years later for Sally Rooney. It was also exactly what BookBar is about: bringing people together through books and building community around reading."
Faber is also opening a pop-up shop in Shoreditch this week.