Tomorrow is 11 September 2012. It's difficult to not be reminded of the date. There's been a series of 9/11 documentaries on TV. Watching them brings me back to that day, my mother running up the driveway yelling, "They've declared war on the US!" Turning on CNN, I remember asking the question, 'Are you on the movie channel or CNN?' I still stare at the screen incredulously. Having been to NYC several times since then (New York is Shivaun's favourite city to visit), the events of that tragic day seem surreal. Always. Still.T
his date also reminds me of a discussion with Shivaun. W&T's refurb of the empty shell that was Retail Unit 13
was delayed. We were hoping to open by 1 September, but some red tape and miscommunication had meant that work had begun later than expected. The earliest date then was 9/11. We talked about the significance of that date; about whether it would be appropriate to open then. We decided it would be life-affirming, rather than an insensitive gesture.Two years have passed since we opened our doors.
There's been ups and downs to be sure, but we're still here. Last year, I reflected on the day by reaffirming our commitment to not flee for the hills, yet
- to borrow Shivaun's phrase. This morning, Shivaun told me that a customer asked, 'How long have you been here, now? Is it three years?' and Shivaun wasn't sure, she thought it was three years too. It may be only two but it certainly feels like three. W&T has become like a second home to us. It's occupied our thoughts daily for three years, from the moment the idea was conceived till now. In the interim, we have traversed an amazing, sometimes unexpected, often rewarding, journey. We have made friends, cultivated some fans, received encouragement from supporters, and our team has become family.
We have hosted a range of author events
, laughed ourselves silly at funny performances
, hosted open mic poetry, true storytelling sessions, creative writing workshops, pregnancy yoga and tai chi classes, become a meeting place for the Southwark community (councillors advice surgery, fostering care clinics, elders group monthly meetings, LGBT Network monthly events), even allowed tap dancers to pound our floorboards
Recently, we decided to revamp our gallery space and turn it into Creative@W&T
. I admit, the decision was primarily financial. We just couldn't justify the rent for that amount of floorspace relying on gallery hire fees alone. (We'll still be displaying artists' work in the future albeit on a smaller scale.)As another year comes to a close, and another begins, I am of course reminded yet again of the precarious state of affairs that indie booksellers face. There's been a lot of discussion and lobbying by the Booksellers Association to recognise bookshops as community spaces in order to avail of lower council rates. Supposedly, councils in the future will have the authority to do so, but the fine print is that it will be at their
jurisdiction. In the press, you often read fearful indictments on why indie bookshops should be kept alive; that each indie bookshop closure will result in 'a hole in the community.'
Personally, I almost feel that that is too heavy a burden to foist onto customers. I don't think people should be made to feel guilty if they don't buy their books from an indie bookshop.
I think that booksellers, like any retailers, do their best to create a worthwhile shopping experience. If a customer sees the value in shopping for books at an indie bookshop, they will do so. If they don't, they won't. I admit I am not thrilled at customers who browse the shelves or ask for recommendations with their notepads or Blackberrys in hand, so that they can do comparison shopping afterwards online. But you can't hold back the tide of 'progress,' or can you?I believe that shopping at indie bookshops isn't just about buying books. To me, it's almost a voyeuristic exercise. Allow me to explain: If you like the selection at a shop because you like the owner or the team's picks, chances are you'll come across titles or selections
you never thought of, or that Amazon's 'Other Customers Also Bought' prompts did not lead you to. It's almost like wandering into your neighbour's house and checking out their bookshelves, and getting a sense of who they are, what they stand for, what they like, and what they aspire to. At this stage, you'd either reject or embrace what this collection says to you. Whether a bookshop generates enough sales to cover its cost for existing depends on so many factors: whether its regular customers and 'accidental' visitors
'embrace' the handselected titles, and if they do, whether they 'vouch' for your existence with their wallets, whether there is enough shelving, stock and footfall to generate volume, whether it has a good product mix to generate an aggregate margin that is healthy, whether its overheads are manageable, and so on. Any one of these factors, like the legs on a table, if unbalanced, can affect sustainability. So here's to another year, and another dollar (pound just doesn't roll off the tongue quite so smoothly). It's not the main reason for running a bookshop, it often isn't, and it certainly isn't ours. But we will keep trying, to balance between the need to stay afloat, and what W&T means to us - a second home. We hope you receive a warm welcome as our guest whenever you visit. If we have been lacking in anyway, we apologise. We promise to keep trying.- Fran
Well, I have to say that our minor refurb ran pretty much like clockwork :) Sure, we were there till half past midnight last night but we pretty much did most of what we wanted to do - walls painted, shelves mounted, boxes unpacked and products displayed etc. I must say I like the effect - makes the cafe/gallery space somehow... homely, almost like being in a living room. Well, almost!
I love the new things we got - the unusual journals, the doodle books, the kiddy range of interactive stuff, the sketch pads for budding artists... all of it :) We'll be dolling up the space some more as the days and weeks past, but hope you like it too. We especially like how it's not so much a retail space but more of a journey of things and ideas - you'll have to meander and check out the shelves to see what I mean. So drop on by and let us know what you think of our new space, we'd love to hear from you.PS. Handy Andy from Busy Brush helped us get the space together. We've worked with him before - he's repainted our walls, fixed our furniture, put up shelves, etc. He's a great lad who does good work and has a wonderful attitude.
, a non-profit cultural arts group by a group of Singaporeans based in London, organised an evening of poetry reading and open-mic poetry at W&T on Thursday 28 June 2012. With the blare of music and sounds of drinking revellers at the StockMKT Bermondsey
in the square muffled somewhat by the closed doors and steamy heat in the shop, the event featured special guest and Singaporean poet Alvin Pang, as well as other poets participating in the open-mic session. Alvin is in town representing Singapore as part of the Cultural Olympics festival, the Poetry Parnassus
. Alvin's work has been translated into over fifteen languages and featured in anthologies, journals, and publications all over the world. His latest book is When the Barbarians Arrive
, a collection of new and selected poems, published by Arc Publications in the UK.
Congratulations Yinka and Shaun, on your awesome work for the library of Orolu Kingdom of Ifon Osun! Yinka and Shaun got in touch with W&T last year to ask if we had books we could donate. We certainly did! We also asked publishers if they had surplus stock they were willing to donate. The duo, on their own time and effort, and with their own money, then collected all the boxes of books and delivered them to Orolu in Nigeria, where they helped set things up. Thank you for being a wonderful inspiration.
Are you all ready for the Bank Holiday-Diamond Jubilee bonanza weekend? At W&T we've decided to create two display bays for the weekend. Brush up on British pride. Not a Royalist? For couch potatoes that won't brave the hordes, some armchair travels awaits :)
Well, I don't imagine many booksellers start their day in the kitchen LOL!
At W&T, we offer lunches during the week, but only one dish a day as we don't have a fully-kitted out kitchen. Why, you ask, would you sell curry in a bookshop? Well, it's a long story and I won't bore you with the details, but somewhere along the way, we decided we had to deviate from our initial plans of just serving coffees, teas and cakes in our cafe. We needed something more so that we could have a bit more footfall in the middle of the day. And thus, our idea for 'Lunch In A Bowl' was launched. Seeing that the only thing I can cook really is Asian/Oriental stuff owing to my Malaysian Chinese roots, we decided we'd go Asian/Oriental. Something tasty, filling, good value, and most importantly, was a complete meal even if we could only serve a dish a day.
Well, it's been almost a year and a half now and we've served curries, noodles, fried rice, beef and ginger stir-fry to sweet sour pork. I have to say that Malaysian Chicken Curry is the most popular, so I thought I'd share with you my recent foray in the kitchen... (And since I'm not a professional cook, I'm not going to pretend that this is a step-by-step recipe either LOL!)
The main ingredients (apart from the chicken and potatoes that is) are
- Curry powder
- Onions and garlic (blitzed in a blender)
- Cinnamon sticks
- Fennel seeds
- Cumin seeds
- Star anise
Heat vegetable oil and fry all these together until fragrant...
Add chicken pieces and potatoes (cut into bite-sized chunks) and fry, making sure the chicken is evenly coated with the spices and curry... (Now normally, if I was making this for an Asian crowd, it would be chicken pieces with bones intact, but here I've deboned the chicken pieces and removed the skin)
Add coconut milk and salt to taste. Simmer.
Tada, and there you have it, Malaysian Chicken Curry with potatoes. Available at W&T on Tuesdays and Thursdays. So there you go, a glimpse into how this bookseller starts her day - in the kitchen :)
Thank you to all our lovely regulars who drop by for lunch. Bon appetit or as a fellow Malaysian would say, "Jom makan!" (Let's eat!)
Is the end nigh for small indie booksellers? Skeptics will probably say that the writing has been on the wall for some time already. Pacts such as Waterstones and Amazon will certainly hasten this trend. The message I am getting is certainly Borg-ian (a la Star Trek) - "Resistance is futile."
Waterstones' move suggests to me that booksellers must assimilate or die; better a small piece of e-readers and e-book sales by getting in bed with behemoths like Amazon or wither away through a slow, painful (read: debt-ridden) death. Small booksellers without the muscle or volume to negotiate with e-merchants such as Amazon have other alternatives certainly (and I won't name names), but the returns are so pitiful, it's like cutting off your nose to spite your face. Soldier on we must, but booksellers who are pragmatic and less idealistic, I imagine, will no doubt be gazing into their murky crystal balls and, unlike the coalition government, be mulling over Plan B.Read article about Waterstones and Amazon deal here: http://www.economist.com/node/21555969
Bone weary... what a week the past one has been (not least because Shivaun and I hosted a staged reading of her fabulous screenplay Pop
) and looks like the next few are going to be just as hectic - we've got quite a few events lined up as you can see for the month of May into June
. Just got back from an evening event at Canada Water Library with author/poet Andrew Motion that ended about 9pm. (Plus we had to lug boxes of unsold copies back to the shop on the way home.) Next week, apart from events at our shop, there's also another event at Canada Water Library with Mark Thomas
(Extreme Rambling: Walking Israel's Separation Barrier... For Fun
). So what, you may ask, am I doing writing a blog entry at midnight? Frankly, I find that's the best time to do things like check emails, send out our regular e-newsletter,
update the website, do artwork for posters, yadda yadda yadda; i.e. all the kind of stuff one needs to do sitting in front of the 'puter that I didn't manage to get round to during the day.So anyhoo... apart from dealing with our website, multiple email accounts (my own as well as the general inbox), MailChimp, PayPal,
Facebook, Twitter etc, the team have suggested we give Tumblr a go. (My attempts at Pinterest I must say has been pretty abyssmal to date, so I was a bit hesitant at first.) I'm no techie and I must say that bookselling requires a lot of communication - not just the face-to-face kind, but also the online variety. The team have been great and have kickstarted our Tumblr blog. Should be fun - for the more spontaneous types of updates that include photos, quotes, anecdotes, that sort of thing. Now, if I can get it all to sync with Facebook etc, that would be marvellous. And who thought bookselling was just about selling books? LOL. If you've got any ideas on what you'd like to see on our Tumblr pages - let us know - we're all ears :)
Okay, so we've received notice from Southwark Council that we have the wrong address. Apparently the correct address should be 13 Bermondsey Square rather than 12. 'What's the big deal?' I try and console myself. Physically we're still in the same spot. So, okay, whether it's 12 or 13 someone's looking for, they should find us. It's just a number, right?
But here are the things that are weighing on me. Do the lease agreements have to be redone? What about council departments we liaise with - from Business Ratings, HMRC to Food Safety - do we have to write to them all and tell them about our 'new' address? Does it matter? Then there's our bank we'll have to deal with. Utility companies... What about our Google map and the dozens of online web listings that have us down as a venue - should we track them all down, edit them all or leave them as they are? Our many suppliers, in fact the whole darn creditors list, do we have to send masses of letters or emails? Our cloth bags (just ordered 500 two weeks ago), plastic carry bags, bookmarks, business cards, etc etc...
Feeling like a balloon that's been popped. Deflated. (Sorry to moan out loud.)
You know, a few months ago, a lady wrote to us. Said she was a mom with young children, was going to retire or quit her day job, something like that. Said she wanted to start a bookshop, that it was her dream. I shared with her that it's a tough, long road. Worth doing but the pros and cons should be ruminated over carefully. If you need a living wage, I told her, don't start a bookshop.
Feeling cynical. All that talk about Mary Portas Report, revitalise the High Street jazz, yadda yadda yadda... Save our indie shops campaign, etc etc etc... The amount of hoops you have to jump through is incredible. Organisations and companies you didn't know about crawl out of the wood work to harass you. If I could list the number of balls from the left field we've had to parry, the kind of scams one should avoid (and we have been scammed for supposed charity causes), the pitfalls of iron-clad agreements, the nature and quantity of threatening phone calls I get from non-existent suppliers, and so on, it would be a sizeable tome. I better not get started on that topic, or I'll be here all day.
Time, effort, costs. Another list of tasks we could have done without.
Okay, time to take a deep breath. Cheer up. Pull myself up by the bootstraps and all that.
The Chinese have a saying - When the horse dies, get down and walk. [Translation: Find an alternative and deal with it.]
Think it's time to start walking.
PS. I'm sorry if I depressed you. I promise I'll write again soon of happier things.
As some of our regular customers may know, W&T was closed for 2 days in October. The reason? The crew from production company Kream London was using W&T as the film location for the National Book Tokens cinema advertisement.
As you can see from the photos below, it was a masterclass in organised chaos. And the finished result? To eagle-eyed customers, I'm sure you'll recognise our shelves and counter. Apart from that very little LOL!
Thank you Kream London, Booksellers Association and National Book Tokens for the amazing experience and wonderful campaign. Five days to Christmas - not sure what book to buy? Get a National Book Token :)
PS. The video of the cinema ad - which I had posted below - has now been removed as I have been informed the rights are only for cinema and not online. Sorry!