Our authors share their favourite independent bookshops
Who better to recommend the nation's best bookish boltholes than bestselling authors? Saturday 19 June 2021 marks the beginning of Independent Bookshop Week, so to help you revel in all that is wonderful about indie bookshops this Independent Bookshop Week, we asked some of our authors to tell us about the indie bookshops they visit time and time again. . .
In a world of next-day deliveries, Ubers, endless WhatsApps and clashing calendars, independent bookshops offer a unique sanctuary. While they each have their own personality, niche specialities and sense of style, they share the uncanny ability to absorb us completely – and of course, that all-important 'book smell'.
A chance to talk to real people about the books you love. Recommendations from booksellers that are passionate about literature. Discovering books you might not have otherwise, and all the while supporting our high streets and local businesses. Indie bookshops sit at the core of our communities and it would seem we are living in a time that needs them more than ever.
Having had to go without our literary sanctuaries throughout lockdown after lockdown, Saturday 19 June marks the beginning of a week to celebrate our beloved bookshops, and of course, an opportunity for bookworms everywhere to show our favourite indies support after this trying time.
To mark the occasion, we asked some of our authors to share their favourite independent bookshops with us.
Favourite Independent Bookshop: Bookseller Crow, Crystal Palace, London
'My favourite indie bookshop is Bookseller Crow in Crystal Palace. It's where I did my first ever event as an author and Jonathan, the owner, was so welcoming. They have an amazing roster of authors coming to talk about their books, they are down to earth and passionate about bookselling and good writing, and I am lucky to have them on my doorstep.'
Favourite Independent Bookshop: Mr B's Books Emporium, Bath
'There are so many amazing indies, but I have a particular soft spot for Mr B's in Bath. Tiny, but packing a big book-sized punch, I love all the additional elements to the bookselling such as (in the old days) doing an event with The Bookshop Band, their reading subscription service, and the fact that - even if an author turns up unannounced with a Sharpie in hand to sign copies of their book - they are always welcoming.'
Another vote for Mr B's Books Emporium comes from Kololo Hill author, Neema Shah . . .
Favourite Independent Bookshop: Mr B's Books Emporium, Bath
'This extraordinary bookshop brings to life all the magic and wonder of reading. I visited for the first time recently and felt like a child again. Set across three floors, this beautiful reading labyrinth features a three-dimensional magical tree in the children’s section, sweet little park benches for seating and a claw-foot bath full of books – because why the hell not? Don’t be fooled though, this is definitely not a case of style over substance. The shelves feature dozens of staff recommendations and the team are friendly and knowledgeable.'
Favourite Independent Bookshop: Forum Books, Corbridge
This has to be Forum Books, in the beautiful village of Corbridge on the banks of the Tyne.
Forum is a delightful shop. Recently it moved from a rather cramped building to a converted chapel, light and airy, with space for events. But it’s the people who make it special. Helen and her team are enthusiastic, knowledgeable and they have the ability to make everyone, regular readers and occasional browsers, feel welcome. They’re huge supporters of local authors and have come with me to sell in libraries, in a working men’s club, in an ice cream parlour on the coast and in Alnwick Castle! They’ve even allowed me to put them in a Vera short story.
Favourite Independent Bookshop: Burley Fisher Books, Haggerston, London
'Burley Fisher Books in Haggerston is one of my favourite bookshops. I, of course, love Gay’s The Word bookshop in Bloomsbury for its incredible range of queer books, but became very attached to Burley Fisher the year I was writing my own book, as it was fairly local, has a very calm cafe in the back where I could write, and the staff were always up for a books-related chat to distract me from what I was supposed to be doing. I've bought many books there, ranging from Olivia Sudjic's Exposure (at her launch event there) to some bargain £1 Penguin Moderns (like James Baldwin's Dark Days and Andy Warhol's Fame). Their excellent newsletter also keeps me up to date with new releases.'
Favourite Independent Bookshop: Sharston Books, Wythenshawe, Manchester
'If a coffee-scented space with leather sofas and arty window displays is your thing, this isn’t the bookshop for you. In the middle of a South Manchester industrial estate, Sharston Books lives in an ex-warehouse and shipping container – but if readers know anything, it’s not to judge by what’s on the cover. Inside this wonder emporium, with its attic-library feel, homely mismatched bookshelves, and narrow nooks and crannies, you’ll find a staggering assortment of second-hand titles. Established over 20 years ago, its tens of thousands of books opened the doors to tens of thousands of worlds for my teenage self!'
Favourite Independent Bookshop: Liznojan Books, Tiverton, Devon
'Impossible to choose just one, but if pressed I would say my favourite independent bookshop is Liznojan Books in Tiverton, Devon. I've long enjoyed online recommendations from mother-and-daughter team Jackie and Kayleigh, but earlier this year I finally visited in person and what a haven! A carefully curated yet generous selection of stories for all ages, with Jackie and Kayleigh always on hand for suggestions. Beautiful artwork adorns the walls, and next door is a lovely cafe serving vegan and organic treats. It’s a place you can browse for hours, but you will always find something to take home.'
Favourite Independent Bookshop: The Children’s Bookshop, Muswell Hill, London
'Having children has given me the chance to rediscover my old favourite children’s books with them – and of course, discover new ones – and this is the perfect shop for finding new and old favourites. It has a wide range, knowledgeable staff and a friendly atmosphere. Handily, it’s also opposite Muswell Hill Bookshop, another great independent bookshop, so adults and children can all have a good browse.'
Favourite Independent Bookshop: Charlie Byrne’s Bookshop, Galway, Ireland
'This magnificent independent bookshop in the windswept west of Ireland is hardly a secret; it just won Irish Bookshop of the Year at the Nibbies. But I’ve been a fan ever since it opened, thirty years ago, in a much smaller premises, across the road from the enormous current one. Charlie, the eponymous owner, is a quiet, modest man; the manager, Vinnie Browne is a far louder and more exuberant character. New visitors to the shop often, therefore, assume Vinnie must be the owner, and so Vinnie now answers as easily to Charlie as Vinnie. Every year, the shop seems to grow, taking over yet another neighbouring space, like some sea creature whose shell expands chamber by chamber. You could get lost in it; you could live in it. I have often fantasised about doing just that. Its tremendous range of new and second-hand books is brilliantly curated, it has kindly, knowledgable staff, and is perhaps my favourite place on earth. Back when Galway was cheap, and I lived above a butcher’s, in a meat locker that had been converted into a bedsit (yes, there was a reason Galway was cheaper back then . . . ), I consistently spent more time in Charlie Byrnes than I did in my flat, and more money on books than I did on rent. Those Galway years made me a writer; I am profoundly grateful to Charlie Byrne’s, my second home.'
Favourite Independent Bookshop: Forbidden Planet, London
'I first visited Forbidden Planet when it was just a small-one-floor shop on Denmark Street. Myself and a school friend had made the trip up to central London, having seen an advertisement in the back of a magazine - Starburst, perhaps.
Back then, the front part of the shop was taken up with SF paperbacks, many imported from the US. Comics and the odd bit of merchandise were at the back.
In the window was a small sign – Titan Books were after a graphic designer. I gave then a call, and ended up designing not only many of their books, but also the logo for the new superstore, first situated on New Oxford Street and then later moving to the current premises at the top of Shaftesbury Lane.
Nick Landau gave me a staff discount card, and that made me feel a bit better about the ridiculous amount I was spending there. The emphasis has changed – the books and comics are now in the basement and the merchandise is now the main attraction, but I probably buy more toys than books these days. I'm regressing.
I have signed books and comics there many times over the years, and many of the staff are old friends. And they still use my logo, over 25 years later. Long may it continue.'
Favourite Independent Bookshop: City Books, Brighton
'What I love about City Books is both their passion not just for books but for their authors. Paul and Inge Sweetman were among the very first booksellers to realize that what would set them apart from the big chains and supermarkets would be their ability to organize a constant stream of author events and they have worked tirelessly and brilliantly at this throughout the many years I’ve been fortunate to know them and to be stocked by them. Not only is it my favourite bookshop, it is also Roy Grace’s and he frequently pops in there to buy a book for himself or Cleo, and just like me, when he does, he never comes out with just one book, but an entire armful. I just hope Paul and Inge know I will never allow them to retire - and nor will Roy!'
Favourite Independent Bookshop: Falmouth Bookseller, Falmouth, Cornwall
'I love how unique and diverse all the wonderful independent bookshops that I’ve visited are but I’d have to choose Falmouth Bookseller because of the personal connection I have with it.
After graduating from university I got a part time job in the clothes shop directly opposite Falmouth Bookseller, where I would gaze across the street at their window full of beautiful books and dream that there might one day be a book that I had illustrated among their displays. I found out that Ron, the owner of the bookshop was also a publisher and after continuing to work on my portfolio, showing him my work and painting window displays, he commissioned me to illustrate a series of picture books written by Helen Dunmore. It was several more years before I had enough illustration work for it to become my full time job and there were certainly moments when I almost gave up, but I really believe that Falmouth Bookseller and Ron were a big part of helping me keep going during that time and I will always be hugely grateful to them for that.'
Favourite Independent Children's Bookshop: Tales on Moon Lane, Herne Hill, London
'Tales on Moon Lane has been my perfect local independent bookshop since I moved to the Herne Hill area 7 years ago. After a stroll through the park with an ice cream, nothing could be finer than dipping inside their small but perfectly crafted wonderland of books for readers both young and young at heart. Their staff are lovely, friendly, and full of suggestions. Somehow, their shelves always seem to stock the book I'm looking for - as if by magic.'
Favourite Independent Bookshop: Blackwell’s, Oxford
'I worship at many independent bookshops – at the London Review of Books with its unrivalled poetry section and its great selection of new journals and chapbooks; elegant Hatchards, floor after floor of esoteric and surprising delights; Amersham’s Twist in the Tale, which stocked my children’s shelves for years; or Wimbledon Books, small but brilliantly curated. The Daunt Books on Marylebone High Street – Stanfords – Foyles. England is lucky to be so rich in bookstores.
If forced to choose a single independent, though, it would be Blackwell’s. As an undergraduate, I bought all my textbooks there, and splashed out on Moncrieff’s translation of Proust. My Blackwell’s account ate up most of my monthly allowance.
When I moved back to Oxford in 2012, Blackwell’s was unchanged – even some staff were the same, and truly, it is those individuals who make the place what it is: Ray with his unrivalled knowledge of literature in translation (he pressed into my hands the great Walter Kempowski and Jenny Erpenpeck, saying “You must read these!”); Peter Saxel, who has known generations of the university’s classicists, and who, when I was researching Bells of Old Tokyo, wrote out, in an elegant, sloping hand, the title of a nineteenth-century French text (“You should refer to this volume. Would be happy to order a copy in for you,”); and an unnamed volunteer in the children’s section who, meeting my daughter browsing in MYSTERY and unable to find anything she liked, appraised her tastes with the delicacy of a water diviner finding a hidden river. I went in the next week to thank the woman. When I described her care, her patience, her passionate sense that the perfect match exists between book and reader, several other Blackwell’s staff just shrugged, smiling: “That could have been anyone here!”'
Favourite Independent Bookshop: Atkinson-Pryce Books, Biggar, South Lanarkshire
'I love Booka Bookshop in Oswestry, Mainstreet Trading Company in St Boswell’s, and those two equally magnificent Bath rivals Mr. B’s Emporium and Topping & Company. But if for some weird reason I really had to choose one independent it would probably be Atkinson-Pryce Books in Biggar, South Lanarkshire. I have never been in a more perfectly designed bookshop, with a lovely integration of the books themselves and various bold and charming artworks. The books are everywhere, somehow all folded into an incredibly small place, like a ship’s cabin. I did an event there recently and by the end was trying to work out how I could relocate my family to Biggar. It was like being given a brief glimpse of an ideal place and then being cruelly chucked back into London.'
Favourite Independent Bookshop: The Book Hive, London St, Norwich
'It's not every day that you walk into your local bookshop and a starry writer like Megan Bradbury advises you on which new novel to pick up. But that's what Norwich’s Book Hive offers. It's a magical little place, with a beautiful curved glass front, tasteful green awnings, and creaking floors. It’s beloved by me - for their literary picks of the weird and wonderful - as well as my daughter, who loves their kids' section too. All of Norwich’s readers and writers come here to chat books with the booksellers – Henry, Joe and Megan. (And there are so many writers here! Is this city the Hollywood of the Novel?!) I suppose that’s what makes it not so much a shop, as a hive, as the name suggests.'
In this episode of Book Break, Harriet Rosie gives Emma a tour of Brighton's best independent bookshops: