Thursday, 1 September 2016

ME AND MY BIG MOUTH! by Penny Dolan

I am a little wary of speaking out or deciding. My Gemini nature means that I tend to see both sides of a story. 

But,” I say, hesitating, “what about this or about that?” or even maybe . . . Fence-sitting, that’s what I do. 

(I’m not talking about current Big Issues here, because they are often so deeply sad and complicated that speaking rationally about the inevitable developments is almost impossible.)

However, three weeks ago, I really made my mind up. 
I was ANGRY. 

I’d been into my local bookstore, looking for a short-listed title which wasn’t in stock, which seemed surprising. Then I spotted that the stock of children’s books seemed thinner and that teen and Y/A books had been squashed into the same cramped corner. In fact, looking round, lots of shelves seemed thinner. I felt even angrier. If there’s one thing I know, it’s that good, well-managed book-stock makes a bookshop. Aha! I spied a jaunty, hand-written A2 poster, decorated with friendly felt-pens flowers was near the door, inviting people with barista experience to run the new café .

That was when I noticed the hammering and sawing on the floor above. As I queued up at the counter, checking a gift-card’s expiry date, the rushed staff told me that a new coffee shop was certainly planned for up there. Gah! Even by my calculations, a cafe would need to be more than a perch-on-one-of-two-bar-stools-at-the-counter kind of place to be worth it – and that meant fewer bookshelves and less books.

I was, by then, furious and righteous. This town is full of cafes and coffee shops, including several independents. Why did we have to lose good book-stock space for another café? Harumph! I even posted about the unfairness of it all on my just-begun Cranky Laptop blog, which is almost too new to be visited.
Grrr! Fume! Angry, angry! I was so cross and dispirited that for several days I stayed away from the offending side of town. Then as I was driven past, I saw that the whole exterior was being redecorated, which was even more puzzling.

Last Friday, I had to pass by the bookshop and couldn't help but see that - outside and in - the place was looking quite lovely. Nice, grey-blue paint outside. Inside, instead of the old polished-wood shelving stacks, was an airy mix of muted sea-blue, gentle dove-grey and a pale, creamy white. I wandered around, listening to what people were saying and they all seemed quite pleased and smiley. I even felt smiley.
However, I was still bristling about that lost book-stock space until, to my shame, I heard someone say these important words “. . . and they’ve added another floor.”
A what? Yes, another floor! The shop now has three floors instead of two!

I went up those stairs and saw the first floor – the one that is almost half a rather nice café – now had a children’s book area spread across the rest of the space, plus some – ahem - useful and needed “small rooms”. 

I even spied a public lift, useful for families with toddlers as well as for widely-read and under-fit customers

I went to the counter, taking the offered free coffee – the staff were still practising - and asked about the second floor. Yes, it was true. 

Not only was there a second floor but suddenly, sitting in that pleasant cafe space, I thought “This bookshop can now host author events!”  Real events, not just small signings.

There was even a children’s illustrator there already, with his standee banner and pile of copies, even though the shop doesn’t open properly until Tuesday: 

Andrew Sanders was getting ready to introduce children and parents to his drawing and to his picture book I HAVE AN ORANGE JUICY DRINK, recently published by Fat Fox.

I must say that I felt rather chastened and ashamed of my earlier crossness. I did see a couple of the original members of staff about so they hadn't all been pushed out, which was another of my frets eased! Besides, the shop did look quite impressively stocked and there were still some stands and shelves still waiting to be filled. The top-floor space is allocated to history, biography, travel and various factual books, in addition to the new non-fiction display just by the ground floor entrance. 

I even pondered - turncoat! - as I drank that free coffee, about using the café as an off-peak working space.

I know, in the wider scheme of things, that this single shop expansion doesn’t seem very much but at a time when one starts to expect bad news and disappointment all around, I was glad to be proved wrong. One has to grab nice moments when they happen.

It felt joyous to see interested and happy faces, and to hear murmurs of approval from the browsing (and hopefully book-buying) customers. The shop might stock more puzzles, stationery and fancy-book-goods than before, but I came away feeling heartened and hopeful as well as slightly disappointed that I won’t be in town for next weekend’s Official Bookshop Opening.

So, many apologies to all involved! All I can say now, here on Awfully Big Blog Adventure, is “Well done, Mr Daunt!” and hooray for all the staff that have been struggling through the renovations. I’m sorry for being so cross and judgemental a few weeks ago, dear Waterstones, so here’s wishing the shop - and that new café - much success and many, many book-sales!

Oh well. Sigh. So much for taking a stand. So much for boldly going blogging . . .
Maybe I should just go back to never deciding about anything ever again?
Maybe I should keep my mouth shut over on The Cranky Laptop Writes?
But, as a writer, silence can be difficult.
And there is the matter of those independent cafes . . .


Saviour Pirotta said...

Lovely post, Penny. I think most creatives like us tend to suffer from immediate-angst syndrome. Looking forward to visiting the bookshop for books and coffee next time I'm in Harrogate.

Pippa Goodhart said...

You took me on that journey from angry to hooray with you, Penny! So nice to have a story with a happy ending. I get my knickers particularly twisted when closures of libraries or bookshops loom because people often assume that, as an author, I'm just cross at the loss of a market for my own products rather than caring about the availability of books more generally.

Penny Dolan said...

Will look forward to that, Saviour! Yes, the happy ending cheered me up enormously, Pippa. There's so much sadness about the closure of bookshops and libraries, and as you say, not for your own titles. (Part of what I've always thought of as our culture going. Maybe time to mention the Libraries & Museums rally in London on 5th November?)

Any more good bookshop news out there?

Sheena Wilkinson said...

What a lovely post! I was smiling by the end, and wanting to visit your bookshop/cafe!

Ann Turnbull said...

A very cheering post, Penny. And I do think cafes in book shops are generally a good idea, as long as that doesn't mean fewer books. Shopping is tiring, and brings on a need for coffee and cake in a way that working at home doesn't. Much better if you can get this refreshment in the bookshop and then carry on browsing. If customers have to go out they probably won't come back.

Steve Gladwin said...

isn't it nice to hear a bookshop story, (pun absolutely intended) with a happy ending. Thanks Penny.

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

Lovely Penny, and hooray for Waterstones. You do make it sound as if we should all visit!

Sue Purkiss said...

It sounds lovely! Our local Waterstones (in Wells) is great too. No cafe, but lots of room for children's books.

Laurian Roche said...

lovely our penny. So delighted that they expanded. The coffee shop in Chapters Book store here brings in lots of customers who enjoy the coffee shop and the book shop.

Laurian xxx

Lynne Benton said...

So nice to hear of this improvement! In the States we went into a Barnes and Noble bookshop which was brilliant, with a wonderful children's section (as well as a coffee shop), and we grumbled that Waterstones should take note. Now it appears that they have! Thank you for this cheering post, Penny!

Mary Goldman said...

Ha, very lovely story!
I do think that you behavior fits a gemini anyway.
The side you described in the beginning would be the good side of a gemini, but there is also a side.
As my astrosofa puts it: " he does not like showing his other dark or negative side in public–he likes to present him at his best and he is really imaginative most of all"
So maybe you staying away from that part of town was in fact an attempt to hide you dark and angry side from the public :-P