Many vignettes per second (MVpS)

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Man with surfboard and books, Unity Books, Wellington.

One of the best things about the Rocky Outcrop Writers Tour was meeting the people who run bookstores. We were incredibly impressed with their energy and enthusiasm and resilience. And we wanted everyone to know about them and to support them, because if you don’t buy actual books from actual brick-and-mortar bookshops, you can’t expect these spaces to go on existing. Each of the bookstores below – Hedleys, Paige’s, and Unity – bring life to their cities or towns. They’re community centres, places to drift from book to book, to discover new things for yourself and others. They’re monuments to the importance of reading.

Now, this isn’t an argument against e-books (we three writers have Kindles or tablets of some sort) but it is a request to pause before you hit buy from The Book Depository. Yes, the books are cheaper and the postage is free, but among other things, you don’t get to chat with the friendly English guy at Unity about Henry VIII and whether he’s the reason Hilary Mantel is finally reaching a broader audience. You don’t get to smell the fresh print, to see what books other customers have tucked under their arms, to come across an unfamiliar author and end up reading their entire back catalogue. You don’t get to bump into your friend and go for a coffee. And your bowels just don’t relax in quite the same way as they do in a bookstore.*

We asked David Hedley (Hedleys Books, Masterton), Lesley Stead (Paige’s Books, Whanganui), and Tilly Lloyd (Unity Books, Wellington) a few questions about the business of bookselling in New Zealand.

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Dave Hedley and Eric Clapton, Hedleys Books, Masterton.

David Hedley, Hedleys Books

Tell us about your background. We understand Hedleys has been around a while.

Yes, I’m the third generation. The business started as the Dominion newspaper agency on Dominion Day in 1907 with my grandfather collecting the newspapers from the train and selling from his pushbike. He later set up a ‘depot’ and added in ‘fancy goods’. It was my father, Alex Hedley, who revved up the book side in the 1950s and 1960s when books became available in large numbers at affordable prices.

What’s the best part of your job?

The bit I love is the deluge of new titles that constantly arrive – so many books, so little time.


What’s your take on the state of book-selling in NZ?

The New Zealand public will decide if they want booksellers in this country – we are still keen!

In your opinion, what is it that makes a great book great?

A great book has to connect with its readers, there are many well written books, and there are many best sellers, but a great book brings it all together and makes an impact on its readers and, in turn, the community.

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Hemi Baxter up a tree, outside Paige’s Books, Whanganui.

Lesley Stead, Paige’s Books

On the afternoon we visited Paige’s in Whanganui, Lesley Stead had organised a pirate afternoon tea with Stephen Templer, illustrator of The Wreck of the Diddley, complete with visiting contributing artists who had developed stories and illustrations for their Word on the Street festival. We took up perches on the street corner and drank wine and chatted. It made us feel that Whanganui was a place where writers and artists were welcome. Plus there were asparagus rolls.

Paige’s is relatively new (7 years old). What made you think that opening a bookstore in Whanganui was a good idea?

We have a passion for books, reading, fab illustrations, and awesome book covers. Not only that, Whanganui has loads of creative, intelligent types who love the sensory experience a bookshop offers.

What is the best part of your job?

For Rochelle, it’s being a book detective and sourcing amazing books. For me, it’s drooling over the books when they arrive and pottering in the shop. For both of us it’s working amongst what we love best, and getting to share our passion with others.


What’s your take on the state of bookselling in NZ?

All things considered, bookselling is surviving pretty well.

In your opinion, what is it that makes a great book great?

A great book captures your entire being.

Dog on mat, Unity Books, Wellington.

Shop dog, Unity Books, Wellington.

Tilly Lloyd, Unity Books

We didn’t do an event at Unity, but we couldn’t go past a chance to ask Tilly Lloyd for her take on things. Unity Books in Wellington is a reason to go into town. In recent years a number of other bookstores in Wellington have closed, but people have continued to flock to Unity.

Dave Hedley spoke about Unity as the ‘leading light’ – a business that, despite the doom and gloom of the publishing and bookselling world in recent years, is seen as brilliantly successful. What’s the most important ingredient in making a bookstore a place people want to visit (and a place where they are happy to spend money)? 

Crikey. We’re impressed by Hedleys actually. They are good siblings in the trade. We talk about Unity as an oasis or something because of everything we receive that we can put back out but really I just want to get the 5 o’clock martini trolley up and running.

What’s the best part of your job?

Working the floor. The people are fascinating. I don’t mean this in any light sort of a way. They incessantly arrive, do something, and depart. It’s all in their ‘doing something’, even if they just stare at the fiction wall for quarter of an hour, or lie down in a stripey way for a photo. The floor is a place of many vignettes per second. This could be called MVpS.

To give you an idea why an awful lot of people want my job, here’s 2 minutes worth. We almost landed a gig for Sylvie Simmons so I had to calm down by selling cards and fiction I would quite like to read. Seconds later I came into a heated anti-Mantel monologue, so I had to quell it. This involved finding a courier sticker for a parcel, nudging some returns aside, and selling them Jerusalem. Then a couple were flummoxed  that the tattoo section wasn’t in with rock music, so I had to wonder about our categories, and they then selected some typography. Immediately after the Mantel episode a restaurateur wanted Harold Robbins, so I had to lie. We never lie so this was quite testing.

We are ideologically opposed to CCTV but, really, it would be interesting to have the shop screening in live-time. There are these beautiful pauses before the rushes. Everything is in the pause, that ‘doing something’ which is inexplicable.  Or maybe not; ask one of the old girls. We thought a lot about browsing over this summer. We are lucky in our punters and colleagues and  publishers and authors and extended families. Also, our history; we lean back on that as you know. The best part of the job is how to evolve ‘lucky’ and we can’t do that without working the floor


What’s your take on the state of bookselling in NZ?

Generally, lately, unexpected rocky outcrops. Quite hell. Nielsen says NZ book sales are almost 20% down over the first 9 weeks of the year. No-one knows why. It’ll be an orchestra of reasons, but there’s a chance 70 sunny days in a row will be at the top. Specifically, quite good. People arrive, do something (something that covers payroll, rent, stock and IT fees) and depart in a happy kind of a way. We try to keep this going and tomorrow (windows are cleaned on Wednesdays) we will write pieces of your work on our glass with our special white marker pens.

In your opinion, what is it that makes a great book great?

Craft. Voice. Story. Tragedy.

* “The bookshop was golden in Philip’s consciousness. When he entered the doors he felt his bowels relax.” (From The Invisible Rider by Kirsten McDougall)

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4 comments

  1. […] Booksellers! A little interview with three booksellers as part of the Rocky Outcrop Writers Tour (which is now al… […]

  2. […] Link to Rocky Outcrop North Island tour with comments from notable independant book shops […]

  3. […] Booksellers! A little interview with three booksellers as part of the Rocky Outcrop Writers Tour (which is now al… […]

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