Tuesday 11-Wednesday 12 September

We will be closed all day on Tuesday 11 September and from 1pm on Wednesday 12 September.  Open Wednesday morning, and back to normal from Thursday.  Nifty Needles will still be happening on Wednesday evening.

Apologies for any inconvenience.

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For the benefit of…

logoFor a long time, I have been wondering about making the Tree House officially a non-profit social enterprise business.  We are a limited company, mainly because that was the easiest thing to do when I first set up the business.  But after five years, I feel I have invested so much of myself in the whole venture that I am struggling with the idea of giving up overall control – that says a lot about me, I know!  It is still a longer-term possibility, but for now I don’t feel ready to change the status.

The principle remains though: we operate as a non-profit.  Any profit we make is ploughed back into the business and given to charity when we can – though we don’t technically make any profit, as I don’t yet earn a wage from running the place, and profit would begin after staff wages were considered.  We are, however, getting there, and the phenomenal support of the local community continues in humbling ways: a long-time supporter has just set up a very generous monthly standing order, which will help us to put in place some ideas that should generate more income in the longer term.  More on that in due course!

One initiative I am going to start from September is a more formal way of giving to charity, and making our non-profit aspirations more transparent.  We will be supporting two charities each month – one national, one local – by a variety of means.

I will be installing a filter coffee machine, and coffee will be available on a donation basis.  Half of what we get from these donations will go to our chosen charities.  (You can have tea as well, just ask!)

Since we started our Tree House Sessions four years ago, we have charged an entry fee – intially £2, now £3, which includes a £2 book voucher and tea or coffee.  From the next THS, on 1 September, we won’t have a charge; we will ask £1 for tea/coffee, and we will raffle a £10 Tree House book voucher each time.

Our book clubs and Nifty Needles will also be donation-based, and half of the donations going to the charities.

There will be other one-off events at times – coffee mornings, raffles, book promotions, etc.

September’s two charities have really been decided for us.  We are joining in with the Macmillan World’s Biggest Coffee Morning, as we always do, this year on Friday 28 September, so Macmillan will be one of our charities; and Warwickshire and Northamptonshire Air Ambulance have a charity week earlier in September, so they will be our local charity.

So – do come and have a cup of coffee – bring your reusable cup if you want to take it away – and leave a donation.  We’ll be using good coffee, you can drink while you browse, and the aroma should be fab!

I hope we will be able to be both more regular and more generous in our charitable giving, and people will see more clearly that their donated books are creating a place that has all sorts of benefits.

 

Kenilworth Reads: My Name Is Leon

WP_20180119_002I spent about 25 years living in Bristol.  I went to university there, and after spending a couple of years after graduation working in London – at Waterstones on Charing Cross Road, where my bookselling career began! – I went back to Bristol in 1990 to work in bookshops and libraries, staying there until I moved back to Kenilworth, where I grew up, in 2009.  I am not a city girl; I loved Bristol, it’s an amazing city, but in the end I knew I wanted to come back to Warwickshire, back to a small town, and the lure of Abbey Fields and the Castle proved too much.  I miss Bristol, especially its bohemian, creative side, but I love rural Warwickshire and living in a place where everything I need is right outside my door.

The reason I’m telling you about Bristol is because while I was living there, they launched the Great Reading Adventure, as part of their bid to be European Capital of Culture, and it was great.  The idea was to get everyone reading the same book: in that first year, we read Treasure Island.

I would love Kenilworth to do something like this, and a while back I tried to launch a similar scheme here.  One of the things I struggle with is keeping a lot of plates spinning at the same time, and after an enthusiastic initial response, I failed to follow it up properly, and time has gone on.  But summer seems a good time to boost the initiative.

The book I have chosen is My Name Is Leon by Kit de Waal.   I chose it for a number of reasons.  Kit is local – she grew up in Birmingham and now lives in Leamington (and some of you may have heard her speak at Kenilworth Arts Festival last year – she will be back at this year’s Festival too).  It’s a book that can be read by teenagers as well as adults, giving a wide scope.  And it’s a book with a lot to think about and discuss.  It’s also a wonderful story, written with warmth and humanity.  It has an easy, readable style, but it makes you think and it makes you feel.

Leon is an 8 year old boy at the start of the book.  His mother has just given birth to his baby brother; the baby has a different father from Leon.  Their mother is white, the baby’s father is white, Leon’s father is black, both fathers are absent.  Leon loves his baby brother; he loves his mother too.  But she struggles to cope, and the book is the story of what happens to Leon when crisis point is reached.  You will love Leon; his story will both break your heart and warm it.  It’s several months since I finished reading it, and I still think about him often.

So: why not join in our Kenilworth Reads adventure?  You can buy the book from Kenilworth Books, or borrow it from the library.  I will soon have a sheet that you can pick up at the bookshop or that I can email to you with questions and discussion points.  I will create an online forum, and there is a Facebook group already for those on Facebook.  If you’re in a book club, why not read it as a group?  And we will have some face to face meetings at the bookshop.

I have plans for a Christmas read too, a book that will also appeal to a wide age range, and I will also include a book for younger children at Christmas.

I will post more soon, and let you know when the discussion sheet is ready and an online discussion space sorted.  There will be a page on this website dedicated to it as well – you will be able to post comments there, maybe even just let us know you are joining in.

It would be great to get this off the ground and make it an annual event.  I hope lots of Kenilworth people will join us!

 

Happy birthday to us!

The Tree House Bookshop is five years old!  We opened on 26 July 2013.  It’s true that we had a hiatus – we had to move out of our premises at Christmas 2014, and moved to our current premises in April 2015, and there was also a month when Astley Book Farm took over; but in all that time, the company has remained in my name and we never got as far as transferring the lease to Astley.  And we did stay open!  Somehow we have survived.  Huge thanks to all those who supported our crowdfunders, to our patron Warren Ellis who remains a daily inspiration and motivation, and to a great team of volunteers and supporters – plus our constantly growing army of customers.  Amazing.  I am still not earning anything from it, but both I and the bookshop somehow manage to keep going!

I am taking this opportunity to think a bit about what the Tree House is, why we’re here, why we’re *still* here, and some of the issues at the heart of what we do.  There’s a kind of awkwardness to it, as we don’t really fit into the kind of categories we often seem to belong to.  We are a bookshop – but not in the sense that those selling new books are.  We don’t deal with publishers, we are not part of the Booksellers Association, we are not really a retail business in the same way because the finances work differently and the relationship we have with the rest of the book industry is a bit different.  We are not even a second-hand bookshop in the true sense of the word – we don’t buy books, we don’t have much in the way of antiquarian books (we do get some, but not much, because of our policy of only taking donations).  We are a limited company, but operating as a non-profit (not that we make any profit!).

There has been much talk recently of the way the world of publishing works, and how little authors get paid.  There is an excellent article entitled ‘Publish or Be Damned’ on the Kenilworth Books website to which I would refer you for an in-depth study of that. I am aware that the whole issue of selling second-hand books is problematic in some ways.  We are not supporting authors financially, and may be seen as making life harder for them by offering cheap second-hand copies of books in competition with new books, whose sales do provide royalties (inadequate but essential to the livelihood of authors).  This is undeniable.  But is there a place for second-hand books?

There certainly is, despite some of the complications.  One major asset is that books that are out of print or not easily available any more remain in circulation.  Most of the books we have are older books – certainly many contemporary ones, but we don’t get the current titles until people have read them and passed them on.  There is also the issue of what people can afford: not everyone can afford to buy as many new books as they would like to read.  I would add here that libraries, which are under threat, are the biggest asset here, as authors do get a very small amount each time you borrow a book – so if you can’t afford new books, use your library – and if you don’t have one, campaign to get one!  Libraries are invaluable resources on so many levels.  But I digress…  Another factor for us is that people appreciate having somewhere to take books they no longer want.  There is a limit to how many books charity shops can take, simply due to storage issues, and so people bring them to us.  We support charities and local campaigns where we can, and the non-profit promise means that we do give any surplus to charity, so people feel the whole venture is worth supporting.

We have also built up a strong core of regulars who are a community.  Friendships have been made, even couple got together through the bookshop and are still going strong four years on.  Books are a means to that end as well as an end in themselves.  The books we sell would end up in the recycling bins at the tip – but it’s much better to recycle them as books, to offer people affordable reading material, a nice place to browse, even to sit and read, the opportunity to take a chance on a new author.  They might not pay £8 to take a risk, but they will pay £2.  This is dangerously close to the ‘exposure’ argument – that writers and musicians should perform without pay because it’s good ‘exposure’, an iniquitous practice; but it’s not that, and while the author gets no royalties, I hope there might be a knock-on effect.

I urge everyone who can afford it to buy new books, at full price, from independent booksellers.  This makes for the healthiest possible book industry.  If you can’t afford new books, borrow them from the library.  If you don’t have a library, or if you want to own the book, buy second-hand.  That would be my pecking order.  It seems as though I am shooting myself in the foot, but that’s because I am not about the business model, I am not here because I want to be a businesswoman, and the only reason I run a business is because I have to pay rent and rates, and selling books enables me to do that.  Otherwise I would have a completely different sort of environment.  If I were to win the lottery, that’s what I would do – something that doesn’t involve commerce.  The books and the people who want to read them and who want to meet other people who like books – those are the things that matter.  My life would be transformed if it weren’t for the financial side of things – I am sure that’s true for many or even all of us!  I don’t enjoy the business side of things one tiny bit.  But I am proud of my little bookshop, on all sorts of levels, and the good thing about charging for books is that at least they retain some sort of value; one of the big problems in the arts is that we don’t value them enough, we expect free live music in bars, we prefer to buy discounted books than support authors and independent bookshops and small publishers, we think they are some sort of extra, when in fact the arts are intrinsic to the health and richness of any society.  We cannot live without them.  I for one do not want to live without them.  And in a tiny way, I am trying to promote this very big idea.

So I make no apology for selling second-hand books, neither to authors nor to customers.  I think it’s a good thing.  I think second-hand bookshops are vital, for keeping books in circulation especially when they go out of print, for the serendipity they provide in browsing shelves of unexpected things, for promoting the idea that books are valuable objects and for doing all this on the high street, as part of sustaining healthy communities.

As we celebrate five years of being in business, and despite being financially worse off in my 50s than I have ever been before, I am as committed to all of this as I ever was, and with so much of myself now invested in it, I hope to be in business another five years from now.

Happy reading!

Live music – let’s keep it happening!

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Ashley Hutchings

Live music is the best.  It really is!  We are so lucky to live in an age where recorded music is so easily available, from an increasing number of sources.  But fabulous though that is, it can make us complacent.  Live music is a whole different sort of experience.  As many of you know, I am a huge fan of Bob Dylan and of Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds, and having seen both live last year, I am still feeling the impact of those concerts.  If you doubt the reality of any kind of spiritual element to life, go and see Nick Cave live.  Or a great symphony orchestra.  Or live opera.  It is far removed from even the most wonderful time spent listening to recorded music, however good your stereo system.

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Emily Barker

Here at the Tree House, live music has always been part of what we do.  Our aim is to bring people together through literature and all the arts, but books and music are our two chief means of doing that.  The day we opened, we had a fantastic jazz trio, and that set the standard.  As well as our monthly open mics, when anyone can take part, we have regular gigs by professional musicians who are usually on national or even international tours – occasionally they just come because I ask them.  We’ve had amazing people: the biggest name has to be Ashley Hutchings, founder member of Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span, among many other accolades.  But hosts of fabulous musicians: Emily Barker, The Little Unsaid, Duotone, Ange Hardy, Lukas Drinkwater and Tobias ben Jacob, Siobhan Wilson, and so many more.  Local genius Wes Finch has played several times, with a variety of collaborators – he really deserves to be better known, he’s a brilliant songwriter and performer.  Sorry to leave people out, but in five years, we’ve had a lot.  The above are all people who have been described as ‘off the scale’ or something similar by the audiences.

It’s wonderful to go and see major acts in a big stadium, but there is something very special about intimate gigs like ours.  Sometimes there is no amplification at all (as with Emily Barker, pictured) and that’s very special.

But putting on gigs is harder work than it might seem, and this is one aspect of running the Tree House that I do alone, which is truly hard work.  From booking and corresponding with musicians, deciding who to book, deciding what fee to agree to, to marketing the event and selling tickets, to hosting on the night – putting out chairs, making sure musicians are OK, making sure refreshments are sorted (basic, but all still needs sorting), checking tickets, sorting out the lights, and more, it’s a lot of work and occasionally quite stressful.  The hardest thing is persuading people to buy tickets in advance – but without this happening, the future of any live music gigs is in jeopardy.

This is not an issue specific to us – I chat to enough musicians and venue owners on social media to know that it’s a constant struggle everywhere in the UK.  It’s understandable to a degree, but it can be frustrating.  Often people turn up on the night simply expecting that there will be tickets, but sometimes we have to turn them away – other times, we are hoping desperately that people *will* turn up on the night.  When major artists announce gigs, you have to be online at a certain time to book them, and they sell out sometimes in minutes, usually on the first day.  I don’t mean that our gigs have that much clout, but something between that and our current predicament would be good.

This Friday, 13 July, we have the wonderful Anne-Marie Sanderson playing for us.  Quite a few regulars are away; some are going to protest against Donald Trump’s visit; but generally ticket sales have been slow.  So if you are around on Friday, and perhaps haven’t been to a gig at the Tree House before, why not come?  It’s only £8.  You can bring your own wine or beer; we can offer tea and coffee and we will have some non-alcoholic cold drinks as the weather is so warm.  Anne-Marie’s latest EP is songs based on books, which makes it all the more wonderful for us as a bookshop.

Below are some tasters of her beautiful songs and lovely voice.  She is just back from touring in Europe, and it would be great to give her a very warm welcome to Kenilworth.  We do need to sell more tickets, though…and if you want to keep seeing top quality professional musicians in an intimate venue right here in the town centre, then consider buying your tickets in advance.  You can buy online or in person at the bookshop.

Treehouse of Stories – launch event

mattWe are thrilled that poet Matt Black will be working with us over the summer and into the autumn, funded by West Midlands Readers’ Network.  Matt will be hosting poetry and storytelling sessions in the bookshop and down by the swimming pool/play area in Abbey Fields, and there will be other events and activities over the summer.  He and Tree House bastion John Watson are even building a treehouse to go inside the Tree House, big enough for Matt to sit inside and read stories!

We are launching this initiative on Saturday 30 June, from about 12.30 until about 4pm, with live music from the fabulous Hatstand Band, a cartoon drawing working (1.15pm) with artist Okse, poetry, free tea and cake, and more.  We will incorporate watching the Carnival parade as it passes by at around 2.45pm.

Do come and join in the fun!

Books by post

tree-house-figureIf you’re in the UK but don’t live locally, we can send you books in the post – just £6 for two paperbacks, £10 for four, including p&p.  You can see if we have specific books, suggest genres or just let us surprise you.  It’s a great way to support the Tree House as well as get the best kind of parcel in the post.  Use the box below to get in touch – treat yourself or send books to a friend!