Thrilled to have the wonderful Charlotte Eyre talking about a bookshop really close to my heart today. Oswestry's Booka Bookshop is the closest indie bookshop to my parents' house. They visit it significantly more than I do and always tell me how fabulous events they host are; I've always been incredibly impressed by the selection in the shop whenever I have managed to get there.
When I was teenager I thought Oswestry was a boring town. There was a Tammy Girl and a Woolworths, a small-ish park and a nice café-cum-gift shop, but that was about it. There certainly wasn’t enough to do when looking after French exchange students, as I once had to do, and Oswestry’s attractions paled in comparison with Shrewsbury, which was only half an hour down the road.
So I was pleased learn that many years later (in 2010, I think) Oswestry was getting its own, independent bookshop. It soon became a place my family and friends all raved about endlessly. The coffee! The books! The Christmas shopping events! You must come Charlotte, they said, let’s make a trip and go. So even though I have never lived anywhere near Booka (I now live in Croydon) Carrie and Tim’s bookshop has quickly become my favourite indie. I’ve gone for coffee and cake, joined a mum and baby reading group, seen Sathnam Sanghera and Damian Barr speak about their books, and bought endless presents for other people. Carrie and Tim’s inventiveness is astounding – from book clubs and events to this year’s At Home With Four Indies, they do so much more than sell books.
What have I bought from them? Everything and anything, really. Children’s books for my kids. Novels for my parents. Books about current affairs for my sister. And they have bought things from Booka for me: as I type this I can see a gloriously illustrated version of The Divine Comedy my mum bought me after I spotted it on the shelves. I’m also fond of some jokey mugs that mix classic novel titles with the names of local villages. You have to be from Shropshire to appreciate it, I think.
Oswestry isn’t boring. It probably wasn’t that boring in the late 90s (I was a teenager after all) but Booka has certainly added to its charm. Carrie and Tim demonstrate what independent bookshops do best and that is create a community around books in their town. I used to worry that Waterstones would open a branch in Oswestry and kill Booka’s trade but now I think that even if they did it wouldn’t matter. Booka is so beloved by the community it will keep going for a long time.
Charlotte is the children’s editor of The Bookseller, where she writes about the children’s book market for the magazine and interviews authors and illustrators. She programmes the annual Bookseller Children’s Conference and runs Pitch Your Story, a newsletter for aspiring authors and illustrators. She can be found on Twitter at @CharlotteLEyre.