Sunday, 9 October 2011
BOOKSELLER SUNDAYS – The Essence of the Process, by John Newman of the Newham Bookshop
My Dad always said I should open a bookshop and although we disagreed a good deal about what I should do with my “education” he was absolutely right about me and books. I have been very lucky to have had a relationship with the Newham Bookshop since 1983 after we had set up home in East Ham. It was also around this time that I met Vivian Archer who then ran the Paperback Centre in nearby Green Street and who in 1987 moved over to the shop in the Barking Road where she has presided ever since. I initially worked part-time in the shop but when our second child came along I returned to social work.
It was Vivian who encouraged and supported me to return to bookselling when John and Jean, stalwarts of the children’s shop, began to plan for their retirements. I have never regretted the move for one moment and despite the almost ceaseless changes within the publishing industry I never ever wake up reluctant to go to work! I love living and working in a vibrant and diverse part of London where I spend most of my day enthusing and sharing information about books and reading. My mission has always been to try to bring the best books to the community and to endeavour to ensure children see themselves in the stories and pictures. I value the conversations I have with customers of all ages and the feedback I receive on what worked and what did not! We have been privileged to have been supported by our local community as we look ahead to our 34th year of trading in 2012.
There is a process which I have been involved in on countless occasions. It begins with the arrival of a manuscript or proof copy which I usually open with all the excitement of a child anticipating a long awaited birthday present. It can then lead to attending a launch event where it might be possible to congratulate the new author and wish them and their book well. An event might follow which wherever possible is carefully planned and executed in an effort to ensure everyone benefits from the experience. If all goes well there may be other events with a successive title or even a new series. The venue may need to change to accommodate a bigger audience. The quality and quantity of questions may then encompass matters relating to plot or characters rather then simply the usual round of probing for details of earnings accrued or how long it takes to write a book.
We have been supported by many authors over the years who have regularly returned for events and signings. One of our earliest and most important supporters was the writer and compiler of oral histories Gilda O’Neill who very sadly passed away last year. Gilda was always generous with her time and never missed an opportunity to point people in our direction. Benjamin Zephaniah and Michael Rosen have also been hugely supportive of what we do and our work with them was inspirational in giving us the confidence to develop the events work which is now integral to our business. It is a must for bookshops to cultivate relationships with authors and illustrators and develop mutually supportive ways of working together. It is also vital to have contact with sales reps and it is sad to witness them becoming a diminishing part of the trade. I always look forward to being shown new titles and love the fact that this will often spark off ideas for promotions and activities both within and outside the shop!
Some years ago now Bali Rai was being his usual entertaining self in an event at the central library here in Newham. A young and dedicated teacher had managed to persuade three teenagers who were not keen readers to come along to the after school session. As Bali wrapped up the question element of the evening the lads made there way to the exit and disappeared into the night. “Oh well”, said the teacher, “at least they nearly stuck it out to the end” As the signing queue began to lessen the same three boys were suddenly very much back in the room. “Sorry sir”, one of them said, “but we had to go and get the money to buy the books” This is perhaps one of my favourite stories from many years of organising events and I never tire of telling it because it validates all the efforts of the author, publisher, bookseller, librarian and teacher to organise community based events.
Things do not always run smoothly or go according to plan. I must admit to anxiety about getting it right and when I don’t I am pretty hard on myself because whatever happens on the day is ultimately down to me especially if I have instigated the process and identified the venue. I recognise that for an author to give up a day of their time is a big commitment especially if they are in the middle of a writing or editing phase. But over the years I have met some wonderful people and have been regularly delighted in the way children and young people have responded to having an author in their midst. Long may this continue!
The Newham Bookshop website