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Interview with Susie Keepin of Woodbridge Books

Interviewed by Tricia Gilbey

If you had to sum up your customers in three words, what would they be?

My customers are friendly and loyal, they’ve also been very welcoming to me as the new owner of what to many of them is an important local independent shop. What encourages me is their passion about books. They want advice because they have run out of books by their favourite author so who could they try next? Or they have read all of Ann Cleves and how long do they have to wait for the next one? They are all passionate about reading. We can order in the books they need quickly and often order less mainstream books: we are proud to be inclusive.

How do you go about choosing your stock from the many books published each year?

We have various ways of choosing our stock, but it also comes down to personal choice. We know what our customers like and that can also depend on the time of year, whether we are selecting juicy hardbacks for Christmas gifts or holiday reads for tourists. However we know that our locals appreciate local writers like Elly Griffiths and Polly Crosby, they are fiercely loyal to their favourites.

How do you theme your window displays?

Window displays give us much pleasure! They are often seasonal, we are looking forward to Valentine's Day, Mother’s Day, Easter, summer holidays…

We also choose what matters to us like nature and wildlife or supporting our local authors. Displays need to be cheerful and attractive too.

Which book would each of your team choose to champion right now and why?

Our dedicated team are passionate about books but all love different genres. Jessie loves The House of Birds and Butterflies by Cressida McLaughlin because it highlights the beauty of nature and wildlife in Suffolk. Kim loves the Mike Barfield book A Day in the Life of a Poo a Gnu and You. It encourages children to learn about the world in bite-size facts. Jane likes The History of Britain in 21 Women by Jenni Murray. It’s a brilliant book looking at inspiring women who got into politics, medicine and other fields they weren’t supposed to. She would champion it now because girls and young women can be reminded how hard women have worked to be taken seriously and find their own way to remove the barriers that still exist today. I love books by Lesley Kara (one of our favourite local authors) but The Apartment Upstairs is my favourite. It’s a gripping, dark story with some great twists.

Do you champion local authors?

Local authors are very important to us. Whether they have a new bestseller out or they have published their first book with a local publisher. The variety of local books is wonderful because they aren’t constrained by publishers' expectations. We have to keep one eye on whether other people will want to read the book but the variety is so refreshing! These writers write because they need to share the story of their great grandmother or their own Suffolk childhood. Or they feel strongly about a story they want to tell and illustrate for children. We enjoy supporting them with book signings and story times.

What was the most popular book over Christmas?

Most popular books over Christmas were Elizabeth: an Intimate Portrait by Gyles Brandreth and The Golden Mole by Katherine Rundell which is a beautiful book about how special the animal kingdom is.

Your children’s book room is amazing. You obviously highly value children’s books. Please tell us more about why you chose to invest in children’s books in this way?

Children’s books and getting children reading is very important to me. We love our children’s book room and the reaction that we get to it from children and adults alike. We stock recent books but also the books we loved as children so adults can find Swallows and Amazons or Anne of Green Gables to share with their own children. They can also reread the Narnia books or Dr Seuss. If children aren’t reading they just haven’t found the right book yet. Parents come in concerned that their child has got stuck reading younger books or cartoon books. I feel that it doesn’t matter as long as they are finding something they enjoy reading. There’s no rush. A love of reading will help them through life with their education but also their own mental health in challenging times so it’s good to put the roots down. Reading at bedtime also creates a wonderful bond between children and parents or grandparents. If a child loves reading I believe it sets them up for many of life’s challenges.

Do you stock children’s books by celebrities? Do you see this as problematic at all?

We stock books by celebrities for children and adults, particularly around Christmas when they are very popular. They vary in quality but our readers are very discerning!

Tell us a little more about your team there? I see that Stanley, the bookshop dog,

is a valued member!

We are a friendly dedicated team who all bring our own love of books and specialties to the shop. Between us we also have seven children so we are pretty good at helping with book choices for younger customers. We also have two very keen teenage readers who work at weekends and they are experts on our Young Adult section.

Why did you decide to open in Woodbridge?

We bought the bookshop in Woodbridge because it was already established. We hope to continue with the same community friendly feel that the locals love.

What are your hopes for the future of Woodbridge Books?

In the future we hope to visit even more schools to build a relationship with local children, reading stories with our cuddly owl, whether in the classroom or the shop. I’m also keen to meet more authors and work with them on new events.

Tricia Gilbey


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