EXPERIENCES A Closed Bookshop and a Book Launch: Bob Stone

Welcome to our new series in which our Deputy Editor, A M Dassu, invites authors to tell us about their publishing-related experiences. This month author and bookseller Bob Stone tells us about the closure of his bookshop and publishing a book during the pandemic.


I am writing this in my bookshop, Write Blend in Waterloo, Merseyside, on a rainy day in the second month of the third lockdown. I've called into the shop to catch up with some paperwork, mainly because the WiFi is better here than at home. The shop is empty and cold. There are no customers browsing the books, no children having stories read to them in the children's area. Upstairs, the often-bustling coffee shop is silent. I have invested money and followed all the regulations and advice to make the shop as COVID-safe as I possibly can, and it keeps getting closed anyway. You can go and get a drive-through McDonalds if you wish, but despite the number of articles published about the damage the pandemic has done to mental health, feeding your mind with healthy escapism is, apparently, not essential.


It is a year since we were alerted to the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic and the world changed rapidly and dramatically for all of us. At the time of writing, I have no definite idea when I will be able to open my doors again and welcome customers. It is supposed to be in April, though things could yet go wrong, but the shop will open again. Government grants and furlough pay have made the business ironically more financially secure than ever, and I will be well stocked and in a strong position to reopen when the time comes. One good thing about having so much time on my hands has been the opportunity to research all the fantastic books I wouldn't normally get time to read. When we reopen, my customers are going to have plenty of new books to browse and lots of new authors to discover. On the other hand, the sheer unpredictability of the situation has made the last year extremely frustrating. When the first lockdown hit, I was looking forward to being able to reopen with a splash, and a fifth birthday celebration for the shop in May 2020. It didn't happen. When we finally did open again, we started to think about resuming events later in the year when it might be safe to do so and even went as far as putting tentative dates in the calendar. Then the COVID rates began to rise and all plans went out of the window. At a time when we should have been looking forward to Christmas, we were suddenly closed again. We managed to do some Christmas trade but made no plans for the New Year because it was pretty apparent that another lockdown was coming and here we are; closed again. No Valentine's Day or Mother's Day or Easter sales. There are no events planned as yet. We can only keep our fingers crossed that this time when we reopen, it's permanent.


It's been a frustrating time as an author, too. My third book was all set to launch in April 2020, but instead of launching it to a shop full of real people, I did an online launch that only a lovely handful of people bothered with. I spent the summer working on a picture book with a hugely talented young illustrator called Gemma Dolan. We talked about a launch event with storytelling, live art demonstrations and craft activities. I would have loved to have given Gemma her first book launch, but yet again, the author was unable to organise an event in his own bookshop. The one consolation was that I was by no means alone. So many authors have lovingly crafted their books only to launch them into a very uncertain market and I feel for them all and for their publishers, who have invested money which in some cases they can ill afford, into publishing books with no real guarantee when they can be properly publicised.


But despite all of this, I am looking forward to the time after the pandemic, because I feel the future is bright. If there is one positive thing to come out of this year, I believe we are regaining our sense of community. People will remember that it was local shops who delivered their groceries and they will value those shops all the more. They want to be able to come back to Write Blend and drink our coffee, eat cake and browse books. They want the poetry nights and author signing events back and the minute we can, we will be there to provide it all. And don't tell anyone yet, but as soon as I am told it is safe to do so, there will be a hug on offer to everyone who walks through the door. Looking forward to seeing you from April 12th!



Bob Stone is the owner of Write Blend bookshop and coffee shop in Waterloo, Liverpool. He is the author of a trilogy of Young Adult fantasy novels, comprising Missing Beat, Beat Surrender and Perfect Beat. In December 2020, his first picture book, Faith's Fairy House, illustrated by Gemma Dolan was published. His books are available from Beaten Track Publishing, Bookshop.org and Amazon. 
Twitter: @bobstoneauthor 

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