Your bookshops #10 Devon Book Club's bookshop crawl

When I first heard from Ian at Devon Book Club I have to admit I couldn't quite get my head around how large, friendly and enthusiastic this group of people is. Realising they actually are a group of real people beyond the big internet following was then an even more welcome discovery. It therefore gives me great pleasure to feature this guest post about their bookshop crawl.

42 High Street, Totnes, Devon, TQ9 5RY. Tel: 01803 863273 @totnesbookshop

12 High Street, Bideford, Devon, EX39 2AA. Tel: 01237 425727 @WHBookshop

10 High Street, Sidmouth, Devon, EX10 8EL. Tel: 01395 579969 @winstoneSid

100 High Street, Crediton, Devon, EX17 3LF. Tel: 01363 774740 @Credbooks
Published: 15th January, 2016

Devon Book Club is a community of people who love books and love Devon (so, pretty well everyone then!). It started a year ago and now has a presence on TwitterFacebook and Goodreads. Our membership continues to grow and now at least 700 people are connected with us through one medium or another. The group began life a year ago as an online community, but as we got to know one another, people soon began to ask about meeting up. How to do that when you have people all over such a large and diverse county? The answer – visit bookshops, arrange local authors to join in and provide plenty of cake. With that combination, it is no surprise our events have been a great success.

During 2015 we arranged an “Indie Bookshop and Cake Crawl” around Devon. We visited four very different independent bookshops, heard from 13 local authors (nothing unlucky about that number for us) about their work (but met a lot more who we are lining up for 2016), spent a lot of money on books and consumed serious amounts of cake. So, a little about the bookshops:

In May we visited The Totnes Bookshop, set in the centre of this beautiful south Devon town. Part of the Dartington Trust, this is very much a community venture built upon an ethos of sustainability and community connectedness. This was our first venture and the manager, Cliff, made us welcome. 

We enjoyed hearing about the role of the shop as a hub within the community and Cliff talked knowledgeably about books and engagingly about life running an independent bookshop. I bought several books there but the one I will draw attention to for this blog is A Death in the Family by Karl Ove Knausgaard. I’d heard a lot about this memoir/novel and was prompted to buy it after hearing him interviewed on radio. I’ve not read it yet but it is on my list for 2016! 

Prior to the event we had been in touch with the local library and, through them, a selection of reading groups, of which a number of them attended. As it happened, a few of our early members are authors and it was suggested that we invite some authors to speak at future events.

In July we tested this at the Walter Henry's Bookshop in Bideford, the lovely “Little White Town” of north Devon. Four local authors (Ruth Downie, Liz Shakespeare, Pamela Vass and Wendy Percival) talked about their work and then chatted with us over tea and cake. This bookshop is owned by a well-known local family and manager Fiona made us feel at home. 

One of relatively few independently owned bookshops in the north of the county, it was great to connect with Fiona and her team, to hear more about the challenges and delights of running a bookshop and start to feel that our network was joining the literary dots in Devon. I bought a book by each of the authors but, so far, have only read Shadow Child by Pamela Vass. That one spoke to me as Pamela was a social worker (as was I earlier in my career) – the others are on my list for 2016 – a hazard of this book group is that I am learning more about books but reading less!

Having been to the south and north, our next destination was Sidmouth, in the east of the county. This time our venue was Winstones Book Shop, the second bookshop in the Winstones family (its founding business being in Sherborne), where we were warmly welcomed by Carl and his team. This lovely bookshop also sports a cafĂ© area and so was well-suited to our emerging formula of authors, tea and cake. 

This time we were blessed with five local authors (R L Weeks, Graham Hurley, Lyn Ferrand, Belinda Seaward and Jane Bidder aka Sophie King). We were treated to a diversity of writing styles and experience and enjoyed lively conversation afterwards. Again, I bought books by each of the featured authors but also Early One Morning by Virginia Baily. I was already in contact with Virginia about our forthcoming Crediton event and her book had just been released in hardback. Couldn’t resist. Of those books I’ve so far read Virginia’s and also Belinda Seawards thoughtful and beautifully written book, The Beautiful Truth.

We also heard from the newly-appointed Chair of Libraries Unlimited, the newly forming mutual that will run Devon’s libraries from April 2016. This is an important relationship for us, as we are building a close partnership with our library service.

Our final trip of the year was to Crediton in mid Devon, where we were guests both of the library and the Crediton Community Bookshop, which is a community-owned venture. A couple of years ago the community clubbed together to buy the shop when the previous owner couldn’t sell it and was on the verge of closing it down. 

Now run by a small paid team and a committed group of volunteers, the bookshop is a key part of the High Street and is a successful community enterprise. The four authors who joined us this time were Virginia Baily, Michael Jecks, Kathy Shuker and Elizabeth Ducie, again a wide range of experience and writing styles. As you will by now guess, I bought all their books too. I’ve mentioned Virginia’s book already but I’ve also now read the others.

Three of Ian's many purchases along the way
Every event was blessed with a diverse range of authors and their books are all the more enjoyable for having chatted with them about their work. All I need is more time to read – I will be reading all the others this year – but I hope to meet a new range of talented Devon authors along the way so I’ll never reach the bottom of the pile.

Whilst the four bookshops were different in many ways all shared a passion for books, a commitment to strong customer service, and an enthusiasm for being part of a wider network of readers and writers that gives confidence they will be an enduring part of our community life. Devon Book Club is keen to work with them and anyone else who sees the value of books and reading as part of the glue that binds communities together.

A few members of Devon Book Club
Thank you very much to Ian and all at Devon Book Club. It's great to read about all the fun they've had touring their county's bookshops and I've also been pleased to be welcomed into the club's Goodreads group. Hopefully some day soon I'll manage to get to Devon for myself, to meet these bookshops and maybe some members of the club too.

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