When I first moved south of Bristol, I used to drive past signs for the BookBarn on the A37 and think, that sounds like my kind of place; I must try it one day – thousands of second-hand books, a café and some comfy chairs, what’s not to like? But it wasn’t until I had my first child and a friend suggested we meet there for coffee that I became a regular. I’ll always treasure memories of my daughter and her pals running between aisles of pre-loved books, hiding behind a wall of well-thumbed Puffins or darting between shelves of Wilbur Smith and Smash Hits annuals. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve sunk, exhausted by lack of sleep, into one of the BookBarn’s sofas while my toddler played with plastic buses in the children’s section. It’s a home away from home, an atmosphere of creative relaxation and happy company, and has become – in normal times, at least – the go-to place to visit with our families.
The BookBarn has also become a writing refuge. As many of us have found over the last year, working from home brings its own challenges, not least the constant domestic distractions – the washing machine that needs emptying, the broken microwave, the children’s clothes in heaps on the floor – that make immersion in a professional task so difficult. I’ve missed being able to get out of the house and enjoy a separate, focused workspace. Before lockdown, I would hole up in the BookBarn once a week while editing The Lamplighters. Tucked away on my spot in the corner, surrounded by literature and the magic of invented worlds, I was able to get lost for a while.
I tussled with many drafts of The Lamplighters, and while my editors’ notes pulled me to land, I can say with some degree of certainty that it was also the lovely girls at the Full Stop Café and their amazing cakes. That’s what I mean about it being a home from home – somewhere you can come for a sense of family and friendship (and second-to-none chocolate brownies).
The Lamplighters is a novel I associate with many places, most of them coastal, thrashed by the wind and the sea. But the BookBarn is one of these places. On a quiet day, I would spread my notes across an entire table and disappear into the world of the locked lighthouse, glancing up occasionally to see thousands of colourful books, some contemporary, some from years ago, all reminding me this was what it was for: the purpose of creating a lasting story, a worthwhile endeavour, something meaningful that might touch the heart of a stranger; to think that my lighthouse tale could one day sit alongside these, and that a person might come across it one day while chasing her errant two-year-old down a fiction row marked ‘author surname: S’. The Lamplighters is, among other things, a book about escape – physical, mental and emotional. I look forward to the BookBarn reopening, because it has very much come to represent that for me.
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