Melissa, it’s been great having you as the better half of Team M&M, but unfortunately, good things don’t last forever, and the time has come for me to say goodbye to another Barefoot Bookseller.
Our time together as a team was short-lived, but we made the most of it! We were able to see each other often and even spent some quality time together outside of our respective resorts.
Melissa and I had an instant connection when she mentioned that she was from Bangor – a town in North Wales which I called home during my years at university. What were the chances? Our next moment of connection was when we found out we were both Pink Floyd fans. We knew we’d make a great team, and we really did. I’m proud of us and what we have achieved together.
But Melissa, I am even more proud of just YOU – it’s not an easy job and the way you kept so calm and collected even during the toughest of times prove that you were dedicated and professional. And of course, hats off to you for helping me come out of my non-fiction era back to reading fiction. It started with Lessons in Chemistry and it’s one reason why this book will remain special to me. So, I choose this as ‘our book’. Thank you for listening to my endless rants, thank you for helping me out at work and thank you for just being there whenever I needed you. You’ve been amazing.
PS: I was planning to meet Melissa in Bangor during the summer holidays, and especially after reading Melissa’s final piece for the blog, I was determined to make it come true. And where did it – here we are in a little coffee shop in Llandudno and exploring bookshops...
Here's what Melissa wanted to say to you all…
Closing A Chapter
I’m sitting in a coffee shop in north Wales, sipping an iced drink on an unusually hot day, enjoying the hum of conversation around me and, of course, there’s a book in my bag that I’m keen to devour, but I have other things on my mind. I flip open my laptop and, finally, start writing this.
You see, the above paragraph isn’t in the realms of fantasy; it’s true. I’m thousands of miles away from “my” little bookshop in The Maldives and my time as the Barefoot Bookseller has come to an end. I suspect that might be a surprise given that the last you heard from me I was busy enjoying the Jaipur Literature Festival on Soneva Fushi, but as the event wrapped up so did my time having one of the most unique jobs in the world.
So let me tell you about my last month and about how this all came to be…
May passed in a frenzied whirlwind, but it started out with a gentle pace in pure luxury as I holidayed on the island. On the morning of the first Monday of the month, I was guided around my villa by my Barefoot Guardian and got acquainted with my home away from home - a huge Robinson Crusoe-esque two-storey building of complete luxury. For a week I slept under a vaulted ceiling in a humongous and comfy bed, listened as the ocean lapped away at the private beach just feet away from my doorstep, and if the mood took me, I lazed in the pool perching myself on the ledge with my book and a glass or two of wine. My favourite things about the villa were the indoor-outdoor bathroom which had two (!) showers along with a sumptuous bath, and the cabana which was the perfect coffee spot and provided cover under the beating sun or bucketing rain whilst socialising with friends. I was pampered at the spa, ate the most decadent food, and occasionally worked out at the fanciest gym. As you can imagine; it was absolute bliss.
The pace picked up when JLF Soneva Fushi 2023 arrived on the island with a flurry, and I can honestly say I’ve never been to a book festival quite like it. There was so much to do and enjoy whilst also being intimate and inclusive; from fascinating talks around all manner of subjects, to listening to global artists live, to having meandering discussions about books and everything else in between over dinner. All of which left me feeling connected and inspired.
Time is a weird construct on the island as it simultaneously passes rapidly but also stretches out, and when I accepted the role, I knew that living in paradise would be limited, but as the reality of that got closer I knew I had to soak in every experience. And whilst I loved the villa and the book events, I made it a priority to spend as much time as possible with friends. I’ve written about some of the unforgettable experiences I had with them in the first few months here, but even more memories were created: a dolphin cruise at sunset, venturing off the island for delicious dinners, board games until late, countless games of pool at the bar to name but a few.
I also got to spend time with Malsa, who in the last few days came to say goodbye. The better half of Team M&M is someone I’m incredibly grateful was there for this adventure of mine, and it’s hard, to sum up what her friendship and support meant to me. What I can say is; if you’re lucky sometimes people will come into your life that you feel an instant connection with and you know you were always supposed to meet, and funny and formidable Malsa is one of those people to me. And whilst it may be the end of us working alongside one another, it’s certainly not the last time we’ll see each other; we’ll always have Bangor!
It’s been over three weeks ago since I made the hop, skip and jump home (and by that I mean; a speedboat, three planes, several buses and two trains), and I think the reason I haven’t acknowledged my leaving yet is that I needed time to properly reflect that this specific chapter, filled with adventure and challenges, is properly closed. There will be no more walks on the beach at sunrise and squashing the sand under my feet as I realise I’ve no idea when I last wore my shoes, or warm nights bobbing along in a boat looking up to the blanket of stars after dinner on a local island, or wandering around the wonderful bookshop whilst listening to music feeling like Kathleen Kelly in You’ve Got Mail. It does make me sad that it’s over, but it also makes me incredibly grateful that it happened and on a less profound level; it ensures that I’ll always have an anecdote when on those awkward training days and you have to say something interesting about yourself).
As my life gets back to reality, it does sometimes feel like a dream. Did I really move to The Maldives for six months to run a bookshop? Did a bat once drop an almond on my head as I was cycling? Did I repeatedly fall off my bike and hope no one saw me? Did I finally master driving a booktuk? Did I learn to read stories with children when we didn’t share a common language? Did I host a quiz on a sandbank in the middle of the ocean for multiple Booker Prize winners? Somehow it is all true; unbelievably, I did do those things.
That makes me think about the girl who read library books with her Mum; the burgeoning teen reader who found comfort in the words of others; the student who took a Christmas temp job at Waterstones years ago who, when she graduated, stayed as putting books in people’s hands became her vocation; and the woman who moved to London to work at Head Office thinking it would be for six months before finding herself working on the other side of the industry in publishing almost a decade later. All those versions of me would be amazed that she repeatedly, and in different ways, made a life filled with books and that she got to share that love with other people, and that passion took her thousands of miles away for a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Ultimately, I feel so fortunate and grateful that all those decisions, when I was unsure if I was doing the right thing, did work out. Books really can change the world! They changed mine.
To the readers I spoke to online and in person on the island; young or young at heart; nervous newbies and ravenous readers; thanks for the wonderful chats and recommendations, and I hope that the books you read continue to change your world in small and big ways too.
Anyway, I best be wrapping this up. As I mentioned, I have a book I’m keen to devour…
Lots of love for the last time from Team M&M