Scottish Review of Books in conversation with Millie McCosh-Thomson, bookseller at Atkinson-Pryce, Biggar.
Tell us the story of your shop
Atkinson-Pryce was opened in 1993 by a husband and wife team who went to work in publishing and sold it to Chris in 1999. It has gone from strength to strength, having a major extension in 2008 to almost double the size of the shop (it was tiny before!) and just earlier this year we had another extension which has opened up the space, added light and given it an extra hyygely boost. We have a fireplace for winter, table and chairs outside in summer and coffee in the pot offered to those blissful browsers who are there to stay.
Where do you fit in?
I have no official title but as there are only three of us there is no need. We all partake in every aspect of bookselling life, whether that is buying, selling, events, marketing and social media. I am a pathological organiser and that can be put to good use in all parts of the business. I like to be creative so hugely enjoy creating window displays or in store displays using anything and everything I can get my hands on – the window is so important for us and has a very positive impact on customer engagement.
What makes your bookshop stand out from others?
We are a very well established bookshop which we feel is no mean feat in today’s world. We work hard to make sure there is something for everyone whether that is in our carefully curated selection of books or a fascinating and exciting event. We have a lovely and incredibly loyal and supportive customer base and are lucky enough to be in the fantastic market town of Biggar which has the most vibrant independent high street in Lanarkshire.
Do you have a local author who visits the shop? Which author event has drawn the biggest / most interesting audience?
We have lots of lovely local authors including Gerda Stevenson and James Robertson who was writer in residence at Hugh Macdiarmid’s home Brownsbank. We sponsor as well as take part in Biggar Little Festival at the end of October, a volunteer led arts and culture festival run over 10 days. We have been lucky enough to host some amazing events from Carol Ann Duffy and Jackie Kay to Maggie O’Farrell and Joanna Trollope. The most interesting recently was our first cooking demo and conversation with Honey & Co. team Sarit and Itamar, there were tips and laughs and the most delicious food from two of the nicest people.
Who wanders in through your door most often? / Which customer has taken you by surprise?
Everyone wanders through our door, how can you not?! Part of the joy of the job is speaking to customers, books and a love of reading are a universal language that can cross any divide. A lot of our customers come from all over and we get a lot of passing tourism. Recently a local customer brought in a hilarious cartoon comic strip that he had drawn of a conversation he had had the previous week with us when he had nearly fainted upon hearing the news that his favourite author Philip Kerr had died. We are having it framed.
What’s the most ridiculous request you’ve ever had?
There have been some corkers. We once got asked if Anne Frank had written a follow up to her diary……
Where did your love of the printed word begin?
My dad would read me a bedtime story when I was young which usually entailed him propped up against the wall, book open in front of him and me reading it out loud while he started snoring. Everything from Brambly Hedge to Billy and the Minpins, Journey to the River Sea, Ghost of Thomas Kempe and of course Harry Potter. I used to read while walking the dog, its in my genetic make up.
Which book has influenced you most / which poem talks to your soul?
Probably De Rerum Natura (On The Nature of Things) by Lucretius written in the first century BC. I studied Classics so came across this at University. It is a beautiful poem that encompasses all that it is to be human in the world today, then and now. I am not a reader of poetry but love to hear it performed. The one that makes my hairs stand on end is Dylan Thomas’ Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night, it can mean so many different things and speak to so many different souls.
What are you reading now and why?
I read mostly fiction and tend to have a few on the go at once (as well as the HUGE tbr pile) but currently am reading My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent, recommended by fellow booksellers in St. Boswells. It is not for the faint-hearted but an astounding debut.
If not this, then what?
Royal Ballet was the dream, I studied for 8 years then hit late teens and thought everything was uncool apart from reading so working in a bookshop was obviously meant to be.
Please provide a web address where readers can find out a little more about your shop.