A slight detour

I started this as a facebook post but… well you know me, I do go on….

A bit of context, I’m away from the bookshop at the moment, last week I helped Trish with the opening of her brand new Childrens Bookshop in Greystones Ireland (@Halfwayupbooks).

This is my job… I go and get to see new bookshops open all over the world and teach them to use our book selling software (Bertline, Bertram Books, little plug), ridiculous right? Its rare I’m away for more than 4 days but this month has gone crazy. 2 new bookshops (@BBBookshop in November) and 5 existing shops. I’m really looking forward to Blue Bear in Farnham, they have been friends since before we opened and even visited when we were a building site 

These are just the ones I’m doing. My colleague has been out with Blue House Bookshop in York and Limestone Books in Settle. Bookshops are quite the thing at the moment don’t you know?

So now I’m in Letterkenny, Co.Donegal, for my next 2 shops on a rare, even when I’m home, day off. Ok, I may have done some work but it would bore the pants of you if I included it! Anywho… this was the post I was preparing…

Well that was quite the adventure! Had to really force myself out on my “day off”. Would have been really easy to stay in my (upgraded penthouse) hotel room all day but would have kicked myself not to see some of this beautiful part of Ireland. Googled beautiful Donegal and chose the one with 4.9 rating. Mount Errigal, highest peak in the north. 35 mins drive away. Sweet! Off I pop then

Thought I’d pop over, maybe walk up it a bit and enjoy the view. The drive over was incredible and I had to stop for photos both on the way there and back.

Locals warned me the walk started in a bog. Yes it did! About 5 steps in my boot sunk beyond the shin and my hands followed. Absolutely covered in black gunk. I considered turning back then and there. Reconsidered and used some of my water to wash myself off. This happened a few times but I just wanted to get to a nice spot and sit and contemplate. As mountains often do though it kept teasing me with “just this next ridge” The place was deserted. I did meet a few lovely people including a couple of Irish gents at least twice my age who offered me words of encouragement.

Despite thinking I was having a stroke at one point (melodramatic headache due to not “taking it easy” as the gents suggested) I did not turn back. The view was too tempting. There were more hands and knees moments (Scarfel Pike this is not!) and generous consumption of sausage rolls and bacon fries, it rained… a bit, it got windy… a lot but it felt relatively safe.

When I reached the top all I wanted to do was talk to Leanne. I spent a wonderful 30 minutes on my own looking out over all of Donegal, the Atlantic ocean, the stunning cliffs and beaches of the coast and the entire mountain range. A truly enriching and tranquil experience and almost certainly better than the 4 walls of my hotel room. Signal up there was excellent so I got straight on whatsapp and chatted to Leanne for a bit.

I may have been up there on my own but Leanne, the kids and the shop were with me for a short while. Pesky customers interrupted us before I could give Leanne the full tour of the range but here’s a couple of snaps of us chatting,  look how happy she is to see my stupid face! That’s what I pay my money for.

What cracked me up next was the whatsapp from our youngest 3,  proudly getting on with their contribution to making the cogs turn on all this… dinner!  Triumphant HumDrum dinner.

 

If I have to be away from them on such an important week for the shop I may as well make it count eh? I think I did that.


This week for me will be filled with training booksellers in 2 ex Easons branches, installing hardware in their huge shops and getting to know them, persuading them that I’m not the IT nerd they expect me to be. The best thing a bookseller can say to me on leaving (and sometimes do) is “I’m so glad you’re booky”

This week for Leanne will see Zeb Soanes (of BBC and Gaspard the Fox fame) visit and read Monday, adding to our James Mayhew wall illustrations, packed out Halloween events all week and then MP Clive Lewis reading on Friday!

 

You have no idea how exciting this all is for our fledgling bookshop! I can’t lie, I do wish I was there. But I also love the opportunities my job gives me to see the world and spread the Bookshop love and let’s face it, I have the best customers in the world! I did opt not to come back between bookshops, having Greta Thunbergs book fresh in my head, how could I fly back unnecessarily?

I’m so grateful to have a partner that is fulfilling my dream of owning a vibrant community focused bookshop in the centre of the best city in England… in my absence! Every day she stuns me with something new that the shop has achieved.

I can’t wait to be home but to anyone else who travels for work, make it count! Go the extra mile, literally! Take the detour. Visit the local bookshop (preferably) or find something to bring back with you in your heart. Even if it’s just a lovely conversation with someone, I fully understand not everyone wants to climb a mountain on their day off!

💚

Bookbugs on tour

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!

Dropping the baby

Fourteen years ago I gave birth to twins, Lily and Grace and along with the hard work, excitement, exhaustion and complete bewilderment, came the moment when I had to look after the new babies on my own. I had to try and find my own routine, remember to feed them and try not forget where I left them.

Five days ago I gave birth to a new baby, Bookbugs and Dragon Tales and yesterday Daddy’s Paternity Leave ended and I was left holding the baby once again and trying very hard not to drop it.

Dan and I are a partnership in every sense of the word. We always say that together we make one complete human adult and that has seen us through most things. We fill in the gaps in each others knowledge, personalities and housekeeping skills and know each other so well that we can pre-empt where those gaps might be and we seem to get away with it. It hasn’t been difficult to find joy in even the toughest moments of this whole process because together, I know we can do anything.

But, now he has gone back to his proper job and I’m in charge. Half a human adult running a great big bookshop. But what a bookshop it is.

The last two days have been wonderful. I have made new friends – parents, grandparents, teachers, illustrators, authors and curious passers by. It’s a new company policy that if you wrote or illustrated a book that we stock you MUST sign it. Huge thanks to Alexander Gordon Smith, Karl Newson and Matt Robertson who have all pretended not to mind.

We are feeling very cool with our new showbiz pals, press coverage and general excitement but the most amazing people I have met over the last 2 days, have been the children. I’ve held babies galore and haven’t dropped any of them, young people have told me long stories about their favourite books (and also their dinosaurs and mermaids and fortnite outfits and cars and unicorns…) and excited future booksellers have scanned their own books and taken money from their parents. They have been a delight in every way. And so polite.

My favourite thing happened yesterday. A little boy came in at 10am and his mum bought him a Rabbit and Bear Book which he had chosen (always let them choose even if you don’t agree with the choice). Off they went. At 4pm they came back. His mum explained that he had barely eaten his lunch because he was so engrossed in his book and had nearly finished it.They had returned for the next book in the series. How wonderful! I asked him if he would mind writing a review for us so we could display it on our review tree and he happily agreed. I received it last night. I was so pleased. A little boy had read almost two books in a day and written a lovely review in the Summer Holidays. That stuff is magical.

And that is how its been and long may it continue.

I know that I have made mistakes with the till and still struggle not to say ‘our adult books are downstairs’ (particularly unfortunate given the excellent headline pairing with our front page coverage in the local press) but the customers have been incredible. Patient and understanding and seemingly almost as in love with the shop as we are. It has been a joy to meet so many wonderful and interesting people who are spending on average half an hour browsing, reading and chatting. This is my job now. And I love it. Sometimes I might drop the baby but I won’t mean to and I will always kiss it better.

The final countdown (duh duh derrrr duh)

It’s late on Sunday evening and I have only just had a chance to sit down and blog about the incredible weekend we have had. My back is aching, my brain is buzzing and I’m tired to my very bones. But I’m happy. WE HAVE A BOOKSHOP!

As you can imagine it’s been a bit of a blur but here is a potted diary of what has been going on in the Bookbugs and Dragon Tales World.

Thursday – 2 days until the Grand Opening

The shop was full of cardboard, bags and assorted things that we had bought and could no longer remember what for. The coffee machine was finally installed and the amazing Poppy and Sally were trained and cracking on with all the things that needed to be done.

Meanwhile, I was at the Walk-in Centre with an ankle three times its normal size, pain like a million shards of glass stabbing me and no idea what I had done. Just as an aside, my mum was a nurse before she retired and as such, I am very much a ‘walk it off’ kind of girl. I used to get a badge from my school every year for 100% attendance, so the very fact that I was seeking medical assistance at all shows how much pain I was in. So, anyway it turns out I had inexplicably developed gout! I suspect it was caused by all the port I drank at the Hunting Lodge…Obviously, despite the pain, this caused great hilarity in the shop with various assembled ‘friends’ complaining that they had developed the plague and other oldy timey ailments.

We finally left the shop at 2.30am with Dan insisting that he wanted to do a ‘soft opening’ for an hour the next day and me insisting it wasn’t possible.

Friday – 1 day until The Grand Opening

We arrived bright (as bright as 4 hours sleep allows) and early at our lovely shop that still looked like it sold cardboard rather than books and started to put the finishing touches in place. The bank card machine person had seen us and verified our existence and we were assured that we would be up and running in time for the big day. Myself and my big, sore foot were thrilled.

The day passed and while we never stopped working, nothing seemed to be getting done. At 4.30 I think Dan finally accepted that there would be no soft opening for us. We had invited our friends and family to a ‘private view’ at 6.30 pm and we had filled our office with prosecco and crisps! Everything was still in uproar at 5.30 when, in a way that has happened throughout this whole process, a huge group of random friends turned up and asked if they could help and help they did. In what can only be described as the best version of 60 Minute Makeover I have ever seen, by 6.30 we were a shop ready to take visitors. It was incredible.

We passed the evening chatting and thanking people and feeling as proud as punch as they admired our beautiful shop and beautiful books. We did a speech and gave out gifts, but even so, this didn’t even go a tiny bit towards showing how grateful we are to have so many wonderful people around us.

Too much has happened since then to fit in this post so we will do a seperate post to cover the weekend we have had…Oooh, cliffhanger…

Kind

The last few days have been exhausting and the shop is a hive of activity. We have had well-wishers and workers and everything is in chaos. But it’s starting to look like a shop – with a counter, art, tiling and places to display our wares. We are now into ordering of things and I’m starting to feel a little bit like I’m drowning. It’s all very overwhelming for me but Dan is like an oasis of calm. I’ve had scary thoughts, like ‘will it be worth it?’ and ‘what if we fail?’

But all of those thoughts were quelled today. A gentleman walked into the carnage of the shop and asked if he could look at a book we had in the window – Kind. As he looked at the book he explained that he had just lost his wife and she had insisted that, instead of sympathy cards, everyone must write an act of kindness that they had received and one that they had done. When he saw it in the window, he felt that it was fate. We talked for a long time and he told me all about his wife. We talked about loss and how children’s books are an amazing way to process grief in a simple and straight forward way. We cried and hugged and ordered the book.

I haven’t stopped thinking about this man, navigating his way through a life that is so different to what it was and how just when he needed it most, a book gave him a sign. And this is the reason for it all – for all of the stress and worry and hard work and dust. The reason is because books matter and people matter and kindness always matters.

Ramblings in the waiting room – By Leanne

Another week has passed and we still haven’t signed the lease. We are assured that everyone is chasing everyone and I’m hoping all of that chasing will end with a set of keys in our (now constantly) sweaty palms. Land has been searched, asbestos has been considered, plans have been submitted and the planning portal semi-successfully set up. On a side note, renting a Grade II listed building is an adventure all of it’s own. Charming and very bookshopish facades and features, and a truck load of confusing misinformation! Can I have a sign/ramp/A Board/Some help, please?! 
 
The scary waiting has become so much more scary, as I find myself now 2 weeks away from being gainfully unemployed. Employed by a company that has kept me safe and warm for the last 17 years, doing a job that I’m pretty good at (or at least have perfected the art of faking being good at) and friends that have seen me through the highest highs and the lowest lows. 
 
I’ve worked since I was 14, stopping only briefly to pop a set of twins out, and if I’m honest, those 6 months that I had ‘off’ were not the relaxing Calvin Klein ad I hoped it would be. I haven’t even really thought about what a wrench I will find it leaving the place – Dan and I even got married there. All of this is made so much more difficult because at the time of writing, we are only an online bookshop.
 
So, the waiting continues. Watch this space. And in the meantime, why not order some books or follow us on Instagram.

Bookshop Blog – Opening a Bookshop – By Leanne

Preparing to open a bookshop is exciting. And then it’s not. And then it is again. And then it’s not.

The process so far has been an absolute roller-coaster, but it has taught us patience. There are so many things you aren’t prepared for and so you constantly must put your ideas on hold and deal with every day life. There is a lot of waiting.

We put an offer in on the proposed location 10 weeks ago and it was pretty much accepted straight away. How thrilling! If anything, we were worried that we would have to pay rent on a property we couldn’t use as the earliest we would be able to open would be July. We needn’t have worried. Things move very slowly regarding this.

However, we feel like the end may be in sight and we can’t wait to launch everything we have into this new adventure.

So, while we don’t have a property yet, we do have merch and that fills us with unimaginable joy.