The Bookshop Podcast

Sheryl Shurville's Journey: From Nursing to Nurturing Bookshops

October 30, 2023 Mandy Jackson-Beverly Season 1 Episode 223
Sheryl Shurville's Journey: From Nursing to Nurturing Bookshops
The Bookshop Podcast
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The Bookshop Podcast
Sheryl Shurville's Journey: From Nursing to Nurturing Bookshops
Oct 30, 2023 Season 1 Episode 223
Mandy Jackson-Beverly

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Ever wonder how a small indie bookstore doesn't just survive, but thrive in today's digital age? Meet Sheryl Shurville, the dynamic co-owner of the Chiltern Bookshops; Chorleywood and Gerrards Cross in the UK. Sheryl's fascinating journey from nursing to bookselling is one that will inspire you, as she shares the secrets behind the success of her bookshops. From celebrating Chorleywood Bookshop's 50-year anniversary to discussing the distinct curation of books in her two bookshops, Sheryl's anecdotes are a treat for every book lover.

Sheryl gives insight into the extensive school programs and unique services her bookshops offer, including their response to COVID with a pre-ordering system and the creation of the “Gift A Book” donation program. Sheryl's observations of the changing publishing landscape and how her bookshops have managed to evolve, are particularly enlightening. From organizing literary festivals to cheese tastings, her innovation is impressive. Her current reads, her dedication to community engagement, and the passion she pours into her bookshops make this episode an enlightening journey into the world of indie bookselling.
Chiltern Bookshops – Chorleywood and Gerrards Cross

Maggie O’Farrell Books

Barbara Kingsolver Books

Unlawful Killing, Wendy Joseph KC

David Mitchell Books

Yotam Ottolenghi Books

Toni Morrison Books

Ian McEwan Books

Katherine Heiny Books

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Ever wonder how a small indie bookstore doesn't just survive, but thrive in today's digital age? Meet Sheryl Shurville, the dynamic co-owner of the Chiltern Bookshops; Chorleywood and Gerrards Cross in the UK. Sheryl's fascinating journey from nursing to bookselling is one that will inspire you, as she shares the secrets behind the success of her bookshops. From celebrating Chorleywood Bookshop's 50-year anniversary to discussing the distinct curation of books in her two bookshops, Sheryl's anecdotes are a treat for every book lover.

Sheryl gives insight into the extensive school programs and unique services her bookshops offer, including their response to COVID with a pre-ordering system and the creation of the “Gift A Book” donation program. Sheryl's observations of the changing publishing landscape and how her bookshops have managed to evolve, are particularly enlightening. From organizing literary festivals to cheese tastings, her innovation is impressive. Her current reads, her dedication to community engagement, and the passion she pours into her bookshops make this episode an enlightening journey into the world of indie bookselling.
Chiltern Bookshops – Chorleywood and Gerrards Cross

Maggie O’Farrell Books

Barbara Kingsolver Books

Unlawful Killing, Wendy Joseph KC

David Mitchell Books

Yotam Ottolenghi Books

Toni Morrison Books

Ian McEwan Books

Katherine Heiny Books

Support the Show.

The Bookshop Podcast
Mandy Jackson-Beverly
Social Media Links

Mandy Jackson-Beverly:

Hi, my name is Mandy Jackson Beverly and I'm a Bibliophile. Welcome to the Bookshop Podcast. Each week, I present interviews with independent bookshop owners from around the globe, authors, and specialists in subjects dear to my heart, the environment and social justice. To help the show reach more people, please share it with friends and family and on social media, and remember to subscribe and leave a review wherever you listen to this podcast. You're listening to Episode 223.

Mandy Jackson-Beverly:

Chorleyw ood Bookshop and Gerrards Cross Bookshop in the UK have been supporting their communities for over 85 years, and recently the Chorleyw ood Bookshop celebrated its 50-year anniversary. Co-owners Cheryl Shurville and Martin McKean have a shared vision of getting people reading and to maintain a love of buying books. The Chorleyw ood Bookshop has become a brand in its own right, universally acknowledged as a successful bookseller and prominent event organizer by publishers, authors and schools alike. The bookshop is comprised of a core team of dedicated, knowledgeable and, above all, passionate staff. Its innovative community outreach work with local businesses, charities and libraries has captured the hearts and minds of locals. Hi, Sheryl, and welcome to the show. It's lovely to have you here, hi. SHERLY SHURVILLE: Thank you for having me on. I'm really delighted to be here. MANDY JAKCSON-BEVERLY: Oh, it's my pleasure, and while I listeners can't see you. I have to say that orange sweater looks fabulous on you. SHERYL SHURVILLE: Oh, thank you. MANDY JACKSOn-BEVERLY: Now let's begin with learning about you and your decision to leave nursing and become a bookseller.

Sherly Shurville:

Oh well, yes, I was a nurse and a midwife and latterly a practice nurse, and I suppose I just fancied a change, really. I was becoming a little bit disillusioned and I had a friend who had a bookshop in Chorleyw ood and her business partner was leaving and I thought I like reading and so I said, you know, so we got together and that's how it started. So my only qualification was that I enjoyed reading and a bit of a midlife crisis, I suppose. So it was just a change, and you know I love the world of books. Yeah, it happened really easily. It was great.

Mandy Jackson-Beverly:

What do you think you've learned about yourself from the switch from nursing into bookselling?

Sherly Shurville:

Oh how to run a business. It's similar. I suppose you know you're dealing with people and I mean a lot of businesses are all people orientated and trying to please people. And I mean it was funny when I first started at the bookshop because I had been at a GP practice in Chorleyw ood so people didn't know if it was to roll up their sleeve and have their blood pressure done or other things. People talk to me about books. I was a little bit confused really. "Oh hi, you know, aren't you supposed to be somewhere else?

Mandy Jackson-Beverly:

Oh, my goodness, that's funny. Chiltern bookshops is home to two bookshops Chorleyw ood and Gerrards Cross. Which bookshop came first, and what led you to opening a second location?

Sherly Shurville:

Okay, so there's been bookshops in both towns for a long time. So Chorleyw ood, bookshop we celebrated 50 years last year! 50 years there's been a bookshop in Chorleyw ood not always with me, and Gerrards Cross is about 10 years behind. So when I joined, I joined Chorleyw ood bookshop first, and so I was with a business partner ah, Barbara at that time, and that was great for five years. And then Barbara retired, and so then I got in a new business partner, Morag, and that was great. She was a librarian. So then the two of us ran it, and then as she joined, we decided together it, was quite brave on her part, to get this other one in Gerrards Cross. So it was for sale. In fact, sadly it had been.

Sherly Shurville:

As I say, there had been a bookshop there for absolutely years, but the owner at the time wanted to sell. He'd kind of run it into the ground. He had this sort of quite strange mentality. He sent letters out to the local community in Gerrards Cross, you know, sort of almost threatening them that if they didn't buy books he'd close. You know kind of no way to run a business. And then to the staff, it was, you know, bizarre really, because he sort of do customer orders, but he didn't like to sort of get new books in, because well, "there's no point in getting new books in, because we've got to sell what we've got first.

Mandy Jackson-Beverly:

Yeah, you're right, that is a strange mentality.

Sherly Shurville:

You know, "sell what we've got in first, but anyway, that's obviously isn't the way to run a bookshop. So anyway, we bought the bookshop there and so yeah. So I've owned Chorywood for about 22 years and Jerry's Cross for 17.

Mandy Jackson-Beverly:

So yeah, it's been great. And is there much difference in the curation of the books in the store due to the different locations?

Sherly Shurville:

Yes, it's interesting, they literally well, Gerrards Cross is in Buckinghamshire and Chorywood's in Hertfordshire and they're about a 12 minute drive apart. So sort of similar and yet so different, so very different. I mean Chorleywood, I would say, is much more of a community and that's where I started doing the events, and they're really community orientated. And you know it's a sort of a well heeled audience but they're not, you know, they don't waste money and you know they want value, but they're prepared to sort of join in. Whereas at Gerrards Cross, I found the events harder to do.

Sherly Shurville:

So sort of things are a bit different there, but we have the very similar stock and we always get books in for particular customers. Or you think oh yes, you know so and so would like that. I mean they love their history and they would, they were really into their hard facts and they would spend sort of quite a bit of money and then, which in Chorywood they'd probably wait for the paperback or not so many hardbacks, but you know they would within events. But yeah, just sort of same but different, slightly different, slightly different.

Mandy Jackson-Beverly:

I find it interesting when I speak with bookshop owners who have multiple locations, because they all say, yes, there's definitely a difference and, like your two shops, it can be just, you know, a few miles apart, but there's a lot of similarities and some major differences. And that leads me on to my next question. Can you tell us about the team at Chiltern Books, your booksellers and their favorite genres to hand sell?

Sherly Shurville:

Yeah, we've got such a brilliant team. I'm just so blessed. You know we all sort of work together. They're all really well read and so diverse. So you know, we've kind of got all bases covered really. And you know I've got some booksellers that know high end literature, books in translation, you know vintage, Barbara Pym, you know sort of older, you know more traditional authors, classics. And then Wendy the manager, she loves crime fiction, so you know, sort of big on crime, she runs a crime book club from the shop. Then we've got others that sort of read everything else in between. Yeah, Francesca at Chorleywood, she loves the sort of literature, and we have a really broad base. And we have Louise who does the children. She's our school's coordinator and so she can recommend children and reads children's books all the time. You know specializes in that. So yeah, we've just got such a talented group of people that we're, you know, really really lucky. I think that's what independent bookshops attract really. You know this sort of quality, really well read staff.

Mandy Jackson-Beverly:

I'm always intrigued by how many booksellers I know who have PhDs. But it makes sense. I mean, they love literature, they love reading, and helping people buy books that they know they're going to love is what makes them happy, so it's great all around.

Sherly Shurville:

Yeah, they absolutely love it. And I mean some of them, several of them, have really given up quite high powered jobs, you know, and it's not just working in a shop, as you know, it's so much more. But, as I say, they have, you know, in previous lives have really high powered jobs, but just love, love being in the shop, love talking to people about books and how those spontaneous conversations just spring up. It could be talking to one person and then someone over the other side of the room says "oh, I've read that, or you know I think this or I think that, and you know you, sort of suddenly all sort of happens and it's so lovely.

Mandy Jackson-Beverly:

Y es, and that's what makes that wonderful indie bookshop community, the spirit. Can you tell us about your co-owner?

Sherly Shurville:

Martin, who's also my husband. So, yeah, that's working really well. It's lovely. I mean I know a lot of people think they wouldn't be able to work with their other halves. But yeah, no, it works really well. And it works particularly well because there are so many different facets to the business, so we're rarely in the same room together, apart from when we come together at night at home. But you know he sort of tends to be more at Gerrards Cross, I tend to be more at Chorleywood and I do the events and you know oversee the whole, you know sort of program and staffing and various issues. So you know we work really well together. So it is working nicely.

Mandy Jackson-Beverly:

Ah, that's good to hear. And what was Martin doing before he became involved with the bookshops?

Sherly Shurville:

Ah, he was working. Well, he's been in bookselling as well and, yeah, in the past, and for a water company as well, a company that sold water. So yeah, but he has been in bookselling before as well, but in the education side. So yeah, he's got a good background.

Mandy Jackson-Beverly:

Sounds perfect. Now, indie bookshops are a valuable entity for communities, which is something that you and I have been talking about. But how do you see Chiltern Bookshop's place in Chorleywood and Gerrards Cross, and how do you support literacy in both communities, and I'm obviously not talking just about selling books?

Sherly Shurville:

No, I mean I would say that particularly in Chorleywood, we are the hub of the community. I mean, it's just like a spiders web in all that we do. There's so many different ways that we get books into readers' hands. So one of the big things that we do across both shops and across Buckinghamshire, Hofstra and wherever else we'll go, is we've got a really extensive schools program, so we take authors into schools. This really helps children engage with reading and literacy and it works so well. So you take authors into schools and we, you know the authors do their presentations and it just so excites the children. They love it.

Sherly Shurville:

We have a pre-ordering system now, and this all happened as a result, a positive thing of COVID, is that we set up this ordering system so because, as you're probably aware, people don't tend to have cash so much now. So we've got this pre-ordering system so parents don't have to be, you know, rummaging around in the bottom of their bag for, you know, sort of 5. 99, 6. 99, whatever the book costs to send in with their child. They can just order online and then write the dedication they want and then, you know, we take all the slips from the books to the school. So, you know it makes it really easy. And we go into schools and you know the children and the teachers, librarians, you know they love it.

Sherly Shurville:

So not only do we take authors into schools, we run these really big book fairs as well. So we really pick off the latest, the best books, you know, in fiction, non-fiction, and we have all these tubs labelled with, you know the different genres. And we've got a van, we've got this fantastic van actually, which has a rack, you know, with a sort of logo on, and so we go into schools and we, you know, in our van and we have all these tubs and we sort of lay them out, lay the books out, and so we go in and the parents come in. They're sort of told about the book fairs and they come in and so we're able to advise them and, you know, get the children looking at the books because, as we know, it's so much better for the children to choose their own books rather than somebody forcing a book on them. So they choose their own books and their mums are there to pay, or dads or carers or nursery nurses, whatever. So you know that works really well and then they're seeing the best that there is and the latest books.

Sherly Shurville:

And you know we're there to advise again and you know parents love to talk about it and say, "oh, you know sort of my daughter or son. You know they're, you know they're six and just beginning to read. Or you know, what would you recommend? Or you know they haven't got into this or struggling with this. You know, can you help with something?

Sherly Shurville:

So you know we advise all the time, all the time and try and sort of set children off and say, well, come back and tell us what you think. You know, did you enjoy it? Or what did you enjoy, what did you enjoy last time? You know, give us a clue. And we sort of chat to the children and say you know, what do you like, what sort of thing? Do you like? Sport, or do you like fantasy? It's just trying to wet their appetite, really. So we really work very hard and around World Book Day as well, I mean that's well, ( mean we do events for the children all year round, but I mean around World Book Day it's particularly busy because there's a lot of national coverage about books and children reading.

Mandy Jackson-Beverly:

And is there a donation program set up within the bookshops for families who can donate to others who can't afford to buy books?

Sherly Shurville:

Yes, we have. Yes, In fact we're just about to set it up for this year. So we sort of started this scheme called Gift A Book and what we do here is I'll sort of source charities for children with different needs, and so then we will promote and we'll ask our customers on our marketing email and we've got a really big marketing email for our author events so we ask them to donate money or books to these charities and I mean the uptake has been absolutely staggering. You know, we go to publishers as well, see if they give us some books, which they do, and then I get these wish lists from the different charities. So I'll do quite a lot of work collating it, but then I'll get a list of, I don't know, maybe girls. You know particular charities, I need 21 books for girls between you know, sort of three and four, and then so many for five to six. And you know, and I get all these requests from the charities and so then you know, I'm able to sort of match the books up.

Sherly Shurville:

Some people like to give a book, you know, because their child enjoyed a book, so they like to give that book on. You know it's a treasured book within a family. It's not secondhand, but one that they know. So they buy the books from us and then you know we match it up with the charity. We've been doing some work with Ukrainian families and all sorts of different charities. So yeah, it works really really well. But we do it at this time of year, at Christmas time, so they have the books if there's a Christmas party or you know, to be able to give out at Christmas.

Mandy Jackson-Beverly:

Yeah, that's good to know. Now, if I had a few days in the Chorleywood and Gerrards Cross area, what historic sites do you suggest I visit, hiking trails, kayaking, restaurants, and where would I go to get a great cup of coffee?

Sherly Shurville:

Well, we're very near Chenies Manor, so this is a beautiful Tudor Manor and this is sort of just up the road from Chorleyw ood. In fact, Henry the Eighth stayed there, so I'm sure you'd love to see that, and we're on the edge of the Chilton's. So there's lots of lovely walks in the Chilton's and both towns have a common there's Gerrards Cross Common and there's a common at Chorleywood. In fact, the one on Chorleywood has a golf club and a golf course. Yeah, but there's lots of lovely walks. There's also the Aquadrome nearby where you can do your kayaking and sailing. There's lots to do, lots of open air and lots of walks and, yeah, some great restaurants and coffee shops. I mean a plethora of coffee shops in both towns. So, yeah, I mean I think you could happily get a good cup of coffee from Fagos and in Gerrards Cross, yeah, and again in Chorleyw ood, there's plenty of places.

Mandy Jackson-Beverly:

And what keeps you there? What do you love most about living in the area?

Sherly Shurville:

I love the fact that it's so near London. We're on the Metropolitan Line and very fast train into Marleybone, so you've got the best of both worlds. You know, it's sort of quite rural in one way, because we've got this beautiful common, we're surrounded by greenery and these walks and the Chess Valley, so we've got all that and yet we're so near London where you can get access to London really really easily, and the M25 and, for all its faults, yeah, it's good for communications, sort of wherever you want to go. So, yeah, it's just the perfect spot to live.

Mandy Jackson-Beverly:

We are so lucky to live in a place that we just cherish and it's really all about community, as we were saying earlier. Now, since the pandemic, have you seen changes in the high streets in villages in the UK due to closures?

Sherly Shurville:

Yes, yes, we have. A lot of shops have closed and there are still some empty shops, sadly, and I think the shops that are springing up tend to be eateries, you know sort of takeaways, and nail bars, hairdressers, you know things that you can't really get online, you know. So I think we are such a treasured shop because people love to come in and browse and meet people and actually have that experience which people are looking for. So, yeah, it works, really works, really well. But, yes, it's a shame that there are, you know, a lot of the shops didn't quite make it through the pandemic.

Mandy Jackson-Beverly:

Yes, that's really sad and unfortunately it's a global situation that has stemmed from the pandemic. We have the same thing here. A lot of shops have closed. Now what changes have you seen in the publishing industry during your years as an indie bookshop owner and bookseller?

Sherly Shurville:

Yeah, I think when I first came in there's sort of a big threat at the time with supermarkets. All supermarkets were going to stock books and of course they do now, but I'm not so worried about them because they have a limited selection and and then there was the threat, the big worry also about digital content, you know, sort of digital books and that nobody would want the actual physical book. But again that's another storm. You know, we have seen our way through the dominance of Amazon, which is probably still a worry, and well, so I mean some very positive things have come out. It's obviously bookshop. org, which is a recent thing, but also years ago, soon after I started, we started with the Chorleywood Literary Festival and that has grown and grown. I mean it started off as a weekend and then it's grown into well, you know, I do events nearly every night, well, sort of every week, and some nights I mean last week it was every night of the week especially at this time of year because we're trying to find something different to engage with our readers and our audience, and people love the experience, they love it. You know, we don't just talk about fiction, but we would have cookery demonstrations. You know chefs, people with cookery books. You know Otolenghi, and we've got an event coming up with Rick Stein which is massively popular. So people, it's sort of this cookery books. And we had somebody called Liefa Sweden who took us around Chorleywood Common and talked about the wildflowers.

Sherly Shurville:

You know we have signings for children. We have Matt Lucas in the shop only last Saturday at the Gerrards Cross Shop and David Walliams. You know we do signings. People, you know they love to come and see celebrities and celebrity authors and really engage in the experience. Some years ago we had Bob the Cat. I don't know if you remember Bob the Cat. There was a film made of the cat, so you know, so the owner came along with the cat. You know we just do really different things. We've got a wine tasting coming up. We've done wine tastings before. We've got another book about cheese, so we've got a cheese tasting. You know we just do things that are really different, that we, that sort of our audiences, love and you know they engage with and that's what sort of makes it such a lovely community, because they're all engaging in things. It's really good.

Mandy Jackson-Beverly:

And Sheryl, I'm interested, if you were to average it out, for your book events, what would be the headcount?

Sherly Shurville:

Well, we do big and small, so some you would expect to be small in the shop and that's sort of seat 40. We did a big event with Adrian Edmondson, you know, last week that was 350. You know sort of Rick Stein we're getting up to yeah, he's well over 300 already and some weeks to go. I mean, you know we do a lot of events in our local community hall, the memorial hall, which seats 200, so that's a sort of a good number and we do them in the Chorleywood Library. You know all sort of local venues and we sort of try and tailor, make them so as you get an author in a nice space, an appropriate size for the audience. So yeah, you know it works really well and they're all places people can get to easily and you know sort of at low cost.

Mandy Jackson-Beverly:

That's fantastic. Okay, let's talk about books. What are you currently reading?

Sherly Shurville:

Oh, I've got my list. Oh, yes, well, Maggie O'Farrell, I love her and I've just so I'm reading The Marriage Portrait because in the summer I read lots of her books anyway. But I read Hamnet. I didn't read it when it first came out and now I've got tickets to go and see Hamnet at the theatre. It's on in London with the Royal Shakespeare Company, so that's exciting. And yeah, Wendy Joseph, Unlawful Killings. Yeah, I've several books on the go at the moment, but yeah, there's so many to choose from the latest David Mitchell and yeah, so I mean, as I say, we do so many events and I hear the authors talking and I say ".

Mandy Jackson-Beverly:

And do you have a favorite book that you love to hand sell?

Sherly Shurville:

To hand sell yeah, I love Barbara Kingsolver, Demon Copperhead was good and I loved her previous one, Poisonwood Bible. I mean that's going back years and years ago. Tony Morrison, I love her books. I mean I do hand sell Ian McEwen. I just love his books as well. I mean any of those, because I just read them and know I can easily hand sell them.

Mandy Jackson-Beverly:

What I love about the literary community is that when you start talking to somebody about books, and you realize you both have this in common, you're from the same tribe, so to speak. You just go back and forth exchanging books and before you know, you have a list about a mile long of books you want to read! And that's what I love about talking about books.

Sherly Shurville:

Yeah, yes, and also, actually we've just had this lovely book group event, because that's another, you know, we support a lot of book groups and I'm part of a book group and but we were really lucky that Katherine Heiny you know an American author. She came over and she was with our book groups. So, yeah, we were talking about Standard Deviation, which isn't her latest one, but her latest one is Games and Rituals, which is just brilliant, so funny. But yeah, so she was over. So, yeah, I've really enjoyed that because that's funny and there's not that many funny books around, so I'm really enjoying her work at the moment.

Mandy Jackson-Beverly:

Sheryl, thank you for being a guest on the show and for sharing your knowledge about bookselling and the business of being an indie bookshop owner.

Sherly Shurville:

You're very welcome. Thanks, Mandy, bye.

Mandy Jackson-Beverly:

You've been listening to my conversation with Cheryl Sherville, co-owner of Chorleywood Bookshop and Gerrards Cross Bookshop. To find out more about the Bookshop podcast, go to thebookshoppodcast. com and make sure to subscribe and leave a review wherever you listen to the show. You can also follow me at Mandy Jackson Beverly on X, Instagram and Facebook, and on YouTube at the Bookshop podcast. If you have a favorite indie bookshop that you'd like to suggest we have on the podcast, I'd love to hear from you via the contact form at thebookshoppodcast. com. The Bookshop Podcast is written and produced by me, Mandy Jackson- Beverly. Theme music provided by Brian Beverly, executive assistant to Mandy Adrian Odtohan and graphic design by Frances Farala. Thanks for listening and I'll see you next time.

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