An author-bookseller friendship: Mari Hannah and Helen Stanton
Rub-a-dub-dub: every story has two sides.
Award-winning crime writer Mari Hannah and independent bookseller Helen Stanton: a symbiotic relationship, a formidable team.
Mari: When you live in a small village, as I do, you learn the mantra – use it or lose it – pretty quickly, whether you happen to be talking about the butcher, baker or candlestick maker, to quote the ancient nursery rhyme. To do otherwise would mean the local economy would collapse, businesses would die, residents would jump ship faster than a cabin boy on a sinking cruise liner. RIP Corbridge – nice knowing you.
Helen: It’s not often that a double murder on your shop’s doorstep is good for business, but so it proved with Mari’s blistering debut, The Murder Wall. In the opening pages, a body is discovered in a church that sits opposite our front door. It’s given us an excellent way to hand-sell the book. If a customer comes in looking for a particular crime novel it’s their lucky day because, even if we don’t stock it, we have Mari Hannah, our very own crime writer. Almost a thousand customers have left the shop with one of her titles and come back for more – hard to imagine she was first published as recently as April 2012.
Mari: Before I wrote one word of crime fiction, as a reader I appreciated a leisurely browse through Forum Books, the independent bookshop near my home. It was always my first stop shop for reading and writing materials and I worried that it might close as the owner neared retirement. My concern was unfounded. He wanted to sell the shop on as a going concern. It really mattered to him and the wider community that Corbridge kept its bookshop identity. But the significance of having an independent bookseller within half a mile of my office didn’t register until the business changed hands a few months before my debut was published.
Helen: At Forum we celebrate every book that Mari writes – and boy does she graft. She promotes relentlessly after publication, putting herself out to meet with readers at signings across the region. She’s also a regular contributor to crime writing festivals and library events. If she’s asked to take part in an event locally, the first thing she does is ask if they need a bookseller. If they do, she pitches Forum in the spirit of support and cooperation. This is not only mutually beneficial to us. It works for event organisers and libraries too. Books taken care of. Job done.
Mari: Never could I have envisioned such a close working relationship with a bookseller before I was published. But when the new owner of Forum Books arrived in the form of Helen Stanton, she had other ideas. Helen has worked in the industry for many years as a bookseller & buyer at Waterstones, and in sales & marketing for Headline & Canongate books. She knows her market. She’s passionate about books and readers. She understands what is required for independent booksellers to compete with larger stores and supports authors with flair and enthusiasm. She has a great rapport with sales reps and her interest in books is infectious. She does that word-of-mouth thing, recommending titles that are individually tailored to her customers’ varying tastes. Put simply, she knows what they like because she cares and puts herself out to get to know them in a way a librarian would. I could never have reached out to readers in the way that I do without her support.
Helen: Following swiftly on the heels of her debut, Mari’s books have taken us all over Northumberland, a county that is often overlooked. One would think that she’s not on the tourist board’s good books (no pun intended) with gruesome murders in beautiful churches, crime scenes close to Hadrian’s Wall, multiple deaths in the shadow of the Angel of the North, a rising body count on the sweeping sands of Bamburgh. But they’d be wrong because Mari, like Ann Cleeves, has put the northeast on the map. Edinburgh has Rankin, Aberdeen MacBride, and Mari’s name is fast becoming synonymous with this region in the same way that Colin Dexter and Inspector Morse are inextricably linked with Oxford. She really nails this place and brings the county alive. There is no mistaking her love of the region. As a Northumberland bookshop, why wouldn’t we promote her?
Mari: I’m staggered that more writers don’t follow our lead. If they are fearful of aligning themselves with one bookstore over another, they shouldn’t be. I have as close a working relationship with big retailers as I do with Helen. The excellent staff at branches of Waterstones are equally supportive, but in a different way, arranging cluster signings across the north, giving me floor space when new titles are launched. Both are in the business of promoting and selling books. In my opinion, they serve different functions. They coexist without treading on each other’s toes. To quote my literary agent, there’s room for all at the publishing bar.
Helen: It was serendipity that I arrived in Corbridge just before Mari’s first book was published. I’m lucky and grateful that she’s been so supportive of the shop, not just in terms of promoting her own work, but in coming in to help on days that celebrate writing: Books are my Bag, World Book Day or Independent Booksellers Week. Putting her writing aside, she’s been nothing less than a loyal, supportive and generous customer.
Mari: This is a difficult time for the publishing industry, more so for independent booksellers on the high street. There are now less than a thousand in the UK but, like a lot of indie bookshop owners around the country, Helen remains optimistic for the future, squirreling away behind the scenes, planning her next event or thinking of imaginative ways to sell her wares. Because of her excellent reputation, she’s able to draw big names to the region. For example Costa winner Helen Macdonald was a sell-out evening, and US crime writer Tess Gerritsen stopped by on her UK tour - a major achievement for such a tiny rural outlet. And, because Helen has a list of loyal customers who will come out and support her, her events are always a resounding success. Long may they continue.
Mari Hannah is published by Pan Macmillan in the UK and by Harper Collins/Witness Impulse in the US. Her latest book Killing for Keeps is out now. She can be found at marihannah.com or on Twitter: @mariwriter
Helen Stanton is the Owner & Manager of two independent bookshops in Corbridge, Northumberland: Forum Books & Forum Books Kids! She can be found at forumbooks.co.uk or on Twitter: @ForumBooks
Mari Hannah’s new paperback of her latest Kate Daniels’ novel Killing for Keeps is published in Pan paperback on 16th July.