A few years ago I was lucky enough to be among the crowd at the second Books are my bag launch party.
It was an invite-only event at the then new Foyles, and guests included the great and the good from the bookshop world. There were booksellers, publishers, writers and even a few readers and other bloggers, and me. I've told you this before, so I won't repeat myself here, but the short story is I was in a room full of fascinating people and I wanted to get to know them.
Abbie Headon. We kept in touch and, finally, last weekend I was able to take her up on her invitation to visit the bookshops of Portsmouth. It was a fun day of exploring and this week I'll tell you about our first stop: Blackwell's.
I have to be honest, being set in the middle of the concrete buildings of the university means this bookshop hasn't got the most beautiful surroundings in the world, but it is conveniently located for students and is also within walking distance of a large shopping centre. Two things which must work in its favour. More importantly, once you walk through the door it doesn't matter where this bookshop is, the world inside is more than enough.
The long shop front is completely glass, allowing light to pour in, opening up the bookshop and making it feel even more spacious than it already is. Our visit was a Saturday, so there wasn't the busy stream of students you'd expect from a weekday, but business was still steady and the atmosphere friendly.
We were lucky enough to stop by at the same time as a local author and editor, as well as meeting the manager and a few of the regulars. It wasn't long before tea and cake came out and I began to feel I'd found the literary heart of Portsmouth in this branch of Blackwell's.
As a university bookshop, a massive proportion of the stock is course-related, but this is simply catering for the market and I was by no means lost among text books. Fiction still greets you from recommends tables by the door and a comforting wall of it awaits to one side of the bookshop. Course books obviously find their way over here too, with ready-parcelled bundles collected together according to the English course syllabus (even as a non-student I'd have happily bought a bundle to take home with me).
The students of Portsmouth are obviously very well catered for.
We enjoyed browsing and chatting for some time and I have to admit I could've happily spent the day in this bookshop, soaking in the atmosphere and relaxing in such a friendly environment. Instead we had places to go, so we said goodbye to the bookseller and her booky surroundings after making our purchases: Only ever yours by Louise O'Neill for me, and I love Dick by Chris Kraus for Abbie. I also took home the Portsmouth Writers' Hub compilation Day of the dead and a greeting card, because we all need a cwtch every now and then and this was definitely a great big hug of a bookshop.
University of Portsmouth, Cambridge Road, Portsmouth, Hampshire, PO1 2EF
Tel: 023 9283 2813