Perhaps, then, I shouldn't be surprised that in the town hall – built in 1760, it once housed the town's prison – quite a crowd awaits the arrival of Nicola Beauman, the founder of Persephone Books, a publisher which for the past 13 years has determinedly dusted down and brought back to life the very kind of novels Bishop's Castle brings instantly to mind. But still, I can't get over it. Booksellers everywhere are in a state of doom and gloom. The town's population, moreover, is only the size of a large village. Yet I count about 40 heads: young and old, men and women, a crowd most big city bookshops would kill to gather on a cold weekday afternoon.
After a short wait Beauman, a small-boned woman in her late 60s with a girlish face, a singular energy and brogues the colour of conkers, gets up to speak. She has travelled here in a 1957 Morris Traveller, a vehicle she hired for the purposes of making a West Country tour, 470 miles in all, to mark the publication of the 100th Persephone book. So she talks about this, first: the car. For she's fallen in love with it. "If you want to take a look, it's in the car park of the Castle Hotel," she says. A rumble of laughter passes through the audience. Perhaps ancient Morris Travellers are not quite so rare here as they are in north London, where Beauman lives and works.
Warmed up, she begins talking about Persephone. There are some logistics: she raised the cash for what she thought would only ever be a mail-order business with a small inheritance from her father, and its first office was in an old pleating workshop in Clerkenwell. But this stuff doesn't detain her long. It's the books she wants to talk about.
Full story here.