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The Secret Life of a bookseller in London

This week; an insight into the perils of British drinking culture, behind the scenes of a Young Adult book convention, the delight that is fridge-mezzes & snaccidents, unrealiable co-workers, awful customers and Schrodinger’s hangovers.


FROM: New Jersey, USA




CURRENTLY READING: Long Lankin by Lindsey Barraclough, The Last by Hanna Jameson’s, The Million Pieces of Neena Gill by Emma Smith-Barton,


6:00: My alarm sounds because I forgot to disable it for my weekend off. I groggily mash at my phone buttons until it stops.

6:10: Goddammit, I accidentally pressed snooze.

9:30: My alarm goes off again, and this time, I struggle out of bed. My mouth feels dry from the rum and the shots of no particular alcohol that I had last night, and my brain is unpleasantly buzzy. 

It’s my weekend off this week, and I might have gone a little overboard last night—even though I knew I needed to be up (relatively) early this morning. To be fair, I did tell everyone that I had to leave early because of my cycling proficiency lesson this morning, but R and S and all kept tempting me with one more drink, and 10 pm turned into 12 am turned into 2.

Still, I don’t have to deal with customers today, so I can get away with being a bit hungover--

So long as don’t fall off my bike.

I gulp down a mug of green tea and the last of last week’s now slightly stale chocolate croissants, and head downstairs to meet my cycling instructor at Figges Marsh.

10:00 - 12:00: I do not fall off my bike.

12:30: Lunch is a fridge mezze with a strong cup of coffee. By now, my hangover has mostly subsided, though I still have that slightly fuzzy feeling running all through my skull. But the day has just begun (and I really need to take advantage of this free weekend), so I gather my notebooks and head out to Balham for an afternoon of poetry and croissants.

14:00 - 16:00: Poetry. Coffee. Croissants. And a warm, lovely group of poetic people. I end up scribbling down the draft of a new prose poem and getting some feedback on a piece I wrote a couple of weeks ago. Plans for starting an open mic night are in the works. I head back home feeling much more energetic than I did this morning.

17:00: I spend the rest of the evening reading and cooking lunches for the week. I’m about halfway through Long Lankin by Lindsey Barraclough and it’s getting super creepy. I end up reading until about eleven before I force myself to put the book away. Tomorrow it’s back to work.


2:20: I wake up with a jolt and turn on the flashlight on my phone, grab my notebook and my pen. My brain might have just figured out something major for the novel I’m working on. I jot it down and fall back asleep.

6:00: My morning routine is like clockwork—rusty, lurching clockwork. I end up leaving the flat two minutes late and have to run to make the train, but I do make it.

8:30 - 17:00: Work time. Opening the shop with the cute coworker today, who is secretly dating the other cute coworker. No one can know of their love. Slow day, though we’ve all got work drinks to look forward to after.

Customer of the Day: Mrs. F

You can see Mrs. F approaching a mile away, because she has the most gorgeous and patient seeing-eye dog. Said golden retriever, however, is not enough to make up for the absolute horror that is Mrs. F, especially since you are not allowed to pet him. 

Today, she comes in demanding that we investigate the possibility that a publisher has been trying to keep a certain book out of her hands, as it has not yet arrived, despite her having asked us to order it in for her over a month ago. When we tell her that the book is out of print (as we warned her it would be a month ago), she questions why the publisher would dare to prevent her from buying the book. It is hopeless to try to explain the workings of publishers to Mrs. F. 

She attempts to steal an enamel badge out of the charity box before leaving.

17:00: Work drinks. We spend a dangerous amount of our new paychecks on alcohol to drown out memories of Mrs. F. A2 confesses to us his ambition of studying for a doctorate in War Studies, which would, of course, make him the War Doctor, a joke he doesn’t seem to appreciate.

The two cute coworkers exchange eyes the entire night, but of course, me being the only one who knows about them, I’m the only one who notices.

22:00: We stumble separately homewards, and I wonder at what point I adopted the very British habit of drinking every other night. Curled up in bed, I finish Long Lankin and drift to sleep thinking about ghosts.


6:00: Schrodinger’s hangover. I am both hungover and not hungover depending on whether or not I’m thinking about it.

8:30 - 17:00: A perfectly normal Tuesday at the shop. Screaming children come by to trash my kids’ section and N doesn’t let anyone know that she’ll be rolling in an hour late. Pure joy. On the other hand, we get giant drops of both The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins and Hanna Jameson’s The Last, and I squeal with delight at the beauty that is Frannie Langton’s paperback cover.

Customer of the Day: Mr. V

None of us know Mr. V’s story, but oddly, he knows all of our names. He shuffles into the store every now and again, and picks a pile of Penguin paperbacks off the displays to reserve them behind the counter. Depending on the look of the cover, the apparent ethnicity of the author, the number of pages, or the current phase of the moon, he may then decide to buy or not to buy the books. The first time he met me, he called me beautiful, and now I try my best to avoid having to deal with Mr. V.

17:00: A drink at The Book Slut offices, which involves watching videos of jumping cows and a brief discussion of fanfiction and fringe fetishes.

19:00:  After a light dinner (more like a snaccident), I start reading my proof copy of The Last—which pitches itself as a post-apocalyptic Agatha Christie. Before I know it, it’s midnight, and I am two-thirds of the way through. I force myself to put the book away so that I can actually get up in the morning.


6:00: I wake up from a dream about the end of the world and head off to work. Coffee tastes sweeter after the apocalypse.

8:30 - 17:00: I’m on my own at the shop until C and N get in. Thankfully, Wednesdays are slow. Less thankfully, N never shows. This makes the day way more stressy than it has to be, and I’m relieved to be able to flee the shop come 5pm.

17:00: I head straight for Green Park, where A has invited me out for a birthday party. That’s three days of drinking in a row, and I’m not sure how I’m surviving it. I end up sitting between R and D, and D regales us with tales of her former boss—a real estate mogul who she describes as “the Devil himself.” The way she tells it, her work was basically like Mad Men, but on crack cocaine. Prostitutes in the office. Shady deals made in the private booths of posh members-only clubs. Blackmail of political personalities. The drinks go on and everything gets a bit buzzy. A and I make out for a bit before mutually agreeing on how bad of an idea that actually is. 


00:30: I finish The Last on my way home via the Northern Line.

6:00: I need to stop forgetting to disable my alarms on my days off.

8:15: I wake up properly and make myself breakfast: eggs on toast, with vegetarian sausages and a cup of murky coffee. I take a short cycle around the Marsh before packing my laptop and heading out into the world to find a café to write in.

10:00 - 17:00: Editing hell. Chapters and words melt as the world approaches the seventh circle of fire, brimstone, and blood. The sun is a burning eye and even my coffee is dripping with sweat. It is the hottest day that London has ever seen, and I want to peel my skin off. But an email comes through from Penguin Random House promising that this evening’s pre-YALC party will be air-conditioned.

18:30: It is not air-conditioned.

8:30 - 17:00: I’m on my own at the shop until C and N get in. Thankfully, Wednesdays are slow. Less thankfully, N never shows. This makes the day way more stressy than it has to be, and I’m relieved to be able to flee the shop come 5 pm.s no air-conditioning. Still, Dom&Ink is almost fabulous enough to make up for all of it, and the cocktails are free. So after meeting up with R, E, and B, I end up downing cocktails to fend off the heat and the dehydration, which turns out to be a terrible idea.

We swim home through the soup that is the Northern Line, R doing her best to keep me from weaving off of the platform. I try to start on The Million Pieces of Neena Gill on the tube, but it is way. too. hot. And I am way. too. drunk.

00:00: Collapse into bed. Tomorrow is the first day of YALC.


5:30: YALC time.

7:30: I arrive at the Kensington shop to meet up with J, A2, and G, and we catch an Uber to the Olympia. We turn in at the VIP gate, flashing our exhibitor wristbands at the guard. Two security goons exchange a look behind their sunglasses as our Uber rolls up, and as soon as our driver stops, they leap forward to open the doors for us and usher us out.

Pretty sure they haven’t realized we’re just the booksellers.

Up to the second floor via the goods elevator, we enter the convention centre by way of the Green Room (which is entirely absent of the colour green), where they are putting up signs for “Sheen” and “Shatner”, and I’m pretty sure the guy who winks at us as we pass is someone famous, but I can’t for the life of me figure out who. We do last-minute prep on our temporary shop, and wait for the crowd to arrive.

10:00 - 17:00: YALC is a teen fiction wonderland perched above London’s Film and Comics convention, and everyone is beautiful and lovely. I sell books to people dressed as Luna Lovegood and Anathema Device, and a particular pair of cross-play Aziraphale and Crowley show off their wings for us. Everyone squeals at sightings of Jason Mamoa, especially when he walks into Eoin Colfer’s panel and steals the spotlight. E is obsessed with the idea of getting a picture with Tom Ellis, but we only see him once, and she isn’t quick enough.

Customer of the Day: M. R

As you might expect, our convention bookshop is set up so that the people attending the con are able to purchase copies of all the speakers’ books and get them signed. We have enough Malorie Blackman to crush a small child, a pile of Carrie Hope Fletcher as tall as R, and an entire bay devoted to Dom&Ink’s journal, the collection Proud, and copies of Heartstopper and Heartstopper 2. What we do not have is the parenting handbook, Raising the Transgender Child, despite the fact that Ms. R seems to think we should. She also asks for the latest Lee Child, and several other books that do not, in any sense, belong at YALC, and I have to actively resist asking her whether she knows where she is.

18:00: By the end of the day, I’m exhausted, and I head straight home to take a long, steamy shower and collapse into bed.


5:15: I wake up before my alarm and get going. Today’s going to be the busiest day of YALC, and I am ready.

8:00: We arrive at the Olympia to double check the bookshop setup and arrange today’s author signings. It’s eerily quiet up on the YALC floor, though the queue to get into the center is already halfway around the block. A light drizzle patters against the windows, and publishers trickle in over the course of the morning.

9:45: An announcement sounds throughout the convention hall that they’ll be opening the con ten minutes early. Half the publishers still aren’t here, but we steel ourselves for the assault.

9:50 - 17:00: Visitors rush the convention centre, charging for the signings table and all the stalls where publishers have promised free proofs for early birds. The bookshop is swamped, and it doesn’t help matters that V.E. Schwab has decided to cause chaos by walking the floor and signing her books at our counter. We sell out of every single copy of Vengeful and Vicious before noon, and we send A2 to the Piccadilly shop to grab some more books, but it’s hopeless. Samantha Shannon and Jim Kay suffer a similar fate, and by three pm, most of the people coming by are asking for books we no longer have. It’s seven and a half hours of non-stop chaos. I am beyond exhausted by the time my shift ends.

18:00: Alas, that’s not quite the end of it. R and S are having a leaving party before they head off to adventure into the great unknown, the invite popping into my messages halfway through the day. So I head toward Shoreditch, reading my signed copy of Neena Gill on the tube there.

21:00 --: And so the week ends as it began. I’m off with R and S into the wilds of the London nightlife, drinking way too much rum and dancing the night away, between quiet conversations in bar corners about plans and the future. It’s almost enough to make me forget my exhaustion from the week.


But at least, this time, I don’t have a bike lesson in the morning.


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