Birthday celebration weekend completes first chapter of Ullapool Bookshop's story
Ullapool Bookshop has celebrated its 20th birthday with a weekend of special events including a party.
“One of my colleagues suggested we did something when he worked out that the anniversary day would be a Saturday,” said bookshop manager Katharine Douglas.
“In this location, the shop was originally a house. The owner Tina was given the option of buying the house, as she already owned the Captain’s Cabin next door which her grandmother started in 1947 and then it was passed to her mum, and the hardware shop. Tina decided to buy the house and turn it into a bookshop and to have a small birthday party.
“We thought it would be great to celebrate the 20 years and we found some photographs of the shop being fitted out and converted from the house into a bookshop.”
Katharine explained how the plans for the events took shape.
“We decided we wanted to have something on the Friday night, so we invited three authors to start off the weekend celebrations. Then we thought it would be nice to have a party in the shop.
“We asked former staff and people such as Joan Michael who chaired Ullapool Book Festival, and quite a lot of visitors, some who had been in the shop on the Saturday morning and said they would like to come back!
“We had a good mix of people – we had asked authors and publishers and book reps and people who had been involved in the bookshop, though it being the weekend, not all could come.
“It had all the current staff because we are open 12 hours at the moment, nine to nine so we need a good mix of us to cover those hours and they all got involved in the celebrations in lots of ways.
“My colleague Izabela Zielinska-Ciesla did the bunting and decorated the outside of the shop with it.
“Both she and Libby Nairn brought flowers from their gardens to decorate the inside the shop and we also had a lovely bouquet of flowers from the book distributors Gardners Books on Saturday afternoon.
“Izabela – who also bakes bread for the deli – made a wonderful meringue-topped cake – Tina cut the cake and everyone got pieces of the cake over the weekend! So everyone was involved which was lovely.
Katharine has worked I the shop since 2011.
“I’d been there as a customer since I had moved up to Ullapool in 2006. I used to – and still do – supply CDs to the bookshop, classical music and my father’s music. He was a composer.
“I walked in one day and asked ‘Do you think there would be any vacancies in the bookshop?’ and I knew they might be needing people for evenings in the summer, so I started as a part-time member in 2011 and gradually worked my way through the bookshop and got a few more days and things. Don Shaw had been the manager when it opened in 2003 and he retired in 2017. And Tina offered me the manager’s job.
“Seven years this summer I will have been the manager here. It’s a great honour and I absolutely love it!”
Katharine doesn’t remember previous birthday events in the shop.
“I don’t recall it but we have started doing a few more events in the shop.”
And it seems initial plans are being made for the next big milestone.
Katharine laughed: “On Friday night we had the authors Shona MacLean, crime writer Gareth Halliday and John McLellan who wrote The Faultline.
“Shona has already said she would come back for our 30th birthday!”
The night was a seated event in the shop, with room for 30.
“It was the second seated event we have had in the bookshop – we seated 30 easily in the shop – with the authors being interviewed by me, all on the theme of a sense of place.
“All three have very much based their novels somewhere in the Highlands, but they have done very different research. Shona’s book is set in 1752 and she does the research by going to the places, visiting libraries and churches.
“Gareth went out on bike rides during the pandemic period when you couldn’t travel too far and his latest book, Under The Marsh, is set very much around Inverness with things sparking his imagination from a bike ride!
“John McLellan’s book is set in Kinlochewe and is semi-autobiographical, but is also very much describing the land and the hills and both he and Shona were comparing how they sat down with maps and absolutely based their novels correctly so that people who wanted to follow them, could – and there was actually a customer we met who had read John’s book The Faultline said ‘I got the map out and followed everywhere he went and followed all the trails!’. He had got his OS map out so he could plot where exactly the character was going.”
Katharine revealed the bookshop was also marking another milestone last week.
The manager said: “The night before the author event, we sold our 900th copy of The Faultline in just under a year, which is phenomenal.
“And John is writing book two, he was telling us on Friday. It continues the story of the people in The Faultline.
“We had the top sellers of the last 20 years in a book display, having worked out which was the top seller in each of the 20 years.
“There was one Ian Rankin, one Peter May, one JK Rowling, The Faultline for last year. But there are quite a lot of Scottish books too, such as Eric Richards’ book on the Highland Clearances – Isolation Shepherd by Iain R Thomson. It was interesting to look back at the records.
Positive feedback from customers about the author event makes it likely the bookshop will do more author events.
And as well as marking the bookshop’s 20 years in its location, there are exciting future plans.
“We will be trying to do a few more of these events, as we have had lovely comments from people who have enjoyed them, lovely emails from customers saying ‘We loved these events – hope you can keep them coming!’.
“I think there will be a bit more online presence too. We have our own bookshop website. We can’t compete with the likes of Amazon, we have bookshop.org which is a great resource supporting independent bookshops.
“We also have our own website where we sell publications that you don’t easily find elsewhere, so I think there will be more development of that.
“And we have just been asked to do a big book launch by a big publisher – can’t say who yet! But it would be at the beginning of August and it would be this particular author’s 20th – the book is also set in the Highlands on the west coast of Scotland. That will be fun!”
Find out more: www.ullapoolbookshop.co.uk
More by this authorMargaret Chrystall