To start off #LoveMyIndieBookshop week Cornwall based author Liz Fenwick is interviewing Alice Harandon, manager of thriving St Ives Booksellers located on Fore Street in St Ives.
Hello and welcome to the RNA blog Alice. Can you tell us how you came to work in a bookshop?
I was doing part time cover work in the local library after finishing university when a colleague there came to tell me about a vacancy in the St Ives Bookseller. I started part-time and then became the full-time manager and love it! My dad was a Drama and English teacher for many years before becoming a professional storyteller and my mum is a Librarian so I’ve really always been surrounded by stories so it just feels like home to me!
What’s a day in the life of a bookseller like now with lockdown or before the whole pandemic?
Before it was looking ahead to what new titles were coming out and ordering them, changing the window displays, taking deliveries and unpacking them, checking invoices, trying (and usually failing) to keep on top of the social media and making sure the shop was tidy. These were what some could call the ‘boring’ bits but it was constantly changing and all whilst also engaging with our customers – selling books, ordering in for them or just chatting and catching up with our regulars. I have to say there also is a lot of lifting! I think this sometimes gets forgotten in the nostalgic idea of bookselling. All those books arrive in lots of boxes and as we are small we need to get them cleared asap.
Lockdown has been a lot of the same but at a much much slower pace. It’s hard because a lot of that connection and dialogue with the customers (especially the older ones) has been cut. When we were able to open we had quickly get used to new ways of doing things. For example we put in a place a slightly different method whereby the customers scanned their own books on the other side of a screen – once they get the hang of it the customers really appreciate our efforts to keep everyone safe. The real difference was that in ‘normal’ times we are always trying to encourage customers to come in and browse and stay as long as they like with no pressure. However with customer number limits (we can only have 4 in) we now often have to ask people – and usually families – to queue and wait. It’s really heartbreaking to have to stop an eager child from coming in because you have too many people in (when to their eyes there is plenty of room).
What’s the best-selling romance book in the shop?
We still sell a lot of Pride and Prejudice and Winston Graham’s Poldark series but I think our bestselling romance titles must be Miranda Dickinson’s Somewhere Beyond the Sea and Liz Fenwick’s novels, the latest being The Path to the Sea. Both of the latter have Cornish settings which I think makes them extra appealing to people visiting our shop.
Do you have a favourite romance book?
Probably a cliche but I will always love Wuthering Heights. But I also have a couple of authors whose books I like to just pick up, slip back into and reread every year or so – one of which is Fiona Walker’s Oddlode series.
What does romantic fiction mean to you?
This is a tough one and I don’t want to pigeonhole it as I really think it is different for everyone. I think that woven throughout the story there are a number of relationships – could be family, friends, neighbours – and usually at the heart of that a romantic relationship. Something that when I have finished reading it leaves me with a happy, cosy feeling that all is right with the world.
Do you work with many authors?
We try to – and we love signed books! As we are so small we don’t often hold sit down signings but having an author in to sign stock does really well for us. As we have so many visitors to town as well as our locals this means the books can reach lots more people over a few weeks than if they were just there on the day. I love making that connection with an author though and we do hope to be able to hold events again in the future and are tentatively looking into virtual events.
Hardback or Paperback?
I do love some of the covers and feel of hardbacks that have been out in the last few years as they can be so beautiful, but as I like to carry a book around to read on breaks/walks etc then I think it probably has to be paperback. It’s not unheard of for me to buy a book in hardback, keep it nice and then get the paperback to read when it’s out!
Thank you for talking to us, Alice!
Liz Fenwick is a prize-winning author of eight books set in Cornwall. The Path to the Sea is out now and her next The River Between Us is out 10 June 2021.