Further thanks

bookshopInevitably when you thank a large number of people, you forget someone.  Or more than one.  I think these people should take it as a compliment – it means they are so much a part of the furniture that life is unthinkable without them.  (That sounds better than being taken for granted…)

There are three important people that I left out of my ‘thank you’ post, and as compensation they get a post to themsleves.

So – huge thanks to John Shaw, Andy Jones and Michael Burdett.  John contacted me when he first heard I was thinking of opening the Tree House, and we arranged an assignation by the door to the clock tower…no trenchcoats or brown envelopes, but the start of an extremely supportive relationship between John and the Tree House.  He has helped in all sorts of ways, including buying Tree House vouchers for his friends for Christmas (a great idea, in case you’re stuck for ideas!), selling his own secondhand books through us in the old shop, chatting through lots of ideas, and frequent contributions when we were nearing crisis points.  He also comes to lots of our events, which is wonderful.

Andy Jones was our neighbour in the old shop when the wonderful Town & Country Furniture was at Abbey End.  Our existence is unthinkable without him.  There is not much else to say, but he still calls in regularly, still helps out with practical things when he can, and while I miss his daily visits and having him as a business neighbour, he is at least still around to cheer us on our way.  He is part of the fabric.

Michael Burdett called in one day because I was following him on Twitter – he is the genius behind the Strange Face Project, and as  Nick Drake fan, I was fascinated by it.  He was on his way to Coventry, I think, and called in to see if I’d be interested in hosting his Strange Face talk.  He left us with a poster of Billy Bragg listening to Nick Drake to put in the window, came back to give his talk some weeks later, and has now given it three times.  It makes me cry every time. He takes no fee for it, and so supports the bookshop in a practical way, and has become a lovely friend, calling in occasionally on his way through, keeping in touch, and always generous on many levels.

These three typify the spirit of the support the Tree House gets – they all see it as something worth supporting, and support it in their different but equally practical ways – as well as being lovely people to have around, which is also crucial.  It’s lonely running a business, and these guys help combat the loneliness!

Thank you to them, and continued thanks to those who are still with us, behind us, beside us, even in front of us – we’re surrounded by supporters, looking out for our interests and making the Tree House the magical place it continues to be, against all odds.

As you were…

gigAs most of you will know by now, the recent changes I referred to a couple of blog posts ago have fallen through.  Sometimes it becomes clear that things are not going to work out, and business is often a risky thing, especially on the high street.  Things are unpredictable.  While the recent change may have seemed a good solution to our crisis a few weeks ago, it was clearly not meant to be – and we have unexpectedly been given another chance to carry on with what we’ve always done at the Tree House: focus on building community through books and the arts.  This seems a very positive thing despite the difficulties!  I am meeting with the landlord on Monday, and all being well, we will carry on and the support during the last week has been fantastic – loads of books donated, and good book sales each day.  We will start regular evening events again very soon, but I want to get the books sorted first – those who have been in will know that there are lots of empty shelves and books everywhere, it’s very similar to when we first opened!

It is not easy running a small, independent, high street business – especially when the heart of that business is not commercial.  We do need to strengthen our commercial activity, but not at the expense of the more important things – making books accessible and affordable and offering great quality cultural events to our town, bringing people together and cementing friendships.  Community, for us, means sharing experiences and exploring ourselves, our humanity, our place in the word through the arts.

It’s so exciting to be given another chance, however daunting the finances.  We still have an imminent crisis – we have only two weeks of the month in which to raise the rent and rates, due on 1 September – that’s £1700.  There is a little left in the bank from before the recent brief takeover, and we’ve had a good first week since we regained the business, but it’s going to be touch and go.  However, I will do my best and there is certainly no lack of support!

If you wish to support us with a donation, however small, we have a fundraising page; if you are local and have books you are going to get rid of, we always need donations – DVDs too; and we have a programme of amazing music and exciting performers coming up in the next few months.  First up is the wonderful Mark Harrison, blues singer/guitarist and a very engaging guy, this Friday, 26 August.  I know it will be a great night.  Tickets are just £10, online or from the bookshop, and there are just 12 tickets remaining – see our Events and Buy Tickets tabs for more details.  Live music is such an amazing experience, especially in an intimate setting such as the bookshop, so I hope you can join us.

It’s not going to be easy, but life rarely is.  Certainly things that are truly worthwhile rarely are.  I believe we have something a bit different, something life-enhancing and even a bit magical to offer at the Tree House, and I am hoping we can take it forward and strengthen the foundations of what we have begun.

Thank you, thank you

th2As the Tree House enters a new era, I want personally to thank lots of people who have made it possible for us to survive as long as we did as a non-profit venture.  It is three years since we opened our doors for the first time, and it’s some achievement to have provided the kind of place we have for that long in a difficult time for small high street businesses, and that’s thanks to a lot of people.  I hope I don’t forget anyone!

Thank you to a fabulous team of volunteers.  Tom the Philosopher and Pauline have both been part of the Tree House from the start – both discovered us when I had a stall at Kenilworth market, before we opened, and are still very much at the heart of things.  Tom has sorted and shelved books on a weekly basis, Pauline set up Nifty Needles (still going strong) and used to help out on Saturdays before a hugely busy life and growing army of grandchildren took over.  Angela came to our opening night jazz concert – her son Ben helped me to set it all up in the first place – and has also been part of the team ever since, invaluable on so many levels.  Vicki joined soon after, as a member of Nifty Needles initially, and then as a fantastic volunteer at the shop, and also organising the monthly craft fairs.  In the new shop, Geraldine, Janet and Ginny have been helping out on a weekly basis, supportive in all sorts of ways including giving hours to work in the shop.  Paul has been amazing – always willing to lend a hand, providing bookcases and furniture, including the chairs we use for our events, and helping in too many ways to mention – a true stalwart.  He and Andy – another constant source of help – moved all our books when we had to close, and Paul stored them in his warehouse.  John has been a star, doing various DIY jobs, providing lovely touches to decorate the place, and helping out sometimes to give me a couple of hours off.  Kim has helped sort out and keep the children’s section tidy and well stocked.  Andrew has put bookcases together.  Thank you so much to all of them – I am missing having this team around me!  Not that they have gone anywhere, of course.

Thank you to Lewis and Charlotte, who came to see me saying they would like to set up a regular open mic event, the Tree House Sessions, to support the bookshop.  It was a success from the start, and is still going strong, pretty much fortnightly, and has brought amazing people to the bookshop (including Lewis and Charlotte themselves!).  We have such a great night, never knowing quite what to expect, but always so supportive, congenial, fun.  Next one is on 30 July, come and see for yourself – audience members always very welcome!

Karen came on board early on to help me with the business side of things (a thankless task!) and was a rock, and then and since has given very generously of her time and energies.

Emma painted our fascia sign, which we brought with us from the old shop and still hangs over the door.

Thank you to amazing musicians who have graced the bookshop, and often helped out financially by generously working with our financial limitations.  The fabulous Ange Hardy donated a free gig to help us when we re-opened in the new venue, having already given us a generous deal on her gig at the old venue.  Daria Kulesh, Sarah McQuaid, Steve Kershaw (with Leonid and Nick Vintskevich) all compromised on fees when we needed that – I don’t take such generosity lightly. Daria even worked in the bookshop for a couple of hours to allow me to escape!  Romany Pie have given two free gigs, Andrew Sharpe and his colleagues – Amy Kakoura, Harriet Guy, Lana MacIver, the Somerville Gents – have played for much less than they deserve.  Jez Hellard gave an amazing gig for next to nothing.  Thank you to all the musicians who have played, in both venues, it’s been an honour.  It was when we recently had to cancel our first music gig, the wonderful and incredibly supportive Red Shoes, that I realised things really were starting to get a bit too difficult.

Many I can’t thank by name, but you know who you are – all those who have contributed financially, right from the start, via crowdfunding, donations, patron scheme – faithful supporters who I hope will see that although the ethos of the bookshop has changed, it will continue and all because of the support you have given that has got us this far.  My family have provided vital support when things got tough financially!  I have rarely been paid out of the bookshop takings, and making ends meet has been a challenge, but family and friends have been extremely generous.

And of course to those who have donated books through the three years – our bread and butter.  I hoped to get to the point where I could buy books and improve the stock we had, in terms of trying to make sure we had all sorts of things that people asked for, rather than only relying on what we were given, but in fact that’s partly what made the old Tree House what it was.  Hit and miss – or eclectic! – never knowing what you’d find in the bags and boxes people delivered to us, loving it when unexpected treasures (not financial ones, but things we loved to sell!) were discovered.  To the cake providers too – especially Tamsin, who has not yet had a mention, but regularly brought us the most amazing homemade cakes and biscuits.  Her custard creams are to die for.  Blessed are the cakemakers.  Tamsin has also been a supporter from the market stall days, and made origami roses and all sorts of lovely things.

Thank you to our current landlords at Berkeley House, who took a risk on us and have been more supportive than any commercial landlords I could imagine.  They are genuinely great people.

Thank you to Warren Ellis, mighty musician, who responded with enthusiasm when I tentatively asked if he might consider being our patron.

So it’s been a huge team effort, and I’m sure I’ve forgotten people…I will add you in if I have!  Thank you to everyone.  We are carrying on, with a new owner for the bookshop – the wonderful Astley Book Farm – so we are in much more secure hands as a business, and we will still be able to host events in the evenings to keep building community around the cultural treats we have to offer.  I am working on a new programme of events, taking a couple of weeks off as it’s been all-consuming and stressful for a long time and I’ve been quite tired!  But from August we will have things back up and running again in the evenings.

The newly-revamped bookshop will be amazing – it will take a few weeks to get it sorted (you’ll notice some changes already), but is going to be a huge asset to Kenilworth.  A huge (inadequate) thank you to Viv at Astley Book Farm for coming to our rescue at a critical time.  Viv has long been a supporter – she came across the day we opened in the old shop with a bottle of champagne, amazing!  And I hope the evening events will continue to be an asset too.

Thanks so much, everyone – hope to see you at the bookshop very soon!

 

Secure future for the Tree House

bookshopA lot can change in a week – this year has certainly shown us that.  It’s no different here at the Tree House: a couple of weeks ago we found ourselves at a point where survival seemed impossible, but last week salvation came in the shape of the fabulous Astley Book Farm near Bedworth, the largest second-hand bookshop in the Midlands, and a popular haunt for some of our volunteers and regular customers.  Owner Vivienne Mills (we even have the same initials!) appeared on the scene like some sort of angel and offered to take on the bookshop.  It was too good an offer to refuse, especially as I will be able to carry on working here (three days a week) and will still be able to run our evening events.

It means the Tree House will no longer be a Social Enterprise – in other words, it’s no longer a non-profit community venture, but will be run as a commercial second-hand bookshop.  Vivienne has been running Astley Book Farm for 12 years and it is thriving, so we are in very good hands!  It is a huge relief to know that the bookshop is now much more financially secure.  Things are already changing in terms of the stock, and it will be an excellent second-hand bookshop – something in itself of real value to Kenilworth.

The community side of things will continue via our evening events, and I will have more time and energy to focus on organising those.  We are having a bit of a break at the moment, but I am putting together a new programme of music, lectures, films and literary events, and will publish those soon.  For advance notice and earlybird tickets when available, you can subscribe to our mailing list (see the tab above for this).

So there is still lots of potential for us to continue to bring people together through literature and the arts, and to bring live music and other wonderful things to the people of Kenilworth.  This is all thanks to Vivienne and Astley Book Farm.  Hurray!

Book donations: We are no longer taking donations of books – we now buy books, so if you have books you are getting rid of, call in on a Tuesday or Thursday and have a chat with Vivienne, or bring them to her on those days.

Tea/coffee: We have also stopped offering tea and coffee – this was always an informal arrangement, and while refreshments will still be available at evening events, it is not possible to carry on providing them during the day.

It’s all very exciting, I hope you will continue to follow us in this new chapter and call in whenever you can.  I have a lot of people to thank for getting us this far, but will do that in a separate post.

Europa

th2Tomorrow, the UK goes to the polls to decide whether or not we will remain part of the European Union.  I really hope we stay in, but whatever happens, we will always be a part of Europe, whether or not we belong to the EU.  There will be difficulties to overcome either way, but I read this article by Clive James this morning, and it conveys so beautifully why I so strongly want to stay.  Clive James is, of course, Australian, but has spent most of his adult life in Europe, and this essay is a glorious study of what it means to be a part of European culture and enriched by it, and it’s the cultural ties that make me want to stay more than any other issues.  It takes a lot of work to make a union successful, but some unions are worth working for.  This article is just beautiful – and engaging and witty in a way that only the great Clive James can be.  The reason I am not a writer is that I can’t write like this, and it doesn’t seem worth doing anything less.

So do read it – click on the photo below. Regardless of the referendum, it’s a brilliant study of European culture and what it means both to be a part of it and to be inspired and influenced by it.  Amidst all the posturing and painfully superficial internet memes, this piece shines like the sun.

clive james

Clive James and his wife Prue – click on the photograph to read his beautiful, witty, brilliant celebration of European culture and literature.

Crowdfunding

bookshop

Click on the image for the link to our crowdfunder campaign!

Today we’ve launched a very ambitious campaign – trying to raise £5000 for the bookshop in just six weeks…  So many have given generously in the past, and I don’t want to ask the same people to keep giving, but we now have a lot of followers on Twitter and Facebook, and if everyone shares, and maybe their friends and followers share, we could have a huge reach and the potential for lots of support!  The best way to support us is to keep spreading the word (as well as buying books, of course!), so if anyone out there is prepared to share, retweet, etc, that would be marvellous.

We are hoping for an injection of cash to boost our ongoing efforts to raise our game a little and make our regular income stronger.  The crowdfunding is to help enable us to survive, and to provide funds for things such as producing some good publicity material (flyers, bookmarks, postcards and more) and a window graphic to make it clearer who and what we are, renewing our PRS and Film licences so that we can carry on playing music and showing films, improving the lighting (those who have visited know it’s a bit basic and there are several bulbs/lights that need replacing!), sorting out our hot water boiler to help with washing up, so that we can perhaps do more in terms of offering refreshments, and other things besides.  If we raise enough, I want to go beyond these necessities and make the bookshop itself – the physical space – a lovelier, more magical place than it already is.

So please do have a look at the campaign, and please click here and share the link as much as you can.  The link will stay at the top right of our homepage here, linked through the image of the bookshop, and you can share on various social media sites directly from the crowdfunding page.  We get to keep whatever pledges we raise in the next six weeks, but if we can reach our £5000 target, that would be amazing!  We have raised £90 in the first hour, so let’s see how far we can get…  Thank you in advance!  Every single share or retweet helps.

In the meantime, watch our Tree House Sessions video for inspiration!

Warren Ellis

warrenWarren Ellis is, for me, simply one of the finest musicians around.  It’s easy to talk about the finest, the best, the most anything without really discussing what that means, as often it’s about personal taste and subjective response more than anything – and I freely admit that this has to be the case here too, on one level.  I love his music, I love how he plays and how he writes music, and the persona that comes through his performances, and so I think he’s one of the finest…and subjective response is always a factor in even the most serious attempt to be objectively analytical about any kind of art.  Art, I think, defies objective analysis – that’s intrinsic to what it is.  I say that as an art historian, someone who has been trained and has tried to train others to analyse beyond a subjective response.

But sometimes a work of art, or a body of work, comes along that shows just how futile academic analysis is, how futile perhaps any analysis is, even the late night debates and arguments with friends over a few bottles of wine where we try to make sense of why we love certain things and why our taste is better than anyone else’s, including (or especially) the people we’re debating with.

It happened to me when I was doing my PhD in art history, on German limewood sculpture from around 1500.  Part of what I was looking at in my research was its neglect within art history, and even the fact that no one wrote anything about it at the time it was produced.  I eventually wrote a 75,000 word dissertation on this that the examiners seemed to like, but really I had realised that the power of this body of art – the thing that had subconsciously attracted me to it in the first place – was that it was meant to be looked at, to be meditated on, to be experienced (I’ll write all about that some other time, perhaps!), not to be written about or reduced to verbal analysis. It’s not a great thing to discover part way through a major academic research project, but I still found plenty to say.

The same is true, I think, of Warren Ellis’s music, especially his work with Dirty Three, but also very much with his film scores and even his work with Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds.

Dirty Three, though, perhaps convey most clearly what I’m trying to say.  You put on one of their records and from the opening notes you are simply engaged in the music and then quickly absorbed by it and into it and it creates feelings, thoughts, images, experiences that you can’t put into words – and don’t want to, because music is music not words.  They call their music songs, which I love, even though they don’t have words – because they nevertheless convey stories and human experience even without lyrics.  Warren often introduces them as being about something, part of his banter and interaction with both the music and his audience, but whatever they are ‘about’, the beauty of great art is that you simultaneously respect the intentions of the artist and find your own meaning in what they have created.

Warren Ellis is a multi-instrumentalist – has even created his own instrument, the tenor guitar – but it is his violin-playing for which he is best known and which for me takes his genius to its highest peaks.  He and the violin become one spiritual entity, his entire body creates the music that we hear from the instrument, and watching him play is as absorbing as listening.  Anyone who has seen him live knows how dynamic his performance is – with the Bad Seeds he would often crouch down when he wasn’t playing then literally leap into action when he was, but sometimes playing quietly, intently, often with his back to the audience.  He sometimes plays the violin like a guitar, pizzicato, the bow stuck down the back of his shirt.  With Dirty Three he hollers as the music takes hold, uses the space around him to express physically and viscerally the way the music seems to possess him.  I love the NPR Tiny Desk concert (see below) where in such a tiny space he still manages to kick out as he plays – while Mick Turner on guitar never flinches, no matter how close Warren’s shoe appears to threaten.

I love Nick Cave’s songs and his voice; I love it when he plays the piano; and sometimes I’ll be listening to a song, and I’ll be thinking that surely nothing could be more beautiful than what I’m listening to.  And then Warren’s violin comes in, and my heart finally breaks, and I realise that it could be even more beautiful, and now it is.

What am I saying?  Nothing at all really, because you have to listen to the music and watch Warren play to begin to understand what I’m on about.  But there is a reason for trying to tell you why I think he is so great.  A few weeks ago he agreed to be the Patron of the Tree House Bookshop – I wrote a nervous message, thinking I had nothing to lose, and was thrilled to the core when he said yes.

It’s not just the excitement of having a musical hero as our Patron.  It’s that he is the kind of musician that he is, which was the reason for asking him in the first place.  It’s that kind of engagement with art that is at the core of what I’m trying to convey through the bookshop – the intrinsic importance of the arts to being human, the passion that Warren exudes in performance and in conversation (you can find various interviews on YouTube), the lack of pretension in what he does and how he does it, the admiration for huge talent, and the sheer beauty of what he produces, all convey so well the sense I have that literature and the arts are fundamental to being human, to a rich, healthy society, to the way in which human beings connect with each other.nick and warren2

He also comes across as a great bloke – warm, funny, articulate, unpretentious, intelligent, full of life.  He also has one of the great beards in rock – what more could we want.

So to have Warren as our Patron is a magical, exciting, happy thing, and I am grateful that he agreed so willingly.  The bookshop now feels connected to the wider world of artistic endeavour and the power and sheer enjoyment of art that we’ve been trying to create on a parochial level.  This post is really just to introduce you to our lovely Patron!

I have interspersed this with a few clips of Warren playing, in case you haven’t listened to him before – do listen, they are all just beautiful – and I end with a lovely little interview with him and Nick (who have always been the household gods of the Tree House) – they are like a married couple, sitting there, but Nick’s short homage to Warren and the Dirty Three, that he had not heard anything like their music and that it was life-changing, is something I fully share.  Dirty Three are playing in Edinburgh in July – I can’t go, sadly, as it’s a standing-only concert and my stupid arthritic knees prevent me from standing for more than a few minutes – but if there are tickets left, you should go.  I’ll put on my CD of Ocean Songs and will be there in spirit.

**I have no photo credit for the wonderful thumbnail image at the start of this blog post, I stole it from the internet – if anyone knows who took it, please let me know!