Meet the owners
Book-mad from an early age, Sarah Key took over The Haunted Bookshop in Cambridge in 1994. Here she talks about her speciality books, unique shop and its mysterious ghostly presence
You set up Sarah Key Books in 1987. What made you want to work in this industry?
I’ve always been book mad really. I was an only child and from a literary family so there were always books around, and I found it a really good way of entertaining myself. I read all kinds of stuff when I was
a child and into my teens. I spent hours rearranging books on the shelves and got heavily into Enid Blyton, which I found compulsive reading. It was also a good way of escaping adults, to be honest!
What brought you to The Haunted Bookshop?
We took it over in 1994 from the previous owner, a chap called Derek Gibbons, who was coming up for retirement. Because of its position, just around the corner from King’s College and right in the centre of
town, we thought it was perfect.
Can you tell me about the ghostly lady in white reputed to haunt the bookshop?
I don’t know who she might be but apparently, she goes up and down the stairs, and the one time I did see her, she appeared to be dressed in something long and flowing. Derek told us he had seen the lady in
white, as well as the ghost of a grumpy elderly gentleman hanging out in the basement!
What books do you specialise in?
Historically we have specialised in children’s illustrated books, such as Alice in Wonderland as there’s dozens of different editions and they’re all collectable, alongside classics like The Secret Garden, Enid Blyton, Biggles, and more modern titles like The Snowman by Raymond Briggs. They tend to be books which people remember from their childhood and want to buy back or obtain a special copy of.
You’re a regular exhibitor at book fairs too, aren’t you?
Yes, we belong to the PBFA – the Provincial Booksellers Fair Association – which is entirely run by volunteers and organises book fairs up and down the country. In fact, the next one is on February 18 and 19 at The Guildhall in Cambridge. Booksellers from all over the world meet at various venues including London, Oxford and Bath. It’s an opportunity to buy and sell amongst colleagus – and we do get some loyal book-loving customers who follow us around the country. We also sell all over the world, via our website, sending books to countries including India, America and Australia.
What do you think is the enduring appeal of a traditional book shop?
Everyone can look on the internet and find most titles, but people still like to make their own discoveries and have their own private treasure hunt really. There’s nothing like going to a fair or a shop and happening on something wonderful rather than pressing a few buttons and it pops out without any effort.
Do you still get time to read in between running The Haunted Bookshop?
Oh yes, I’m reading Bleak House at the moment so that is a bit of a project! I’m a reader first and foremost so I’ve always got to have something on the go and then at least 10 other books in a pile to come to afterwards. Any reader will tell you, if you haven’t got that pile of spares you get in a panic!
What do you love about being an independent business in Cambridge?
Just being able to do my own thing and go my own way. I like that we’re a bit different, that we offer something you can’t get everywhere and add colour to the community.
Visit The Haunted Bookshop at 9 St Edward’s Passage, Cambridge CB2 3PJ or visit sarahkeybooks.co.uk
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