I think it’s in Graham Greene’s Travels With My Aunt that a character notices how constant travel seems to make time pass more slowly and so makes your life seem longer.
Whether I’ve attributed it to the right book or not (no doubt somebody will tell me) the observation is certainly true for the last month of my life. When my partner, Edwina, and I got home from my visit to the last bookshop on my list on May the 31st, I realised that our first visit, to Machynlleth on May the 1st, seemed so long ago that it might have been a year before, not a month. But then, I’d packed in visits to 25 different towns in the previous 30 days and spent time meeting readers while signing, speaking and discussing books at 13 of them. I’ve reflected on every one of those thirteen visits on this page and doing so has increased my appreciation of each visit, so perhaps I’ve further extended the month, mentally so to speak!
And what a month it’s been. A month of having a perfect excuse to spend tons of time in bookshops.
I’m notorious in my family for not being able to walk past a bookshop without going in and, once there, for being constitutionally incapable of coming out without a book. And there’s something particularly magical about the stock of a well-curated (I use the word advisedly in such a display-orientated business) bookshop. It draws you in and holds you there, particularly if you start chatting to the bookseller about the book in your hand and other, similar, ones that you might have read. I know that the huge branches of Waterstones can be very enticing. They pile their books high and, sometimes, sell them cheap (especially hardbacks) but they can do that because they have the buying power to negotiate deals with the publishers which mean that they can discount without losing out. (It’s the author and publisher who lose out instead.) Small bookshops can’t make those kind of deals because they’re mostly dealing in single-figure orders which make it impossible to negotiate a more advantageous price.
There simply isn’t a level playing field here. It’s an analogous situation to a local greengrocer versus the buying power of the supermarkets. If you want your shopping experience to be bland and homogenous, supermarkets are fine but if you want the personal touch – and somebody who’ll listen to your pleas to go plastic-bag free, as our local greengrocer has, or to stock particular books as your local bookseller will – you need to cultivate your local independent bookshop.
And there’s another thing which is directly relevant to me and to #IndyBookTourCymru2019: indy bookshops support independent publishers (by which I mean small publishers who don’t belong to one of the big conglomerates with their huge buying and marketing power) and therefore, directly support authors.
For which I, in common with every other indy-published author, owe them huge and abiding thanks.
Speaking of marketing, lots of people have asked me how the tour has impacted on sales. The simple answer is that, as yet, I’m not sure. It’s difficult to determine exact effect of the tour as I have no figures, as yet, for numbers sold to readers but what I do know is that, since I started the tour, both None So Blind and In Two Minds have gone into reprint twice. To quote The Dome press: ‘the demand was very high indeed’. The official publication date was also moved from the 31st of May to the 2nd. We’d originally anticipated that having the books before the official publication date would give bookshops an incentive to be part of the tour but, as it turned out, it would have been madness in business terms not to allow other bookshops to sell while the tour was taking place, given the interest it had generated.
Measured in relationships forged with booksellers, on the other hand, I can unequivocally say that the tour has been a huge success. It has been absolutely wonderful to meet people who are passionate about books, to talk to them about my work and to hear their views on it. And also to hear the trials and tribulations of independent bookselling. The vast majority of the bookshops I’ve visited are run, day to day, by their owners and they demonstrate an encyclopaedic knowledge not only of the books they sell but of their communities and customers. Many, particularly those in Welsh-speaking areas, are literally community hubs for their towns and it’s fantastic to see books at the heart of Welsh speaking communities.
An unexpected element of the tour was the little thrill I got every time I saw a title by one of my fellow Crime Cymru authors on the shelves. However, the tour has made it abundantly clear to me that, if there’s one campaign that’s crying out to be undertaken by our collective, it’s getting our books into Wales’s bookshops. I’ve scattered Crime Cymru bookmarks about with a liberal hand so I hope that, maybe, that will be a tiny start in publicising our authors’ work. That’s what Crime Cymru is for – to bring Welsh crime to new readers.
So, apart from the obviously predominant merchandise, was there a unifying theme to all the bookshops I visited? Yes. Passion. A passion for books and words and ideas. For writing in any genre that chimes with people and helps them make sense of the world and the people in it. Amongst the booksellers I met, I discovered lovers of various genres, sellers who are also bloggers, organisers of reading groups, takers of books into schools, contributors to local and national cultural life. Booksellers bring books to festivals, to eisteddfodau, to evening events. They bring readers and writers together in myriad ways.
And I hope to have contributed to that a little, tiny bit. I owe huge and abiding thanks to all the booksellers who have welcomed me to their shops to meet readers: to Diane Bailey at the Pen’rallt Bookshop and Gallery in Machynlleth, Gwyn Sion Ifan at Awen Meirion in Bala, Eirian James and bookseller Catrin at Palas Print in Caernarfon, Clive Upton at Great Oak Books in Llanidloes, Llio and Brieg Davies at Siop Y Pentan in Carmarthen, Matt Taylor at Chepstow Books, Geraint James at Awen Teifi in Cardigan, Tim Batcup and bookseller Delyth at Cover to Cover in Mumbles, Marley Davies and books manager Bethan at Victoria Bookshop in Haverfordwest, Emma Baines at Chapter One in Narberth Museum and Christopher Taylor at St Davids Bookshop.
Thank you all, so much, for the cups of tea, cakes, biscuits, fascinating conversations and, above all, for your enthusiasm for books and your welcome to me and the Teifi Valley Coroner series. It’s been such a huge privilege to visit your shops and be part of your community for a while.
And thank you to all my various social media followers who have liked, commented on and shared my day-by-day accounts of #IndyBookTourCymru2019. It’s been a pleasure and a privilege to share it with you and I do hope you’ll keep coming back to see what else I get up to.
Finally, if any readers of this page are interested in having a look at Harry and John’s escapades, you won’t be surprised when I say that it would be wonderful if you felt able to buy the book in a local, independent bookshop. Go and make friends with your bookseller. Tell them you’ve been following the tour – it’s unlikely that any bookseller outside Wales will have heard of it so it’ll give you something to talk about. And, if they ask you whether you think I’d like to do something in their shop – tell them I’d love to hear from them and they can get in touch via my website!
Yes, I am shameless…