Sean Guy, author and manager of The Bookshop Darwin, shares his insights from the Top End as our bookseller in spotlight this month.
How did you get into bookselling?
I have always had a passion for both reading and writing, so I suspect it was inevitable for me to end up as a bookseller. When I was at high school I had a part time job at the cinema up the road, and used to wander into The Bookshop Darwin every lunch break, regular as clockwork. I like to joke that I never applied for the job, I just loitered around until I was mistaken for one of the staff, and then they had to start paying me … but the reality is I was just lucky the Bookshop was hiring when I was looking for work, and I’ve never looked back. My teaching degree is getting a little dusty.
How has bookselling changed in response to COVID-19 restrictions?
I think bookselling has adapted in response to COVID-19. For example, our bookshop is offering a range of new delivery, pick-up, and postage options, all of which are designed to minimise costs while maximising safety. But that said, I don’t think the art of bookselling will ever really change. At its core, the industry is about reading first and foremost. Readers are passionate about stories, and although reading might be a very solitary activity, most of us like nothing more than to share our thoughts, feelings, or our books themselves. I think the sense of community and belonging that exists in a bookshop or library is one of the greatest strengths we have against the online competition.
What can publishers do better?
I may not be an expert in the field, but having seen the publishing industry change over the past decade, I’m sure there are many of us wishing we could return to the ‘golden age’. I think something we are missing now is the confidence to publish new authors. Our bookshop is swamped with new releases, but so many are from existing authors or public figures, or new editions of old favourites. Diversity of range is what has kept our independent bookshop alive, while we have seen discount chain stores that specialise in stock-standard thrillers close down all around us. I would also like to see more environmentally friendly practices put into place, particularly with book shipping, although I’m not sure the best way to do this.
What is a recent Australian book you loved?
Myself and the others here at the Bookshop are reading a wide variety at the moment. Is it cheating for me to say I loved All Our Shimmering Skies, the new Trent Dalton? It’s not out yet, but we received an advanced copy, and I can’t wait to start sharing it with our readers. Also on my list are Miranda Tapsell’s biography Top End Girl and Tanya Heaslip’s Alice Girl, the sequel to her debut memoir . So many great Aussie books to sink my teeth into!
What was the last interaction on the floor that made you laugh?
It would be almost impossible to pick one, so I’ll give you two of my favourites. As an author who is also a bookseller, I get a lot of customers give me verbal reviews of my books. You would perhaps be surprised by how often people walk into the shop and loudly exclaim ‘Hey Sean, I really loved The Firebringer. I can’t believe you wrote it!’ It’s a bitter-sweet thing to hear, and never fails to make me laugh. Another moment that made me chuckle was when a customer asked for help buying a gift. I asked if it was for someone he loves. ‘It’s for my wife,’ he replied. ‘Don’t avoid the question,’ I answered. We both had a good chuckle, then I think we settled on Bruny by Heather Rose, which is meant to be a very gripping read.
Sean Guy is the author of books including The Firebringer and Malediction: The Cursed Play.