It has been a strange old year, beginning with the third lockdown, from January to April, which saw all of our bookshop staff continuing to beaver away, behind closed doors. It is amazing, in hindsight, how busy we remained while the shop was ostensibly ‘shut’ – first and foremost with website orders for signed & name-dedicated Julia Donaldson books – with our heartfelt thanks to Julia Donaldson, who spent every evening (apart from Sundays. We gave her a break on Sundays) inscribing names on books! Then there were phone and email orders from our dear, loyal customers, which were, as ever, a fun challenge, not to mention trying to make World Book Day a thing, while shut – we eventually put the World Book Day books out on our porch for children to help themselves! We are very grateful, too, to the local schools who kept us busy with orders and topic lists – Gudrun enjoyed the challenge of selecting a huge order of books based on their ‘Accelerated Reader’ level!
March saw us experimenting with more ‘Virtual Events’ – a lively discussion on Zoom with local thriller writers Elly Griffiths and William Shaw was well-attended, and then our book group welcomed historical thriller writer Lucy Jago to talk about her powerful and fascinating historical novel ‘A Net for Small Fishes’. Julia Donaldson’s name dedication offer drew to a close in early March, with a crazy flurry of orders from, it seemed, hundreds of physician mums, who had shared our website link in their Facebook group, and then we had just a couple of weeks to try to get the shop looking its best in time for the grand reopening in April!
With typical bad timing, the shop refitting of lighting and carpets – which necessitated removing ALL the books and most of the shelving – coincided with Gudrun’s house move, so we were a woman down for the big refit – Sara, Rob, Gill, Sarah & Alice worked like trojans to get everything back in place for April 12th, the re-opening date. They managed it with their sanity just about intact, and the shop, with sparkling new lighting, smooth new grey carpet, and rearranged shelving, has never looked better!
It was truly wonderful to be open again and get back to face-to-face bookselling! As schools re-opened we had quite a rush of publisher ‘virtual event’ offers for schools, so began to dip our toes into these strange new waters – we figured out a way to offer the virtual event books to parents via our website, and it all worked quite well! We’ve had virtual school events with Vashti Hardy, Jenny Pearson, Sophy Henn, Thiago de Moraes, and A.M Howell during May, June & July.
April saw more virtual events – Steyning Bookshop favourite Claire Fuller joined us on Zoom for a book-group style event, talking about her Women’s Prize-nominated novel ‘Unsettled Ground’, this was a really interesting evening, and Claire was, as ever, a really friendly and thoughtful interviewee. The bookshop staff definitely think there is something to be said for these virtual events – feels like a holiday NOT having to hulk boxes of books, wine & glasses down to our studio venue! And sitting on your own sofa in your PJ’s while interviewing an author is quite a strange sensation!
June drew to an end here in a burst of exciting activity as we celebrated
Independent Bookshop Week and had our first live signings for over a year, in the bookshop garden which
is looking a bit better than usual this year thanks to ministrations by author and illustrator Emily Gravett’s
good gardener chum Sophie – love that we even have a book connection with our gardener!
In the preceding week we had the excitement of hosting an online interview by Gudrun with wonderful
Esther Freud, and then the first day of Indie Bookshop Week was super exciting too as we took part in a
very special multi bookshop online launch of Julia Donaldson’s gorgeous new book The Woolly Bear
Caterpillar, with Julia and Malcolm broadcasting from the bookshop. And there were surprise roles for Rob
and for me reading the lines of two of the caterpillars! Fame at last!
Despite weather warnings, our three garden events that week were fine. Absolutely lovely families came to
the Woolly Bear Caterpillar signing by Julia, with jolly caterpillar-y activities and delicious caterpillar shaped
biscuits to keep everyone going, as starstruck children chatted to Julia and heard Malcolm singing their
On the last Saturday of IBW young science enthusiasts were treated in the morning to a fun fact-filled
event by Dr Liam Drew introducing his new book The Brain published by Dorling Kindersley and in the
afternoon we had more lovely families arriving with starstruck children when Liz Pichon of Tom Gates fame
paid her first visit here for many a year. Her new in paperback book Shoe Wars had given her free rein to
wear and bring some amazing fantasy shoes, and Gudrun, her son Otto and amazing young helper Ellie
Aungier laid on some great shoe related craft activities including customising kids’ own trainers.
An action-packed week was rounded off by the bookshop opening on the Sunday to sell the
ticket/brochures for our Steyning in Bloom Garden Tour and finding the day more dramatic than expected
with road blocks, sirens and helicopters galore after the illegal Steyning Rave on the Saturday night. Tour
visitors peering at their gardens maps found themselves alongside bedraggled ravers searching for their
cars – one raver was heard to say – “I left it in a road with trees in it”. Thanks to Jo Gordon and Steyning for
Trees their search was probably quite a challenge! Hard to find a road without trees now.