Managing a Bookshop – The Inside Story

Tina Hunting Raven 1

Some of us in Frome Writers’ Collective wanted to know what managing our popular Frome bookshop was like, so we sent a few questions to Tina Gaisford-Waller, Manager of Hunting Raven Books in Cheap Street – and she kindly answered them.

What’s been the most surprising aspect of managing Hunting Raven so far?

A couple of things really. The first is just how physical the job is! I lost half a stone in the first week of working here, and I am very rarely off my feet. It’s something I love about the job and which I craved during years of working in a desk-bound job. The second is just how well I have come to know the stock. With over 8000 titles on the shelves, I had thought there was no way I could know all of them. But I think I’ve come to know what we have here in the shop weirdly well. And I am a bit like a sniffer dog – I just need the whiff of a title or author (or the colour of the cover!) and I am off ferreting the book out!

 Do you have a favourite part of the job?

I absolutely love the people part of my job. I am so fond of our customers and I love meeting with sales reps and authors. It is easily the best part of the job. I finally feel part of the fabric of the Frome community – something which I missed when I worked out of town. I have also surprised myself by how much I like working with numbers and data. We use a lot of reporting – national sales data, shop sales data – to inform our decisions about what to stock and how to present it. Bookselling is a satisfying blend of the creative and the analytical.

The shop is often very busy and we saw you took part in a TV interview about the resurgence of independent bookshops in the South-West. Is this a local phenomenon, or a general trend?

I am happy to say that, after years of taking a battering, the independent book sector is beginning to bounce back. In 1995 there were 1894 Independent Bookshops. By 2016 this number had more than halved. The numbers are beginning to creep back up. I think the thrill of buying things at rock bottom prices is beginning to give way, as people start to realise the grim reality of what it’s like to live in a town with no shops, no cafes, no high street to speak of. When people buy things locally they are investing in their towns and connecting with their communities. It’s important to me that Hunting Raven is open and welcome to people from all walks of Frome life. I wouldn’t want anyone to feel out of their comfort zone in the shop – we’re here for everyone. I really feel like the community give us back as much as we give them.

Cheap Street is a lively mix of shops and cafés. Do you feel part of a street community?

Absolutely! I have been made to feel very welcome by all the other traders on our lovely street – and those from the ‘other side of the tracks’ on Catherine Hill and Stony Street. I definitely spend way too much money in La Strada! Living in Frome, Cheap Street isn’t just where I work though. It’s also where I shop, and where I bring my daughters on my days off. High streets are where we spend our time as much as our money, and we are so lucky in Frome to have a thriving town centre.

Are there any plans for further development?

Oh gosh. Yes! And so many more plans than I have time to put into place. The ones on the horizon that I am most excited about are our Books Against Loneliness project. Last September we were one of seven bookshops in the UK to be awarded a generous grant to run a project with a community focus. I am so happy to be teaming up with the amazing Frome charity Active and in Touch. We will be using books as a force against loneliness. I can’t wait to get stuck in. The other things up our sleeves are ‘Pyjama Story-time’ sessions for the little ones, and a Proof/Pudding bookclub, where we share advance copies with people and then we all meet up and dicuss them over pudding! Books and cake? What’s not to like! We are also looking to extend our events and schools programme. There’s just so much to do – and so little time to get it all done.

What’s the strangest/funniest request you’ve had since you became manager?

The requests have all been pretty reasonable so far – though I did manage to catch a pigeon mid-flight after it flew into the shop and started to panic. The funny thing is that it’s the second time I’ve done it (the other was in a fishmongers in South London). So maybe, if I ever grow out of love with being the manager of the best bookshop in the world, I will become a pigeon fancier.

Thanks, Tina – we’re very lucky that you and Hunting Raven are part of the Frome scene!

 

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Tricky Titles

Woman next door 2       Question Mark      Woman next door 1

By Brenda Bannister, author of The Tissue Veil

Choosing the title for a novel is almost as sensitive as naming a child. Baby names follow a fashion, but you probably wouldn’t give your child the name your best friend recently used; similarly, you’d like to think the name of your book is original. But there’s no copyright where titles are concerned, and nothing to stop anyone pinching one that’s already in use, or two authors coming up with the same idea independently.

Recently, my book group fell foul of the confusion caused by duplicate titles. We take turns to suggest our next book choice and one of our number had proposed The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso, a story of feuding elderly neighbours — one white, one black — in post-apartheid South Africa. Well, we all read the right novel eventually, but not before three of the group had got some way into a psychological thriller with the same title by Cass Green. After a while, they started to think that the book they were reading didn’t seem like a typical ‘Jacky choice’, but by that time were into the story, so ended up reading both. Each author published in 2016, so the common title is likely to be coincidental.

There are at least four books titled The Woman in Black listed on Amazon, including, of course, the Susan Hill novel on which both stage play and film were based. ‘Woman’, ‘girl’ and ‘daughter’ all feature strongly in contemporary novel titles in a trend that goes back to Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White. Recent publications feature daughters of shoemakers, elephant keepers, clockmakers, poachers, lighthouse keepers, alchemists, silk merchants and many more professions! It seems like a winning formula.

The title of my dual narrative novel, The Tissue Veil, symbolises the time barrier between two young women living in the same place but in different eras — something which prevents physical contact, but is at times flimsy enough to allow each of them a glimpse into the other’s world. Aysha finds and reads a mysterious journal; Emily gets occasional glimpses of a ‘future ghost’. The two girls explain it in their own ways. Edwardian Emily is reminded of the opaque sheets which covered illustrations in a book she once read at school — a bit like the overlays in traditional wedding albums: ‘the images were there, behind their tissue veils, but you couldn’t quite see them until you turned the leaf. Sometimes I think that’s how it is with Aysha: that she’s there all the time if only I could see. But which of us is behind the tissue, I cannot tell’. Aysha, the twenty-first century history student, thinks about archaeology and how time is layered in the ruins of an ancient city, rebuilt many times. One reviewer wrote that the title ‘can be taken by the sceptical reader as simply an image or metaphor, while others will accept without question the relationship between the Emily of 1900 and the Aysha of 2000’.

Either way, I hope my title arouses readers’ interest and expresses the time-defying link at the heart of the book.

BB

Writing a Press Release

Writing a Press Release

The humble press release – a basic but essential publicity tool, which, if it’s to do its job successfully, if it’s to stand out as a ‘must use’ from the pile of other releases on the editor’s desk, needs to be put together properly. Here are a few thoughts on how to achieve that from FWC member Peter Corbett who has had many years’ experience, both as a writer of press releases and as an editor of them.
To start with, can I stress that while I’ve taken the drafting of a release about the launch of a book by a local author as the basis for these notes, the advice applies whatever the topic and the target readership.
Right, the important thing is to get your message across as quickly and easily as you can in your release. The first paragraph, the ‘intro’, is crucial.

DON’T start by saying ‘XYZ is delighted to announce’ or anything like that. Dive straight in. For example if your release is aimed at the Standard or Frome Times, ‘A Frome estate agent is to have his/her first novel published by a major book brand’.

If you’re targeting the national press, you’ll need to change the emphasis to something like, ‘A debut novel by an estate agent is to be published in the autumn by one of the country’s leading book brands.’

Follow that with the author’s name and wee bit about him/her eg ‘Jinty McLean, a founder member of Frome Writers’ Collective, spent three years writing ‘Off the Record’ and had received four rejections before he/she was contacted by Portcullis Books who said they liked it and wanted to publish.’

Then a quote or two. “Even though it had been turned down so many times I still felt it had something to offer and had decided to re-write it,” said Jinty. “So I was flabbergasted when Portcullis’s new author manager rang me to arrange a meeting. She said they wanted to take the book on, to discuss what changes I needed to make to it, how they would promote it and so on. I can still hardly believe it.”
Portcullis’s Martha Pearson said she and her colleagues had been very impressed by Jinty’s manuscript and could see straight away that it would be a success.

“We’re delighted Jinty sent us ‘Off the Record’ and are looking forward to seeing it in bookshops in September,” she said.

Something about the book. ‘Off the Record’ is a crime story set in Frome, featuring the owner of a record shop who discovers evidence of a major fraud. As that evidence is based on hearsay and not yet strong enough to take to the appropriate authorities, he decides to investigate it himself. The book follows him his adventures as he explores some of the darker areas of the music business before risking his life to reveal the truth.

If you want, add a few more details about Jinty – married? children? lives where? and anything which adds more colour to his/her story.

The final paragraph should contain details about where to buy the book and other relevant information. For instance, ‘Jinty will be signing copies of ‘Off the Record’ at the Hunting Raven bookshop in Cheap Street, Frome, on September 21 st , the day the book is published nationally. It will be available for £8.99 as a paperback from book shops and via the internet. Visit jintymcleanauthor.co.uk and portcullisbooks.com.

OK, notice anything about that format? The heart of the story is in the first two paragraphs and while each of the other paragraphs adds something to it they can all be deleted from the bottom up without the point of the story getting lost. That’s important if the sub editor doing the page layout wants to include the story but hasn’t got space for all of it – or the time to tweak and twiddle it.
So don’t keep anything back to the end, no stings in the tail, no Columbo-esque ‘One last thing’, no cleverly contrived punch line.

Now, style. Use the KISS principle, Keep It Simple, Stupid. Don’t use ‘posh’ words when something simple is available. Don’t include details which don’t add significantly to the story. Keep your sentences short. Don’t be too tekkie – use the everyday language you’d use when talking to your friends and family. DON’T put bracketed initials after a title, e.g. United Nation (UN) – they are completely unnecessary and annoying (that’s a personal request by the way – I know some people and publications favour their use but I hate it).

Next, you’ll need to identify your target readership. It’s no good sending a release about, for example, something specific to Frome to a newspaper covering Barnstaple (OK so that’s an exaggeration but you see what I mean). Nor is it any use sending a release about a novel for men, by a male author, to Mslexia or a handbook about breeding dachshunds to Horse and Rider.
If you can, check out copies of the publications you want to target. They’ll give you a clear picture of the sort of news items they carry. And in most cases they’ll also give you the contact details of the member of the editorial team you should send news items to. You can usually get that information from the net as well.
Timing is also crucial. Weekly newspapers like the Frome Standard have a pretty short deadline, assume it’s Monday lunchtime for publication that week. Don’t depend on it, however – they often hold stuff over for a week (a fortnight in the case of a release I sent them about the FWC poetry anthology) so if your release is time sensitive get it in early!

The same goes for local and regional radio and TV stations and regional newspapers. They have a longer but still reasonable run-in period but national publications are a different kettle of fish. I’m writing this towards the end of February. I’ve already had the March issue of Writing Magazine for some time and I think it would be safe to assume that the April issue will be popping through my letterbox any time soon.

This means, of course, that the April issue is already in preparation and that its preparation is pretty well advanced too. It may even be on the point of going to print. I sent them a release at the beginning of this month and would not be surprised if the story doesn’t pop up until the May or even June issue (assuming it will pop up at all).

That sounds complicated but I’m afraid it’s something we have to live with. I would suggest that if you hope to have a story published in, say, the June issue of a national publication, which could hit the streets in early May if not sooner, you should get it to them by the end of March. It’s probably safest, however, not to target national publications with any press releases that are time sensitive.
As to the overall format of the release, it used to be normal to place a logo or something similar at the top of the page but that has almost died out now with email taking the place of good old snail mail. A simple Word doc or something similar is fine, but not, repeat not, a pdf. Date it, give it a headline and pop the word ‘ends’ at the foot of the body of the release.
If you’re sending a picture with your text, you’ll need to add a caption, but make sure that you include reference detail with each picture so the editor is clear which picture the caption’s about – even more important if you’re sending more than one image with the release.

Then end the whole thing with your name and contact details in case of any query.
One last thing. I mentioned at the beginning of these notes that editors often have a pile of press releases on their desk/in their inbox and more often than not there’s insufficient space to use all of them. You may be lucky. You may not. If your release is different from the others, you have a better chance than if it’s on the same lines (‘only the names have been changed’ sort of thing) but even then there is no guarantee that it will be used.

Count it as bonus if it is, rather than a disappointment or a criticism if it isn’t. It’s not a paid for advert, and the editor’s decision, as they say, is final. Good luck!

PS – the April issue of Writing Magazine arrived on February 23 rd , the ditto issue of my other subscription mag, Kitchen Garden the next day. See what I mean!

(Written in February 2018) By Peter Corbett

What Makes a Writer?

What Makes a Writer?

What makes a writer? Is it the talent to have hundreds of books published
like James Patterson, the ability to write a top class comedy programme that
would run for many years – like Roy Clarke and Last of the Summer Wine.
Maybe it’s the desire to be a great poet and be in the running for the next
Poet Laureate?

I started writing when I was quite young. At school I would get ideas and
scribble them anywhere. Once I got a comment from a form master who said
‘I enjoyed your story but in future please do not write on the back of your exam papers’.

I have been with Frome Writers’ Collective for about two years or so and have enjoyed every moment. My main fault is that I have a butterfly mind! Although the short story is my favourite field, I can be writing one story and then get an idea for another. This is why I have several portfolios at home with stories of all genres – at least 280 of them.

I have written several plays, both short and full length, as well as poems and three novels. The first two novels were written by hand and, unfortunately, the second one has got destroyed along the way. My first one is still here but was typed by a friend and now has numerous errors – not because the friend was a bad typist, but because she couldn’t read my handwriting!

I now have two finished books. One which I am currently editing and the other one (a short story compendium) where I am having difficulty deciding which stories to include and have changed three of them in the last week.

I enjoy writing and through the help of one of members of my Friday morning writing group, have had a slim volume put out containing seven stories and called ‘Seven Sides of Life’. But I must now think about what to do with my other work. Submitting to short story competitions is about the only way that I have attempted to publish a story. Maybe I am afraid of rejection slips?

It was attending a course several years ago that set me on my journey on the short story trail. During one lesson, it was suggested that we write from the opposite gender. I found I liked this, so mostly have female characters as my lead.

I will keep on writing because I like it and like doing it. Although a number of people have said they like my stories I often do not believe them. It is just me! My novel has now been seen by at least eight people too. One of these days I will take the plunge and submit it for an editorial critique. I will then incorporate suggestions and, from there, see where my writing leads me.

Alan Somerville

Up hill and down dale: the landscape in your soul

Up hill and down dale: the landscape in your soul

Nikki Copleston reflects on the landscapes in your soul.

Nikki Copleston

When you’re out and about exploring new places, do you find yourself instinctively drawn to a particular sort of landscape? In spite of yourself, do you sense an affinity with the open, flat countryside of the Fens, or the dramatic ranges of the Peak District? I can’t imagine living anywhere that wasn’t within reach of the sea, but at the same time, I’m in love with the hills and combes, the trees and hedgerows of the West Country.

Do our childhood surroundings imprint us with a love of a certain type of landscape? Even in towns and cities, you’re aware of the topography underlying the buildings and streets. When I used to catch the bus home from work in Islington, I loved the ride northwards, climbing up through Holloway and Highgate to Finchley.  But how delighted I was when I first took the Metropolitan Line as far as Uxbridge, to…

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In Praise of Bad Housekeeping

In Praise of Bad Housekeeping

A local radio interviewer asked me what research I’d done for the Edwardian time frame of my novel, ‘The Tissue Veil‘; someone at my book launch had done the same. Admitting that the internet had been invaluable, I cast around for examples, managing to drag up a London Underground map from 1902 and to acknowledge the usefulness of the library’s subscription to the Times Online. I knew there had been much more and, suddenly, the other day I realised it was all still there.

My virtual housekeeping is pretty much the same as the actual variety when it comes to filing documents or deciding what to chuck or keep. I went to my internet ‘favourites’ to click on the local health centre website and there was the story of much of my research, interspersed with recipes, local bus timetables and a template for an elephant head mask –…

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Stage writing for beginners – knowing your characters inside out

Stage writing for beginners – knowing your characters inside out

Check out Nikki’s fantastic article on stage writing and the hidden stories behind your characters.

Nikki Copleston

I wrote my first play when I was 8. It was called ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’. I’d heard the title and thought it sounded good, so I wrote my own little drama about a cat that climbs up onto a shed roof on a summer’s day and can’t get down. It owes little to Tennessee Williams.

I haven’t written any plays since but I was drawn, a few weeks ago, to a workshop on stage writing, run by Sian Williams and Anne Pearson of the Boiling Kettle Theatre Company.  And what fun it was! Five would-be dramatists chucking ideas around on a Sunday afternoon at the Merlin Theatre in Frome – and emerging with the bare bones of five plays.

Now we’ve met again and spent another busy Sunday afternoon putting flesh on those bones. How? By getting to know our characters inside out.

If you’re going to create…

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