Strictly Come Bookselling

<p>Help! Exactly how much change do I give from a wrinkled (and slightly dubious-looking ) &pound;20 when the book is &pound;12.95?<br />
<br />
As I hover uncertainly behind the till at Chesham Bookshop in Bucks, I realise why it is that I'm a writer and not a bookseller. I can't do sums. At least not in my head.<br />
<br />
Still, it was all part of the experience in Strictly Come Bookselling, an amazing nationwide initiative as part of Independent Booksellers Week, which took place this week (starting 15th June) when authors like me were encouraged to take their place behind the till of an independent bookshop and chat to the public.<br />
<br />
The last time I did this was when I was 15 (at least 30 years ago) and had a weekend job at a newsagent.&nbsp; &quot;Don't worry. It gets easier,&quot; explains manager David Cooke as he talked me through the various buttons I needed to press on the till.<br />
<br />
Just in time! Here comes my first customer; a bowed little old lady clutching a bargain-priced copy of <i>The Letters of T S Eliot</i>. Luckily, David introduces me before she had a chance to wonder why I was being so cluck-handed. &quot;Lovely idea,&quot; she beams. &quot;I've never met a real-life author before.&quot;<br />
<br />
Actually, I'm beginning to feel a bit dead, mainly because I was wearing heels. (Big mistake)&nbsp; Could I kick them off and serve barefoot?&nbsp; Maybe not. Ah! Another customer. By now, I'm&nbsp; getting into the swing of it.</p>
<p>&quot;Don't forget to swipe the bar code,&quot; David gently reminds me. &quot;And if you want the machine to tell you how much change to give, you enter the amount the customer has handed you.&quot;<br />
That can't be right. The machine says I have to hand over &pound;99 in return for a &pound;10 note even though the book cost a fiver. Not to worry. Apparently someone entered &pound;3,000 the other day. &quot;Perhaps you'd better let me do the credit card bit,&quot; suggests David.<br />
<br />
Meanwhile, I'm really getting to know David's staff. They're a fiercely loyal team here and keen to do the best they can. The other week, David had a customer who couldn't remember either the title or the author but she did know it was being serialised on Radio 4 so he rang the BBC while she waited and tracked down the details.<br />
<br />
All the staff take it in turns to browse through the publishers' catalogues and make their selection. Misery memoirs are particularly popular and anything unusual. &quot;We might wonder why on earth we chose a certain book if it's rather off the wall, and then someone will always walk in and buy it.&quot;<br />
<br />
The customers are a great mix too, ranging from a couple with a pushchair who trundled in and out four times without buying anything to a personal shopper who is looking for a book on doodles and buys my novel instead. We have a nice little chat about her job and she confides that one of her toughest tasks had been to find a birthday cake made up of pork pies in the shape of a tardis. Might come in handy in a plot, one day.<br />
<br />
I only did a couple of hours but it was enough to make me take my hat off to the staff. There's a lot to remember&mdash;don't forget to hand them the receipt!&mdash; so I don't think I'll be giving up my day job yet. Still, if I ever get short of ideas, I know where to apply. Providing they want me, that is . . .</p>