Sally’s Bookshop Blog

“It must be great to work in a bookshop” is what most people say in response to discovering that’s what I “do”. To be completely frank with you… it’s the absolute best and I love it. Bookshops are lovely places to be anyway but throw in the magic of Bookbugs and Dragon Tales and I can’t believe this is actually my job. I am so lucky.

Now bear with me, I’m about to get a little bit sentimental. Remember Christmas morning as a child? The anticipation before diving head-first into the long-anticipated gifts and goodies? Remember unveiling those gifts and the leap of joy in your stomach at the revelation of the wonder inside?  Every morning we get to relive that feeling a little with our daily delivery of books. Especially this time of year. Some exquisitely illustrated, some poignant and resonating, some rich with nostalgia, the list is endless.  Booking new stock into the shop takes longer than it probably should as we all stand around cooing at books like New Babies.

 When a person asks you your favourite anything it’s such a difficult question to answer. Books especially, I find. There’s the books that Mum or Dad used to read snuggled up on chilly nights, or the novel you were reading when you were on the most incredible journey. Then there’s the books that help you through the tough times, finding peace and solace in the pages. Working in a bookshop my favourites change pretty much daily.

Picture books are brilliant. I LOVE new picture book deliveries and feel a real emotional connection with them. Probably because of the lovely hours spent reading them with my own children. We’ve just emerged from the picture book phase and entered the wondrous realms of the chapter book. The adventures are exciting and filled with considerably more peril than the picture books which means we CAN’T PUT THE BOOK DOWN and bedtime is elongated somewhat. But it’s worth it.

It’s time to try and choose some favourites I suppose. It might be a long list, but I’ll keep the waffle to a minimum. Did you ever read Shirley Hughes? The time I spent getting lost in her exquisite illustrations as a child, imagining myself building grass-houses and tumbling down hills when reading “Out and About.” And “Dogger!” Such a simple story, the pit of sadness when he’s lost, and the absolute joy when he’s found and reunited with his owner (sorry for spoilers if you haven’t read Dogger).  Shirley Hughes’ books are such a childhood classic; gentle, imaginative and beautiful. They give me a feeling that I can only describe as ‘going to Grandmas House’ brimming with warmth and hugs.

I fell head over heels for a picture book that came in last week. “Dreams of Freedom” written in association with Amnesty international. An exploration of human rights; the right to have the freedom to feel safe, to have ideas, to have freedom from fear. Using powerful words from inspirational people and placing them alongside stunning artworks from illustrators including Alexis Deacon, Oliver Jeffers and Jackie Morris. Such an incredible book with an important message. And ALL the royalties from the sale of the book will be donated to Amnesty International. I’m a little bit too attached. I want to hide it in a cupboard and not sell it and keep it forever. In fact, I think I will.

There are SO many books, one I must mention; “The Heart in the Bottle” by Oliver Jeffers. I’d not discovered this little book until I started my bookselling career. This small but special book is a bit of a lump-in-the-throat-maker, looking at a child’s loss of a special person. The child protects her heart from the pain of grief by placing it in a bottle, and she grows up. She meets another little girl, who is captivated in the magic that envelops childhood, and its only then she is able to take her heart out of the bottle (Tear down the cheek, fuzzy little glow in the heart).

I suppose I could just tell you, quickly, about “Does it Fart?” by Nick Caruso, Dani Rabaiotti and Axel Griffiths. Any books about poo, farts, bums etc are popular, but this book in particular is one of our bestsellers. I mean, who doesn’t want to know if a Whale farts? Read this (children’s) book and you will always be armed with interesting, but possibly not entirely appropriate dinner-party conversation.

Chapter books! Love LOVE chapter books at the moment. The legendary Roald Dahl, what an absolute joy to re-visit his books with the kids. Then there’s Harry Potter; after a couple of years we’ve finally finished ALL the Harry Potter books and our son loved them to pieces. His favourite author, however, is absolutely David Walliams. We have some books and some on audio; the belly laughs that boy produces when listening to David Walliams are just phenomenal and completely contagious.  Me and my son who’s eight are reading the “Wizards of Once” trilogy by Cressida Cowell at the moment. We’re on the last book. Its super exciting. A magical world of wizards and warriors, a voyage of self-discovery and courage and a battle against petrifying witches who were thought to be extinct. These books are so well written and exciting with brilliantly thought out characters, each one with a superbly distinct personality. A little confession, there have been a couple of occasions where I might have carried on reading after my son fell asleep. Sometimes you just don’t want to wait till the next bedtime before finding out if the witches are defeated in battle for goodness sake.


Ugh, I just love books. And my job. And now all the CHRISTMAS books are here, the windows are beautiful and festive. The EDP have included us in their “Favourite Christmas Shop Window in Norwich” poll. If you haven’t seen them yet, pop down and have a look. They are stunning and you won’t help but get a few festive butterflies in the tummy. And how amazing to be noticed and included on the list anyway! In a way I feel like we’ve already won (but please do vote for us because we would really like to win in real life).

Very excited about the next few weeks, craft fairs, elf workshops, clay sculpting to name a few of the things going on. Plus, our regular sessions. If you want to do something super lovely with the little ones, we do Bedtime Stories on the first Thursday of the month. It’s the cutest thing, snuggling up all cosy in the bookshop drinking hot chocolate in our jammies and listening to stories. And next Thursday it will all be Christmassy stories. I just cannot wait, never mind the children, it’s me who’s the most excited.

Looking through our selection of Christmas books at home, I decided that they’re a bit babyish and I just HAD to replace them with some lovely, new, age appropriate Christmas books. I love having a selection in a basket under the Christmas tree to read every night. It feels like because we only read these books at Christmas, they’re a tradition in their own right and the kids look forward to seeing them every year. I hope they approve of the selection I’ve got this year (pictures below) which are currently secreted on top of the wardrobe in my bedroom. Can’t wait to get them down in the run-up to Christmas and snuggle with my little people to read them with the Christmas lights on. Such precious moments.

Signing off for now, I might ask nicely if I can do a follow up about Adult and Young adult fiction as I feel like I’ve waffled enough. So, thank you for reading, and come see us soon!


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!


Time Flies

Where to pick up from? I really don’t know… the last month has been crazy which is reason 1 for the lack of a blog post… it’s not like we ever have nothing to say, but singling out the things that might interest you as a reader is something else altogether. It always amazes me when people say they read the blog, let alone love it. I feel a responsibility to keep up the standard!

So, we finished up at the BA conference. What a glorious thing that was. I am so insanely proud of Leanne for how she is morphing from an exceptional lecturer to an inspirational bookseller and business owner. Sometimes, when I’m in the shop listening to her talking (especially to teachers) about key stage this and CPD that and giving spot on recommendations to parents and then she’s arranging events and book packs and PAYE and VAT and then she’ll whip up a clay hedgehog autumn craft workshop from somewhere, I’m wondering whether I was ever really needed. But let me tell you this… when she got up and spoke in front of all our peers at the BA conference I thought I was going to explode. I had to look away at points.. not out of nerves but my little heart couldn’t cope and there was every chance I would let out a little emotional whelp and ruin it all!

My conference was how it always is but to a multiple of 10x. I’ve been in the Book industry a long time now and been on some incredible trips with some incredible booksellers, I’ve visited what feels like every indie bookseller in the country and because I often spend 3 days with them I get to know them really well… you know, that hug or kiss stage of familiarity. So of course… every face is familiar and I do spend a lot of time worrying I won’t put the right name to the face or worse… bookshop to face. What’s even worse is when someone you’ve only spoke to on the phone says “Dan, it’s xxxx” and unless I catch that early I could be in a 20 minute conversation the whole time thinking desperately… which bookshop!?!”. The funniest one is always “Hi Dan, it’s Dave… from the bookshop (you have no idea how many bookshop owners are called David!) Having Leanne with me helped all of this… we developed a little routine for dealing with my poor memory which involved coded hand squeezes and masked bad introductions. I think we mostly got away with this! Of course the cat is well and truly out of that bag now.

So… how is the shop going? I refer you back to the Fear post. It doesn’t really subside. We seem to have settled into something of a routine of just making our arbitrary target most days then smashing it Saturday. It’s lovely to have other booksellers to bounce off of though. I spent a long time the other day chewing the fat with Sarah and Peter Brook of Brook’s Pinner, who are 15 months into their own bookselling adventure. They had some great advice which we have adopted which is to make a note on our cashing up sheet of any reason/weather/event that might caused a good or bad day. Simple but genius. Case in point… Climate change protest on a friday – we thought “Ahh yes, city will be full of people” reality – it may have been but they certainly didn’t want to shop! Result – 2nd worst day since opening! Next case – City centre Mall re-brands as “Castle Quarter” (literally just opened up some empty units as a games arcade) and payday – Best Saturday since opening. Having all this information and being able to look back on it next year with a bit of insight, can only help when planning for other events. – Am I kidding myself that we’ll have time for this level of analysis one day?

I think the most exciting thing to have happened to us in the last month is this glorious illustration on our illustrators wall.It’s been a month of wonderful experiences but when Leanne told me Chris Moulds Publisher had been in touch, he was in Norwich for a schools event and wanted to pop in…, WANTED TO POP IN! The minute this happens in your own shop it’s hard to describe how you feel. Someone noticing you in a crowd and saying I choose you. I’d loved the new edition of Ted hughes The Iron Man and tweeted as much.







 I wasn’t about to miss this and drove the 10 minutes from Bertrams to the shop (which to be fair I do most lunch times now). It’s also important to stress that Leanne said he looked like Hugh Jackman so my supervision was also necessary. Chris (we can call him that now because he’s our showbiz buddy – also it’s his name) spent 3 hours in our shop and created what can only be described as a masterpiece on our illustrator wall. I mean, the guy really must love what he does because we literally only paid him in Coffee and conversation. What a conversation – it lifted all our spirits. Sometimes I just sit in the comfy chair opposite and smile. We still drag people into that room to show it and our James Mayhew Gaspard off… it’s officially our baby board room but regardless of if you have a child or not, you’re going in there!

I’m resigned to the fact this is going to be something of a novel. So much has happened and I don’t want to miss anything important. Maybe a list is the way forward – this will be just off the top of my head and not in chronological or order of importance.

  • We did our 1st outside event – Sent one of our Theatre practitioners – Poppy – To delivery her Spoken word poetry session to some awesome young women. She came back buzzing 
  • We had our 1st Book club meeting – Time flew by and the chat never stopped – Leanne did photographic geographically accurate printouts and a playlist from the time of the book (Little Fires everywhere). 10 people came and Prosecco and cheese was consumed. I loved being in our basement for this, it gave it a great atmosphere.
  •  We went to our first regional BA meeting at the brilliant “Aldeburgh Bookshop” – Hob nobbed with booksellers from all over East Anglia and brilliant writers – I even got to bend Meryl Halls (BA God) ear when I picked her up from a local town.
  • Events in the shop have been up and down – we don’t ask people to sign up in advance which means often we can have 1 person turn up for a drama session – 1 on 1 drama is no where near as much fun as 5 kids interacting. We’re learning and maybe we’ll look at term signups so that the temptation of a lay-in becomes less for would be actors
  • We CAN NOT get spoken word poetry for teenagers off the ground! – Who’d have thought it would be so hard to get teenagers motivated? We won’t give up on this though because the session leader Poppy is so cool and passionate about it. We’ve all booked to see Kate Tempest together at the end of the month, that will inspire us… I think some secret fliers there may be called for.
  • Craft is my favourite class in the shop. We do 2 sessions and Sally is full of amazing ideas. Need to get more people coming more regularly because it feels like we could really get known for these.

  • I’ve been doing some acting! Don’t even ask how I managed to fit this in. My character got to read from the script which really helped!

  • We sent out our 1st mailchimp mailing… the sweaty monkey paw graphic did not help the nerves thank you very much! Over 850 emails sent to all our most valuable customers in one go… what could go wrong? Seems to have been ok. 80 bounces so if you didn’t get one and wanted one let us know… but also check that junk mail!
  • I nearly got a work trip to The Maldives! I had a demo booked in and everything… basically if I can find an English Language bookshop anywhere in the world that wants our software/bookseller service I get to go! I’m in the lucky position to be chief guru of the best bookseller software so it’s not a hard sell. This is how crazy good my job is and 1 reason why I would hesitate to ever give it up. Unfortunately The Maldives didn’t show but I am now teetering on the edge of China.
  • My month is mostly going to be spent away. 6 Irish shops. Special mention to 2 new bookshops I am helping open. “Halfway up the stairs” in Greystones, Ireland, opens their doors for the 1st time on Friday (if their floor dries!) and Blue Bear Bookshop in Farnham will open in November – They have become kindred spirits, having visited our shop and shared a drink or two at the conference. I leave tomorrow and won’t see the shop again for 11 days. *sobs*

  • The irrepressible Cathy Fiddy has created our Halloween display. She spent 2 days with us, 1st clearing down and then building up. Her imagination and enthusiasm for the shop means we can just leave her too it with complete trust that she will perform miracles. Everyone stops outside the window and takes pictures which is lovely, then often they get press-ganged into the shop by a relative or staff member… it’s quite the racket.

  • We’ve had things made for us! Customers and colleagues have taken it upon themselves to knit, crochet and craft us bookshop characters. I like to think the space we have created inspires kindness and this is how it has manifested itself to us.



  • Oi! Frog is coming to see us tomorrow! This is our 1st of what I hope will be many outside theatre company visits. We’ve bought up all Bertrams stock of the Oi range. Hope we get some visitors!

It’s getting on now so, despite not fully unloading everything I’m going to spare you the rest. So I will sign off with 2 more incredible things. 2 very different but equally wonderful things that have filled our hearts and re-enforce everything we know about why we did this crazy thing.

Firstly our nearest fellow Childrens bookshop owner and bookseller extraordinaire Marilyn and Simon from Norfolk Childrens Book Centre invited us round for dinner, soaked us in Gin and Pizza and imparted a whole evenings worth of Bookseller knowledge on us. Norfolk being Norfolk we knew each other already but it was so lovely to make it official. We laughed pretty much the whole night and really bonded. This industry is like no other. Everyone pretty much has each others back. There is a grander purpose. To share stories and a love of reading. I’m so excited for the future of what we do.

…and then there was this. You’ve read the “Kind” blog, if not, read that first. What happened on our return from the conference was this…

(Kind) Alistair called us on the Tuesday of our return and asked if we would be in the shop on the Friday because he had a gift for the shop and would be bringing a few friends in for the presentation! Of course this got our minds racing. We waited anxiously for Friday to come, I had the day off and made sure I was at the shop. Alistair arrived with his rather cool friend and a few others. We lifted the cover on the rather large present to find the most stunning reading chair underneath, specially commissioned by Alistair, painted by Joe (the cool one), a romany artist with Thea (Alistairs wifes name) the listening dragon. Alistair had written this rather beautiful story to go with the chair, there were a LOT of tears of joy that day. There is more to this story but safe to say we feel very lucky to have Alistair in our lives.


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!

My Parents Opened A Bookshop

My Parents Opened A Bookshop (And that’s pretty cool)
You’ve all read Dan and Leanne’s blog posts about their journey of opening a bookshop and from (one of) their daughters perspective, its pretty awesome. I’m 22 years old and have spent the last year or so worrying that I should have it all figured out, but watching my parents following their dreams at 40 has made me realise that its cool to not have your future decided yet.

I’ve watched the bookshop unfold with Dan and Leanne since the beginning, since they came home drunk one night with an idea of a bookshop, to collecting the front door keys, and then opening the doors to the public. Its been amazing seeing kids reactions to everything – from the drawings on the wall to the amazingly chosen books on the shelves – and to be fair, I feel the exact same every time I enter the shop.

Leanne wrote a post called “Dropping The Baby” and with that, I think its fair to say that the shop has become another sibling to myself and my brothers and sisters. Its our baby as well. Something we want to help grow and nourish and support as it grows. Something we want to see everyday and hold it up when things get tough for our parents – or on the odd hour that they might need a sandwich break. We were all excited for its arrival and to see everyone’s reactions to it, yet still holding our breaths that people would love it as much as we do.

Bookbugs and Dragon Tales has brought us all together. Every time I enter the shop, one of my siblings is there helping out in any way they can. Whether its making coffee or stacking books or cleaning the office, someone is there to keep an eye on the baby under the watchful eyes of our parents.

Our parents might be scared to “drop the baby”, but luckily they have 5 other babies who will always be there to help pick it up, change the nappy and support it all that we can.


You can read more from Chloe at her own blog :

Project Fear

We’re now a week in, well 10 days actually, and reality has started to kick back in after a glorious 7 days of smashing our targets, meeting lots of fantastic people in the shop and just generally being in love with the place and all it represents. Then, we have the hottest August Bank Holiday
weekend since ever. Hurrah! I hear the Facebook friends exclaim, Yippee! “lets go to the beach/Park/Pub/[insert generic sunny activity here]”. Pretty much let’s do anything but go shopping. Too right! We, on the other hand, opened our doors 11-4 Sunday and Monday.
People did come, and we did hit our targets (just) and sent emails and organised the shop and read to children and did all the lovely things so what should we be complaining about? Nothing. We’re just very “Small Picture” right now and it’s allowed the doubt to creep in. We have literally nothing to compare things to but the week before and the week before we were in the papers and on the Radio and all over social media and exciting and new and somewhere to explore. So what if that was it? What if we were wrong? What if Norwich doesn’t need and want us? What if (and this is a huge one) our Business plan was just numbers plucked out of thin air and we got them all wrong.
Business plans are ridiculous. It’s ALL guess work. We didn’t know how many coffees or slices of cake we would sell, we didn’t know the electricity bill, we didn’t even know how many books we would stock. You just plug in the numbers, find they turn green and submit it to the people who can
pull them apart and tell you you are in cloud cuckoo land. They didn’t tell us that so we moved on to the next stage. Now we know, but we don’t really because we have a crazy week 1 to use as our base. Not real world stuff. It’s all a worry, I can tell Leanne is worried too. We talk about it but what can we really say? The rational things we say are:
  • The sun is not good for sales: If the whole city is empty of course we will be quiet. Don’t panic and get other things done. In fact, booksellers are very susceptible to weather. Heavy snow on the wrong day in December can ruin your whole year. I remember this happening a couple of years ago.
  • We haven’t started our events schedule yet: This is a massive part of our business. All along our aim was to fill the shop with Arty/Booky/Dramary fun. When this starts (September 1st, Schedule published) the place will transform as will the routine of each day. The Events are popular – We have had a fantastic response to the event schedule, people will come. That’s a relief! Poor Leanne went through hell compiling the email and then her phone malfunctioned and moved all the BCC addresses into CC. She was nearly in tears about this but people have been very understanding about it thankfully.
  • We’re not known for our Coffee and Cake yet: It’s going to take a while for people to realise we don’t just serve any old coffee and cake, we have deliberately got the best and hopefully word will get around that we don’t just sell books and we are a place you can pop into for a mid morning coffee or a lunchtime treat.
  • People love us, they really love us: Conceited? Deluded? Living in a bubble? Quite possibly all of those things but we’ve had such lovely, heartfelt messages and reviews both on Twitter and Facebook that I think we’ve got something right. We’ve made a thing of showing (off) the shop to anyone that hasn’t been in before. We know people will find their way around but we like doing it! I also like to make sure no one misses the fact we do coffee and grown up books. It’s a way to start a conversation and both Leanne and I love to talk!
  • Loyalty is working – We’ve distributed 400 Loyalty cards already. You get £5 back for every £50 and that seems to be just about right. There is very little margin on books compared to other retail sectors so to give away another 10% is a risk but it’s something we believe in. Let’s face it, Amazon is going to beat us on price sometimes, not as often as they used to and it will be much closer with our Loyalty card. Customers just need a reason to come back and sometimes good service doesn’t fill the gap
Being back in my day job is strange. It’s lucky that I am in the book industry and deal with people wanting to open bookshops a lot, because it means I get to talk about my favourite subject all the time. I really want to develop what I do at Bertrams to utilise this experience. I find myself talking for hours to prospective customers about much more than just systems now. We have always helped with opening stock but I feel I can talk with much more authority about it now. I can advise on lease negotiations, credit card machines, shelving, Batch, Pubeasy, suppliers, the whole shebang. It’s lovely to be able to give a bit more than just stock control and till knowledge. Tomorrow I will be giving my own shops stock list to a new children’s bookshop in Ireland and I am honoured that they asked. This is the industry I will always be in.
It’s hard not being at the shop but at least I am not sat in an office counting widgets or telling people to reboot. I’m in the heart of the indie booksellers world, I get to go to all the conferences, I get to talk to all the best booksellers, I get to hear about the latest and greatest books. If you’re going to supplement your Bookshop with another job, there is no better job to do it with! I have always loved my job and, despite the distractions, I am finding I love it more now. Of course this does mean I miss out on some fun. Today, for instance, I’m being Whatsapped pictures of the great James Mayhew starting off our illustrator wall with an amazing Gaspard the Fox sketch. Apparently him and Leanne are now Besties. I, on the other hand, stayed late trying to get another bookshops receipt printer working. Glamorous stuff!
I started this by explaining some of my fears. I imagine every single business owner on the planet goes through these things, I just find it therapeutic to put it down in writing and also hope that one day I can look back on this and laugh. Or that someone else can read this and find some solace in the fact it’s totally normal to have doubts. Just remember what makes you unique is you. Your ideas, your passion, your (ridiculous over) enthusiasm for your books and everything else that makes your business yours.
I wrote this yesterday and sat on it. Today we had the most incredible day in the shop and the world is full of roses again. This roller coaster won’t stop and I don’t want it to. Tomorrow Leanne is hosting the National Writers Centre Podcast at the shop (if you know Leanne you will know she is a podcast freak so this is exciting) and I am showing one of my oldest friends and author (very boring data books, you wouldn’t want to read them, I do however know he reads my blog) and his family around the shop.
There are joyous things in every day, but this picture sums up why we really love it.

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.

Opening Day

OK, the observant amongst you will know that our opening day was 5 days ago now… So guess what…We… Got… Busy!!! Who’d have thunk it? Planning and building a bookshop is hard work but it is NOTHING compared to the sheer exhaustive adrenaline rush of welcoming people through those newly opened doors and waiting for the 1st verdict. Oh my god, it was terrifying! I’m not going to lie, we both felt sick and one of us was! Naming no names but it wasn’t me.

We have literally poured our entire hearts contents into this dream. This wild and crazy dream that only crept up on us over Christmas 2018, became a gentle breeze until March, kind of blew us off balance until July… and then we got the keys… that’s when the hurricane started and did not lay off, even during our holiday, until Saturday 17th August… then, 9.32am Saturday morning, we opened the doors and then there was an eerie kind of quiet.

What you need to understand is that 3 weeks earlier I had opened a bookshop for (who I now consider) a friend in Edinburgh to queues of people… Where was our queue? Well, to be honest I wouldn’t know because at that very significant moment in my life I had my head in another mans crotch trying desperately to make him Gruffalo ready… Those of you who know me know I know a thing or two about character suits, let me tell you this for FREE… You need an engineering degree to get the Gruffalo ready to meet the public! Our grand plan for the Gruffalo to open our doors at 9.30 on the dot was replaced by 2 sweaty men getting very intimate in a small office used the previous night as an emergency dumping ground for all the toot we had to hide for our party. There was ALL kinds of hazards in that room including, randomly, a bucket of water, bottles of Prosecco, paint pots and “Helpful” teenagers.

Oh how we laughed! You know when you wish you’d tried something on you just bought before you go out in it? That.

Well, finally I made my way upstairs holding Gruffalo’s hand and gladly I did find a few expectant souls in the shop. There definitely wasn’t a queue but there were children excited about being in a Bookshop that clearly was created just for them.

I was too excited and having too many lovely chats with our new shop visitors to think about numbers but boy did we get busy! It was incredible and as the plaudits started rolling in for what we had created we started to see it again for ourselves. For so many weeks we had been under wallpaper, or paint, or sawdust, or boxes we had lost sight of what was rising from the ashes. All the time our dream was being built and it wasn’t really until that 1st child rushed into the toddler room and grabbed a book and exclaimed WOW that we really gained full sight of it again.

Needless to say we had one of the best days of our lives, leave aside the obvious births and marriage. Come 6pm, when we had finally said goodbye to our last customer/friend (I’m not sure which) Leanne and I sat at our new favourite place to sit, our coffee bar and took stock. We high fived. Of course. We kissed, we maybe shed a tear of joy. Then we started our new life. We tidied up, prepared the shop for the next day, and went home. And all that only took us all of 4 hours! We will have to get better at that.

There are a LOT of people we need to thank for getting us here and that’s what Friday night was about but for the Saturday alone we need to thank:

Julia Groves for supporting us and shouting about us to all her illustrator friends and then making our baby/toddler area a joy to be in on Saturday with her Animal Babies Series of books and her colouring skills

Macmillan Kids for sending the Gruffalo and making sure he wasn’t at all grumpy

Jai (Johnnie Jaffacake) for always supporting us in all our mad adventures and being at pretty much every one of our children’s landmark birthdays, our wedding and this.

The gangs (I didn’t know they travelled in gangs, I do now!) of Authors and illustrators who came out of curiosity and a love of bookshops and left us with such kind words

Lorraine for her terrible Face Painting! Which she undertook with 3 minutes notice but attacked with all the gusto she could muster and all the passion of Picasso!

Ade, who’s crotch I invaded for the sake of Julia Donaldson

…and Greg, who, not content with building our dream, continued to entertain and make the place a generally more interesting place throughout the day

..and of course Poppy and Sally who are our happy new Bookseller staff and dear dear friends.