We interviewed Lesley McFarlane of Tell Tales Books in Warrington by sending her a series of questions which she was kind enough to take the time to answer. We have watched the bookshop take shape from the early days when her partner, Steve, made the amazing transformation from a basic, unattractive unit into a lovely, warm bookshop where Lesley offers tea and goodies and an amazing variety of workshops as well as the wonderful range of books that she loves. If you’re anywhere within distance of Tell Tales do drop in and visit – she’ll be delighted and so will you. Thank you so much Lesley for sharing your story with us and supporting us with our venture.
Why did you decide to set up a bookshop?
Lots of reasons! Firstly, I wasn’t as happy in my job as I had been. My amazing Mum had died, and my sister and I had sold the family home. This meant I had a small nest egg that would enable me to try a new venture. I didn’t want to spend the last ten working years of my life doing something that wasn’t making me happy.
So, after many, many years of teaching children to read, and helping them to choose books that they could love, I hoped I could start a little bookshop selling the best quality books …and I knew there were lots out there!
As a child, books had provided me with friends, adventures and travel. I want all children to be able to get lost in a book, see themselves in a book, to learn to empathise, rationalise and understand the world. To be scared, cheered, moved to tears and laugh like a drain at a book. I wanted to facilitate that.
Was it hard to find suitable premises?
Yes! Premises within the town centre of Warrington had rent that was prohibitive and it also put me in direct competition with big bookshops, supermarkets and other book-selling outlets. I knew I couldn’t compete with them on price. Outside of town, the footfall isn’t so great. So, I just had to go with my gut! I kept coming back to the little unit I’d found and luckily Steve, my partner, was completely supportive (he is a builder) and said he would kit the place out on a real shoestring budget. He did an awesome job!
How did your background prepare you for opening a bookshop?
All I had was my love and a (small amount) knowledge of children’s books, everything else I had to learn….and am still learning! I found working alone, no longer part of a large team the most difficult adjustment. Wanting to put books into the hands of children has driven me. I have had lots of support from family and friends, please don’t get me wrong, but ultimately, I am alone and on a very steep learning curve.
Was it something you always want to do?
I think it is something that has grown within me. Being led by my friend Heather of Reading Rocks fame into the land of Edu Twitter, whetted my appetite for the wonderful children’s books that are being published. (She still points me in the direction of fabulous books!)
The more I saw, the more the dream of living in amongst those books and the thought that I could possibly make it my business to sell those beauties grew.
How did you first attract customers?
Social media was the first port of call. This is how the biggest majority of people communicate and find things out. A very close second is word of mouth, so asking friends and family to pass the word around. Posters, leaflets, business cards etc.
Is providing an opportunity for community-building important to you?
Definitely! Integrating myself to be a part of the community is extremely important to me. The way we live today, I believe, makes it increasingly easy to become isolated. I want Tell Tales to be a place where everyone feels welcome and supported. Having things like Maternity Voices, breast feeding support and baby massage, I hope, gives parents a place to come and access important services and gives them a chance to talk to others in the same situations…as well as, hopefully, being my future customers!
What do you think makes Tell Tales unique?
Hmmm… I am not sure that I am unique! I think there are lots of amazing indie bookshops out there, doing the same thing as I am; trying to pass on our love and passion for children’s literature. Providing valuable community spaces for groups to meet.
What is your favourite thing about having a bookshop?
That is a very close-run thing. Obviously, I LOVE living amongst those books. However, the people I have met, and continue to meet – parents determined to give their children the best bookish experiences possible – the people in my community who have supported me in the most extraordinary ways, bringing food, words of wisdom or simply a wave and smile through the window. People who have chosen to come over and order through Tell Tales, they restore my faith that indies can make it! That all makes the whole adventure worthwhile.
Recommendations for the coming season:
The Tree That’s Meant to Be Yuval Zommer
Sulwe Lupita Nyong’o
Chinglish Sue Cheung