Friday, 19 December 2014

Indie Advent: Michelle on Astley Book Farm

Really pleased to have Michelle from Tales of Yesterday, who's fairly new to blogging but has been a friend on Twitter since before she started blogging, talking about Astley Book Farm for today's Indie Advent post!

Astley Book Farm

This is the story of how a wrong turn opened up a whole new world of books to a book addict, a great independent book shop and how I made my husband cry.

It was a wet and windy day.  Diverted traffic from the motorway meant my husband and I travelling on the country lanes back home.  We don’t venture out in the country lanes often and seemed to hit a no reception pocket!  Meaning Sat Nav blip!! Resulting in us taking a wrong turn!!  Completely lost and willing the Sat Nav to kick back into life urgently we pulled over onto a stony drive.  Whilst my husband was trying to resuscitate the Sat Nav I looked around to see where we were.  A sign behind me proudly stated

Astley Book Farm & Coffee Shop – Open

“Books!” I shouted making my husband drop the flat lining Sat Nav into the foot well of the car. I immediately put my foot on the accelerator and travelled down the long and windy drive way towards this new wonder in amazement.

Pulling up in the car park I couldn’t believe my eyes!  A huge converted barn….converted into a second hand Book Shop!  I felt my heart race a little faster and my tummy did an excited flip!  I was out of the car quicker than my husband could say “Sat Nav is now working!”.

Walking into Astley Book Farm was breath taking.  Shelves upon shelves upon shelves of books all snaking around the amazing converted barn.  Round corners, upstairs, every nook and cranny filled with books!  Every book you could imagine! 

I was in my element running around in ecstatic delight!  I literally got lost in books turning round corners and finding comfy leather chairs to sit and read in or a friendly member of staff greeting you and willing to reach the books that were too high for a small person (ahem) like me to reach.

I had been disappointed of late that there were no independent book shops near by where I lived so finding Astley Book Farm was an inspiration.  There was even a wonderful coffee shop inside.  And naturally I sampled the cake!  Yum.

I even lost my husband at one point in the maze of books.  I was amazed and also very full from eating a wonderful carrot cake!

Upon my husband finding me again I had an arm full of books.  Giving him that cheeky grin, which admittedly was a little cake crumb covered, meaning “Yes I’m taking over more of your office space with books!”  he let out a cry…okay I’m exaggerating… it was more of a sigh of “Not more books Chelle!”.

And that is the story of how a wrong turn opened up a whole new world of books to a book addict, how I found a great independent book shop and how I made my husband cry….and admit we needed to buy a new book shelf from Ikea!  RESULT!

Astley Book Farm is the largest second hand bookshop in the Midlands and really is a wonderful place to visit.  They hold around 75,000 books, of which about 15,000 are available to buy via their website. The range includes antiquarian, rare and out-of-print books, a huge range of fiction, comprehensive non-fiction sections, Children's Hayloft and the Ten Bob Barn. They add new books to the shelves and the online shop daily. And are open every day, from 10am-5pm.

If I could buy one book from Astley Book Farm for a Christmas present it would have to be a classic….A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens….PERFECT!

Please check out Astley Book Farm on their web page – or why not follow them on twitter @astleybookfarm

Check out Michelle's fabulous blog at Tales of Yesterday or catch her on Twitter where she's @chelleytoy.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Indie Advent: Merv on Booka, Oswestry

Really pleased to have what I'm fairly sure is my second guest-posting debut of the week, as Merv (my dad!)  is here to tell us about his local bookshop Booka!

Growing up in rural Shropshire in the 1950s, my mother used to take me to the village library every week after school. It was a warm and friendly place to visit, but it was small and had a limited supply of books. My own favourites were Anthony Buckeridges Jennings stories and the Famous Five adventures.  There were only two or three well-worn books from each of these great series and I reread them so often that I practically knew the texts by heart.

Realising that I needed a greater choice of reading material my mother would take me on the bus to Oswestry on a Saturday morning, where I was introduced to the Lexicon, a private lending library in the middle of town with a separate section for childrens books.

For me, at that young age, it was like heaven on earth – rows upon rows of gleaming hard back books in their original dustjackets all lined up in perfect order. The whole Jennings catalogue; every book that Enid Blyton had ever written, Richmal  Crompton’s William and a fantastic non fiction section where I could while away a couple of hours whilst my parents did the shopping.  It cost threepence in ‘old moneyto borrow two books for the week and all my pocket money went on this and my weekly comic. I shall always have fond memories of those trips, which stimulated my passion for books and reading, shared by my wife and children.

Unfortunately the Lexicon only lasted a few years and private libraries are a thing of the past, but Oswestry can now boast one of the countrys finest independent bookshops – Booka, a bookshop which has played a major role in revitalising in this lovely town.

This too is warm and friendly, beautifully lit and decorated with a huge choice of books and bookish gifts. The window panes are beautifully painted by a local artist depending on the season or current theme. They have a fine section on the surrounding area and local authors as well as customer favourites. The owners and staff are welcoming, helpful and extremely knowledgeable. This would probably be enough in itself to deserve a mention on Indie Advent but this is only the start. 

It has a wonderful café selling delicious home-made cakes which really enhances the book buying experience. I usually visit in the week with my wife, and its lovely to see all the mothers and children stopping off on the way from school for a cream cake and a thumb through the latest arrivals - such a great way of introducing children to the pleasure of reading.

They run two adult Book Clubs which meet every six weeks, the Booka Book Club meets on a Wednesday night and the Book and a Beer Book Club on a Thursday night. Both groups meet at the shop and are free to attend. New members are welcomed and members receive 10% discount off the price of each Book Club read.

They also run several Childrens Book Clubs for various age groups as well as one in conjunction with Moreton Hall, a local school.

They regularly hold fantastic and varied book events, which are very popular and sell out quickly. Recent events include an evening with Ben Collins aka The Stig and 'Talking Crime' with Louise Millar (The Hidden Girl) and Erin Kelly (Broadchurch), whilst This week they have astronaut Chris Hadfield of 'Ground control to Major Tom' at zero gravity fame. Next week there is a book signing with June Mottershead author of 'Our Zoo' who is the daughter of the founder of Chester Zoo. It's amazing how they manage to get so many top authors and speakers to this rural area.

The owners, Carrie and Tim Morris are very active in the community and the shop has won local and regional awards as well as featuring in the Independent's top 50 book shops. They have a good online presence too at and twitter @BookaBookshop.

There is absolutely nothing to dislike about this wonderful bookshop and it is a model for the sort of independent retail outlets we need to revitalise our high streets.  It has certainly worked in Oswestry where independent shops are flourishing after the recession. Well worth a visit - the town and the bookshop.

You can catch Merv on Twitter.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Indie Advent: Jean Lambert on Camden Lock Books, Old Street Station

I'm delighted to welcome MEP Jean Lambert to the blog today to talk about Camden Lock Books!

Name and location of shop: Camden Lock Books, Old Street station

Why you love it: Near my office and an independent

What one book would you buy from there as a Christmas present, and who would you give it to. The Shadow Girls – Henning Mankell for Teresa May, Home Secretary. It's a story of young, women migrants in Sweden and their encounter with a miserable writer who gives them a voice.
Independent bookshops? What independent bookshops is my first response to being asked to name my favourite one - they are all too rare in many places.

I think a further category should be ‘most missed bookshop’ and for that I would nominate Murder One, which of course used to be one of the many jewels brightening up the deeply missed bookshop strip along the Charing Cross Road. But sadly and all too obviously, rent and online competition are the clear culprits in many such disappearances.

I’m a voracious crime-fiction reader and have even attended the occasional convention. I really welcome the increasing publication of books in translation – such a skill to be able to do that well. Of course I read other genres and authors from time to time and working in The European Parliament is constant reading of one kind or another. Perhaps one of the things I enjoy most about crime writing is the fact that justice usually prevails – unlike in much of real life.

And so this morning I was in Camden Lock Books in the labyrinthine underpass of Old Street Station. I am very happy that it’s there, and remains independent and very near my London office - long may that be the case. Jason, the owner, is a real example of a dedicated bookseller: knowledgeable, and somehow on top of teeming stock.

This feels like a booklovers bookshop – it is not stylised and neat (although the different areas are clearly marked) and there are far too many books for the available shelves and floor space – bliss. It carries a wide range of stock but not just the bestsellers and can fill orders for the following day, so you don’t have to queue at the sorting office or wonder if your new neighbours can be trusted.  It would be a crime not to shop there.

Camden Lock Books can be found on their website and on Twitter.
Jean can be found online at her website and on Twitter.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Indie Advent: Erica on Gay's The Word, Bloomsbury

One of the inspirations for Indie Advent was discovering the incredible The Bookshop Around The Corner blog, and meeting Erica, who runs it, at Tales on Moon Lane a few months ago. I was thrilled when she said she was interested in taking part, and even more so when she decided to do one of my absolute favourite bookshops, Gay's The Word!

Gay’s The Word
66 Marchmont Street, Bloomsbury, London, WC1N 1AB
Tel: 0207 2787654

It’s no secret that bookshops are friendly places. But what if you enter one feeling like you don’t belong? Worried there’ll be nothing for you or - even worse - they’ll laugh you out of the shop for being so completely out of your depth that you don’t deserve to enter any bookshop, nevermind the one you’re stood in at that moment.

Well obviously those bookshops are the friendliest of all.

They know how you feel. They’ve probably experienced exclusion themselves and, most importantly of all, they’re the least likely people to recognise differences between you, them and anyone else.

I’ve previously confessed to going through all these emotions before I entered Gay’s The Word for the first time, but without this introduction I don’t think I’d’ve appreciated how special this bookshop is. Because although I talk in all bookshops: at customers, booksellers, pets, cuddly toys and even the books themselves, it’s only in Gay’s The Word that I’ve been able to stand for hours chatting to a bookseller about life, the universe and everything. Sometimes the chats are brief, sometimes in depth, but always - even though I’m not a regular enough to be recognised - friendly, welcoming and open.

Equally, so good is their stock selection that where time is short I know I can pop in for just five minutes and be guaranteed to find an excellent read to take away with me.

When it comes to the book I’d buy from Gay’s The Word as a Christmas present it has to be The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach. I’d give this book to:

My mum - because it’s about sometimes difficult family relationships
My dad - because it deals with the weighty issues of management
My sister - because it’s a story about love
My brother - there may be some sport involved
My best friend - for second chances

Yes, I really have given the same book more than once in the past because books, like bookshops, are for everyone.

Gay's The Word can be found at their website and on Twitter.

Erica is a bookshop blogger. You can read about her travels visiting bookshops around the country at - and do feel free to recommend your favourite bookshop to her on the blog, by email or @bookshopblogger on Twitter.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Indie Advent: Maggie Harcourt on Toppings, Bath

After an international weekend for Indie Advent, we're back in the UK for today's post! One of my big plans for next year is to get to Bath to check out the wonderful bookshops there, so it's great to have author Maggie Harcourt posting about Toppings!

Topping & Company Booksellers, The Paragon, Bath

Toppings is everything a bookshop should be. The windows are piled high with carefully curated displays and blackboards listing authors who will be visiting for events. Step through the door to find lovingly-filled tall wooden shelves, as well as tables adorned with flower arrangements and magazines - and even the odd pot of coffee to sip while you browse. Buying something here feels special, somehow. Even if you're not buying actual books, you might want to get a ticket to one of their many amazing author readings and events, or possibly for part of the programme to one of their festivals. (If you book for one of these online, you still have to pop into the shop to pick up your ticket, which the staff keep in a basket behind the till - it's a brilliant chance to have a chat with the booksellers, all of whom are lovely.) Some of the events are held in the shop, but others take place in a beautiful local church - which in itself is pretty amazing.

Toppings prides itself on its independent spirit - so you can never quite predict which books you'll find, and that makes it the perfect browsing bookshop. Cosy and welcoming, it could have felt old-fashioned, but instead it feels somehow timeless - a little like it fell out of a novel itself.

You might have to go looking for it - like Mr B's Emporium of Reading Delights (our other legendary local bookshop) it's tucked away just outside the main shopping areas of Bath - but what you'll find is well worth the effort; an intimate, warm place which feels as though it's always been there. Maybe it always has.

As a long-time bookshop addict, I've lost a lot of time to these places over the years - but Toppings is the one that feels like home.

If I'm buying Christmas presents in Toppings, there are a couple of books I'd be really pushed to choose between - so I'm going to cheat and pick both. I can always wrap them as one gift, right?
One is David Almond's "A Song For Ella Grey", which I read in the autumn and fell completely in love with. It's beautifully, powerfully written, and a loose retelling of my favourite myth: Orpheus and Eurydice.  (And I'd be giving it to anyone who stood still long enough for me to put a copy into their hands.)

The other is John Lewis-Stempel's "Meadowland", which looks at the life of a single field in the Welsh borders through a year. The writing is gorgeous, and I learned things I never knew I never knew! Even if you don't think you're interested in rural settings, this is a book to lose yourself in.

You can find Toppings on their website and on Twitter.

Maggie Harcourt is the author of "The Last Summer of Us", coming from Usborne Books in May 2015. You can follow her on Twitter, Tumblr and Instagram.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Indie Advent: Melinda Salisbury on Shakespeare & Co, Paris

One of the coolest things about my 2014 has been meeting the awesome Mel Salisbury, whose debut novel The Sin Eater's Daughter is out next year (and is AMAZING!)

This is Mel's first ever guest post (I think, at least. I would have checked, but it feels like a more Slytherin thing to just claim it is anyway. I'm sure she'll approve.)

Edit: Apparently it IS her first ever guest post, yay! Leaving the above sentence in because I rarely give into the urge to be more Slytherin so I wanted to mark the occasion.

It’s pretty unoriginal to say that my favourite independent bookshop in the world is the iconic Shakespeare and Co in Paris, but it’s true. Resting in the shadow of the Notre Dame, on the sexy Left Bank of the Seine, everything about it makes my heart sing; the green frontage; the golden-yellow sign; the crowded, towering shelves; the nooks and crannies; the narrow, well-worn staircase. It screams of an unashamed, almost Pagan worship of stories and storytelling, and I am all about that. Stories, that is. Not the Pagan part. Well, maybe a bit…

Wait, what?

Anyway… The Shakespeare and Co that I love is actually the second incarnation of the shop. The first opened in 1919, moved location in 1922, and finally closed its doors during the Nazi occupation of France in 1940. But during those incredible first twenty-one years of being open, it charmed Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, and Gertrude Stein, amongst many others. Legend has it the reason it closed during WWII was that a Nazi officer tried to buy a signed copy of Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake. Sylvia Beach, the shop’s owner, refused to sell it to him. When he threatened to return the next day for it, she shut the shop completely.

It’s that kind of tale that makes Shakespeare and Co so special: The fact that it’s more than a bookshop, it’s a story in and of itself. It’s said Hemingway ‘liberated’ the shop in 1944, but Sylvia Beach didn’t have the heart to pick it back up. The shop as we now know it was originally called Le Mistral, and owned by George Whitman. Good friends with Sylvia Beach, she gifted him the name Shakespeare and Co in 1958, though he didn’t formally make the change until after Beach’s death in 1964.

Recently, there was a highly amusing incident in a London Waterstones branch, where a Texan tourist found himself locked in with the books. And who hasn’t whiled away a boring bus/train (not DLR though – that’s always exciting) journey daydreaming about being locked in overnight with endless, brand-new tomes. It’s dark, the only light is from the pulsating security alarm; red, hypnotic, enticing. Suddenly, you see it – there, on the shelf - the title calling you like a siren song. You make your way over, barely aware of each footstep, until your hand is reaching out, your fingers stroking the spine, feeling the slightly raised typography beneath your own ink-stained fingers, and then…

Ahem. Where was I?

Oh yeah, sleeping in bookshops. Well, in Shakespeare and Co, that dream is more often than not a reality. A recent Vanity Fair article claimed an estimated 30,000 writers have slept in the shop, on the floor, or on cots or benches, in exchange for a few hours working in the store and promising to read or write when they’re not. It hosts Sunday Teas, poetry readings, and earlier this year even staged its own production of Macbeth, with actors and crew recruited by Twitter, as well as other means. Do you see what I mean, it’s not just a book shop. And I know arguably no bookshop is just a bookshop but there’s something about Shakespeare and Co that feels as though you’re in the pages of a story. It feels possible that you might turn a corner and see Ezra Pound or F. Scott Fitzgerald thumbing through a paperback. It’s a legend, it’s an institution.

Of course, a lot of the time it’s full of tourists (occasionally including me) – but then how many bookshops can make that claim? In a world increasingly more digitised, where instant gratification is the norm, how brilliant is it that a bookshop, selling regular old books, frequently has queues of people winding away from it, waiting for a chance to go inside? Who cares if they’re only there to buy a copy of A Moveable Feast – they’re buying books. BOOKS. And what if Shakespeare and Co is the bookshop that rekindles their long-forgotten love of reading? What if stepping into the dark, slightly musty interior is what sparks in them something they put aside when they thought their time was too valuable for mere reading?

That’s what makes bookshops magic. That’s what makes Shakespeare and Co magic. Because it is the kind of bookshop that makes you yearn to be a reader. It makes you want to embody every single literary cliché you can think of. It makes you want to throw yourself headlong into stories and the strange, bewildering world of words, keeping one foot always in some imagined realm.

So if ever you’re in Paris, you should go. You should put aside an hour or two and make your way slowly through the shop. Climb the ladders to see what’s on the high shelves. Head up the stairs and sit down in the Children’s corner, leave a note of your own on the wall, peek in at the writer’s cubby. Go through the gate into the tiny poetry section. You should buy a copy of A Moveable Feast, or Ulysses, or Anna and the French Kiss, or whatever you like. Ask the staff at the counter to stamp the inside for you with the Shakespeare and Co stamp. You should buy a tote bag and use it to carry all of your books. You should embrace being a tourist, being a cliché. Being a book lover. Embrace being part of the story.

Shakespeare and Co can be found on the web, and on Twitter.

Mel is one of the best people in all of YA to follow on Twitter (this list says so, it must be true!) She also has a fantastic website here (scroll to the bottom for the coolest author picture of all time!)

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Indie Advent: Liesl Jobson on The Book Lounge, Cape Town

Incredibly excited that Indie Advent has gone international today! Thanks Liesl Jobson for a fantastic post on The Book Lounge, in Cape Town!

The Book Lounge
71 Roeland Street, Cape Town, South Africa

After rowing on flat water in my single scull, Cape Town's biggest independent book shop, The Book Lounge, is my most favourite spot on earth. Every week, for most weeks of the year, it is my enormous privilege and pleasure to work there as a literary journalist, covering the bookish events happening in Cape Town. Earlier this week the final fundraising party was hosted for Book Dash, a non-profit organisation striving to make books freely available to South African children under the age of five. The Book Lounge hosted this charity event because it believes in and is committed to facilitating literacy. The vision of Mervyn Soman extended some years ago to initiating Open Book Festival which brings international authors to the city, enriching the cultural life and stimulating important and relevant debates. In particular the representation of "black" writers at "white" festivals was explored in an open, respectful, courageous way.

The vision of this book shop as a place that embraces everybody (even the noisome homeless at times) to think, to listen to writers, to engage with public intellectuals as they talk about books and politics and the energy of the city, to find comfort in the life of the imagination and solace at the page, is a pleasure beyond words. 

I gave up on church a long time ago but this is a space, both sacred and profane, that offers me a way to grow as a writer, to refine my journalistic notions, to expand my thinking and to find friends.

Pictures are:
The Book Lounge

Mervyn Sloman, founder and owner

Xola dos Santos and Nkanyezi Hlatshwayo

Looking up at the entrance

 Liesl Jobson and Niq Mhlongo

Margie Orford and Mervyn Sloman

What one book would you buy from there as a Christmas present, and who would you give it to.

The Man Who Couldn't Stop by David Adams is a gift I will be giving myself. I saw it on the display table as I dashed out one evening after work. As if the book had arms, nay, tentacles, that reached out
and attached to me, I hovered, mid-stair, knowing that this was the one book that had been written expressly for me this year.

Check out The Book Lounge at their website and on Twitter. Liesl Jobson can be found at her blog and on Twitter.