I have finally managed to gather my thoughts from the wonderful Bookstagram 2020 meet up I attended last weekend in Hay-on-Wye. Fair warning, this post is going to be a long one so make sure to grab yourself a cup of tea!
Anne from Addyman Books and Ruth from Richard Booth’s Bookshop came up with the wonderful idea of having some bookstagrammers over in their charming town of Hay-on-Wye in Wales a few months ago and what started with a simple Instagram post became a bit of a sensation and the news spread far and wide.
I had heard of Hay-on-Wye before but upon further research I came to know that it held the largest collection of vintage bookshops in the world! My god, I was going to be in heaven. Rima from @pardonmywritings and I decided to travel from London together. Once we got to Hay, we dropped our bags and immediately headed out to explore the town. A reception had been organised at Richard Booth’s bookshop to welcome bookstagrammers and as we made our way to the shop we couldn’t help stopping every few steps to take a picture.
There was so much to take in and then I spotted it; a shop called Murder and Mayhem. Upon closer inspection I saw that it was a bookshop dedicated wholly to crime writing! I started rapidly snapping photo after photo until Rima reminded me that we were getting late for the reception. We made it just in time to hear Oliver Balch, author of Under the Tump: Sketches of Real Life on the Welsh Borders, talk us through his new book. While listening to him relate some hilarious anecdotes about his life in the Welsh countryside, I couldn’t help but gawp at the rows and rows and shelves upon shelves of vintage books; I felt like a child in a sweet shop and I wanted one of each!
After the very insightful talk, the room erupted in hugs and squeals from across the room of people who recognised each other from their Instagram handles. The sweet, musty smell of old books mixed perfectly with the welcoming energy of all these people I had only known until then by their beautiful pictures that I had liked and commented on for the past year.
All the intimidation I had felt prior to the trip had melted away as we made our way down the street to The Old Electric Shop for some drinks. This eclectic bar slash shop had made up a menu of literary themed cocktails for us – The Picture of Dorian Grey, The Last of the Mojitos, Murder on the Orient Espresso, Tequila Mockingbird and A Midsummers Night Dream – no prizes for guessing which one I went for haha.
The next morning we started early. The Globe at Hay hosted a fascinating demonstration of bookplate and printmaking. John Watson of @johnwatsonprintmaking passionately spoke about his vast knowledge of linocuts, sketching, bookplates and printing and gave us a little insight into how to create our own bookplates.
We chatted a bit with John after his presentation and then headed to explore the bookshops; there were so many that we were quite afraid we wouldn’t be able to make our way through all of them. We decided to start with Belle Books; the moment we walked in we were greeted by Brian Teviotdale who was so wonderfully friendly and helpful; all you had to do was point at a book and he’d give you a little fact about it. I found my shelf of Christie’s and as you can imagine, went quite mad. I bought an armful of books after which I had the privilege of listening to Brian narrate a few pages from Christie’s A Murder is Announced. It was at that moment that I knew I had fallen in love with Hay.
We carried on down the road and went to Rose’s Books, a specialist children’s bookshop, next to which we spotted a little passage with a couch and shelves of books. This was the first time I had seen an honesty bookshop; you browse without being interrupted by a sales person, sit and peruse books at leisure or make a purchase by simply depositing money into a little slot; how amazing is that?
It was on to the next event on the list after this – a panel discussion chaired by Siobhan from @halcyondaysofsummer with bookstagrammers Rima from @pardonmywritings, Charlotte from @what.i.read, Micol from @literaryjourney and Jude from @mybookbath. It was so interesting to hear how all of them had started off on their bookstagram journeys, how much time they spent a week planning their posts and pictures and they also gave some great tips for aspiring bookstagrammers. I learnt a lot from each of them but more importantly it was lovely to see how humble they all were despite their huge following.
The day was already half over but we persevered on to more shops like Broad Street Book Centre that housed books on music, literature, science etc, already carrying with us a ton of books we got to pick from a selection kindly donated to the event by publishers such as Penguin, Vintage, Faber & Faber and the Norwegian Embassy. We dropped these back to our bnb and returned to town to explore the honesty bookshop at Hay Castle and the gorgeous map shop, Mostlymaps.com across the road from it.
The final stop for the evening was Addyman Books which was open till late especially for us so we could browse at leisure. The shop in itself was a piece of art; each corner of the three floors had been lovingly decorated, shelves heaved with colour coordinated books forming rainbows of paperbacks, folios and notebooks and shoppers whizzed around excitedly examining every bit of it carefully.
The lovely Anne who owned the bookshop also owned Murder and Mayhem across the road and kindly opened the doors to it for us as well. As you can imagine, I was the first one in and sped up the stairs to find my precious Christie’s. I think I let out a little whimper the moment I saw the huge collection in front of my eyes; I couldn’t believe it. I picked up over a dozen vintage editions of Agatha Christie novels, most in mint condition and headed to the cash desk where I spotted some Edgar Wallace novels that had the most beautiful cover art that of course got added to my pile. I remember feeling like I had swallowed a spoonful of Felix Felicis haha
The next morning we attended a breakfast cooked by the very talented local chef, Hugh Sawyer. It was a chance for all of us to sit down together one last time before the weekend came to a close. The food was delicious and the conversation consisted of all of us trying to tally up the number of books we had each bought. At the same time we sat tapping away on our phones, uploading pictures to our Instagram feeds and stories; I think it was the only time where I realised that using phones at the dining table was perfectly acceptable!
Soon a gloom began to set on the table as people started leaving but not before we all promised to meet at the exact place again next year and keep in touch until then.
Rima and I were one of the last people to leave that evening so spent most of the day going through as many bookshops as we could. Greenways Corner Bookshop was small but very interesting, The Addyman Annexe was an extension of Addyman’s where I found the most gorgeous cloth bound, three part edition of Leo Tolstoy‘s War & Peace. Some shops were closed unfortunately but we did make silent, solemn promises to return to them soon. The final shop we stopped at before our departure was the Hay Cinema Bookshop. I felt as if I had walked into a cathedral of books; it was so vast that within the first 10 minutes I had lost my way in the labyrinth of shelves.
I was so tired of lugging around books by then that I gave up a lot quicker than I care to admit in this shop and walked back to our bnb to pack and make our way to London.
The final count on the books that I took back with me from Hay has come up to a whopping 63 books! I am now quite broke and can’t find any place to house these beauties but I am already ready to go back for round 2.
Apart from the books, I have taken back to London with me a whole lot of inspiration and love from some of the most wonderful people I have ever met in my life. I feel like in each one of them, I was looking at a piece of myself and they in me; that same passion and love for the written word emanated from them. John Watson had very rightly commented that never had he met a group of Instagrammers that exuded so much positivity and made for a welcoming environment than bookstagrammers and I couldn’t agree more.
Apologies if this has been a long and emotional post but truly this has been one of the most enlightening and exciting weekends of my life so far. The dates for Bookstagram 2018 have already been announced, April 6-8th, and I can’t wait to return to the beautiful countryside of Hay-on-Wye. Will you be joining me next year?