Mortar life

We all know the many things Amazon can do that a bookshop can’t, but rather than bemoaning our fate as a quaint, increasingly rare hangover from a pre-digital age, I’d rather consider what a bricks-and-mortar shop has that poor old Amazon hasn’t. A great deal; not least beautiful physical space.

People are always telling me how lucky I am to spend all day surrounded by books. Office-worker friends in their sterile environments, made human only by a few photos and a favourite mug, cannot get over the beauty of my workplace. The Marylebone Daunt Books is particularly awe-inspiring. Customers actually gasp; many ask if it used to be a church; people are endlessly taking photographs.

It struck me that there must be ways of using this glorious space other than as an attractive showroom. For surely a bookshop is not just a place for books, but a place for book lovers? Why not make more of an effort to bring people together and encourage readers to share their mutual love of books?

The galleried back of the Marylebone branch can seat 150 people, and our evening literary talks are packed. Afterwards, excited chatter floats up to the rafters, leaving the air abuzz. What if, I wondered in something of a lightbulb moment, we were to cram together several talks over a couple of days? What if we were to hold our own literary festival?

And so the Daunt Books Festival was spawned: two days of talks from some of our favourite writers in our bookshop. After much debate, I decided to hold it during the week—albeit at the slightly more relaxed end—and programme the talks in such a way that people could weave the festival into their usual work day. Hopping out of the office for a 45-minute lunch-break talk—through which you can eat your sandwich—is an easy way to enrich normal life, as opposed to going to the effort of booking up a whole precious weekend.

So far so good. Some talks have already sold out; others are filling up fast. As I gave one customer a programme, she looked at me and nearly burst into tears. “Hooray for Daunt!” she cried. “You don’t get bloody Amazon giving you a festival, do you?”

Emily Rhodes is a manager at Daunt, and a novelist represented by Andrew Kidd at Aitken Alexander. The festival runs from 27th-28th March