Independent Bookshop Week: Penguin authors celebrate their favourites

We asked ten authors, including Rukmini Iyer, Sophie Mackintosh, John Lewis-Stempel and more, to write about the indies that hold a special place in their heart.

Penguin authors like John Lewis-Stempel, Rukmini Iyer, Shari Lapena and Anbara Salam celebrate Indie Bookshop Week
Ryan MacEachern/Penguin

There’s no sensation quite like that of walking into a local bookstore; no substitute for the smell of pulp, the possibilities held in row upon row of colourful spines, the feeling of finding the book you were looking for and bringing it home to crack open or give to a loved one.

As today marks the beginning of Indie Bookshop Week, we asked ten Penguin Random House authors to share the shops they love so that you can experience them, too.  

Rukmini Iyer on Much Ado Books in Alfriston

If you were to create an imaginary, ideal bookshop – narrow staircases, roomfuls of books set in a series of cabins, barns, and cottages, an Aga in one corner, a writer’s garret in another (turn left by the T. S. Eliot), jade-green walls and portraits of Woolf, chickens in the courtyard outside – then you have Much Ado Books, in Alfriston, East Sussex, a village just as picturesque.

Far beyond the aesthetics of the shop (perfect), you have the proprietors, Cate and Nash, the warmest, most knowledgeable booksellers you can imagine, as likely to sell you a book as press a favourite volume on you as a gift, along with a bag of homemade cookies. The bookshop runs alongside a project to provide books for those who need to use foodbanks, in partnership with the Trussell Trust. A quick email and you’ll have your books delivered within a couple of days, often with a bar of chocolate.

Rukmini Iyer is the author of the Roasting Tin cookbook series.

I love Phlox books in Leyton, which has a beautifully curated space and the best coffee (and also wine). It’s so calming; the minute you step through the door, it’s a little oasis of peace. Owner Aimée is incredibly friendly, and her amazing passion for books really shines through. If you need a recommendation in northeast London, this is definitely the place to find it.

Also a quick shout-out to Book-ish in Crickhowell. I’ve only been there once, but I can’t wait to take my mum there post-lockdown for a browse and a cup of tea. Both are much more than just a shop – they're important parts of their local community, and show how vital independent bookshops are, beyond getting people reading.

Sophie Mackintosh is the author of The Water Cure and other novels.

In support of Independent Bookshop Week, I’d like to give a shout out to the many, many fabulous, independently owned bookshops in the UK. I absolutely love working with indies, and they have a special place in my heart.

One book store in particular that I love is Linghams Bookshop in Heswall, Wirral, run by the very friendly team of Sue and Mike. For my visit, they had decorated the store with crime tape and outlined a dead body on the floor. And they have cake! The most delicious cake, in the back of the store. Who doesn’t love crime books and cake?

I salute all the indies for the brilliant work they do supporting writers, reading and books all year round. You can celebrate them by visiting your local indie and buying a book or two.

Shari Lapena is the author of The End of Her and other thrillers.

Linghams in Wirral. Image: linghams.co.uk
Linghams in Wirral. Image: linghams.co.uk

Wild horses could not drag me past Rossiters in Ross, while Booka in Oswestry is the Earthly realization of Heaven’s Bookshop. Then there is zing-vital Boo-kish in Crickhowell, the lingering lovely Linghams on the Wirral, matchless Yellow-Lighted in Stroud, the so intelligent Cogito in Hexham, the wonderfully, properly traditional New Bookshop in Cockermouth... But on my heart you will find carved ‘Ledbury Books.’

When I came home to Herefordshire 30 years ago, after the tame time of university, there it was: Ledbury Books and Maps. Just founded. And on its shelves, I  found my literary compass  (Edward Thomas’s prose) by an accident of exploration. The highest praise, no? The bookshop you want to explore, and then you come away with treasure. Something more. I have known Ledbury Books for an age. It is an old friend, which is what a bookshop should be.

John Lewis-Stempel is the author of Still Water and other nature books.

Golden Hare Books in Edinburgh is a delicious treat of a bookshop. They have a thoughtful and unpretentiously curated selection of fantastic reads, and their booksellers have a phenomenal passion for finding you your next page-turner. You can even (in non-COVID times) gift yourself or a loved one a consultation session with a bookseller to boost you out of a reading slump. It’s a beloved neighbourhood bookshop in Stockbridge, and my go-to afternoon retreat after a walk in the Botanic Gardens.

Anbara Salam is the author of the forthcoming novel Belladonna.

At the end of the High Street in the market town of Thame stands a giant wooden puffin and the entrance to The Bookhouse, an independent bookshop approaching its 50th birthday. Behind the door of the building, which was once the residence of Irish Poet W.B. Yeats, a world of books and wonder awaits. My children always run towards a table, where toys and books are ready and waiting for them to play with and read.

While they sit amused, I get to browse, reading staff recommendations, discovering new authors and taking in the atmosphere. On sunny days, you can even sit in their small courtyard and dip into your new book next to a rose bush and an apple tree. The Bookhouse is a beautiful shop that my children actually want to spend time in, and I hope inspires in them a love of reading for life. 

Helen Tupper is a career advisor and the author of The Squiggly Career.

Book-ish in Crickhowell. Image: book-ish.co.uk
Book-ish in Crickhowell. Image: book-ish.co.uk

Jenni Fagan on Typewronger in Edinburgh

Edinburgh has a lot of incredible independent bookshops. It’s almost impossible to favour one, but I’ll go for Typewronger. I first heard about the shop whilst on residency at Shakespeare & Company in Paris, where Typewronger’s Tom Hodges previously worked. I was told to look him up.

The shop supports local pamphlets and zines, it sells (and fixes) typewriters, and Tom stocks the shelves with books he wants to read, so it has an eclectic vibe. There is a guitar you can play, a typewriter to tinker on, a gramophone for music on their open mic nights and a cool wee nook through the back to sit and read. It’s easy to get a cuppa and a chat, and on the day I was in, Tom made me an origami dragon to go with my purchase. It’s a friendly shop that makes you feel genuinely welcome, as all great bookshops should.

Jenni Fagan is the novelist of the forthcoming Luckenbooth.

John Harvey on Five Leaves in Nottingham

Nottingham’s always had a reputation for independence of a literary turn: think D. H. Lawrence, down the road in the mining town of Eastwood; think Alan Sillitoe and the “Long Distance Runner” who refused to cross the finish line; Arthur Seaton in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning sticking two fingers up at the world.

I first came across the wonderful, long-lamented Trent Bridge Bookshop on my way to watch Forest – before I switched allegiances south of the river. After that it was Mushroom, a collective enterprise that spawned Ross Bradshaw’s Five Leaves Bookshop,  founders of Feminist Book Fortnight and Independent Bookshop of the Year in 2018. Half-hidden up an alley in the city centre, Five Leaves is a truly radical independent that maintains its integrity while reaching out into the community, supporting local writers, local readers, organising readings and other events most nights of the week, keeping books alive.

John Harvey is the author of the Frank Elder and Charlie Resnick crime series.

Carys Bray on Broadhursts in Southport

When you step into Broadhursts bookshop, it’s like entering another world. The walls are wrapped in antique bookcases and glass-fronted cabinets. A book-packing station with a string dispenser and sheets of brown paper sits below an antique sign: Pleasant Books For the Children. The air is warm with the grassy smell of paper and in the autumn and winter, an open fire crackles invitingly. The shop would not be out of place in Diagon Alley – it wouldn’t be entirely surprising if a cousin of Mr Ollivander the wand-maker emerged from behind a bookcase or cabinet to whisper, “The book chooses the child.”

The booksellers are knowledgeable and kind. I’ve asked for recommendations for my children and myself, and never been disappointed. I’ll be popping in soon to buy Amanda Craig’s The Golden Rule and enjoy a long-overdue book chat.

Carys Bray is the author of the forthcoming When The Lights Go Out.

Books on the Hill in Clevedon, Somerset, is one of my favourite indie bookstores. In the middle of the high street in the heart of this pretty town, the store is gorgeous. Owners Chloe Smirk and her partner Dr Alistair Sims dreamed of running a bookshop for years before opening it, and have a passion for books of all genres – though they specialise in sci-fi and fantasy (and loose-leaf tea).

What makes Books on the Hill extra special, though, is their dedication to supporting young readers, and especially those who struggle with dyslexia. They stock and can recommend dyslexic-friendly books and offer warm encouragement, based on personal experience, to anyone who has previously found their dyslexia an obstacle to enjoying reading (adults included). If you’re in or near Clevedon, this shop is warm, friendly and an important fixture at the heart of its community. A must-visit!

Gilly Macmillan is the author of To Tell You the Truth and other thrillers.

Sign up to the Penguin Newsletter

For the latest books, recommendations, author interviews and more