No, not that one, although it’s not far off. I’m talking about returning back to school after the long break.
Here at Chicken and Frog we understand the importance of writing. Of course we do; it goes hand in hand with reading. As a teacher, I guide children through what I call the secretarial skills of the process – the grammar, spelling, the physicality of writing, structure etc. And whilst these elements are important, for me, the creativity and therapeutic nature of writing are key. Yes, a person should be able to construct a letter, a C.V., even a note; these practical elements of writing help us through life. Rightly, or wrongly, without skills such as these, it can be a struggle to access all that we are entitled to in this world.
But, the absolute joy of writing is that it can act as a gateway to another world, or help us to clarify our thoughts cohesively and coherently. I am in awe of authors who take the step to set their writing free, into the world. It is such a personal journey, that to share the end result with others is rather brave. My witterings are one thing. They are, believe it or not, edited and tweaked along the way, but a ‘real’ body of work is far more important. Even if it is not to everyone’s taste, what an author does is inspirational.
The difficulty is that the curriculum does not give much time to true creative writing, in the sense that it can be completely personal, and private. Teachers must teach to a standard, which means that both teachers and students have targets to meet. This is not a blog from a jaded teacher, I am not going to digress into a rant about education reforms and the like. Quite frankly, others have said their piece far more eloquently than I ever could, so I shall leave that thought there.
However, I am interested in the therapeutic properties of creativity. Drawing is not a skill that I possess and my musical ability? Let’s just say that I can clear a room in a matter of moments. But, writing. Writing I love and know a little about. I am not an expert, but I do know that if given the freedom, tools and encouragement to do so, a person’s writing can literally change the world.
To that end I am a woman of two halves. When I am wearing my teacher’s hat, I need to keep in mind the hoops of the curriculum, so that my students can cope and achieve to the absolute best of their ability in that world. But, when I am just being myself, the designated adult in the creative writing club, well that’s a different story. Doodling, crossing out, editing, not editing, completing a piece, leaving something unwritten…anything goes in that setting. And it works! We have children who have started off as non-writers, creating little in the course of 90 minutes, who evolve into avid writers. This is their safe and happy place. No judgements are passed, their writing is theirs to do with what they want. Some choose to share it, others don’t. It is a true privilege to gently guide children through their own process.
If you know of a child who is bursting with ideas, but is unsure of how to express themselves on paper, then perhaps finding a writing club is the way to go? You never know, it may be just what they need!
This cute little sign was given to us by a customer and we love it, because it sums up perfectly how we feel about Chicken and Frog.
A week ago, we were feeling anxious about the changes that have since taken place here. My wittering can be found here. And now, the transformation has taken place. A Cafe Corner has been installed and thankfully, we didn’t need to reduce our book stock to fit it all in. The Elmer sofa has gone (it’s still a little too soon to talk about that), but the essence of Chicken and Frog remains.
In the past week we have sold lots of books (thank goodness), treats in the cafe, entertained a room full of Lego enthusiasts and welcomed the very lovely Matt and Cherish, who ran a bookmark making workshop this afternoon.
We would like to thank our customers, new and old, for boosting our morale. Keep on reading! (And drinking tea).
And, just now, literally 5 minutes ago, Chesney Hawkes (yes!) and Mark Reed popped in for a cuppa. Chesney is in town, as he’s playing Joseph at the Brentwood Centre, this weekend. Tickets are still available, but only a few, so hurry!
When is a bookshop not a bookshop? Don’t worry, this isn’t a joke, although some aspects of the following have made myself and Mr Frog laugh. Between laughing and crying, I’ll take laughing. Mostly. With a smattering of swearing thrown in for good measure.
When we opened, we had a starry eyed (some may say naive) dream, that Chicken and Frog would be a children’s bookshop. Pure and simple. It soon became apparent that if we wanted to feed and clothe our kids on a regular basis, that we would need to bolt on the tuition centre. ‘That’s fine,’ we said. ‘They compliment each other perfectly, and we are still a bookshop first, tuition centre second.’
Brentwood is a funny place. Not always funny ha-ha…it’s our home town and we love it, but despite it being quite an affluent area, books do not necessarily feature highly on the agenda. We still get asked, frequently, if we can offer a discount on multiple purchases, or match the on-line giants/supermarkets*. I find this attitude bizarre. Would you purchase two jumpers from a high street clothes store and ask for a discount? I sincerely hope not. The short answer is, no, we can’t match or beat deep discounts. If we did, we would be selling books at a loss. Now, I’m no maths genius, but even I can figure out that this would be a mistake. As an aside, deep discounting books, or any product, is a very unhealthy way in which to grow an economy. No-body wins, apart from huge corporations. It’s a problem, but not one that I foresee being solved.
Back to the matter in hand. We have been pootling along, doing okay. Yes, there have been tumbleweed days, that have turned into weeks at times, but generally speaking, business has been on the up. The Radford clan have been fed, watered and clothed. Bills have been paid and we’re getting by. No fancy holidays for us, but that was always the pay-off when we turned away from our ‘proper’ jobs, to chase the dream. And, even though some of this post may sound negative, I want to clarify that we love what we do. We are surrounded by books, authors, readers etc every day. We get to work together (yes, we quite like each other, which is a plus) and we feel a part of the community. We are very lucky.
And then. Well then, your break clause passes you by and despite chasing your landlords for a couple of months, you don’t find out until it’s way too late to do anything about it, that your rent is going to increase by just shy of 50%. After haggling. Yes, dear reader, they wanted more. And, even though you’ve been doing the chasing, you owe a couple of months in arrears of the new rental rate. Fun times, right? This is one of those hilarious comedy breaks, where the booksellers roar with laughter for days. No, wait, it was the aforementioned crying and swearing. Sorry, I get easily confused these days.
There were options available:
- Keep on going, hoping that people buy lots and lots and lots more books than ever before.
- Cry and swear. We’ve covered this I know, but it’s a recurring activity.
- Close the bookshop and do something else in the space. After all, we’re liable for the rent.
- Cry and swear (see No. 2).
- Think of something that will compliment what we already do.
We had a think and quite a lot of chocolate. It’s at times such as these that I’m thankful that I don’t drink. Option 1, although ideal, is a non-option. Options 2 and 4 have been covered, so let’s move on. Our skill sets are kind of limited to be honest, so neither of us could think of anything sensible to do with the space. Which leaves option 5. After various ideas, none of which were sensible and few of which are printable, we came up with plan.
A Cafe Corner is going to be installed. Sadly, our lovely Elmer sofa will need to go. Boo-hoo, but there will be cake and caffeine, so it’s not all bad. We are determined that Chicken and Frog will remain, primarily a children’s bookshop. It’s what we know and are passionate about. We will be closed on the 9th and 10th April, to refurb, before opening for business as usual (plus cake). All of our regular weekly sessions, plus tuition and glorious books, will be very firmly in place. Pop in to say hello!
*Delete as appropriate, or feel free to add to the list.
We have exciting news! On Wednesday 11th April, our Cafe Corner will be open for business. There will be tea, coffee, hot chocolate, juice…and tasty treats too!
Don’t worry, the gorgeous book selection will remain in tact, as will our tuition classroom. We invite you to pop in for a little smackerel of something. Please do, otherwise we shall eat all of the goodies ourselves.
As the great C.S.Lewis said,
We have made it to the regional finals of Independent Bookshop of the Year!
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