Do you want to run a bookshop?

Sisters, Lucinda and Natalie, run The River Read at Noosaville
Sisters, Lucinda and Natalie, run The River Read at Noosaville

Have you ever dreamed of chucking in your ‘real’ job and owning and running a bookstore instead? Of being surrounded by endless books to choose from? A coffee machine whirring away next to you, book launches and that irresistible smell of new books? I did, all the time when I was working in a  corporate job and trying to crack a publishing deal. My fantasy life was as a bookstore owner. So I thought it would be nice to ask a real person what that dream is actually like.

The lovely Lucinda Morley, co-owner with her sister at The River Read, answered some questions on what her day job is like.

Could you tell us a bit about yourself (and your sister) and your bookshop? 
My sister Natalie and I bought The River Read 5 years ago. For a couple of years we had been on the lookout for an opportunity to go into business together. We had grown up in Noosa and are big book lovers, so when my husbands step mother told me that she was thinking about moving on and selling The River Read it was the perfect opportunity for us. 6 months after buying the shop we added the coffee side of the business which was another great learning curve for us. We had never run a cafe OR a bookshop! We came into the business with a lot of passion and energy, and took on board a lot of advice from experts in both areas. We get told by customers all the time that the shop has a great energy, which we think is a result if it being something we put a lot of love into.

The courtyard at The River Read
The courtyard at The River Read

I think a lot of us dream of quitting our day jobs and running a bookstore. Is it really as much fun as it’s cracked up to be?
It’s pretty fun! We still get a buzz whenever new release books arrive, especially from authors we love. It’s pretty great going to a work being surrounded by books all day. It’s especially great because we do it together. Obviously there’s a serious side – paying the bills, hiring staff etc. but overall we love it.
What do you love most about your job?
Reading! It’s funny because people assume we come to work and get to read all day, but the opposite is true. We constantly have people (customers, book reps) telling us we MUST read this or that book and it can be really frustrating because you go home with a pile of books and not nearly enough time to read them.
How many books do you read a week/month? On average I’d say a book a week – sometimes more sometimes less. It depends on the size of the books and how much spare time I get (which is often not much).
What’s been the most challenging or unexpected thing that’s happened since you started? What really amazes me is that after 5 years running and working in a bookshop, there is still not a day that goes by that a customer asks about an author I’ve never heard of. There are so many books and authors out there! It used to really frustrate me but now I just listen and enjoy learning every day. You can’t read everything so we really take on board the wealth of knowledge our customers bring in.

What are your top three pieces of advice for someone who dreams of having their own bookshop?

  1. Do your numbers. Having a bookshop is wonderful but unfortunately there isn’t a lot of money to be made from them. You need to have a variety of products to be successful.
  2. Don’t try to be everything to all people – you will never win. You heed to decide what kind of bookshop you want to be, which is determined largely by your location. We are in a tourist area so we stock mainly the type of books people read or buy when they’re on holidays. We have a local customer base also, so we do cater for that too, however we don’t do for example a lot of reference books. There are literally billions of books out there and you can’t stock them all.
  3. Keep reading books you love. When we first bought the shop I felt pressure to read outside my usual genres so I could sell them but reading really started to feel like a chore. I do read lots of different types of books but I’ve gone back to reading for pleasure. You can’t know everything about every type of book and you’re better off being honest to customers and saying ‘I don’t personally read a lot of that type if book, but….’ There are lots of ways to learn about different books without forcing yourself to read it all – listen to customers, friends, family, book reps. You need to keep loving books or you loose sight if why you started doing it in the first place.

Thanks, Lucinda!

Creative Breakthroughs: My Writing Room

I had a huge breakthrough this weekend and for me it’s so important that I’m going to continue posting about this topic every so often over the course of the year. It started like this.

IMG_1930Recently, I was invited to submit a photograph and some words about ‘my writing room’ to a UK website. I’ve harboured dreams of a magical, inspiring, nourishing writing room for years. And you may know that I’ve written about my intention to create a wonderful writing room for the past two new year’s resolutions. But I keep failing to achieve my dream.

Now, I’ve dithered about this photo task for weeks (I’ve lost count of how many). And the reason is this: my room isn’t what I want it to be. It’s not finished. I still have an unpainted wall and door, broken and missing glass in the French doors, unpolished floorboards covered by a rug, and the cheapest curtains (for want of a word) I could find as a temporary stop until ‘the real curtains’ arrive.  It’s not pretty enough. I don’t have everything just as I want it. I cannot begin to tell you how much time I’ve spent lying awake, stressed about this task!

I’ve been writing seriously now since 1999 and I still don’t have my dream writing room. But, over that time my writing space has improved. I actually wrote an entire memoir on my laptop in bed at one point because I didn’t have any space just of my own. And this time last year, I had just one corner of a room that was also shared by our senior cat and her kitty litter (so lots of smell and grit underfoot), her frequent deposits of cold vomit on the floor, the baby’s change table and the nappy bin (more smell), and the dirty clothes basket. Life in my writing room has, absolutely, improved.

IMG_1920But I’m still not where I want to be—somewhere in the gypsy cave with silks and lanterns and fairy lights, a desk made of gnarled wood taken from an enchanted forest and carved by elves, magical doorways, couches, cushions, a music player, candles, perfect lighting for day and night, perfect temperature control and aromatherapy. Somewhere peaceful with beautiful scenery. Oh, and somewhere my toddler can’t find me.

And what I’m really saying is my room is not perfect. No wonder I think I keep failing to achieve my dream.

*** And this, my friends, was my breakthrough. ***

Perfection—the deadly word for all creative types. Perfection, the unreachable, the unattainable. The tortuous quest to find the worst in ourselves (not the best).

The excuse to stop.

The excuse to not finish.

The excuse to not enjoy ourselves.

The excuse to hide our creativity from the world.

The excuse to fail.

  

From one recovering perfectionist to another, let me be clear:

PERFECTIONISM IS AN EXCUSE.

But it’s not ready. It’s not finished. It’s not good enough. It’s not what I want it to be!

Excuses. All of them.

Oh, they may be well founded in core beliefs, inherited expectations, fears that pretend to protect us from shame, punishment or embarrassment. But they’re still excuses. And they can sneak up on you and sidle into your mind very quietly and sit there for weeks, months, or years. Just as they did with me, provoking anxiety over my writing room.

But after years of stressing about it, I’ve found freedom.

I now know the reality is this: Creating and decorating my writing room is limited by the structure and size of the room; the fact that we’re still renovating a 113-year-old house and the rest of the house isn’t ‘finished’ yet either; and finances and priorities like, you know, essential plumbing, seven horses to feed and food and bills. There are limits to what I can do and that’s okay. That’s life. In fact, we need limits or we’d lose our minds. It doesn’t mean I have to stop, or have to hide what I’ve done. It’s a work in progress. Nothing in life is ever finished. Nothing. It just changes from one thing to another.

And the lesson here is that this applies to every creative aspect of our life. Everything that seems big and overwhelming can be done by breaking it down into its components. If you want to be an author, you’re going to have to write a book. (Better yet, you’re going to have to write a page, and then another page, and another.) If you want to be an opera singer, you’re going to need to take a lesson. Want a holiday but can’t afford one? Go to the beach for the day. Want a horse but don’t have land? Go to a riding centre and ride for a day. Want to change the colour of the walls in your bedroom? You might first need to de-clutter the room so you can actually reach the walls.

And if you want the perfect writing room? Start with the perfect potted plant… which I did, this weekend, by the way. Isn’t it lovely? And I bought a lamp, too. Just two things for my writing-room-in-progress. And I can’t tell you how much joy that fern and that lamp bring me when I walk into the room. The whole space suddenly feels welcoming and nurturing and I want to spend time there.

So, loud and proud, I’m sharing this with you. This is my writing room. Not finished. A work in progress. And it will probably always be a work in progress for the rest of my life. I accept that now. And I am amending my new year’s resolutions from ‘create my perfect writing room’ or ‘fix my writing room’ to ‘continue to nurture my writing room’.

Because nurturing—of ourselves, our family, our careers, our creativity, and our living spaces—is a daily necessity. I will nurture my writing room and in return, my writing room will nurture me.

It’s a hard life, but someone has to do it

I love research. And when it’s about food, even better.

Living the writer’s dream for me is about delving into subjects I’m interested in and absorbing a mass of information and, preferably, sensory experience. And it really doesn’t get any better than researching one of the greatest things on earth: chocolate.

chilli ganache

Chocolate features heavily in my next book and this weekend just gone my lovely (and exceptionally talented) sister and I headed into Brisbane for an afternoon of making chocolates and ganaches by hand. I have to say, though, that they worked us extremely hard. Amanda and I thought we might have a fun afternoon indulging in chocolate. Not so much. More like five hours on our feet, with no breaks, no chairs and (gasp!!!) no coffee!!! I felt like a galley slave.

But I am really glad I went. I learnt many a savvy chocolate making skill for my main

Litres of Belgium chocolate

Belgium chocolate ganaches

character to use in her story. And during the two-and-a-half hour drive home I came up with my top line novel plot.

Not a bad day’s work. Not bad at all.