Wednesday 24 December 2014

Quality over quantity

On a crisp, bright December afternoon I made my way along The Pavement to this week's bookshop.

An intriguing parade of shops, I couldn't help but take my time, stopping into a range of independent boutiques to pick up Christmas gifts and generally enjoy my surroundings.

In contrast to the often perfectly styled shops along my walk from the tube, Clapham Books is small and rough around the edges, but that by no means diminishes the experience of this bookshop. In fact, rough is probably too harsh a word, more unfinished: having relocated to this address a few months ago the frontage is a banner as opposed to painted sign and decoration (excluding the stairs down to the framers) is simple: the books are what's important here.

My picture below doesn't do the shelves justice – while bad for photography, the sunshine rippling across the shelves in accordance with passing traffic really was lovely – and what a selection of books they have.

There are no guilty pleasures or trashy novels here: if you're looking for a classic that will still be being read in 100 years' time I'm pretty sure anything in the fiction section applies. That's not to say their stock is all heavy reads, far from it, there is a wide selection from literary to love, crime to sci fi and everything in between. The difference is in quality. Where WHSmith might stock a range of throwaway holiday reads, in Clapham Books you find books you'll want to return to again and again. Essentially, every inch of bookshelf space counts. Having previously visited sister bookshop Herne Hill Books I really shouldn't've been surprised by this, but seeing really is believing.

Reassured by the high standard of books for adults (including a good selection of non-fiction too) I made my way to the children's area, where I needed to find a Christmas present for my niece.

A keen reader, hers is always my favourite gift to buy as it takes me back to childhood favourites and introduces me to new ones. Choosing the beautifully-illustrated Goth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse by Chris Riddell (and wanting a copy for myself), I wandered over to the till, asking for advice as I'm never good at choosing the right book for the right reading age. Thankfully, they soon agreed I'd made the right choice, so I completed the gift with a National Book Tokens card, followed up by a present for me: the short The Eyes by Edith Wharton.

My niece is yet to unwrap her present, so I'm still waiting to find out exactly how successful my trip was, but from my point of view Clapham Books made gift-buying a dream.

Clapham Books
26 The Pavement, Clapham Common, London, SW4 0JA
Tel: 020 76272797

Thursday 18 December 2014

A moment in a market town

Market towns are great. They're small enough to explore in a couple of hours, diverse enough to meet most shopping needs, liberally sprinkled with independent shops and one hundred times easier to park in than your average town or shopping centre.

They're even lovelier when right in the middle of them is an independent bookshop. With cake.

Located in the heart of its market town home, Jaffé & Neale ticked both of those boxes. Unfortunately Chipping Norton isn't quite in the heart of Oxfordshire (it's a lot further west than I'd anticipated) but the excitement of the bookshop more than made up for the long detour on my drive home from a weekend away. And the ease of parking when I found the bookshop (right next to a car park that doubles up as a market square) more than made up for the detour.

Tired from the drive, my first priority was to recover with a coffee and slice of clementine cake, both of which were every bit as delicious as you'd expect from an indie bookshop cafe. Making the most of a beautiful but chilly afternoon, I relaxed into a window seat from which I could enjoy the sunlight on my face, watch the world go by and – most importantly of all – take in my bookshop surroundings.

A bright bookshop, the light from the large windows made the main room feel larger than it was as I sat and people-watched while customers came and went, dithered over which of the many cakes to try and happily browsed the books. Very few people seemed to know each other, but all were friends as they shared in the common pleasure of the shop, meaning it didn't take long before I regained the energy to explore.

My favourite area was the first main room, where cake and books come together in the heart of the bookshop. This was where I spent most of my time and could easily imagine myself returning to daily, were I living a couple of hours closer. Then through to the back, past a selection of gifts and trinkets, a second room leads into the children's section, with secondhand books and more gifts upstairs.

Returning to the front room I browsed the recommendations and lost myself in the fiction, simply enjoying the moment. So it seemed appropriate when I stumbled across Claire Dyer's The Moment.

I loved exploring Jaffé & Neal and finding this gorgeous bookshop in a lovely English town, and okay, maybe it wasn't quite where I'd expected it to be on a map. But as much as bookshops are places to grow and learn, the journey to them can be an education too.

Jaffé & Neale
1 Middle Row, Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire, OX7 5NH
Tel: 01608 641033

Thursday 11 December 2014

On the museum trail

One of my favourite* things to do in London is visit the Natural History Museum.

I may be in my mid 30s, but I know a significant number of its rooms by heart and barely need to think about where I'm going to find any given area. I've bought most of the gift shop over the years and am a big fan of their cafe as a place to sit and people watch. Most important of all, every year I make a pilgrimage to the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition.

All of which meant I was pretty surprised when I realised the next stop on my Books are my bag bookshop crawl was somewhere I've walked past on countless occasions when hurrying between the museum and the underground.

The new and remainder South Kensington Books is found on Thurloe Street, approximately ten doors from the exit of the tube station. Admittedly, walking from the tube to the museum the bookshop doesn't stand out (probably because you've taken the underground tunnel route), but on your way home the natural route to the tube is past several eateries and directly towards this unassuming bookshop.

Now I know it's there I can't miss it. On the day of my bookshop crawl I walked past it. Twice.

And this is despite it having a pretty picture window crammed with books and me having a homing beacon for bookshops.

The room behind the window of South Kensington Books really has to be seen to be believed. To call the place a Tardis doesn't really seem fair, because this bookshop is so much bigger than that. Where the shop front would indicate a cosy, boutique bookshop, instead you find two huge rooms, stocked floor to ceiling with books, and centrally filled with large tables of recommendations.

Advertising art, history, travel and literature on the shop front, they certainly do have a good selection on these subjects, but if visitors are after something else there's more than enough variety to keep them occupied.

Whether it was because I was so close to the beloved museum or the fact I'd already bought a lot of fiction that day, I found myself drawn to the non-fiction end of the shop, in particular popular science, where I picked out SuperSense by Brian Hood – because I accidentally got carried away and read several pages while stood in the bookshop.

In a hurry to make up on time I made my way to the till and continued my journey. But now I know where this – very, very reasonable given its location – bookshop is it's become a necessary part of my Natural History Museum routine.

Next week I'll be making my annual pilgrimage to the photography exhibition, afterwards be sure to say hello if you spot me loitering in the bookshop.

South Kensington Books
22 Thurloe Street, London, SW7 2LT
Tel: 020 589 2916

*to clarify: favourite thing excluding visiting a bookshop or five

Thursday 4 December 2014

Over the half moon

It's absolutely bucketing it down, and within seconds of breaking cover and entering the street I'm soaked, the growing bundle of books in the bag on my shoulder is beginning to weigh on me and I've not had any lunch. Essentially, I'm wet, tired and hungry. Then I spot a bright blue and white shop front peaking out of the grey.

Just the sight of Tales on Moon Lane is enough to brighten a rainy day, but entering the bookshop firmly puts your smile back in place.

Despite the lack of sunlight through the large, welcoming windows it was still a bright and airy shop, with splashes of colour from pictures, toys and lots of lovely books. All of which helped to brighten my mood even further as I recovered from the downpour that had intruded on my Books are my bag bookshop crawl. It is hard not to be impressed by the delights surrounding visitors to this wonderful children's bookshop.

Parents and children chose books together, with friendly booksellers on hand to answer any questions and generally be helpful. Recognising a book blogger from their Twitter photo I said hello and had a chat with a couple of those booksellers before continuing on my exploration, enjoying my surroundings and wishing there'd been a place like this available when I was a child.

During my browsing another bookseller, who I'd missed during the introductions, came over to speak to me. Jen introduced herself as having recently joined Tales on Moon Lane after a previous life in the children's department of a different bookshop. We immediately got stuck into conversation about our surroundings, bookshops and – of course – books.

It seemed a little mean when I asked her for a recommendation so early into her time at the shop, but Jen didn't bat an eyelid, immediately walking over to a shelf in the smaller, back part of the shop and picking up Holly Goldberg Sloan's Counting by 7s.

Over the past year or so, and for many before, I've had my fair number of recommendations from booksellers. All of them good: reasoned and well explained and enough to capture my attention and help me decide if a novel's for me. This was something different. Jen's whole face lit up as she introduced the book, but it was her words that mattered. The balance of praise and emotion, mixed in with a little about the story without influencing my approach to the book meant that when she asked if I'd like a different suggestion I had to be careful not to shout 'no' too loudly as I tried to snatch the book from her hands.

Never before have I been so keen to read a recommendation. And now I have read it I can confirm Counting by 7s is every bit as beautiful and enjoyable as Jen suggested it would be.

So why don't you find out what all the fuss is about? Head down to Half Moon Lane to meet the booksellers and hear their thoughtful bookish recommendations and I'm sure you'll be as impressed as I am.

Tales on Moon Lane
25 Half Moon Lane, Herne Hill, London, SE24 9JU
Tel: 020 7274 5759.

Wednesday 26 November 2014

Happy as an aardvark in a book barn

Even though I knew I was on the hunt for a barn, blindly following my (evil, horrid, abominable) sat nav through the country lanes of Shropshire made me nervous.

I'd lost mobile phone signal a while back and road signs were few and far between. It was also a miserable, wet day and I needed the loo.

Then I spotted a small, home-made sign with the word 'aardvark' written across it and all was once again well. I was on the right road to warmth, the safety of books, a cafe and, thankfully, a toilet.

I admit from the outside Aardvark Books isn't much to look at – especially on a dreary day – but as we all know, it's the inside that counts, and given this destination is found inside a large barn I knew there was a lot of bookshop waiting for me. Walking into what felt like a large reception area, I was greeted by the woman at the till and asked if I'd like a map. That's how big this bookshop is.

Naturally I thanked her, took the map and promptly got lost as I was too busy looking at the shelves and shelves of books to take any notice of where I was actually going. I may have been lost, but I was having too much fun to care.

Leaving 'reception' – itself larger than many bookshops I've visited and filled with new and antiquarian books, postcards and a basket of baby aardvarks – I found myself in the cafe. While people relax at a table with a cup of tea the books flow into and around this area, blurring the edges of the two sections. The cakes on offer looked particularly appealing, but being part-way through a long drive meant I hadn't time to sit and relax.

Instead I moved on through the cookery books (perfectly placed within the cafe area) and a range of other non-fiction and into the book burrow for children. Crammed with books, a castle, pirate ship, princess seat, trees, more books and colourful pictures drawn by young customers, my only disappointment was that I was visiting on a weekday and therefore unable to see all the youngsters enjoying these wonderful surroundings. In the absence of children I may have played in the castle a little myself...

Rejoining adult land I made my way upstairs to a loft crammed with secondhand fiction and what looked to be new, remainder books. All thoughts of my tight time limit were forgotten as I wandered along the alphabet, eventually finding myself at science fiction (I am quite predictable when it comes to secondhand bookshops). Here I hit gold with a new-to-me Arthur C Clarke, Imperial Earth.

Slowly making my way back to the till I also picked up a couple of postcards and a baby aardvark for myself before diving into conversation with the bookseller. Here I met the couple who own the bookshop and my first bookshop dog, the friendly Coco, not forgetting the bookshop name's inspiration Ethel Aardvark and her partner Arthur.

I may have felt as out of place as an aardvark while wandering the Shropshire countryside, but once inside this warm and friendly bookshop I was perfectly at home and happy as Larry. Or should that be Ethel?

Aardvark Books
The Bookery,
Manor Farm,
Brampton Bryan,
Tel: 01547 530744

Wednesday 19 November 2014

Less is more

The smallest bookshop I've ever visited crossed my path as the fifth destination of my Books are my bag bookshop crawl.

A hop, skip and a jump from the area's tube station, Herne Hill Books is made up of two interlinked rooms about the size of my kitchen, and I promise you I don't have a large kitchen. Described as the little sister of Clapham Books, this bookshop's diminutive size doesn't make it any less worthy of note than its larger cousins.

In fact, it's so popular that during my visit a steady stream of customers filed in, popping by to pick up the new best seller or looking for something to keep them entertained on the train, while I stumbled across M R Carey's The girl with all the gifts. Possibly a little scarier than my usual reads, the condensed shelves meant this title stood out where usually I might've skipped past.

I'm going to be honest, it's a small bookshop so I can't write hundreds of words on my experience or all the people I met, but for what it is this bookshop is perfect. It has a large enough collection of books to suit diverse tastes, but is small enough that it's to the point. You can pop in, find something to read and be on your way in minutes. And sometimes that's all you need.

Herne Hill Books
289 Railton Road,
Herne Hill,
SE24 0LY
Tel: 020 7998 1673

Wednesday 12 November 2014

All is not lost

Four stops into my Books are my bag crawl and I almost got to my first bookshop party of the day.

I say almost because, being new to buses, I managed to still be sitting enjoying my journey as we drove straight past the attractive little parade of shops within which the bookshop is nestled. Ten minutes later I'd retraced my journey – just in time to miss the end of a Roald Dahl event at Dulwich Books.

Frustratingly for me I was also too early for the more grown up event being hosted that afternoon, when author Jeremy Page was due to talk about his book The Collector of Lost Things. As a 'collector' of things I don't ever want to be lost, the book and its author intrigued me, but this time it proved an encounter that wasn't meant to be. However, I prefer to act instead of mourning when it comes to loss, so instead I appreciated the opportunity to fully appreciate my location with no distractions. Well, none except the books.

There was therefore lots to keep me distracted as I weaved between browsers and shelves, enjoying the bright atmosphere and piles of recommendations on top of the middle-of-the-room bookshelves.

The perfect height to feel both apart from and included in the conversations of fellow browsers, these shelves made the bookshop feel full but not overcrowded, allowing me to get lost among the books and banter. I don't want to share the semi-private conversations of Dulwich Books' customers, but I can assure you they're an interesting and varied bunch.

Instead of interrupting their conversations and joining in (something I felt would probably have been perfectly acceptable among this friendly bunch of browsers) I turned my attentions to the booksellers. Their happy banter whirled around the bookshop and welcomed in whichever lone browsers it flew over, meaning even though I'd missed the scheduled parties I still felt I was taking part in the fun.

This proved correct when I arrived at the till and discovered goody bags were being given out with purchases as part of the day's celebrations. When asked if I'd like fiction, non-fiction or crime I, rather indecisively, asked to be surprised. Which is exactly what I was when handed a Tracey Emin tote with two crime novels inside. Three books for the price of one is always good, but to be given two books I don't already own is a rare achievement these days.

And my purchase. Surely it must be obvious?

I may have lost out on the author, but The Collector of Lost Things joined me on for the rest of my journey, collecting new bookshop experiences for the Books are my bag campaign.

Dulwich Books
6 Croxted Road, Dulwich, London, SE21 8SW
Tel: 020 8670 1920

Wednesday 5 November 2014

Not remotely scary

Please don't mock me too much for this, but before I visited it I was actually a little scared of the idea of this week's bookshop.

I obviously now know my fears were unfounded, but on the day of my bookshop crawl the thought of visiting The Bookseller Crow on the Hill in Crystal Palace made me nervous. And it wasn't until I was stood across the road from the bookshop that it dawned on me how stupid my fears had been.

Because The Bookseller Crow isn't the leader of a large, black feathered murder, but the owner of a colourful full-length window with a welcoming light blue shop sign. Throw in the view from the doorway – which includes rows of white paper doves flying across the ceiling – and my fear seems even more ridiculous.

I assure you I'm also (I hope) intelligent enough to know dressing a local (non-specialist) bookshop in black feathers and fear wouldn't be a good business move. Can I defend myself with the excuse I've recently finished reading a Stephen King novel? I didn't think so.

Of course, if I'd done my research first and visited the bookshop's website, rather than limiting myself to clicking on the occasional blog link on Twitter, I'd've realised how ridiculous I was being much sooner. But that would've been far too sensible – and much less embarrassing on my part.

Anyway, about The Bookseller Crow on the Hill. Naturally there is a reason for the unusual name, and it's got nothing to do with scaring those of us with over-active imaginations. I'd share it with you here, but it's much more fun if I leave it for you to visit the bookshop and ask one of the bookselling crows yourself.

Meantime I'll reassure you it's a large, friendly bookshop with smart grey shelves, a knowledgeable bookseller and books. Lots and lots of lovely books, including a sci fi bookshelf, which is often a luxury in an indie; a children's area complete with toys I wanted to play with; random fun stuff such as Moomin postcards I forgot to buy in my excitement at all the books; and a broad new titles and recommendations section that furnished me with my purchase.

I'd not heard of The extra ordinary life of Frank Derrick, age 81 by J B Morrison before this visit, but that's part of the fun of wandering around a physical bookshop. Not only do you get to conquer your fears and have your preconceptions smashed, you also get to stumble across unusual new reads that would've perhaps flown away from you online.

And that's something I'm always happy to crow about.

The Bookseller Crow on the Hill
50 Westow Street, Crystal Palace, London, SE19 3AF.
Tel: 020 8771 8831

Wednesday 29 October 2014

Part of my community, and yours

There are lots of reasons to want to meet a bookshop – the need for a book, location, looking for a friendly chat, a recommendation... I'm not going to try to list them all here, but my reason for wanting to visit my next destination was Twitter.

One of the (admittedly many) places that had inspired me to write this blog, Kirkdale Bookshop is simply a very entertaining read on the social media site, which is why I was very excited when I realised I could make it the second stop on my 2014 Books are my bag bookshop crawl

After all, I wanted to find out if the bookshop was as great a character as its Twitter presence.

I wasn't disappointed.

Walking up the road from a bus stop in Sydenham, Kirkdale Bookshop was hard to miss as its warm red front and lush green 'grass' brightened up a grey London street. Throw in orange and white balloons and a window celebrating its 48th birthday and I imagine all passers-by must be encouraged to smile (and pop in instead of passing by).

Stepping inside, the initial feeling is of entering a bright and cosy boutique bookshop, but passing beyond the central till and large selection of new books you discover an equally welcoming children's section and stairs leading down to the secondhand section. There's a lot more to this bookshop than you'd first expect.

My arrival coincided with children's story time and it was hard not to stop and make the most of the opportunity of being read to in such a bright and welcoming bookshop. However, time was not on my side and so instead I (only semi-reluctantly) made my way downstairs to the secondhand area.

Still a spacious place to explore, this section contrasts nicely with the new books upstairs as browsers are invited to wander through a small maze of tall bookshelves. Hours could easily be lost here but I was on a mission: I wanted to meet the bookshop Twitterer.

Breaking the ice with the request of a book recommendation and pointing to a title I've often wondered about reading, I got into discussion with a friendly bookseller who talked me through the book I'd named (I'll save that title for another time) and made some more appropriate suggestions. More conversation ensued, followed by a chat with the bookshop's Twitter king during which I had to stop myself from sounding like a crazy bookshop groupie and just repeating 'you're great/funny/highly entertaining'.

Retreating with my craziness and some helpful directions to my next bus, I eventually left, clutching the bookseller's recommendation of Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons (which I'd purchased at 10 per cent off thanks to their birthday celebrations).

With a reading group, events, gallery space, lots of lovely books and a cheery and welcoming atmosphere, it's easy to see how Kirkdale Bookshop has successfully reached its 48th birthday. It may only be a part of my Twitter community, but in the real world the bookshop is very much a part of the local community. Which is exactly where it should be.

Kirkdale Bookshop
272 Kirkdale, Sydenham, London, SE26 4RS
Tel: 020 8778 4701

Thursday 23 October 2014

Meeting new friends

On Thursday, 9th October, I was invited to a party. And not just any party. It was the launch night of the second annual Books are my bag campaign.

All the way there I was excited, skipping my way through the tube and along the road to the venue (Foyles) and generally smiling at passers-by as I looked forward to the evening ahead.

Then I walked in, late, and was confronted by a room full of groups of people I didn't know. Speeches were going on, which gave me time to catch my breath from all the skipping but also to become increasingly nervous as I stood at the back cursing myself for coming to an event where I knew absolutely no one, not even the person who'd invited me. I realised I had two options. I could stay where I was and try to look inconspicuous (I was wearing a bright red dress in a room full of dark clothing) or I could dive in and randomly start talking at people. I chose the second option.

It could have all gone horribly wrong. Fortunately the first two people I approached turned out to be the ladies from Beckenham Bookshop, and they were lovely. Their friendliness put me at ease and helped set me on the path to meeting lots more interesting, booky people and enjoying what turned out to be a truly great party. Which is why, a few days later, I made their 'home' the first stop on my Books are my bag bookshop crawl.

Arriving at the bookshop I was greeted like an old friend, with the conversation resuming where we'd left off, returning to the party and covering theirs and numerous other bookshops. I couldn't have chosen a better place to start my day.

After we'd caught up and swapped stories I set about exploring the bookshop, with my only regret about my visit being that I was unable to stay for the rest of the day.

Beckhenam Bookshop is surprisingly large for an indie, but also bright and airy, even when at the very back. Well stocked with all the fiction and non-fiction genres you could ask for, I often found myself stopping to enjoy what I like to think of as 'special' books because they're great gifts but deserve more attention than being lost on your coffee table. And yes, I did fall for Much Loved (hint to any family members reading).

However, I couldn't afford the weight of carrying a large book around for a day-long bookshop crawl, so I left the beautiful book behind and instead asked for a light recommendation - something to balance the heavy reads I've recently been selecting. The answer? Magic for Beginners, a short story collection by Kelly Link. Not only was I fascinated by the recommendation, I was also kicking myself for having not thought of short stories before.

Book in bag, it was time to depart. But not before the ladies had kindly helped me to work out the route for the beginning of my bookshop crawl and shared the secret of navigating London buses. It was their support at the start that helped to make my day the success it became.

Indeed so helpful and friendly had they been that I was sorry to say goodbye, my consolation being that - like all good friends - I know I'll see them again.

Beckenham Bookshop
42 High Street, Beckenham, Greater London, BR3 1AY
Tel: 020 8650 9744

Wednesday 15 October 2014

Bookshops are my bag

I have a rule that – unless there's a very good reason – I will only write about a bookshop I've a) visited and b) spent money in. Which is why in this week's post I'm only going to tell you about 12 of the 15 bookshops I visited for the second annual Books are my bag day of bookshop parties.

Why? Because the best way to support a bookshop is to experience it first hand and spend money it. After all, how could I expect any of you to be encouraged to visit and enjoy bookshops if I wasn't prepared to do so myself?

But what is Books are my bag? In case you missed last year's post it's a campaign to get people off the internet and back into bookshops – to remind us of the joy of real-world bookshopping, of meeting booksellers and readers and stepping through the door of a bookshop and meeting a read you wouldn't ordinarily encounter.

My first stop was Beckenham Bookshop in (depending on personal preference) north Kent/south London. Having met the women from this shop at the Books are my bag launch party two days before I was welcomed like an old friend, giving me a hint of the experience regular customers must experience every time they visit. Our conversation was completed with the recommendation of short story collection Magic for beginners by Kelly Link and instructions for easy navigation of the south London buses... my bookshop crawl had begun.

Kirkdale Bookshop in Sydenham came next. A combination of new and secondhand books, I arrived part way through children's story time and would happily have sat down and listened where I not pushed for time. Instead, as the bookshop was also celebrating its 48th birthday I was able to enjoy 10 per cent off my purchase of Stella Gibbons' Cold Comfort Farm. A book I've often wondered about but never read, I was pleased to have it recommended when I asked for something to balance the heavy doorstops I've been reading recently. Double checking my bus route I set out for number three.

Crystal Palace's The Bookseller Crow on the Hill is somewhere I've always wondered about but been – I'm ashamed to admit – a little scared to visit. I'll explain why when I write in more detail, but needless to say there was nothing to be scared of, other than wanting to spend too much money on books... In the recommends section I picked up The extra ordinary life of Frank Derrick, age 81, by J B Morrison. I know you shouldn't judge a book by its name, but what a great name.

Hopping on another bus I made my way to Dulwich Books. Frustratingly my poor time management meant I arrived minutes after a child-focused Roald Dahl bookshop party had ended, and two hours before the author Jeremy Page introduced his book The collector of lost things. On the plus side I still got to buy the book and I met another friendly bookshop which, in honour of the day, also gave me a limited edition Tracy Emin-designed Books are my bag tote and two free books. Lovely.

Five and six on my list were both in Herne Hill - the tiny but delightful Herne Hill Books and the beautiful children's bookshop Tales on Moon Lane. The first would fit into my living room three times and still leave space for more but still had as many customers as I've seen in much larger bookshops, here I picked up the rather scary-looking The girl with all the gifts by M R Carey. At the other end of the fiction spectrum, a chat with a bookseller at the children's bookshop soon had me eager to read my next purchase of Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan. It was here that I also met another bookshop crawler, @Yayeahyeah, a YA fiction blogger.

Switching to the underground to travel into town, my seventh bookshop was the discount destination of South Kensington Books. Having walked along its home street many times when visiting the Natural History Museum (a favourite haunt of mine) I couldn't quite believe I'd not visited this destination before, especially when I saw how far back the shop stretches and how cheap much of its stock is. I happily picked up SuperSense by Bruce Hood to satisfy my non-fiction cravings.

And now it was time to revisit a bookshop from last year's event. G Heywood Hill, a brief walk from Green Park, had been undergoing renovation works when I last came here, meaning I delayed writing properly until I could return to experience the shop to the full. I'd liked the shop on my first visit, so returning to see the finished offering was a real treat, as was my purchase of What Katy Did by Susan Coolidge. It was also while chatting here that I decided to take a detour to find bookshop nine...

John Sandoe [Books] Ltd, was somewhere I'd been unable to decide about visiting, meaning I'm very grateful for the recommendation (and directions) that set me on my way. Located just off a very busy main road you enter the bookshop and step back in time. In this classic bookshop I bought a classic - Howards End by E M Forster. I want to say more but for now I'll just tell you it was wonderful – find out more in a couple of weeks.

Number ten was another old favourite. Watermark Books in Kings Cross was the first bookshop party I actually managed to get to on the day. Here I found a whole host of authors hanging out and a selection of cakes and bubbly too. It was great to see so many customers engaging with the various wordsmiths and I got to meet crime writer Jake Arnott as he chatted to a friendly bookseller. I first came here on last year's bookshop crawl and have revisited several times since, so I hope they'll forgive me that on this occasion I only bought a greeting card.

The understated Persephone Books was my 11 and I confess I cheated on my way here, hopping into a taxi to give my feet a rest and save time. Jumping out of the cab and entering a pedestrian zone, the light grey of this bookshop immediately caught my eye as it mimicked the simplicity of the covers it houses. Two lines introducing Frances Hodgeson Burnett's The Making of a Marchioness captured my imagination here.

[CENSORED] On foot I then took in bookshops 12, 13 and 14, but as they were all quite specialist in their subjects I found myself unable to buy anything on this visit. When I return – with a little more energy – I aim to get to know their subjects properly, make a purchase and finally tell you about them. [CENSORED]

My final destination was also the place where I completed last year's bookshop crawl: Foyles on Charing Cross Road. Lack of time last year meant I only managed a glass of wine in Ray's Jazz Cafe upstairs, so this time I made sure to explore every floor of its new flagship store before pausing for a bowl of stew for dinner (and lunch). Even after a long day – and already overloaded with book purchases – I felt like a kid in a sweetshop. Getting my hands on Julio Cortazar's Hopscotch was the icing on the cake of an epic day.

This post is only a very small glimpse of the many varied and wonderful bookshops I met on my Saturday bookshop crawl and I must apologise if it appears list-like at times. All I ask is that you return over the coming weeks to find out more about each of my destinations.

They're all independent and individual, and I can't wait to tell you about them.

Beckenham Bookshop
42 High Street, Beckenham, Greater London, BR3 1AY. Tel: 020 8650 9744. @BeckenhamBooks

Kirkdale Bookshop
272 Kirkdale, Sydenham, London, SE26 4RS. Tel: 020 8778 4701. @KirkdaleBooks

The Bookseller Crow on the Hill
50 Westow Street, Crystal Palace, London, SE19 3AF. Tel: 020 8771 8831. @booksellercrow

Dulwich Books
6 Croxted Road, Dulwich, London, SE21 8SW. Tel: 020 8670 1920. @DulwichBooks

Herne Hill Books
289 Railton Road, Herne Hill, London, SE24 0LY. Tel: 020 7998 1673. @HerneHillBooks

Tales on Moon Lane
25 Half Moon Lane, Herne Hill, London, SE24 9JU. Tel: 020 7274 5759. @talesonmoonlane

South Kensington Books
22 Thurloe Street, London, SW7 2LT. Tel: 020 589 2916. @SouthKenBooks

G Heywood Hill
10 Curzon Street, London, W1J 5HH. Tel: 020 7629 0647. @HeywoodHill

John Sandoe [Books] Ltd
10 Blacklands Terrace, Chelsea, London, SW3 2SR. Tel: 020 7589 9473. @JohnSandoe

Watermark Books
Kings Cross Station, London, N1C 4AL. Tel: 020 7713 7903. @Watermark_Books

Persephone Books
59 Lamb's Conduit Street, London, WC1N 3NB. Tel: 020 7242 9292. @PersephoneBooks

107 Charing Cross Road, London, WC2H 0DT. Tel: 020 7434 1574. @Foyles

Wednesday 8 October 2014

Girl meets boy

I've already told you about my first love, the place that opened my eyes to the joys of bookshops, now it's time to write about my second.
Galloway's (RIP), close to the seafront in Aberystwyth, west Wales, was the bookshop where I first came to appreciate the full extent of the independent offering and the benefits of getting to know your local bookseller.

And the reason I realised exactly how great booksellers can be is because a girl met a boy.

I wasn't that girl, but she is a good friend. And after they'd hit it off following a very random encounter my friend kindly volunteered to go and buy a book for me from our local indie, where the boy – affectionately known as the Galloway's Guy – could often be spotted manning the till. Obviously the girl's volunteering was entirely selfless and had nothing to do with wanting to see the boy again. Maybe.

I have no idea how the conversation at the till went, or what he thought of her choice of book (I do know she admitted it was for me), but more than ten years later they're still happily married, so I consider it a pretty successful bookshopping trip.

And the book? The flight from the enchanter, by Iris Murdoch.

At the time a very new to me author, I'd fallen in love with her writing and would randomly pop into the bookshop to buy another of her works whenever my first salary would allow. 

However as this was only my second ever bookshop I was still pretty nervous about making conversation with a bookseller, which meant I was very grateful to my friend for happening to start to date one, giving me the confidence to talk to him too. And as their relationship blossomed, there I was (probably being a bit of a pest) quizzing him about books and raving about my new love of Iris Murdoch.

Whether it was to shut me up, win points with the girl or simply because he was a dedicated bookseller I couldn't say, but at some point in our conversation the boy pointed out that instead of waiting for all of Iris' works to flow through the shop I could instead ask the bookshop to order them all and then buy a book at a time whenever my funds would allow. When the manager later confirmed this I was over the moon.

I still remember the first time I walked up to the back of the shop and looked through the hatch where customer orders were kept. There on the shelf was the near complete works of Iris Murdoch (as mentioned, I already owned a few), just waiting for me to buy them when the limited funds of my first ever salary would allow. As a young 20-something I'm sure I shouldn't've been quite so excited as I was, but having previously tried to buy a different – less prolific – author's works only for the publisher to redesign the covers half way through I couldn't help but bounce with delight.

Galloway's sadly closed a few years ago, but the bright, open shop spanning three floors lives on in many memories, the friendly booksellers often cross my path and my Iris Murdoch collection still has pride of place on my shelves.