Indie Bookshop Love: Bookends


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 bookends2UK 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. Continue reading

Indie Bookshop Love: P&G Wells


P&G Wells is my local independent bookshop, and I love it. Not only because of the atmospheric building and (of course) the great books, but because the owner (Crispin) and all of the booksellers there, especially David and Ben have been incredibly supportive of me and my books. I highly recommended having a browse on a Sunday afternoon, choosing and buying a book, and taking it for a pint to the Wykeham Arms just around the DSCF4213corner.

Can you tell me something about the history of P&G Wells?
Founded in the early 1700s, P&G Wells was one of several bookshops in this quarter of
Winchester.  In the early days, the area was a literary centre, with publishing, printing, the Hampshire Chronicle newspaper and the county’s first lending library: all of which activities took place on the shop’s premises.  Originally the shop was owned by the Burton family, with the Wells family being in charge during the shop’s College-centred heyday.  The last Wells left in the mid 1970s but is still living in Winchester.

In modern times, Wells expanded to cover school supply throughout Hampshire, and to PG2serve the new University of Winchester.  Its centrepiece however, remains its original shop in College Street, by now the oldest bookshop in the country.

What’s your favourite section?
The oak windows looking onto the street date from Edwardian times, and permit us to show a variety of lovely new books to passersby.  I enjoy seeing dog-walkers, joggers and family walkers distracted from their journeys as they stop and respond to the dreams that emanate from the covers of unexpected books.

If you had infinite space what would you add?
I’d like to have a larger reference section, full of earlier works by current writers, and prequels to the history, the travel and the natural history that is published today.

What’s the hardest thing about running an independent bookshop?

Who is your favourite customer?
Anyone who is curious, open-minded and keen to find out all there is to know about their chosen topic.

What’s the craziest situation you’ve ever had to deal with in the bookshop?
Shoplifters who take a book, deface it, and come back to ask for a ‘refund’.

What’s your best/first memory of visiting a bookshop?
Being stuck in a foreign country on a rainy weekend, and finding in the local shop an old novel that reminded me of home.

What would you like your customers to do differently?
Be more experimental.

What would you like authors or publishers to do differently?
Think outside the box.

What’s been the biggest surprise of owning an independent bookshop?
How generous-hearted are the different people in the industry – writers, publishers and 51FVh7XPjZL._AC_UL320_SR208,320_reps obviously, but also the accounts departments, warehousemen and delivery drivers.

What fairly unknown book do you think more people should know about?
Anything by Patrick Modiano.

What book are you currently recommending / hand-selling9780008152079?
Hitman Anders.

How can people visit / get in touch with you? (Address, Twitter, Facebook, Website, Instagram etc)
All of these are possible, but the best is to visit.

(11 College Street, Winchester, SO23 9LZ, 01962 852016, @BookWells )


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

Indie Bookshop Love: Chepstow Books

Chepstow outside

This Saturday sees the start of Independent Bookshop Week (18th to 26th June), and there are lots of events at independent bookshops around the UK and Ireland. Visit the website to find out what’s going on near you, or follow the organisation on Twitter.

My celebration of independent bookshops continues with The Chepstow Bookshop. I visited the shop earlier this year, where I met a couple of lovely booksellers, but didn’t get to say hello to Matt Taylor, the owner, who was out visiting a school. But he kindly answered my questions:

Can you tell me something about the history of Chepstow Books? Matt Taylor Chepstow
There has been a bookshop on this site for at least 50 years. It became a “new” bookshop (selling new rather than second hand books) 20 years ago. I took over 10 years ago after moving from London (where I worked for Borders Books). Continue reading

Indie Bookshop Love: Little Ripon Bookshop

Ripon outside

Back in January I was lucky enough to visit The Little Ripon Bookshop to sign some copies of Our Endless Numbered Days. I couldn’t have been made more welcome – coffee and biscuits, a little table by the door, a display of my books (and toothpaste, Spam and string) in the window, and a stream of customers who so clearly came because they love this little bookshop, its owners and staff.

Here’s my interview with Gill, one of the owners.

Continue reading

Indie Bookshop Love: Mr B’s


Today I’m continuing my series of posts about independent bookshops around the UK, and this month we visit Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights in Bath. It’s a beautiful shop with lots of small rooms leading one from the other, which include a bath, displays of books suggested by the staff, armchairs for reading in (which are also used for the bibliotherapy spa sessions) and fresh coffee.

My questions were helpfully answered by Nic Bottomley, one of the owners, and Danielle, one of the booksellers.

Can you tell me something about the history of Mr B’s Emporium?

Well, we’re ten years old this summer. We (my wife Juliette and I) decided to have a go at opening an indie bookshop on honeymoon in Alaska and, after a year or so of researching and resigning and relocating and whatnot (we were lawyers living in Prague previously) we opened the doors (with no retail experience and a lot of blind faith) in June 2006. [Nic]

What’s your favourite section?

My favourite section is more of a space, and that is the bibliotherapy room. With the cosy armchairs and fire to warm yourself by, we can chat to customers up here, and the shelves surrounding this space are curated. We have a section for a guest bookshop to display theirspa_montage current favourite reads and each team member has a ‘favourites’ shelf. I love it there because you never know what you are going to come across. [Danielle]

If you had infinite space what would you add?

There are sections we would definitely expand, for instance a children’s section can never be big enough, give little readers lots of room to roam and read in! We’d add more space for our Reading Spas too – we offer these reading experience gifts where we sit one-on-one with a customer and recommend books to them (and they have a voucher to spend on the ones they are most keen on). We have sold so many of these experiences it’s incredible and we’re adding another new small but extremely funky room to host them in, but if we had infinite space we’d gear the whole shop around spaces for book conversation. [Nic]

What’s the hardest thing about running an independent bookshop?

Finding time to put into effect all of the ideas and all of the improvements you’d like to make. Although as an industry the hardest challenge we face is Amazon  – we, like many independents and many branches of chain bookshops, have a strategy and identity that differentiates us through service and experience from Amazon’s offer. But that doesn’t get away from the fact that they are a dominant and negative force in terms of high-street bookselling. [Nic]

Who is your favourite customer? 

It’s all about the kids! We have a soft spot for over enthusiastic youngsters who want to tell us about EVERY book they have ever read and for the kids like the chap who once wrote in our guest book “I love this bookshop and I thought I didn’t even like books!” [Danielle]

What’s the craziest situation you’ve ever had to deal with in the bookshop?

I once I had to chase a colossal dog across Bath after it got confused thinking its owner had left when in fact she was browsing upstairs. The dog won the race, but was recovered img_2329eventually (by someone else). [Nic]

What’s your best/first memory of visiting a bookshop?

I remember being a young girl and taken into my local bookshop by my mam. I tucked up in a corner with the next in the ‘Saddle Club’ series while my mam told me she was going off shopping and leaving me there. She was secretly just about in the bookstore but I remember being thrilled at being left alone in my dream place! [Danielle]

What would you like your customers to do differently?

We don’t require anything of our customers. They should feel free to enjoy our shop in whatever they choose, be that browsing in peace, popping in to place an order or spending hours talking with us about books. [Nic]

What would you like authors or publishers to do differently?

We are supported wonderfully by the vast majority of authors and publishers. If I had one general request for authors it would be to replace the links on personal or publisher-requested websites that points book buyers to Amazon with one that points to either their favourite high street bookshop, the “Find Your Local Bookshop” logo OR at least a website like which permits buyers to elect a high street bookshop to receive a small commission on all sales. As for publishers well really this now happens 95% of the time anyway these days but I just love it when a publisher supports us to the max whenever we back a title and start recommending it like crazy and understands that the books we do that with might not always be the ones they thought would be the big bestseller. Most publishers understand nowadays that each bookshop and its booksellers are different and it’s a joy when you form a close collaboration with a publisher to shout about a great book. [Nic]

What’s been the biggest surprise of owning an independent bookshop?

Compared to day 1 when we opened the door with zero experience and a bucketful of hope, it’s that the shop has been so popular and that after a decade it’s still so much fun to work in. [Nic]

What fairly unknown book do you think more people should know about?

We are really passionate about bringing back titles that deserve attention here at Mr B’s Mr-Sommer-front-cover
which is why we set up our publishing venture ‘Fox, Finch & Tepper’, finding books we adore and bringing them to a wider audience. So far we have published four books that are all classics in their own right. We all have our own personal favourite out of the four, but mine would have to be The Story of Mr Sommer by Patrick Suskind, which features stunning illustrations by Sempe. To have a look at all of the books we have a handy website though, www.foxfinch
. [Danielle]

What book are you currently recommending / hand-selling?

At the moment there are two books I am really passionate about and hand selling. One is non-fiction, a stunningly moving letter from Marceline Loridan-Ivens to her father, ‘But You Did Not Come Back’. They were both arrested and taken into Auschwitz when she was a young girl, she survived but her father did not. In her 80’s she has written this moving letter to her father, talking about their experience and what it was like afterwards, trying to move on without him. It is incredibly powerful and touching.

The second book is a young adult read called ‘Beautiful Broken Things’ by Sara Barnard. This is an absorbing story of two young women who struggle with the difficulties of trying to support a friend who has had a difficult past and has consequently suffered from mental health problems due to this. It feels incredibly well researched, sensitively handled and 61utePBswGL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_completely honest. [Danielle]

I have just read an incredible memoir by Patrick McGuinness that came out a couple of years ago called “Other People’s Countries”. It’s really a musing on the way that place evokes memory. You are taken around the Belgian town of Bouillon by the author whose mother’s family have lived there for generations and who still takes his own kids there himself each year. In short chapters with occasionally black and white photos you hear the stories the old fellows are telling one another in the cafes and you get a blend of funny and poignant anecdotes about the place and its inhabitants as well as Patrick’s light-touch entertaining philosophy on the passage of time and nostalgia. [Nic]

How can people visit / get in touch with you? 

If folk reading this would like to come and visit us they can find us at 14/15 John Street, Bath, BA1 2JL. We’re open nearly every day of the year. We also have our online shop which is handily always open and for chatter/photos of beautiful literary goodness our twitter handle is @mrbsemporium and Instagram mr_bs_emporium.

Read about Lutyens & Rubinstein in London
Read about Book-ish in Crickhowell
Read about The White Horse Bookshop in Marlborough
Read about the Little Ripon Bookshop in Ripon

ABA Book of the Year Award Finalist


I’m so delighted and flattered to announce that Our Endless Numbered Days is a finalist in the ABA (American Booksellers Association) 2016 Indies Choice Book Awards.

The finalists were chosen for each category by six ABA member booksellers, and Our Endless Numbered Days was selected with five others for the Book of the Year: Adult Debut category.

Independent bookstores are wonderful, magical places. Because each book will have been hand-selected you know all of them are jewels just waiting to be discovered. And if an independent bookseller presses a particular book into your hands, you know it will come recommended from the heart. If you have an independent bookstore in your town, use it, treasure it.

ABA member booksellers across America have until 6th April to vote for their favourite. Keep your fingers crossed for Our Endless Numbered Days. The winner will be announced on 13th April.

Here is the ABA announcement with all the categories and finalists.