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Image: Hunting Raven Books in Frome

What is it that makes an independent bookshop truly great? Personal recommendations, community atmosphere and lots of good conversations – at their best, indies are the beating heart of the bookselling industry. 

In this new series, Penguin.co.uk will be speaking to staff from independent bookshops from across the country, gleaning the stories and tips that keep customers coming back. 

First up, meet Tina Gaisford-Waller, the manager of Hunting Raven Books in Frome, Somerset, about her suggested reads and life behind the till. 

How would you describe your bookshop?

We're a fiercely independent bookshop in a fiercely independent town! We've been here for over 35 years, so we're properly embedded into the community. For a small indie, we are fabulously well-stocked with a real mix of books from the biggest bestsellers to the quirkiest of titles from the smallest of publishers. That's the best thing about being a longstanding indie in a small town; we really know what our customers are going to love and we like to take care of absolutely everyone.

What’s your go-to book recommendation for a gift?

The Boy, The Fox, The Mole and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy is always a great recommendation. The thing I loved about it over Christmas was that a grandparent was just as likely to buy it for their grandchild as their grandchild was to buy it for them. It was a book that reached so many readers – and anyone lucky enough to have received it would surely have been grateful for the comfort it provided through lockdown!

What’s your favourite story from behind the till?

During an intensely busy Christmas shopping day, our till started going on the blink. I tried to fix the glitchy cash-drawer, but things went from bad to worse when the shelf holding it up collapsed. As I was scrabbling on the floor, holding the still-ringing till-drawer on my shoulder wondering what on earth to do next, a tall and elegant lady peered over the counter to ask if Tina (me) was in the shop. It was only Meryl Halls,  Managing Director of the Booksellers Association, dropping in for an impromptu visit on her way back to London! It was a first meeting I won't forget in a hurry.

Which forthcoming book are you most excited to put on the shelves?

I can't wait for Sex Robots and Vegan Meat to come in from Jenny Kleeman. It's about all the freaky, sci-fi style things things we think of as being somewhere off in a distant and undefinable future, but that are really happening right now. Some of them may be our undoing, and some may just save us. 

Even after a day of being surrounded by books, which book do you never tire of reading?

My absolute desert island favourite just has to be A.S. Byatt's The Children's Book. The story is so involved and complex and the characters are some of the most finely drawn characters in literature. I sometimes find myself thinking about them, and how they might be doing, before remembering that they don't exist in real life. All of humanity is in there, in all its beauty, ugliness, selfishness, selflessness, enquiry and potential. It's simply exquisite.

Find out more about Hunting Raven Books on their website: winstonebooks.co.uk

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