All about books

Our Suffolk villages are home to wonderful independent bookshops, where dedicated individuals collect and sell second-hand and new books. In all these bookshops you will be very welcome to come and browse.



The Halesworth Bookshop

A delightful bookshop for all the family to browse and buy. The childrens' department has a magnificent mural based on "Where the Wild Things are".

Books and Crannies

This new bookshop courageously opened just before the second lockdown and is already a local hub for readers. It sells a good selection of second-hand books on a wide range of subjects.

Harris and Harris Books

A tiny bookshop with a big personality in Clare, Suffolk’s smallest town. Browse bookshelves remotely in the virtual shop then visit the store or order online. Regional finalist for the 2021 Independent Bookshop of the Year.

Browsers Bookshop

Organises a lively programme of talks, book launches and literary lunches as well as a thriving book club.

The Aldeburgh Bookshop

has been established for over 70 years and is the hub of the Aldeburgh Festival. Provides a second-hand book search service and sends books all over the world.

A new creative writing venture aiming to teach students in unusual and inspiring locations began at Shimpling Park Farm, near Lavenham, in the summer.

The "Stage And Page" event, comprising tutors Tom Henry and Shaun McCarthy, took place at the farm’s spacious and airy barn venue and was hosted by farm owners John and Alice Pawsey. John even took time out from his busy harvesting schedule to spend the day as one of the eleven attendees.

Tom, a non-fiction writer, and Shaun, a playwright, delivered a varied and lively workshop covering many aspects of creative writing including beginnings, story structure, character, dialogue techniques and creating the world of the story. The day included a mixture of talks and practical exercises, with students sharing their ideas and creative process as the workshop progressed.

Also on offer was an excellent buffet lunch which gave tutors and attendees the chance to find out more about individual writing journeys and how to move forward projects at various stages of development.

Tutor Shaun McCarthy said: “Even with pandemic worries still lingering, it was great to see so many people turn out and really throw themselves into the spirit of creative writing. Zoom is a great asset, but in terms of real-time creativity nothing beats the face-to-face experience.”

“Stage And Page was set up primarily as a way of bringing people back together following the chaos of the last 18 months,” Tom added. “This country has many interesting and inspiring venues and we felt the time was right to make use of these as a springboard for creativity. Alice and John Pawsey have been incredibly helpful and we’re looking forward to working with them again soon.”

Gwyneth Oakshott, one of the attendees, said: “This was a really useful course, presented by highly professional tutors. While covering basic principles of writing structure the presenters illustrated ways to develop these for people who were not beginners. The learning was supported by writing tasks which were worked in throughout the day. Questions were encouraged, and discussion helped to crystallise ideas.”

The next Stage And Page event will also be at Shimpling Park Farm Barn, on Saturday November 20. "Bringing Your Story Idea To Life" will help those with an existing writing project or just a basic idea to move forward. The following day Stage And Page moves to Alice and John’s Victorian country home, home, Thorne Court, Cockfield, to examine "The Essence Of Place" and how setting can inspire the creative process. For more information on these courses please visit


Reading has enjoyed a surge of popularity in the pandemic, and arrived on the scene at a crucial time for independent bookshops.  It provides an ethical and transparent platform for buying books online with reading suggestions by humans not logarithms.  Not all the 870 independent bookshops in the UK could create a website during the lockdown. enables them to create their own online store front, and every time an independent bookshop directs a customer to the site through one of its links it gets 30% of the sale.

10% of each book purchase goes into a profit pool for all the bookshop members. In the US $7.5m has been raised to share among 900 bookshops. On the first day of its launch in the UK the pot stood at £12,500.

"The arrival of  is a revolutionary moment in the history of bookselling in the UK" says Philip Gwyn Jones, publisher at Picador.

Catherine Larner, journalist

Catherine writes a weekly e-letter including book news, reviews and author events. Her website has a link to the monthly book club which she co-hosts with Lesley Dolphin on BBC Radio Suffolk

Simon Edge

Reading and writing in challenging times

Simon Edge

It must be grim trying to organise a literary festival in the pandemic, where months of planning can be undone by a sudden surge in the R number. However, as both an author and a publisher, I’m well aware that the book world has been much better off than the rest of the arts during lockdown.

A year ago, I had just finished the first draft of my comic novel Anyone for Edmund?, which begins with the discovery of the remains of St Edmund in the Abbey Gardens in Bury. Inspired by a real-life archaeological survey, the novel would ideally come out just as the actual body was being discovered, in the millennium year of the foundation of the Abbey. It would be the literary equivalent of House of Cards, the drama about the overthrow of Margaret Thatcher whose first episode was screened the very week it happened in real life. My only real fear was that the geofizz would show Edmund wasn’t there, negating my premise from the first page.

What I couldn’t foresee was something entirely different: the Abbey 1000 celebrations cancelled by Covid, the survey abandoned and forgotten. That was a crushing disappointment for many in Bury St Edmunds but it’s an ill wind: in a year that had promised a focus on St Edmund, my daft satire involving medieval history was one of the few things able to deliver.

The same applies across the book world: with cinemas closed, theatres and music venues dark and film and TV productions thwarted by social distancing, books have come into their own. Not only can you read them in super-safe isolation, creating them is a solitary occupation too.

I’ve been hard at work in that respect: I’ve just finished the first draft of my fifth novel, The End of the World is Flat, which will be out in August. With my publisher’s hat on – I’m a senior editor at Eye & Lightning Books – I can also testify that we’ve been festooned with submissions and we’ve had a great year with the new work we’ve published.

Readers don’t have much of an appetite at the moment for dystopian fiction or anything too miserable. By contrast, anything funny, romantic or generally optimistic about society and the human condition has done very well. Not everyone has been forced into idleness during the pandemic – NHS staff, key workers, home-schooling parents and anyone trying to keep a small business afloat have all been run ragged – but for those with too much time on their hands, books have been a godsend. That, in turn, has been a relative blessing for those of us who write, publish or sell them – and I don’t just mean Jeff Bezos at Amazon. While the high street has undoubtedly been clobbered, hard-working independent booksellers such as Kate Harris at Harris & Harris in Clare or Jules Button at the Woodbridge Emporium have thrived by maintaining strong personal connections with customers through thick and thin.

Obviously any novelty that ever existed has long since worn off and we’re all yearning for a return to some kind of normality. I know our authors are looking forward to meeting readers in the flesh again.

For myself, I hope that encounter will happen at the Lavenham Literary Festival in the not-too-distant figure.


You’ve had a busy life, living in Australia and Los Angeles and making a career in international horse transport. Now that all your family have flown the nest what inspired you to write a novel?
a) A determination to tackle something new and outside my comfort zone.
b) Discovering that I didn’t need to have a Masters of even an A-level in English to be able to write.
c) Wanting to “tell a tale”; to pass on all the details of the funny, sad, bonkers or idiosyncratic situations in which both men and women find themselves post fifty. Then to use my knowledge of rural and country pursuits as a skeleton on which to hang the stories.

How did you find the time to write? What was your writing routine?
Procrastination is the main enemy for writers – including me! On the days when I am not at work, I benefit from a one-hour cycle ride, straight after breakfast. Oxygen to my brain (whatever the weather), always returns me with plot ideas. It is also a good excuse to eat two biscuits with my coffee! I find it really does help (once you are "in the groove"), to stay there. Ignore the phone and remain inside the heads of your characters.

Were the characters based on people you knew?
Loaded question! The answer is both “no” and “yes”. As a complete rookie, I had never really believed it when experienced authors said, "the characters take on their own traits and decisions". Now, I know this statement to be true. A character often begins based very loosely on someone I know, but as the story unfolds and the character faces different dilemmas, I can find myself saying out loud, “No, he wouldn’t do that!” Consequently, my pre-conceptions about plot structure can change.

Did you have to do a lot of research?
I had to research the motorbike scenarios and also the dating and online details.  But riding and horses are part of my life.

How long did it take you to write the book?
From the very beginning to release of the printed book has taken three and a half years.

 Why did you go down the route of self-publishing?
I made the mistake of submitting my manuscript to traditional publishing houses before it was well-polished. During the time it took to re-write and edit, the landscape of opinion around self-publishing changed.  The words "self-publishing" and "amateur" were less frequently sharing the same sentence. The deciding factor for me was … time. It is much quicker to self-publish.

How did you set about it?
I learned a huge amount about all the pros and cons involved by subscribing to Writing magazine.
My decision to go with Matador (an imprint of Troubador), was based on their reputation, the quality of their books and the support and guidance they provided for the practicalities of publishing including website design, marketing and distribution options for overseas markets

Do you have to do the marketing and publicity?
There are various services and options available with whichever company you may decide to use, and each comes with a price tag. I chose to pay for marketing of both my printed and e-book novel. A writer must ask themselves some key questions first. What is your aim in publishing? Is it:
a) To run-off a hundred copies to distribute to friends and family?
b) To make a profit? (Difficult).
c) To tell the story you are desperate to tell and possibly re-coup some of your publishing costs? (That’s me).
d) To achieve fame? (Extremely unlikely).
I chose to get the professionals in on marketing because they have a well-oiled system for distributing all the right information about my book to the big guns ie: W H Smith, Waterstones etc. Will your novel be chosen and included on the website of major retailers? Will it stand out? You may decide to sell exclusively through your own website or that of your chosen publishing company, in which case your marketing strategy will be very different to mine. Think ahead.
Publicity – I shall be doing most of that myself. I know my target audience better than my publisher, and I also know all the local outlets and radio stations to approach.

What have you found are the drawbacks of self-publishing – and the benefits?
a) Speed to achieve publication.
b) Not having to adapt, manipulate or re-invent my story simply to please “the market” or an agent’s idea of what they feel is “trending” on the book scene.
a) Cost – for professional editing, publishing and marketing.
b) I have been juggling balls for months in an attempt not to drop an important one! All the decisions are mine and mine alone – a daunting fact for a debut author
c) Publicity and media coverage takes time and effort. I envy those backed by the clout which comes with a publishing offer.

What words of advice and warning would you give to other people who are thinking about self-publishing – or even, one step back, writing a novel?

  • Don’t write a novel if you are seeking either fame of fortune – your chances of achieving either are extremely thin.
  • Think of the process as a journey. Take time to enjoy the people and experiences as well as the fact that your writing will improve and grow along the way.
  • Take risks with your writing. This is often how you will find your own style and, when you find that, you will grow in confidence.
  • Join a writing group or enroll in a creative writing course.
  • Reviews are crucial (especially when you self-publish), think well in advance of your publication date about organizing people (either well-known or simply literate friends) to ask to read.
  • BEWARE – Don’t be drawn in by certain "vanity" self-publishing companies. Their marketing is extremely persuasive and plays, very cleverly, to your need to be praised. These companies will take your money and many of your author rights. Read any publishing contract carefully!Finally - ENJOY YOUR WRITING and learn to share it with others. Everyone is nervous and embarrassed when they first try to read out their own scribblings. Perhaps one day (like me), you will be staring at the cover design for your novel and feel that breath-taking high of knowing, “I did it. I wrote the story I was bursting to tell.”