Bookshop of the Month – November 2021: The Book Makers
Every month, as part of the new CWA Booksellers Champion initiative, we want to celebrate a bookshop because we believe bookshops don’t just sell our books – they bring our streets alive. This month,
William Shaw talks about an unusual venture in Brighton in which he, fellow author and Booksellers Team member Vaseem Khan, and Booksellers Champion Elly Griffiths took part.
The Book Makers is not an ordinary bookshop. It is a Brighton-based pop-up, where established writers commit to helping others who might find it harder to get into the mainstream, because of their backgrounds, their circumstances or their health.
As a writer, I visit a lot of bookshops and what’s become clear is that the bookshops that survived Amazon are the ones who have developed a community around them. Some, like Reading Matters in Chapel-en-le-Frith, have strong connections to local schools. Others, like Kett’s Books in Wymondham are volunteer-run, providing a service just by being there. Bookshops, I believe, are leading the way in showing how retail can prosper by not just selling stuff, but by creatively deepening its local links.
During our lockdowns, as some shops disappeared off the high streets forever, I came up with the idea of a pop-up bookshop that could act as a kind of test of how the new high street could produce a new type of bookshop that was also a writing community. Teaming up with local charity Creative Future, who specialise in working with under-represented artists, and David Headley of local bookshop Goldsboro Books, I submitted a bid to Brilliant Brighton, a local business improvement district initiative to bring empty shops back to life.
The easy bit was the writers; they got the point straight away. I contacted sixteen authors, mostly local; the brief was that we would sell their books if they would commit to helping the project – and when appropriate, take on an under-represented writer as a mentee during the lifetime of the project. Fourteen said yes immediately, including crime writers Lesley Thomson, Dorothy Koomson, Elly Griffiths, Paul Burston, Kate Helm aka Eva Carter, Araminta Hall, Mick Finlay and Vaseem Khan.
In June this year, we got the keys to a wonderful space in the heart of the city, right next to Churchill Square. We stocked it with books by local writers, books about Brighton and set in Brighton, books about writing, and books by diverse authors who might not otherwise be showcased in a space like ours. We opened as a shop on July 14 and since September have been running a full programme of workshops, talks and events in the space. Creative Future generously funded a project manager, and the shop is staffed four days a week by brilliant volunteers.
In our packed round of events, highlights have included Dorothy Koomson interviewing the Iranian-British author Sara Jafari and the ensuing discussion of the hurdles that black and brown writers face, the midnight launch of Elly Griffiths’ The Midnight Hour, Julia Crouch interviewing Nadine Matheson and Peter James dropping in to sign books for readers. On December 3 we have the wonderful Vaseem Khan talking to Colin Grant about cultural appropriation and diversity in publishing.
And we’ve sold a ton of books too. On December 18 we’ll close our doors. In one way, I’ll be relieved because I can finally get back to writing books, but I know I’m going to miss it. It has been an amazing experiment and I’m very proud to have been part of it.
The Book Makers
16-17 Cranbourne Street
Open Wed-Sat 10am-5pm until 18 December
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