Recently I’ve been travelling the UK talking to readers and booksellers about Our Endless Numbered Days. I’ve been lucky enough to visit many wonderful independent bookshops to sign copies and to speak about my novel to open book clubs, and everyone has been very welcoming and happy to stop and chat.
I want to return a bit of the love, so I’m going to post a monthly (probably) interview with one independent bookshop that I visited.
The first up is Book-ish in Crickhowell, Powys, owned and run by the lovely Emma Corfield-Walters. The bookshop is the regional winner (Wales and Midlands) of the Independent Bookshop of the Year Awards, and now goes forward for the overall prize, with the winner being announced on 9th May. You can vote for Book-ish here.
If you’re ever in or near Crickhowell you must visit – you won’t be disappointed, every book has been hand-picked. Here’s my interview with Emma (apologies for her answer to the penultimate question – it honestly wasn’t a set-up).
Can you tell me something about the history of Book-ish?
Book-ish opened its doors in October 2010 in the small market town of Crickhowell (the last truly independent high street in Wales). I’d run a successful building surveying business based in Brighton for the previous 8 years but wanted a big change. I knew absolutely nothing about bookselling, but armed with my love of reading and books I felt I could make a good go of it.
What’s your favourite section?
We have such a small shop that we have very few sections, more shelves than bays. I do love our natural history books though, beautiful words and beautifully designed covers.
My real favourite shelf is in my stock room though – it houses uncorrected proofs that get sent out from publishers. There’s something special about being able to read a book before its general release date.
If you had infinite space what would you add?
It’s not so much about what I’d add but the way we’d be able to display books. Illustrators, designers and publishers work so hard to produce beautiful cover art these days, it seems a shame not to be able to display it all properly.
What’s the hardest thing about running an independent bookshop?
For me it’s keeping up with how quickly things move, there are so many ideas, events, reviews etc to keep up with, sometimes it’s totally overwhelming. This on top of the everyday desk work of running a bookshop and battling the strong pull of the internet.
Who is your favourite customer?
The people that visit the area every year and always pop into Bookish and keep in touch. We have regular email updates from customers all over the world. My favourites being two ladies from the US in their 70’s who spent a whole afternoon with me in Bookish and have remained in touch over the past 4 years. They sent me pictures of their wedding when same sex marriage was legalised in their state, they’d been together for 50 years.
What’s the craziest situation you’ve ever had to deal with in the bookshop?
Crickhowell is a very sleepy market town, it doesn’t get crazy very often, if it does it makes the news!
What’s your best/first memory of visiting a bookshop?
I’m from a tiny village in the Swansea Valley so the closest bookshop was in Swansea, and I can’t remember it being a very appealing as a child. Looking back it was visits to the library at least once a week with my Mum that left the greatest impression. I can remember our tiny library in Pontardawe vividly, the smell, the friendly librarians who all knew me by name, the excitement of taking new books home.
I do remember Waterstones opening in Swansea in the mid 1990’s…..then as a college student, I was in heaven.
What would you like your customers to do differently?
My regular customers are fabulous. I do wish the random ones who wander in and then ask if we sell jam/spoons/balloons etc would maybe have a look about them first.
What would you like authors or publishers to do differently?
We’ve been working with publishers much more closely over the past two years and it’s helped enormously. We see some amazing reps who are our connection to publicists, editors, sales teams and writers. I wish more publishers would have reps who feel able to cross the border into Wales…..there really is only a very slim chance of dragon attack.
What’s been the biggest surprise of owning an independent bookshop?
The friendships I’ve found through the bookshop, especially my wonderful book group who are the most amazing group of women. Running a business alongside a family is hard. They are my support group, we laugh like drains and yes we do talk about the book (whilst drinking wine and eating copious amounts of cheese).
What fairly unknown book do you think more people should know about?
Oooh difficult…..I’ve just read ‘Nothing to Envy’ by Barbara Demick which was a book club read. We all absolutely loved it. The writing is wonderful and it really gets you thinking.
What book are you currently recommending / hand-selling?
Urrrmmmm yours! Honestly. It’s just my kind of book.
How can people visit / get in touch with you?
23, High Street, Crickhowell, Powys, NP8 1BD