The Forest Bookstore

At the heart of the Scottish Borders, the Forest Bookstore is an independent bookshop that was founded in 2006. It stocks a wide yet discerning range of literary fiction and non-fiction titles, with a core collection of literature, art and environment books. To find out more, we spoke with Allan, the shop’s founder and manager, about the Forest Bookstore’s place in Selkirkshire and the Borders, and its plans for the future.

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1. The Forest Bookstore has been said to be a mainstay of the cultural life of the Scottish Borders. However, it has been a challenging couple of years for bookshops around the world. How have you been able to maintain your connection and commitment to the local community?

Beyond sporadic deliveries of books on our shelves, on foot, by bicycle or by car, ’20-’21 lockdowns meant long closures, some enjoyable gardening and time for making things, as well as sustained reading projects in near isolation. Since early summer loyal readers re-awakened us with telephone orders and email enquiries. Then visits to the bookshop began to surge. Perhaps losing privileges allowed us all to see what is good and vital in literary culture and those extraordinary threads of connection through street life or open-minded, unrestricted travel once again? Undoubtedly, grants from the government sustained us financially, making a slow recovery possible.

2. What’s it like running an independent bookshop in the central Market Place of Selkirk? What do you hope your shop brings to the local area – both now as well as when it is business as usual?

As ex-academics, we had imagined an art-literature-ecology axis as the only viable cultural platform for a serious and uplifting bookshop. The ‘independent’ part means that we don’t do mainstream commerce, that we help in the leading out from narrow self-interest or work and career specialisms, that we serve some collective ethical being. Draw a radial map with ‘Market Place, Selkirk, Scottish Borders’ and it leads to individuals, communities, associations, mostly well-meaning, thoughtful, caring, and all with creative energies.

3. How do you go about choosing the installations you feature in your gallery space?

Ah, the art work. Well, it happens only occasionally, perhaps twice or three times a year, as with book launches. Two walls and a few plinths is a limitation demanding selectivity and re-invention. We have exhibited prints, paintings, sculptures, drawings, photographs and artist’s books. All have been from artworld practitioners of local and national standing, either people we know or artists who live locally and befriend the bookshop. Most artists live in the margins far from the cosmopolitan ‘centre’ (even though they may have that in sight).

4. How do you go about choosing the books that line your shelves?

The whole space is arranged in small, inter-locking zones: modern fiction, poetry, philosophy- politics – culture, design-architecture-art, ecology-environment, food & plants, travel writing, children’s books. Anne and I read English & Scottish Literature, Art History, Moral Philosophy and Drama between us (at Glasgow, Aberdeen, and Edinburgh universities) then we taught and lectured for twenty years. Avoiding complete self-indulgence is an issue…so we mix our taste with the best of customer choices, ‘troubled’ critical reviews from journals, and publishers’ advance catalogues (Yale, Verso, Reaktion for sure). Speculative international, multi-cultural enquiry guides our selection too, so there’s lots of fiction in translation. It’s all very far away from ‘Brexit’.

5. And finally, do you have any exciting plans for the shop in the coming months that you’d like to share with us?

We’re still bound by the wider society’s faltering return to health and well-being. As the social and productive fabric gets stronger again, so will we. A small publishing concern might do well, with the bookshop as parent body. There is a need for a Scottish journal in the area of ‘image-music-text’, with mainland, islands and international contributions. We’ll see. That would be terrestrial print and some kind of digital archive.