After work, John and Mary James, book sellers of Aldeburgh, Suffolk, often picnic on the beach with their young sons. John's office in their high street shop overlooks the sea, where he swims every morning from April to October. It's a world away from his former busy life as a property surveyor and Mary's stressful, gridlocked school run through Clapham, south London. .
The two bibliophiles (Mary devours novels, John spent many London lunchtimes poring over non-fiction in Hatchards, Piccadilly) owe this enviable lifestyle to a half-term holiday that never was. They'd booked a flat in Aldeburgh, but for John, pressure of work frustrated all attempts to get away until the weekend. Driving up without him on the Friday, Mary and the boys (Joseph, then three, and Theodore, 18 months) arrived frazzled and ruefully told their landlady that London life was feeling a bit dreary. .
"Why don't you move up here? The bookshop's for sale," said their holiday host. "I don't normally make quick decisions," says John, who followed on Saturday by train, "but this was one of those moments." They'd talked before of leaving London. Suddenly they realised that here was the chance to combine their passion for the printed word with a whole new way of life. A month later the couple had the Aldeburgh Bookshop under offer. .
That was three years ago and their move from London, says Mary, "felt right very quickly. We just closed our old front door and never looked back." .
The Jameses did their homework before leaping into literature: John looked into the business viability and accounting requirements, while Mary spent a day apiece shadowing proprietors of two independent book shops. "I watched what had to be done, from ordering and unpacking stock to dressing the window." .
The shop's turnover has virtually doubled since John and Mary took over and it's been shortlisted twice (by the British Book Awards) as the best independent in Britain.