Our bookshop of the month for March is Church House Bookshop in Westminster, Church of England’s official bookshop. We chatted to the retail sales director, Aude, about what it’s like to run a bookshop with a religious focus, and any other projects and plans that they have coming up…
1. As the official bookshop of the Church of England, you stock a wide variety of Christian books and resources. Who are some of your bestselling authors?
Rowan Williams is our top-selling author and we are quite pleased that he’s no longer Archbishop of Canterbury as it means he has much more time to write. Sam Wells, currently Vicar of St Martin-in-the Fields is also very popular and quite prolific, the more, the better! We also do very well with crossover titles which are not specifically Christian like Francis Spufford’s. Poetry sales have increased a lot in the last few years with Mark Oakley on poetry and Malcolm Guite’s Poems doing particularly well.
We’ve also had strong fiction sales with James Runcie’s Grantchester series and Catherine Fox’s Lindchester Chronicles.
2. You’re located in a beautiful building in Westminster. What’s it like running a shop in such a central location?
We’re very much a destination bookshop where clergy and other church professionals gather before or after a meeting at Church House. During General Synod (600+ members) we get a huge influx of customers and often open longer hours. We are surrounded by government buildings with the Home Office, the Department for Education and DTI within 5mn walk so we get lots of civil servants coming in during their lunch hour browsing for books and cards. It’s a great location for bishop spotting and indeed minister spotting! We had a memorable launch two years ago with ten Lords attending, needless to say we were all on our best behaviour, as always!
3. You’re also part of the same company as the Church Times. Do you work closely with the publication on any projects?
We are part of the Hymns Ancient and Modern Group which includes the Church Times and we are the official Church Times bookshop. Church Times readers and subscribers can order from us online or over the phone and enjoy 10% discount. We work very closely with Church Times colleagues on features, book reviews as well as Lent and Christmas books supplements. We try to flag up new titles as early as possible and make sure that publishers send in key titles for review. We learn a lot from each other and we often work together to put on events or festivals.
4. The Festival of Faith and Literature takes place every two years in Bloxham, Oxfordshire. What does being a supporter of the festival involve?
We are involved very early on in the programming and contribute ideas and speakers to the Festival Director Sarah Meyrick. As we get closer to the Festival itself we do a lot of promotion online and in the shop with the support of the Church Times, highlighting authors and titles that we probably wouldn’t stock otherwise. We take about 100 titles to the Festival Bookshop focusing on Speakers’ books and key topical titles. Each speaker is invited to a signing session after their talk in the brand new school library which we take over for the weekend. We get the chance to chat to authors, find out about their next projects and perhaps plan a book-launch at the bookshop for their next book. An event quite often leads to another event.
5. Do you have any exciting plans for the store that you’d like to share here?
We are always on the look-out for events and launches, Bloomsbury have just asked us to sell the Archbishop of Canterbury’s latest title Re-imagining Britain at a big launch party at Lambeth Palace in March, that should be quite a night!
Over the August Bank Holiday week-end we face our biggest challenge of the year: we run g-books the official bookshop at the Greenbelt Festival. We build a bookshop from scratch in a marquee on the grounds of Boughton House in Northants. We spend the best part of summer planning orders, booking 30+ signing sessions with speakers but sadly we have no control over the weather on a Bank Holiday weekend. This is incredibly hard work but it does wonders for team-building across Hymns A&M Ltd as we all work together to make it happen. Coming back to the bookshop and to bookselling as we know it in Westminster feels incredibly easy and very cosy after that.