Because her words are far more relevant than anything I could write, I’ve cut and pasted this article in its totality, but you can find the original words and all info here.
I remember quite clearly the first time I realised I might be in the wrong job.I was working as an entertainment journalist in London and, on this particular morning I was at a press junket to interview Lethal Weapon star Danny Glover.There was a long queue of journalists ahead of me so I took a book out of my bag and passed the time reading.When my interview started Danny quickly seemed bored and called his assistant over.After a brief exchange he turned back to me. “I hope you don’t mind,” he apologised, “but I’m very tired. I’m just going to stretch out on the floor for a few minutes and nap. You can stay here. We’ll resume the interview when I awake.”With that he pushed his chair aside and adopted a foetal position by my handbag.I squirmed awkwardly for several minutes, not quite sure where to look or what to do. “Oh, I should carry on with your book,” his assistant said helpfully. I didn’t need further encouragement.Anything with the power to take me away from a lightly snoring actor, a job I had no talent for and a city that overwhelmed me had my vote of confidence. I opened it and got lost.The idea for a black and cream book-flogging canal boat came a year later at the end of 2008.
By then I’d quit London and planned to move back to the Midlands with my boyfriend Stu.He was about to retrain as a joiner and I had promised to support him financially while he studied. That was easier said than done.Months later, frustrated by a string of unsuccessful media applications, I hit upon the idea of creating my own job – a dream job. I would sell books… from a boat.I knew nothing about book selling – nor boats. I found Joseph, the craft that became The Book Barge, on Google.It was the first narrowboat I viewed and I bought it immediately with a £25,000 loan from my parents. My petitions to the banks had been turned down frequently and firmly.Despite my naivety business was initially brisk. Moored at Barton Marina in Staffordshire my shop stocked a decent range of new and secondhand literature and held regular bookish events, which were well-attended.This didn’t last. My appalling inexperience, coupled with price competition from online and supermarket retailers, meant that just two years later the shop was facing closure.
Saddled with guilt and debt, I split up with my boyfriend and moved on to the boat.Tears obscuring all their titles I looked at my shelves of books and wondered how they could ever get me out of this new mess. The solution – in its simplicity – surprised even me.I set off with the boat from its permanent mooring immediately, giving myself six months to save it as well as a vestige of self-respect.I put myself entirely in the customers’ hands as I chugged a nervous figure-of-eight route around the entire country and bartered away my stock. The idea of swapping books instead of selling them made sense.Since buying the boat all domestic comforts (including toilet, shower, gas hob, bed and fridge) had been ripped out to bed, breakfast and a packed lunch.In London a gentleman offered a month’s worth of food from Sainsbury’s delivered straight to the boat, redeeming the value of his till receipt in secondhand books.In less populated places it proved harder to negotiate. Here I would often rely on fellow boaters for the use of their showers or for occasional towpath-foraged delicacies, including a particularly memorable wild flower syrup cake.By June of that year The Book Barge had attracted the interest of the national press.While I was talking to a journalist who came aboard in Hackney one afternoon a customer interrupted by making a scissors movement with her fingers.She gestured to the whiteboard hanging over my desk upon which I listed the items I needed each day and for which I was prepared to sacrifice free stock. “The haircut?” she offered.The journalist folded his arms and raised an eyebrow expectantly. “S-s-sure,” I stuttered and fetched a towel to put over my shoulders.Now I’ve been going to the same salon for years. I don’t generally let strangers hack away at it with a pair of paper-scissors, let alone untrained strangers in the middle of a busy bookshop.
Anything with the power to take me away from a lightly snoring actor, a job I had no talent for and a city that overwhelmed me had my vote of confidence
It took 10 minutes. At the end the woman responsible for the un even lengths littering the floor by my ankles grinned broadly.
With that she bagged an £8.99 paperback as payment and walked hastily out. The journalist picked up a guitar and started quietly strumming. I could just about make out the song: You Can’t Always Get What You Want.By October 2011 I had returned to the Midlands having journeyed some 1,000 miles through more than 700 locks. Determined now that I could never let the shop close, I took freelance copywriting shifts to pay off my debts and started working at a high-school library during term-time.I still live aboard. I still allow customers to barter for books as well as buy. But one thing has changed.I’m back with Stu, who has become a pretty decent carpenter.In between fitting a toilet for us, he is renovating a house in a hamlet in the middle of France. The canal runs past it and there’s a book barge-shaped mooring at the bottom of the garden. We found it for sale for just €19,000.Who knows whether we’ll sell any books there but it’s a nice place for the story to end. Or for a new one to begin.
The Bookshop That Floated Away by Sarah Henshaw
It’s always good to know that fairytales really do exist.
Laters, Kate x