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Books, Features, London

How I came to own two bookshops (kind of)

Firstly, thanks so much to everyone who contributed to the fantastic buzz about the cover and opening pages of my new novel Scent last week. I am so happy to see this much interest in a book that is excruciatingly close to my heart (probably just as well I didn’t realise how much at the time) and I can’t wait for it to meet readers in April 2021 – yet another reason to look forward to next spring!

Now the second lockdown is over, many people’s thoughts are turning to the festive season.  I’m not a ‘Christmas person’ but I am a great believer that books make wonderful gifts.  I also believe in buying them from independent bookshops rather than the online giant which shall not be named, so they continue to exist.  Like many booklovers, I have dreamed of owning my own store but always considered it pretty unlikely…

…I now ‘own’ two, in my own sweet way.

When the original Big Green Bookshop in my north London neighbourhood closed (it’s still online), Tim West, one of the owners, decided to set up a co-operative to keep a physical community bookshop in the area – and succeeded in a big way.  To date over 116 individuals have become members of the All Good Bookshop co-op, which is open to anyone with an investment of minimum £100, maximum £1,000. You get an impressive certificate and I own a bookshop badge, which I’m guessing is more exciting to most of us than the remote possibility of ever making money out of it.  The 10% discount applies regardless of your stake (fair warning: this doesn’t mean you end up spending less on books).  If you’re after a generous, unusual Christmas present for someone who loves reading, this could literally have their name on it!  All details on the link above.

Tim and his colleague Carmel have done wonders with the spacious new premises in Turnpike Lane, where they also host events in normal times – fingers crossed there’ll be one for my new book.  Like many independent retailers they’ve provided a brilliant service (including local delivery by bike) during two lockdowns.  They can order and post books anywhere and not only give excellent recommendations, but welcome them from customers – unless they’re just being polite when I won’t shut up.

If you have a favourite bookshop, the best way to show your support is to purchase from them directly. But a new online option has recently emerged to support indie bookshops generally and that is bookshop.org.  Lots of ‘real’ bookshops have signed up with their own storefronts but anyone can set up shop.  And this is how I came to spend many enjoyable hours filling the shelves of my virtual Literary Sofa bookshop, where you can find – and buy – my picks in the categories below. It was lovely reliving the pleasure these books have given me and exploring other people’s selections. Tell your TBR list to make some room at the top.

  • Featured on the Literary Sofa in 2020
  • Sofa Favourites of the last Nine Years
  • My All-time Favourite Novels
  • Unanimously rated by my Book Group (only 13 titles in 18 years – I ought to charge for this)
  • Short Fiction including novellas, poetry
  • Sociology, psychology, sexuality
  • Writing, perfumery and creativity
  • Popular non-fiction recommended by my family
  • Memoir, biography and life writing

The best bit is that every time I go back to add a forgotten favourite, the total raised for independent bookshops has gone up by thousands.  That’s already hundreds of thousands not going to the other place and helping to keep this key part of our cultural landscape alive.

I want to end with a quick word about this year’s Christmas appeal from BookTrust, who get book gifts to vulnerable children who may not receive any presents otherwise, which is a heart-breaking possibility. It’s not often you can make a real difference with a tenner, but this is one of those times – please consider donating if you can.


If you look closely, below you’ll see Cath Barton’s novella In the Sweep of the Bay on the table at All Good Bookshop.  Cath will be joining me next week with a Writers on Location post about Morecombe, Lancashire, where the book is set.

About Isabel Costello

Writer (novels: Paris Mon Amour 2017; Scent 2021).Host of the Literary Sofa blog. Co-founder of Resilience for Writers with Voula Tsoflias. Perfume lover and Francophile.


5 thoughts on “How I came to own two bookshops (kind of)

  1. What a great initiative the All Good Bookshop co-op is! Lucille x

    Posted by ifucanrememberituwerentthere | December 2, 2020, 12:35
  2. Wear that badge with pride! And got to check out your Unanimously rated by my Book Group list. Really raised a smile.

    Posted by Anne Goodwin (Annecdotist) | December 2, 2020, 13:49
  3. Nice work, Boss!

    Posted by Tim West | December 2, 2020, 14:23
  4. Fantastic post Isabel – thank you. Absolutely chiming with the times. During lockdown my book buying assumed gargantuan proportions (as did my wine purchases but that’s for another time…) but we tried very hard to buy through “booksellers” as opposed to conglomerates. We often bought through Hive but will definitely try out bookshop.org – I had seen an advert for it before it actually launched and your post is a great incentive to give it a go, especially as I have just given my Christmas book wish-list to the family! xx

    Posted by Clare Brailsford | December 2, 2020, 15:44

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