After the lockdown months of semi-hibernation (in fact we were very busy sending signed Julia Donaldson books out all over the country!) , we re-opened our doors in mid-June with a host of COVID-safe measures – a second till-point in the children’s area, plastic shields around the 2 tills, hand-sanitiser stations, and masks for those who have forgotten theirs! It was truly wonderful to be back chatting to our lovely customers again, and we were very busy through July and August, with lots of visitors to the village excited to find a real bookshop!
We have bravely ventured into the new world of Zoom online events – our first was a children’s story and drawing Zoom event with illustrator of Giraffes Can’t Dance Guy Parker-Rees for his sweet new picture book Elephant Me. As a first foray into Zoom events with authors rather than book group meetings we were pleased and relieved that all went pretty well – just a short blip at Guy’s end at the finish. It was his first online event too! Guy also decorated our childrens window, here he is in action-painting mode!
This was followed by an interesting book group Zoom meeting with Sarah Moss, author of Summerwater, published by Macmillan, a fascinating novel which curiously, although written well before Covid, had striking resonances to our current preoccupations – featuring small family units confined in a remote Scottish cabin site and the tensions this isolation created. We felt very fortunate having Sarah to ourselves to quiz about the book, from her new home in Southern Ireland where she is taking up a post at University College Dublin teaching creative writing.
We were very sad not to be able to have a big boozy launch party for local poet Simon Zec’s second volume of poetry, ‘In the Downtime’ which was published at the end of September by Steyning-based publisher, The Real Press. Instead, we had a ‘virtual’ launch online – Simon read a few verses, and participants were able to raise a glass from their own comfy armchairs! Still fun, but sadly lacking Sara’s delicious book-launch canapes! We have signed copies of ‘In the Downtime’ available at the shop and online, and a few of the print+book packages which include the two beautiful and eminently frame-able prints by talented local artists Rob Winterson and Benita Hibberts which feature on the cover and inside the book.
All through October we are continuing our VIRTUAL SIGNING for Julia Donaldson’s brilliant new picture book, The Hospital Dog! This is an even lovelier rhyming story than ever (especially if you are a dog-lover like me!) The illustrator is Sara Ogilvie who also illustrated the very sweet The Detective Dog and captures the movement and expressions of children (and of dogs!) beautifully. Here Julia returns to the theme of a helpful dog saving the day, this time in an amusing and touching story of Dot, a delightful Dalmation who visits children in hospital to cheer them up. Your children aged 2- 6 should LOVE it and you will too we’re sure! You can request a signed and name dedicated copy at the shop or order via our online store, adding the dedication names in the ‘order notes’ section at checkout.
Saturday October 3rd was ‘Books are My Bag’ day – or ‘Bookshop Day’ as it is now called. Usually we celebrate with author signings, lashings of tea and Sara’s home-made cake distributed to the throngs of chatty customers picking out bargains in our annual sale, but due to COVID we can have neither crowds nor cake! But we DID have our sale with some great bargains still to be found, and the wonderful ELLY GRIFFITHS kindly popped by to sign copies of her very entertaining new murder mystery ‘The Postscript Murders’. It was lovely to catch up with Elly, who, like her characters, is always very upbeat and full of fun! We have plenty of signed copies of The Postscript Murders and Elly’s other books in store now, and are eagerly looking forward to hearing Elly chat with fellow authors William Shaw and Lesley Thompson at our Zoom online event on October 15th.
Looking into the Autumn, we are very excited to have sold lots of tickets for our event ‘A Criminal Conversation’ on Thursday 15th October at 7.30pm, which will see Sussex-based thriller writers William Shaw, Elly Griffiths, and Lesley Thompson discussing their craft. The silver lining to Zoom online events is that readers from ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD can join, and we were very excited to see that we have readers from as far away as Australia and the U.S.A joining this event! Also of course, if it is a dark and stormy night, you can stay home in your own comfy chair with your favourite tipple and still be ‘in the room’! Do get your questions ready as there will be an opportunity for attendees to ask questions at the end. Ticket holders are entitled to £5 off the latest hardback by any of the 3 authors, do mention this when purchasing whether it be online or in the shop so we can deduct your £5!
In 2019, as part of our ‘Book Lovers’ literary festival, author, archaeologist and broadcaster Mary Ann Ochota came to Steyning and treated us to a fascinating guided walk around Chanctonbury Ring (along with her dog and her very well-behaved little baby son on her back!) and a brilliant talk with slides at the atmospheric Gluck Studio. Mary Ann specialises in the human history of our landscape, and is bursting with knowledge and enthusiasm for her subject! We are very excited to be part of the virtual bookshop tour for Mary Ann’s new book ‘Secret Britain; Unearthing our Mysterious Past’, on Thursday October 22nd at 7.30pm. This is an absolutely splendid book, beautifully-produced, chockful of photos and featuring a host of both famous and lesser-known artefacts, and historical sites, from notable treasures like the Sutton Hoo helmet, to prehistoric wooden goddesses and the compelling evidence for ancient British mummification… complete with handy maps and visitor tips! I am really looking forward to joining Mary Ann’s online talk – tickets are available via Ticketsource or ask at the shop, for either the ticket-only price of £6 or ticket-with-book price of £20.
News from our October Newsletter A grand time was had by all who came on Saturday afternoon to the signing by Julia Donaldson which
celebrated the publication of Julia’s two latest books – the delightful The Girl, The Bear and the Magic
Shoes, beautifully illustrated by Lydia Monks, and Animalphabet, an alphabet book with a difference which
has exquisite pictures by new artist Sharon King-Chai.
The families who came also had a great opportunity to browse amongst all Julia’s other books including the recently re-issued illustrated edition of Julia’s play set during the Second World War, Bombs and Blackberries, and the paperback edition of The GiantJumperee, Julia’s jolly story illustrated by the wonderful Helen Oxenbury.
Alphabet biscuits, glittery magic shoe decoration, a sunny garden animal picture hunt plus the chance to meet and chat with the most famous children’s author in the land on a glorious autumn day – what a very special event it was! We are
most grateful to Julia for signing solidly for 3 hours, to her publishers who came to help, to the bookshop
team and also most grateful this time to two lovely members of our book group, Barbara Anderson and
Julia Sherlock who dealt magnificently with endless glitter, glue and non-stop activity.
There has been so much going on that we haven’t updated our news for a year!
Early 2016 saw author events with Catherine Chanter, Emily Gravett and Janet Ellis then in May and June the hustle and bustle of the 2016 Steyning Festival with the likes of Peter James, Frank Gardner, Cressida Cowell, the Hemsley sisters, Alison Weir, Sara Pascoe and Fergus Garrett coming to town! Then we celebrated Independent Booksellers Week in fine style with a talk by Ian Rankin, and a wonderful window display created by children’s illustrator Leigh Hodgkinson.
June also saw the 2nd Steyning Grammar School Brilliant Book Awards, where authors Eve Ainsworth, Sam Hepburn, Ali Sparkes and Matt Whyman were in attendance.
In August the lovely children’s author and illustrator Sam Lloyd came and entertained little ones with stories and buggy crafts, and some of us grabbed the odd weekend away, while others continued their tireless work of event planning and book supply….
Sam Lloyd in the bookshop garden
We had queues up the street for Julia Donaldson’s pre-publication signing for ‘Zog and the Flying Doctors’, thanks to everyone who came for their patience – luckily the sun shone and Malcolm Donaldson entertained the throngs singing all our favourite jolly Julia songs.
Here are a few of the tempting selection of titles in our big summer picture book buy-one-get-one-free promotion! Featuring fab new titles and old favourites from the good folks at Simon & Schuster, plus a sprinkle of other gems from our shelves. Come on down and grab some bargain story treats for your little people from the spinner at the rear of the children’s area!
Picture books Summer Special Offer
On Tuesday July 7th we felt very privileged to welcome the very talented novelist, travel writer and academic Sarah Moss to the bookshop for an intimate evening event. Sarah proved to be an absolutely fascinating speaker as she took us through her experiences in Iceland, the Hebrides, Cornwall and Japan which have contributed to her novels, and spoke about the themes of female emancipation, madness, philanthropy and the state, mother/daughter relations, and historical fiction which crop up in her latest novel ‘Signs for Lost Children’, published by Granta books. Signed copies of Sarah’s novels are available at the bookshop.
On July 15th local writer Debbie Howells celebrated the launch of her debut thriller ‘The Bones of You’ at The Sussex Produce Café. Debbie’s publishers, Pan Macmillan, very generously sponsored the event, which saw a really great crowd (including most of the residents of Debbie’s tiny village, Wiston!) turning out to buy copies of her book and sample the delicious wine and canapés provided by the Sussex Produce Café.
The very next day saw Pan Macmillan again showing their generosity by helping us launch Worthing writer Pam Weaver‘s new romantic saga, ‘Blue Moon’. We managed to squeeze around 40 of Pam’s friends, relations and local well-wishers into the bookshop, where Pam amused and inspired us all in equal measure as she described her journey to becoming a published writer and shared readings from her new novel. Sara’s canapés were delectable as always, and we are very grateful to all who came along to celebrate with Pam.
Then on July 23rd a friendly crowd squeezed into the bookshop for the launch of Guardian journalist and writer David Boyle’s new book ‘How to be English’, published by Vintage.
David Boyle and lots of English delicacies!
Pictured above, David poses behind the mouth-watering array of British delicacies prepared by his wife Sarah, and by Sara and Alice from the bookshop. An evening of lively debate followed, as David pondered the essence of Englishness (as opposed to Britishness), with plenty of contributions from the audience! We look forward to welcoming David back soon for another informative talk.
Our second-to-last July event was the eagerly-awaited return of novelist Louis de Bernieres, who joined us for a wonderful author supper at The Sussex Produce Café on July 28th. As ever, Louis was an engaging and amusing speaker, as he regaled us with tales of his grandmother and her lost love, the inspiration behind his latest novel ‘The Dust that Falls from Dreams’ – interestingly, Louis informed us that the book’s title was taken from a song by Louis’ friend, folk song-writer Ralph McTell, in return for a pint! For those who missed out, we have signed copies of Louis’ books in the shop. Many thanks to Louis for coming all the way from Norfolk, and to the Sussex Produce Café for a fantastic menu and great atmosphere, as always!
Sadly, despite there being four bookshop staff members present, we were all so swept up in the excitement of the evening that we forgot to take any photos, so thanks to Nick Hempleman from Sussex Produce for this shot of Louis.
Louis de Bernieres at The Sussex Produce Cafe
Finally, on Friday 31st the bookshop garden marquee was hastily erected for Leigh Hodgkinson’s visit. Leigh enchanted the young audience with her story ‘The Monster Snorey Book’ and went on to produce a collaborative giant monster doodle, before everyone got busy creating their very own paper-bag monster costumes, with the usual amount of chaos and glitter-strewing ensuing. Thanks to Leigh, her husband, and 2 lovely children for coming over on such a hot day! A really enjoyable event, we hope, for all concerned, and Leigh’s vibrant picture books really are delightful, so we hope to welcome her back in future.
Lots of pictures from this event will be available to view soon from the Gallery area of our website.
We are gearing up for a busy second half of June! Please come and celebrate Independent Booksellers Week with us, from 20th to 27th June – we have author visits from children’s illustrator Sam Lloyd and historical crime writer Nicola Upson, and a week-long ‘Tiger Who Came to Tea’ trail, as well as the return of our our ‘Bag a Bargain’ sale table. Please see our events page for more details.
Also, Friday 26th June sees the Awards Ceremony for the inaugural Steyning Grammar School Brilliant Book Awards, which has seen the bookshop, school librarians and English department staff working together, shortlisting a selection of excellent novels. Pupils, staff and parents have been reading and voting on their favourites, and short-listed authors Alan Gibbons, Ruth Eastham and Virginia Bergin have visited the school to whip up excitement. The Awards Ceremony starts at 5pm on Friday 26th, in the Drama Hall at Shooting Field, and is open to pupils, parents, staff, and interested members of the community, please drop into the bookshop for an invitation, or email firstname.lastname@example.org to reserve your place. Authors Matt Whyman, Tom Moorhouse and Ben Davis will be in attendance.
Author Ruth Eastham with staff and year 7 pupils at Steyning Grammar School
On June 16th, the Year 3 pupils at Steyning Primary School were thrilled to receive a visit from best-selling children’s author Julia Donaldson, accompanied by her husband Malcolm and his trusty guitar! The children joined Julia and Malcolm in singing action songs, and acting out Julia’s stories – much hilarity ensued when head teacher Chris Luckin had to dress up as ‘Lanky Len’ the robber! We look forward to her visit to Henfield St Peter’s Primary School on June 30th.
Julia Donaldson at Steyning Primary School
Julia and Malcolm Donaldson at Steyning Primary School
May saw some wonderful events. We had a delightful evening at the bookshop with the launch of well-loved local osteopath Geoff Green’s first novel The Sand Hide.
Author Geoff Green at the launch of Sand Hide
Last year Geoff intrigued us with his true life crime story Paying for the Past and now he has published an interesting tale of marital strife and a subsequent flight to the deserts of Morocco. The theme of a desert adventure (but not the marital strife I hasten to say) was taken in part from Geoff and particularly his wife Carol’s interesting experiences in Morocco. The crowd that crammed into the bookshop was testimony to the high regard in which Geoff is held here, and we wish him well with his writing.
Our next event was the visit from Sussex crime writing favourite Peter James, who was introducing You Are Dead, his new novel in the wildly popular Roy Grace series. We arranged for his talk and signing to take place at Steyning Grammar School Theatre. A new Peter James novel is always an exciting event and he has been a wonderful supporter of independent bookshops over the years.
Peter James with fans at Steyning Grammar School Theatre
The audience of over 200 were treated to a most entertaining talk by Peter and heard about his sometimes hilarious early years working as a film producer and writer in Hollywood and his more recent life as a best-selling crime writer. A fantastic evening and as everyone had a copy of You Are Dead with their ticket and the chance to chat with Peter if they had their book signed, we hope that they went home very pleased.
Earlier in May, writer Helen Peters, who wrote bookshop favourite The Secret Hen House Theatre and its recent sequel The Farm Beneath the Water, spoke to a very appreciative group of children at Windlesham House School and Steyning Primary School pupils showed their usual great enthusiasm too when Helen went there later in the day to talk to them as well about her books. Helen, who is an English teacher with two children, grew up on a farm near Ringmer and has based her stories on those experiences.