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Guest blog: Emma Corfield, independent bookshop owner

The pretty town of Crickhowell, a twenty minute stroll from bridge 115 in the canalside village of Llangattock, is hosting its first Literary Festival between 3rd and 11th October this year. Expect a bumper offering that includes talks, readings, book clubs, literary suppers, writing workshops and botanical drawing. We caught up with one of the festival’s directors, Emma Corfield-Walters, to chat about her independent bookshop, Book-ish, and hear her top tips for visiting Crickhowell.

Q. How did Book-ish come about?

Emma: My husband and I opened Book-ish in October 2010 after I decided to sell my building surveying business and take the opportunity to do something completely different – I couldn’t get the idea of owning a bookshop out of my head! The tough financial situation at that time combined with the threat from e-readers and online competition meant that bookshops were closing left, right and centre, across the UK. I felt that if a bookshop was to work, it had to be in the historic market town of Crickhowell. This small town in the Brecon Beacons had a suitable demographic, alongside its famously independent High Street. So I took a punt on Crickhowell having the ideal kind of community to support an independent bookshop, and, luckily, I was right.

Q. What’s different about Book-ish?

Emma: Book-ish is a very small shop so we can’t stock a large range of titles. This means that the titles we do stock are carefully curated to fit our particular customer demographic. We know our customers really well, and we know what will interest them. Secondly it’s all about the conversation and customer service. As an independent bricks-and-mortar shop, we have the opportunity to introduce people to titles they wouldn’t be able to discover online. Some of our passions are championing independent publishing houses, supporting local authors and chatting with our customers.

Q. Have you organised literary events before?

Emma: At Book-ish we have built up a reputation for successful, small-scale literary events, including talks, workshops and children’s events. Our open book clubs have gone down a storm this year; an author comes in to discuss the writing process over cheese and wine, and we all get to discuss the book and ask questions. The Crickhowell Literary Festival was initially conceived as a three-day event but the wealth of talent locally, and the willingness of writers from across the UK to take part, has resulted in a busy 10-day programme.

Q. What do narrowboaters like about Book-ish?

Emma: We get a steady stream of visitors who are holidaying on the canal. They tend to moor up in the village of Llangattock and take a stroll over the stone bridge that crosses the river Usk. Possibly the longest stone bridge in Wales, it’s unusual for having thirteen arches downstream and only twelve arches upstream. Some visitors enjoy browsing for holiday fiction – after all, cruising on a narrowboat is the perfect location for getting stuck into a good book. Most of them are looking for things that will help them enjoy the Brecon Beacons area, so local guides, walking books and O.S. maps are big sellers.

Q. What are your top tips for visiting Crickhowell?

Emma: On your way from the canal, cross the river Usk and take the right hand fork up Bridge Street, then turn left into High Street. Designated a conservation area, this is one of the oldest parts of the town, with a mix of architectural styles including Medieval, Georgian, and Victorian properties. You can while away several hours browsing around what’s thought to be Wales’ last Independent High Street, where almost every shop is a locally-owned business. Explore the two art galleries in town and maybe stop for a spot of lunch at Deb’s Kitchen, set in the historic courtyard at the top of Standard Street. If you visit around April/May, pick up some produce and ask a local how to get to the Bluebell Wood – it’s an amazing setting for a picnic. Before heading back to the canal, enjoy a drink at The Bear, an historic coaching inn and one of the venues for Crickhowell Literary Festival.

To find out more about the historic towns and villages along the canal, take a look at the interactive map on our website. Click on the ‘towns’ icon and they’ll appear!


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