Cancel your plans for Friday evening! You have a date with a Strange Face…

What are you doing this Friday?  You are coming to the Tree House to listen to a truly fabulous illustrated talk about Nick Drake, of course!  Why would you want to do anything else?

Warwickshire has nurtured three of England’s greatest writers in different centuries – Shakespeare, George Eliot and Nick Drake (for me, the greatest British singer-songwriter of all).  Before I opened the Tree House, when I was thinking of what to call our bookshop/community hub, I really wanted the name to be related to a Nick Drake song.  I thought of Five Leaves, Pink Moon, Northern Sky, Fruit Tree, River Man…none of them seemed right, even though I knew it would be so cool to have a Nick Drake-related bookshop name.  In the end I moved away from that idea and chose the Tree House for a number of reasons, but I still regret not naming it for him in some way.

I love Nick Drake’s music – those exquisite songs and equally exquisite voice.  He died before I even knew he existed, but he is in my top three popular musicians and I consider his record Five Leaves Left to be one of the all-time greatest records.  So I was intrigued last year to see on Twitter some references to the Strange Face Project – about one man’s adventures with a lost Nick Drake recording – and started following the Twitter account.   The project is about the finding of a tape with an unreleased Nick Drake song on it and the adventures relate to what the finder did with this.

The man leading these adventures is the very lovely Michael Burdett, London-based musician and composer, and one day he phoned me to say he had seen my interest and wondered about coming to give his talk at the bookshop.  He then turned up one day and we had an excellent chat, arranged a date, and he left – leaving some wonderful photographs behind.  We used the one of Billy Bragg listening to the recording as our window display for quite a while.

Strange Face

Michael came and gave his talk just over a year ago, and it was fabulous.  It’s hard to convey quite why it’s so fabulous, especially without giving too much away, but ultimately it’s a story about the power of a piece of music – the impact it has on individuals and the way it connects people.  The illustrated show was informative, funny, fascinating and very moving – the material is great, but Michael’s delivery is also fantastic.  He is warm, funny, engaging, generous and passionate.

He went on to take the show to the Edinburgh Fringe, where it (unsurprisingly) won the award for Best Free Show.

He has also become a friend of the Tree House.  He lives in London, but from time to time has appeared in the shop doorway bearing cake and good cheer.  When we reopened I knew I wanted him to come back and give the talk again, and am thrilled that he agreed to do so, and he wants it to be a means of supporting the Tree House.  He has revised and expanded the show, which he is taking to Edinburgh again this year, along with other festivals over the summer.

But he is coming here first!  This Friday, 19 June, 8pm.  You’d be crazy to miss it.

Tickets are £5, in advance or on the door, and included is a £2 voucher to spend in the shop.  We would love a really good audience for this – it deserves to have the bookshop packed to the rafters.  Please come, please bring your friends, please spread the word if you can’t come (or even if you can).  You don’t have to be a Nick Drake fan to enjoy this event, though if you are it will make it all the more brilliant an evening.  If you have friends who don’t know Nick’s music, bring them along – perfect opportunity to introduce them.

There are only 40 tickets available, so contact us if you want to reserve some.  More details in the poster below.

Whatever you do and whyever you do it, just come along – it will be a truly lovely evening at a bargain price (you can give more if you want to!), and you will be supporting the bookshop as well as having the best time.  What more could you ask for on a Friday evening?

Strange Face at Treehouse 2 new postcode

The books are in!

…still in boxes, but they are in!  And we have some bookcases – need more, but a good start.  Here is a slideshow of the current state of affairs in the new premises.

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Huge, huge thanks to Paul Seward at E-Warehousing who has very kindly stored our books and some other bits and pieces and heroically delivered them to the new shop yesterday, along with some bookcases and some other excellent furniture.  And also huge thanks to Lewis, Charlotte, Tom, Vicki, Naomi and Andrew who have done fantastic work unloading, cleaning and helping in all sorts of ways.

We should be able to reopen quite soon, even before we have all the bookcases we need – as soon as books are on shelves we can start selling them!  And showing films and offering cups of tea…  We are also already planning a Mindfulness taster session and eight-week course and there will be an evening of entertainment on Friday 1 May to relaunch the Tree House officially – more news on all these things in due course.

The focus will be very much on books.  We have a bit less space than in the other shop, so will be a little more restricted – and therefore selective – in what books we can put on display, and we have learned from the last shop what does and doesn’t sell well in Kenilworth.  But we will generally make the focus on books even clearer than before – we would like more literary events, and the Film Club, the Mindfulness courses, lectures (on art, literature and history) and the live music will be the core of our evening offerings.  We won’t be running craft workshops (though we will still have our Wednesday evening social group for needlecrafters) nor using the bookshop for other groups or sessions, and we won’t have wifi – we want to encourage books rather than the internet!

What we will have is a warm, inviting place, centred around books and the arts and with a concern for the environment.  The generosity of all those who have contributed to our crowdfunding and the enthusiasm of the many who have called in or waved through the window over the last few days shows that the momentum within the community has not been lost and we look forward to continuing to offer a place where community can grow.

Happy Easter to everyone – as one of our regulars said, it seems appropriate that the Tree House is being resurrected at this time of year!

We’re in!

Well, two days ago I signed the lease on the new premises and yesterday I picked up the keys – we’re in!  The Tree House will be taking over the former Picture Shop on Warwick Road, near the clock tower.  Our lovely hand-painted sign from the old premises is now in the window to let people know – eventually it will be incorporated into the fascia sign above the window.

window sign

So we will now retrieve our books from storage – thank you so much to Paul Seward at E-Warehousing for storing our books and the sign and some bits of furniture (and the tree!).  We hope to be up and running very soon.

A huge thank you to all the humblingly generous people who have contributed to our crowdfunding (which is still ongoing!) – you have made it possible for us to secure the lease and get started.  The Round Table have also made a very large donation to help us get the fascia board changed and buy some of the furniture we need, including bookcases.

If you walk past and see us in there, do call in and say hello!  We hope to have the Film Club back up and running very soon and are already planning our next Mindfulness course.  You can join our mailing list if you haven’t already to be kept up to date with events.  Some fabulous musicians already planning to come and play for us!  But mostly it’s about the books, and we will have those for sale as soon as we possibly can.

shop window

Lots more Tree House ideas

treehouselogo-copy6.pngStill no premises, but I’m developing lots of lovely ideas, building on the launch of the Film Club in May.  There are two or three potential venues in the town centre, and I am hoping that the article in this week’s Kenilworth Weekly News will have aroused some level of interest, however small.  These ideas are a way of establishing the project even in the absence of a physical shop.  It may even be that the best thing is to use other venues for these clubs and activities, and then I will only need a small site for the bookshop – maybe there is a business in Kenilworth that has some space they would like to sublet, even temporarily until I can find suitable permanent premises!  That would be great.

Here are some of the events I am thinking of setting up:

The Tree House Story Club – afternoons of stories and bookish activities for pre-school children

Tree House Talks  – talks and discussions mostly on art and its history, though volunteers for talks on other subjects always welcome

The Tree House Senior Citizen Book Swap – afternoons for sharing books and chatting over tea and cake

The Tree House Film Festival – a day at the movies, a mixture of short films and feature films, including talks and discussion

The Tree House literary festival – talks, writing workshops, book discussion

Student equivalents of both the above, to engage university students with The Tree House

All of these could be accompanied by book sales – I don’t want to lose sight of the fact that the main aim is to open a second-hand bookshop!

If any of this sounds good, do get in touch – good to gauge support, also good to have any offers of voluntary help!

Show me the money!

mier_prod-1 blueToday is another big day for The Tree House – I have an appointment this morning with a financial adviser/accountant.  This is great – really moving forwards.  I know the figures I have may not impress him as much as they might, though!  I am not good with figures.  But I need to convince him that the business will work – something I really am convinced of, so I need to use that confidence to good effect!

I still need around £7000, I think, to put together a really strong case, so am also of course still looking for grants, cheap loans, rich benefactors…  I know it will happen, though.  I am determined to get the premises I have found, I never expected to find anything quite so perfect in the centre of Kenilworth, so I am pressing on (through the slush this morning!) in the belief that the money is there somewhere.

I am hoping that once I have seen the accountant, I will be in a position to register the business, and am also hoping to talk very soon to an organisation in Coventry that can help me set up the shop as a co-operative.  Then I will be able to launch the shares, advertise properly in Kenilworth itself, and indeed in Warwickshire, to get the local community on board and involved.

So even if my business rookiedom fails to completely convince the accountant, I still believe wholeheartedly in the project – as a business, not just as something I think would be great to have in Kenilworth – and this morning will be an important step forward in bringing The Tree House to reality.

Please do what you can to spread the word, and let me know if you have any financial brainwaves for raising a few thousand pounds!

Su Blackwell’s exquisite book sculptures

su-blackwell-book-sculpture.jpegIsn’t this beautiful?  Just wanted to share it.  It even has a tree house!  Su Blackwell’s book sculptures are just exquisite – have a look at more examples here:

I can’t stop looking at them, especially the ones with lots of trees.  (Did I mention anywhere that I love trees…?)

A new small business and community venture for Kenilworth

mier_prod-1 (2)Hello!

I am writing this on a day when a number of high street retailers have gone into receivership.  Doom and gloom abound regarding the future of books and bookshops.  Yet I am still excited about my new venture: to open a not-for-profit secondhand bookshop in Kenilworth.  Am I crazy?  Almost certainly, but not in a bad way.

What makes me think this is a good idea?  Well, I don’t for one moment believe that the death knell has been sounded for the supposedly humble book.  Yes, e-readers are offering a challenge – though I would say they complement rather than damage conventional books. The book is surely one of the greatest pieces of technology in the modern world.  Simple, easy to use, portable, aesthetically pleasing and more besides.  A book is a satisfying object on an intellectual, practical and emotional level.  What more do we want from technology?

There is still a vast number of books not available electronically, and also a vast number out of print that will probably never be available electronically.  I believe there is still a place on the high street for a good, quality-driven secondhand bookshop, and that is what I aim to set up.  A bookshop that stocks as wide and deep a variety of stock as I can get my hands on, offering a service to try to track down any book we don’t have.  A bookshop that promotes the intellectual and social benefits of literature and reading.  A bookshop that brings together all sectors of the community to enjoy these benefits.

I envisage a space that will draw people of all ages to come in and browse, enjoy a cup of coffee or tea as they do so, where they will want to spend time.  A space where the focus is very much on books and reading, but where we can host small scale community events – talks, readings, writing workshops, music events, films and more, by and for local people.  Storytelling afternoons for children, a space for people who want somewhere to write, competitions, raffles, quizzes for all ages, with prizes selected from other local independent retailers and businesses.  The ideas are still developing.  All profits once overheads and staff wages are met will go to local charities and events.

To start with, we are going to organise regular coffee afternoons, probably at Jubilee House (the council are giving me wonderful support and help!), where books will be on sale and different book-related talks and activities will take place to give a flavour of the enterprise and to establish ourselves while we find a suitable permanent site.  Please check back or follow this blog for details of these – they will be advertised elsewhere too.

Some of you may have filled in my online survey, and will notice that I have changed the name of the shop – I had thought of calling it Middlemarch Books, after Warwickshire-born George Eliot’s great novel, but felt it needed something a bit snappier.  My hope is that the shop will become a bit like a tree house – a flexible space that can be a sort of den, or a quiet space, or a community space, both a retreat and a social hub.  That may all sound contradictory, but with a bit of organisation and creativity it will be possible to enable customers to use the space as they wish.

I will update this blog as things progress, and with more detail about what I hope to achieve, as well as sharing literary bits and pieces I find interesting, and posting a few things about my own love of books and reading.  In the meantime, look at the blogroll on the right of this page for links to existing fabulous independent bookshops, and watch the Scarthin Books video to be truly inspired!