Last week (21st-27th June) was Independent Bookshop Week here in the UK, an event which culminated in an organised bookshop crawl day. Joanna had taken part last year, before Strange Charm was born (and you can read about her adventures here) but this year we decided to do it together as a team Strange Charm road trip. The rules? Visit six independent bookshops between Cheltenham and Bath and purchase a women’s speculative fiction book (or two…) in each one!
We started at our favourite bookshop — The Suffolk Anthology in Cheltenham. We’ve visited many times since it opened earlier this year, and the owner Helene was an early supporter of Strange Charm. She has very kindly allowed us to choose some recommendations of women’s speculative fiction, and collected them together into our very own shelf, which we saw for the first time yesterday.
— The Anthology (@CheltAnthology) June 27, 2015
Of course while we were there we had to buy something. There’s always a great range of women’s speculative fiction in The Anthology (even before we made a shelf!). Rachel picked up The Bees by Laline Paull and I found a maths cookery book with the wonderful title Cakes, Custard and Category Theory.
Parking in Stroud proved surprisingly difficult, considering that it’s hardly a bustling metropolis. Our plan to use the pay-and-display car park to save time backfired when we got stuck in a queue of cars trying to find a nonexistent space, and in the end we were glad that Joanna drives a dinky car that can manage a three-point turn between two rows of parking. We made good our escape and reverted to Plan B, a thirty minute slot on a nearby residential street.
Stroud is one of the hilliest towns in the area: we had to climb the steep High Street to find our next target, the imaginatively named Stroud Bookshop. After a quick browse, Joanna picked up a title she’s been interested in for a while: The Gospel of Loki by Joanne M. Harris, of Chocolat fame.
Just as we were leaving, we explained our mission to the lovely @Eryth, who recommended The Waterborne Blade, written by a friend of hers and a title we were surprised not to have heard of before (especially since Rachel tends to watch the Angry Robot release catalogue with a somewhat predatory interest). We didn’t buy it on the spot, but it’s on our mental lists now!
The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop in Nailsworth is one of a tiny chain of two, both of which were on our bookshop crawl schedule. The Nailsworth branch is the smaller, and its speculative range wasn’t huge, but Rachel was drawn in by the beautiful cover of The Bastard of Istanbul, and since she has a love of all things Turkish, a little more Turkish literature certainly won’t go amiss.
We then diverged from the A46 for the first time on our tour, to cut across country to Tetbury, and the second Yellow-Lighted Bookshop, where we accidentally kept owner Hereward from his breakfast for a lengthy chat about the shops and speculative fiction and our grand Cotswold tour. The stream of regular customers asking for recommendations also showed that this is an incredibly popular and well-established spot.
We were particularly fond of the reading nook with a comfy sofa and pretty fairy lights. It would have been easy to sink down here and rest for a while, but we were on a tight schedule with no time to waste!
We picked up two books here: Rachel happened across a copy of Lolly Willowes, a classic from 1926 which she’d been thinking she’d have to order specially, while Joanna went for the more recent People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks.
Then it was time for a brief lunchbreak, and delicious Moroccan mint lemonades at the Blue Zucchini in Tetbury. We were surprised (and frankly relieved) to find ourselves slightly ahead of schedule at this stage, and with only one more set of driving-and-parking to navigate.
Our next journey was the longest of the day — just under an hour’s drive to Bath Park & Ride, and then a short bus ride into town. We hopped off the bus early and headed to Topping and Company, the next shop on our itinerary.
We had a long browse and a lovely chat with booksellers Sophie and Sci-fi Pete over an elderflower cordial, and Pete gave us some excellent recommendations of women’s speculative fiction for future themes. After much deliberation, Joanna bought The Female Man by Joanna Russ, while Rachel narrowly avoided buying the ridiculously beautiful hardback of The Watchmaker of Filigree Street.
Finally, we walked down the hill to Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights, definitely the best-named shop on our crawl! As this was our last stop, we were able to have a relaxed browse without worrying about time. Rachel was excited to spot a copy of Signal To Noise (previously reviewed here): it’s always cool to stumble across your more obscure favourites “in the wild”.
We managed to buy an impressive selection of women’s speculative fiction, showing that there are excellent examples of the genre even in the smallest bookshops, and we left plenty more “possibles” on the shelves. In all, we had a really fun day — it was lovely to meet so many enthusiastic booksellers, and discover new books to try. We can’t wait to get started on our respective piles now — watch this space for reviews later!