Sunday, 19 August 2018

Annual review #5: Still loving every moment of bookshopping

It's August, which can only mean one thing: The bookshop blog is five.

The time has flown, but looking back over those five years (and possibly influenced by my current read*) is a realisation not of years racing by but of roots growing, anchoring me deeper to my love of books, bookshops and booksellers. Of branches expanding my life in all manner of different directions and of leaves unfurling, turning to the sun as my life has become brighter and more filled with experiences with every passing year of bookshop blogging.

Yes, that's possibly the strangest and most ill-explained metaphor I've ever inflicted on anyone, but it really is what came to mind as I sat down to type.

After five years I feel remarkably lucky that I ever sat at my laptop and decided to embark on this barmy adventure that even now prompts looks of bewilderment and raised eyebrows on a regular basis. But instead of returning to the explanation of everyone needs a hobby, I tell the bewildered some of the wonderful, unexpected ways my life has changed as a result of this adventure, or of some of the adventures themselves. People are often still bemused, but they're also coming around to the understanding that a bookshop is more than four walls and a load of shelves. Each individual bookshop is a community unlike any other, and if they can influence the course of one life, they can do so to others.

I can still see myself five years ago, sat on the sofa in my old home, a Victorian terrace at the dodgy end of town. The neighbours rowing through the wall, a draft through the fireplace and my best friend and housemate about to move two hours away to live with her boyfriend**. I had a job I liked but hindsight tells me I was aware it wasn't going to last forever, minimal social life and next to no friends in the same town as me. Life was okay, but it wasn't going to win any prizes if turned into a book or film.

Starting the bookshop blog gave me a sense of purpose, it was an excuse to travel, to buy books and to meet in the real world the many bookshops I'd met online through the magic of Twitter. I was quite naive when I started writing – I hadn't really grasped the challenge of keeping to a weekly schedule of writing a blog – but it was a fun learning curve and even though I know bookshops are amazing I still can't believe just how many of you take the time to regularly read this blog. Knowing how much support I have for this adventure really makes my day, and when I hear of people being inspired to visit their local bookshop as a result of one of my blogs I do a little leap of joy. I don't pretend to think I can change the world, but to know I've changed a few individual worlds is brilliant.


That said, when the Booksellers Association included me as a Bookshop Hero and invited me to go on a bookshop crawl for Independent Bookshops Week I certainly wasn't going to tell them they'd got the wrong person. I embraced the opportunity, occasionally wore a cape in public and mostly marvelled at my luck at getting to meet so many more lovely bookshops. I've already told you about some of them, the rest are following in the coming weeks, then I'll return to the randomness of telling you about bookshops from wherever I've found myself.

The list of visited bookshops I've not yet written about continues to grow – as does the size of my book collection. I may not always be managing to write about one bookshop a week, but I'm definitely still visiting them and my rule of spending money in each bookshop I write about stands firm: If I can't find something I want to buy in a bookshop then why should I be encouraging you to do so?***

The expanding bookcases now look like this:


The bookshop blog takes up the two bookcases on the left and all the unsorted books on the top (and 'one or two' more out of picture). Before you all start commenting in horror, there is an order to the top books, they're in groups according to where and when they were bought and if I've already written about the bookshop they are from. As usual, the rest of the books are ordered according to when their bookshop appears on this blog. The bookcase on the right is one I've given over to the boy (more elsewhere) and yes, that is two boxes of books in front. We're still trying to work out where to fit more bookcases in...

Anyway, what about my highlights for the past year? It's always tough to pick bookshops out to mention here, but I'd be lying if I didn't tell you my highlight of the year (decade) occurred when a bookseller sent me to meet a boat.

I've also met an unusual bookshop pet, dined in, gone wild and got the t-shirt (although The Edge of the World Bookshop is still waiting to be written up. The delightful little Imagined Things is also on the must-write list, famous for its bad day tweet, loved for its excellent books). Not forgetting losing myself, meeting a new indie and the personality of a 'chain'. Even the boy fell in love.

It's been another great year of bookshopping, and while the rest of the world may feel like it's going to pot whenever you turn on the news, it's good to know we always have bookshops as a place of sanctuary.

Happy bookshopping,
Erica x


* The Overstory by Richard Powers, bought from Jaffe & Neal in Chipping Norton.
** Reader, she married him. And she didn't manage to move far enough away to escape me.
*** It is incredibly rare that I visit a bookshop and choose not to write about it, but when that happens I keep quiet and give them another chance at a later date. Everyone's allowed a bad day every now and then and there are already more than enough people complaining on the internet.

Monday, 13 August 2018

Erica in wonderland

Bookshopping can be a bit like falling down the rabbit hole. From the outside I'm visiting a shop on a high street, which is a really rather unremarkable experience, but from the inside it leads to all manner of possibilities, encounters with weird and wonderful people and the potential for more adventures than a trip to your local newsagents can offer.

Even in the most ordinary of bookshops you never know what you're going to get if you open your mind to the possibility of all the offerings hidden behind simple paperback covers, but let's be honest, there's no such thing as an ordinary bookshop.

The second day of my IBW 2018 bookshop crawl began with a different Lewis Carroll reference, as we visited Madhatter Bookshop in Burford. You enter this bookshop not through a rabbit hole but a delightfully quirky door, and the first thing you see is books. Lots of them. There's also a large selection of hats, but we'll come to those later.

To the right of the door is the wall of general fiction, next to the till so it's in the perfect place to chat with the bookseller while you browse. Which is exactly what I did, learning about the bookshop, the books, hats and enjoying a great selection of recommendations. This latter point was very welcome but also challenging, because even without the good advice I'd found a good five or six titles I couldn't imagine leaving behind. You see, Madhatter Bookshop's shelves are among the most unusually stocked I've visited.

Four booksellers choose the stock, each with their own reading preferences and areas of expertise, and it really shows here. Sure there were a few must-have titles that every bookshop needs to stock, but otherwise the range and diversity of the books was remarkable. These observations aren't just limited to general fiction.

Intelligent non-fiction is cleverly placed among the hats and walk into the back room and the children's section is brilliant. I also further lost myself in the classics (where I was pleased to spot the odd classic science fiction title alongside their contemporaries) and crime, which is usually my least favourite section to browse. In every instance I'd spot unexpected stand out titles generally only found in the largest of bookshops. Independent bookshops are often limited for space and therefore have to stock books accordingly, so to find such a large number of unexpected titles and authors was a treat.

Returning to the front room, I'd chosen my book (Money by Emile Zola, while the boy picked David Bellos’ The Novel of the Century) and now I couldn't leave without trying on a hat or two. I admit this isn't my area of expertise, but there was quite a mix of styles and at least two happy hat buyers visited the shop while we were there. I also enjoyed the opportunity to pose with my bookshop hero cape and a hat, while I'd never encourage anyone to visit any shop purely for the fun of trying out the stock the bookseller embraced my adventure and encouraged me to find my superhero style!

With books and hats and beautiful details everywhere there's lots to enjoy in Madhatter Bookshop, which is actually one half of a pair. We didn't have the time to venture to the second outlet on this visit – that will be a treat for another day.


Madhatter Bookshop
122 High Street, Burford,
Oxfordshire OX18 4QJ
Tel: 01993 822539
@madhatterbook

Sunday, 5 August 2018

Buzzing for books

When I think back to my encounter with Octavia's Bookshop in Cirencester – visited during my IBW2018 bookshop crawl – my immediate memory is of the joyful buzz of happy children.

They were noisy, chattering, enthusiastic, boisterous, happy, excited and any number of other words that convey a sense of positive noise. Some were loud, some were more mellow, but for the entire time of our visit there was an infectious buzz of chatter coming from the young readers this bookshop is aimed at. There were no piercing shrieks or angry voices, no one needed to be told off and there was certainly no bad behaviour, just a room full of children and their accompanying adults in search of their next favourite book. It was a wonderful sound and incredibly infectious.


Not that there needed to be any children in this gorgeous purple surrounding for me to enjoy it. Even empty the bookshop is a luxurious delight, with sumptuous decorations so that the Moomins scattered around the room (and flying in the window) looked like works of art in their custom-made outfits.

A large L-shaped space, Octavia's Bookshop follows the usual style of fiction and recommendations at the front, then reference then – where children's would usually be – a dedicated corner for adults. It was a nice touch and yet another reason for me to smile. I didn't see any adults in this section during our visit, but they definitely appeared to be enjoying themselves as they joined in the browsing with their youngsters. My favourites were the adults reading picture books to their children, but there's also a lot to be said for the middle grade youngsters who marched determinedly to the shelf of their favoured author to see if a new title might be available.

The thing all the children had in common was their apparent love of reading and a willingness to share it as they loudly told whoever was willing to listen just why X was their favourite author, or what they hope will happen to Y character during their next adventure. I challenge even the grumpiest of adults to not enjoy such sounds as they browse shelves holding books from a genre they're less familiar with.

We didn't get to meet Octavia herself during our visit, but the bookseller in charge was obviously as knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the books as the young customers he was serving. He also took the time to talk to us, telling me the story behind the custom-clothed Moomins and the bookshop in general.

Ordinarily in a children's bookshop I'd make a point of asking for a recommendation but this time I resisted because I'd already spotted a series that's long appealed: I chose Murder Most Unladylike by Robin Stevens.

I'm conscious I've not described the bookshop itself in any great detail and this isn't down to any failing on its part, it really was a stunning space, but I was so taken by that buzz of children and the joy they exuded that I feel their excitement is the thing to be focused on here. Youngsters aren't shy with their opinions, and the noise about Octavia's Bookshop was 100 per cent positive.


Octavia’s Bookshop
24 Black Jack Street, Cirencester, Gloucestershire GL7 2AA
Tel: 01285 650677
@octaviabookshop

Sunday, 22 July 2018

In conversation

It can't be repeated enough that bookshops are places to have conversations. They're one of the few real-world places where it's acceptable to talk to a stranger without looking like you're up to no good.

Which is why, when walking through the entrance to Stroud Bookshop and hearing a couple at the counter asking for a map of Costa Rica I didn't think twice about joining in as they discussed a future holiday destination. My boyfriend and I had barely seen more than the bookshop's recommends table, but within seconds we were deep in conversation with the two buyers and two booksellers, as we encouraged their idea of buying a map and shared as many tips as we could following our recent holiday of a lifetime to the country.

Okay, so we had some common ground in the form of the country, but that's part of what the bookshop experience is about: being in front of the gardening and swapping tips for growing spuds; telling the cookery books browser exactly how easy it is to use the book in their hands (but not the second one, that's for the professionals); joining in with a moan that your favourite crime writer hasn't published anything in the last month; or sharing a love of whichever obscure translation you've just finished reading with a fellow fan. And that's before we move onto the more random conversations of what's going on across the road, how well tea'd up the bookseller is, or where you bought your shoes.

Bookshops are about conversation, and don't let anyone with a fear of silent, serious places tell you otherwise.

Our conversation was lively and a great ice-breaker for getting to know the booksellers and hear more about the bookshop once the map-buyers had gone. Even if it did mean we didn't get to the large array of bookshelves for at least 20 minutes. The bookshelves were obviously worth the wait.

Stroud Bookshop is curiously arranged into three long walkways with bookcases either side that maximise the available space. It's a clever way of cramming in a lot of books without feeling claustrophobic. Browsers do have to politely pass each other but it was never too close for comfort and the walls of bookshelves were so long that there was easily enough space for many of us to be enjoying our surroundings at the same time. This was helped by the volume and variety of books, with lots of recommended titles and some excellent choices throughout the genres.

Frustratingly, most of my pictures from here are out of focus, so you'll have to trust me on my comments (or visit and find out for yourself), but there really is a lot to see here. A clever hidden turn gives children the opportunity to be tucked away and browse without distraction, while the non-fiction offering is also plentiful. I bought a book I feel I should have read some time ago, but it's one I've somehow only encountered through recommendations: Elizabeth Strout's My name is Lucy Barton.

In a similar manner to this book, Stroud Bookshop had somehow slipped off my original list of destinations for the IBW2018 bookshop crawl (even though it had been suggested as a place to visit). Fortunately it was easy to find and also looks to be in a rather quirky town, I'd definitely recommend taking a little time to find it.

We'd made the effort because Stroud Bookshop was recommended during conversations in earlier destinations. Which just goes to show, it really is good to talk in bookshops.


Stroud Bookshop
23 High Street, Stroud, Gloucestershire GL5 1AJ
Tel: 01453 756646 @stroudbookshop

Sunday, 15 July 2018

A community book room

When it comes to long descriptions of bookshop encounters, this week's isn't going to be near the top of the list. The bookshop was small and my time there brief, but what it lacks in big adventures it makes up for with big heart.

Cotswold Book Room in Wotton-under-Edge, Gloucestershire, was destination two on my IBW2018 bookshop crawl, and the first thing to note on arrival is that this is actually three rooms. The name arises from its origins, which were in a room of a house many decades ago. The location and size of the bookshop may have changed, but the name has stuck, and I think it's a good one.

The three rooms are small and there wasn't a huge amount of stock during my visit, but my boyfriend and I found plenty of books to catch our attention and the reason for the occasional area of space on the shelves was happily explained by the ladies behind the counter. It was these ladies who made the bookshop such a joy.

Conversation flowed easily as they told me about their time running the bookshop, its history and its part in the community. The word community comes up time and again when writing about bookshops, and I make no apology for repeating it here. The two ladies of Cotswold Book Room clearly put a great deal of importance in their community, and hearing about visitors to the bookshop and their other experiences really emphasised the heart within this small, simple space.

Our visit may have been brief but it was filled with laughter and interesting stories, and the ladies happily offered advice as to where might be best to pose with the cape. I picked up M R Carey's The Boy on the Bridge, which may not be the most obvious choice to remind me of such a happy, local bookshop, but it is a book I've long wanted to read so I was pleased to find it among the fiction shelves here.

Cotswold Book Room may not be the most remarkable of destinations, but I really do believe its community is the richer for its presence.


Cotswold Book Room
26 Long Street, Wotton-Under-Edge,
Gloucestershire GL12 7BT
Tel: 01453 843140

Sunday, 8 July 2018

Putting personality before brand

For this week's blog I'm looking at contrasts and welcomes, and how two very different but related bookshops can be equally appealing, as we visit the two Yellow-Lighted Bookshops in Gloucestershire as part of my Independent Bookshop Week 2018 bookshop crawl.

But first, a small moment of insecurity from me. One of the reasons I write this blog is to show people that bookshops can be welcoming places for anyone, that they're not the scary, elitist places I feared they might be when I was a teenager. I can confirm they're definitely neither of those things (not even when they're in somewhere as well-to-do as the Cotswolds), but even with that knowledge I can still, on occasion, get nervous about visiting a bookshop.

Which was pretty much my state of mind as I arrived at The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop in Tetbury. It's daft really, because I'd been to this bookshop before. I knew it was a good quality, friendly place and I could even remember exactly where it is in the town and in relation to parking (very close). And yet, the nearer we got to our destination the more nervous I got. You see, this time I was expected. And I had a cape. Neither of which fall into my usual experience of visiting a bookshop. Obviously things went well, but I reckon it doesn't hurt to remind others that even the most confident of bookshoppers can still have an attack of the nerves.

Those nerves were swiftly banished by Hereward the bookshop owner, who greeted us and offered us coffee and a bun as soon as he saw us. I obviously can't have been in my right mind because I declined the bun, but the tea and coffee he bought my boyfriend and I from the independent cafe across the road were just what was needed to recover from a couple of hundred miles in a car.

Hereward's brief distraction getting the drinks also gave me a few minutes to regain some composure after the drive. I wandered around blindly for a few moments, reacquainted myself with the different sections, admired the choice of books and then collapsed in a heap on the comfy leather sofa in the snug children's area.

The bookshop was as good as I'd remembered and I soon lost my boyfriend to the bookshelves, which is his way of paying a bookshop a compliment. The selection met the approval of both of us, with warm wooden shelves and tasteful decoration perfectly pitched to make the browser comfortable without being a distraction.

I enjoyed looking at the books on offer, but once the bookseller returned I had a question to ask and the visit went from there. I knew the bookshop was named for a book, The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop by Lewis Buzbee, but my question was why. I won't share the story here because I want you to visit the bookshop and find out for yourselves, but as someone who is fascinated by the reasons for names I was impressed by the answer. So impressed I bought the book as a reminder of my visit.

Conversation with Hereward was pleasant and relaxed in an understated, calm way. We covered a remarkable selection of topics that gave me a feel for the area, the bookshop, books and bookselling – after years of writing this blog I'm still amazed by how much I continue to learn about this enviable but tough career choice. It was a pleasant, informative conversation, punctuated by the odd customer query and accompanied by the gentle buzz of browsers in a busy bookshop. I'm certain we could've both happily stayed here all day.

Instead (after subtly posing for a photo with the cape) we continued with day one of our bookshop crawl, which included stop three: The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop in Nailsworth (we'll come back to stop two another day).

Where Tetbury was refined and calm, Nailsworth was bright and bubbly. Louise the bookseller greeted us like old friends and her energy and enthusiasm were evident for all to see. I've often thought booksellers – aka bookshop heroes – are the secret ingredient to making each bookshop unique, and it was never more obvious than in a comparison of The Yellow-Lighted Bookshops.

While both bear the same name and smart blue and gold signage outside, their ingredients differ. There were obviously some similarities in this younger bookshop, but these were more of a nod to the original than a copy. Personality – rather than brand – is the priority, enabling the two sister bookshops to have grown to suit their respective communities.

During our visit we saw a larger number of children in this second bookshop, and it was clear Louise has an enthusiasm for encouraging younger readers. She welcomed them as equals and the children's space was well-thought out with a sweet little hidey-hole for those who'd rather sit and read without distractions. She also embraced the crazy of the cloak, joining me for a photo and helping me realise there was no need to feel self-conscious about my not-so-secret superhero accessory. Louise is a true superhero.

When it came to buying, my attention was grabbed by pretty much all of the offerings on the recommends table, so I turned to Louise for help in whittling my selection down. This prompted further conversation about books and reading and I'm very pleased with my eventual choice of Less by Andrew Sean Greer.

Where the first Yellow-Lighted Bookshop in Tetbury had been exactly the calm, relaxing influence I'd needed to recover from a tiring drive, Nailsworth's Yellow-Lighted Bookshop a few hours later was the perfect energetic boost to ensure our bookshop crawl took flight.

Which pretty much sums up the unique experience of visiting different independent bookshops: they put people first.


The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop
21 Church St, Tetbury, Gloucestershire GL8 8JG
Tel: 01666 500221 @YLBookshop

The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop
17 Fountain Street, Nailsworth, Gloucestershire GL6 0BL
Tel: 01453 832555 @YLBookshop

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Bookshops, home to real-life super heroes

This is a not very brief overview of my adventures in bookshopping. There's simply too much to say about each bookshop to post it all here. I'll share the full story of each bookshop experience in individual blogs. Or for a few photo highlights, scroll to the end.

This week is Independent Bookshop Week, and while I personally think every week is a good week to visit an indie, I do love having an extra excuse to go on a bookshop crawl.

The theme of this year's week is Bookshop Heroes, and as part of the celebrations the Bookseller's Association suggested I might want to take a trip to meet a few more of those heroes than usual by travelling around the Cotswolds. I packed my bags and my boyfriend into the car and set out on a three-day adventure.

Day one

Setting off from our Kent home, the first few hours of our Saturday were spent in remarkably clear traffic on the M25 and M4, giving us time to discuss the adventure to come and me time to psyche myself up for wearing a superhero cape in public. I may not be a bookseller but the BA was happy for me to join in with the heroic fun.

Even though I'd been there before, I was still nervous to be arriving at our first bookshop because I'm not used to being expected. It was therefore a relief to walk into The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop in Tetbury and be immediately welcomed with offers of coffee. This warm welcome and few minutes to pause and sit on the comfy bookshop sofa were exactly what I needed to recover from the long drive.

My familiarity with the bookshop meant I had more time to chat with the bookseller, leaving my boyfriend to browse and occasionally comment on how impressed he was with the choice of books on offer. The conversation included bookshops (including a recommendation of an additional destination while we were in the area), books, the Cotswolds and the reason behind the unusual name. This last part of the conversation was the reason I bought The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop by Lewis Buzbee, but I could have easily left overloaded with other books.

Next up came Cotswold Book Room. Probably the smallest of the bookshops during our tour, the thing that made this place special was the two ladies in charge. Cheerful and friendly and obviously filled with love for their bookshop and community, we had a great conversation with them and really enjoyed the enthusiastic welcome from these unassuming bookshop heroes.

There was a limited offering of books but it still covered all the important subjects and catered for the reading children and adults of Wootton. I was delighted to pick up The Boy on the Bridge by M R Carey. Cotswold Book Room, named because it had started life as a room in a house, may be small but its heart is big and the experience was that of a small community bookshop – which seemed perfectly fitting for this destination.

The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop made another appearance for stop three, as we visited the sister shop in Nailsworth. I’d been expecting a slightly smaller carbon copy of the first, when in fact we were greeted by another unique bookshop, with small nods towards the style of its older sister. Both were perfect in their own way.

Louise the energetic and welcoming bookseller greeted us and all customers with a friendly smile, deftly responding to enquiries, recommending books and treating everyone like old friends. Where Tetbury had exuded reserved confidence, here the joy of books was pinned to the mast, further emphasising the different communities we were visiting. After some book discussion I selected Less by Andrew Sean Greer, because we both agreed it looked fun.

Stop four was actually an unplanned diversion because in all our conversations with the previous three places Stroud Bookshop kept being recommended. Three out of three recommendations meant we had to investigate.

Found in what I assume must be a market town because there were market stalls everywhere, my first instinct was that this appeared to be the most functional bookshop we visited. That's an observation, rather than a criticism: decor is simple and shelves well-filled. We missed the owner, but conversation was lively as we got chatting with both booksellers and customers. Stroud is clearly a place where people are willing to talk to strangers, something other towns might benefit from considering! Here I chose Elizabeth Strout’s My name is Lucy Barton.

Finally, our first day of bookshop crawling ended with bookshop heroes for the younger generation, in Octavia’s Bookshop, Cirencester. “Flying” Moomins fill the window, and there’s a feeling of warmth and colour the moment you step through the door. A buzz of enthusiastic children filled the shop, which it was simply wonderful to hear.

I was particularly impressed to see the labelling of the bookselves, which are organised by age and fiction or reference, with an area towards the back – commonly the home of “children’s” – simply labeled “adult”. It was a nice reversal of the usual bookshop layout and obviously works well here. I got into the spirit of my surroundings by choosing Robin Stevens’ Murder Most Unladylike.

Five bookshops down, it was time to take a break, as we headed for The Angel at Burford in preparation for the next round of adventuring.

Day 2

Sunday was a much more gentle journey, beginning with a short walk from our hotel to the Madhatter Bookshop. Four people manage the stock here, and their various areas of expertise were clearly demonstrated with the excellent, often unexpected, range of titles on offer. This caused me quite a lot of difficulty in my attempts to limit my purchase to just the one book.

Throw in the selection of hats for men and women and this is a bookshop you could easily spend a whole morning enjoying. We resisted the hats in the end, with me choosing Money by Emile Zola, and my boyfriend picking up David Bellos’ The Novel of the Century (which was fortunately one of the books I'd been agonising over leaving behind).

Lunch was replaced with a generous serving of tea and cake at Jaffe and Neale in Stow-on-the-Wold. Being at the halfway point on our journey, this proved a welcome pause to sit and enjoy the bookshop surroundings from the comfort of two easy chairs. It turns out it's much less effort to investigate the bottom shelves of bookcases when you're already sitting comfortably!

Conversations with the bookseller and various browsers ensued and a fine time was had by all in what I think was the youngest bookshop of the weekend. I surprised myself by selecting Ann Patchett's This is the story of a happy marriage, while my boyfriend was again tempted into buying, this time choosing Landscape Photographer of the Year.

Meandering over to our third stop of the day, we found ourselves in the same town as Blenheim Palace. The glimpse we had through the gate looked stunning and could've made an excellent addition to our visit. That wasn't to be though because we simply had too much fun in the Woodstock Bookshop.

Two perfectly-filled rooms mean this was one of the smallest places we visited but it kept us the longest. This was partly because of conversations with the bookseller, partly because I was enjoying how much my boyfriend was enjoying the bookshop and got distracted from my own mission of buying a book. Stock includes a range of unexpected titles, small publishers and a good mix of translated fiction, so we ended up leaving with three books here. I chose The Infatuations by Javier Marais, while he picked Secondhand Time by Svetlana Alexievich and Doughnut Economics by Kate Raworth.

Completing our day with a glimpse of the previously-mentioned palace, we drove to nearby Oxford to spend the night in a Fuller's pub which gave us 15 per cent off because we booked direct – further proof the internet isn't always the cheapest option.

Day 3

It was an early start on Monday, as I dropped my partner in bookshopping at the railway station so he could go to work, before setting out on the final day alone. Not that I ever really felt alone with all the bookshop hero booksellers to keep me company.

My day started at Jaffe and Neale Bookshop in Chipping Norton, another place I'd previously experienced. Enjoying a second breakfast of tiffin and coffee, I chatted with the booksellers and found out more about their bookshop, other bookshops and books in general. This is a cheery, bright destination and I particularly enjoyed seeing their upstairs reading room, which another browser had already made herself comfortable in.

Hearing the bookseller talk about his love for his current favourite book, I found myself compelled to buy The Overstory by Richard Powers. That said, there was an understated conviction in his words about every book discussed, so I could easily have left with an entirely new library if I'd had the car space and money.

Stop two saw me return to Stow-on-the-Wold, to this time visit Borzoi Bookshop and meet furry bookshop hero Molie. The two human booksellers had much more to say about books and the bookshop than she did, but all three were a treat to meet as I explored this attractive rabbit warren.

I was given a quick tour and a coffee and let loose to wander, taking in a good selection of history and biographies and enjoying the variety of small publishers mixed in among the big names. After some discussion, I was again easily convinced to choose a book loved by the bookseller, this time buying Pachinko by Min Jin Lee.

Travelling north, my journey took me through some truly beautiful countryside to what must be the very top of the Cotswolds and Blandford Books in Broadway. Two shops linked together, visitors have the option of turning right for general books, left for children's, or continuing to the back for cards and gifts.

I explored the lot before settling next to the fiction, being tempted by each of the books highlighted by handwritten recommendations attached to the shelves. Most of these titles were unknown to me, meaning all were very tempting, with a conversation with the bookseller helping me to narrow it down to the one chosen book: Together by Julie Cohen.

This seemed like a lovely town to explore but at this point I was on a time-limit: I had to find a convenient, safe, place to pause for an interview live on air on BBC Radio Gloucestershire. It was a brief chat about the importance of supporting independent bookshops, with local bookshops being interviewed throughout the week. I'm always happy to help remind people of the value of these community gems and I do hope some of the listeners took note.

The media continued to call in my final bookshop of the trip, with a photographer from the local paper arriving at Cheltenham's Suffolk Anthology before me. It was a little embarrassing posing for photos when I'd barely said hello, but our surroundings were beautiful and it's nice to know my marathon bookshop crawl had caught people's attention, and hopefully inspired them.

Once the photographer had gone, we settled into chatting books, the community and the bookshop, while I also explored my surroundings and we posed for our own pictures with the capes. This was one of those rare bookshops where around 50 per cent of the fiction can already be found on my own bookshelves, so I decided to put my complete trust in the recommendations of the two women. I was confidently handed Girl waits with gun by Amy Stewart, and while I'd not previously heard of the author, there was no doubt about my decision to buy.

And with that my bookshop crawl came to an end. It was a really lovely three days of sunshine, bookshops and adventure. Where some people go on holiday and explore a foreign country, my long weekend combined all the elements of exploration (inspired by bookshops), memento-buying (of books), and meeting the locals (aka those wonderful bookshop heroes) without the expense and stress of an airport.

You don't have to visit 12 bookshops in three days, but letting bookshops inspire you to visit new places (in the real and imagined world) is definitely a recommended experience – and one that will make you a bookshop hero too.


Day 1

The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop
21 Church St, Tetbury, Gloucestershire GL8 8JG
Tel: 01666 500221 @YLBookshop

Cotswold Book Room
26 Long Street, Wotton-Under-Edge, Gloucestershire GL12 7BT
Tel: 01453 843140

The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop
17 Fountain Street, Nailsworth, Gloucestershire GL6 0BL
Tel: 01453 832555 @YLBookshop

Stroud Bookshop
23 High Street, Stroud, Gloucestershire GL5 1AJ
Tel: 01453 756646 @stroudbookshop

Octavia’s Bookshop
24 Black Jack Street, Cirencester, Gloucestershire GL7 2AA
Tel: 01285 650677 @octaviabookshop

Day 2

Madhatter Bookshop
122 High Street, Burford, Oxfordshire OX18 4QJ
Tel: 01993 822539 @madhatterbook

Jaffe and Neale
8 Park Street, Stow-on-the-Wold, Gloucestershire GL54 1AQ
Tel: 01451 832000 @jandnstow

The Woodstock Bookshop
23 Oxford Street, Woodstock, Oxfordshire OX20 1TH
Tel: 01993 812760 @WoodstockBooks

Day 3

Jaffe and Neale
1 Middle Row, Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire OX7 5NH
Tel: 01608 641033 @Jaffeandneale

The Borzoi Bookshop
Church Street, Stow on the Wold, Gloucestershire GL54 1BB
Tel: 01451 830268 @BorzoiBookshop

Blandford Books
39 High street, Broadway, Worcestershire WR12 7DP
Tel: 01386 858588

The Suffolk Anthology
17 Suffolk Parade, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire GL50 2AE
Tel: 01242 361362 @CheltAnthology