Door Closes on the Open Book

 

The End of A Chapter and the Start of Another

interior of the 'Open Book'
interior of the ‘Open Book’

We’ve been home now for four days. Our stint as booksellers-in-residence at the Open Book second hand bookshop is now over for the husband and me. It was a great adventure. We hope we’ve left the Open Book slightly tidier and the stock a bit better organised – having built on  the hard work of our predecessors in the project. Now it’s over to our successors-in-residence to continue the process.

You’ll have seen from my earlier posts on our time in Wigtown that we met all sorts of interesting and lovely people – both local and visitors to the town. We did a bit of exploring of this corner of Scotland and liked what we saw. It was good to visit the other bookshops in Wigtown as well. How wonderful to have them all, and to have people who are so committed to selling real books in real independent shops and who are prepared to work so hard to do so. It was an eye-opener as to how much goes into running a successful bookshop and it’s definitely a labour of love. More power to all independent bookshops!

During the fortnight, although there wasn’t a lot of spare time to write, I did get to do a bit of thinking and planning in connection with my writing. And I met several local authors and  we shared experiences, thoughts and ideas – this in itself was such a valuable opportunity.

The Martyrs' Stone, Wigtown
The Martyrs’ Stone, Wigtown

So thanks to the Wigtown Book Festival Company and all those behind this unique project, especially to project manager, Anne for the chance to be part of the Open Book. Thanks, too, to Joyce from the Old Bookshop, to the owners of the Glaisnock Cafe, (yummy),  to Jayne and to Sarah from the writers’ group, and to  everyone else  who made us so welcome.

And most of all thanks to the Open Book shop. It was fun getting to know the best wee bookshop in the world.

END OF CHAPTER

Kelvin Walkway, Glasgow
Kelvin Walkway, Glasgow

It’s a long drive from Scotland’s National Book Town to our home in the Hebrides, so we broke our journey north on Saturday with an overnight stay in Glasgow. We stayed at a hotel in the city’s vibrant west end and so were able to enjoy a walk in the Botanical gardens and along the River Kelvin walkway, as well as a lovely dinner out at a nearby Italian restaurant.

Then on Sunday we drove the rest of the way home. And what a drive home it was. It was a beautiful day and  the west of Scotland was looking stunning. Loch Lomond, Glencoe, Kintail, to name just a few of the places, were all showing off their full glory – Scotland was at its most jaw-dropping and glorious best.

Scorrybreac, Skye
Scorrybreac, Skye

It’s nice to be home. The weather has continued to be good and I’ve already had the chance to enjoy one of my favourite local walks.

NEW CHAPTER

Since getting back,  I’ve also been catching up on all my own writing jobs and looking to further the plans I finalised while I was away.

There are two deadlines tomorrow.

One is for my contribution to Words with Jam, the online writers magazine that I’ve been on the staff of since its inception around four years ago. The theme of April’s issue is History and I got two pieces off to the editor yesterday.

The other deadline is for an  application to be included in an opportunity being offered to writers by XPONorth. Below is an edited extract from the organisation’s publicity for the opportunity.

XPONorth (Writing & Publishing) is delighted to offer seven independent, self-publishing authors living in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, the chance to sell and promote their work at the Indie Author Fair 2015. The Fair takes place at Foyles Bookshop, London, on Saturday 17th April 2015.

The Fair is part of the London Book Fair Indie Author Fringe Festival, run by The Alliance of Independent Authors/Indie ReCon, and Triskele Books are hosting the 2nd Indie Author Fair at Foyles Bookshop.

Authors selected for the showcase will be offered support and mentoring in developing their marketing and promotional materials and platforms in readiness for the Fair.

Indie authors living the Highlands and Islands can apply to participate in this showcase either to be present in person with their books at the Fair (books, plus promotional materials), or to have their books available on the XPONorth display forsale and with promotional materials.

Whether for readers, writers, publishers or observers of the publishing scene, this will be an unmissable event – an opportunity to say hello to the best indie authors in the business, meet suppliers, talk to experts, buy/sell some books. The event will be FREE to the general public.

( XPONorth Wrtiting and Publishing is delivered by Emergents Creatives CIC Ltd, and the programme is funded by European Regional Development Fund and HIE.)

My application is away. I’m not planning to attend in person, but it would be good to have my books promoted and on offer there, so fingers are crossed.

A week from today I’ll be off back down to Glasgow. I’m attending the annual, weekend conference of the Scottish Association of Writers. So I’ve got travel arrangements to finalise and promotional materials to gather. This is a great opportunity to meet other writers, to catch up with my fellow members from the Edinburgh Writers’ Club, to network, attend workshops and to see if I’ve had any success in the Association’s conference competitions. I’ve entries in a few categories so maybe, just maybe…

Then, after I get home, it will be all systems go for the April publication of my first children’s novel. More of that in a later post.

 

 

 

 

 

The Open Book – days 9 and 10

Walking, window-dressing and working hard

Cally Forest Walk
Cally Forest Walk

Yesterday was a lovely sunny day. It was very quiet in the shop so we closed a bit earlier than normal and went for a walk in the Cally forest at gatehouse of Fleet. There were buds on the trees, swathes of snowdrops and the birds were in good voice. Maybe, just maybe spring is on its way. Again we were impressed by how lovely this part of Scotland is and we thoroughly enjoyed our time in the fresh air. We rounded off our time out with a glass of ale at the Masonic Arms hotel and returned to the flat feeling much better for our time outdoors.

Today it was back to work and it was a longer day in the shop to make up for yesterday’s early close. Iain began by giving the place a good hoover. It’s amazing how grubby the shop floor gets in a couple days! Then he set about moving the fiction paperback books around so that they’re all in the same section of the shop. In order to do that, he first of all had to move crime fiction and in order to do that sci-fi had to come down  couple of shelves. However, despite it being a big task he has made good progress today.

Shop Window of Scottish Books
Shop Window of Scottish Books

Meanwhile, I have done another window display. Different window this time and I decided on a Wigtown and Scottish theme. I’m quietly proud of how it looks. I plan to do the third and final window on Friday, when Iain should be out of the way with his paperback reorganisation.

I also did a new table display and chose the theme of Birds. The shop has a large assortment of bird books, so I thought it would be a good idea to showcase a few of them.

I finished up by going round all the shelves, just straightening and pulling books to the front and generally tidying up.

In amongst all this there were customers to serve – the bit we like best. There was a fairly steady flow of people today. Again several of them took the time to chat and were interested to hear about the project. And Jayne from the writers group also came in to interview me about my writing for a piece on her blog.

So all in all another busy but productive day at the Open Book.

And in a PS to the sanctuary story of two days ago, ‘our’ gentleman came in to say thank you and to confirm that his operation had gone well. So that was nice.  

 

 

 

A Look Back at Week One in the Open Book

 

Wigtown Writers, Conviviality and Making New Friends

'Our' bookshop
‘Our’ bookshop

Iain and I had the pleasure of hosting the fortnightly meeting of Wigtown’s newest writers’ group on Wednesday evening in our flat above the shop.

This was a small  but diverse group of writers – both genders and all ages – and included writers of poetry, short stories, non-fiction, fiction and children’s books. The meeting was convivial and was a really good chance to meet other writers and to share our experiences of the art and craft of writing and of publishing – and in the case of one brave member to share a work-in-progress and receive feedback.

One of the group, Sarah, and I discovered a common interest in the Middle East. My second novel, Displacement is partly set in Israel and it’s a country both Sarah and I have links with and have visited many times. Sarah and I went out to lunch on Thursday and spent over an hour sharing our thoughts on and experiences of this beautiful but conflicted country.

Then yesterday evening Iain and I were invited to Sarah’s for dinner. And over a delicious chicken casserole the three of us shared a lot of our life experiences and anecdotes and cemented the foundations to what we all hope will become an ongoing friendship.

And that’s one of the best things about taking part in the Open Book Project – meeting people – both the locals who have stopped by to say hallo, and the shopkeepers and cafe owners who have made us so welcome, along with visitors to Wigtown who’ve come into the shop to browse and buy. We’ve shared the nature of our role in the shop and how the project works with many of our customers and all of them have said what a great idea it is.

Today’s been our busiest so far. We’ve sold six books and a postcard and enjoyed a good blether with all twenty (so far) visitors to the shop.

Tomorrow is a day off for us and we’ll go and explore more of this beautiful area. See you on Monday!

 

 

 

Day Four at the Wee Treasure House

 

A ‘JR Hartley’ moment, a ‘it had to happen’ moment and a  mission accomplished…

OB4 wee camera 001

It was World Book Day today so I had the brilliant idea of running a 20% off all books day in the shop. However, I don’t think there’s a career in marketing beckoning to me as we weren’t exactly swamped with customers –  but we did sell eight books.

I had a bit of a serious browse myself today and have picked out some possible purchases. Yes, it had to happen! I knew I’d succumb eventually. I’m working in a bookshop, for goodness sake – a wonderful, jam-packed space full of real, actual books.

Below are the four frontrunners from this wee treasure house of a bookshop.

  • A volume of The Penguin New Writing series from 1941, original price 9d (4.5p for those of you who don’t remember the ‘old’ money in the UK). It has an ad for Grey’s cigarettes on the back cover.  On the last page, there’s a list of books to be published later that same year. The list includes E.M. Forster’s Howard’s End and Robert Graves I Claudius. The book contains essays and extracts by Stephen Spender, Louis MacNeice and C. Day Lewis to name only a few.

OB4 wee camera 004

  • The Rambler’s Countryside Companion by E. Mansell is a 2009 reissue of a 1952 original walkers’ guide. I love the pipesmoker guy on the cover.

OB4 wee camera 002

  • A Wild Adventure by Tom Pow is a speculative verse biography of Dumfries man Thomas Watling who was transported to Botany Bay in 1789 where he became the penal colony’s  first professional artist. I attended a talk given by Pow at last year’s Edinburgh Book Festival and was very impressed by him, so this book just sits there beckoning to me.

OB4 wee camera 005

  • The Longest War by Jacobo Timerman was picked out by Iain for me. This is the Israeli journalist’s personal memoir of Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon. I have only skimmed the book briefly, but it seems Timerman is a man of tolerance , peace and justice and he seems to have foreseen the situation that now prevails in today’s Israel, something I guess he finds lamentable, as do I.

The theme of this last book forms part of one of my own novels and pervaded today’s lunch date. I was taken out to lunch by Sarah, one of the members from one of the local writers’ group whose meeting we hosted yesterday evening in ‘our’ flat above the shop. I’ll be doing a separate post about the meeting and the lunch very soon.

The JR Hartley moment in the shop this morning was charming. (For those readers who are too young, or who aren’t from the UK, so won’t know of this reference to an old but classic TV ad there’s a Wikipedia explanation below). A couple came in and the guy was looking for a years’ old copy of the Sparky annual. It turned out he’d designed/drawn the cover but didn’t have the book and was now very keen to get it. Sadly it isn’t in the Open book’s stock.

And finally, I completed the tidy up of the children’s fiction section toady. It’s now all sorted by age and the shelves labelled accordingly. Hurrah!

Another good day in our bookshop-keeping life.

 

From Wikipedia: J. R. Hartley is the name of a fictional character in a popular British advertisement promoting the Yellow Pages which was first shown in 1983.[1]

The advertisement shows an elderly man (actor Norman Lumsden) asking in several second-hand bookshops for “Fly Fishing by J. R. Hartley”. Every attempt fails, and the next scene shows him at home looking dejected. His daughter, sympathising, hands him the Yellow Pages (the UK’s telephone directory for local businesses); in the next scene he looks delighted as his end of a telephone conversation reveals that a shop has a copy of the book. He asks them to keep it for him. He responds at dictation speed to a question: ‘My name? Oh, yes, it’s J. R. Hartley.’ The advertisement ends by promoting the Yellow Pages.

 

 

 

 

A Serious Collector and a Spooky Kettle

 

Days two and three at the Open Bookshop

'Our' bookshop
‘Our’ bookshop

We had quite an assortment of people in the shop yesterday, some customers, a man from the local council and someone wanting to sell books to the shop.

The man from the council had lots of questions to ask about the shop and flat and rather flummoxed by the notion that we aren’t the owners of either. When he got his head round this fact, having been even more flummoxed by my explanation of who we were and why we were in the shop and flat, he left to pursue his enquiries elsewhere.

We caused further consternation when we had to tell the prospective seller of books that we didn’t have the authority to buy his books from him, but he seemed happy enough to go and ask the people with the authority after we pointed him in their direction.

We had one very serious book collector in – serious in the sense of his passion for collecting old books, not in his demeanour, he was actually very nice and friendly. He made a serious purchase including four beautifully illustrated volumes on wildflowers.

Another very charming gentleman came in looking for books on the history of the local railway, but alas there are no such volumes in the shop. However, we did have a pleasant chat about trains and railways in general. He even declared himself a fan of the new but somewhat controversial Edinburgh trams. He said he just loves anything that runs on rails. I do hope he will find the books he was looking for.

It was another very cold day but we gave each other time off to go out and explore the town a bit. We both headed for the harbour and wildfowl reserve, but it wasn’t a day to linger outside. After closing the shop we went to one of the local pubs for a pre-dinner drink. I did enjoy my whisky sitting by a lovely, warming log fire.

Today I continued with the sorting out of the children’s fiction section. I would never have thought that sorting books could be so tiring but it’s hard work. However, it’s also satisfying and more day should do it. I’ve almost finished sorting the books into age-appropriate sections and one lady who came in was very complimentary on the new layout. This gave me a warm and happy feeling 🙂

My first ever attempt at window-dressing
My first ever attempt at window-dressing

I have also done a children’s book window display. It’s for very young children – well more their parents actually – with suggestions for bedtime stories. It looks okay to my unartistic eye.

This evening we are hosting the monthly meeting of a local writers’ group at the flat and I’m looking forward to meeting them and joining in with their meeting. I’ll report on how it goes in my next post.

And I can’t leave without telling you the story of the spooky kettle. The kettle in the flat is the weirdest piece of kitchen equipment I’ve ever come across. Sometimes it will allow you to switch it on, other times it won’t. But if you get cross and decide to put a pan of water on the hob to heat instead, it immediately works. In fact now all we have to do when it’s playing up is put the ring on, on the hob, no pan of water necessary, and then press its button and voila, it works.

 

 

 

 

Day One at the Open Bookshop

interior of the 'Open Book'
interior of the ‘Open Book’

It’s day one for the husband and me in our fortnight as booksellers-in-residence at the Open Book in Wigtown. I blogged about the background to our involvement in this project here. The shop is well-stocked and has an eclectic selection of second-hand books. Outside, it’s been a bitterly cold day with snow flurries, but the shop is cosy. We had four visitors to the shop this morning and then while I nipped up to the flat for a bit of lunch, the husband had six more people come in and he made a sale.

As I write this just after 4p.m. we’ve had a total of thirteen people in for a browse. One lady  – an artist – was looking for hardbacks with no pictures or photos and with page edges in good condition. The subject matter wasn’t important. This was an intriguing brief! It turned out she does paper-folding using old books. She didn’t have much time to browse, so I said I’d pick some out for her and to come back when she has more time. There’s now a small bundle awaiting her inspection.

Sci-fi section all sorted
Sci-fi section all sorted

Husband has done a tidy up of the science-fiction section and I’ve made a start on the children’s section, but it’s going to take a few days I reckon to get it a bit more child-friendly.

Children's section is a work in progress...
Husband Children’s section is a work in progress…

So a fairly busy and productive start.

Our Very Own Bookshop

The Open Book Project

image © Strannik_fox via shutterstock.com
image © Strannik_fox via shutterstock.com

It’s almost time. On Friday, me and the husband will drive down from our home on the Isle of Skye to Edinburgh to spend the weekend with our son and his wife-to-be. It will be good to spend time with them and have a proper catch-up. I’m sure one of the main topics will be how the plans for the wedding in May in Cyprus are going––an event the whole family is looking forward to.

But quality family time isn’t the reason for this post. Edinburgh is a stopping off point before Iain and I embark on a bit of an adventure. On Sunday we’ll be heading off to Wigtown, a small market town in the south-west of Scotland. Wigtown is also Scotland’s National Book Town, a title earned not only because it has a high number of second hand bookshops relative to its size, but also because of its very popular annual book festival. However, as the festival takes place in the autumn, it’s not the reason for our visit.

We’re going to Wigtown because our application to take part in The Open Book Project was accepted. This is a six-month project being run by the book festival company. The project sought people to run a bookshop in the town for stints between two and six weeks and to blog about their experience. The bookshop in question deals in second hand books and is called The Open Book. It’s an unpaid residency but comes with a flat above the shop where we’ll live for the duration.

image © Miguel Garcia Saavedra via shutterstock.com
image © Miguel Garcia Saavedra via shutterstock.com

Below is an extract from the project’s pitch:

“Old-fashioned” bookshops have never been more under threat yet they have also never been more valued by bibliophiles. How do traditional bookshops thrive and survive in a digital world? How does the fantasy of being a bookseller compare to the reality? The Open Book is a matchless experience, offering participants the opportunity to discover what it’s like to run a bookshop in Scotland’s National Book Town, and to contribute to a unique literary community by helping to sustain one of its bookstores. While in Wigtown, guest booksellers will be asked to blog about their experience and consider the role of the bookshop and the bookseller in the 21st century.

Qualities looked for in visiting booksellers include a passion for books, good communication skills and a sense of humour. We are looking for people who will bring new ideas and new energy to Scotland’s National Book Town.

Preference may be given to those who may also use the period of their visit for writing or other artistic activities, although that is not compulsory.

image © CoolR via shutterstock.com
image © CoolR via shutterstock.com

We’re thrilled to have been selected. We’re excited at the prospect. We’re nervous with anticipation, unsure what to expect and open to this new experience.

We don’t know Wigtown or the wider area of Dumfries and Galloway  very well at all, although we did have one summer holiday in a cottage Dalbeattie, thirty years ago when our children were small. I expect Wigtown will be similar to our own little town and I know I’ll feel at home in the Co-op supermarket.

We’ve never run a shop before, but between us I think we can cover all the bases. The most daunting aspect for us , I guess, will be doing the window displays as neither of us are particularly artistic. But we’re each going to give it a go.

However, as avid book readers, we’re both keen to explore the shop’s stock and to chat to its customers about the books they’re interested in.

The husband is a sci-fi and fantasy fanatic and he’s also interested in sport, technology and motorcycling.

I’m very interested in children’s fiction, both classic and modern. In the adult  realm, I like mainly crime and romance. I also enjoy lots of types of non-fiction.

So it would be good if we found a first edition JM Barrie or HG Wells, or a Mary Stewart or John Buchan on the shop’s shelves!

Apart from blogging about how it’s going throughout our time in the shop, I plan to get started on my third novel for adults––just mulling over ideas at this stage, and I also plan to work on my next piece for the online writing magazine Words with Jam to which I’m a regular contributor.

Other than that we both have open minds as to the literary events and opportunities that could arise while we keep shop.

Watch this space for developments…

The project blog is here where I’ll also be posting and where you can read the posts so far by previous shopkeepers.

The Wigtown Book Festival runs from 25 Sept to 4 Oct this year and the programme is out now. See here for more information.