Gentle start to the day as the train whisks me south along the glorious north-eastern coastline – all the old familiar sights. I alight at York at mid-day and hasten through the rain to Ken Spelman’s on Micklegate. Sorry to miss past-president, Peter Miller, who has just left for the weekend book-fair in Oxford, but chat happily away to Tony Fothergill, his partner and soon to be successor. Tony is, of course, one of the driving forces behind the outstanding success of the York fair (see Going to the Races below) and I am very happy to have recruited him to inject the same kind of flair into the big ABA summer fair at Olympia. He’s working hard with the rest of the Olympia team on that.
Pick out a few books – another Tennyson in a sweet contemporary binding – you can just see it in front of Tony in the picture. Tony is awaiting, with perhaps just a touch of nerves, the arrival of a TV crew intent on filming a forthcoming instalment of the BBC’s Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is.
BBC and Sun antiques expert Paul Hayes is to present Tony with a book bought in France – and try to sell it to him at a vast profit. From what Tony knows in advance this is rather likely to be an uphill battle, but let’s not rush to judgement. The crew arrive just as I am settling up, and I have a quick chat to Paul. Only too ready to agree with him that the survival of proper bookshops like this on into the twenty-first century is a boon and a blessing to us all. Acres of books, rewardingly priced. Treasure it, people of York.
Across to Fossgate – for once managing not to get lost in the meandering York streets – and to Lucius Books. James Hallgate, young (certainly by book trade standards), energetic and ambitious, has put together a truly outstanding stock of mainly modern material. He has a wide reputation for getting out and about to hunt down the material (he’s just off to Holland in search of more).
The smallish shop abounds with high-spots – and his new catalogue is mightily impressive. No difficulty here in putting together a little collection of books I am very pleased to have – a nice first of Braine’s Room at the Top in the Minton dust-jacket (one of those 1950s novels which really has stood the test of time – try reading it again), a couple of Graham Greenes and some crime fiction, including a super scarce Gladys Mitchell. Having a fine time.
Next to Janette Ray and her shop in a mediaeval building leaning up against the walls of St. Mary’s Abbey. Janette’s another of the potent forces driving the York Fair – and one of the sharpest and most clear-sighted members of the current ABA Council. Architecture, design and photography are her fields – and the design element shows in the look and feel of the shop, the look and feel of her website, and hopefully the rebranding exercise she is currently undertaking for the look and feel of the ABA. She apologises for the shop being in disarray – a major reorganisation is taking place with piles of books moving from floor to floor – but it all looks perfectly orderly and under control to me.
She introduces me to her Fridays-only assistant, Amy. Always fascinated in the other lives of these almost invariably interesting characters who help out in bookshops part-time, I ask Amy what she does in real life. Turns out that she is an artist – but not just that, hers are the sketches gracing the current BBC serialisation of Sebastian Faulks’ Birdsong . Whenever the hero produces his sketchbook and we see a drawing of Clemence Poesy, Joseph Mawle or dead soldiers – that’s Amy McKay’s work (link to the right in the blogroll). Do try and watch tonight. She also tells me that she may be working on something similar with the great Stephen Poliakoff in the near future – how exciting is that?
All so interesting, I’ve almost forgotten to look at the books – but that’s soon remedied. Another little group bought. The cheque-book has now literally coughed and died. The one I gave to James Hallgate was the last in the book. Have to give Janette a personal cheque – but by this time there is almost certainly more in that account than in the business account. Train home to recuperate and await the parcels.