Editor's note: Author Emma Chapman wrote of her plan to drive "from Land's End to St. Andrews" at The Bookseller blogs, describing her month-long trip as "a journey to thank indies for all the work they do on behalf of authors." Based in Indonesia, she arrived in the UK to open her project during Independent Booksellers Week. Along the way, she is signing copies of her novel, How To Be a Good Wife (Picador) and meeting with readers as well as booksellers. We asked her to give us this progress report on how her road trip is going.
London, Kent, Alfriston, Brighton, Fordingbridge, Axminster, Sidmouth, Totnes, Saltash and Liskeard
Four counties and 550 miles, from London to Land’s End. 18 bookshops, mostly in rural towns and surrounded by other indies: butchers, newsagents, florists and gift shops. Some playing classical music, some rocking The Rolling Stones.
I’m not sure quite what I expected when I flew into Heathrow from Jakarta, but I couldn’t have predicted the marvelous reception that bookshops have offered. There have been banners, posters, signing tables, cupcakes, piles of books, and overwhelming friendliness. It’s been so lovely to chat to booksellers, to see the end point of the publication process: the places where books directly connect with readers.
As an author, it’s easy to become distanced from your book when it’s out in the world: this tour has offered me a reconnection, and for that I will always be grateful. I’ve met booksellers who have been championing my novel for over a year – one told me she’d hand-sold 19 hardbacks! – and it’s been wonderful to say thank you in person.
Much Ado Books is in the stunningly beautiful village of Alfriston, where the kindly Nash offered us pear iced tea and ‘blondie’ brownies, as well as a thoughtful travel pack for my onward journey, including a small bottle of red wine (yey!), a notebook, toiletries, chocolate (double yey!) and snacks.
Their secret reading room upstairs, open only to ‘members’ of the bookshop, was like something out of a novel itself: warm furnishings, book-lined walls, comfy armchairs and a selection of miniature books. Nash – and many of the other bookshop owners – talked about having to diversify their purpose to bring in new customers and compete with online retailers.
A good number have been positive about their survival. Paul at City Books in Hove told me that the remaining indies are doing well: that they’ve survived this long because there’s a demand for them. They were hosting Jeremy Paxman (Great Britain's Great War, Viking) the next evening: hosting events was another key point of difference from online that indies had jumped on, despite the sometime difficulties of organization.
I’ve been offered so much cake that I’m afraid I’ll be rolling into St Andrews at the end of the tour (worth it).
I’ve met readers and browsers, and chatted to so many interesting customers.
I met one reader (at the Edge of the World Bookshop in Penzance) who brandished a heavily annotated copy of How To Be A Good Wife, with sheets and sheets of notes on the novel. She had so many interested questions, and it was one of those true ‘author’ moments that I never really thought I would experience.
"Unique and irreplaceable"
All the bookshops I’ve visited have been marvelously unique and irreplaceable.
When I was planning the tour, I didn’t really think about how I would actually feel, standing in the bookshops.
The more I’ve visited, the more I’ve felt passionate about doing something to help them weather the changes in the book industry.
These are places that add character to our towns and villages, and they need to survive.
If you'd like to follow Chapman's progress, she's tweeting regularly about the journey. On Twitter, she's @EmmaJChapman and she's using the hashtag #IndieBookCrawl. You can also see her updates here on Facebook.
All images from Emma Chapman: From top: (1) on the road; (2) at Sevenoaks Booshop, Kent; (3) outside Nickleby's Bookstore, Llantwit Major; and (4) inside Nickleby's.