This month’s Bookshop of the Month is Shrew Books, a Cornish independent specialising in new releases, children’s books and nature writing. We spoke to Kate, the shop’s founder and manager, about what it’s like to run a bookshop in Fowey and the shop’s special connection to the local community!
1. What’s it like running a bookshop in Cornwall? How have you seen the area change over the years?
It’s been a pretty mad year to start running a bookshop anywhere, but in Cornwall – and particularly towns like Fowey – you see such a huge range of customers, because of the seasonal nature of trading here. I’ve now experienced the quieter months when some of the shops around Fowey even close because of the drop in footfall, as well as the beginning of the holiday season when my energy levels need to stay high to manage the number of visitors to Shrew Books! On top of the general surge in holidaymakers during the summer season, Fowey also attracts many deeply committed Daphne du Maurier fans because of her strong links to the area, and this year we’ve had to go without the Fowey Arts & Literature Festival which would also usually bring many avid readers to the town from all over the country.
Fowey has definitely seen a lot of change since I last lived here as a teenager – the shops and restaurants now cater for the rapidly changing visitor and resident demographic, which is becoming increasingly high-end. While holidaymakers are very welcome and essential to a lot of local trade, much of the centre of the town is sadly populated by second homes and holiday rentals that remain empty for large amounts of the year, which can make life hard for residents and businesses in the winter. On a more positive note, Cornwall is a blissful breath of fresh air after many years in London, and there is a real appetite for books among many of the residents and the visitors here, so I’m feeling really confident about the future of Shrew Books.
2. What types of books have your customers been buying recently? Have you noticed any trends?
One of my loves is nature writing as memoir, so partly because of my large range of nature writing, and partly because of the wider trend, it’s an area that’s been doing really well at Shrew. One of the recent bestsellers is The Book of Trespass by Nick Hayes, with The Salt Path being a perennial favourite, and I’ve also been recommending Windswept by Annabel Abbs, as anything related to wandering and roaming is popular here – which makes sense given our proximity to the South West Coast Path. I’m also getting a lot of recommendation requests for anything escapist – there’s a real sense of being lost in a mass mood of post-trauma after the last few lockdowns, so while I am consistently selling a lot of more literary fiction like The Manningtree Witches, Burnt Sugar and Summerwater, a lot of lighter Cornish romance is also flying from the shelves like The River Between Us and Beneath Cornish Skies. I also do a fair trade in sci-fi and fantasy, with a couple of my staples being works by China Mieville and Jeff Vandermeer – a very different kind of escapism… And of course, because it’s Cornwall, Kurt Jackson’s Sea has been performing so well, and it’s one I’m really happy to see succeed.
3. If you could recommend one book published in the past year, what would it be?
One of my absolute favourites has been Cwen by Alice Albinia – it ticks every box for me personally, a novel about an ancient island matriarchy in the far north of Scotland being re-established by local women in the present day. Albinia’s writing is witty and unrelenting, and I fell in love with it instantly.
4. When you took on Bookends and set up Shrew Books, what was your bookselling vision?
I was really eager to update and personalise the range of books as, while Bookends has been a roaring success for many years, famous for selling second-hand titles and being a hub of Daphne du Maurier information, I felt that there weren’t enough places nearby for locals and visitors to source really great new books. I wanted to create a warm and bright environment for people to seek out exciting, diverse and progressive new titles, whether fiction, non-fiction or children’s books, and a place that readers can feel comfortable to express their passions, and get as much out of that as they put in. I’m also keen to push forward books from smaller publishers and titles that might not be getting the breathing space and attention that they deserve in such a crowded publishing calendar.
5. And finally, do you have any exciting plans for the shop in the coming months that you’d like to share with us?
I’ve been holding back from planning a full calendar of events this year, as it’s been a tough one to predict in terms of capacity and other restrictions to movement. I recently held a small talk with local author Clare Owen about her new YA novel Zed and the Cormorants, set along the River Fowey, and have held signings at the shop with both Meriel Schindler and Cathy Rentzenbrink. I’m really looking forward to helping launch the beautifully hilarious new book by local illustrator and photographer Gretchen Viehmann in September, which is based on some of the worst Trip Adviser reviews of Fowey pubs and restaurants – a platform on which many of our dedicated local businesses witness some of the meanest and maddest outpourings you can imagine. I’m also really passionate about the importance of the creative subjects that have been cut or reduced in secondary education, so I’m in the process of planning a monthly creative writing workshop for children, which I’m hoping to finalise a location for and kick off later this year.