CITADEL BOOKS is run by author Alan Spence (the new Edinburgh Makar) and only recently opened at 41 Montrose Terrace, in Abbeyhill, Edinburgh (EH7 5DJ).
How did the shop start?
I’d been thinking about it for a while. Two years ago I retired from my teaching post at Aberdeen (Prof in Creative Writing) and found myself with an office-full of books to shift back to Edinburgh where our flat is pretty small. A gallon-into-a-pint-pot. I also needed an office space to work in, so when the premises turned up it was win-win. Those books form the core of the stock, and there’s other stuff I’ve accumulated. (The thing is, our wee flat is still full of books. Go figure!)
Where do you fit in?
See above! My friend Alison Watt the artist said I’d curated it, so there’s a kind of cohesion to it. With the office space at the back, the plan is to write in the mornings and open the shop in the afternoons when my wife Janani comes in and helps.
What makes your bookshop stand out?
We’ve been meditating for 40 years and run the Sri Chinmoy meditation centre, so I think the shop has some of that peaceful energy. Customers comment on it and say it’s a joy to walk in to the space. The stock is either new (or once-read) or quality secondhand – all of it in good nick. One customer – a young man – said he goes in to the big chain bookshops and often struggles to find something he wants, whereas in our wee shop he’s spoiled for choice. (I guess scale is a factor – it’s intimate and welcoming).
What relationship do you have with authors?
Hey, I am one! A few of my writer-friends have already popped in – James Robertson, Kathleen Jamie, Meaghan Delahunt, Aonghas Macneacail and Gerda Stevenson, Bashabi Fraser, Stewart Conn, Christine De Luca… I’ve actually just taken over from Christine as Edinburgh Makar, so the shop offers an opportunity to meet the Makar (as opposed to Meeting Thy Maker!) We’re planning small events too – readings and book launches.
Who wanders through the door most often? /Which customer has taken you by surprise?
Every other customer seems to be an artist, or a photographer, a writer, an actor, a musician. The demographic in this wee stretch of Edinburgh has definitely got very interesting this last year or two. We have a nice symbiotic relationship with the lovely Art & Vintage cafe across the road – customers from there pop across to check us out, and vice-versa.
The most ridiculous request you have ever had?
It’s early days yet. So far, so normal!
Where did your love of the printed word begin?
In earliest childhood. I graduated from comic books to books with illustrations to plain text. I remember saving my pocket money to buy a copy of David Copperfield I’d seen in Woolworths before I could even read it!
Which book has influenced you most?
Yoga and the Spiritual Life by my teacher Sri Chinmoy. I’ve read and re-read it every year since 1972 and I still find something new in it. I think I’ve grown into it year by year.
What are you reading now and why?
A book of short stories – Saints and Sinners, by Edna O’Brien, and a poetry collection, Falling Awake by Alice Oswald. These are both sublime writers at the top of their game. There’s a Japanese word which means a book you buy and don’t read yet but add to the pile by your desk. These two were at the top of the pile! Actually, I’m just noticing how many of the most recent books I’ve read are by women – Nicola Barker, Zadie Smith, Ali Smith… (Discuss!)
If not this, then what?
I’d still be writing – always will. Can’t retire from that. This is just something new – a ploy – and so far it’s been great fun.