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Our February Bookshop of the Month is Norwich institution The Book Hive, who have been supplying the city with bookseller-curated selections for fifteen years from their shop in the Lanes.

Tell us the story of your shop.

I opened the shop in 2009 as Norwich had no indies – just two branches of Waterstones and a Borders. For a city that is so steeped in literary history and activity it seemed amazing that there wasn’t one. I was sure that despite being in mid-recession the city would support it and it did, from day one. With the UEA creative writing course, the National Centre for Writing and the UNESCO City of Literature status, Norwich wears its book-loving pride on its sleeve. But it also puts its money where its mouth is and really takes care of independent businesses like The Book Hive.

Photo of indie bookshop The Book Hive
What are the booksellers reading at the moment?

We just held the launch for Ferdia Lennon’s Glorious Exploits, which is as good as the hype says. I am reading a proof of Dog by Rob Perry, published by Europa: a wonderful, funny look at life on the margins of society told through the story of a young man who is ‘adopted’ by a stray dog on the beach. Rob is a local boy who grew up in a small town in Norfolk and this is his debut. I’ve known him since he was a kid and I’m very proud of him!

What’s your favourite thing about your shop?

I love how after fifteen years we still have new customers who visit us from far and wide, who say how the experience of being in the shop lives up to its reputation – a fantastic old building filled with wide-ranging and unusual stock, served by brilliant staff. I’ve spent years thinking I’m winging it, making it up as I go, but I can now be sure it works; the team here is the best we’ve ever had and I honestly think the best there is anywhere.

Which Faber book is the most popular in your shop?

Ever?? A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing. People love buying it here because of the story of Eimear giving me the manuscript in the shop after I co-founded Galley Beggar Press. (Faber acquired the rights after she won so many awards.) Some big Faber successes for us recently include people like John Crace and Simon Armitage as they both appeared at our inaugural festival in north Norfolk last October, the Mannington Book Bash. More generally, because we only stock one of every title to help have a wider stock range, we don’t have particular big sellers, but we’ve enjoyed pushing all new Faber poetry, which is always big for us, and some of the slightly more offbeat titles, like The Book of the Most Precious Substance by Sara Gran.

Which other local independent business would you love visitors to discover?

Café Gelato, opposite us. It opened about two or three years ago and is fast becoming a city institution. The gelato really is mind-blowingly good. Plenty of tourists now get a book and some ice cream when they visit this end of the city centre in the summer. Also L’Hexagone – a beautiful French restaurant run by a husband and wife doing the simplest but best French cooking.

Which book do you wish everyone had read?

I don’t know for sure, but I do know the one I push on people most often is The Ballad of Syd & Morgan by Haydn Middleton. It has magic within it.

Do you have a favourite type of customer?

Those people who walk around in amazement saying ‘I’ve never seen or heard of any of these books and I want them all!’ before choosing one – or more – which really speaks to them. That was always the aim of this shop and it’s so gratifying that it still happens most days.

What would people find surprising about being a bookseller?

Just how much it means to people that bookshops exist. They really can – and do – enrich the lives of the people they serve, which not many businesses can claim to do.

You can visit The Book Hive in person at 53 London St, Norwich, NR2 1HL, or order from them online at thebookhive.co.uk
Think we should feature your local independent bookshop? Tell us about your favourite indie bookseller here.

 

More in this series:

January 2024: Shalimar Books