Waterstones has said that paying furloughed staff minimum wage ‘would not be prudent’

While Waterstones staff struggle to pay their bills Waterstones won’t increase their wages until shops reopen.

Waterstones recently told staff that any furloughed workers would not be seeing any increase to their wages until shops are able to reopen. This statement comes after a petition was launched calling on the book seller to help workers who are being paid under the minimum wage thanks to the furlough scheme.

The petition has thus far been signed by more than 1,500 people, including more than 100 Waterstones workers, it is also backed by the author Philip Pullman. It is addressed to the companies managing director James Daunt and its chief operating officer Kate Skipper, it says that as many of the companies staff are employed at or very near to minimum wage being put on the furlough scheme has now “plunged [them] beneath this line and into financial uncertainty”.

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme allow a company to furlough a worker and the government will ensure that employee gets 80% of their wage, however it does not protect an employee from falling beneath the minimum wage.

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The petition claims that some Waterstone employees are therefore “struggling to pay bills, borrowing money to make ends meet, turning to charity just to survive”. Testimonies from some anonymous staff include a senior bookseller who has worked for the company for over 18 years and who know finds themselves turning to food banks in order to survive after their monthly earnings have dropped £170 beneath the minimum wage threshold.

“I have a partner and two small kids to keep on that, and we’re struggling,” they wrote.

Another employee has said they won’t be able to make their rent payment this month, while another said they’ve had to turn to friends and roommates to help cover their bills.

The petition stresses that Waterstones’ owners, the hedge fund Elliott Advisors, paid out over £93m to just 107 staff members at the end of the 2019 financial year.

“We understand the impact that Covid has had on the business and that the high street is in a precarious position. We are not asking for a full top-up, not that we are paid a great deal above minimum wage – simply that incomes are made back up to this safety line,” the bookseller who organised the petition said in a statement to the Guardian.

“It is not our intention to damage or attack our company. We are dedicated to our jobs and adore our colleagues, hold great belief in the product we sell and love the people and customers that we encounter daily. Rather we set up the petition with the aim of raising awareness of … the real and immediate need many of our booksellers, as well as millions of other low-paid workers in various sectors, are experiencing.”

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In response to this petition Kate Skipper told staff in a mass email that furlough had been “the lifeline which has prevented mass redundancies” for their business.

“I say this in no way to diminish the stress and strain that being on furlough creates, nor to ignore the financial hardship that accompanies it,” she wrote, adding that the chain planned a 2.75% pay rise from 1 April 2021 – or from when it can reopen the majority of its shops. This follows a pay rise last April.

She said that petitions “provoke considerable social media and other reporting on Waterstones, much of it damaging. We regret this, and regret especially also if any bookseller feels unable to discuss their concerns, whether with their HR representative, anyone from the retail team, myself or any of the management team. I realise this is an unbelievably tough and desperate time for so many people but to continue to protect the business, and thereby importantly to deliver our aim to pay more, we need to survive – and ultimately to prosper. Please consider how best that can be achieved.”

Skipper also said that the company has “we have great sympathy” with the petition. “Only the extreme circumstances of prolonged, enforced closure of our shops, with no certainty of the timing of their reopening, has caused the furlough of our booksellers in this manner,” she said.

“It would be much better if we were in a position to pay our booksellers their full salaries, even as we keep our shops closed. With no clarity for how long this crisis will last, this would not be prudent. We look forward to reopening and bringing our booksellers back to work. Then we will have certainty and are pleased that we will be able to give well deserved pay rises.”

Despite stores being closed however online sales of book have remained steady during the various UK lockdowns. Last month the industry monito Nielsen Bookscan reported that the volume of print books actually grew by 5.2% to 202m in 2020.

Author Spotlight: D. A. Butcher discusses his life, his struggles, and his love for writing

Author Spotlight is our series that aims to give writers a platform to talk about the artform we all love, writing. This time around D. A. Butcher joins us to talk about his life, his struggles, and his passion for writing. Check out this excellent article.

I grew up in London. My mother is Italian and an artist, my father is British and worked on the London Underground to keep us afloat. He was a music journalist before having a family.

My parents taught us to always be creative. They taught us about great literature, art and film. They took us to museums, theatre, and art galleries, regularly around the city. When I moved up into high school, I was bullied on a daily basis. I became depressed and suicidal and I turned to cannabis as an escape.

I later got wrapped up in petty crime, squat parties and harder drugs. My life was becoming like something out of an Irvine Welsh book. I was getting into trouble with the law, and getting myself into dangerous situations. I was slipping downhill fast, and if I didn’t get out of the city, I would have probably ended up either dead or in jail, so I moved to Margate to live with my grandmother.

She soon fell ill with Alzheimer’s, and had to be put into residential care. I got work as a chef and met the girl of my dreams. She fell pregnant with twin girls and we got married and moved into our own place, as my grandmother’s house had to be sold to pay for her care home fees.

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My wife, Charlene, saved me from myself, and once we had our twin daughters, I was dedicated to being a responsible father. In my early twenties my back pains got increasingly worse, and I discovered I had slipped discs, osteoarthritis, and other back problems that were possibly linked to my crazy lifestyle beforehand.

When I was seventeen, I was sat on the roof of a friend’s dad’s ford escort, and my friend thought it would be funny to drive off. I slipped off the top of the moving vehicle and my body smashed off the tarmac repeatedly. I later discovered I had Fibromyalgia, and now, in my thirties, I suffer daily with chronic, widespread pain, which is heightened by my other disabilities, and affects my mobility and other functions.

Writing has always been my chosen craft and creative outlet, from poetry in primary school to raps in secondary – the only positive method I ever had to control the madness. I read a lot of YA Horror, Goosebumps and Point Horror books, and later read Stephen King as I loved his onscreen adaptations. It was a combination of these books, and those I read earlier in life, the likes of Roald Dahl, Dickens, Hardy Boys Mystery’s, and then Of Mice and Men in high school that is what made me want to write fiction. I also read a lot of comics, and the Batman comics, those written by Alan Grant in particular, helped me through the darker times.

I was a comic and movie journalist, after being talent scouted for both by different websites, for three years. I did this work voluntarily in order to refine my writing skills. During this time, I also completed three years of an ‘English literature and Creative-Writing’ degree with the Open University, with distinctions, with three years left to go.

Most recently, I won first place in a poetry competition, which was published in Writing Magazine. I had a short story selected for a digital anthology, and another shortlisted in two consecutive issues of Writer’s Forum Magazine.

I am currently working on my second novel, which will be set in my hometown of London and loosely based on my life, as well as trying to get my first novel out there. I am particularly inspired by works from, John Steinbeck, Cormac McCarthy, Gillian Flynn, Marlon James, and Stephen King, to name a select few, and am drawn to anything suspenseful, dark and violent, with a high-concept plot.

My novel explores themes of loss, mental illness, abuse and negligence – symbolised in the novel by the Dust Bowl. My twin daughters inspired the setting, as they studied it at school. The setting allowed me to create a dystopian reflection of humanity/society today. Despite being set in the 1930s, the issues raised are painfully relevant in today’s world, and the similarities between the Dust Bowl and the current pandemic are frightening.

If human nature is to abuse and neglect our planet and each other, then in order to incite change, surely we must start with ourselves? I drew on my own experience as a father and family man to inform my story. I considered how getting married and having children helped me to grow into a better, more stable, individual.

Louis Lockhart is a reflection of that, but I wanted to push him to his limits, and literally rob him of everything he knows and loves. Rather than dwell on the acquisition of the American Dream, which has already been achieved so skilfully by Steinbeck, my characters are already living it before it is taken from them.

This is intended to strengthen the concepts, and reflect upon the main through-line. My daughters also inspired the ‘Sandman’, who started as a ‘monster under the bed’. I wanted to create a monster who would watch and wait and observe (humanity). My version of the Sandman is unique in that he not only frightens the children and has a creepy lullaby, but gets inside the heads of the grown-ups and acts as a conduit for their darkest fears and their own demons.

Like most monsters, the Sandman is psychological – an embodiment of the evils of man. A being that watches from the shadows until light is shed onto him in order for the real monsters to be exposed. It is an original use of the Dust Bowl as a setting that raises many questions about the human condition; how we treat ourselves, each other and our planet.

I like to think it could be capable of some positive change, as it explores the consequences of our actions, in a way that makes us consider our own, and how they affect our children and others in our lives. At the very least, I believe my book is a strong topic of discussion in regards to the issues raised on abuse, neglect, mental health, and progress, both personal and collective.

For all of their inspiration and light and life, I dedicate this novel to my wife and three children who have helped me to become a better human being. My book took almost four years to write and edit – the first year was mostly research, as it was completely alien to me! Horror has always been the genre I’ve wanted to write, since I was a troubled teenager obsessed with the darker side of fiction.

I’ve always wanted to write suspense, and a lot of my inspiration is actually from film as well as literature. Hitchcock, Tarantino, Scorsese and Paul Thomas Anderson, are a handful of directors who inspire me with their production, writing and directing skills. When writing Eyes of Sleeping Children, I imagined my main cast of characters as being actors, which I carefully cast, to help me realise them fully. I had a lot of fun with this, and it is definitely a technique I will use again.

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I imagined Louis Lockhart, my protagonist, being played by Tom Hardy. His wife Bonnie, played by Charlize Theron, just because Hardy and Theron worked so well together in the Mad Max remake, and she seems apt to play a vulnerable, emotionally and mentally disturbed woman (in the best possible ways, of course!). Jon Bernthal seemed a great fit for Louis’s thick-set, dim-witted step brother, Buck. Matthew McConaughy was Sheriff Dalton. I was able to better visualise my characters by using this technique, and it even created some additional, surprising, alterations to the plot and dialogue!

I’ve always enjoyed reading a good unreliable narrator, and have played with this, as I want to give my readers what I consider the best entertainment. This is why I have blended my favourite genres to create this book – suspense, thriller, horror, with a large helping of mystery to keep you guessing.

I love high-concept fiction, also, and authors like Gillian Flynn, have inspired me to use it in my work. I’ve weaved together various plot points, using the characters pasts, relationships and conflicts, to direct the plot and have tied them all up to create an intriguing narrative and satisfactory ending.

I love a good twist, and hopefully mine will sufficiently shock you. Those who have read my book already – including my favourite writer of Batman and Judge Dredd comics, Alan Grant, and New York Times bestseller, Adam Bradley, have described it as gripping and evocative. I was lucky enough to have an American friend read the manuscript.

Her relatives are from the American Midwest where my book is set and so she was particularly helpful with the finer details and dialects – all this, the research, and some intense editing and polishing, fine-tuned my book. I am new to Indie-Publishing, and I hope that the quality of my content will be enough to reach a wider audience.

Here’s what’s been said about my book, and the link to buy my book and short stories. Please follow me on twitter and Instagram to keep up to date with news and releases.

D. A. Butcher’s Eyes of Sleeping Children is an historical novel that resonates deeply with our present moment. It is at once a pulse-pounding psychological thriller and a meditation on family and love and resilience. Butcher has delivered an impressive debut. You won’t be able to put it down!” – Adam Bradley, literary critic and co-author of New York Times Bestseller One Day It’ll All Make Sense.

“Very well written. I didn’t want to put it down. The disintegration of a man, living in a nightmare within a nightmare. Evocative and haunting.” – Alan Grant, prolific comic writer for Batman and 2000AD.

“The Eyes of Sleeping Children is a dark and dusty depression-era tale loaded with suspense. Just when you think you’ve worked it out, you get spun on your head and blindsided. Truly a story that will keep you turning pages into the wee hours of the morning. Absolutely gripping!” – Rachel Apps, graphic-designer and aspiring novelist.

Author Spotlight: Jon Hartless discusses who can tell stories in a pluralistic society

Author Spotlight is our new series that aims to give a platform for writers to discuss the art form we all love so much. This time we are joined by Jon Hartless as he takes a look at “The right to write – who can tell stories in a pluralistic society?”

Let us know your thoughts in the comments below…

Jon Hartless

Recently, voices have been raised concerning who has the right to tell certain stories. Jordan Marie Green announced the debut of a romantic novel set in Tahiti before a backlash against cultural appropriation and stereotyping prompted the book’s withdrawal. Becky Albertalli had to out herself as bisexual under pressure from several Internet commentators who felt she had no right to write about gay teenagers as she was (presenting as) a straight woman, and finally a disabled gameplayer unwittingly unleashed a wave of ableist anger at her inclusion of a combat wheelchair in the DnD universe.

It is the last two which intersect with my own work, for I recently started publishing a Steampunk series featuring a bisexual, disabled protagonist – and now I’m wondering if I was right to do so, given I’m heterosexual and able-bodied. (Steampunk, in case you don’t know, is set in an alternative timeline and features advanced technology. Mechanical prosthetics are popular tropes within the genre, along with airships and goggles).

When I started writing the series, I wanted to examine the gulf between the rich and the poor, as well as the associated chasm between the socially acceptable (i.e. white, male, hetero, posh) and everyone else. Hence the creation of Poppy Orpington; a woman in a man’s world. A bisexual within heteronormative culture. Disabled in an ableist society. And poor within a capitalist hierarchy which works exclusively for the benefit of the wealthy elite.

Furthermore, I was determined to use the tropes of Steampunk in a “believable” way, and in a manner which served the plot, rather than just gratuitously inserting them without any real thought. For this reason, Poppy is born with a missing arm, (for birth defects are common in her society, at least for those who live in poverty), and she only acquires a fully functioning prosthetic after a turnaround in her family’s fortune.

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This, then, is Poppy’s world. She must hide her sexuality for the sake of her personal welfare, while her disabilities bring her into conflict with the dominant ableist beliefs of the era. So, how would Poppy feel if she suddenly had opportunities hitherto denied to her? The opportunities of relative wealth, of limited social acceptance, and of having a fully integrated prosthetic which would allow her to live a “normal” life – though it must be noted that the concept of “normal” is constructed by the discriminatory attitudes of able-bodied society.

These were the subjects I wanted to examine, and I did my best to be as sensitive as possible, but did I have the right to even try in the first place? Even as I’m penning this article, the issue of Becky Albertalli’s sexuality is still rumbling on, with one Twitter commentator asserting that non-queer creators shouldn’t be making money from the queer audience – though this is by no means a universal opinion.

Full Throttle Cover

I honestly don’t know what the answer is to this, or even if there is an answer. But I am now keenly aware that I’m merely an outsider looking in, and if I were writing the Poppy series today, I doubt I would include anything about sexuality or disability at all.

That would have created some difficulties with regard to the plot, given Poppy’s character is (like all of us) created by the society she is raised in, (not to mention the vital role her prosthetic plays in the later stages of book 1), but it would probably have been a lot safer, and more considerate, to restructure the book rather than to risk offending innumerable people through a lack of knowledge and understanding.

Jon Hartless is the author of Full Throttle and Rise of the Petrol Queen, books 1 & 2 in the Poppy Orpington series. Book 3, Fall of the Petrol Queen, should be released in October 2020 via Tenebrous Texts.

We are looking for reviewers

We have a lot of awesome submitted books in our list that we have to review and sadly we aren’t superheroes.

I know its sad right? I so wish we were Iron man, or at the very least hawkeye.

But we aren’t. I cry myself to sleep every night because of it. But I digress.

We need reviewers.

We need people who love books and are looking for great indie books they’d never have read otherwise and who want to get their words out into the world.

Sadly

If you’re that kind of person hit us up at reviewforbooklytical@gmail.com

Author Spotlight: James Huck discusses his writing method

Author Spotlight is our new series where a guest author writes about their process, their love for the art, and of course, their work. This time out James Huck joins us.

I began writing short pieces some time ago, but they were fragments of stories and parts of characters. It wasn’t until I reached a crisis in my career and life that the writing process crystallised and ideas became paragraphs and chapters.

I suppose I am the original Sick Teacher, although I have nothing on my principal character Aileen Byrne.  As a devoted career teacher myself I have experienced the rollercoaster that working in a State run school in the UK can be. 

After fifteen years I had climbed up the greasy pole to the point where I thought that I could really begin to put my pedagogy into practise. However, I let my principles and my pride stand in the way of corporate pragmatism and slipped straight back down.

Serious two or three thousand word writing days began as a form of cathartic therapy. A process whereby I could give voice to all my ideas. All my pent up, controlled, constrained and irrepressible creativity erupted from me. Long years of ‘towing the line’ and following directions; sparking creativity in others by repressing it in myself. 

To help control it I took long walks with my Working Cocker Spaniel, Jet. Together, she and I walked for miles every day. I allowed my feet to just follow the path, my mind emptying of worry, travelling along country paths on autopilot as she sniffed and chased pigeons and squirrels.

I suppose I entered a meditative state. The characters began to exist without my conscious direction and the plot revealed itself before me as I walked. Characters began to explain how they felt and why they were behaving as they were. At one point, I imagined them arguing about a particular plot device as Aileen argued a Head Teacher would never behave in such a manner in public. Needless to say, she made her point well and the plot was altered accordingly.

Once I returned home with a tired, and often muddy and soggy dog, I would set myself up at the kitchen table, dog lying across my feet, my laptop open and try to capture the action that had occurred that morning.  Sometimes I could instantly recall everything; sometimes my memory was not quite up to the task.  However, I always got there in the end.

Jet

Some days I hit a block, not sure how to get from the point of the story that I was at, to where I wanted it to be next. I found that the only way through this was to walk and then write – no matter what. Even if it was a day where fifty or a hundred words were hard fought for. The only way to get to where you want to be is to write through it. I had to just keep writing, deleting, writing, deleting, writing and so on, until it just felt right.

Writing has become a part of my life now. I couldn’t give it up. My career needs to fit around my writing as I have become a writer who is also a teacher, rather than the other way round. I have begun to write my second novel, the characters have begun to take shape and they have begun acting through the plot. I am excited to find out what happens.

You can check out James’ work for yourself on Amazon.

We are looking for authors to talk about their work and why they love writing

Well the title says it all really doesn’t it?

We are looking at starting up a weekly series where a guest author joins us and writes up a piece about their work and their writing and delves into their love for what they do.

We want to explore the reasons why you love writing, how you got started, how you write, where you write etc etc…

Not only is this a chance to dive into the world of writing, it’s a great chance to showcase yourself and your work. Did you get the idea for your novel in an unusual way? Or was it bubbling over time? We, and our readers would love to know.

If you’re interested in sharing more about yourself and your work in a short article let us know by emailing us at submitbooklytical@gmail.com

We look forward to hearing from you.