Bookshop of the Month – May 2022: Beccles Books
In conversation with Elly Griffiths
1 Exchange House, Exchange Square, Beccles, Suffolk NR34 9HH
Tel: 01502 716806
It’s 11 years since Lee Mason founded Beccles Books. He had been working at the bookshop that was previously on the site and, when that went bust, decided to take over himself. It was a risky move but Lee wanted to save the town’s bookshop and, in 2022, it’s a thriving business.
Lee has been a bookseller for 26 years and also worked at Ottakers, which is where he met his partner, Ali, who currently works at Waterstones in Lowestoft. Lee wanted to ‘curate a community spirit’ in the bookshop, which is situated in the centre of a beautiful Suffolk market town. He has certainly achieved this. I have visited the shop several times and it’s always full of locals and visitors, buying books and chatting to the owner. Local history is one of the bookshop’s specialities and Lee’s knowledge of the subject is encyclopaedic.
He was born in Norfolk and says tactfully that he sees Norfolk and Suffolk as united by the Waveney valley and not divided by the river. I happened to be at the bookshop one Valentine’s Day and Lee told me the Norfolk legend of Jack Valentine, a rather sinister entity who leaves mysterious presents on doorsteps. Sometimes a string is attached to the gift and it’s whipped away before the recipient can open it. But Mr Valentine himself is never seen. I knew that this had to go into a book and Jack makes his appearance in The Stone Circle, along with an acknowledgement to Lee. As well as local history, Lee also sells a lot of what he calls ‘nostalgic fiction’ and, of course, crime. Popular authors include David Blake, Steven Booth, Ann Cleeves and the Peters, May and Robinson.
Like most independent bookshops, Beccles Books faces challenges from discounted supermarket titles and from Amazon but Lee is confident that he can compete on prices and, more importantly, offer an experience that cannot be matched by an online retailer. Beccles Books is a part of the town, a visitor information point as well as a place where residents can come to chat about books and spooky local landmarks, such as the ‘drowned city’ of Dunwich, referred to by Lee as ‘England’s Atlantis’. Dunwich was once the capital of East Anglia but, thanks to coastal erosion, is now almost completely submerged. It’s said that you can still hear the church bells ringing under the sea.
Thanks to Lee and Beccles Books, there is always a place where you can discuss such matters. And buy books too.
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