Ahead of Impact’s Health and Wellbeing issue, Impact Arts are releasing a series of interviews with local and regional independent bookshops on what they bring to the community. For our first interview, Myron caught up with Ross Bradshaw from Five Leaves to find out more about the bookshop.
Myron: Hi Ross, it’s great to meet you. First off, can you give an overview of the shop?
Ross Bradshaw: We set up the bookshop in 2013, and we’ve been a publisher since 1995… In terms of our stock, we have lots of specialisms: our two strongest areas are politics (and by that we mean left-wing politics or green politics) and poetry (contemporary poetry).
[…] But we’re also quite good with LGBT issues, I think we’re the only bookshop in the midlands that has got an LGBT section, for example. We stock a lot of trans books, and literary fiction rather than mass market fiction. […] In our children’s section we prioritise diversity: the diversity of writers and the diversity of characters in the book.
M: So do any of your events correspond with the political things you sell, or the poetry side of things?
“Our events try to bring in as many people as possible from different points of view.“
R: Yes… we do about a hundred events a year. […] We try to ensure that over the year every part of the shop gets covered. For example, we’ve just had a big event on witchcraft, which is not a major part of the shop, but we do have some customers that are interested in that. In fact, the event had over 100 people at it.
Last night we had an academic talk on insomnia. Our events try to bring in as many people as possible from different points of view. We’re a left-wing bookshop no doubt about that, one of our recent events was with Jess Phillips… a writer-presenter-Labour MP.
“it’s a fairly open, democratic space […] you do have challenging questions and arguments.“
We also do quite a few green things, we work with Extinction Rebellion for example. We try to cover all aspects of alternative life.
M: Are the meetings in a political sense quite co-operative, or do they become quite tense?
R: I think it’s a fairly open, democratic space. I don’t think that we’ve had any serious arguments, but you do have challenging questions and arguments.
[…] Our events are neutral in the sense that you come along, things are discrete: we’re not trying to sign you up to anything afterwards. They’re one-offs, so it would not be contradictory to us to have Jess Phillips, who’s not a Corbyn supporter, and three weeks later have a major figure who’s a Corbyn supporter.
People can come along to whichever of those they wish. […] We’ve never had to chuck anybody out of a meeting yet.
M: Are the meetings fairly wide-ranging in the people they attract, or is it more of a Midlands thing?
R: The guests can come from all over Britain, and sometimes there’ll be people from other countries who are on tour. Every year we have an evening with Japanese literature, with Japanese novelists. This week we had a speaker on tour from America, who’s a young queer activist.
M: What about links outside of the city? As an independent bookshop, is there a sort of network going on nationally or regionally?
We’re active members of The Booksellers’ Association, which is our trade association. It involves every bookshop in Britain, there’re 860 or thereabouts, and that includes the chains like Waterstone’s and Blackwell.
[…] The last regional meeting was held here, and there were people from Sheffield, from Lincoln, from Leicester, from Derbyshire as well as Nottinghamshire.
Separately to that, there’s an Alliance of Radical Booksellers, which is a grouping of about 30 shops like us. Primarily, the ones that we work with… are on the left.
We run Feminist Book Fortnight nationally. Last year’s was the second, and 50 bookshops in Britain got involved, 3 from Ireland, 3 from Italy, and next year we’re expecting more overseas.
M: Day-to-day, is there a secure niche that you have, or is there much competition with larger stores like Waterstone’s?
R: We have a range of customers who only shop here. […] We do a lot of customer orders, lots of specialist press, lots of American press. Particularly in December, Waterstone’s start sending people to us for orders, because they stop ordering for Christmas weeks earlier than we do.
[…] It may be a little crazy, but we’re still ordering books and guaranteeing them for Christmas on the 22nd and 23rd of December. We get on very well with Waterstone’s. […] They’re booksellers as well.
M: So there’s a good faith then. If you could provide a general theme or mission of the bookstore, what would you say?
R: I think that’s quite difficult because its different for everybody who works here, and its different for everyone that comes in. […] We’ve got people who come here every week and haunt the place.
We’ve got a lot of LGBT kids who come in and clutter up the LGBT section – they can’t afford the books, but as school-kids its quite nice for them to be around there.
“we’re not aiming at the mass. We’re quite content with people finding their way to us.”
There are other people who are just bookshop addicts, who will come to us, come to Waterstone’s, to Oxfam, to Page 45. Clearly being in the city centre helps, and clearly being in an alley-way doesn’t, but on the other hand we’re not aiming at the mass. We’re quite content with people finding their way to us. Being in an alley-way means our rent’s very low. We don’t have to sell the books we don’t want to sell in order to pay a landlord.
M: As a general theme, its flexible for people to be allowed to explore?
R: Yes, I think. There’s a lot that we’d like to do if we had more space, but I think that within the 500sq ft that we’ve got, we’ve managed to have a fair amount of coverage.
And some things just haven’t worked. […] One of us got rid of our crime fiction section when I was on holiday, saying it really didn’t work, and doubled the size of our poetry section. She was right, that was the right decision.
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5/8 of the Five Leaves team 🍁 🍁🍁🍁🍁🍁🍁🍁- a photo to celebrate our 4th Birthday which is tomorrow but we’re celebrating tonight with a launch of Tim Young’s pamphlet – Touching Distance (brought to you from more shoots – more leaves – an offshoot of Five Leaves Publications)
[…] One of the things I like about the shop, from a manager’s point of view, is that the workers can develop their own interests. One of our workers is a member of XR [Extinction Rebellion], so over the weekend suddenly, the climate-change and environmental section doubled in size and was a prominent part of the shop. That’s fine, he knew what he was doing and I’m happy with that.
M: It sounds fluid, and like the staff have room to develop.
R: Yeah, all members of staff are buyers. I wouldn’t say I necessarily agree with all of their decisions, but if something doesn’t work I’m not going to come down on you, I’m going to say ‘that’s a shame, let’s try something else’.
You can find out more about Five Leaves bookshop and their upcoming events here.
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Featured image courtesy of @FiveLeavesBookshop via Facebook. Article image 1 courtesy of @fiveleavesbooks via Instagram. Article image 2 courtesy of @FiveLeavesBookshop via Facebook. Article image 3 courtesy of @FiveLeavesBookshop via Facebook. Article image 4 courtesy of @fiveleavesbooks via Instagram. Article image 5 courtesy of @fiveleavesbooks via Instagram.