Earlier this year I was invited to speak at Words by the Water, a fantastic literary festival in Keswick, in the Lake District, England. The bookseller for this event is Bookends, who own two wonderful shops in Carlisle and Keswick, and they invited me to speak at their book club the following evening. I was expecting a dozen or so people to come, but about 30 people turned up in Bookends’ Carlisle shop cafe to ask me questions, or perhaps it was for the crisps and wine. Mr and Mrs Matthews and their daughter Lucy looked after me so well, and I even got a tour of the bookshop by torchlight. It is a wonderful place and they are all so welcoming, I highly recommend it.
Lucy agreed to answer my questions for what will be my final interview with independent UK bookshops. I’ll be starting a new interview series on my blog later in the year. So watch out for that.
Can you tell me something about the history of Bookends?
My Mum started Bookends as a market stall selling second hand books over 30 years ago. My family’s been selling new books for 25 years now and we’ve recently moved into the same building as our second hand bookshop and café – new books, old books and coffee and cake all under one roof.
What’s your favourite section?
I always like the children’s section.
If you had infinite space what would you add?
I’d like to make a reading den in the children’s section
What’s the hardest thing about running an independent bookshop?
The competition and the diversity of the work….as owners you’re responsible for everything from buying stock to managing staff to organising rubbish collection!
Who is your favourite customer?
We have a lot of customers who come in every single day so their loyalty is touching. There’s also a little boy called Samuel who has been to every single storytime and is friends with all the staff!
What’s the craziest situation you’ve ever had to deal with in the bookshop?
Our recent move was probably the most stressful experience. Children’s events such as visits from the Gruffalo can also get a bit bizarre!
What’s your best/first memory of visiting a bookshop?
Bookends is a family business so ever since I can remember I’ve been hanging around bookshops! I have lots of fond memories ‘helping’ in the shop as a very young child.
What would you like your customers to do differently?
Despite a lot of signs many people don’t realise that we have a back room with more books in so it would be nice if we could get more people to explore that room.
What would you like authors or publishers to do differently?
It would be great to get more events. I’d also like publishers to stop publishing books with matte, white covers…they look lovely for about 2 minutes but they get filthy straight away!
What’s been the biggest surprise of running an independent bookshop?
The amount of work. I left a career in social work to join the shop and mistakenly thought I’d be working fewer hours.
What fairly unknown book do you think more people should know about?
I really love a book called ‘Birdy’ by William Wharton. It’s about a former WW2 soldier in a psychiatric hospital and it’s challenging and beautifully written from a first-person perspective.
What book are you currently recommending / hand-selling?
We recently did an event with children’s author Alex T Smith. His ‘Claude’ books are funny and charming so I’ve been recommending them.
How can people get in touch?
We’re on Facebook and Twitter (@bookendscarl). We’ve recently launched our updated website bookscumbria.com and our contact details are….Bookends, 17 – 19 Castle Street, Carlisle, CA3 8SY, tel: 01228 529067
Other bookshops in this series:
Read about Book-ish in Crickhowell
Read about Mr B’s in Bath
Read about Lutyens & Rubinstein in London
Read about The White Horse Bookshop in Marlborough
Read about The Little Ripon Bookshop in Ripon
Read about Chepstow Books in Chepstow
Read about Chorleywood Bookshop in Chorleywood
Read about P&G Wells in Winchester