Yesterday #IndyBookTourCymru2019 was a bit closer to home than previous outings. Just down the road from me, in fact, in Chepstow where the river Wye runs out of a dramatic limestone gorge, overlooked by the Norman castle, into the Severn.
It’s a fascinating little town which lots of people miss as the main road skirts the edge of town and can easily lead you to the conclusion that Chepstow consists of a huge Tesco, a kitchen salesroom and a couple of miscellaneous looking office buildings.
Not so. It’s actually very pretty and the castle is spectacular.
One of the most charming places in the town is the steep, narrow St Mary’s street. And there, where cars don’t go, you’ll find one of Chestow’s little gems – Chepstow Books & Gifts.
Unlike the town’s other bookseller, WH Smith’s which is on the High Street, Chepstow Books is almost hidden away but, for those who are wandering around, soaking up the atmosphere of a town which has been there since the Normans conquered England and used Chepstow as a bridgehead to Wales, it’s a wonderful discovery. Owner Matt Taylor has created a very welcoming and inviting shop which draws you in (it’s a lot bigger inside than it looks from the outside) and, from the posters on the window (including mine for #In!dyBookTourCymru2019!) you know, from the moment you open the door, that this is a bookshop where readers and writers meet and where the world of literature is opened as easily as opening the pages of a book.
After we’d introduced ourselves, Matt confessed that he was a bit tired after hosting an event with historian Lucy Worsley the evening before and a quick look at the events page on his website shows that events are a big feature of life at Chepstow Books. In the coming weeks he’s putting on events with Alison Weir, Tom Bradbury (the News at 10 anchor who has just written his first novel) and Harry Potter star Chris Rankin (Percy Weasley) as well as events for children. Then, in September, Chepstow Books is one of only four Welsh bookshops playing host to the launch tour for Anne Cleeves’s new book The Long Call.
Inside, the bookshop is warm and well lit and the displays draw you in. Though you might have gone in for a card or a specific book, soon you find yourself looking at all the intriguing non-fiction that’s recently been published, as well as new novels and old favourites. The children’s section is also very well stocked with appealing titles.
Matt himself couldn’t be nicer and he and Louise, his assistant, made me very welcome. We chatted a bit about the books and, like nearly all the booksellers I’ve met, he commented on how good he thought the covers for None So Blind and In Two Minds are. That was echoed by one of the people I signed a book for. She’d read None So Blind and had come to buy In Two Minds. ‘I kept going on to my husband about how the book felt’ she said. ‘It’s nice to hold and you don’t have to break the spine to read the middle pages!’
I don’t think book production – or design come to that – gets enough attention and, as we chatted, we agreed that, though the cover is the thing which initially attracts a reader to a book, how it looks when you open it does affect how much you want to read it. If the font is smaller than you’d like, the text seems squashed or the book seems very stiff, it’s a lot less appealing than a decent font, generous margins and a book that welcomes you in by falling open nicely.
Our conversation reminded me of one I’d had with a fellow author back in the noughties. Her day job was as a book designer and, as she talked about font and spacing, margins and titles, she gave me an insight into a craft I’d never thought of before and it occurred to me that the book you’ve spent so many months crafting can be marred or made by the way it’s presented to the reader.
It’s the same with bookshops. If the shop presents books in an appealing and attractive way, you are drawn to buy them. And Chepstow books couldn’t be more appealing if it tried.
Many thanks to Matt for being part of #IndyBookTourCymru2019 and I look forward to visiting often for the events he puts on!