Thursday 28 January 2016

Halcyon days

For some time, my friend Danny and I have been on the hunt for the nearest bookshop to where he lives. As he's London-based, you'd think that hunt would be short, but aside from the offer of a trip to one shelf in his local Tesco (I won't tell you my response but it's a wonder we're still friends) we've both failed to find a walkable bookshop to his home.

Well, I failed. Danny found a compromise.

Instead of going to the nearest bookshop to where he lives, we went for a trip to a bookshop he thought I'd enjoy exploring. He was right.

Halcyon Books in Greenwich must surely be every secondhand book lover's dream. The books are piled high, it's just the right level of scruffy and, as the window proudly advertises, everything is permanently £1 (except children's books, they're 50p). I could pretty much leave it at that and I'm sure many of you would be getting your coats on and heading for the Overground train – the bookshop's across the road on the right as you walk to town from the station – but more still needs to be said.

We arrived before lunch on a drizzly autumn day, but no one minded that we dripped a little on entry, instead leaving us to enjoy the warmth and the faint hint of that welcoming secondhand bookshop smell.

Fiction awaits to the left of the door, with books arranged in roughly alphabetical order: ie, A, B, C by first letter but not by second or third. It's a plan I'd expect to be annoyed by, but the snug scale of the shelves means a little hopping around the alphabet doesn't really make much difference.

Tallish shelves, placed close together and supplemented by piles of books wherever there's room means browsing is cosy. Lots of polite shuffling goes on as customers navigate the space available (by the time we left the shop was full) but no one minded that we were happily chatting away, catching up on news, exulting over random book finds and recommending titles we knew and loved. The cheap price tag made it incredibly hard to buy just one thing, especially when we left fiction and discovered DVDs (£1per disc) and a large stash of vinyl on the way to the non-fiction side of the bookshop.

In the end we spent a minuscule amount on five items: Danny bought Carol Shield's The Stone Diaries (on my recommendation, even though I've not read it yet*), Beryl Bainbridge's Harriet Said... and a trains DVD called Along these lines. He said the DVD was a present for someone, but I'm not judging. As for me, it's rare I find any of my favourite writer's less popular novels so I snapped up The Reef by Edith Wharton, along with one of my favourite films, Never Been Kissed**.

The bookshop is small, but it was no trouble for us to find this hoard, and an open door behind the counter taunts browsers with the promise of more gems as shelves are re-stocked ahead of future visits. Of which I'm certain there'll be many...

Halcyon Books
1 Greenwich South Street,
Greenwich, London, SE10 8NW
Tel: 020 83052675

I wouldn't normally link to Facebook, but it's worth a look to see the photo they posted from within the shop a week or so ago. I find myself wondering if there's a bookseller trapped on the other side.

*If you're reading this, Danny I hope you liked the book?
**Okay, so it's hardly the most challenging of films to be watching, but it's the only time I've encountered a copy editor in cinematic fiction. The English version of that is my former occupation, sub-editor. Which happens to be the career I was in when I met Danny, although not at the place he now works, I wasn't *that* successful!

Wednesday 20 January 2016

Finding a kindred spirit

No matter how well you know someone or something, it's still possible to have those occasional moments of shyness. The nervous fear of wondering if you should be there or if X will think you're a complete idiot.

There's doesn't even have to be a reason for having the moment of panic, it just happens. Leaving you feeling out of place and wondering when you'll be thrown out, laughed at or just looked down on for being that idiot.

This happened to me when I first entered this week's boutique bookshop. The room was small, the bookseller happily chatting to an obviously local customer, and I panicked. Rather than saying hello and exploring, I got myself to the fiction shelves, stood with my back to the other people in the room and froze. I don't know why – I've certainly visited enough bookshops to know none of those fears would come true – but I did, and it took a good long dose of reading the spines on the shelves to banish the fear.

Thankfully, the nerves abated (helped by a great selection of fiction) and I was finally ready to turn around.

At which point I was greeted by a big smile and a very warm welcome to The Bookshop Kibworth.

You know those rare occasions when you meet someone and instantly know you'll become friends? It was like that. Followed by a teeny bit, okay, a lot of disappointment as I realised I live 100+ miles away and so maybe I'd have to pause on the excitement of friends.

All of which probably sounds a little odd, but the more I spoke to the bookseller the more I knew I'd met a kindred spirit. She immediately offered me a cup of tea, and as the bookshop is small we continued to talk books, bookshops, authors and anything else that sprang to mind, including the happy coincidence that I'd arrived on the day of the bookshop's sixth birthday.

The Bookshop Kibworth is a lovely little shop, which felt just the right size for the community it serves. It's bright and colourful and as welcoming as the chatter of the bookseller I met and, while shelf space means stock is naturally limited, they offer a next-day ordering service and, honestly, I couldn't think of anything that was missing. A good range of fiction, non-fiction, young adult and children's books are available, and the variety of people who popped in during my visit were obviously satisfied with their choices of books.

Returning to the fiction shelves I'd so unnecessarily cowered by, these held absolutely perfectly the range of books I'd hope to find were I to live near a new independent bookshop. From literary fiction to crime, romance to science fiction, the selection on offer was obviously carefully considered to satisfy all moods and tastes. Combine this with the great conversation and I was in heaven.

Making the most of a rare opportunity to buy sci-fi from an indie, I eventually selected Peter F Hamilton's The Reality Dysfunction, but so diverse was the selection on offer I could easily have come away with any number of other titles.

The Bookshop Kibworth may not be near enough for me to pop into on a weekly* basis, but it's a delightful place to visit and an excellent reminder that if you're in a bookshop there's nothing to be nervous about: you're in the presence of friends.

The Bookshop Kibworth
52 High Street, Kibworth, Leicestershire, LE8 0HQ
Tel: 0116 2791121

*It is 100- miles from my parents' house, so I will be returning at the next available opportunity. And encouraging them to take regular trips to Kibworth too.

Wednesday 13 January 2016

Take your time

We're too busy rushing around. Whether it's a social engagement, a work deadline, a long drive to visit family, or an urgent post on social media (telling people about one of the others), there's always something else we need to be doing or somewhere else we need to be, meaning we rarely get the chance to stand and stare.

I'm certainly guilty of it. I'm not about to pour out a list of sins here (they'd only show me up as having a shamefully unimaginative social life) but I do have to confess to a booky instance of being in too much of a hurry.

When on my way to this week's bookshop, I was in the middle of a long journey and a little tired and hungry, which meant rather than arriving in the town and taking my time to scout out parking, cafe, bookshop, etc, I rushed to the nearest Pay and Display space I could find. And because I was in a hurry I didn't read the big sign saying 'short stay, meaning I only had 25 minutes in which to explore. Meaning I very nearly missed out on a book I've long searched for.

Warwick Books is within relatively easy reach of my parents, so it's somewhere I've often meant to visit but not quite achieved. Then it appeared in the Your bookshops section of this blog and I knew I had to make the effort.

A beautiful blue shop front greets you as you arrive at this bookshop, which looks out onto what I imagine becomes a bustling market place on the right day. Entering, it feels quite open and spacious, with warm wooden shelves opening in front of you.

Knowing I was limited for time, I merely glanced at the children's section to my right, and some of the non-fiction to the left, before noting a wall of fiction on my way to the first floor. Upstairs I found tea and coffee making facilities – how I wished I had the time to stop for a cup – as well as a comfy sofa and more of the non-fiction. Five minutes later I was back downstairs admiring the wall of fiction, noting the great variety on offer and thrilled to find a copy of David Mitchell's The Bone Clocks.

Rushing over to the till, it was finally time to slow down, buy my book and take the time to say hello to the booksellers. Mog and Pauline are absolutely lovely. Exceptionally friendly and welcoming, they empathised with my parking plight (and advised me of better options for my next visit) and personally introduced me to their wonderful bookshop.

From plans for the future (I'm looking forward to returning to see how their new shop front turns out), to book choices, they were sympathetically swift in their conversation while helping to make me wish I had more time. And this feeling was never more so than when they began talking about the children's section. Remember how long I spent there?

The bookshop has a beautifully revamped space for young readers and they're doing all they can to develop links with schools and encourage future generations. I'm not going to list everything here (it was a lot and all admirable) but their efforts do include encouraging the children to take part in reviewing the books they read.

They then proceeded to pick out examples for me to see, and oh how I wished I'd taken the time to look at the children's section sooner, instead of rushing past... S F Said's Varjak Paw was one of the books picked out as an example of a young reviewer. Ever since I 'met' the author on Twitter and saw his efforts to support young reading I've wanted to read this book, even more so because who wouldn't want to read a book about a superhero cat? Here it was in front of me, but I have a one-book-per-shop rule, and I'd already made my purchase. Willpower was out the window and this second book was mine.

Which pretty much sums up my feelings about Warwick Books. It's a gorgeous bookshop with an excellent offering for adults, but don't overlook the children's section – it's worth taking the time to explore.

Warwick Books
24 Market Place, Warwick,
Warwickshire, CV34 4SL
Tel: 01926 499939

Thursday 7 January 2016

You've nothing to prove

My first visit to Camden Market took place one cold December afternoon, at the tender age of 13.

It was the early 90s so Dr Martens were in abundance and all the older kids (it was a school trip of 13-17-year-olds) were talking about 'alternative' music and the things that made Camden cool. As a youngster who was only just discovering music, most of their conversations meant absolutely bugger all to me but I wasn't going to admit it, I was just happy to be in London.

The afternoon is now a blur but I remember the excitement of exploring the stalls and how, frozen from a winter afternoon, I used all my pocket money to buy a scarf. It wasn't a particularly exciting scarf but it was from Camden and so I wore it to death over the next few winters, telling everyone I met where it was from.

The trip was a lot of fun and helped me realise shops don't all have to be chains, but otherwise my lasting memory of the visit was of how totally and utterly cool everyone and everything in Camden was. And how much I wasn't. This mistaken, or at least extreme, belief meant I didn't return to the area until last year. Which is a crying shame, because I've definitely been missing out.

My visit was prompted by the lure of a bookshop and took place on a beautiful day at the end of the summer. It was the kind that makes you choose to walk for miles to enjoy, rather than hurrying underground, and so I walked, eventually arriving at the famous Camden Lock, where a beautiful footbridge took me into the market.

Black Gull Books is on the main market square for buying food and – despite the lunch crowds – was calm and relaxing.

A secondhand bookshop, categories include 'Sex drugs and rock n roll' and are identified by chalk board-style signs around the large for a market room, which is inside a building rather than an actual stall, although tables and boxes of books do surround the entrance. A wall of fiction awaited me, but all the children's and non-fiction you'd hope for were scattered around too. The stock is eclectic and (that word again) effortlessly cool, bringing back memories of my teenage visit.

The thing about Black Gull Books is, while it is unashamedly cool, it accepts everyone for who they are. The bookshop has as much for the indie crowd as it does the everyday reader, and when a slightly obnoxious child told his mum (and the rest of the shop) "this bookshop has no good books, only bad ones" no one batted an eyelid: it was his loss to not appreciate his surroundings, not ours.

The more time I spent in this bookshop, the more I wished I'd not been so nervous about revisiting Camden. Black Gull Books put me at ease and the variety of its stock helped me to see the market is a place for a variety of people too.

Which is why I don't feel the need to prove myself and buy books to impress. I picked up Nancy Mitford's The Pursuit of Love, because life's so much happier when you do your own thing.

Black Gull Books
70-71 Camden Lock Place,
Camden, London, NW1 8AF
Tel: 020 7267 5005