Bookseller spotlight: Laura Norris from The Mad Hatters Bookshop
What’s the first book that you remember having an impact on you?
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor, which I checked out of my school library in 1999. It’s about a young black girl called Cassie growing up in Mississippi during the Jim Crow era. I remember being horrified at the institutional racism Cassie and her family experienced and in awe of how steadfast she was. It’s a pretty harrowing book for a nine-year-old to have read but to this day the book still has a special place in my heart and on my shelf – because I forgot to return it. (Whoops.)
Who were some of your favourite authors as a child?
I didn’t have favourite authors when I was younger because I tended to hop between different genres pretty quickly. I do remember some of my favourite books being Pride and Prejudice, The Diary of Anne Frank and To Kill a Mockingbird. Looking back on it now, I didn’t read a lot of age-appropriate books, but I did also love the Animorphs series on an obsessional level. I was always on the lookout for people I thought could be Yeerks.
How long have you been working at your bookstore? Can you tell us about the store and the community it serves?
I work at The Mad Hatters Bookshop in Manly, QLD which took over and rebranded from TLC Books in early 2015. The space has been a bookshop for about 15 years and we're proud to continue that tradition. I started working here in 2016 and became part-owner in 2018.
Our bookshop is built around a big community of local authors and illustrators, schools, families, teens and kids and all-around book lovers. We have an emphasis on children's books, contemporary fiction and pop culture. I feel very lucky to be a part of this incredible community.
What drew to you becoming a bookseller?
I studied literature at uni and when I was looking for a part-time job this came up rather serendipitously. Books have been the one constant in my life and this seemed the best way to both surround myself with books and also justify my need to talk about books all day, every day.
What did an average day look like for you pre-COVID? And post-COVID?
Pre-COVID: chatting with our lovely customers, recommending books, unpacking boxes, organising events, working with schools, arguing with kids over which is the best Pokemon (it's Mew), drinking my weight in coffee.
Post-COVID: still many of these things but with a bigger online element. I'm answering a lot more emails these days and spending more time on our website to answer the acceleration in online sales.
What’s the best part about being a bookseller?
Being exposed to all kinds of books - my reading tastes have both changed and expanded enormously since becoming a bookseller. I also love hearing from kids about the books they've read recently and the way they light up when they talk about it.
Any memorable customer interactions?
So many. My favourite kind of customer is the one who loudly announces on their entrance: 'I love the smell of books!' then proceeds to smell the nearest book.
What advice would you give someone wanting to work in bookselling?
Firstly, that it can be an actual, specialised career and not just 'retail assistant who happens to work in a bookstore' as seems to be a common misconception. Loving books is an obvious suggestion, but learning how to discuss books and sell them is a skill in itself. Most bookstores have their own unique gravity - find one you love and get to know the people who orbit it.
Who are some of your favourite Australian authors?
I don't know how to begin to answer that! Hannah Kent, Charlotte Wood, Amie Kaufman, Jay Kristoff, Anh Do.
Do you have any favourite UQP titles?
Some of my favourite middle-grade titles are published by UQP: Sick Bay by Nova Weetman, Everything I've Never Said by Samantha Wheeler, The Heartsong of Wonder Quinn by Kate Gordon, The Theory of Hummingbirds by Michelle Kadarusman. I've also got Ordinary Matter by Laura Elvery and Ghost Bird by Lisa Fuller on my TBR pile.
How can we follow your bookstore online?