Last year was remarkable for Much Ado, with a confluence of book purchases and events that made it one of our most successful years.
We are grateful to everyone who helped make it so: Customers, authors and publishers alike. And where would we be without our associates whose help behind the counter and throughout the operation makes such a difference to the shop? We may be a tiny cog in a large industry, but the pleasures we take in working with books is huge – and without the support of so many people we wouldn’t be here!
We thought it might be an idea to round up some of the memorable events of the year:
New and Noteworthy
Author Debby Holt entertained a crowd of fans in our barn on 20 February, reading from her novel The Soulmate.
John Davies – AKA Shedman – ran a series of writing workshops in our barn beginning in February.
Ann Wroe chose to hold the launch party for Six Facets of Light in our barn on 9 April.
Our barn was filled with classical music on 22 April, when musicians held a special concert supporting the Alfriston Summer Music Festival.
Brighton musician Jo Burke helped us celebrate Shakespeare’s birthday with an in-shop concert on 23 April.
As her book began to move up the bestseller charts, Juliet Nicolson discussed A House Full of Daughters at Deans Place Hotel on 28 April.
Scholar David Soulsby revelled in Vergil’s Aeneid at a workshop lecture on 5 May, raising funds for the Alfriston Village School.
More than 130 fans turned out to greet Jacqueline Wilson when she read from Rent a Bridesmaid on 17 May.
Kim Marsland (Charleston Farmhouse 1981) and Jonathan Christie (George Smart – Tailor of Frant) spent the afternoon of 21 May upstairs at Much Ado, discussing their fascinating books.
Much Ado co-owner Nash Robbins was invited off-campus for a talk on bookselling as part of the long-running Blatchington Lectures in Seaford on 6 June.
The South Down Cycle Poets rolled into our barn on 19 July, offering first a workshop and then a performance by a number of poets who were participating in the first South Downs Poetry Festival.
Calligrapher Tina Warren led an intensive full-day workshop on modern calligraphy in our barn on 23 July.
Perhaps best known for his appearances on Radio 4 and for his TV scripts, Andy Hamilton celebrated publication of his novel The Star Witness on 21 September.
Artist James Brown visited to unveil a new portrait of Shakespeare on 8 October, designated Bookshop Day. The piece hangs above our stairs, on the one bit of wall space large enough to contain it (the print is so large James had to use a steamroller!).
Bookshop Day also included readings by artist Clare Whistler, and a celebration of a new installation by Keith Pettit: A large-scale ruler marked to show the heights of different authors. Customers have been enjoying measuring themselves against the likes of Virginia Woolf, Roald Dahl, Lee Child, Jacqueline Wilson, Charlotte Bronte and others.
Our yard and barn were taken over by a new charity, Sussex Traditions, for a launch event on 23 October. The Copper Family singers entertained a record crowd, a number of accordionists made merry, there was a display on the traditional game of Stoolball, a corner of the yard was occupied by a traditional maker of trugs.
The London craft collective named The Muswell Hill Creatives held a pop-up shop in our barn over the weekend of 11-13 November, beginning with a special invitation-only opening soiree that included members of the Friends of Much Ado.
Lucinda Guy and Francois Hall (Kids Learn to Stitch) demonstrated their skills stitching and illustrating at a special afternoon on 26 November.
Printing history came into focus when Stuart McMinn discussed his book Curwen Press: Printing Blocks on 27 November.
Author Dawn Casey entertained children and led craft workshops based on her book Babushka, at a Deans Place Hotel event on 11 December.
Our new books sometimes get all the attention, but we love old books as well and in 2016 we enjoyed an extraordinary series of purchases that deserve mention in any appreciation for the period.
In a lifetime of collecting, Edna and Denis Healey assembled something like 15,000 volumes, covering almost every subject you could think of (but with some special focuses, such as art and photography, poetry and the Bloomsbury Group). Buying their library in the early days of 2016 has been a significant moment for us - the number of books and their quality have delighted customers and changed the shop permanently.
Researching and sorting the books dominated our year, and sharing them with customers was a huge pleasure. The process culminated in an opening in our barn on 16 April, when we invited people to see a cross-section of the books. And the process of sorting, researching and selling the books hasn't ended - in the opening days of the New Year we are still working on the last remnants. (We were especially pleased that we could arrange two fund-raising occasions involving the Healey's books - see below for more.)
But if the Healey library provided enough old pleasures for a lifetime, the year held more. We were honoured to be called to Sissinghurst, where we purchased a sizeable collection. Assembled by members of the family following in the footsteps of Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson, the books included some volumes with breathtaking associations and interest.
And late in the year we were invited to purchase a collection that included some of the finest hand-coloured botanical illustrations we have ever seen. The set, begun in 1790 and bound in matching leather, was simply stunning – and was only one aspect of a lovely library bound in leather.
With highlights like these it would be easy to overlook the numerous people who brought books to our shop, or who called us to their homes to view collections. We enjoyed every visit, and valued every opportunity to share special books with our customers.
Jo Fairley and a generous group of her friends helped us make and serve soup at a fund raiser in our barn on 13 March. The Soup for Syria event raised £1,150 for the Refugee Community Kitchen.
Kit and Min Kemp raised £2,300 for the charity Fine Cell Work during a superb event in our barn and yard on 7 September. On a glorious evening, Kit’s helpers from the Firmdale Hotel served cocktails and hors d’oeuvres before the interior designer offered a fascinating illustrated talk on her work.
We were pleased to arrange a donation of books from Edna and Denis Healey's library to the Alfriston and Cuckmere Valley Historical Society. The Healeys were supporters of the organization from its inception, so it seemed entirely appropriate that some of their books should be used to raise funds. On 3 October the Society held a sale of more than 1,000 volumes, and the resulting funds have helped them tremendously.
To mark the occasion, we also arranged for a showing of a film directed by Paul Bryers that featured Denis and Edna. A Vote for Hitler was first shown in 1988. Paul visited the village to show the film, which centred on the 1938 by-election in Oxford, when Edna and Denis met. The event raised much-needed funds for Alfriston’s church.
Prospero’s Project raised £2,460 this year. Much of the funding came from sales of our hand-made Christmas stockings, topped up with sales of CDs from Denis and Ednea Healey’s collection – as well as generous donations to our countertop collection jar. The funds will be split between two causes: Classroom libraries at the Alfriston Village School, and a library at the Uganda orphanage and school Healing Focus.
In November, we instituted a collection point for the Hailsham Foodbank, part of the national movement by the Trussell Trust. We also provided dozens of books, wrapped for children whose families were supported by the foodbank.
The major libraries we purchased in 2016 prompted us to re-arrange the shop layout. The shifts would not have been possible without the hard work of contractor Mark Martin and decorator Darren Poppy.
And many, many books have reached Much Ado only because of Paul Franklin and his crew of heavy lifters, who with unfailing good spirits shift carton after carton after carton . . .
If you need help from any of these people we will gladly share their information with customers in the shop – ask next time you find yourself at our counter!