Conversation with Sarah Mullen, Owner of The Bookshop on the Green
By Holly Presswell, Christiana Jasutan, Tamara Yamamoto and Nazifa Khan
Hi Sarah! Before opening The Bookshop on the Green, you were a solicitor and a festival director. What made you decide to open a bookshop in Bournville?
“The idea grew from festival bookselling. I discovered that I loved bookselling, and people from the festival used to say, ‘wouldn’t it be great to have an independent bookshop in Bournville?’ which planted the seed in my mind. I decided to have a go at it, since nobody else was doing it.
I am a risk taker, which is why I opened the bookshop in October 2020, in the middle of a pandemic, which was a crazy time to even consider it. It was a rollercoaster ride, and it was really difficult, especially as I had just bought £4000 worth of stock and had done a beautiful Christmas display before the second lockdown was announced. So, I went to social media and personally hand-sold the books during this period. Our local community was so amazing in terms of their support.
I think you have to be a risk taker when you want to have your own independent retail business, especially a bookshop. You have to love people, you have to love books and you have to do more things on the side, such as events and administration. You have to be very organised and have good attention to detail, especially for curating displays for the bookshop.”
What is your favourite part of owning a bookshop, and what is the most difficult?
“There are a lot of things I absolutely love about it. I love it when children come to the front door and they can see the origami bears in the children’s area, and they just run from the front door. I love helping to find children new authors to read, or the next book in the series they are enjoying. I love it when adults come in with gasps of delight or ‘I haven’t seen that book anywhere else.’ As a curator of stock, a buyer, I really like it when I can put books in front of people they wouldn’t have thought about buying. I like running events and bringing people together around books. I love those magical moments when you can introduce a child to a children’s author or illustrator, or an adult to a literary hero, who has read their books for years and loved them. I also love introducing an emerging writer and connecting them with a new audience for the first time and giving them that opportunity. Being a dream maker is one of the best parts of the job. I employ people whose dream it is to work in a bookshop and make the magic happen.
The hardest part would be the sheer level of paperwork involved in bookselling, it is off the scale, and there is a lot of behind-the-scenes admin. It's hard when you are ill or tired because there is no-one for you to call in sick to, you have to take some paracetamol and carry on. Being a small business owner, you are part of the story and it is down to you to make things happen.”
Can you describe a typical day in the life of a bookshop owner?
“There isn’t really a typical day, but I will go through some of the things I’ve done this week. It is the run up to Independent Bookshop Week, so we have a programme of events. We start the day with a team briefing where we talk about what we need to do that day and plan the buying of books for events or the shop.
Tomorrow, we are setting up Gruffalo on the Green and welcoming fifty children and parents on the green for Gruffalo storytelling. Bradley, our bookseller, will be dressing up as the Gruffalo, too.”
Have you got any exciting events planned for Independent Bookshop Week?
“We are excited about our Literary Lunch, as it’s the first time we have ever done something like that! We will be having a midsummer’s day lunch with three courses and three authors, where we’ll interview a different author after each course. I’ve teamed up with a local restaurant who are going to provide the food, as well as an art gallery. We have an art historian who is going to be interviewed by the art gallery owner after the main course, I will be interviewing the novelist after the starter and then the restaurant owners are interviewing Ned Palmar, an award-winning cheesemonger, about artisan cheeses of Britain and Ireland and that has been really popular, so we are looking forward to that. We’re also doing an afternoon tea with Mike Gale who is Harborne based and is celebrating twenty-five years in publishing.
We also launched Poetry on the Green in May, and it’s the first Tuesday evening of the month and we mix it up, so each month we have a headliner poet. We launched it with Casey Bailey who is the outgoing Poet Laureate for Birmingham. Very excitingly for July, Leena Norms will be headlining which I’m super excited about, as Leena is one of my favourite poets. There is only space for about twenty-five people, but we get a really diverse audience and I love it! Some people are just starting out and some people have been doing it for years, and everybody is welcome, so It's fantastic.”
Do you have a favourite book?
“My favourite book of this year so far is The Home Child by Liz Berry. It is a new poetry collection and normally I read a lot of fiction and non-fiction, and don’t read so much poetry myself, but I was so moved by Liz’s story. It is about one of her ancestors who was forcibly sent to Canada as a twelve-year-old girl. My daughter is turning twelve next Tuesday and I just found it so profoundly moving, but also so inspiring how Liz had treated the story with such tenderness and care. I was really struck with how she phrased it; how she nurtured the story. I have so much admiration for Liz as a writer and it was an absolute joy to interview her back in March.”
Visit The Bookshop on the Green at 27 Sycamore Rd, Birmingham B30 2AA.