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Musings from the Market

February 7, 2013

For years Portobello Market was just my local market, providing a treasure trove of presents, and I always enjoyed its vibrant atmosphere.

Then one day I decided to found a publishing company (this is another story, I will blog about it at some point), and the market took on a new meaning. I figured it would provide me with a shop front, if only once a week. Well, on Saturday’s the market really comes into its own.

So that’s how it started. One Saturday, 30 March 2011, the day after the Royal Wedding, on the official birthday of the Queen of the Netherlands, I took the plunge and went to the market. I took my brother along for safety because a girl can never be too sure.

I’ve never looked back, I loved it and my brother did too. Being based in the Netherlands, he can only be there sporadically, but I, come rain or shine, set out for the market first thing on Saturday.

Our books on the market

What I found is this extraordinary community of hard working people, the market traders. They’re helpful, streetwise, but never satisfied with the sales. I enjoy my time in their company, they show me what really matters in life. Something you can lose sense of when sitting in front of your computer to do your work. Of course you get plenty of fresh air, but after a day on the market I feel literally refreshed, but tired, in a good way. I call it my market therapy.

The other community you meet at a market is the “public at large”. At Portobello Market we’re especially lucky as it serves such a wide range of customers: locals, newly rich “Notting Hill dwellers”, original working class folk, the local eccentrics, and tourists from the UK and all corners of the world.

Actually being confronted by the public at large is not for the fainthearted. Sadly only a minority of the adult population reads books, and only a minority of these readers read literary fiction and poetry, and that is what we happen to specialize in. Even a bit scarier, for potential readers, is the fact that they may well not know our titles, and that quite a few of them are translated from the Dutch.

Is this obvious when I’m manning our stall? Oh yes, quite a few of the many people who amble past our stall don’t “see” us. I mean we could well not be there at all. This is an important point and I’m still working out how we can do something about it.

There is a small but significant group of people who obviously hate books. Well, I come to this concludion from the way they look at our stall. I’m dying to ask them what happened: what was the nasty incident that put them off books altogether? I hope it wasn’t school.

Other people do stop to have a look but keep their distance from the stall. They, I think, may well be interested in books but not necessarily in our type of books, or they are a bit confused of what we’re all about. They want to check it out but on their terms, and do not want to make contact, hence the distance. This is absolutely fine. I hope one day they’ll come up to me and ask me a question.

Then there are the people who make my day. It doesn’t matter if they just tell me how wonderful it is to see books on Portobello Market, recommend their latest manuscript, or just want to know more about what we’re doing. The sign says “Publisher & Bookseller” but I’m more than happy to go into detail.

They are the people who buy books, and on a busy market there’re plenty of them. Often they make up their mind remarkably quickly. My favourite customer simply said, ‘give me one of each,’ and this at 10am!

Well, being on the market certainly has its moments, and I love it.

In a next instalment I will tell you something about battling with the elements: rain, wind, cold but not hot weather. I’ve decided in England it is never too hot or dry when you run a market stall.