June 3, 2015

Book Hive bookshop’s bright idea


Book Hive's new window awning

Book Hive’s new window awning

Books and summer usually mix pretty well. Longer nights and balmy days make for reading conditions that are close to ideal.

But for Norwich’s outstanding independent bookshop, The Book Hive, summer has always been a hellish prospect. One of the shop’s best features is a beautiful, original window that wraps around the storefront. This is brilliant for showcasing books, but when the sun shines, the books are ruined: they fade, bend and shrivel. So owner Henry Layte had an idea to combat the bright light: a bookshop awning that would shield the windows, while also advertising a handful of independent publishers.

The awning is now up, just in time for summer. And since Melville House is one of the publishers to feature on the awning, I took the opportunity to ask Henry about the new feature and The Book Hive’s ongoing relationship with indie publishers.

Tell us a little bit about The Book Hive

I set the Book Hive up five and a half years ago and it has come to be a central part of the literature scene in Norwich, which is a pretty busy scene! This is partly because of the famous UEA creative writing course but the city has a rich heritage of writers anyway which continues today – two of the staff here are published novelists. It became the launch pad for a number of writer’s careers when Galley Beggar Press was based here and continues to champion new and exciting work through what we sell as well as publish—and we have our first children’s book coming out later this year.

Being able to see the names of some great publishers across the shop front is great—it shows that they care about the relationship with bookshops as much as we care about them: we’re all in it together!

Where did the idea for the awning come from?

Basically we needed an awning because in the summer the big window gets full sunlight all day and cooks the books. But I couldn’t afford to get one made as it is pricey, so I wondered about ‘sponsorship’ of a kind, with adverts. After all, other shops often put the brands they sell on their windows etc., so why not bookshops?!

That led me to think of independent publishers. The bond between us and them is strong and it’s what we pride ourselves on. Always stocking books by people such as Melville House and similar size publishers is what makes us different from the Waterstones down the road. So I thought I would ask some indies and see if they were up for a bit of unusual mutual advertising support and was delighted with the response. I also included the logo for Norwich UNESCO City of Literature and our own shop publishing imprint, Propolis, to keep the local theme, although Salt are based up here too of course.

The bookshop has a strong relationship with indie publishers, how did this come about? As some readers will know, it’s where Eimear McBride’s A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing first came to life.

The story of A Girl… and The Book Hive will be forever linked because of being given the manuscript here and picking it up after 10 years of it being turned down, but that only went to further cement our already strong relationship with the world of indies. I based Galley Beggar Press here when I was still with them and Propolis is based here too now, but as I say, we have always stocked a lot of small presses and that’s what people respond to when they come here—the choice of well designed titles often by little known writers rather than the sea of familiar faces at bigger shops.

There’s a place for everything of course but I think that harder to find, dare I say, more interesting stuff should be the stock of the indie bookshop.


Zeljka Marosevic is the former managing director of Melville House UK.