Thursday 30 January 2014

Village community in a three-bookshop town

Despite having now lived in Kent for almost a decade, until a month or so ago I'd never visited Faversham. I knew there was a creek, and I'd heard about the hop festival, but if I'm brutally honest I'd simply not heard anything to tempt me to visit when there were places like Whitstable or Canterbury nearby.

Then I met someone who lives in the town.

She told me it's home to three bookshops.

I rearranged my diary.

The Saturday I travelled to the north Kent town happened to be a market day blessed with blue skies and relatively warm temperatures, meaning bustling streets and great weather to show the area at its best.

My guide gave me a relaxed, meandering tour of the town, taking in market stalls, antiques, gift shops, the creek and various houseboats (I've a big soft spot for water and boats) and, most importantly, the three bookshops. But before I get to those bookshops I have to mention how friendly and attractive the town was. Maybe my guide cannily avoided the branded part of the town, but during my visit I was struck by the variety of independent shops, the character of the buildings themselves and just how welcoming the people were.

In most of the shops (book or otherwise) that we visited someone would say hello and exchange a few friendly words, and even in the street when a shopper heard me comment on an attractive building they paused to recommend a few more things I might like to look out for. Faversham had all the quirk and community appeal of a village, with the necessary distance to be found in a town.

But back to the bookshops. Our tour started down a quaint lane in The Fleur Bookshop. A charity shop run by The Faversham Society it was hard not to appreciate the fact I was in a town that was so much a community it even has its own community-run bookshop.

Set in a period building with beams and quaint features, the bookshop had a wide selection of more than enough to inspire my guide and I to begin a wonderfully booky conversation of past loves and those we're both yet to encounter.

Picking up Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall, I then continued the book conversation with the two lovely older ladies on the till as they disagreed over my choice of book: one loved it, the other thought it rather slow, but whatever I end up thinking of the book I certainly enjoyed their lively banter.

Next up was Bowstring Bargain Books. A decidedly more new establishment, here I was treated to a selection of discount titles in a light and airy shop that remembered to cater for the needs of us classics lovers as much as the more contemporary reader, not forgetting a well-stocked local interest section.

Wilkie Collins' The Moonstone caught my attention here, and once again I found myself treated to some friendly conversation with the bookseller, this time taking in music as well as books - always a good combination.

The delightfully named Past Sentence was our third destination. Ticking all the boxes of a secondhand bookshop to get lost in, this even offered a large selection of battered sci-fi - which always gets a big thumbs up from me. Ordinarily I'd probably have splurged on this genre, but it would have been very rude to ignore the rest of the shop, not forgetting my guide, who I was still happily chatting books with.

And so I continued through the winding shelves, never knowing if the next corner would be the last and enjoying the floor to ceiling shelves, with books crammed into every available space. Eventually we came to the final turn, and so our conversation rested on a book my guide had very much enjoyed, Tim Pears' In a land of plenty.

Having appreciated her recommendation of visiting the town it would've been rude not to open my mind to a new-to-me author too.

Satisfied with our purchases, all that remained to be done was the conclusion of our conversation - over hot chocolate and cake at Jittermugs. What better way to end a bookshop tour of the community?

The Fleur Bookshop
1B Gatfield Lane, Faversham, Kent, ME13 8NX
Tel: 01795 590621

Bowstring Bargain Books
6b and 6c Preston Street, Faversham, Kent, ME13 8NS
Tel: 01795 229263

Past Sentence
119 West Street, Faversham, Kent, ME13 7JB
Tel: 01795 590000

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