Friday 26 July – ready or not

Gill Sans poster (2)The official opening day for The Tree House is now set for Friday 26 July.  Not sure if we’ll be entirely ready by then, but we’re going to open anyway…  As long as we have books on shelves and a body to unlock the doors and welcome people in, there’s no point in delaying any longer.  We might even try to sell the odd book!

The mayor is due to open the shop, but if she is not free that morning, we will have an official opening when she can be there – but the doors will open for trading at 9.30am.  The shop will be open Tuesday to Saturday, 9.30am to 5.30pm, closed on Sunday and Monday – I hope to extend those hours eventually, but that’s where we will start.

Availability of tea and coffee still needs to be sorted out, as do a few other details, but we will have books, places to sit and a programme of evening events – all we need to get started.  Do spread the word, share on Facebook, retweet, or just be radical and simply tell your friends and colleagues about it.

The Tree House is at heart a second-hand bookshop; that is its reason for being.  Around that we are planning to use the physical shop as a space to bring people together in various ways.  We hope eventually to make a profit, and when we do, those profits will be given to local charities and community events.  The overheads – which are reasonably substantial – will include a wage for me as full-time manager, and hopefully in due course will include wages for a couple of members of part-time staff, to keep it all running smoothly.  None of us are planning to make millions out of it, it is intended as a means of supporting the community both financially and in other ways, but it is also to be my full-time job.

Our first evening event is the celebration mentioned previously, an evening of storytelling and jazz on opening day, Friday 26 July from 7.30pm to 10pm (if you click on that link, there is a taster of the fabulous jazz band who will be playing).  This is free of charge, but there will be a limit on how many people we can get in the shop!  And any donations on the night towards costs and start-up funds will be graciously and willingly received – though the main thing is that people enjoy themselves.  I’ll put up a poster about it here very soon, and there are details on the Tree House Facebook page (which you can view even if you are not on Facebook) and on the website.

I am away teaching in Oxford from 13-20 July, so that gives me about two weeks to get it all shipshape…what larks, Pip!

[NB – this post has been edited to avoid confusion – I had posted an opening date which has since changed!]

A few people The Tree House needs…

Here are a few things I need for The Tree House…any suggestions very welcome!

A plumber

A handyman – someone who can wield a drill and do some bits of DIY

Someone to paint a sign to go over the door – I have metal plates that fit (from previous tenant)

Someone to collect some furniture, soon

I can find all these things in Yellow Pages and elsewhere, I know, but it’s good to get recommendations, and to find people who won’t charge the earth.  Of course I’m happy to pay going rates, but it’s all such a minefield, and I thought I’d ask in case anyone could give me some contacts!

Thank you so much to all those who have donated books, furniture and time so far – you have been amazing.  It’s all beginning to take shape – still some furniture to be removed from the shop, but hoping we will soon have all the space available.  I still need bookcases, or bits of furniture to act as book displays, but am going to the Lions store on Saturday, otherwise will buy more cheap bookcases until we can afford something a bit more robust.

Please let me know if you can help with any of the above – nothing major needs doing, just a few things to tidy up and check.  Thank you!

Friday 26th July – the telling of tales and all that jazz!

Gill Sans poster (2)The Tree House is not yet open, but it’s getting there!  It’s going to take another couple of weeks to get things ready – and as I am away for a week in mid-July (a long-standing teaching commitment in Oxford), it seems a bit daft to open it and promptly close for a week, so the proposed opening date is sometime in the week beginning 22  July.  The shop will be open Tuesday to Saturday to begin with, closed Sunday and Monday.  One day we might be open seven days a week, but let’s see how things go!

But whatever date we open, the Tree House diary does already have one firm entry – Friday 26th July, when we will be hosting an evening of storytelling and music to celebrate our opening.

Storyteller Stephe Harrop will enchant us with tales of the forest…if you haven’t heard an adult storyteller (ie telling stories for adults rather than children’s stories), come and experience how magical it can be.  The act she is doing for us is called Imagine a Forest…, and she weaves stories around some traditional European folktales.  The forest is a potent image in folklore and fairytales, and very much reflects the background to the Tree House – one of the reasons I was determined to get trees into the shop name!

She will be followed by a reduced version of the incredible Spicy Jazz, a group of top professional jazz musicians.  There are usually six of them, but because of the size of our venue they will probably be a trio – trombone/vocals, double bass, sax – though the line-up may change a little.  They will be fantastic, and after the quiet magic of Stephe’s performance, they will get us in a more outgoing, celebratory mood.

Two of them are also authors of non-fiction, so there is a bookish connection!  They are both in fact academics and will talk about their books as well as play fabulous music.

This combination sums up the Tree House for me – the magic of books and stories, the community-enhancing power of music and the arts generally.

So put the date in your diaries – there will be no tickets, but donations on the night towards the costs and the Tree House start-up funds will be very welcome!  I will put together some publicity soon, but for now, here is a bit of Spicy Jazz from their recent concert at St Nicholas Church to whet your appetites.

The electric screwdriver is recharging…this is a slightly boring blog post

Gill Sans poster (2)Tomorrow (Saturday 22 June) I am having a day in the shop with some volunteers (perhaps!), and am hoping to put together a few more flatpack bookcases and start to plan where to put them – some will obviously go round the walls, but am starting to think about how to divide up the central space too.  A couple more bits of furniture were brought in today, a lot more books were stamped, and it’s all gradually taking shape – though still quite a way to go.

I have no idea who might turn up tomorrow, if anyone other than one person who has promised to be there, so we’ll see!  But any progress is good, and we are making some each day.

If you want to help out tomorrow, do just come along to the shop – I’ll be there from about 9am to about 3pm.  If all goes to plan this evening, there will be cake!

I also need a plumber – if anyone local can recommend a reliable and not-too-expensive plumber, do let me know!  Just a couple of leaks that need checking, and a wall-mounted water heater that may or may not work.  I probably just haven’t found the right switch for it!

Plus anyone handy with a drill, to help fix bookcases to the wall, would be a welcome addition to the Tree House fold.

Anyway, off to make a cake and read and edit an online course someone is writing on Impressionism – the work that actually pays me money still needs doing!


A few photos of the inside of the shop

This is what greets you as you walk through the door - all lovingly stamped with the Tree House stamp over two mornings by Andrea and Lisa

This is what greets you as you walk through the door – all lovingly stamped with the Tree House stamp over two mornings by Andrea and Lisa


The rest of what Lisa stamped. And a few oddments…the bed is not part of the Tree House, sadly!


My cosy corner – the furniture in the background is gradually being moved out, all the stuff in the foreground is Tree House furniture.


Bookcases waiting to be unpacked and constructed.


Little bookcases – hurray for the electric screwdriver. Starting to think about where to put them.


Quite empty at the moment – hope to keep it quite an open space, but it’s definitely lacking bookshelves just now!


Ordered chaos. And an urn!


One more look across the shop from the entrance.


A magazine article by me, and some lovely bookish things in Warwickshire

Several posts ago I mentioned Here Comes Everyone, a newish magazine published by Silhouette Press to provide a forum for writers and other creative types to publish their work and network online with other writers and creative types.  It’s available online, but also in hard copy – we are going to sell copies in the shop.  It’s a local venture (local to Warwickshire), and well worth supporting.

And I’m not just saying this because I have an article in the current issue, Prophecy, just out!  I dashed this one off a bit – an article on the continuing value of books – but was delighted to be asked to contribute, and hope to contribute to future issues too.  I will be on the ball a bit earlier next time, and write something a bit more polished.  But if you want to read about why I think books will always be important, the article starts on p.22 of the latest issue.

Here Comes Everyone are also having an evening of poetry and live music at Taylor John’s House in Coventry on 29 June – more details here.  £3 for a night out with live entertainment, can’t be bad!

I would also like to mention another local second-hand bookshop that is a bit like The Tree House, based in Nuneaton.  Big Comfy Bookshop currently trades online and can frequently be found on a stall at local fairs and markets, and is also looking for shop premises.  Michael, who runs it, has now set up an online book group via Facebook, though you can see details too on his blog and you can look at the Facebook page even if you aren’t on Facebook. I mentioned the idea of starting an online book group a while back, but am much happier joining his while I have so much else to do!  So if you fancy joining a book group and chatting online once a month about the book, and are on Facebook, do join his.   We are just starting the second book, which is Neil Gaiman’s American Gods.

So happy reading!

Henry Miller on Writing

Gill Sans poster (2)Henry Miller is a writer known mostly, it seems, for writing explicitly about sex.  He struggled to get his books published, especially in his native America; he moved to Europe in the 1920s, and settled in Paris, where he found society a little less repressed, though eventually he returned home.  The first book of his I read was Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch because the title intrigued me, especially as an art historian specialising (in early days back then) in the art of the Northern Renaissance.  It’s a very engaging account of Miller’s life in California, and far from the reputation he has, it was to me a book full of wisdom and beautiful writing.  My first encounter with him was as an undergraduate studying Modern Languages, many moons ago, through a university lecturer who taught French Renaissance literature and compared Miller with Rabelais.  I have since read several of Miller’s works – including those explicit ones! – and find him simply a wonderful writer.  I always feel very close to his creative spark – which is why I find a list like the following fascinating.  These are his tips for writing – and they evoke a system that might seem to be at odds with the creative dynamism I experience when reading his work.

I think these principles also  have some value in life in general, not just for writing.  And what I particularly love is the inconsistencies – as one who makes lists and sets routines and regimens and never quite follows them…in writing, in thinking, in organising my day, in setting up a bookshop…  Number 7, for example, seems contradictory with number 11 in this list – but that is instructive in itself; clearly he wants to focus on his writing, but Miller was also a hugely sociable chap and wanted to create some kind of balance.  Black Spring, mentioned in number 2, is a novel he was writing in the 1930s.

Miller was a friend of other great writers of the twentieth century, notably Lawrence Durrell (whose Alexandria Quartet is one of my absolute favourites, in my top three novels of all time) and was also in Paris at the same time as George Orwell was writing Down and Out in Paris and London – two very different temperaments, not least in that Miller was apolitical, he felt there was no point in getting involved in politics.  That period in the middle of the twentieth century is probably the period that interests me most in terms of literature, much as I love the great era of novel-writing in the nineteenth century; Modernism produced, for me, some of the best European writing (and Henry, despite being American, had European stirrings in his writerly soul), and from the 1920s to the 1950s or early 60s is a golden age for the novel.  (Also a great era for art – painting and sculpture.)

Anyway, here are Henry Miller’s tips for writing, which, as I say, I think are interesting in terms of living life generally, not just as a writer.  Miller’s writing is beautiful, moving, earthy and dreamlike (hence the appeal of Hieronymus Bosch, no doubt), wonderfully crafted yet seemingly impressionistic, always personal.  I doubt if it is possible to feel neutral about his writing.  He is a writer’s writer, but was also a warm, life-loving person, which is conveyed in every sentence he wrote.  I find him inspirational on various levels.

1. Work on one thing at a time until finished.
2. Start no more new books, add no more new material to “Black Spring.”
3. Don’t be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is in hand.
4. Work according to Program and not according to mood. Stop at the appointed time!
5. When you can’t create you can work.
6. Cement a little every day, rather than add new fertilizers.
7. Keep human! See people, go places, drink if you feel like it.
8. Don’t be a draught-horse! Work with pleasure only.
9. Discard the Program when you feel like it–but go back to it the next day. Concentrate. Narrow down. Exclude.
10. Forget the books you want to write. Think only of the book you are writing.
11. Write first and always. Painting, music, friends, cinema, all these come afterwards.

Stress-busting is good for the soul!

Gill Sans poster (2)I wonder to what extent it’s possible to choose not to be stressed.  I know you can choose not to dwell on things, choose to do something rather than nothing, choose to think about something else…but can you choose away stress?  I don’t know, and don’t want to stress myself further by worrying about it!

But I do find that while there are times when stress can seem overhwelming, there is often a point where you realise you can still take control.  I am very stressed at the moment about the Tree House – it’s scary starting up a business on your own, despite all the wonderful moral support I get, and worries about finances, whether the project will take off, whether enthusiasm (mine and others’) will translate into actual success, etc, can threaten to overwhelm.  Yet while I have little or limited control over most of these things at the moment, I have realised that the things I can control can make a difference right away.

My big stress-busting decision this evening is that I will start selling books from the shop sooner rather than later.  I still have to do a bit of work before that can happen, but I have a shop, I have enough books to get started, and I need little else to begin with.  Work will carry on around this – fitting out the shop, arranging events, getting projection equipment for films can all be done while the shop is open for trade, even things like getting a proper cash register can wait.  I had a market stall – this is just a glorified version.

I will have a grand opening later in July, with the celebratory bash I mentioned in my previous post and a local grandee to open the shop officially, once all the shelves are in and the shop is properly set up; but there is no reason why I can’t start the core business of selling second-hand books straight away.  Events and activities will need to wait a little bit longer, but I’m now keen to get started.  I need to finish sorting and pricing books, but I really hope that I can start actually selling books by next weekend.  That’s my challenge for the week!  I need to keep raising funds, and the best way to do that is simply to start trading.

So – will keep you informed, but I do hope to have lots of lovely second-hand books for sale very soon!  And I feel less stressed tonight for having made that decision.  It’s all about taking control and focusing on what you can do rather than what you can’t.  I have either swallowed a self-help book or I need to write one…