Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Daunt Books Chelsea – Dianne Hofmeyr

I play games whenever I pass my local bookshop… ‘Today I will not stop. I will not buy another book… Well perhaps… just a short browse.’ But a short browse in Daunt Books is impossible. Before you know it an hour has disappeared. Book lust takes over. I lose myself on dark rainy afternoons or on summer mornings with the sunshine streaming in and the smell of paper rising up thickly in the yellow air. The smell, the touch, the hush. 

The first Daunt Books I ever stepped into was the one in Marylebone Road. In that galleried space I lost myself to the travel books and between the new books, found old unexpected copies of books I didn’t even know I was looking for. The lapis lazuli cover of Sacred Luxuries – Fragrance, Aromatherapy & Cosmetics in Ancient Egypt inspired a teenage novel and The Collected Traveller in Central Italy left me with the taste of vin santo in my mouth. 

My local Daunt in Fulham Road, Chelsea, replaced the Pan Bookshop – a ramshackle dream-palace of a bookshop that I was sad to see disappear. Its disappearance seemed to sum up the demise of the Independent Bookshop – so what joy when Daunt Books rose up from its ashes. And with Independent Booksellers Week about to start (30th June – 7th July) it seems the right time to be talking about favourite bookshops. 

Daunt’s success I think lies in their unique diversity. This is where you’ll find the book that no one else seems to stock… that copy of The Poetics of Space… or that definitive book on Paris… in fact I ended up with three definitive books on Paris thanks to a very helpful assistant… or that American edition of How to make a Book just when you’re doing a book-making course at the V&A.

When I ask Jonathan Ellen, the manager of the Chelsea branch, what makes Daunt Books successful, he answers it’s because they keep no stock, bar the single copy on the shelf that you see and when this is sold another single copy is ordered. No stock room filled with unsold books. If a book you want is not on the shelf, they’ll order it in by the next day. It’s this policy that keeps them making a profit.

In Chelsea they have a glorious children’s book section with plenty of space to sit and browse and read, and be read to, which Jonathan admits sometimes leaves books looking a bit tousled. He says the teenage section is devoted to the latest top sellers so agrees the mid-listers suffer, but in the picture book section, the shelves grown with all and every type of book… old favourites and new unknowns. And talking about unknowns, Jonathan recommended Archie, a picture book by Domenica More Gordon, published by Bloomsbury. It’s making its presence felt with few words and fresh illustrations that tell of a dog who acquires a sewing machine and discovers his forté for canine couture. There’s a creation for everyone including some important corgis.

Daunt Books also run an annual Children’s Short Story competition in three age categories. Winning entries from each age category and extracts from each age category come out annually in a book. This year, Lauren St John was the judge and said of the children’s writing; ‘When imaginations like yours combine with bookshops like Daunt, magic happen’.

I think magic happens everyday in a Daunt bookshop.

See Domenica More Gordon's promo video for Archie:

Daunt Books,
158-164 Fulham Road,
Opening hours:
Monday - Saturday 9.00 - 21.00
Sunday 11.00 - 19.00


VikLit said...

Daunt books is a great shop! I didn't know they ran a competition , will check it out.

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

I think you have to be 14 or under. But its a great opportunity... imagine having your work in print and being sold at the check-out counter of a bookshop at age 11! Fantastic! I read some of the 2012 extracts and they were wonderful.

Penny Dolan said...

"This is where you’ll find the book that no one else seems to stock."

Now this sounds like a bookshop that offers truly enjoyable browsing - though a pity that it is so far away from here!

Sounds a great place to visit next time I'm down in London.