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New Barefoot Bookseller: Jen

I’m writing this blog post from a beach in the Maldives, on Christmas Eve.


That’s a sentence I never thought in a million years I’d write.


It’s hard to know how to start my first blog post as the new Barefoot Bookseller at Soneva Fushi, as it still feels so surreal, even after living and working here for over a month. 

I left the UK on a chilly November evening, ready to embark on an adventure straight out of a rom-comselling books on an island paradise for 8 months. Within 20 hours I was barefoot on a white sandy beach, new notebook in tow, ready to start an exciting new chapter, but slightly unsure of how well I’d adapt to island life.


But first, let’s start at the beginning… 


Bookseller sitting on hammock over the sea, reading
Bookseller life in the Maldives



I first heard about the job when the advert went viral in 2018, it was dubbed by The Guardian as ‘the best job in the world’I was working in a publishing house at the time and I remember everyone in the office imagining what it would be like to work in paradise reading books on the beach, a far cry from our office jobs in London. At the time, I’d only just moved down to London from Liverpool for my first job in publishing which I loved, so another big life change so soon seemed like too big a step for me. Cut to seven months ago - I’d been living and working in London for over six years and was in a bit of a mental rut. I just felt like I needed to do something more with my life, to shake it up a bit and see what happened. So, I applied for the Barefoot Bookseller role, what did I have to lose? After several interviews, I finally got the call to say that I was the shortlisted candidate. I couldn’t believe it, I’d got the viral ‘dream job’, within 3 months I’d be living and working in the Maldives. I packed up my life, said my goodbyes to my friends and family and started my journey. After a quick Prosecco and French fries in London Heathrow, I was on my way. I arrived on 14th November, jet lagged and sweaty as I tried desperately to acclimatize to 32c with nearly 100% humidity, after a cool 12c in London. It was a total pinch me momentto disembark the sea plane and walk down the jetty to Soneva Fushi, I felt like I was in a dream and that I’d wake up at any moment. 

 


Passport and glass of Prosecco at London Heathrow Airport
Getting ready to board my plane at London Heathrow

 

I’ve been on the island for nearly three months now, and whilst I still can’t quite believe this is my job, I’m starting to get used to the island way of life.


I usually start my days with a swim, before getting ready and cycling over to the Barefoot Bookshop. For a couple of hours each morning I take the BookTuk down to the guest breakfast area; I chat to the guests, show them our latest stock, and tell them all about the other literary services we have on offer, all whilst they enjoy their morning coffee and pastries. This is often my favourite time of day, as frequently children come and sit on the bean bags and ask to be read to, and over several days or weeks, I get to know the guests and their reading tastesit’s a really unique situation for a bookseller, to have regulars who are living on the island with you for weeks, sometimes months, at a time. One of my highlights so far was a guest who came to the shop every three days, each time telling me how much she loved the book I’d recommended to her, going on to say that reading one particular book (Small Pleasures by Clare Chambers) was such a beautiful read and absolutely what she was looking for, that it made her holiday.


After the BookTuk, I’ll open up the shop from 11 to 1pm. I’ll check to see if we have any new stock, reorganize the window displays, replenish the shelves, and sit down to plan some social media content with my partner Malsa, who works in the Soneva Jani bookshop. After lunch, a quick sunbathe and dip in the sea, it’s back to work between 3-7pm. Usually in the afternoon I’ll be writing up a blog post, organising the next book club session and liaising with the Soneva Comms team on Soneva Stars, which is a programme of guest activities and experiences hosted by visiting experts, ranging from Michelin-starred chefs to sporting legends and acclaimed therapists.


Essentially, the Barefoot Bookseller is the literary curator for the islandmy previous bookselling experience, along with nearly a decade in the publishing industry, brings a wealth of knowledge to the role, which feeds into many island operations and guest services that Soneva Fushi offers. The Shelf Discovery sessions I provide offer guests who are struggling for inspiration on what to read next an in-depth chat about their reading habits and literary tastes, from which I compile tailored book selections of around 5 or 6 titles which I think are perfectly suited to them. Or, if a guest wants to pop into the shop for a brief 10-minute Blind Date with a Bookseller, I have a ready-made selection of the latest must-read titles, perfect to relax on the beach with. In addition to these services, I also offer English Tutoring for children, Creative Writing sessions, Storytime at The Den (the kids club at Soneva Fushi), and literary events such as Island Reading and bookshop pop ups at Out of the Sea and Out of the Blue (restaurants on the island). I’ve also had the opportunity to interview some incredible Hollywood directors, including Matthew Freud and Dexter Fletcher, as well as working with The Body Coach himself Joe Wicks whilst he was at Soneva Fushi.


Having an awareness of trends within the international book market is essential to the day to day running of the bookshop, as we have guests visiting from all over the world and we need to cater for everyone. At the moment, our children’s books are flying off the shelves as we’ve had many families here over the festive period. Books about local marine life are also big sellers, as are mindfulness titles, which really echo the slow life ethos Soneva proudly represents. My favourite part of the job is engaging with book lovers on a daily basis – there’s nothing like getting to know a guest, selecting the book you think would be perfect for them, then hearing them talk about how much they loved it. Working with my lovely teammate Malsa (Barefoot Bookseller at Soneva Jani) has been amazing, she is not only the most organised person I’ve ever met, but also one of the most impressive, with an undergraduate in Anthropology and a masters in Neuroscience on the horizonwe’ve got BIG plans for 2024, so watch this space! This includes dipping our toes into TikTok… check out @jennyfromthebeach_ for a behind-the-scenes look at our lives as Barefoot Booksellers.



Bookseller reading on the jetty, with BookTuk and ocean in background
Is this the dream job?


Reflecting on the past couple of months, it’s been an absolute rollercoaster, and I can’t wait to see what the next 6 months will bring. As I sign off my first blog post, I’m lying on the sand in a balmy 31 degrees on my day off, with a book and a smoothie to one side, the sea on the other. My job is now officially books and beach, and whilst I continue to pinch myself in disbelief that this is my life now, I’m loving every minute of it – clearly this island life is for me after all.

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Congratulations! What a dream job, indeed!

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