In these days of bookshop chains and publishing conglomerates there is much compensatory talk among readers and writers regarding the value of more independent publishing and private booksellers and bookshops.
This has been on my mind this week because I spent a very happy afternoon in a bookshop in my home town of Bishop Auckland, talking with the bookseller about my new book Becoming Alice out this week on Amazon in paperback and on Kindle. With my writing friend Avril Joy I was talking with the bookseller Gordon Draper about arranging a book signing for Becoming Alice in his shop in the near future.
In recent years my home town of Bishop Auckland has been brought back to life by the advent of the Auckland Project* which is developing new art galleries, enhancing the historic market square and the buildings that enclose it. The Auckland Project is refurbishing the historic bishop’s Castle and its Park as well as initiating a fascinating archaeological recovery of its centuries’ old kitchen gardens.
In the early days a person involved in this project said to me how strange it was that it a place with this history - both distant and recent - should have no bookshop. But it does have a bookshop of a rather unusual kind on the little street off the marketplace called Bondgate. Not unnaturally the shop is called Bondgate Books.
But this is a bookshop with a difference. When you enter its 18th century doorway you enter a world of book-magic: a veritable Aladdin’s cave of books, The books and papers are stacked from floor-to-ceiling, as well as in boxes and piles on the floor.
Gordon Draper, the Aladdin of the unique Bondgate Books, has been a market book trader going back 30 years. His father before him also dealt in books and - Gordon tells me - was instrumental of bringing magazines like Private Eye to the north-east. Gordon himself still has bookstalls in markets in Darlington, Middlesbrough and on the quayside in Newcastle.
I have a friend who regularly shops there. He tells me he has acquired some literary treasures there at a decent price. The second-hand stock extends from contemporary best-selling fiction - to books from the early 20th and late 19th century - now collectible is a very decent price. There are early 20th century mining textbooks, books on the history of Scotland, of the North East, of Yorkshire. In Gordon’s shop you will find books on football, books on both world wars, books on science fiction and fantasy, books and nature and science. You name it, Gordon stocks it.
You might wonder how you might find your way around this cornucopia of print. You just need to express your interest and the Aladdin of this particular book cave - who knows all his books - will lead you to them.
Gordon finds me a very old map of the North. (I love maps). ‘Look!’ he says. ‘No A1!’
There are bargains everywhere here, but Gordon knows the value of his stock ‘See this! £50. See this? Worth £100!’ Collectors call on him regularly to check his stock. He knows their interests and on his travels keeps an eye open for books to match their taste and their pocket.
As for myself, having written novels for so many years, it’s no surprise to me that many of them now are doing the rounds in the second-hand book trade. Gordon seems to know who I was and tells me he has sold many of my novels through the years. He darts away and finds a copy of my novel Family Ties. He gives it to me to sign, carefully finding a rubber to rub out the present price. I am intrigued that my signature may make a difference to the price.
Gordon seems pleased that I will be happy come to sign copies of my new novel Becoming Alice here in his shop. I explain to him that the story Becoming Alice takes place between 1941 and 1951 and is set in this part of Durham and also in post-war London. The story culminates in the Festival of Britain on London’s South Bank in 1951.
So, I think, this book could very well interest local readers and also some of the more cosmopolitan tourists who are coming into Bishop Auckland to see the changes and visit the regular stunning Kynren spectacular associated with The Auckland Project.
Thinking of my signing event, it occurs to me that some of the other books here also illustrate some of the historic times between 1941 and 1951. I can just picture such books all around me, as Avril and I sit at a little table in a cleared corner, coffee cups in hand, signing copies of Becoming Alice and sharing stories with readers. I would guess that the cross-section of readers here will be rather larger than in the more conventional bookshop.
As we leave the shop. Gordon vanishes again and a return with some flower books and prints for Avril who has mentioned that she is keen on such sources for her collaging.
I will be signing copies of Becoming Alice at Bondgate Books in Bishop Auckland between 2 and 4 o’clock on 2nd August.
Be nice to see you there.
Bondgate Books: https://tinyurl.com/BondgateBooks
Wendy Robertson: http://lifetwicetasted.blogspot.com/
Becoming Alice Paperback: https://tinyurl.com/Alice-1941to1951
Damselfly Books : https://damselflybooks.com/
*Auckland Project: http://www.aucklandproject.org/the-auckland-project/