Springboard: Authors' odes for booksellers

Springboard: Authors' odes for booksellers

The Bookseller called for authors to pen an “ode to booksellers” as part of a celebration of the trade. The idea came from author Matson Taylor who wrote his own tribute to booksellers, following a book tour he undertook in summer 2020.

Here are a selection of those submitted. A number were also published in the Springboard supplement available here.

 

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I've been there
The book you stop stickering to peek inside
The novel you find when a customer only knows 'its blue'
The calming zen of reordering the back shelves
I've been there
The quiet shifts spent reading
The busy ones spent smiling, reaching, stooping, carrying
The aching feet
I've been there
The waiting for the last late-night browser to head back out into the rain
The huddling in the shop doorway because you forgot the clocks changed
The terrifying responsibility of recommending someone's next read
I've been there
And I remember how incredible it all feels
And how special being a bookseller is
And how amazing you all are

Tim Glister is the author of Red Corona (Oneworld) out now

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Dear lovely, high-street bookshop
I’m writing you this ode
To say, please stock my novel
When you’re back on the road
There’s nothing like a bookshop
The smell, the sights the staff
The expertise the knowledge
And – though you may laugh
It’s been my dream to see my book
In pride of place in store.
Sure, I know it’s on the net
But really, nothing’s more
Completely life affirming
Than seeing your own name
Stacked next to the likes of
Shakespeare, and J.K. Whatshername.
I mean, it’s not important
It doesn’t mean that much…
(It’s just my whole life’s toil and work
And blood and sweat and such)
I’m breezy, oh! So breezy,
I’m fine if you say no
I won’t cry, or wail or scream or smash things up,
Although…
I don’t mean to upset you
Or make you shed a tear
But if this flops I’m going to have
To get a new career.
Yours sincerely, kind regards
Best wishes and so forth, er
Lots of love, yours faithfully
A.N. Other desperate author.

Gillian Harvey's new book Perfect on Paper will be published by Orion on 13th May 2021.

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‘I wonder if you could help me, there’s this book I want…’ 
‘The woman on the front is wearing a yellow coat.’ 
‘Golden lettering, in a Medieval font.’ 
‘The cover has a tiger and someone sailing a boat.’ 
‘My mum said she thinks the writer might be French.’ 
‘About a fat king who just can’t find a wife.’ 
‘They made a film of it starring Judi Dench.’ 
‘A boy who opens up worlds with a magic knife.’ 
‘The Scottish one who won the Booker Prize.’ 
‘That whodunnit with the bloke called whatsit Strike.’ 
‘It’s about a robot kid who’s chased by spies.’ 
‘Can you recommend something you think I’d like?’ 
So long as readers come with books in mind, 
Those brilliant sellers know, and look, and find. 

Beth Morrey's debut Saving Missy was published by HarperCollins in February 2020; the paperback is publishing in March

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O, Bookseller – how do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
Of thine shiny bookshelves, reaching almost out of sight.
I love thine quiet passion for stories yet unknown
Ever waiting to press them into the hands of those both growing and full grown.
I love thee for the long hours, the stock-taking and wrestling numbers so they agree
And even as the world closes, thou strive to open up new worlds for us to see.
These worlds are bound within the spines of books thou dust, place, and adore
And I love thee for the support of a green debut who, one day, arrived at thine door.
O Bookseller, thou art a brave champion and defender of the high street
Ready to stand thy ground against the online giants that thou meet.
But mostly I love thee for the way thou would be brave enough to say:
“What is written here is not an ode, my dear, far from it,
It is more like a rather badly conceived sonnet…”

Louise Mumford is the author of Sleepless (HQ) out now

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Layla of Round Table, who shines a light on hidden stars,
Gavin of Gateshead, who scatters stardust with every step,
Will of Sam Read, who makes castles fly,
Tamsin of Kenilworth, who gives hedgehogs wellies,
Stephen of Page 45, who brings peace and wisdom through comics,
Fiona of Durham, who weaves togetherness,
Booksellers everywhere, who make this world wider, fuller and brighter,
I thank you!

Sophie Anderson is the author of The House with Chicken Legs, The Girl Who Speaks Bear, and The Castle of Tangled Magic (Usborne)

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Invaluable in more ways than one  
Creating a big, warm community
Making special spaces of calm and fun
And building true places of joy and unity
Crafting a sanctuary for readers
Making us feel welcomed and connected
The greatest of book cheerleaders
While making sure no reader feels neglected
Acting as publishing’s greatest aid
We see the passion, hard work and creativity
The bright light of the trade
The champions of tenacity
All while managing the bookstores
And making a home of more than just books and activity
By putting on events, signings, readings and tours
And welcoming us all back each time with such festivity

Davina Tijani writes genre and speculative fiction for adults and children


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Dear Bookseller(s), I was going to write a long ode about all the things I love about you. (You know . . . how you don’t roll your eyes when I ask if you’ve got that blue book with a four-word title; how you don’t mind me squealing with excitement when I see one of mine on your shelves; how you’re happy to stop and well, simply, talk about books.) But really, I want to thank that bookseller – unfortunately, name unknown – who pressed Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking into my hands and told me, You have to read this. Soon after reading it and being wowed by it, I met a man on a dating website. I wasn’t too sure about him (I’d been burned a few times), but when I asked him the last book he'd read (the best test of a prospective date), he said, The Year of Magical Thinking. Dear Bookseller(s), that man became my husband. I thank you.

Claire Fuller's fourth novel, Unsettled Ground, will be published in March 2021

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And so I want to say thank you.
Thank you for buying me an ice-cold lemonade because you could see that I needed one after driving around for hours on one of the hottest days of the year.
Thank you for saying my handwriting is much neater than Gary Barlow’s.
Thank you for telling me to avoid the A4055 in rush hour.
Thank you for making Evie your Book of the Month.
Thank you for offering me a life-size cardboard cutout of Elton John (unfortunately I had to decline as I had my father in the car that day and it was either him or Elton).
Thank you for saying Evie is like the lovechild of Sue Townsend and Alan Bennett
Thank you for saying she’s like the lovechild of Victoria Wood and Alan Bennett
Thank you for saying I’m like Alan Bennett (at one point I worried indie booksellers read nothing other than Alan Bennett).
Thank you for letting me use your loo.
Thank you for inviting me to Zoom with your bookclub and warning me beforehand about Janet (because she tends to go on).
Thank you for calling another bookshop and telling them I’m running late because we’d been chatting so much.
Thank you for telling me I’d outsold a Very Famous Author’s book 5:1 (not Alan Bennett).
Thank you for saying I look younger in real life than in the publicity photo.
Thank you for letting me make a big fuss of your dog.
Thank you for giving me a funny-face mini plantpot when I said how nice they were.
Thank you for inviting me on your podcast.
Thank you for recommending my book to practically everyone who came in your shop.
Thank you for being so generous and supportive to an unknown debut novelist who had no idea what he was meant to be doing.
And thank you for all the cake. And for all the biscuits. And for all the delicious, enlightening, warm, glittering chat.
Thank you.

Matson Taylor's debut The Miseducation of Evie Epworth was published by Simon & Schuster last year, the paperback is publishing in April

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Oh bookseller, my bookseller, you literary champion;
You curator of reader’s dreams, you polymathic lampion.
You window-dressing genius, with crepe, tape and bravado;
Recommendation search engine, back catalogue aficionado.
You bastion of weighty tomes, you bibliosophic hero;
Safeguarding the bookshelves like an ink-stained Rob De Niro.
You Lara Croft librarian, you artefactual keeper;
You guardian of the twisty turn, you plot spoiler minesweeper.
Advocate of local writers, geographical uniters;
First foothold for debut authors, shyly showing mothers, daughters.
Saviour of the J R Hartley’s, Fly Fishing for obscure parties;
Sacred priests of first book ‘shelfies’, (second and third one with myself please!)
Oh bookseller, you bibliophilic signpost, map and compass;
You pedagogic wayfarer, you bookish Chris Columbus.
You gateway to the great I am, you literatus stellar;
Guardian of the nation’s soul, oh bookseller, my bookseller.

Cat Walker's debut novel The Scoop was published by RedDoor Press last year 

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O what resilience hath the bookseller of today
To survive the onslaught of the online beast
To keep this insidious threat at bay
And provide sanctuary for the booklovers feast
The ding of the bell as thee steps forth
Plunging into Axminster pile
Hath thee perished on ascent to Heaven
As the waves of books draws thee north
Booklover welcomed with a shaggy smile
The only sound; hark! a cough did morph
While authors continue to ov’rfill this veritable Eden”

Brend Garrick is the author of Jamekespeare, published last year as party of Jacaranda Books'  Twenty in 2020. 

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I have missed walking into the warm, silent den that bookshops exude and seeing the colourful spines of possibility calling out to me from the shelves, all around.

The bookseller is the underrated fountain of knowledge, the gateway to accessing and suggesting what you need and therefore the most powerful person in the room.

Lisa Bent is the author of Symona’s Still Single, published last year as party of Jacaranda Books'  Twenty in 2020. 

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It’s a bloody betting shop now
Odds evens smell of gloomy money 
Miss Carter’s magic house of gold
dusted squealing stairs
full of Formica and miserable buggers
spending the rent on absent dreams shouting
as if they could be recalled to life
by rage or begging
Not quiet people lost and found
between the pages
that smell of everything but coal
as we pull back to wide angled horizons 
neurons racing ragged above the worlds
Then
Miss Carter, who used to be a big wheel
in The Smoke as we called it in Donny
until she came to a funeral and missed
the train home for twenty years
Steel strand hair miraculous grey 
like a cloud she peered through 
and peering down now at me 
in my short trousers full of famous conkers
Green school jacket one side burned 
Sulphuric acid yellow in the shape of Spain
from a mishap that lasted until I looked daft
wearing it and a coke stained birthday shilling 
sweating in my Sam Spade mitt. 
Then ‘You need a biscuit, boy.’
A rich tea later and a trek past
the gathered ranks of War and Peace 
for the umpteenth glance of disbelief
‘Tolstoy’ she said ‘You need four years.’
And smiled.
She knew the bookshop had me.
I fell in love.

J D Hughes writes cross-genre fiction novels

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Ode to a bookseller
Me, a debut author, completely unknown 
Published during lockdown, sad and alone. 
You, an indie bookseller with a love for prose 
‘Would you like to launch my book, I don’t suppose?’ 
You saved the day, I’m glad to say 
An online event, an evening well spent. 
I was able to visit your glorious shop, 
Not far from my home, just a skip and a hop, 
To sign copies of my work, of course with mask 
Covering my ginormous smile, not an easy task. 
And then my launch became a podcast 
To preserve the happiest memory of the year past. 
So, thank you, Antonia and Books on the Hill 
For helping to sweeten 2020’s bitter pill. 

Debra Barnes' debut novel The Young Survivors was published by Duckworth Books last year 

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It wasn’t the cake I missed
The oozing coffee butter cream, the crunchy sprinkly nutty scatter
It wasn’t the wheezing dog, the arch cat
It wasn’t the steam sousing the cold windows as the Gaggia hissed
It wasn’t the creaking stairs to the upper floor (History, Maritime, Occult)
Or the chilly well of basement air (Biography, Fantasy, Crime)
It was the books: the heavy heft, the plump block of ink
The puff of riffled sheets,
Your books
Your hum of chat about the books
Our books.

Marion Gibson latest book Witchcraft: The Basics was published by Routledge in 2018

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Ode to Inge & Co
Tardis-like, small
and unassuming
yet limitless
within your walls.

Resplendently
independent! 

Thank you
for keeping the lights on
City Books
Brighton. 

Sharon Keating

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Dear friend I’ve written from the heart
Of joyful, happy times
So too the realms of nature
Have been formed, in verse that rhymes.

Drawn from our local heritage
Lost tales from bygone years
Amidst gold and silver threads of times…
That cry with, personal tears.

Life’s thorny path oft rears its head
Through twisty, winding roads
Snatching precious moments
Dark shadows, eerily erodes.

Left with crumbling memories
Trembling pen is put to paper
Capturing those feelings
Lest they evanish into…hazy vapour.

I’m just a fledgling poetess
No aspirations of great wealth
But how my heart does skip a beat
When you spare, a place on your shelf.

Wee couthy corner bookshop
You kindly welcomed me
My homemade booklets did display
With proceeds, all for charity.

No commission did you ask for
Neither spoke of any fee
I was most appreciative
Of your generosity.

Social distancing and vaccines 
From COVID-19 help transition
How sad your doors have had to close
Tho it should stem transmission.

Restrictions will be lifted soon
Doors flung open once again
Rows of books in every guise
From each author’s creative pen. 

Wee couthy corner bookshop
You mean all the world to me
Words alone cannot express
Your love for each anthology.

Caroline Fowler

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(with thanks to Elizabeth Barrett Browning) 
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. 
I love the jingle-jingle of the bell 
announcing my arrival with a smile: 
‘You’re in a bookshop. All will now be well.’ 
I love the spines of books upon the shelf 
that promise romance, laughs and mysteries. 
I love the smell of paper, print and ink, 
the rustling of pages in the peace. 
I love the ‘Recommendeds’ and the ‘New’, 
the joyous promise of that corner chair 
that tells me I should choose a book and rest - 
convinces me that I have time to spare.  
I love, I love, the beauteous books you sell.  
(My bank account does not love thee so well.) 

Fran Hill is the author of Miss, What Does Incomprehensible Mean? (SPCK Publishing, 2020)