Picaresque Books makes it 'Ding Dong Dingwall'!
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It’s a new experience, walking into Picaresque Books in Dingwall. Mask, check; disinfect hands, check.
Instead of roaming around the shelves, owner David Duguid is more likely to be hiding in plain view in his Perspex box behind the counter. "Just call me Alice," he quips, alluding to the famous Through the Looking Glass reference.
He tells me that footfall has dropped in Dingwall High Street, but that those who do come out definitely come with more of an intent to buy. And there are other changes too. "In the past, our split would be around 50-50 with people buying new books and people opting for old and antique publications. Now 80 per cent of the books we sell are new. It’s as if people are still a bit wary of old things – but I am confident that that will come back."
David Duguid feels cautiously optimistic – he was fortunate to receive a grant from the government while the shop was closed – after all, bills still had to be paid. His landlord was also extremely helpful. "But it sort of forced my hand too – as a technophobe, I was wary of tackling our slightly dated online presence. Having time made me realise that I had to come into the 21st century."
David made contact with the Apprentice Store in Inverness, a social enterprise with the core aim of increasing employment opportunities for young people through its unique apprenticeship programme. An enthusiastic young apprentice assisted him with building a new website, and the bookseller can’t praise him highly enough: "He was a young lad, really good, and very gentle and patient with me. I didn’t want to give my business to a big company. The fact that these guys give young people a chance to learn really appealed to me."
The result is a brand-new website of which David is rightly proud. "It was funny though – as soon as we reopened, I was inundated with people offering me books! Obviously, everyone has had a chance to have a clear-out," he laughs.
The first book he sold on once the site went live was a two-volume edition of Edwin Morgan’s poems. He intends to blog about the daily idiosyncrasies of bookselling on his new website and has already had an exclusive author signing from local bestselling crime fiction writer Shona Maclean, who signed copies of her new book, The House of Lamentations.
Cleverly, the bookseller numbered and dated the copies: "Obviously in the current climate, these books are the first ones, probably the ONLY ones she signed – there are no events and book signings anywhere just now. I’ve practically already sold out of them now – they are sure to become collectors’ items!"
But Maclean is not the only well-known name to lend her support to Picaresque Books. David was astonished to see news of his new website retweeted by crime writer Ian Rankin and Scots Makar Jackie Kay – who cheered ‘Ding Dong Dingwall’ – among others. Messages and well-wishes pinged in from the writing community across Scotland, from children’s authors and poets to crime bestsellers.
"Yeah. That was great," David sums up with his twin trademarks: deadpan understatement and quiet enthusiasm. "In fact, that was amazing."
I come off the phone with Picaresque Books encouraged – independent bookshops will be all right, I have to believe it! They are nimble, adaptable, committed and deserving of our support. I resolve to go out with intent to buy and support an industry that matters the world to me, to you and to so many others.
- Look out for: The House of Lamentations: Shona Maclean’s nail-biting final historical thriller in the award-winning Damian Seeker series.
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