IBW2021: Nadine Matheson’s bookshop memories

To celebrate Independent Bookshop Week, Nadine Matheson (The Jigsaw Man) looks back on her childhood bookshop memories, and the importance of representation.

One building; many worlds

Is it possible to miss a building? To feel a longing to be back inside those hallowed walls that housed a gateway to so many different worlds? There are two buildings from childhood that were a sanctuary both to books and to me. These buildings were my happy place and they were the places where book lived. They were my happy places. The first of these buildings was called The Old Town Library and was filled with dark wood panelling and hidden alcoves; that became reading nooks. I loved the Old Town Library and almost cried when I watched the demolition of my favourite building.  However, it is the second building that still pulls at my heart strings when I walk past the space where it used to stand. They didn’t knock the down the building. where my childhood bookshop used to be, but they might as well have done so.

For years I had no idea what the name of my favourite shop was called; it was just the bookshop where my parents had been taking me since I was a toddler. As a child, there was only one benefit to following my mum up the Deptford High Street on a Saturday morning. I knew that if I went to Deptford Market with my mum that I would be allowed to go to the bookshop while she stood in the market talking to my gran, another cousin or one of her friends. It was inevitable that there would be a 20 minute lull where my mum would be occupied with family gossip. You have to remember that this was the eighties, so there were a quite few children my age who had been allowed to wander alone into the sanctuary of the bookshop. I loved books. I loved the smell of books and I loved seeing so many choices. The bookshop owner would leave me and the other kids to happily browse and would always be available to answer my 101 questions about the books that I had chosen. 

A permanent place in my memory

It turns out the bookshop on the High Street did have a name. It was called ‘The Deptford Bookshop and Literacy Centre’ and it was the first place where I ever saw a book cover featuring two girls who looked like me. I can clearly remember standing in front of the bookshelf, being transfixed by the cover and then excitedly showing the book to my dad. Two little black girls with their hair in cornrow; just like mine. I loved that space of the bookshop and being allowed to indulge in pure escapism. One of the best things about my bookshop was that it was a showcase for local authors and in particular Black and Asian British Authors. I was exposed to books and authors that would never have been given the same space in other bookshop chains. The Deptford Bookshop and Literacy Centre closed in 1997 and I can honestly say that I still miss that shop, but it will always have a permanent place in my memories.   

Want to read more bookshop memories from some of your favourite authors? Click here.

Nadine Matheson’s dark and gripping debut The Jigsaw Man is available now from your local bookshop or on bookshop.org.

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