Saturday, 20 April 2013

An Interview with Barbara from Marchhouse books.

Today I'm fortunate to be able to interview Barbara  from Marchhouse books, an independent book seller from England. Although her books are a little young for me, I love looking a them and the fond memories they bring me from so long ago.

1) Apart from their beauty, what made you decide to sell children's books? Or have I answered my own question?

Well, you are certainly part way to the answer! I’ve always loved books and book illustration, but I didn’t set out to sell them. I left school at 16 with little or no idea of what I wanted to do and after applying for a few jobs started work as a shop assistant in a gent’s outfitters. After working there for a while I moved on to an office job where I learnt to type and operate a Burroughs accounting machine, this was prior to the advent of computers as we now know them. I stopped working for a while when my son was small and then drifted back into accountancy work and decided I would like to gain some qualifications. Four years later I qualified as an accountant and promptly decided it was not what I wanted to do! It was around this time I read an article in the now sadly defunct Collect It magazine. In the article Sue Bell from Green Meadow Books talked about her love for children’s books, that was my Eureka moment. I’ve been collecting and selling them ever since.

2) Do books from any specific era or decade sell better than others? And if so why do you think that is?

I can’t pick out any specific era or decade but what I can say is that I sell lots of books to grandmas wanting to read their favourite stories to their grandchildren, the same goes for mums, dads and grandads.

Other things can and do influence sales. One of the most obvious is when a book is adapted for film or television and suddenly everyone wants a copy. I used to be surprised when several books by the same author sold in quick succession, now I know it means one of two things. Either the author has died or someone has bought the film rights, sad but true.

3) Have you ever been tempted to keep all those gorgeous books you advertise?

Yes, all the time! But luckily or perhaps unluckily, my other half is very good at keeping me on track. When 'my' shelves are groaning under the weight of all the things I can't bear to part with he reminds me I’m running a business not building a collection. In truth, I am building a collection, but we should keep that between ourselves!!  It’s particularly difficult to part with books that hold special memories. Such as the time I rediscovered The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and found myself transported back to school prize giving day (I was awarded a copy for deportment!) Or on opening a copy of the famous five and finding myself back in the second-hand bookshop in Farnham sitting on the floor surrounded by books while my dad chatted to the owner of the shop.    

4) Have you a favourite author?

I’m afraid I’m rather fickle! I find it impossible to decide on a favourite author or even a style of writing. Enid Blyton, Lorna Hill, C.S. Lewis and Marion St John Webb were my first loves.

I also adore anything by Zoë Heller, Dan Brown, Daphne du Maurier, Robert Westall, Jodi Picoult (if you haven’t  read second glance – you should!), Alison Uttley and John Boyne, I loved his Noah Barleywater runs away and the boy in the striped pyjamas.  I also enjoy reading books by new authors like Donna Yates, Joleene Naylor and You!

My bedtime reading this month is Party Frock by Noel Streatfield, Fame by Tilly Bagshawe and Penniless Hearty by Eve Gaal.

5) How has the market for printed books changed, at least for you, since the advent of electronic readers?

The market for second-hand printed books, like most other things, is rather in the doldrums at the moment, but I’m sure that has more to do with the economic climate than the advent of electronic books.

I understand the appeal of electronic readers, but I still prefer the look and feel of a ‘real’ book – but then I would say that wouldn’t I! 

6) For what ages do your books range?

I like to think there is something for every age range. I stock everything from vintage board books with thick card pages that even the tiniest fingers can hold to very fragile items that need to be handled with care. I also sell a large number of rare books that are intended to be admired rather than read.

When I first looked at this question, I read it as from what ages do your books range. A quick check revealed the earliest book in stock is Holyday Tales written by The Reverend Gresley in 1843. I know you didn’t ask that question, but having found the answer I thought I would include it!

7) Do you receive many requests for authors to sell their books?

Often, but I prefer to stick to what I know. Most of the books I sell are out of print or at least in short supply and I usually have only one copy of each title. There is no way I can compete with the megalisters on Amazon who seem to abide by the ‘pile um high & sell um cheap’ business model. If you know a way I can sell new books and make a profit I would be interested to hear from you.

8) With your obvious love of books, have you even been tempted to write one?

Yes and no! I do have a story buzzing around inside my head, but don’t feel I have the necessary skills to tell it.

9) Apart from the obvious sophistication of today’s children, have the books changed to any large degree?

I probably risk getting shot down in flames by saying this, but to me, much of the charm has gone out of children’s books. That’s certainly not true for all new books; you only have to visit Claudine at Carry Us Off Books to see that. But somehow the innocence has been replaced by just a little too much sophistication.

10) In the event that you gave up selling books is there something you always wanted to do but never got around to?

I love selling books and can’t imagine doing anything else.  But given the opportunity I would like to travel, learn how to take decent photographs and attend a creative writing course or two. At which point the story buzzing around in my head might just get written!

I'd like to thank Barbara and urge you to have a look at her site. She has the most wonderful books there.

She also has an excellent blog ; Marchhousebooks


  1. Roger, thank you so much! I appreciate this. Thank you!

  2. Wow, just accidentally came across this interview and noticed that Barbara from March House is reading my book! Wonderful post!

  3. I was so thrilled to see an interview with Barbara - she is definitely one of the nicest people out there and I have always loved her blog! Great interview and choice of questions Roger - I really enjoyed reading it.

  4. Wonderful interview. Roger, you asked all the right questions, and Barbara, your answers were amazing. I learned more about you and your business. You are doing such a good thing by rescuing all these children's books.

  5. Thank you all. It was a pleasure to ask questions of someone with a slightly different perspective than we writers.

  6. Thanks Eve, Sharon, Donna and of course, Roger. I had a lot of fun!

  7. Now we want to hear about this book flirting with your subconscious.

  8. I have to agree with you, Barbara, I think the older children's books, by and large, are better than the newer ones. of course there are exceptions, but...

    Thanks so much for the mention! This was a great interview and I really enjoyed it!

  9. Very interesting! I really love Barbara's blog.
    Besos from Argentina, Silvina

  10. As do I. Thank you for visiting.

  11. What a lovely interview! I love Barbara's blog and so enjoy seeing all of the amazing books she is collecting and selling. It was great to learn to learn more about one of my favorite people and to discover what got her started selling books. I agree with her that there is nothing like the smell of a real book and I love how they feel in my hands. :)

    Barbara- I think the photographs you take are fabulous! You are achieving that dream, too. :)

    1. I agree. I love Barbara's books and just wish I had someone that I could buy some of them to give as gifts.

  12. Barbara's one of my first and favourite book blogger friends and always, I'm able to feel her love for children's books glowing through her posts. This interview carries great questions and answers. I'm floored you mentioned me, Barbara, and I do agree that to an extent, the tone of innocence has been replaced by sophistication in more children's books these days. {Not all, of course. Just relatively more.} The picture books and middle-grade novels I read in childhood were either classics or stories on friendship/school/good kid-vs-naughty kid troubles. In many of the middle-grade stories these days, the main characters often have deeper troubles ~ an autistic family/abuse/parent-child separation etc. Perhaps it's a reflection on the churn of the society. Our children do indeed face deeper troubles at an earlier stage than we did.

    As with Stephanie, your pictures are more than lovely. Fly free, Barbara. Travel, take more pictures, and sign up for that writing course. You'll do brilliantly!

  13. Dear Claudine, you are a beautiful person and a wonderful friend. Thank you!