Located in the heart of London’s Highbury area, and founded by artist Tessa Shaw and writer Betsy Tobin in 2015, Ink84 Bookshop might be a relative newcomer on the bookselling block, but it’s made great impact in the five years it’s been open.
The secret to Tessa and Betsy’s success seems to derive from their keen eye for curating excellent ranges of fiction, non-fiction, children’s books, gifts and stationery, alongside serving up great coffee during the day, and craft beer, wine and artisan gin during their lively evening events, including the Ink and Drink book club. Which leads me to another sure-fire reason for their success - hosting stimulating events that both tap into the local community’s literary thirst (Highbury is home to a whole lot of writers and bookish types), and offer something fresh, such as their imaginatively eclectic Screen 84 Friday night film club. While current restrictions have paused in-person events, budding writers would do well to check-out Ink 84’s online writing workshops and their on-going author events. What’s more, the shop is still very much open for click and collect services.
From ‘words on wheels’, to learning from local readers and writers, read on to discover more about Ink 84, our February Bookshop of the Month.
Describe your shop in three words.
Friendly, neighbourly and inviting
When was your bookshop born? How did it come about?
The idea for the bookshop was conceived over many a dog walk. Betsy Tobin and myself are neighbours, friends and our kids had grown up together. We both wanted to do something local which would complement our careers - Betsy is an author and I am an artist and journalist. We know lots of people locally as we have lived in the Islington and Highbury area for more than 25 years. Everyone said a bookshop was mad but we thought Highbury had no independent bookshop and that it was a neighbourhood full of people who might just go for it. We were right.
Tell us about your journey and the changes you’ve seen (and made) along the way.
We knew the challenges of starting an independent bookshop but thought if we could combine books with great coffee and a small bar, we could draw people to a welcoming destination.
We opened just before Christmas in 2015, which was intense, but we quickly found our feet and held launches for authors who were looking for a more intimate venue away from central London. We can accommodate 60ish for a party. Everything is on wheels so we can make a space fit the crowd. In the last couple of years we’ve decked the back garden for a coffee in the summer. We’ve had cocktail signings for authors, larger launches, poetry evenings, and a few years ago launched our Screen 84 film club (sadly on hold because of covid).
What’s important in a great bookshop? What sets you apart and makes you special?
We are always open to ideas from our customers and we’ve had very successful short story courses run both in the shop and online. We have one running now on how to start your novel. We also do a monthly online book club which was held in the shop before covid.
It’s been a very challenging year but it has encouraged us to develop our online business and we now have a virtual bookshop where you can order a curated selection of books to be delivered to you at home or click and collect at the shop. We’ve also benefitted from Bookshop.org opening in November and can deliver any book to our customers.
What’s your all-time favourite novel to recommend to adults, non-fiction to recommend to adults, picture book recommendation, and children’s fiction recommendation?
It’s impossible to choose one book for each category. That's the fun of a bookshop, different moods take me to different places. For a long read and a great classic, I love Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry. I’m a bit of a fan of the wild west, so Sebastian Barry has been a favourite.
Non-fiction I read this year that I do recommend - especially with the world as it is right now - is Humankind by Rutger Bregman and ‘Factulness’ by Hans Rosling.
There are so many great new picture books. We’ve been selling one called Julian and the Mermaid which is brilliant, and I always direct people to the ones I loved reading to my kids. John Burningham’s picture books never date, such as Avocado Baby and Oi! Get Off Our Train. I thought The Skylark’s War by Hilary Mckay was superb and can’t wait to read her new one The Swallows Flight. We are very lucky in the bookshop as our near neighbours are Nicolette Jones, children's book reviewer at the Sunday Times and Imogen Russell Williams, the children’s books critic at the Guardian. They tell us so much. We learn from all our customers.
Which books have you been recommending recently?
Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell is a top favourite. I’ve loved all her books. We have lots of great authors nearby; David Nicholls Sweet Sorrow and Nick Hornby’s Just like You were two books I really enjoyed this year. David Nicholls even came to do an introduction for Far From the Madding Crowd when we screened it for our film club; he had written the screenplay for the film. I heard lots about Patsy by Nicole Dennis-Benn and found it a terrific read and have been recommending it ever since.
What’s your favourite area of your bookshop?
Frankly our shop is pretty small, so I just like the feeling of the whole thing! We spent a lot of time designing it and I think it works pretty well, so that’s something that I'm proud of. We had a vision and went for it... a bit like having a baby!
Tell us a secret about books.
They are better than chocolate.
Apart from your own shop, which other bookshop(s) do you love spending time in?
One bookshop I am looking forward to visiting is a new bookshop called Parade’s End Books in Ham, opened just before Christmas by Rachel Thomas. Covid has stopped me from visiting, but I’ll be there as soon as the pandemic finishes.
Huge thanks to Tessa for taking the time to talk to us, and do check out the Ink 84 website and social channels to keep up-to-date with their services, recommendations and events.
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