NB’s Alice Beazer speaks to NB99’s guest editor to find out more about her exciting career in the publishing industry; running an award-winning bookshop, directing the Booksellers Association and marketing the Harry Potter books.
Congratulations on your wonderful shop winning Britain’s Best Small Shop 2018, how did it feel to win the award?
It was a fantastic boost for the team and the perfect end to our 10th birthday year. Our lovely customers also really took ownership of the award which felt like such a nice tribute to the shop.
Did you always dream of running a bookshop? How did the Mainstreet Trading company come about?
I moved back home to Scotland in 2004 but continued to commute to Bloomsbury in London almost weekly for another three years, but I had begun to dream of starting a local bookshop. 2007 marked the end of the Harry Potter series and so it felt like a natural time to make a change. More importantly, I had three children under the age of seven at the time, so needed to be working closer to home.
Currently you are celebrating your tenth anniversary at the shop throughout the year- do you have any events coming up? (our readers might be very interested!). –
We treated 2018 as our tenth birthday year so have pretty much come to the end of our celebrations which included a record number of author events – highlights were those with our Mainstreet Makars, Sir Michael Morpurgo and Maggie O’Farrell, plus Scottish sporting legend, Sir Chris Hoy. Our 2019 events programme got off to a sprint start with the glorious Ruby Wax on 18th January, then was Charlotte Runcie with her debut book, the beautifully named, Salt on Your Tongue on 31st Jan. Lots more to be announced.
Before running a bookshop, and being president of the BA, you were children’s marketing director at Bloomsbury. I read online that you made ten ‘scrolls full of smarties’ of the first chapters of Harry Potter and The Philosophers Stone for your colleagues- is this true? Did you have any inkling of the global success the books would go on to have?
I’m not sure it was possible to anticipate the Harry Potter phenomenon, but yes, the smarties story is true (the scrolls were for those attending the editorial meeting where we agreed to offer for the first book), and it’s also true that from reading the manuscript pre-acquisition I was obsessed with the world of Harry, to the extent that I made my husband read the first book while on honeymoon(!). It’s a long story, but as Bloomsbury Children’s Books was still a very new list, I had the luxury of being able to really focus on Harry, I even bet Nigel Newton (Bloomsbury MD) a case of champagne that we would sell 20k copies of Philosopher’s Stone by Christmas 1997 (at the time we’d be lucky to sell 1,500 of a debut children’s novel) – we did over 35k in the end!
My favourite of the series is easy to answer – Prisoner of Azkaban, perhaps because this is when we first meet Sirius. Most exciting moment? That’s a really hard one, there were many. Perhaps the one I most loved was at an event at Heffers Bookshop in Cambridge for the publication of Chamber of Secrets… Jo was busy signing copies of the book after speaking to a group of children, when a mother came rushing up the stairs, very breathless, desperate to have her daughter’s book signed. Moments later, she and Jo were both almost in tears and it transpired that her daughter was dyslexic and had never read a book before Harry. The fact that Chamber hit No1 in the bestsellers the same day was the cherry on the cake.
You have had an exciting and quite diverse career in the publishing world. If you can – what has been your favourite moment?
I hope it’s still to come!
The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley (gripping psychological thriller set in the Scottish Highlands), The Doll Factory by Elizabeth Macneal (art, love and obsession among the pre-Raphaelites) and Late in the Day by Tessa Hadley – the latter is a cheat as it’s not her first novel, but I’m thrilled to have discovered her subtle, pin-sharp writing.
Also, along the same vein: what was the first book which made you fall in love with reading?
That’s almost impossible to answer as I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love books and reading, it’s a terrible cliché, but I vividly remember my mother reading me bedtime stories.
A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry. All of life is here.