…..and the niggling went on. It was not unlike one of those ear-worms you get left with after you’ve listened to a particularly annoying but catchy piece of music. Could these people really be trusted to choose books for me? Would I look forward to their parcels each month or would the regular delivery become a moment to dread? When the niggle was still there when I woke up on Tuesday morning there was clearly only one thing to do. Despite the fact that a visit to London wipes me out for the rest of the week, despite that fact that it meant I had to cancel two other entires in my diary, I was going to have to go and investigate first hand.
We will draw a veil over the farce that actually getting to London then became. I will simply say that having bought my ticket I was going to get there despite the worse that the British railway system could throw at me and those of you who live in the UK at least will have no need for me to elaborate further. Suffice it to say that the early afternoon saw me wending my way through the streets of central London looking for the royal blue canopy that would indicate I had found the booksellers I was looking for. I was going to put this shop through its paces.
How to describe Heywood Hill? Well, to start with it’s really very small. I would imagine that it started life at some point in the Georgian period as a town house. I could tell you that the ground floor is about twice the size of my living room and the basement slightly smaller but as most of you don’t know my living room that isn’t really that much help. However, as long as you don’t think I live in any sort of a mansion it ought to give you some idea. They seem to specialise in fiction, biographies, travel, history and children’s literature. Very sensibly they don’t try and cover everything. And, while the emphasis seems to be on new books, there is also a good back stock of the best of what has gone before. This is going to sound very suspect, but it feels like a place where books enjoy hanging out. But, were the books books that I would want to hang out with? There was only one way to find out. I headed downstairs to the children’s fiction.
Having spent twenty years lecturing in children’s literature I have some idea of what my notion of a good children’s fiction department should stock. If they could meet my requirements there I was fairly confident they were going to be up to the task of selecting adult fiction for me. I settled in for a long browse.
And they came up trumps!
There was a superb mix of the best of the latest (the new Marcus Sedgwick, the latest Jonathan Stroud) the classic (Arthur Ransome, Frances Hodgson-Burnett) and the acceptable and enduring popular (Harry Potter, Jacqueline Wilson). The picture book election was an absolute delight and I spent far too long reacquainting myself with the work of Shirley Hughes and Anthony Browne. If there hadn’t been a return train calling me I could happily have still been there when they closed. This was the shop for me.
So, I went back up the narrow stair to the main part of the shop and made the acquaintance of Lisa. Lisa is now my personal bookseller!
I explained why I was there, informed her that Heywood Hill had passed muster (!!!) and together we set about building my reading profile. I’d taken with me a list of all those authors whose new books I would automatically read as soon as I could get hold of a copy. That, I thought, would give Lisa a good idea of the kind of novel I most enjoy. However, lest she should think that she was going to have the easy task of just sending me the latest from my top of the pops list, I was quick to explain that that wasn’t what I wanted at all. No, what I want Heywood Hill to do is introduce me to new authors, writers that I haven’t previously encountered. I want them to broaden my horizons, not close them down. I want the best of the unexpected.
Bless her, Lisa didn’t bat an eyelid. She took down all the details and made me feel as if I’d made her day by coming in with such a challenge. I left feeling as if I had not only acquired a bookseller but had met a potential new friend: a feeling enhanced the following day when she came back to me several times by email to check various aspects of what we’d discussed.
And so now I wait. The first of Lisa’s selections will be sent off at the beginning of December. At last a book shaped parcel I haven’t selected myself will be coming through my letter box The excitement is almost too much to bear. Look out for a series of posts entitled A Year in Reading as I share with you my new discoveries. And if you are in the Curzon Street area of London yourself at any time then please do go and look out Heywood Hill for yourselves. I promise you they won’t disappoint.