This series celebrates indie booksellers across the UK. In the first instalment, we travel to Dulwich. Even if you’re not able to step into Village Books, there’s nothing stopping you from imagining what it’s like to be there. It’s important to celebrate the rooms where bookselling happens and the people who enact the ritual each day. We hope our readers maintain a connection to their local indie. It’ll be soon time to break out the dog biscuits again.
My bookshop is tiny, 700 square feet on two floors. I don’t think it’s changed much since it opened nearly 100 years ago. Back then it was The Gallery Bookshop and Lending Library. We still have the same door and windows, despite them being blown out during the war.
We have a beautiful old parquet floor. We’re stuffed full of books. There are always fresh flowers on our new books table. We’re expecting pink peonies in June. We’re a dog friendly shop with a stash of biscuits just off the shop floor. My spaniel prefers the Markies.
The bookshop was the setting for a children’s book by a Scottish writer, Jane Shaw, who was a favourite of mine when I was growing up. She lived in Dulwich. A lot of her books are set here, though she called it Wichwood Village. Back in 1996, when I bought the bookshop, I discovered it was the shop I’d read about as a child.
It’s often filled with the smell of new books. At the start of this lockdown, the shop was completely closed for about ten days. We had no books coming in. The new books started arriving when I was able to return to the shop. That’s when it began to smell like normal. Unpacking boxes of books is like Christmas. You never know which treats will emerge.
We hear all sorts of different sounds. Cars hoot from the busy nearby junction. We’re on a school route, so we hear children on the walk to and from school. We hear their joy when a new book by a favourite author appears in our window. We hear birds sometimes. A customer recently recorded a dunnet singing from our rooftop. I was dead impressed she recognized its call.
So many favourite books sit on our shelves: Elizabeth Jane Howard’s Cazalet Chronicles; Old Filth by Jane Gardam; Standard Deviation by Katherine Heiney; On Turpentine Lane by Elinor Lipman; A Suitable Boy; Italian Neighbours by Tim Parks; Kolymsky Heights; The Skylarks’ War by Hilary McKay; all of Elly Griffiths’s crime novels; Susie Steiner’s crime novels.
Occasionally I become a bit of a magician in the shop. Someone will come in with vague details or a half-remembered title and I’ll pluck from the shelf the book and present it to them. I like old-fashioned bookselling. I’m always happy to beat the computer, though I do remember what bookselling was like without computers — and I never want to go back.
We’re small, so the whole shop often joins in when customers start a conversation about books.