All bookshops are haunted. They are packed full of the voices of the living and the dead, voices that are closed and trapped until we release them. These voices have a range of tones: smiling, laughing, whispering and screaming. They live in the dry remains of dead trees, and only we can animate them. And each spirit, when it is released into our mind becomes inseparable from our own – no person can be haunted in precisely the same way.
The Haunted Bookshop on St Edmund's Passage feels spookier than most. It is a small, independent bookshop that specialises in children’s and illustrated books. Great leather-bound hardbacks, cracking and embroidered with gold, ornament the window. Tangled Wood Tales sits nears Collected Ghost Stories. Inside, things are a lot less neat. In the cramped musty space, books are both on shelves and teetering in stacks on the floor. Vintage–style children’s collections lie amongst modern editions of Penguin Classics. A friendly lady sits quietly behind a till. All is very quiet, except for the sound of my shoes on the wooden floor.
I hear a man and his young child enter when the floorboards behind me creak. They are directed upstairs, via a tiny staircase in the corner I hadn’t even noticed. There are no prices to be seen. It cuts a distinctly different feel from the colourful, curated and ordered displays of a chain bookshop. It feels possible to really stumble across something here, at the bottom of a pile, which nobody else will have spotted.
Bookshops, like other haunted things, are always threatening to vanish. Independent bookshops more than most. Earlier this year Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy toured independent bookshops in the UK in order to celebrate the contribution of these very special places in our lives. Relishing books, not just for the stories inside them, but as beautiful objects with a history, and a life beyond one’s self, is what places like The Haunted Bookshop do so well. Such places, and such hauntings as can be experienced there, are not merely for Halloween.