We have been open for 3 and a half weeks and I feel like we are settling into a routine. I still feel hopelessly behind and depending when you email me, I could respond in 5 minutes or 5 days. However, a natural flow has started to emerge and I’m feeling less like I’m fighting fires. We have a shop that people come to and seem to love, an events schedule that has small but ever growing numbers, positivity and kindness in abundance. So, just as things are seemingly bedding in, Dan and I disappear to the Booksellers Association Conference and disrupt that schedule, peace, flow and serenity.
As ever Poppy and Sally stepped into the breach and as their hearts are as entwined with Bookbugs as ours, we knew that our baby was safe. Super capable surrogate big sisters. So, we left without a worry and headed off to the bright lights of Birmingham!
Dan absolutely loves his (proper) job and especially meeting booksellers and seeing their excitement as they open their doors for the first time. I have always been familiar with the names of the great and the good within the bookselling world and have seen lots of pictures and heard lots of names. But as we arrived at Birmingham, I was face to face with lots of people I felt I knew but didn’t actually. It reminded me of a time at drama school (daaahling!) when, full of excitement in the first few days, I rushed up to a girl I recognised and enthusiastically said, “Hi, I know you! You’re from Norwich, aren’t you?” To which she replied, in a thick Geordie accent, “No, I’m from Byker Grove”. I was mortified and to this day cannot be trusted to behave normally around celebs. There is a story involving Jeff Goldblum that I’ll save for another blog.
So, day 1 of the BA Conference, I was veering dangerously close to Byker Grove territory, throwing my arms enthusiastically around people I had seen photos of, like they were my oldest friends. Luckily, on the whole, booksellers are a pretty cool and tactile bunch and didn’t seem to judge me. Phew! It seems that we blog and Instagram and twitter so much that they feel like they know me too.
I was scared. For my whole life I have had the fear that I will be ‘found out’. I felt this while teaching, parenting, driving, breathing. And bookselling is no different. Frankly, I’m winging it, like I’ve winged all of those other things. However, I have been reassured countless times over the weekend that we are all winging it but that things seep into our subconsciousness that mean we find that ultimately, we do know what we are doing. Or we learn how to pretend that we do.
The first event I attended was the First-Timers drinks where all of the newbies got together and had a few glasses of wine to limber us up. Lots of asides in this blog but it’s worth noting that I very rarely drink. This is for 2 reasons – 1. I hate to be hungover. Hangovers for me last 3 days and I feel guilty and tired for the entire time. 2. I am saucy. I am saucy when sober, but I can keep it in check. When my tongue is loosened by the Devil’s Wee, I think that I am charming and cheeky and delightful and that everyone should know the most intimate secrets I hold. I think I am a social butterfly, but I am, in fact, a dirty Homer Simpson. So, I stuck to the Coke after one drink with the other First-Timers. I made it through and onto the next round – a swanky dinner with 12 authors speaking sponsored by the Independent Alliance.
We were sat VERY close to the stage and were in touching distance of all of the wonderful speakers – including but not limited to Claudia Hammond, Lenny Henry and my personal favourite Dr Peter Lovett (The Dance Cure). It all went swimmingly and we hobbed and we nobbed the night away. I Ieft Dan still at it as I went to enjoy my hotel bed, ready for a full day of skills labs, publisher talks and my own, rather terrifying, bookseller picks presentation the next day.
We awoke bright and early and headed over to the conference. I was, as is my perpetual way, late so I missed a bit of the opening speeches, but Dan assures me they were great and then we were off to be moulded into the best booksellers we could be. First up, I attended a talk on Green Bookselling. We live in a world that desperately needs to find sustainable solutions and bookselling is no different. As we are a new shop, we were keen to do all we could to meet the BA’s Green Manifesto and as such, you will find recycled and recyclable wrapping paper, plantable greeting cards that grow into wildflowers and boxes that are reused and recycled. Even our Loyalty and Gift Cards are biodegradable and reusable.
Next up – Working with Schools. This was a session I was very much looking forward to, as we hope very much to be a part of the next generation of readers and writers and are super keen to work with as many schools as possible to make this happen. It really gave me food for thought and I happily filled my lovely notepad with scribbles about how we can do this.
The last session we attended was Bookselling Essentials where experienced booksellers told us the 10 things we needed to think about as we navigate this scary world. We were thoroughly heartened to see that we had done most of them – keeping our customers at the forefront, diversifying and having a lovely loyal team. We totally nailed the last one!
After this, we all headed back to the big room and listened to publishers telling us about the exciting new books that are headed our way. These were interspersed with 50 second presentations about a special book from 10 booksellers. One of them was me. No guesses which book I chose! Here’s what I said…
“I have been a bookseller for exactly 3 weeks, 2 days and 6 hours and I would like to share with you my vast knowledge and in particular my love for the book “Kind”… I went on to talk about the importance of the book to our shop and how kindness lives in the very foundations of the building. I don’t think I was too cheesy and people seemed to like it, there was even a few laughs and cheers.
Dan said he was proud. That made me happy. He then told me that he had agreed for me to be on the Children’s Bookshop Panel at the London Book Fair. That made me want to punch him. It’ll be good for a blog though!
To round off the day, there was an author dinner sponsored by Michael Joseph where I was within spitting distance of Jojo Moyes. I didn’t spit on her, but I did get her to sign her lovely new book and she complimented me on my dress. I maintained a huge level of professionalism and refrained from telling her it was £7.50 from Sainsburys. I’m really growing as a person.
And then we were home and back to our favourite place in the whole wide world. Our Bookbugs and Dragon Tales.
What an adventure this all is!