I want to take you back a little bit to the Summer. I know what you’re thinking; can you not, Melissa? I’m more focused on what 2023 might bring, enjoying Betwixtmas, and eating my entire body weight in Quality Street. And I whole-heartedly agree with that statement, but this is where my story of becoming the next Barefoot Bookseller really begins.
Like so many, I was feeling pretty restless. In the UK, we’d spent a few years stuck at home, everything was feeling incredibly monotonous, and going to the supermarket once a week was the height of excitement. We’d all tried to find comfort in the familiar. I’d returned to reading more, had fun conversations and quizzes with friends, and done an occasional half-hearted workout in the living room. But life was supposedly getting back to normal and after some nervous tiptoeing, I was finally ready to take get back out there properly again. And so, I spent my summer days picnicking, going to gigs, flying away on city breaks, and visiting my family in Wales.
One day I was staying with my friend, Sarah, and in a quiet moment over coffee, I found myself mindlessly scrolling on Instagram and a post popped up from a recommended account. It was a picture of the bluest water I’d ever seen with two women laying in hammocks reading. It looked idyllic. The post said they were looking for the next Barefoot Bookseller to run a bookshop on an island in the Maldives.
‘Look at this!’ I gawped as I shoved my phone into Sarah’s face. ‘Imagine having a job like that’.
We agreed it sounded wonderful and spent a considerable amount of time daydreaming about a new life there. I’d be busy chatting about books and recommending them to guests, reading lots, writing about my experiences, and all in the most stunning of settings. Mentally, I’d already packed my bags and was on the plane.
‘I’d never get it though; I bet it’s so competitive’. And I was right, but only about one thing. A quick Google produced countless articles and news publications calling it “The best job in the world”, and said it attracted applications from all over the globe and from people from different backgrounds.
I dared to think I was qualified having spent almost eight years working at the book retailer Waterstones in lots of different roles; from bookseller to internal communications exec to running their gift card program. And in the last few years, I’d been working as a Marketing Campaign Manager at HQ, an imprint of the publisher HarperCollins, in London.
There were some doubts, of course. Surely someone would be more qualified and better suited to the role than me? What would I do that would be different and add value? Did I really want to move to an island in the middle of the ocean that prided itself on barefoot luxury, and that was a once-in-a-life destination for many? After much soul-searching, (I joke because, obviously, it took me all of five seconds to decide that yes; I did want to move to paradise for a bit), I knew I had to at least apply. I could do this! Books and sharing a love of reading is my passion, I have lots of experience in the industry, and anytime I’ve been unsure about anything I’ve been able to turn it into an opportunity. Besides, I wasn’t going to get it anyway because other people get jobs like that…
When I was told I got the job, I was flabbergasted. When I accepted and started to tell people, everyone was incredibly excited for me and so supportive. Colleagues I never met came over to congratulate me, friends shared their envious thoughts and planned on when they would visit, and acquaintances thought I was making it up because it sounded too good to be true.
And so, over the next three months, I hustled to temporarily wrap up my life; leaving a job I loved behind, friends and family who I very much miss, and cancelling all conceivable plans I had for the next year (get the world's smallest violin ready as I say goodbye to; Bruce Springsteen tickets, a birthday trip to York and many festive shenanigans). Weirdly, whenever I feel sad about missing those things; I remember that the people I miss are just video call away, and I often further find solace in the long sunny days, being able to snorkel in the warm ocean water whenever and having the most unique experiences imaginable. Then I also remember; I’m adding to my experiences and not losing any. Life can be so unexpectedly rich and exciting, and full of new joys, new friends, and new challenges. And I’m so lucky to have that here and now.
I've been here on Kunfunadhoo, the official island name of Soneva Fushi, for a little over a month now. I’m currently sat behind the desk at the bookshop, the sun is beaming down brightly on the Book Tuk Tuk which is sat outside, I’m listening to Ella Fitzgerald croon, and I’m typing away at the computer as I watch people cycle past and go about their leisurely days. It must be said; I know I'm so lucky to be here. I feel grateful for this opportunity to have the “dream job” for a while because I know so many people would love to be in my barefoot bookselling shoes, but I promise that; over the coming months that Malsa and I will make you feel part of the team and share whatever we can with you. So let me tell you about my first month or so living on Soneva Fushi and working as The Barefoot Bookseller… soon. See you then! Melissa x