I went to Wakefield One last Friday, in order to discuss the details of the programme for 29th June with Alison Cassels, the librarian who’s in charge of events there. It’s a truly spectacular new library and events centre and well worth a visit if you’re in the area. It’s heart-warming to think that in these days of austerity and cutbacks there is still investment being made in such buildings, so important for promoting reading and holding local communities together.
During the course of our conversation, Alison mentioned that she’d ordered copies of both my books for the event. The library has itself bought copies of In the Family for its reading group (a very generous action which I applaud!) and has also ordered copies of it and Almost Love for those attending the session to purchase if they want to. I asked Alison who was supplying them and she said it was Rickaro Books of Horbury. It’s a bookshop that I’ve long been meaning to visit, because its proprietor is Richard Knowles, who many moons ago was my first boss. I e-mailed Richard to ask him if I could drop in with some Christina James postcards and he got back to me immediately. We agreed that I would call yesterday.
It seems particularly fitting that my visit should have taken place this week, which marks the thirty-fifth anniversary of my appointment to the library supply company in Normanton where my bookselling career started. Richard, then the manager, had many idiosyncratic interests which married well with bookselling: he was an authority on mediaeval armour and effigies and both wrote about and collected books on them. He liked antiquarian and private press books and had a fine collection of these, and read everything that he could lay his hands on about or by T.E. Lawrence. He was also fond of the poetry of Edward Thomas. Other interests included motor-bikes and collie dogs. He had a small child’s aversion to vegetables and liked nothing better than a currant bun filled with cheese for lunch, bought from the bakery on the corner. Main courses he could take or leave, but he loved puddings and chocolate. I once walked nine miles to work through snow drifts after the bus failed to materialise; he must have been impressed, because he gave me the chocolate bar he had earmarked for his elevenses!
I last saw him about twenty years ago (at the Scottish Library Association Conference in Peebles), but truly he hasn’t changed very much. A little more ‘distinguished’, perhaps, and now wearing spectacles, but otherwise he could have stepped straight out of 1978.
Rickaro Books is exactly what I had expected: a deep Aladdin’s Cave of intriguing antiquarian and second-hand books, with a smaller but select stockholding of new titles. It even has a resident collie dog – Tilly – who lies under the cash desk. I didn’t ask him whether he comes to work on a motorbike; I suppose that Tilly would make this difficult, but otherwise I wouldn’t be surprised. I note with amusement that there is a baker’s shop just a few doors away and wonder whether its currant buns are up to the mark.
Richard said that he’d set up the shop thirteen years ago. He has a loyal local following and the library business, for special orders of new titles, is important to him. His customers for the antiquarian books are scattered throughout the world. He spends much of his time packing parcels to despatch to them. I didn’t buy any of the antiquarian books, but I did leave with two of Anne Cleeves’ titles, having been encouraged to read her by comments on the social networks.
Rickaro Books is a delightful place and one that I shall certainly visit again. I’ve already threatened to present myself for duty in the run-up to Christmas! It’s encouraging that booksellers like Richard can not only survive, but thrive, by building a business such as this, almost entirely on traditional lines; excellent also that Rickaro’s worth is recognised by the local library service.
Richard says that he and his wife plan to come to the event at Wakefield One on 29th June. I am pleased and touched that they are going to the trouble of rearranging their afternoon. After a gap of twenty years, two meetings in the space of two weeks! Like fine old books, old bookselling friendships mellow with age and perhaps get a little dusty, but they don’t disintegrate.
If anyone reading this would like to attend the event at Wakefield One, it starts at 2 p.m. on Saturday 29th June. I shall be giving readings from both books and talking about how I came to write them, as well as offering tips on how to get published.