Social distancing fun and the best selling books of lockdown

Bookbugs and Dragon Tales owners Leanne and Dan Fridd Picture: Sonya Duncan

Bookbugs and Dragon Tales owners Leanne and Dan Fridd Picture: Sonya Duncan - Credit: Sonya Duncan

It’s Independent Bookshop Week from June 20-27 and bookshops are reopening to browsers and buyers after months of keeping us reading with online and phone orders

The Book Hive, Norwich. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

The Book Hive, Norwich. Picture: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

Bookbugs and Dragon Tales, Timberhill, Norwich.

Can social distancing be fun? It can if you are a customer at Bookbugs and Dragon Tales in Norwich.

The children’s bookshop, opened by Leanne and Dan Fridd less than a year ago, has turned part of its floor into snakes and ladders.

It will be marking Independent Bookshop Week with online author events, draw-alongs, recorded story-times and giveaways of books, book tokens, tote bags and more.

Kett's Books, Wymondham Picture: Tracy Kenny

Kett's Books, Wymondham Picture: Tracy Kenny - Credit: Tracy Kenny

The shop is open from 10am-12, and then in bookable 20-minute appointments for individuals or families/bubbles until 4pm, Tuesday to Saturday. It is also selling online and could add evening shopping appointments if there is enough demand.

The hardest part of lockdown? “Not seeing the lovely people who come through our door,” said Leanne.

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And the positives? “How much the community seems to have banded together. It’s incredibly heart-warming to see and be part of.”

Lockdown best sellers: Kind by Alison Green. “This book means a huge amount to us as the shop was built and runs on kindness so we hand sell it to everyone!” said Leanne. “Best selling children’s non fiction is Does It Fart? because it is both educational and is about wind which is ALWAYS funny.”

The Book Hive, London Street, Norwich.

The Book Hive is one of just nine bookshops across the country shortlisted for the national Best Independent Bookshop award - to be announced on June 29.

Owner and director Henry Layte said: “We will be launching a ‘drive-through’ style bookshop, using our big curved glass frontage, and celebrating being back open.”

During lockdown staff curated special book packs for customers as well as sending out individual orders. “Fantastic staff and loyal customers around UK and abroad meant we have sold most of our stock. Replacing it has been the problem,” said Henry.

The hardest part of lockdown? “Adapting to being a postal based business – and the associated bills!”

And the positives? “Finding out how many thousands of people love the shop and want to support it - from buying tons of books to donating money to setting up direct debits to help us keep afloat.”

Lockdown best sellers: The Ballad of Syd and Morgan by Haydn Middleton and New York To California: A journey across the East of England searching for the not quite visible, by Jeremy Page.

Kett’s Books, Whartons Court, Wymondham.

Kett’s Books began with a conversation in a pub seven years ago. People got talking about how Wymondham needed an independent bookshop and the result was Kett’s Books, said director and shop manager Tracy Kenny. The shop, run by volunteers, is open again, with slightly more limited hours than usual, and will be marking Independent Bookshop Week with online talks. “This year we’re keeping our celebration online,” said Tracy. “Our volunteers are also going to be talking about the books they’ve loved from the Independent Bookshop Week awards shortlist, and these books will be on special offer.”

Tracy said volunteers continued to get books to customers throughout lockdown. “Wymondham has a great atmosphere of cooperation, and our local Waitrose has actually helped us with our deliveries.”

The hardest part of lockdown? “The book trade has been brilliantly supportive, but it’s been really difficult trying to get an operating plan when we are daily responding to the fluctuations of the supply chain, the government, and the needs of the 22 volunteers who normally join us in the shop to run it.” .

And any positives? “As a result of the lockdown we’ve had to up our game in electronic presentation. We’re no longer frightened to do our own videos, and two of our volunteers put together a weekly catalogue of book selections that goes to our mailing list. All our stock is now online too, so we’ve become far more accessible. I’m just really aware however that the truly isolated are those who don’t have access to the electronic options - how are we going to reach them? A lot of people have realised through this experience the importance of what’s on your doorstep. I have every confidence that our supporters will be back, and that others will now discover us and all the other great shops we have in Wymondham.”

Lockdown best sellers: Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens, a murder mystery set in North Carolina.

What the Ladybird Heard on Holiday, by Julia Donaldson, a picture book for children.

Humankind by Rutger Bregman, which was published during lockdown and suggests our most revolutionary act to change the world would be to be kind.

Jarrold, Norwich

Jarrold is launching a writing competition during Independent Bookshop Week as part of its 250th birthday celebrations. For full details of Jarrold Stories see the July issue of Norfolk magazine, out this coming week, or the Jarrold website.

Jarrold is currently open Monday-Saturday, 10am-3pm. It can take telephone orders for books during opening hours, and customers can also browse and order online. It is also hoping to offer some of its popular books events online while social distancing requirements remain.

Book buyer Holly Ainley said: “We have missed our customers: missed being able to talk about books, help them choose new reads and give them opportunities to meet their favourite authors at events. But we have been reading lots ourselves and taking comfort in the fact many people have been doing the same; reading has been such a key activity for many, old and young, throughout lockdown.”

The hardest part of lockdown? “Not being able to properly support new books and authors, who have spent years working on the new titles that were published during lockdown. Similarly, not being able to offer a way for readers to connect with them. Of course we have had a selection of titles available online but there is something precious about being able to browse in a bookshop and find that book you never even knew you wanted,” said Holly.

And any positives? “The big positive that has come out of what has been a quieter time for a lot of people is that so many have reconnected with a love of reading. I heard from a grandmother who was doing daily reading via video chat with her grandson, something they wouldn’t have thought to do together otherwise. People have been inspired and comforted by books and some have fallen back in love with them.”

Lockdown best sellers: “Sally Rooney’s Normal People never really stopped selling but it had a big boost when the BBC TV series came out during lockdown. This week we have seen a big rise in people buying books about race and racism. Suzanne Collins’ prequel to The Hunger Games, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes has been a hit with younger readers.”

The Holt Bookshop

The shop will be reopening in Lion’s Court, Holt, on August 1. As previous owner David Makinson retires the new Holt Bookshop will be launched by Keith Britten, who has previously worked there, and run a London bookshop. He and his business partner are determined The Holt Bookshop will remain an important part of the community. “We have had fantastic feedback from people who have said Holt has to have a bookshop,” said Keith. During lockdown the shop set up a mail order service and delivered locally to isolated people.

Norfolk Children’s Book Centre, Alby, near Aylsham has been able to send books out to schools and families throughout lockdown, and continue to give recommendations by telephone, social media and online. Best sellers have included Dave’s Cave by Frann Preston-Gannont and The Explorer by Katherine Rundell with parents asking for funny picture books and distracting and immersive fiction.

Ceres Bookshop Swaffham sells new and secondhand books, and in normal times includes a tearoom too.

City Bookshop, Norwich is selling existing new stock from its website. The family-run shop usually sells new, secondhand and antiquarian books, with specialist subjects including local history, art, cookery and transport. There are also regular exhibitions of local memorabilia in its upstairs gallery.

Diss Publishing on Mere Street has been serving the people of Diss and the surrounding area for more than 150 years. It has reopened after lockdown, although the café owners have retired so it is looking for a new team to take on the café franchise.

Beccles Books, Exchange Square, Beccles, which has thousands of titles in stock and can quickly order in most new books. 01502 716806.