Later this month British Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy is taking to the road on a Shore to Shore tour of Britain with fellow poets Gillian Clark, Jackie Kay and Imtiaz Dharker, together with musician John Sampson. Welsh stops on the tour include Crickhowell in Powys, where Emma Corfield-Walters is co-owner of award-winning independent bookshop Book-ish. When she caught up with Emma at her pop-up bookshop at this year’s How The Light Gets In festival in Hay, Cath Barton was keen to know more about the changing relationship between big publishers and independent local bookshops.
Cath Barton: As I understand it, Carol Ann Duffy approached her publisher, Picador, with the idea for this tour, and it was she who suggested that it should be done in collaboration with independent bookshops. How did Book-ish get involved?
Emma Corfield-Walters: Macmillan (of which Picador is an imprint) take a really active role with the independents and give us lots of support. We found out through our Macmillan agent that Book-ish had been chosen by Carol Ann. I believe she has links with our area and we are so delighted that she wants to come here. I haven’t met her yet, but Gillian Clark has done a reading for us before. I’m excited to have poets of their calibre coming here, people who are so respected both by readers and by their contemporaries.
Each venue will have a special guest too, and yours is poet Paul Henry. Tell me a bit about your links with him.
Paul is very much part of the local poetry scene. His work, especially his most recent collection, is based in the local area. He found us actually – he just walked into the shop one day and introduced himself! Some said that we wouldn’t do well with poetry in Crickhowell, but we’ve proved those people wrong. We invited Paul to read at our first ever event and 50 people came along. Since then we’ve hosted other local poets too, very successfully. There’s huge support locally for the line-up at the Shore to Shore event.
I’m interested that the new poetry anthology* being published to coincide with the tour is going to be available exclusively through independent bookshops for the first three months.
Yes, more and more publishers now want to work with independent bookshops. There’s been a massive change over the past two years. Both the independent shops and physical books are doing better. So many people are staring at screens all day and they want to connect with something, which is what reading a real book gives them. There’s another thing too – people like to pass books on, to share them in a way you can’t do with e-readers. I think this is about us all being story-tellers – I do believe that is programmed into our psyche and that’s part of the reason we still want to hold a proper book.
It’s interesting that although we are able to sell e-books in the shop we have never been asked for one. And of course there are certain types of books that don’t work well that way – illustrated children’s books in particular. Oh, and the new Ladybird books – you can’t get those as e-books and look how popular they are!
Clearly it’s a busy job, running an independent bookshop.
It certainly is. We have to do so much more than just sell books in the shop. It’s an honour to be asked to run the bookshop here at How The Light Gets In. It’s hard work but it gets us known by more people. And then we’ve got an on-going programme of book signings and lots of outside events.
Of course we’re running a business, as are all the publishers. But we’re also supporting authors. Look at Kate Hamer, whose book The Girl in the Red Coat is now in the running for The Wales Book of the Year People’s Choice Award. Yes, her publisher really promoted her book, but I don’t think it would have got as far as it has without independent bookshops too. We invited her to an open book group and I know independents in other towns did the same.
The tide is really turning for us indies. We’re getting lots of support from publishers now, who realise that it’s a big deal for people in a small town like Crickhowell to have access to the best of new books and to have opportunities to meet their authors.
* Off the Shelf: A Celebration of Bookshops in Verse, edited by Carol Ann Duffy, Picador.