As an independent scholar, dyslexia advocate, Publisher at BOTH Press, and Bookseller at Books on the Hill in Clevedon, North Somerset, Alistair Sims knows more than a thing or two about books and the magic of reading.

After growing up dyslexic and not being able to read fully until he was thirteen, Alistair takes pride in sparking a love of books in his youngest patrons — “we particularly focus on the younger customers, treating them as individuals chatting about what books they enjoy. It really emboldens these children to love books”.

In addition, Alistair is deeply committed to publishing dyslexia-friendly books for adults. If that wasn’t enough, fantasy fans will want to watch out for Imagining the Celtic Past in Modern Fantasy, forthcoming from Bloomsbury Academic, and co-edited by Alistair and Dr Dimitra Fimi.

Over to Alistair to share stories from Books on the Hill, an inspirational and inclusive realm of reading in an historic town with top literary connections.

Describe your shop in three words.

Welcoming, dyslexic-friendly, fun.

Clevedon has a long, rich literary tradition. Did that influence your decision to open a bookshop there? Can you share info about Clevedon’s literary links?

My main influence for starting a bookshop here was that I grew up and spent my childhood on the road where I now have a shop.

Before coming back to Clevedon after my PhD to open the shop, I had no real knowledge that Clevedon has so many links to literature. Due to my dyslexia I wasn’t as aware of these things growing up. It is amazing that Coleridge lived nearby and authors have stayed on holidays here - it has been said Tolkien wrote a chapter here which is amazing as I am such a fan!

Can you tell us about the publishing side of your business? How did that come about? What’s your editorial ethos? And what dyslexia-friendly books would you recommend to the LoveReading community?

Recently there has been great strides in helping children with dyslexia, but there were no books for adults that were readily available in bookshops and libraries. The lack of adult dyslexic friendly books was on the back burner, it bubbled in my mind for years. I kept asking publishers’ reps to ask if their publisher had plans to publish any. And year on year, nothing materialised. Finally, I decided to do something about it myself. This is when BOTH Press came into existence. I talked with local author and designer Chrissey Harrison over a course of a few months and we began working together to create a kickstarter and to publish eight dyslexic-friendly fiction books. 

This was our first kickstarter in 2021, with fantasy, sci-fi and horror authors whom I had met and built a relationship with via our fantasy and sci-fi focus in the shop, such Adrian Tchaikovsky, Stan Nicholls, Steven Savile and John Llewellyn Probert. These authors were very supportive in their help in bringing the project off the ground and the books into people’s hands. 

The biggest thing and most important thing for us is to make good quality fiction accessible and the formatting we use makes minor changes but makes a huge difference for readers. However, it has to be recognised that turning a large novel into dyslexic friendly books is just not do-able. We need to source good quality short stories and make them accessible.

For children, I would I recommend Featherlight by Peter Bunzl. And with some bias, I would recommend our own dyslexic friendly books for adults, Silver for Silence by J M Alvey. 

What’s important in a great bookshop? What sets you apart and makes you special (alongside publishing dyslexia-friendly books for adults!)?

We talk to all our customers and we particularly focus on the younger customers, treating them as individuals chatting about what books they enjoy. It really emboldens these children to love books and to come to the shop without their parents and be comfortable. The most important part of being a great bookshop, is talking to your customers, and finding what they like or dislike and helping them on their literary journey. 

We also are committed fantasy and sci-fans, so we can talk for hours with our customers who also love these books! 

What are your personal literary passions, and are they reflected in your stock?

I love history, as I have a PhD in history and archaeology. And this is reflected in our stock with a large history factual section, which I insist is in chronological order a) because it has to be (the historian quivers in rage if not!) and b) because of my dyslexia  I find putting books in alphabetical order really hard and chronological order is so much easier for me!

What are your all-time favourite books to recommend?

Picture book… Six Dinner Sid by Inga Moore

Children’s novel…Spellslinger by Sebastien de Castell

Adult novel… Sharpe’s Assassin by Bernard Cornwell

Non-fiction… The First Kingdom: Britain in the age of Arthur by Max Adams 

Which new books have you been recommending recently? 

Unraveller by Frances Hardinge.

What are you most proud of? 

I am so proud that we have children coming into the shop on their own to buy books with their pocket money, and that they feel safe and happy to do so without their parents. And I have to mention our publishing venture books for adults!

Who would you invite to your dream literary party? 

J.R.R. Tolkien, Professor Mary Beard, John Lewellyn Probert, Robin Hobb, Bernard Cornwell.

Tell us a secret about books.

I secretly love ordering children’s picture books, as I have almost no memory of them as a child, as I could not read properly until I was 13.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with the LoveReading community?

I am so excited to publishing one of my literature heroes, Bernard Cornwell, with Sharpe’s Skirmish coming out on 31st October. My Grandma made me a Sharpe’s rifleman’s jacket for me when I was I child - I still have it though it doesn’t fit me anymore!

Discover more about Books on the Hill:


Twitter: @booksonthehill

Facebook: Books On The Hill

And read about more fabulous indie bookshops.