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Travel to Manchester

 
 

The Book Barge, Barton Marina, Staffordshire

1 March 2015

Words: Andrew Birbeck / Image: The Book Barge

“Let’s be clear, canalside bookselling was never a childhood dream,” Sarah Henshaw tells me with mock severity. Indeed, her youthful obsession with horse books and Nancy Drew surely promised a glorious career as the world’s first “crime-solving show jumper”. After spending several years in London as an entertainment reporter, Sarah took “six months out to go travelling, fell in love with indolence and resolved never to work again”. A return home and a wander around the local marina one day proved prescient. “All those paper-backed journeys were still with me,” she says. “Books and boats could go together just as girl-Poirot and ponies once had.” 

A barge was for sale. Sarah had to have it. But she had no money. The banks were the obvious port of call, but a business plan complete with “pun-heavy prose and pictures of Ratty and Mole from Wind in Willows” wasn’t for the men in pinstripe suits. Funds were scraped together elsewhere, the boat was kitted out, and The Book Barge started trading. The first couple of years went fine, then online bookselling began to have an impact. So what did Sarah do? “I set sail,” she says. “Well, not literally. Truth be told, I chugged away.” 

Traversing the waterways that zigzag the UK Sarah brought books to buy and barter to points north, south, east and west. Social media played a key role. People offered weird and wonderful swaps, including a month’s grocery shopping and “a severe haircut from a Slovenian psychotherapist.” I ask Sarah her advice for budding entrepreneurs. “Take the plunge,” she says, and then quotes Tennyson, “‘Come my friends / ‘T is not too late to seek a newer world / Push off…’” You can read about some of Sarah’s experiences in her debut novel, The Bookshop That Floated Away. 

thebookbarge.com

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