Did you know that I am a DJ as well as a bookseller and Kenilworth’s most famous art historian? (The latter title bestowed by Neil and Gayle, my great friends and fellow DJs, hosts of the wonderful Brunch with the Bradleys.) I do two shows on local internet station Radio Abbey, one about books and folk music, one a celebration of nostalgic tunes from my youth – meant to get everyone dancing! Here is this week’s episode of both. BookFolk is on a Monday from 1-2pm, Old School Disco! is on Tuesdays from 6-7pm. You can also Listen Again later.
We have had art lectures at the bookshop pretty much as long as the bookshop has been open (which, as an aside, is an amazing six and a half years!). Mostly these have been evening lectures, but we are often asked about the possibility of daytime talks. So this autumn there are art history talks on Monday mornings at 11.
The lecturer is me! I am an art historian as well as a bookseller, with a PhD from Bristol University and 20 years of lecturing experience. I still do a bit of professional teaching, but online (for Oxford University), which means I can do it from home in my pyjamas…perfect! But now that we have the new projection equipment, lectures are even easier at the bookshop. And even though it means I have to get dressed, it is all good fun.
Sometimes people say they feel daunted, and don’t come because they think it will be too highbrow or because they haven’t looked at paintings before. But my lectures are informal, friendly, inclusive – suitable for all levels of knowledge, which sounds a tall order, but it isn’t really.
My specialisation is in the art of Northern Europe in the Renaissance (15th and 16th centuries), but I do a few other things as well, including tracing what I call the Northern Tradition through the Dutch 17th century, German Romanticism in the early 19th century, and into the 20th century, and of course I look at Italian Renaissance and late medieval art too. This all sounds very grand, but the key is simply taking a painting and looking at it, and that’s what a lecture is for: you can read about art in books and on the internet, you can go to galleries, but a lecture gives you the opportunity to explore and discuss and ask questions and spend time looking closely with a guide and some fellow-explorers. Paintings – and the labels that go with them – become much less daunting when you do this.
I have mentioned paintings, but my PhD subject was sculpture, which in Germany is an incredible thing in the Renaissance, and prints, which grew out of the development of printed books in the 15th century. It’s all marvellous!
So if you’re free on a Monday morning, do come along at 11 o’clock – or if you prefer an evening talk, I still do those on Tuesday evenings once or twice a month. Lectures are £8 on the door, including coffee/tea, and last about an hour plus time for questions.
This coming Monday, 28 October, I’ll be talking about the greatest European painter of the 15th century: Rogier van der Weyden. A bold claim, but a genuine one! Why have you heard of Botticelli, who is not as good nor as important/influential, but not of Rogier van der Weyden? I can tell you that too if you come along.
Victoria (aka Dr Vic, or Doc Tors as some Bristol friends used to call me!)
There is a lot going on at the bookshop this autumn…to be kept up to date, it’s a good idea to join our mailing list! I am not the world’s most efficient promoter (ahem…) but the more avenues you follow to find out what’s going on, the less likely you are to miss something! So if you’re on Facebook or Twitter, do follow the Tree House Bookshop there too, and I will be working extra hard to keep all the different media up to date.
This Friday we are launching our new film club with a free screening of The Philadelphia Story. We’d love a few more to sign up to the club to pay for the licence! Our new equipment is working very well, it’s a joy to use – thank you to Mustard Presentations of Coventry for an excellent job! – and the films and lectures we have had so far have elicited very positive responses from the audiences. So do join us on Friday if you can! Film starts at 7.30pm.
More soon about other things that will be happening!
Our live music gigs have been fantastic this year – all of them sell-outs, and word seems to be getting around! We only book professional musicians, usually on national (or international!) tours, as well as a few local bands and performers who we think are good, and the quality of the acts we book seems to be paying off.
We have two coming up very soon, in quick succession, both major names on the folk scene, so I am very excited. Jack Rutter is coming on Sunday 12 May and Kim Lowings on Friday 17 May, as a duo with her father Andrew Lowings. Tickets are available from the bookshop or online, and advance booking is strongly recommended.
Have a look at our Live Music tab under Events at the top of the page to see what else is coming up; everyone on it is superb (otherwise we wouldn’t book them!).
Anyway – here are Jack and Kim to whet your appetites!
I know it seems early, and I always used to hate it when shops started bleating on about Christmas when summer was barely over, but as a retailer (of sorts!), I now realise why they have to. Maybe not all of them…but some Christmas things need preparation.
Every year we offer an Advent Calendar of Books: 24 individually wrapped books, one to open each day up to Christmas Eve. We tailor them to specific requests, and can do them for any age – last year we did one for a gentleman in his 80s and one for a baby who wasn’t born when his mother ordered the calendar, and most age groups in between! We charge £12 for children up to 12, £15 for 13-15 and £25 for 16 and over (adults), which reflects the differences in price we usually charge for the books. These are a bargain though! You can tell us the gender of your children, their reading ability, anything really, and within reason we will try to meet requests – each one is done to order. You can do a shared one, and we will wrap books for different ages in different paper so that each child knows which is theirs. For adults, we intend them to be fiction only, but we might be able to accommodate some non-fiction calendars, it just depends what we have in stock at any one time, as all our books are donated. We get loads of fiction and children’s books, so are confident about providing good things in those categories! Just email me for any more info or to place an order.
They are lovely because they have real substance, you have the excitement of opening an actual gift each day, and there’s no temptation to rip the back off and steal all the chocolate! (Not that we had chocolate ones when I was growing up – the books bring back some of the magic, I think!) It’s something that builds excitement leading up to Christmas but in a way that helps to satisfy it too! A present every day – who doesn’t want that?
But grown-ups also treat themselves, and while 24 novels might seem a lot, it will keep you going for a bit! Or you can share them with friends.
In short, it is something intended to add to the magic of Christmas – which I adore! – and to give those you love lots of books with an element of surprise.
We can post them out, though obviously P&P is extra – let me know if you’d like that, and I can let you know postage costs. For little children it’s not too bad, as the books are thin and light, but as they parcels get bulkier, the price of postage goes up.
So – if you want an Advent calendar with a difference, one with real substance and magic, some extra fun at Christmas – do send me an email. You can collect at your convenience, and pay on collection, but the more time we have to get them ready, the better.
For 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.
I 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!