It’s Independent Bookshop Week! We’re here to celebrate with a fantastic guest post from Carrie, bookseller and owner of Booka Bookshop in Oswestry.

Life as a Bookseller is never dull and no two days are ever the same. The variety and versatility of what we do is part of why we do it, but I don’t know whether the sheer physicality of the role is
understood until people experience it. Here is a snapshot of one of the most enjoyable but hectic 48 hours in the life of the bookshop.

Tuesday am – a huge box arrives. It’s as tall as I am and very wide. I think one of our special guests for tomorrow’s children’s event has arrived. Hmmm! Where to put it? Thank goodness we took on
that extra floor of retail in 2017 – otherwise we would be in trouble.

Tuesday pm – start preparing for our book signing with Julia Donaldson – the books have been ordered, the format and schedule are set. We need to move tables while the shop is quiet and that involves taking books off tables first and boxing them up. Booka is large and our space is very adaptable so…. time to flex those bookseller muscles and feel the burn! It’s a little bit like doing a jigsaw puzzle or giant Jenga – we have large pieces of furniture to move to ensure that the 400 customers (families with lots of small people) who have booked in to the four sessions to meet Julia, The Gruffalo and get their books signed can queue safely and comfortably.

Disaster Strikes! Our Gardners Books delivery doesn’t arrive, therefore we are missing some of the books that people who can’t make the signing have pre-ordered. Fortunately, Gardners (our book wholesaler) are amazing and quickly find out why and what has happened. They give us assurance that they will be delivered before 12 noon tomorrow. RELAX!!!

Tuesday evening – Start the bakes for our Coffee Morning for Ukraine on Thursday. Ideally, we would do this on Wednesday evening, but we have an event.

Wednesday am – Didn’t sleep very well last night, feeling nervous about today’s event with Julia. There are a lot of elements to coordinate, and we want to make sure that everyone has a good time: our customers, Julia and her husband, our Team and of course The Gruffalo. Into the shop for 8 am, so that I am ready when the team arrive at 9 am to go through the day and make sure everyone
knows their role in making everything run smoothly. We are all excited and we chat it through together and fine tune any key decisions. Imi goes through checking the orders for each session and
the pre-orders. They were all bagged, labelled and checked on Monday but we like to check and double check.

We have lots of elements to juggle today and it’s always an unknown no matter how prepared we think we are. Our mantra is ‘Assume Nothing, Expect Anything, Anticipate Everything’. When Julia arrives, we need her to sign pre-orders, then she will begin her first session at 3pm. It has started to rain outside so I am worried that we may have families queueing in the rain if some arrive early for their sessions!

Thinking forward to our evening event, I call Tim. He is at home preparing his interview questions for our event with Anna Jones who will be chatting about her new book ‘Divide’. We have a full-house of 50 people as Anna is an Oswestry girl and this is her first event. We want to make sure she and her family, friends have a memorable evening. Tim buys wine (ready for tonight) and chocolates so that we can offer a sweet treat to families waiting to see Julia, if needed (or are they just for him!!)

Wednesday pm – We begin lunches early so that we have all the team on the shop floor when Julia arrives. A phone call, she is coming earlier – brilliant news. It means we can get the pre-orders done and out of the way. We also have a small group of students from The Derwen College coming to meet her.

3 pm – Let the proceedings commence: Ruth and Imi are meeting and greeting everyone and handing them their books, Amy is chaperoning The Gruffalo and making sure he is on his best behaviour, Tim is on tills, Jess is doing post-it dedications on books, I am opening books and passing these to Julia so that she can sign and chat to families and pose for a quick photo. Julia’s husband Malcolm arrives shortly before we start with his guitar and throughout the signing sessions, plays his guitar to calm and entertain small people along with The Gruffalo.

It’s a lovely experience. Our planning and organisation have paid off. Families arrive on time for their session and get to see Julia without too much waiting around. There is laughter, excitement, over- excitement and a feeling that we have all been part of something rather magical. Julia’s stamina is incredible. She is so passionate about language and words and has an amazing memory of when she visited us previously. She keeps post-it notes of any unusual names or names with unusual spellings. She is always thinking about her next story.

We finish early at 5.25 pm and end with a Team photo – we all have cheery grins and shiny faces. Well done Team Booka.

Now for a quick turnaround to get the shop ready for evening event. Our second Book-gym session. We re-arrange tables, put out staging and chairs, create a showcase of Anna’s books, make sure we have water, wine, soft drinks and glasses organised for author and guests. Fortunately, our team of Booksellers stay and help. They are experienced, they know the ropes and it all comes together smoothly and efficiently. The Booka machine is incredible. Wednesday Evening – Anna arrives and Tim takes her up to our ‘Green Room’ – the sofa on the first floor to chat about the event format etc. Imi and Malia arrive to help me greet our audience, serve drinks and sell books.

There is a lively, happy vibe in the bookshop and Anna is incredible – passionate, knowledgeable and eloquent. The subject matter is incredibly current and thought provoking. Tim, as an ex-town
planner has really enjoyed the book and asks great questions that Anna answers effortlessly, with insight and good humour. It is a fabulous event to top off a memorable day. We leave the shop at 10.15 pm and have fried egg on toast for tea – that’s the rock n roll life we lead!

Get to bed at 11.30 pm but it’s quite hard to relax and sleep – reading always helps with this (currently a proof of ‘The Dance Tree’ by Kiran Millwood Hargrave – one of our favourites authors).

5 am Thursday morning – I am an early riser any way (which is fortunate) so I get up to finish the baking for Ukraine Coffee Morning. I am making a family favourite ‘Rhubarb and Custard Blondie’ – yum! Just one problem, the rhubarb is still in the ground in the garden. I feed the cats and then take my torch into the darkness and pull the rhubarb – you can’t get fresher than that.

The coffee morning begins at 9.30 am and we have at least an hour’s worth of work to do getting the shop back to rights, before we can open the doors. There is a raffle and a treasure hunt to organise too!

Who planned this? I did – in my defence, things happen like this all the time and we didn’t want to wait any longer to do our coffee morning as it feels really urgent and we didn’t want to clash with Comic Relief which takes place on Friday. We have a really good response to our initial promotion and we are expecting a lot of people.

We get to the shop for 8 am and Louis (our son who works in our online department) comes with us to help with the heavy lifting. We soon have the tables back where they should be, the chairs away and the cake table ready, but we still have books everywhere!

The rest of the team arrive early with their bakes and we all get to work. They are brilliant, they know what needs doing and they just get on with it. These are the times when I realise how lucky we are to work with the people we work with. It’s Malia’s day off but she travels in from Ellesmere with her cake and helps us set up the café. Ben has booked holiday but he comes in with his cake (Victoria Sponge – doesn’t last long, the customers love it), stays for a coffee and contributes a donation. Ruth and Jess are on the café, Imi has a story-time session with a local School group so organises a space upstairs, Amy helps but traps her finger in the table. It is very painful and she is shaken, but she sorts herself out and carries on. Tim is on the till, Rhiannon (who does our marketing) helps me handing out cake, taking donations, writing raffle tickets and explaining the Treasure Hunt.

We are humbled by the response we get. Our customers and community are searching for ways to contribute to Ukraine (as are we) and a coffee morning at the Bookshop is an ideal way for them to
do this. The café is full and we are able to spend time chatting with our customers over cake and coffee. It is a wonderful coming together and a really joyous morning.

In total we have raised just over £900 from the donations, the raffle and our 10% contribution from our the day’s takings. We will continue to run the Treasure Hunt over the weekend and hope that on Monday we should have raised around £1000. This money will go to the DEC’s Ukraine Humanitarian Appeal.

We are all working on empty – but caffeine and goodwill get us through. It feels good to be a bookseller and it feels good to have such a giving team and community of customers. Everyone has
been so generous with their time and donations. We have all come together for a common cause and through the bookshop we have been able to do something ‘good’.

At 12 noon, we pack away the remnants of cake and start lunches. The shop goes quieter and we are able to continue putting books out and getting back to normality! We galvanise ourselves for the afternoon and come back down to earth to do the more mundane and slightly less glamorous aspect of the job (ask Imi about plunging the toilets!!). All necessary activities to keep the bookshop running smoothly: scanning in stock, phoning customers, putting new books out, creating and changing displays, paying wages, organising follow-up social media for both of yesterday’s events and looking forward to next week to see what we have coming up: two events next week, The Marmalade Diaries with Ben Aitken on Tuesday and I, Mona Lisa with Natasha Solomons on Thursday.

Thursday 5 pm – We close the doors with a sigh of relief, we giggle and chat, ‘What an amazing couple of days’. We are all ‘naturally high’ on the wonderful combination of books and people and
what they can achieve for the benefit of others.

Tomorrow, the madness and eclectic nature of what we do in the bookshop will continue. For now, we want to say a huge thank you to all our customers who have supported us this week and every
week since we have been open. We are doing what we love and we love what we do…. BUT really pleased to have the weekend off!

– Carrie, Booka Bookshop Owner

For more info about Booka, visit their website
For more info about Independent Bookshop Week, visit Books Are My Bag
Keep an eye out on Booka’s blog for a guest post from Firefly Press Publisher, Penny Thomas!

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