Virtual Bookshop Tour: The Riverside Bookshop, London

Virtual Bookshop Tour

Day 7: London

We’re back where it all began. Just as The Jack Hansard Series begins in London, in ends there too, in a showdown that very nearly levels the British Museum. Our stop for today is inspired by the book market that Jack and old pal Peggy (who happens to be an independent bookseller herself) visit under Waterloo Bridge – the Southbank Centre Book Market. This large open air market specialises in secondhand and antique books, and in normal circumstances would be open every single day.

To mark this last stop, I went looking for an independent bookshop which was nearby and also situated on the south bank of the Thames. And I soon found: The Riverside Bookshop.


The Riverside Bookshop frontage
The Riverside Bookshop
Unit 15, Hay’s Galleria
57 Tooley Street
London
SE1 2QN

Image Source

The Riverside Bookshop is located on the street-side of Hay’s Galleria – a beautiful structure in its own right – set under a covered walkway. You might miss it if you aren’t looking, set back from the pavement as it is, but if you did you’d be missing a treat.



This bookshop is larger on the inside than it looks on the outside, and spans more than just one floor. It’s bright and neat, with a plethora of books organised into easily accessible areas, and usually a table set aside with the shop’s own recommendations. In addition to books you’ll find greetings cards, fancy gift wrap and the occasional plushie toy on their shelves as well.

A friendly shop with a broad range of stock!


Inside The Riverside Bookshop
A bright and welcoming bookshop.
Image Source

How can I support The Riverside Bookshop?

Like many independent bookshops during lockdown, The Riverside Bookshop has had to close up shop entirely. They’ve turned to indie newcomer uk.bookshop.org to continue selling online during this period, so I’m pleased to direct you to The Riverside Bookshop’s online shopping page here.

You’ll find some carefully curated selections based on reading age (check out ‘Adventure and Laughs for 9-11 Year Olds’), subjects (such as the ‘Go Wild – Books on Nature’ collection), and even feelings (‘You’ve Got to Laugh’ is definitely a collection for the times) to help you find the perfect book. Every purchase you make on this platform will also contribute towards funding independent bookshops in the UK!


Riverside Bookshop Online

You can also support the shop by following them online. On the social side you will find them on Instagram posting beautiful books and extra photos of events inside the bookshop.

On the shop’s home page you’ll find their blog where they post thoughtful book reviews, their weekly bestsellers list, and news about the shop. If you’re a WordPress user you can also hit the Follow button to see their new blog posts show up on your feed.


Bookshop Loyalty Card

And if you’re lucky enough to live locally? Look out for news on the reopening of The Riverside Bookshop next week and look at getting yourself one of these Little Red Cards – their very own loyalty card scheme. I hope you’ll pop along and take a look around!

If you want to get in touch with The Riverside Bookshop, you can send an email to: info@riversidebookshop.co.uk


And this brings us to the end of our Virtual Bookshop Tour! Goodness, it’s been a long week, but I’ve had great fun researching and writing about these great independent bookshops across England. I hope you’ve had fun following along! One day I’d like to re-enact this tour in person.

You can find links to all the bookshops we’ve visited on the tour here. I hope you’ll consider giving them a share and a follow – even if you’ve found nothing for yourself, someone else might just find their perfect bookish purchase.

And remember, as lockdown lifts next week, look out for news of when and how your local independent bookshop is reopening. Show them some love if you can!

Virtual Bookshop Tour: Storysmith, Bristol

Day Five: Bristol

I’ve only been to Bristol once, and it was to visit the S.S. Great Britain – a brilliantly immersive museum experience onboard a historic steamship. You’ll find the S.S. Great Britain situated within the equally historic Floating Harbour, which is what brings us to Bristol today. Readers of The Jack Hansard Series may be aware of the trans-dimensional properties of the harbour… Don’t fall in, that’s all I’m saying.

About ten minutes away, south of the harbour and across the river, you’ll find our bookshop stop for today: the eloquently named Storysmith.


Storysmith Shopfront
Storysmith
49 North Street
Bristol
BS3 1EN

How beautiful is this shopfront? I love how glossy and elegant it is. Those striking shutters open to reveal a colourful window display underneath as well.

Inside, a small set of stairs divides two floors of books. It’s an open, comfortable space with tall bookshelves and scattered seating so you can browse at a leisurely pace. The books you will find here have all been hand-picked by the Storysmith team; with an eclectic but accessible collection, they believe in presenting people with high quality and beautiful books. It’s this personal flavour and attention to detail which behemoth corporate retailers (like the mighty ’Zon…) cannot possibly replicate. In this, independent bookshops will always be king.


Storysmith Bookshelves
Dibs on the comfy chair.

“Because we’re a small shop, we pride ourselves on our careful curation. Hopefully customers will see just enough books they recognise, but plenty more interesting-looking titles that they don’t. Also we have a shop dog named Roy, who is always on hand to give recommendations.”

Dan from Storysmith

And like many independent bookshops, Storysmith keeps a lively roster of sell-out events – take a look at all the authors they’ve previously hosted here. There’s plenty of floor space to comfortably host groups and they run not just one, but four monthly book clubs which they’re currently keeping alive online during lockdown. Not only a bookseller, but a meeting place and community hub, too.


Bookshop Dog
Roy the shop dog. I know you all wanted to see the pupper.


How can I support Storysmith?

Storysmith have their own online shop right on their website. At a glance you can see they’re not kidding about their goal to curate beautiful books. There are some seriously gorgeous titles on display.

Here’s a selection of just a few that caught my eye, and frankly they can all go on my Christmas list. (Friends and family, hope you’re paying attention). Click on the covers to go straight to their Storysmith product page.


War of the World
I love this book but have never owned a copy, and this cover is gorgeous
The Girl and the Dinosaur
I can’t wait for when my daughter is old enough to read books like this

A Natural History of the Hedgerow
History and countryside, this looks like a calming read
Help the Witch
Horror, folklore, and English landscapes? It’s like it was written for me. I NEED IT

Looking for a book gift but not sure what to buy? Maybe try a Storysmith gift voucher instead.

You can also purchase book subscriptions ‘for curious readers’ starting from £45 for three months – each delivery will include extra notes on the month’s book selection, and a bag of indulgent Triple Co Roast coffee. They also offer a wonderful baby book subscription (sans the caffeine) – a lovely idea for a newborn or first Christmas gift.

To see more photos of Roy the dog (and keep up with news about the shop, of course) you can follow Storysmith on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.



One final book suggestion above: if you’ve been enjoying our Virtual Bookshop Tour, then Bookshop Tours of Britain by Louise Boland might be right up your street. I came across it while browsing Storysmith’s Twitter!


We’ve reached the end of Day 5 on our Virtual Bookshop Tour! Tomorrow we’ll be heading all the way back to the Lake District to visit the small village of Grasmere.


Photos reproduced with the kind permission of Storymith.

Virtual Bookshop Tour: J. E. Books, Hull

Day Four: Hull

The next step of our journey brings us to the Humber Estuary and Kingston upon Hull, the port city that lies on its north bank. It’s in a riverside warehouse complex that we visit ‘The’ Market in The Jack Hansard Series – that is, the annual gathering of Black Market traders showing off all their mythical and occult wares. I’m happy to say today’s bookshop is based in a rather nicer location. Let’s take a look at: J. E. Books.


J. E. Books shopfront
J. E. Books
12 Hepworth’s Arcade
Hull
East Yorkshire
HU1 1JU

Situated under the stunning glass roof of Hepworth’s Arcade, a grand Victorian covered passageway housing a number of quirky small businesses, J. E. Books looks to be at home among friends. This is quite a young bookshop compared to others we’ve visited: J. E. Books opened just two years ago in 2018. But this doesn’t mean that it’s lacking in character or personality. Indeed, the location within the Arcade itself is already an extraordinary introduction to this little bookshop.

The ‘Go away, I’m reading’ tote bags hanging in the window evidence the owner’s sense of humour. As you enter, it looks as though they are doing a lot with a small space, and you might be momentarily fooled into thinking this single room is the whole of the bookshop. But venture up the stairs and you will find plenty more new and second hand books waiting for you to peruse.


Hepworth Arcade
The stunning Hepworth’s Arcade
Photo by Tim Green from Bradford, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

J.E. Books certainly makes the most of its location for hosting events, as well. Not troubled by limited space, they have previously run author book signings, poetry readings and storytelling right outside the front of the shop – a real treat for shoppers passing by. Especially the… ‘Poets with Megaphones’ event in 2019? That sounds amazing.


Bookshop storytime in Hepworth Arcade
A story time and music performance at J. E. Books, February 2019
Poets with megaphones
People gather to get shouted at by poets at Hepworth’s Arcade, December 2019

How can I support J. E. Books?

You know the drill by now – start by heading to social media!

Across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram J.E. Books have been creating a Virtual Bookshop Window for you to enjoy nearly every day. Here you’ll find their latest themed recommendations for sale by mail order. And of course, if you want a personalised recommendation, just ask!


Murder Most Festive book cover
Two ‘festive’ picks from a recent Virtual Bookshop Window
Christmas is Murder book cover
Can I add this one to my wishlist, please?

“As an independent bookshop owner I can offer a personal and individual service even during lockdown – customers can email me at jlellam@hotmail.co.uk or private message @jebookshull on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram at anytime and I will get back to you as soon as possible to take orders.”

Julie from J. E. Books

They also have a wonderful range of gifts – I’ve picked out a few for you below.


Go Away I'm Reading tote bags
Go Away tote bags for £6
Bumblebee shapes tea towel
Do you know your bumblebees?
Tea towels £9.95 and just £1 postage
Butterfly Notebook set
I like this sweet butterfly notebook set
Cicero quote tote bag
£8.99 for the Cicero quote tote

It’s also worth knowing that J. E. Books is currently offering postage for just £3 or under, and FREE for orders over £40.

To order, send Julie a direct message or email: jlellam@hotmail.co.uk

And finally, for more bookish content check out the bookshop’s blog here – the latest posts are a series of author interviews. Hit follow and give them a like on social media if you can. A small gesture can be a big help to small businesses.


We’re now over halfway through our Virtual Bookshop Tour! Our next stop tomorrow is at another port city: Bristol.


Bookshop photos reproduced with the kind permission of J. E. Books.

Join me on a Virtual Bookshop Tour around the country

Are you fed up with being stuck inside during lockdown? Missing the ability to travel and explore new places? Me too. That’s why I’m running a Virtual Bookshop Tour next week!

Join me on 23rd – 28th November for a journey around England to visit major locations from The Jack Hansard Series – and at every stop we’ll be throwing the spotlight on a local independent bookshop. One of the joys of indie bookshops is how unique they all are: worth visiting as much for their character as for the books they sell.

We’ll sight-see some dramatic locations, gorgeous furnishings and quirky features (although sadly I cannot reproduce the authentic bookish smell). Whether you miss the thrill of travelling, are hankering for some Christmas book-shopping ideas, or simply ADORE bookshops, join us Monday-Sunday for the tour and show these independent booksellers some love!

Here’s your Tour Itinerary:

Now with links to each day’s entry! Thank you to everyone who took part.

Necessary Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with any of these bookshops and gain nothing apart from enjoyment from this exercise. 🙂

Did Somebody Say Free Stuff? New Story Available!

Would you trust this guy?

Lurking at the edge of a mundane fleamarket, a merchant of impossibilities stands next to a trunk full of bizarre and otherwordly goods.

Are Jack Hansard’s uncanny wares for real? Is the magic past its sell-by-date? And what exactly do you DO with a deus ex machina, anyhow?


Gosh, there’s been a lot going on lately. If you’re a regular visitor you may notice that I’ve got a shiny new website and I’ve just launched my newsletter. My latest job has been setting up the download for this exclusive Jack Hansard story, which is now available for free to new subscribers!

If you’re not already familiar with The Jack Hansard Series, you can find the free beta episodes here.

Deus Ex Machina is a standalone short story which features our favourite occult merchant, told from the viewpoint of one of his unwitting customers. I wrote the original version of this for a humour competition way back in 2012 (it came second, which was rather nice) and decided to revamp the whole thing into a longer, better story for you guys to enjoy.

Click the button above to go directly to the download page at StoryOrigin, or get it by signing up to my newsletter here. It’s available in ePUB, Mobi, and PDF formats for all your reading devices. Hope it makes you smile!

Once you’re a subscriber you’ll also receive updates from me along with other exclusive sneak-peeks – including another story snippet called Pandora’s Box which features Jack’s least favourite business rival: the treasure-hunting, god-wrestling, myth-defying and all-round flash bastard Edric Mercer. It’ll arrive a day or two after signing up. Keep an eye on your inbox to make sure you don’t miss it! 😉


Urban fantasy with a sense of humour

Thanks to @EJIkinArt for the awesome cover illustration.

Folklore Snippets: Sweet Dreams

dream catcher pixabay.jpg

Episode 2 of the Jack Hansard short story series can be found here. This week, Hansard gets into the dream-making business with a stash of captive dreams he doesn’t quite know how to handle. I’m a big fan of giving abstract concepts physical manifestations. In Episode 1 we saw the result of Hansard’s endeavours selling inspiration as a valuable commodity; now he deals with dreams as real as living creatures and meets a character out of folklore – the Sandman. This Sandman is no mythic entity, however. In Hansard’s reality, ‘Sandman’ is just the title given to a speciality tradesman of dreams.

***

I wasn’t quite sure what to be writing in this blog. It’s a sideline to the short story gig – comments and musings rather than hard-hitting articles about the state of the world today. I can’t say that sounds overly interesting though, so I’ve decided to try something mildly structured. Hansard’s (mis)adventures commonly encounter things drawn from myth and folklore, so with each episode I’ll pick out a related topic and give you a very brief overview. Ya’know just the interesting bits. So to go with Episode 2, here’s a quick look-see at some of the stories behind the Sandman.

I think the folkloric Sandman is probably the most well-known character (in Europe, at least) associated with dreams. He is said to sprinkle dust or sand into children’s eyes to make them sleep and dream; if you wake with that gritty gunk in your eyes then you know he’s visited. Hans Christian Anderson’s 1841 tale Ole Lukøje paints the Sandman as a benevolent figure whose innocent desire is to tell children stories while they sleep. After sending them to sleep with his sand, he places one of two umbrellas over the child’s head: one with pretty pictures to bring on nice dreams for the good boys and girls; one with no pictures to deny any dreams to the naughty.

Near the end of this tale Ole Lukøje identifies himself as being called the ‘god of dreams’ by the Greeks and Romans. This god of dreams was Morpheus, who appears in Ovid’s poem Metamorphoses. Ovid tells us he is the son of Somnus (Hypnos is the Greek equivalent), the god of sleep. From Greek mythology, Hypnos is the brother of Death (‘Thanatos’); in Hans Christian Andersan’s story, Ole Lukøje tells us his brother is Death – perhaps he mixed up the two ancient deities, but the whole thing does suggest that maybe the modern Sandman has his roots in Greco-Roman tradition.

Hans wasn’t the first to write about the Sandman. In 1817 E. T. A. Hoffmann wrote Der Sandmann, a grim short story where the protagonist associates the character of the Sandman with a sinister figure from his childhood. In this story we are given a wholly opposite view of the Sandman and his intentions:

‘He is a wicked man, who comes to children when they won’t go to bed, and throws a handful of sand into their eyes, so that they start out bleeding from their heads. He puts their eyes in a bag and carries them to the crescent moon to feed his own children, who sit in the nest up there. They have crooked beaks like owls so that they can pick up the eyes of naughty human children.’ (Translation by John Oxenford.)

Yikes. Gruesome.

The Sandman still pops up in modern culture, and isn’t confined to the realm of children’s stories. The first thing that springs to my mind when I hear the word ‘Sandman’ is the Metallica song, Enter Sandman. In 2012 the animated Dreamworks film Rise of the Guardians featured the Sandman as a powerful and benevolent protector of children. Anyone familiar with the work of Neil Gaiman or the world of comic books is likely to have heard of the dark fantasy graphic novel series also named after the character (highly recommended).

I love seeing the different ways bits of old folklore have been re-invented to find new places in our modern world. To see old ideas turned on their head or given a new definition entirely: this is the way we own our past and continue traditions, allowing them to evolve along with our culture.

Hope you enjoyed this little info snippet. Episode 3 will be online on Wednesday 11th February. Thanks for reading!

(Edited 11/02/15 to include ‘Folklore Snippets’ series title.)

We have lift off!

You know, I wasn’t entirely expecting to reach this point. Sure, I’ve been planning An Inspired Mess for months now. I’ve felt the excitement building, the anticipation, the impatience of not being able to do everything immediately. Finally, I’m going to take that big, scary step.

Before we continue, I should first point out that Episode 1 of the Jack Hansard series can be found here. If you are one of the small but wonderful group of people who has been following me through Facebook, I’m sincerely grateful you stuck around to see the launch of the site. I hope it does not disappoint.

If you aren’t in the know, ‘Jack Hansard’ is my short story series about the eponymous Mr Hansard and his strange misadventures navigating the underworld of the occult Black Market. Each episode is just that, an episode out of Hansard’s odd life.

Once a fortnight, on Wednesdays, I will upload a new Hansard episode. At the same time I’ll write a short blog post to accompany it. A blog about what? Nothing in particular, currently. Maybe some interesting snippet of mythology relating to the week’s episode, maybe some writing-related insights. The blog isn’t really the important bit; it’s more of an excuse to have a conversation with you. The important bit is the selection of short stories here and, hopefully, your enjoyment of them.

What actually is An Inspired Mess?

For me: a kick up the arse. For you: a free short story series, delivered fortnightly. And, maybe, some other bits and bobs along the way.

The title of the website is an obvious nod to the first Jack Hansard episode of the same name. But it is also a fairly apt description of myself. I am a mess of half-spun tales, fleeting ideas and almost-thoughts.

I seem to be inspired by everything. I want to write everything. Just as a random spark will ignite a creative fire for a gritty dystopian sci-fi, I simultaneously yearn to write high fantasy. And comic fantasy, and urban fantasy, and space fantasy because how cool is that. I have an urge to write dark, disturbing horror, and light, lifting humour – usually both at once.

Jack Hansard is just one of these passing ideas I’ve managed to pluck out of the mess, disentangle from the noise and create something coherent out of. It’s a bit of an experiment. In reality, what I really wanted to do was make a webcomic. But I don’t have the artsy skill for this; I’m more of a wordy person. It occurred to me that you must be able to create something a little similar to a webcomic, but in text form. Obviously, there are big differences between the two, each with their own set of limitations, but why not have a go at writing a sort of episodic series of short stories?

There is an ulterior motive, of course. There always is; nothing comes for free. And the ulterior motive behind An Inspired Mess is . . . an exercise in overcoming stage fright.

I suffer, as I’m sure many other writers suffer, from that nasty little bug of self-doubt. That venomous voice that viciously likes to whisper: ‘What if, at the end of the day, you’re just shit?’

It’s the voice that prevents us from showing off our work, and benefiting from both the praise and the criticism it engenders. Both are necessary for growth, and I’ve come to feel a deep, pressing urge for growth. Currently, I am so shy about my writing that my behaviour is frankly embarrassing. Recently, a friend saw me hastily jotting down some plot notes while I was staying over. When they asked about it, I cagily mumbled that I was doodling and hid it in my bag. Who gets that embarrassed over writing notes?

I once tried to announce through Facebook that I’d had some success in a writing competition, but I phrased it in such a self-deprecating way (‘I doubt if anyone would be interested…’) that afterwards I felt it sounded like the kind of attention-seeking posts I abhor. I can’t help but dwell on the egotistical nature of talking about something you’ve created – despite my immense excitement for An Inspired Mess, the conceited nature of self-promotion makes me deeply uneasy.

I would be the first to tell you that I’m not a great writer. But sometimes I go a little too far in that direction and forget to acknowledge that I am not a bad writer, either. Having had moderate success in a couple of short story competitions should prove to me, if no-one else, that I’m not bad. And by being not bad I’ve managed to make a few people smile, and hopefully improved someone’s day.

I need to keep reminding myself of this, that the whole purpose of writing is to bring enjoyment to others, and how the hell am I going to achieve that if I don’t actually let anyone read the stuff?

So that’s what this really is.

An endeavour to let go. To release these nuggets of creation into the world, for better or worse, and to learn to embrace the prospect of an audience. An endeavour to improve and grow, to entertain for both the sake of entertaining and to become a better entertainer.

If I can amuse just a few people, raise just a handful of smiles once a fortnight, then this endeavour will have been worthwhile. Even if I don’t – if I end up with just an inbox full of criticism – it will still be worthwhile. My mind will be sharper and my skin thicker for it.

So finally, I would like to invite you to join me as I take this first big step. As we plunge into a world of the bizarre and sometimes downright surreal, I hope, for a few brief moments, I can entertain you.