When Hollywood turns to the literary world for inspiration, more often than not fans will conclude the book was better than the movie.
For Shaun Bythell, despite his love letter to bookshops and the bibliophiles lurking among the shelves being snapped up by a big Los Angeles studio, the books are always better.
Based on his experience of owning and running Scotland’s largest secondhand bookshop, Shaun’s frank and funny memoir, The Diary Of A Bookseller, was a runaway hit when published in 2017. And last year A-list production company Annapurna Pictures bought the rights with plans for a TV series.
With a motley crew of characters, the picturesque small-town setting and even a romance, it’s no wonder the story attracted attention from producers looking for the next Notting Hill.
However, despite selling more than 80,000 copies of his memoirs and having Hollywood knocking on the door of his Wigtown shop, Shaun insists he won’t be leaving Scotland for the bright lights of La La Land any time soon.
“I don’t imagine anyone in their right mind would ever give me a job anyway. Once you’ve been self-employed for 20 years you do render yourself completely unemployable,” he smiled.
“I really love what I’m doing and I can’t imagine doing anything other than this.
“But, if the Hollywood production goes ahead, it will be interesting to see what new opportunities come up. I don’t know a great deal about the TV series, but it does look like they’re going ahead with it – so, fingers crossed.”
Filled with quirky characters, wry observations and the struggles of running a small business in an increasingly digital world, Shaun’s book began life as a series of diary entries.
But, working as an almost real-life version of comedy TV series Black Books, which starred Dylan Moran and Bill Bailey, the everyday occurrences between the shelves were too good to keep to himself – or so he was told by colleagues, customers and friends.
He explained: “People enjoy getting a behind-the-scenes look at how a business works, and there’s something quite romantic about secondhand books.
“I always knew enough interesting things happened in the shop, and everyone who has worked or spent time here told me I needed to write about it.
“My memory is awful and I knew I wouldn’t remember anything about the day, so I kept a diary. Then, at the end of the year, I didn’t really know what to with it. My partner at the time suggested I send it to an agent, and here we are.”
He added: “I really enjoy the writing process. It was more a case of preserving my everyday stories for posterity – some incredible things really do happen in the shop.” Incredible yes, but also irksome and depressing. Since buying The Bookshop in 2001, when he was just 30, Shaun has seen the expansion of online shopping change buyers’ habits, crippling high streets in many Scots towns and cities, as bookshops, like all shops struggle to survive, an issue he muses on frequently within his diary entries. However, it is the most frugal, bargain- hunting customers who hold a special place in Shaun’s bad books.
“I’ve noticed people come in and look at books before checking to see if it’s cheaper on Amazon. It’s depressing,” he said.
“It’s the same with people who haggle. You don’t haggle at Tesco or the petrol station or with Amazon, yet people are happy to take bread from the mouth of small, independent businesses.
“I’m still surprised when people try to haggle. Sometimes it’s even over something as small as a book priced at £2.50 and they’ll want it for £2. But, hopefully, people will become a lot more conscious.”
Although a reluctant author, Shaun hasn’t stopped documenting his world and his follow-up book, Confessions Of A Bookseller, will be published this week.
So, with two books and a TV series under his belt, will a novel be next on the Galloway businessman’s to-do list? Don’t count on it.
He said: “I couldn’t make it up. So, I don’t know if I have enough imagination to write a novel.
“The structure of a diary is simple, whereas with novels you really need to know how to write properly, understanding subtext, narrative structure and characterisation – all the things I probably don’t know well enough. I might have a go, but it might be doomed to failure.
“If I was surrounded by Mills & Boon all day it would be fine, but Shakespeare, Dickens and Chaucer do set the bar pretty high.”
Confessions Of A Bookseller, Profile Books, £16.99
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