As a child growing up in the noughties, I very rarely got to see myself in the books I read. There certainly weren’t books with characters like me on display in the school library or available in bookshops. In the shadow of Section 28, and before the legalisation of Gay Marriage, it was certainly a strange time to come to the realisation I was a young lesbian. I often wonder if I would have realised sooner and saved myself a lot of heartache if there had been books with relatable characters in for me to turn to.

So often, the few books with queer characters that I could find as a teenager were sad, with relationships doomed for failure and inevitable trauma. But even then, there was a beacon of hope. In 1979, the UK’s first LGBT+ bookshop opened in Bloomsbury, London. Despite years of police raids, seizures of books and repeated homophobic attacks, it still stands proudly open today.

It’s not uncommon for queer people to describe their first visit to Gay’s The Word bookshop as a kind of pilgrimage, but it truly is an apt description. I found my first visit incredibly emotional and overwhelming. Being surrounded by queer books and knowing that every single book was filled with people like me, written by people like me, was astonishingly moving. For most of my life I had been living off scraps and suddenly I was surrounded by a feast. I wanted to read everything, buy everything!

This is the feeling I wanted to bring back to Oswestry and in a small way, share with our customers in Booka. There is nothing that brings me more joy than introducing queer voices and representation to children and families in the bookshop.

Last year in the spring I approached Carrie with the idea to celebrate Pride Month at Booka. To my delight, she was immediately enthusiastic.We worked on showcasing our favourite LGBT+ titles and authors, putting together displays and creating our new ‘Pride Month Picks’ strips to go on the corner of books. The response we had from the community was incredible. So many people were coming into the shop who hadn’t before and telling us how happy it made them. My favourite feedback we had was from a family with two dads who had recently moved to the area; they told us how special it was to feel welcomed at Booka and in Oswestry.

It feels so surreal the wealth of options and choice we have today in the shop. Books are being published by major publishing houses that are openly, outwardly, and most important, joyfully gay. Change is happening, and not a moment too soon. Not only do we have queer books, but we have queer books for every genre, from teen romance to high fantasy, from literary fiction to poetry. For what feels like the first time, we have choices!

However, I think it is picture books that affect me the most. As I flip through brightly coloured pages and queer characters catch my eye, perhaps a same sex couple holding hands, or the mention of two mums. It’s no secret that the Children’s Section is my very favourite area of the bookshop. I love the bright, beautiful illustrations and the world of stories to be found in our shelves. It fills my heart with so much joy to see queer people & families made visible for today’s children. It cannot be overstated the difference this will make. Knowing that these are books I will be able to read to any future children I may have, is the thing that makes me happiest.

The latest craze in the world of Children’s’ Books is Heartstopper. It is a beautiful series of graphic novels filled with joyful first love, that just happens to be between two boys. In April, Netflix released their adaptation and on the first Saturday after Heartstopper aired, it felt like every other enquiry was for the books. The shop was filled with teenagers eagerly seeking out the heart-warming representation they had seen on TV. It was when one young girl turned to her parent and said “Everyone is talking about this at school”, that I had to take a moment in the back room before I became too emotional. This new world of representation and visibility would have been unrecognisable to me at thirteen and I am so enormously proud as a bookseller to be able to introduce our customers to this feast of options.

This June we are celebrating Pride again and it is bigger and better than ever. Both our Books of the Month are LGBT+ choices and every member of staff have chosen their personal favourite Pride Picks. We are shouting from the rooftops about Pride and highlighting Queer authors and books in every way we can. Please do come in and visit this month so that we can celebrate with you.

Come and join Imi for a ‘Pride Story Time & Craft’ on Saturday 18th June at 2pm. She will be reading ‘Who’s Your Real Mum’ by Bernadette Green & Anna Zobel, a beautifully illustrated story which celebrates the love at the heart of all families. This is a FREE event, howver please book to reserve your place.

  • Imi