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The children’s bookshop that has swapped the high street for a boat

Hackney-based Telling Tales have opted to leave dry land to become the only shop selling illustrated children's books on London’s canals and beyond

It’s a tough life for an independent book seller on the high street – so one children’s bookshop has ditched the traditional bricks and mortar setting to try their hand at selling books on a boat.

Telling Tales was set up three years ago as an online bookshop specialising in illustrated kids books before making the switch to physical premises when owner Daisy Hollings moved into a London Fields office previously used by husband Jon Gedny.

After two years the couple found themselves at a crossroads: go ahead and make the new use of the space official or seek out a new location.

Telling Tales bookshop on a boat
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Telling Tales' boat was specially made and took just over a year to design and build

That was when Jon came up with the “crazy” idea to build a boat and, after more than a year spent creating the bespoke 60ft x 12ft vessel, they took delivery of the water-borne bookshop last month.

The boat features nooks for kids to read books as well as a coffee machine to allow Daisy to host coffee mornings – it’s designed to be a space to spend time in as well as browsing and buying.

“We didn’t really want to be another bookshop along the high street,” she told The Big Issue. “We wanted to be something slightly different but we also realised how much we had become a part of the community. We wanted to keep that ethos where people can come in not just to buy a book but also come in and just talk to us about books they like, or to our storytellings, or have a coffee morning. We wanted to keep that vibe.”

Telling Tales is currently on its second mooring in East London with plans to make the most of their ability to move by heading across the English capital as well as up to Bath and Bristol.

The shop will largely be based around Hackney and neighbouring boroughs Tower Hamlets and Islington, moving along the Regents Canal, Paddington Arm, Limehouse Cut and Lea Navigation.

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They are not the only place to buy a book on a boat in London – Word on the Water also chooses to use a boat as a base but is permanently moored and no longer moves around London like Telling Tales.

It’s an ideal way for Daisy to share her passion for books and to showcase work from the local publishers that she stocks as well as picking up new reads from other areas too.

The mum of three insists that the slower pace of life is an attraction while the boat also offers her the opportunity to explore hosting school groups or put on cinema screenings or craft workshops.

Telling Tales bookshop on a boat
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The boat features 'nooks' for kids to read books

Daisy insists that operating as a roving trader licensed by the Canal & River Trust removes some of the stress that bookshop owners face in permanent premises, whether it be through rising rents, business rates or trying to compete with book behemoths Amazon and Waterstones.

“It’s a pared-back boat – we wanted it to feel very light, very airy, we wanted it to be about the books but a space we can use as part of the community,” she said.

“So far, we’ve had a good response. I was slightly concerned that people wouldn’t want to make the effort to come and find us. But people are really intrigued to come and see us and experience something different, people are really excited about even just going on a boat.

Bookshops are a massive part of the community.

“Reading words and pictures and understanding how they combine to speaking to us is so important. But it is scary that there is so much pressure on booksellers.”

Images: Telling Tales