Tony Higginson, owner of Formby Books, reports on the challenges and delights of running his independent bookshop.
A simple idea is at the heart of everything we do at Formby Books: help children discover the love of books and reading for pleasure. This was nurtured in me by my godmother – the longest serving librarian in the North West – and by my parents. They couldn’t afford to buy me lots of things, instead, we played games and read. It obviously paid off.
I’d worked at Pritchard’s Bookshop in Formby for 25 years when it was forced to close in 2011. Left jobless, I was determined to pursue my ambition to give Formby and the surrounding area a bookshop providing advice and expertise – not to mention friendly authors to drop in to their schools and libraries.
I’ve run many book weeks and author events during my years in bookselling, among them the Scare Fest mini festival, which has thrilled over 2000 kids with the help of authors including Tommy Donbavand, Ruth Symes and Joseph Delaney – we held a staging of the Spook’s Apprentice a full year ahead of the release of the film. In fact, after 27 years in the trade, I can claim to have helped launch the careers of a number of authors – Sally Nicholls, Jon Mayhew, Joseph Delaney, Matt Haig and Bryony Pearce all worked with us early on and I hope we contributed to their success. I’ll never forget my 40th birthday when, dressed as a wizard, I ran two separate Harry Potter events, both at midnight, speeding away from the shop at 11.50pm with a boot full of books in order to get to a local library where another crowd of excited children were waiting for me to arrive in a puff of smoke and hand them their copies!
I am very lucky that so many wonderful authors and illustrators (and their publicists) find a trip to this small town near Liverpool is worthwhile. Julia Donaldson, Jacqueline Wilson and Anne Fine have each been three times. Nicholas Allan made the national news when we invited him up for the Jubilee celebrations: we broke a world record for festooned knickers, and he returned later in the year to see a Nativity play of his book Jesus’ Christmas Party too.
I also help run the Sefton Super Reads awards, now in their ninth year. Ruth Eastham was last year’s winner and is returning to help with our new Viking Heritage Project when Arrowhead launches in May.
There’s no denying that times are extremely tough, and without authors supporting us in this way we would seriously struggle to compete with the supermarkets, who are selling big books at below trade price, and with the online retailers offering every bestseller at 50% off. This seems like madness to me, and I really believe the way forward is to bring back the Net Book Agreement. And if the government want education to work as it should, they should stop judging teachers and assessing league tables, and instead let a love of learning grow from the imagination, language and access to books. Anyone who grows up reading Dr. Seuss, Roald Dahl and Marc Brown will have a proper understanding of life.
In the meantime we are here, trying to be as diverse and community based as possible – we have a fantastic mural painted by our talented Saturday girl Holly Bushnell, we’re currently selling handmade jewellery by a local artist and fudge handmade by another local artisan. We run free arts activities during the holidays and I help run a writers’ circle as well as offering consultancy on manuscripts. We’ve just published our first anthology in fact. Social media helps a bit as it is so easy to engage with other like-minded people, but the real results come from offering extended opening hours (we are open seven days a week : 8.30am to 6pm Monday to Saturday and 11am to 2pm on Sundays) and events, for all ages and tastes.
What will the future hold? Books, and a love of reading are still there, but pricing, and giving consumers real choice, need attention, and now.
In the meantime, here’s a list of Formby Books favourites:
Ways to Live Forever, Sally Nicholls, Marion Lloyd Books, 978-1407130507. £6.99 pbk
The Memory Cage, Ruth Eastham, Scholastic, 978-1407120522, £5.99 pbk
The Scariest Thing of All, Debi Gliori, Bloomsbury Children’s Books, £6.99 pbk
Trash, Andy Mulligan, David Fickling Books, 978-1849920568, £5.99 pbk
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Sherman Alexie, Andersen Press, £6.99
In Darkness, Nick Lake, Bloomsbury, 978-1408830345, £7.99 pbk
Oh the Thinks You Can Think, Dr Seuss, HarperCollins 978-0007173150, £5.99 pbk
Shadow Forest, Matt Haig, Corgi Children’s Books, 978-0552555630, £6.99
The Barry Loser series, Jim Smith, Jelly Pie
Revolting Rhymes and Dirty Beasts audiobooks, Roald Dahl, Puffin, 978-0141348384
And my all time favourite book, Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson.
Formby Books, 5 The Cloisters, Halsall Lane, Formby, L37 3PX.
Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org”>email@example.com
Phone us on 01704 830130