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Hatchards Cheltenham

This May we had a Slightly Foxed day out in beautiful Cheltenham, culminating in an evening event to meet both the booksellers and local Slightly Foxed subscribers at the newly opened Cheltenham branch of Hatchards. We asked some of the team to give us a flavour of life in their shop and were not disappointed by the answers . . .

Read on for a peek into the life of a Hatchards bookseller and for book recommendations galore!

Please tell us about your bookshop. What makes it special?

Leyla: We have been blessed to have Hatchards arrive here in our hometown. We feel lucky not only because Hatchards is rich in history with its origins in London 1797 (read more here), but also because we get to give it our own signature right in the heart of the Cotswolds. It feels like a perfect fit.

As a team of six we pride ourselves on our unique passions of interest and our openness to share our joy of reading with those who come in. We like to think that our bookshop is special because it is an all-encompassing old school experience with quality, unique, classic and exciting titles – giving space for those lesser-known names and titles to blossom!

It’s a joy to work in a place that feels like you’re stepping into a story in itself as the day begins and the different characters emerge onto the scene.

Mike: Hatchards in Piccadilly is the oldest bookshop in the country and is a beautiful shop that provides an experience like no other bookshop does. We have tried to complement it while taking advantage of the positives provided by our location.

The building we are in was originally designed as a bookshop and because of that it made sense to turn the beautiful building back into one. My favourite feature is the stained glass ceiling in the main room that lets in a huge amount of natural light.

The brand itself carries with it a massive amount of prestige and every facet of the shop, from book curation to the selection of displays used, is chosen with that prestige in mind. The effect is an experience that is even unique from our parent shop.

What first inspired you to become a bookseller?

Bea: I came into bookselling sideways – through working in a bookshop café then falling in love with the bookselling side of it even more than the coffee side. I’ve grown up surrounded by books, and being able to talk to people all day about my passion is just a dream come true.

Leyla: I decided to live without my phone for a year which quickly led me to carrying a book around with me at all times, spending moments of stillness turning pages instead. This ignited a passion in me for learning, creativity and of course the world and blessing of books. I believe there are small and unique worlds within a bookshop and being able to gift someone with a new world in the palm of their hands is very exciting.

If anything . . . I wanted to become a bookseller because I get to bring stillness and tactility into people’s worlds when everything seems so fast and disconnected around us.

Jo: I had a lifelong passion for books and started as a part-time temporary bookseller, thinking it would perhaps be a short-term fun thing to do. Quite some years later my love has only deepened and endured. I enjoy the endless variety of people and books that every day brings. I value the opportunity to show wonderful books to our visitors and share with them the dreams, knowledge, inspiration and escapism that books can bring. Books are a wonderful thing!

Mike: Books are magical things. From stories that, like the wardrobe into Narnia, open into worlds of magic and wonder, to history books filled with knowledge of bygone times. I became a bookseller because I love sharing that knowledge, I love encouraging others to read and enjoy the stories that I loved and I love seeing others take their first steps into the world of books.

What are your all-time favourite reads and why?

Bea: I am a big fan of women in translation – I adore Han Kang’s The Vegetarian, and everything Sayaka Murata has written.

Leyla: Hard to say what my all-time favourites are as I read a wide range of things but I loved Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell. I hadn’t read anything like it before, I feel like it left an impact on me, as it stirred my imagination, emotions and thoughts as even to this day the story mirrors society and the world around us. (Others: Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi and Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz!)

Mike: My favourite series of all time is The Dark Tower by Stephen King which takes his customary style into one of the weirdest and most diverse fantasy worlds of all time. The Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin is a close second, I could barely put the books down when I read them. More recently Babel by R. F. Kuang will go down as an all-time great.

Jo: Too many to mention, but . . . His Dark Materials are my desert island books. I also find I go back to Mary Oliver’s poems time and again.

Who would be your dream bookshop party guests?

Bea: Richard E. Grant, Zadie Smith, Irvine Welsh . . . if we can dabble the lines of death I would add Tove Jansson, but the list could go on and on.

Leyla: Erling Kagge, Patti Smith or Caleb Azumah Nelson (and Frida Kahlo!)

Mike: Stephen King, Eric Hobsbawm, Eiichiro Oda and R.F. Kuang

Jo: E. M. Delafield, Zadie Smith, Eve Babitz, Karl Ove Knausgaard, Katy Hessel, Lord Byron

Who has been your favourite customer/what is your favourite bookshop anecdote?

Bea: Bill Nighy popped by recently and I’m still riding that high to be honest.

Leyla: A local photographer who makes scenes out of miniature figures – I got him to sign his book which we had ordered in (Small World by Steve Rolfe).

Mike: Nothing beats those customers who come back in after you’ve given them a recommendation to tell you how much they enjoyed it.

Jo: So many of our customers have wonderful tales of their own to tell, and different books they love, so each day brings a fascinating variety of conversations. Our Cotswolds location means we attract a lot of bookshop dog visitors, which we love! We’ve been lucky enough to also welcome a lot of authors and publishers to the store during our first year, including Peter Frankopan, Raynor Winn, Robin Stevens, Max Porter ­– and of course the Slightly Foxed team. We’re looking forward to further developing our events programme in the months ahead.

What are your top picks for Autumn 2023 and into the new year?

Jo: So many! Peter Bellerby’s The Globemakers; Katherine Rundell’s Impossible Creatures; Zadie Smith’s The Fraud . . .

 The Wren by Anne Enright is our September Book of the Month and is a beautiful and thought-provoking piece of writing. Pure Wit by Francesca Peacock is about the life of Margaret Cavendish and looks like one our customers will love.

McNally Editions have just acquired UK distribution so we’re looking forward to receiving those. We’re also excited to see what our Christmas Hatchards Library titles will be.

In terms of next year, we’ve spotted there will be a new adaptation of Huckleberry Finn by Percival Everett in April . . . We’d love to share more, so pop into the store, or check out our Instagram for more recommendations!

What is your favourite Slightly Foxed publication and why?

Bea: Adrian Bell’s A Countryman’s Winter Notebook

Leyla: Letters to Michael by Charles Phillipson

Mike: Cider with Rosie by Laurie Lee – for the perfect local connection.

Joanna: Lark Rise by Flora Thompson, a gorgeous pastoral tale and one I have recommended and sold throughout my career. The Slightly Foxed Edition is just lovely.

Hatchards Cheltenham
Instagram @hatchardscheltenham
Website www.hatchards.co.uk/shop/cheltenham

Bookshop of the Quarter Autumn 2023, Hatchards Cheltenham

Bookshop of the Quarter: Autumn 2023

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