The Crime Writers’ Association

Kemptown Bookshop

Cathy Hayward of Kemptown Bookshop talks to Elly Griffiths

Cathy Hayward is only the third owner of Kemptown Bookshop, Brighton’s oldest independent bookstore. She was a long-time fan of the shop, which has been on St George’s Road since 1976, and, when she saw it was for sale, couldn’t resist putting in an offer. Six weeks later, she stepped over the threshold as the new owner.

Cathy had no experience in bookselling – she had previously worked in a PR Agency – but she had recently published her debut novel, The Girl in the Maze. Wanting to get to involved in the publishing world, Cathy volunteered at The Bookmakers, the community bookshop run by the CWA’s own William Shaw and his partner, Jane McMorrow. ‘Yes, it’s all William’s fault,’ laughs Cathy. ‘The Bookmakers was such a calm, lovely place. I had an amazing time there, and I loved the bookshop environment.’

In the six weeks before taking over Kemptown Bookshop, Cathy read the Bookseller’s Association guide, How to Run a Bookshop, from cover to cover. Inspired by The Bookmakers, Cathy was determined to make Kemptown Bookshop a real community hub with a village bookshop atmosphere. When I visited a month ago, it was clear that she had achieved her aim. The three-storey building is full of colour and interest yet has many cosy nooks for quiet reading. There’s a children’s department on the lowest floor and, at the top, a café with some of the best coffee in Brighton. The door is always open and all visitors are welcomed, even if they don’t want to buy. Cathy says she loves it when teenagers come in just to sit and read. She also hopes that authors will use the café as a writing space, ‘sitting on the window seat looking out over the street and thinking.’

Cathy is also passionate about forging links with local schools. She knows that not every child has grown up visiting bookshops and wants everyone to experience the thrill of these special places. She has arranged work experience for secondary school pupils and, on the day we spoke, was planning to welcome 15 Girl Guides for an evening of books and hot chocolate. She has planned a series of diverse events including talks on the menopause and sea swimming (typical Brighton topics!). She is also keen to support local and underrepresented authors with events and signings.

The Local Authors’ section is very popular as is the Queer Literature section. Cathy says she was surprised that the bookshop, situated in an area with a large LGBTQ+ community, didn’t previously have an area devoted to queer fiction. Now this section, curated by a volunteer, is one of the most popular parts of the shop. Otherwise, the bookshop sells a wide range of commercial fiction. Crime is always popular and Cathy was recently pleased to recommend her friend William Shaw’s books to a rather demanding customer. She was delighted when the customer then returned to buy the rest of William’s books.

Cathy says, ‘My love of reading – and writing – has helped me through some difficult times, and I’m over the moon to be living out my childhood dream of owning my own bookshop.’

Kemptown Books
91 St. George’s Road
Brighton BN2 1EE

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