Monday, March 09, 2009

Taking a deep draft

Bookselling is a pretty gruelling business. I'm sure the perceived wisdom is that it is a dream job, where you get to sit around all day reading and chatting to people about books. We certainly get enough people asking us for a job (a trend that's sadly increased in recent months). But bookselling challenges on every level - it's extremely physically demanding, even on days when you don't need to hump boxes of books round the shop. Busy days have you leaping around the shop, executing a mad dance as you shuttle between customers, deliveries, opening doors for buggies, making the odd coffee. On days when you are 'in the zone' this all seems an effortless and graceful waltz around the shop, giving satisfaction to all as you earwig on conversations, pull books seemingly out of the air, and generally perform superhuman feats of stock matching that leave laughing children and gobsmacked adults in your wake. On other days of course, you simply look like a mad stalker, and everyone - young and old alike - back away from the over-caffeinated jibberish you're spouting and flee the shop. The mental stick-shifting that is required can also leave your brain mush by the end of the day. An ability to flip between different areas of expertise can be exhausting, and the interrupt-driven nature of retail does not lend itself to periods of focused concentration to get any big jobs done when you are on the till. As a business-owner, you also have ultimate responsibility to keep the shop open and operating smoothly, despite any staff crises, bad weather, electrical or till problems - and of course, the odd delivery going AWOL. And if problems crop up at the end of a VAT quarter, tough. So - just occasionally - it's nice to 'bang out' of the bookselling environment for a couple of days, and get inspired by other mad people who've chosen the same profession as you. Last Monday I did just that, taking part in a business forum organised by the Bookseller's Association, which was held in Edinburgh. It was a great experience - and I returned to Abingdon with the flywheel energised, albeit desperate to do about 100 things immediately, and knowing after a couple of days back, that I might just get 3 off the ground if I'm lucky (but that's conferences for you). The BA gets a bit of stick from the trade from time to time, after all they represent *all* booksellers in the UK, so if you have a problem with any particular Bette Noir operating in the marketplace, then the fact that you both belong to the same organisation must stick in the old craw. But I love the BA, and they seem to bend over backwards to do stuff for Indies which is extremely valuable (providing you get involved of course). I'd never been to Edinburgh, and - suitably primed by one of my customers (thanks Alisdair) - I instantly fell in love with the place. It's a bit bruised at the moment, and was described at one point as "Credit Crunch Ground Zero", and it's certainly true that you can't escape from RBS, Fred the Shred, et al, because you drive past the £350m HQ at Gogarburn the moment you leave the airport. The centre of the city is in a bit of mess too, due to the construction of an ambitious tram project (which runs, as far as I can tell, from the city centre out to the, er, RBS headquarters) which was suspended when I was there due to a contractual dispute. But no matter. It's a lovely city, and the choice of venue at the Scottish Storytelling Centre was inspired. I listened to inspiring presentations by Jayne and Kevin Ramage of The Watermill in Aberfeldy (a truly jaw-dropping bookshop - a bookselling trip to Scotland is definitely now on the cards just to be able to visit this place), and before I flew back on the Tuesday, I was able to visit The Children's Bookshop in a part of Edinburgh whose name escapes me (Bruntsfield?) but all I know is it teeming with the most uplifting collection of wonderful independents, and I was very well looked after by Vanessa and Malcolm, who I know are bursting with pride at having been named on the Scottish shortlist for Independent Bookshop of the Year (find out the full regional shortlists here BTW). So, throw in some extremely energising sessions on using the web, event publicity, a few early morning bookshop chats over the 'eggs and b' back at the hotel, and an evening with Ian Rankin to boot - no prizes for guessing that I had a great time. So - back to Abingdon, and looking forward to the beginning of Abingdon Arts Festival in just under two weeks time. As usual, everything can be found on our events pages or the special Arts Festival part of the website. We have some cracking events coming up during the fortnight, and some very exciting news about an author coming early May (but I'll save that for another blog). Yep, it's good to be back...

2 comments:

  1. They built that ruddy new HQ on our curling pond you know.

    See - I'm good at random facts.

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  2. If Fred gets to keep his pension, perhaps he might be good for a few quid to build a new one?

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