Today’s blog post is by author Fleur Hitchcock, on being a bookseller in Waterstones for a day.
A long time ago, I used to be in retail, and although I’d really had enough when I finished, sometimes, these days I really miss it. Particularly just before Christmas. Good retail is about putting two things together – a person seeking and a person offering. There’s something pretty fab about matching a person to the perfect present, and even fabber matching a customer to the perfect book. It’s a skill.
I’ve done it before, this extempore bookselling, (Mostly Books in Abingdon let me, Paula Harrison and Helen Peters loose in their fabulous bookstore,) but this time I persuaded Maudie Smith to accompany me and persuaded lovely Jo at Waterstones in Salisbury to indulge us.
She also indulged us by having a great stack of our books to hand as we arrived on that dark pre-Christmas afternoon, ready to take on those tired late night shoppers. Salisbury has the Children’s section at the back so we headed that way, donning antlers and Christmas pudding hats ready to help, advise, find and be excellent floor walkers.
And floor walk we did. The first customer was introduced to Goth Girl, and she very gratifyingly bought a copy of Murder in Midwinter. The next wanted “those books illustrated by Ardizzone” “Tim at sea? Tim all alone?” we guessed. “Oh yes,” he replied, gratified to find someone who knew what he was talking about – they didn’t have them, but they could order them in for Christmas. As we are Waterstones computer illiterate, we abandoned him to Jo. Then the requests came thick and fast – My Little Pony Christmas Album? Obama’s picture book – no title to hand? The book written by someone from the Xfactor (which turned out to be a little advanced for a new born). Watership Down? The new Harry Potter Book? Each Peach Pear Plum? How things Work have you got the one about The Body? “Those tongue in cheek books about sheds and that”?
Then there were the less specific requests: something for a teenager who reads, something for a teenager that doesn’t read. Something for a dyslexic boy with rugby in it. Something for a boy who loves Steampunk BUT WHO HADN’T READ MORTAL ENGINES! Picture books with penguins, picture books generally. Board books. Books for two sisters who had lost a parent that wasn’t too sad, but not too childish. Funny books for keen readers. Funny books for unkeen readers. Suduko books for kids. Books with pictures. Colouring books without Harry Potter. Anything with a badger in it? Anything with a zebra in it?
There were also some very fantastic children who without our help filled their arms with books – and some fantastic parents who would buy anything their children chose. Those people are golden and walk in the light.
When we weren’t selling, or talking or recommending, we tried to put books from trollies into shelves. This was fascinating – not least because I’d no idea how many yards of Enid Blyton there were in the average Waterstones. Nor how much Rick Riordan, nor how difficult it is to keep those massive stacks on the tables in place. And I was massively impressed by the ordering, and the willingness to order special titles for people. And the loveliness and knowledge of all the staff, especially, Jo.
So in no particular order – here are some of the books we recommended some of which our customers bought, some of which they didn’t. And there were more, but I wasn’t able to write them all down.
Tom Palmer’s series with Barrington Stoke. Mortal Engines, by Philip Reeve. Picture books by Jon Klassen. More Than This and The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness. Flying Fergus by Sir Chris Hoy with Joanna Nadin. Dirty Bertie possibly Bogey’s Pants and Fleas – (the customer settled on Bogeys), by Alan Macdonald. Goth Girl by Chris Riddell. The Princess Disgrace series by Lou Kuenzler. There’s a Lion in my Cornflakes by Michelle Robinson and Jim Field. My Teacher is a Vampire Rat by Pamela Butchart. Ten Little Dinosaurs by Mike Brownlow and Simon Rickerty. The Pirates Next Door by Jonny Duddle. Cogheart by Peter Bunzl. Witch World by Emma Fischel. Beetle Boy by MG Leonard. Frost Hollow Hall by Emma Carroll. The Secret Henhouse Theatre by Helen Peters.
And of course, our own.
Thank you, Fleur! You can take a look inside Fleur’s latest book, the fantastic Murder in Midwinter, below:
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