Our latest ‘My Favourite Indie’ feature comes from Kate Hamer, author of The Girl in the Red Coat and The Doll Funeral. Here are some of Kate’s top picks – from North Wales to Essex, these gems are a booklover’s dream.
Independent bookshops are thriving! And not just keeping their heads above water – the message I have been hearing over the past few years as I have been travelling around the country meeting booksellers and readers is one of expansion and success. My personal opinion is that it’s because so many of the indies have seized the nettle; they have become a comforting resource on the high street offering friendship, coffee and real expertise based in a passion for books. Some of them have a whole variety of bookclubs and provide comfortable and intriguing meeting places where sellers, readers and writers can meet to share the books they love.
I have been invited to some very inspirational indie bookshops over the past few years – more than I can possibly go into here – but here is just a sample of some the wonderful places I’ve been to.
Burway Books, Church Stretton
Nestled in the Shropshire hills these incredible booksellers here are headed up by Ros whose forty years of running the shop has led to a depth of knowledge rarely experienced. One way this really counts is her ability to recommend something one might not have read otherwise, books that have stayed with me ever since. Author events, an informal ‘book chat’ session and – a genius idea – a book club run by theme rather than being tied to a single book.
Palas Print, Caernarfon
What strikes you most about Palas print in Caernarfon is the warmth of the welcome as you come through the door. Eirian James and her partner Sel have created a wonderfully relaxed environment, about as far from the reserved stuffy spaces of the bookshops I remember as a kid. From the fantastic coffee at the back of the shop, the sweet little events garden and a wonderful summer literature, art and film festival, Gwyl Arall. Selling books and CDs in both Welsh and English the passion and commitment of the owners shine through everything. Oh, and a shout out for the wonderful window displays too. I LOVE a bookshop window.
A Likely Story, Tywyn
A Likely Story may be a new kid on the block but in this little quirky town between Aberystwyth and Barmouth the owner Fran has hit the ground running. It’s the thoughtfully selected books and gifts and beautifully arranged displays that makes you want to linger for as long as possible. The literary dinners held in a nearby restaurant are huge fun and the glowing comments of their Facebook page say it all.
The Bookshop, Kibworth
I want to go back here at Christmas just to drool over their window display, their window when I visited was like an enticing illustration you want to step inside. Debbie runs this alongside the town’s annual Book Festival with flair and an expert eye that is at the same time beautifully individual and creative. The website includes a quote from Gyles Brandreth – ‘they’ve sold more copies of my book than Harrods!’ The shop has been such a success that Debbie has had to open a new floor above!
Caxton Books, Frinton-on-Sea
Just up from the beautiful sweeping sands of Frinton beach, Sally and Judith run the bookshop with such great warmth and style. Amazingly, apart from running the bookshop with all its attendant events and book clubs, they also run a small gallery and a cinema. A real hub of the community, they hold events in lovely local venues such as the legendary tennis club or the yacht club in Walton-on-the-Naze with panoramic views over the harbour.
Emma is a powerhouse of the indie book world and runs the bookshop with verve and passion. So much so that she has recently moved the shop to lovely new and expanded premises with a fabulous cake and coffee shop. Emma does everything with huge style – the literary cheese and wine evenings, the fabulous Book festival and the many well attended bookclubs she runs create a beautifully warm and relaxed style that is definitely worth taking a detour for.