Inspired by... blog

23 posts categorized "Books"

03 March 2014

Inspired by... The Folio Society's illustrated books

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I judge a book by its cover.

As a lover of typography and illustration, I'm always drawn to books like those published by our friends at The Folio Society. Their production team work very closely with illustrators to produce high quality, collectible books. Here are my highlights from their 2014 catalogue.

Finnegans Wake – John Vernon Lord
There is a nice section about the notebooks and sketches that go towards the completion of his illustrations here.

Finnegans Wake_John Vernon Lord_2  Finnegans Wake_John Vernon Lord

Life, the Universe and Everything – Jonathan Burton
Jonathan has illustrated all three titles The Folio Society have published so far in Douglas Adams’s trilogy. He also illustrated Cover Her Face and previously designed a set of playing cards for which he won Silver Medal for these at the Society of Illustration in New York. 

Life, the Universe and Everything_2   Life, the Universe and Everything

Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Seas – Jillian Tamaki
Jillian also illustrated The Folio Society's edition of Goblin Market.

Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Seas   Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Seas_2

Day of the Jackal – Tatsuro Kiuchi
Tatsuro also illustrated The Sea, The Sea for Folio as well as designing the cover of their current catalogue.

The Day of the Jackal_2

The Day of the Jackal

Jane Eyre – Santiago Caruso
This is the first edition that Santiago has illustrated for Folio. You can see his rough drafts and notes here.

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Jane Eyre_Santiago Caruso

Check out The Folio Prize Fiction Festival 8-9 March 2014 at the British Library. For the first time we're hosting readings in our beautiful Rare Books & Manuscripts Reading Room - this is a real treat and I highly recommend it! Readings and talks by Michael Chabon, Ali Smith, Sergio De La Pava and many more.


17 December 2013

Reader spotlight: Bhavna Champaneri on vintage hairstyles

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It’s that time of the year when women who normally take no more than a few seconds to comb their hair in the morning make an effort to get their hair done up all nice and pretty for Christmas parties. I’m not one of them – not only did I not comb my hair this morning, but its 13.00 and it’s still in a wet, messy bun.

British Library Reader Bhavna Champaneri takes hair seriously. She recently published the book On Trend Vintage: 40's, 50's & 60's step-by-step hairstyle techniques & make-up tips.

Bhavna did most of her research at the Library, looking through books like Me and my hair: a social history by Patricia Malcolmson (shelfmark YC.2013.a.7491) which explores British hairstyles in the 19th and 20th century. She was also inspired by Hollywood starlets Audrey Hepburn and Rita Hayworth and how women styled their hair under hats.


Bhavna opened her first salon at the age of 21, working two jobs to raise the funds she needed. Last year she founded On Trend Academy which trains beginner and advanced hairdressers. She also helped open the first vocational skills learning centre offering training in hairdressing and beauty in Punjab, India.

Whilst training others, Bhavna noticed there was a lack of information available relating to vintage hairstyles so she set out to produce On Trend Vintage. The book provides practical tips and historical information about the evolution of hairstyles. 

As a dyslexic, Bhavna finds writing challenging and has always believed in being hands on and wants to continue dedicating herself to training others. Bhavna also loves fashion and has attended events at our Business & IP Centre, most recently our popular Fashion Forecasting - Trend hunting and gathering seminar.

Check out the fun hairstyles on show at our current exhibition: Georgians Revealed: Life, Style and the Making of Modern Britain open now until 11 March 2014.

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Photo via

12 November 2013

The Beau Monde: Fashionable Society in Georgian London

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In celebration of our current exhibition Georgians Revealed: Life, Style and the Making of Modern Britain, today’s guest blog comes from Dr Hannah Greig, author of The Beau Monde: Fashionable Society in Georgian London. Here she talks about her experience using the Library and being banished to the ‘dirty books desk’. Intrigued? Read on! 

Hear Hannah in conversation with Patrick Grant (creative director of Norton & Sons and Etautz) at the event Buying Luxury, Acquiring Style: Georgian Menswear on Monday, 2 December from 18.30 – 20.00. Click here for more info and to book tickets.


The British Library is, of course, a place where books are written as well as read, and for many writers and academics it is our equivalent to a city office. We clock in when the doors open and meet friends and colleagues when dropping off our bags in the cloakroom. It is a place for water-cooler gossip, working lunches and long days of intellectual labour.

I registered for my first Reader Pass over a decade ago as a graduate student.  While studying for my MA, I found myself using by accident what is known colloquially among the Readers as the ‘dirty books desk’: the supervised table in the Rare Books & Music Reading Room to which you are consigned when consulting erotic or pornographic material.

British Library St Pancras Reading Rooms

At the time, I was investigating satirical and moralizing representations of fashionable life in eighteenth-century London. As this took place in the dark days before digitization and key word searching, I had been methodically working my way through some of the eighteenth century’s most famous periodicals, including The Tatler, The Spectator, The World and The Connoisseur.

It was a hunt for The Rambler, a periodical of moral and political essays edited by Samuel Johnson, which banished me to the ‘dirty books’ corner. By mistake, I had ordered from the catalogue The Ramblers Magazine; or the Annals of Gallantry, Glee, Pleasure and the Bon Ton (1783) that dealt with very different topics indeed. Never one to waste a work opportunity, I transcribed a lewd poem comparing an erect penis to a flowering geranium (a text that has since been used amongst my teaching materials), before blushingly returning the journal and revisiting the catalogue to dig out Johnson’s more staid publication.  

The Gallery of Fashion London, 1794–1803. One of the earliest fashion magazines. On display at Georgians Revealed: Life, Style and the Making of Modern Britain.

Since those early eye-opening research excursions, the manuscripts and rare books collection formed the core of my doctoral research, and have proved invaluable to my recent book The Beau Monde: Fashionable Society in Georgian London (Oxford University Press, 2013).

To be fashionable in Georgian London meant more than simply being well-dressed. It denoted membership of a new type of society - the beau monde, a world where status was no longer determined by coronets and countryseats alone but by the nebulous qualification of ‘fashion’.

This fast-living, ostentatious realm was a popular topic for the period’s caricaturists. Cartoons lambasted the beau monde’s love of new and expensive goods, their delight in public display, their love of parties and pleasure, their gambling, and their reputation for sexual indiscretion and extra-marital affairs. In many ways, it is through such satires and scandals that Georgian high society has come to be defined.

My book, however, tries to recover the lives behind the stereotypes, and find out more about what fashionable life meant to those reputedly within the beau monde’s exclusive circle.

Tom and Jerry at the Exhibition of Pictures at the Royal Aacademy © The British Library Board. On display at Georgians Revealed: Life, Style and the Making of Modern Britain.

I have relied heavily on the British Library’s collections to decode the rules of eighteenth-century fashion. The mass of contemporary letters and diaries that form the family archives kept by the manuscripts department are an especially rich resource. It is impossible not to be moved by seeing eighteenth-century ink on paper and imagining the hand that wrote it and the eyes that first read it. Such personal letters reveal firsthand what life was like in London’s fast lane.

I have spent years in the Manuscripts Reading Room with these fashionable figures for company. My other favourite Library spots are the far corner of Rare Books & Music (a place to find my fellow historians) and the quiet seats in Humanities 2 (where I retreat when I need to hit a deadline).

When I was a PhD student, I made good use of the cheap coffee machine in the Cotton Room on the third floor. Now I’m more likely to be found in the lower ground floor café trying to resist the cake.


Dr Hannah Greig is a lecturer in history at the University of York. She also works as a historical adviser to film, theatre and television, with credits including The Duchess film and a forthcoming BBC mini-series Death Comes to Pemberley. She will be talking about eighteenth-century men’s fashion with designer Patrick Grant at the British Library event Buying Luxury, Acquiring Style: Georgian Menswear on Monday, 2 December from 18.30 – 20.00. Click here for more info and to book tickets.



22 October 2013

Writing a novel at the British Library – Interview with author Elanor Dymott

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A slight detour from my regular posts on fashion, design and film, today I give you an interview with Elanor Dymott author of the suspense novel Every Contact Leaves a Trace. Elanor wrote the book at the Library and also features the building and its surroundings in some very crucial parts of the story.

(If you’re writing a book at the Library, I’d love to know about your experience! Contact me at or on Twitter @BL_Creative)


What was a day at the Library like for you? What items did you research?

I wrote a lot of the book at the Library, and parts of it came from the Library in a physical sense: what I observed, read, overheard. I could see the Library from the roof of the building where I was living at the time so I’d stand and watch it while working out my plot. Then I’d leave the roof, find a book on the online catalogue and go to the Library to read it.

Two items in particular wove themselves into my novel. Le Manuel de Technique Policière by Edmond Locard (Payot, 1934) gave me my title and an epigraph and pinned my novel together. Henry James’s essay, 'The Novel in the Ring and the Book' (in Notes on Novelists: With Some Other Notes (Dent, 1914)) unlocked things for me.

I’d failed to find my way with Browning’s epic murder-mystery until the day I sat in the Rare Books & Music Reading Room and read the James. Viewing the story with James’s laser-eye vision, feeling his mind work the text and play with it, brought it to life and moved my novel on, and the fact that James’s first-edition pages were interleaved with tissue paper was itself a spooky kick-start.

Elanor's London study on Judd Street 

What were the pros and cons of working in the Reading Room? 

A comprehensive list of the pros of using the Reading Rooms would fill a volume. Right now I can’t bring to mind a con. You can order up any book you need and lots of books you didn’t know you needed and there is always someone to help you find them, however weak your hunch.

If you’re lucky you get a desk next to the complete Oxford English Dictionary, which for a writer is as a scalpel for a surgeon. The desks are big, the chairs are comfortable, the lighting is perfect and there are endless gold-dust people-watching opportunities.

The coffee tastes good, the place is almost silent and always the perfect temperature, and there’s an air of serious study in the Reading Rooms which helps when the focus wavers.

What was the most challenging part of writing the book?

Finishing the book was the real challenge! Parts of it flew by and were lots of fun to write.  And of course there’s finishing and then there’s finishing.  

By the first I mean the whole of the book in its entirety: finding enough time alongside work to do it (which meant setting aside every weekend and every ounce of holiday), and learning to feel comfortable with the uncertainty that accompanies every word.

And then there’s the second kind of finishing: the actual writing of the last chapter, the last sentence, the last word. It wasn’t that that particular chapter presented more of a challenge than any other. The problem was simply with the idea of finishing something that had been so central a preoccupation.

I knew that finishing would mean letting go of something old, and believing that something new could exist.

Elanor's 'study' in Greece where she was writing her new book

Can you tell us a bit about the new book you’re working on now?

My new novel opens at the final dress rehearsal for the UK premiere of Dvořák’s Rusalka at Sadler’s Wells in October, 1959. The scene is the first meeting of a man (a photographer) and a woman (an opera singer) who become lovers.

The story is one of love in a family; of having a home and losing it; of sea-swimming and story-telling and of how we lay down memories and why sometimes they disappear as soon as they form.

We go from Sadler’s Wells to a village in Kent called Egerton, a tall red-brick house near Hampstead Heath in London, a small town in France called Villefranche-sur-Mer and on to Nice, before coming to the close in a Peloponnesian olive grove in August, 2003.

There are ghosts and secrets and sounds in the night, there’s love and anger and violence, and there’s also a dog called Barclay. 

Rusalka is embedded in the novel’s DNA. I’ve lived with it for a while now: reading Kvapil’s libretto; following the score and listening; combing through YouTube footage of sopranos interpreting its Song to the Moon; and learning the chequered history since its 1901 Prague premiere.

One day last month I was editing a chapter in the Rare Books & Music Reading Room when I checked out my neighbour’s desk and saw a stack of Sadler’s Wells programmes from the same period. The idea of finding a programme of the actual staging simply hadn’t crossed my mind, and before too long I’ll be tracking it down.

There’s something about the serendipity of the whole thing that feels good, and as I come closer to the end of a story that began only hours before the curtain rose at Sadler’s Wells one autumn night such a long time ago, I’m excited about seeing where this new lead takes me.

Elanor Dymott

26 September 2013

Designing a recipe book - Interview with Mellissa Morgan of Ms Cupcake

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Mellissa Morgan founded London's first vegan bakery Ms Cupcake in 2011.  She reveals her scrumptious recipes in her book Ms Cupcake: The Naughtiest Vegan Cakes in Town.  In this interview she shares her experience designing the book and how her grandmother inspired her business and personal style. 

You can meet Mellissa and learn about how her book helped raise her business profile at our free speed mentoring event Think it, write it and get it published! 


What kind of feedback are you getting about "Ms Cupcake: The Naughtiest Vegan Cakes in Town"?

The responses have been really incredible.  Everyone seems to be finding the book straight-forward and really easy to use.  Also, the feedback on the look and design of the book has been great.

I’ve really enjoyed seeing peoples’ pictures that they are taking of the creations they are making from the book. They look just like our treats!  I’m so glad that our recipes are translating well into everyone else’s kitchens. 

How involved were you in the design of the book?

I was very involved in the look of the book.  We had a number of different publishers interested in publishing our first book, but Square Peg (Random House) really ‘got me’ and was willing to help me see my vision for the book through.

I insisted on a full colour picture with each recipe (a deal-breaker in my opinion when we’re talking about a cook book) and they allowed me to work very closely with the designer and photographers for the book.

The majority of props and accessories in the pictures are my own personal possessions and the people filling the pictures of the book are all my wonderful staff members.  The book is very much ‘us’ at the bakery.

You've got a delightful 1960s-70s style in the shop, the book, on the website and your own fashion. It all reminds me of Bewitched! What inspires you? 

It’s actually quite funny, my flat looks pretty much like the shop!  Same colour scheme, same retro touches and decoration!  The shop, the book, and the feel of the business is very much tied into who I am and the things I like.  I figure, if you are going to create a business, you might as well create one that inspires and excites you aesthetically as well as intellectually.

My grandmother is very much the inspiration behind my ‘look’ and the Ms. Cupcake character.  She was a bit of a kooky lady who had a penchant for horn rimmed glasses, crazy hats and some pretty eccentric hobbies (like collecting over 800 statues of penguins). She had a hearty laugh, a zest for life and was always there to give anyone - even a stranger - a big cuddle if they needed it.  I couldn’t have asked for a better role model!

Our Business & IP experts have put together industry guides to help you research all types of sectors including books and publishing, organic food, drinks and much more. You can download the guides for FREE here. 

Mellissa talks about her baking process, business  and winning the 2011 British Baker's Rising Star Award. Love those vintage specs!  



23 August 2013

Hidden Treasures - Unique and rare British Library collections

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This week the Library took part in Hidden Treasures, a national initiative to celebrate collections in UK museums and archives. Our expert curators and conservators selected some unique items to illustrate the variety in our massive collections. It was a very popular event and for those of you who weren't able to join us, here are some photos.  


Yantra - A miniature ceremonial bowl used in Buddhist rituals in honour of the deceased. Made of blackened brass, Khom script. Maker unknown, (1916) Shelfmark Or.16864 


Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam
 - Book cover tooled with gold and inlaid with topazes, turquoises, amethysts, garnets, olivines and an emerald. Stanley Bray (1989). Shelfmark  C188c27  


Goat skin satchel - Storage for a late 18th early 19th century Sub-Saharan Africa Quran.  Shelfmark Or.16751

Index - Pop-up book by Andy Warhol (1967). Not yet catalogued.  


Bhagavata Purana - Hindu religious text, Sanskrit on silk paper (18th century). Shelfmark Add MS 16624



The Book of the Psalmes - Embroidered silk binding (1640). Shelfmark C143a10
The British Library has a substantial collection of English embroidered book bindings dating from the 14th century to 20th century. I wonder, what is the significance of the severed head? If you know, holler at me on Twitter @BL_Creative


Kammavaca -  Buddhist sacred book in Pali language (Burmese square characters) on 14 sheets of ivory leaves decorated in gold and red lacquer. (1750-1825) Shelfmark Add.15291

These rare and beautiful items are wonderful inspirations for designers and makers. Learn more about researching our collections for your designs at our Fashion Forecasting workshop.  

21 August 2013

Inspired by 19th-century Indian textiles

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The India Office Library collection is not one which might be immediately associated with the world of fashion, but it does contain one of the few surviving complete sets of the "Collection of specimens and illustrations of the textile manufactures of India" (Shelfmark: X 365).

Published in London in seventeen volumes between 1872 and 1880 - and conserved under the Library's Adopt A Book scheme - they show more than 1100 samples of silk, woollen and cotton designs from all over India, and a handful of these are shown below. Any Reader wanting to be inspired by this vast range of material is welcome to do so by ordering all or some of the set to the Asian & African Studies Reading Room on the third floor.






This blog has been written by Hedley Sutton, Reference Team Leader.

You can see these lovely volumes and get the inside scoop on key trends for 2014/15 at our Fashion Forecasting workshop on 20 September.  

20 August 2013

Alice in Wonderland-inspired ceramics and prints by Eleanor Stuart

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I met designer Eleanor Stuart last week at PopUp Piccadilly where she was selling her Alice in Wonderland-inspired collection of plates, prints and cards. The Library holds the original Lewis Carroll manuscript of Alice in Wonderland and we also have it available online through our award-winning Turning the Pages software which Eleanor used for her research. Here she tells up more about her work.

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Can you tell us more about the inspiration behind your designs? 

When I first came upon Lewis Carroll’s Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and the illustrations by John Tenniel, I was struck by how intricate, surreal and detailed each drawing was. What I was particularly taken with was the expressions each character had that tell a story in themselves; from the rather angry-looking Queen of Hearts to the nervous and very late White Rabbit to the mischievous Tweedle Twins.

The inspiration for re-working and adding my own touches to the original work was a feeling that these original illustrations were being lost in a sea of cartoon versions of Alice far removed from these wonderful originals. The originals are also quite small and in black and white, so I felt there was a great opportunity available to revive the illustrations, bring them sharply back to life and add colour, quotes and my own little spin to the work.

We love when people use our collections to make something new. Can you tell us about how you used the Library for research? 

When researching Tenniel’s original illustrations, I used the British Library’s online Turning the Pages application to see Carroll’s original illustrated manuscript. What I had not previously realised is that Carroll had even illustrated his original work, and it was interesting to see that Tenniel’s illustrations do bear a close resemblance to those featured in the original manuscript.

I think the British Library and its collection is an inspiration in itself: knowing all these great works of literature penned by authors both British and from afar are housed within this one huge building full of rabbit warrens and glass columns full of old books where you can find and stumble upon almost anything in the world of literature is pretty amazing.

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I like that image - the British Library full of rabbit warrens! What fun! So what has been your biggest challenge as a small business?

Patience! With my designs and illustrations completed, and the ideas I always have swimming around in my head, I always want to realise them instantly which is of course not entirely doable. Learning to slow down and appreciate the processes involved with realising an idea has been something I have come to enjoy. For example when I was in the process of having my Alice Collection of fine bone china plates produced, it was so rewarding to be able to visit the potteries in Stoke-on-Trent to see how this traditional British industry is still applying traditional British techniques and sensibilities to the work they produce, and I feel this attention to detail and quality of work really shows in my pieces.

What does “Made in Britain” mean to you? 

“Made in Britain” is so important to me, I put it on my logo! Not only am I proud to be made in Britain having grown up in lovely Richmond, but I love that through the work I create I can support British industry and help to keep the skills we have in this country alive and current. I have met such enthusiastic, incredibly helpful and skilled crafts people in my search for suppliers to help create my products, which is such a rewarding experience.

I also feel “Made in Britain” is important not only to British people, but internationally as well. I have found when selling internationally and in Britain that the stamp of authenticity and that relationship between my product and globally recognised institutions such as ‘The Potteries’ in Stoke-on-Trent is really important to people. Not only British people wanting to buy British, but international customers wanting to buy into the quality and skills they associate with the British craft and creative industries.

I have also found other designers and illustrators are equally as passionate about that “Made in Britain” stamp of approval as I am. I have come to know and admire some really great people on my journey into the world of design and illustration including Jo Robinson from HAM who creates fun animal themed screen prints made by her own fair hand in London, Cecily Vessey who designs wonderful London themed illustrations across a range of ceramics, and Sara Smith (my neighbour at PopUp Piccadilly!) whose selection of colourful, gilded and illustrated teacups are really rather beautiful – and made in Stoke-on-Trent.

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The shop has been super busy, I hear. What kind of feedback are you getting?

I have had some really amazing feedback; I would say it has been one of the best things I have done as a small business in terms of exposure, testing the market and meeting other like-minded designer/makers. (Rupert Laing from Shortbread House has made mine and my fellow designers stay at PopUp Piccadilly particularly enjoyable with an ever refreshed supply of delicious shortbread samples to hand).

As a predominantly online business, coming out from behind my computer screen and meeting my customers, showing them my products and being able to have them touch and feel the quality of each item has been a really rewarding experience. I have also had a great response from potential retailers, so that is an exciting direction I am looking forward to taking my business in - with Alice and her surreal, mad and late friends in tow!

Images courtesy of Eleanor Stuart.

Check out this video from the PopUp Piccadilly launch: