The Suffolk Anthology
The Suffolk Anthology is an independent bookshop in Cheltenham, named for the bustling Suffolks area in which it sits. Helene Hewett set up shop in 2015, and we’re pleased to say that Slightly Foxed has adorned its shelves from the very beginning. Since opening, the bookshop has flourished, gaining a loyal following of regular customers, as well as attracting passing visitors.
We were delighted to enlist The Suffolk Anthology as a partner in our membership benefit scheme, launched last year. Helene is a great supporter of our ever-growing friendly fellowship of readers, and Slightly Foxed subscribers can receive a 10% discount at the bookshop on presenting their valid membership card when making a purchase.
If this offer is not tempting enough to make a trip to Cheltenham, clutching a long reading list, then please be persuaded by Helene herself as she reveals more of life at the bookshop.
Please tell us about your bookshop. What makes it special?
I opened The Suffolk Anthology three years ago in a lovely, light-filled Grade II listed shop in a beautiful area of Cheltenham called The Suffolks. Next to the shop is an iconic Art Deco former cinema which is now a restaurant called The Daffodil, renowned for its jazz. We are surrounded by other independent shops and cafés. We are also minutes from the beautiful Montpellier Gardens where the Cheltenham Festival is based, so at certain times of year there is a wonderful sense of excitement in the area. Customers say that they love the shop for its calm, welcoming atmosphere; many tell me it’s their ‘happy place’.
Since opening the shop we have hosted numerous author events and book launches, and we run regular workshops, book clubs and writers’ groups. I love welcoming people to the space and ensuring that they have a memorable time. I choose all the books after reading reviews, browsing catalogues, meeting reps from publishers and talking to customers and colleagues. Initially I selected books by considering which of my four children and family members would read them, but now I think of my regular customers too. I’m also lucky to have wonderful support from my colleague Sallie, along with many customers who help to run book clubs for adults, children and readers of poetry in the space.
What inspired you to become a bookseller?
As a child I read books: on the stairs, next to the radiator, under the desk, locked in the bathroom, in the garden with the radio . . . There was an excellent local library in the town and at my secondary school, and my elderly English-teacher neighbours introduced me to the classics and P. G. Wodehouse. I then chose to study medicine, had four great children, and a twenty-four-year career as a GP in the Cotswolds, but I was always reading. Four years ago, with the children grown, I left medicine and began exploring the possibility of opening a bookshop. Who knew that I had transferable skills and that I could use these to build a new business and lifestyle?
What are your all-time favourite reads and why?
I still love Jane Austen, though my favourite novel has changed over the years, currently Persuasion or Emma or . . . oh dear, I think I need to read them all again. The works of Victorian novelists Elizabeth Gaskell and George Eliot are also lifelong favourites, especially North and South and Middlemarch. More recently I have discovered Marilynne Robinson and I loved the language and heartbreak of Lila. The nature essays by Scottish poet Kathleen Jamie in her books Sightlines and Findings are moving and beautiful, making me want to down tools and head north.
Who would be your dream bookshop party guests?
Jane Austen, of course, so we could discuss everyone afterwards. Sebastian Barry for wonderful storytelling, Sarah Moss for fascinating discussions, Kazuo Ishiguro for calm and eloquence and A. A. Milne for entertaining rhymes.
Who has been your favourite customer? What is your favourite bookshop anecdote?
As a GP I loved listening to people’s stories and it’s the same in the bookshop: the retired art teacher who travelled to Australia with his young family in the 1950s by boat, and the lady in her nineties who still works as an editor and loves Anton Chekhov. And then there was the day when a mouse came to take part in the Poetry Workshop . . .
What are your top picks for summer 2018?
We love the author Sarah Moss in the bookshop and I am really looking forward to chatting about her new book Ghost Wall when it comes out at the end of the summer. Daisy Johnson’s first novel Everything Under looks to be as compelling and unsettling as her short-story collection Fen, perfect for a summer afternoon in the garden. I have also recently discovered the novels of Elizabeth Taylor and am thrilled that A View of the Harbour has been chosen as one of the Virago Classics to celebrate their 40th anniversary, with a truly beautiful summery cover.
The Suffolk Anthology
17 Suffolk Parade
Tel: 01242 361 362