A Little Bird Told You by Malcolm Hollingdrake

On receiving my first contract I was advised to become familiar with social media, embrace it as if it were to be my new best friend. I have to admit to having strong reservations. As a teacher I had experienced first hand the damage that to me were insidious platforms for bullying and perverting the truth, but that just goes to prove, a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. Please let me explain.

I began to use Facebook and Twitter, cautiously at first like a man walking on thin ice in the spring sunshine, to connect with book groups and bloggers that would lead eventually to my readers. As time went by these tentative steps slowly grew more confident until I was invited to and became involved in live author chats. As my circle of friends grew I could definitely perceive this less as a monster and more of a tool with messenger allowing communication at a more personal and private level. However, it was not until a few weeks ago did I experience the true might of social media.

In July, 2017 I had organised a book signing to be held at W H Smiths, Harrogate on a day of the Harrogate Crime Writers’ Festival. The posts I placed did alert people to the fact and a number of friends and readers came along. It was during the signing that a friend told me of a small, independent bookshop that had commenced trading at that time. After my signing I went down to Imagined Things Bookshop to have a chat and Georgia Duffy agreed to stock some of my Harrogate crime series.

In July, 2018 I performed a similar signing during the Harrogate Crime Writers’ Festival but this time at Imagined Things Bookshop, a shop that had up until a few weeks before had been approaching closure. Georgia wrote a tweet and posted:
“We only took £12.34 today…if anyone was thinking about buying a book now would be a great time! Things have been tough recently – today the worst day ever. A card, a book, anything makes a huge difference to a small business like ours. We’d be very grateful for your support.”

That one tweet went viral being re-tweeted over two thousand times and people rushed to support her. People even sent money in envelopes to keep her afloat. She said,
“I was in two minds about the tweet because you can’t read the tone online but I thought it may encourage people who are thinking of visiting us to come in” Duffy said. “By the time I went to bed yesterday my tweet had got 157,000 impressions on Twitter. We got 1,000 followers overnight and it had taken us a year just to build up 900 before that.

There was even more magic to follow for this independent bookseller. During the course of the Harrogate Crime Festival a number of authors called in. Greg Horowitz, walking in unannounced, found some of his books on a shelf and asked Georgia if she would like him to sign them. He also bought a book.

Simon Mayo and Mark Billingham popped in as well, and Rob Sinclair donated a stock of signed books. To cap it all and make the true magic really sparkle, Lee Child came in and I believe he said that he would pop in next year too… let’s hope her good fortune continues and she will survive the difficulties of running a high street business in today’s online world. That was not the end of the miracle. Just before closing time the author of ‘Dark Pines’, Will Dean popped in asking about children’s books. Having been informed of the average price he asked Georgia to pick a hundred books, which she did, but was shocked when he told her he lived in Sweden. Quickly she explained that she could ship them to him but he informed her that he wanted them donating to local schools. It was his way of supporting the shop and the local children. I take my hat off to this generous gesture and the kindness of everyone who has in some small way helped to prevent another shop becoming vacant, but more importantly kept Georgia Duffy’s dream of running a vibrant and exciting independent bookshop alive. Thank you!

Imagined Things success has had a knock-on effect on other independent shops within the Westminster Arcade, as more footfall brought new customers to The Harrogate Tea Room and the small health shop. I’m sure Cordings too have seen some benefit.

I now fully understand why Bloodhound advised me so strongly to become involved and embrace this new technology. After all, ‘Only the Dead’, the first book in my Harrogate crime series sits proudly as the number one best seller in Imagined Things over their first year. However, something made me shudder just a little when I heard of Georgia’s future plans for the shop.
“We’ve had people getting in touch on Twitter, coming into the shop, calling through for books even from people who live far away. We are looking at an online shop but it will be a limited selection and it is expensive to run.”

I had thought the growth of online shopping to be the enemy of the high street, to be the reason this independent bookseller made her plea in the first place as people were just not walking in off the street.
As a little bird once said “… be careful what you wish for!” I think it could be right.