66 Marchmont St, London WC1N 1AB
What makes Gay's the Word special?
A lot of people tend to think of bookshops as predominantly intellectual or literary spaces, and they are, but I they’re often also emotional spaces. Gay’s the Word has a long history of being a community space, a space of sharing ideas, with people creating their own personal stories through their interaction with other members of the LGBT community in this space.
There’s a lot of heart in this bookshop. It’s quite a benign, kind-hearted place. It’s a privilege to tend it and curate it. I describe it as piloting a homosexual Tardis. That’s my analogy for running the bookshop, privileged access to some incredible authors who are my rock stars of thought. Interactions with customers are something precious that both myself and my colleague Jim value greatly. There are some amazing people that come in here. Customers become friends and there’s that circuit of affection. It’s a real privilege to be in a job where you have that with people.
How do you help customers find the perfect book?
A combination of factors. The first is listening, asking questions, finding out information about the person who’s buying or indeed if they’re buying on behalf of someone else. I think not overwhelming the person selecting with too many options. A good bookseller should know their books really well - it’s about presenting options to people that you feel like they’re really going to connect with. If you think about it, that’s an incredibly privileged position for a person to be in. You’re making suggestions for something that someone’s going to take not only into their mind, but into their heart, into their emotions. I think doing that sensitively and giving the act the respect and time it deserves is really important.
What is your favourite independent bookshop beyond your own?
I like the happy accident of coming across a small independent when you’re travelling around. I was in Dorset recently and I went into the bookshop there, in Bridport. It was a small, local, but very well-stocked, independent bookshop. I really love those experiences in villages and small towns across the country when you go into a bookshop that’s been curated with love and attention. I think that’s one of the things that make the UK great, the wealth of excellent independent booksellers in the towns and villages that we have. We’re very fortunate to have those and they should be supported.
Which book has had the biggest impact on your life?
I would have to say actually, the Bible. I know that might be an unlikely selection for an atheist, homosexual bookseller in London, but it was the first book that I really became aware of. In that sense, it was my pathway to the mechanics of writing and literature. It’s a contentious book that can be used for both good and wrong I think, but there’s a lot of beauty and heart in it. The Bible has probably had the biggest impact on me of all books.
I’m a huge fan of these two novels, Other Voices, Other Rooms by Truman Capote and the brilliant, extraordinary Ballad of the Sad Café by Carson McCullers. They’re both in the Southern Gothic tradition and both mid-1950s. Carson McCullers and Capote were friends for a while. They’re just full of brilliant, rich characters, slightly twisted scenarios and some heart-stoppingly beautiful writing. I love both those books very much.
What are the core values of your bookshop?
Community, comprehensiveness and compassion. There’s something essentially affirming for an LGBT person, especially if they’re from a society or a country that doesn’t have an enlightened approach to LGBT people, to come in and to be physically surrounded by a collection of writing that affirms their identity. That’s an incredibly profound, political, philosophical, powerful experience. I’ve seen people break down in tears in that moment, and I’ve totally appreciated why. It goes back to Gay’s the Word being an emotional space. It’s a small little shop, in a small street in Bloomsbury, but it stocks a rich comprehensive range of literature, much of which has, in many ways, attempted to be suppressed over the years. So the fact that it exists and celebrates our right to articulate and our identity and ourselves is even more powerful.
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