Our new monthly feature of Scottish independent bookshops.
Far from the Madding Crowd is a very friendly bookshop located in Linlithgow. The atmosphere is entirely relaxed and welcoming, and very child friendly. They host many author and reading events, and boast a wide variety of ‘books & maps, gifts, toys, jewellery, cards & stationery, tea, accessories, homewares, vintage & antiques, and much more all under one roof’. It is a brilliant example of an independent bookshop that functions beautifully as a social space – it’s not just a place to buy books, it’s somewhere to meet friends and attend themed book events. We love their dedicated Scotland room!
Sally Pattle, Weekend Manager, has answered some of our most pressing questions!
Owner: Jill Pattle
Open Since: 1970s
Where can we find your bookshop?
FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD, 20 THE HIGH STREET, LINLITHGOW, WEST LOTHIAN, EH49 7AE
We’re right opposite the train station, on the high street in the heart of the town.
When did you first open your doors?
Originally known as The Linlithgow Bookshop, the shop opened its doors in the 1970s in a smaller location, also on the High Street. In 2009 we bought another bookshop in the town, and then in 2011 we moved both shops along the High Street into one, much bigger, location. We now have two floors, with all the children’s books & toys, as well as our dedicated Scotland Room downstairs.
My mother worked in the shop for a long time before buying it from the original owner about 15 years ago, so I guess you could say it’s a family affair! I also work in publishing, so there’s a great crossover – we really see the business from all angles!
What sort of books do you sell?
We sell a bit of everything. We definitely specialise in Children’s & ‘Scottish’ books – books about Scotland, or by Scottish authors, but really we stock a huge range of titles from general fiction to poetry; history to the natural world; biographies to music books – I could go on for a while! Of course we also get the latest best-sellers, and increasingly we stock ‘beautiful books’ as we’re seeing a big rise in demand for gift editions. We also offer a next day delivery service if we don’t have the particular title a customer needs; we work with several distributors, so we can usually source most titles!
What is popular at the moment?
At the moment we’re seeing a real resurgence in interest in the children’s classics – Enid Blyton, Shirley Hughes, Jill Tomlinson (of course Roald Dahl never went out of fashion!). I guess this shows they’re classics for a reason. Pirates always seem to be having a moment, so we always keep an eye out for new titles to add to the bulging section on the shelves! The Book Thief is also selling strongly because of the recent film, as is Wild by Cheryl Strayed and The Railway Man did well over Christmas – we generally see a knock on effect from Hollywood, although I’m not a fan of the trend for replacing the original book covers with stills from the films or pictures of actors!
For adults, we can’t keep anything by Peter May on the shelves for long – his beautiful Hebrides book was one of our biggest sellers over Christmas. Likewise, the stunning hardback book about the Great Tapestry of Scotland was incredibly popular over Christmas, and we were delighted that the publisher Birlinn ran a special offer which was only available in indies – things like that are really important to us.
Sally Magnusson, Kirsty Wark and Jim Naughtie all have books out at the moment, and all are selling well.
Of course, with the centenary commemorations of the First World War, we have seen a huge increase in demand for books about this period – and some stunning books have come out, Carol Duffy’s 1914: Poetry Remembers for example; also the Faber selection of War Poetry and Max Hasting’s Catastrophe have been particularly popular with us.
Have you got your eye on a book at the moment?
I’m very excited about getting home to my copy of Astragal by Sarrazin, it’s a brand new edition with an introduction by Patti Smith – can’t get better than that for me! I fell on it when it arrived this week, and have already reordered for the shop. Another new arrival is Dearest Jane – letters between Jane Torday and her father Roger Mortimer, I love a good book of correspondence like Dianan Athill’s Instead of a Book, or On Tearing Haste between Diana Mitford and Paddy Leigh Fermor.
The short answer is that we’re a human face for customers. We know our regulars and are always looking out for things that might interest them. We also know our stock – everyone who works here is passionate about books and reading, though we are all into different stuff! We take time with customers to make sure we recommend suitable titles and hand-selling is one of the best parts of the job – I love it when someone isn’t sure what they’re after, and you are able to show them a book they may never have heard of, but which you know is absolutely right for them. It can be hard sometimes, especially with people looking for gifts for children – there’s such a huge range of titles to choose from and reading ages don’t always correspond to their ‘real’ age, but again when you do find something the customer is satisfied with, it’s all worthwhile.
Perhaps more than chain retailers, we have the freedom to order in more unusual titles; we have pretty much stopped stocking mass market titles anyway, such as ‘chick lit’, as we can’t compete on the price deals that the supermarkets or other big chains offer.
We’re also a real hub for community – most of our customers like the local feel, and the fact that our stock is a bit different to what you’ll find on the high street. We sell tickets for local events, and of course we hold our own, and people know they can pop in with questions about what’s going on in the town, or just for a chat!
Aside from selling books, what else goes on in the bookshop?
We always sold a good range of non-book items, including cards, stationery and pocket-money toys, but since moving into the bigger premises we’ve been able to expand our non-book lines. We now sell jewellery (vintage and contemporary); accessories such as scarves, bags and purses; china and giftware including Scottish Fine Soaps; and we are the only local stockist for Tulchan clothing. We have a huge range of children’s toys, including Orchard Toys and Bigjigs, and have recently started selling more soft toys as we realised there was no-one else in Linlithgow now that had anything similar.
Do you have any interesting events coming up?
We hold events throughout the year, ranging in size – we normally have author talks on a Friday evening as the shop closes where we can unwind with a wee glass and some nibbles! We also do bigger events in other venues in Linlithgow – we can fit about 30 people in the shop comfortably, but it’s nice to be able to use other local sites. We recently had the world premier of Alexander McCall Smith’s latest standalone novel, The Forever Girl, and next month Jim Naughtie and Tam Dalyell will be in conversation. We also have an otter walk planned along the canal to coincide with Laurie Campbell and Anna Levin’s stunning new book, Otters, Return to the River – we like to think of something a bit different!
What does the next year hold?
We never know what’s around the corner – that’s one of the things I love most about book-selling, the Stoner phenomenon blew us away last summer for example. However, we do know that this year holds some really great events, we’ve also got Independent Bookseller’s Week – we already have a couple of authors lined up for that – then Books Are My Bag rolls around again in September. Then we have the Linlithgow Book Festival in November which we sell books at.
We’ll continue to look for great new titles, and unusual gift editions – we’re always looking to expand our list. We’re also developing our own range of branded homeware: aprons, tea cosies, tea-towels and more, all of which fits in with our ethos – this is somewhere where people can come to get away from it all for a bit; and of course pick up something to read at the same time!