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.