Shaun Bythell joined us from his bookshop – The Bookshop – in Wigtown. Following his first two books about shop life (The diary of a bookseller and Confessions of a bookseller), he might be classed as the grouchiest secondhand bookseller ever. In fact, considering he also seems to think of himself as the epitome of grump, he was remarkably warm and jolly today. At the end of the Festival session he even took us on a laptop-tour around the shop and introduced us to member of staff Nicky – who has taken over from the ski-suit-wearing, bin-foraging Nicky that readers so took to in his first two books.

Shaun Bythell in his Wigtown bookshop

Shaun’s been at the helm of the second largest bookshop in Scotland for 20 years. He learnt the trade through John (the previous owner of the shop), the internet, and knowledge-sharing in the friendly book world. He’s also got to know his customers and their foibles. These customers will be the subject of his next book: Seven kinds of people you find in bookshops. He claims the perfect customer is one who comes into the shop, buys loads of books and leaves without saying anything or complaining.

Shaun loves the creativity and talent of Sue Townsend and her Adrian Mole series. He’s especially entertained by Bernard the eccentric secondhand bookseller whose approach to customer-service gets him blacklisted by Waterstones – a warning photo of Bernard adorns the stores in Townsend’s novel.

Shaun hopes and believes that consumers are more consciously spending money locally in local shops. He says The Bookshop has been the busiest it’s ever been since lockdown ended – even busier than during the Wigtown Book Festival which he helps organise.

Shaun withdrew from online bookselling – and specifically from Amazon – a couple of years ago. He’s not a fan of Amazon and its approach to selling secondhand books. In fact, hearing Shaun talk about the online monolith, I wonder if there might be ‘wanted’ posters of him in Amazon offices around the globe.

Shaun’s books are available from his shop: The Bookshop and all good booksellers.

When I first opened the bookshop and I heard the door open I was excited: Who will this be? That turned fairly quickly into: On no! Who’s this. Now, it’s: Excellent, this could be someone to write about.

It’s like the couple where one partner does nine nice things during the day and one bad one. It’s the upsetting one that the other partner remembers, not the cups of tea and kind words. That’s the same with me and customers: the nice ones get knocked into the grass by the nasty ones.

Tamsin Calidas spoke with the Festival’s Chloë Smith. The two women have wild swimming in common – the sea is somewhere they both feel held. They both have a lyrical affinity with the natural world and solitude. This connection, along with the readings from Tamsin’s book I am an Island, made for a compelling, almost immersive session.

Tamsin with the Festival’s Chloe in miniature

Tamsin says that our lives reshape and rewrite themselves in many different ways. And she has certainly unfurled an extreme physical, emotional and psychological reincarnation in leaving Notting Hill, London for her wild new home. In fact, her life has undergone more transformation than most of us might expect to experience in a lifetime, let alone a few years.

Despite the personal pain and the physical privations – marriage break-up, broken hands, bereavement and illness – Tamsin maintains that ‘difficult times are some of the best times in hindsight’.

Certainly the extracts from her book conjure a poetic and mystical intimacy with the natural world – mournful and hopeful at the same time. Tamsin’s landscape is one that throws up gifts to those who care to pause and gather the fine details of nature. This meditative slowing down is encapsulated by her take on living in a caravan in the first days of island living:

There’s a wonderful intimacy when the walls are so much thinner and you can hear the landscape breathing around you

Feedback from Tamsin’s session is overwhelmingly positive:

I am so moved by this beautiful interview, so much wisdom and strength.

Wonderful BLF Thank you. Loved this. Thank you Tamsin and Chloe

Really enjoyed this connection with croft life!

And many requests about where to buy Tamsin’s book I am an Island – it’s available from all good book stores and locally in Berwick from Geo. C. Grieve

I’ll leave you with some words from Tamsin:

Change finds us ahead of the time we’re actually ready for it. But we are definitely more resilient than we give ourselves credit for.

Neil Astley, author, poet and editor of Bloodaxe Books was joined by poets David Constantine and Imtiaz Dharker – and just shy of 200 guests.

It’s an extraordinary honour that Neil chose the Literary Festival to launch the fourth volume of Bloodaxe’s celebrated Staying Alive series of world poetry anthologies: Staying Human.

Like so many of our sessions this year, these powerful poems – chosen by Neil to focus on poetry written over the last 20 years – held a whole new resonance and meaning in the light of recent world events.

Neil’s aim in gathering together these collections is to recapture poetry readers who lost interest after school or whose intake was restricted by availability and the focus on an Anglo-centric poetry narrative. This is a superbly curated series of ‘real poems for unreal times’ which harnesses the intensity and intimacy of living globally and individually in our world today.

I can’t possibly do justice to what we experienced this afternoon in a little blogpost.

I feel as if I have been washed in a visceral kaleidoscope of word sensations. A connection of countries, cultures, and creativities. So, what I’ve chosen to do, is to share lines from some poems of today, scrawled down as I inhaled them. To my shame, I cannot share the names of the poets or the titles (and this may infringe copyright but I’m sure I’ll be told to take it down if it does) but I can tell you one thing: BUY THE BOOKS. Available at all good book shops and via Bloodaxe’s website.

They spoke to me of people and of humanitythe strained honey of afternoon light – are you waiting for time to show you some better thoughts – mostly we don’t want to harm each other – and there was so much left to say – it’s a day to drink a large soda in Bangalore – then will our new skin falter in the sudden cold unknown – for I have singled you out of the whole world – I saw hands reaching out of bookcasesI was lightly inhabited like a vapour I said your face is beautiful – I play Haydn after a black day – my vintage friends so long depended on – pity we killed all the monsterslisten to the old one talking about the spirit because he can’t remember the word for chairthe one you have finished examining is my son – don’t say, don’t say there is no water to solace our hearts

Various authors: transcribed from readings by Neil Astley, David Constantine, Imtiaz Dharker, from the poetry anthology Staying Human published by Bloodaxe Books at the Berwick Literary Festival 16 October 2020

Until tomorrow! And don’t forget to buy the books!

Buy the books from a local Bookshop ! Click here!

Seven Kinds of People you Find in Bookshops Profile Books

I am an Island Tamsin Calidas Doubleday

The Crown in Crisis: Countdown to the Abdication Alexander Larman W & N

Staying Human: New Poems for Staying Alive Neil Astley Bloodaxe

Lady Sybil 2017: Empire, War and Revolution Simon Boyd Hayloft

Jackie Kaines

I have excellent fun moving words of all shapes and sizes around to create blogs, articles and all sorts of interesting other wordy things.