Ebb & Flo: Chorley’s new independent bookshop

Ebb & Flo: Chorley’s new independent bookshop

It’s Independent Booksellers Week, so to mark the occasion, I’ve been talking to Diane, owner of the small but perfectly formed Ebb & Flo bookshop in Chorley.

ebb and flo

Ebb & Flo has only been open for a few months, and my first question is, why now? With the long shadow of Amazon, the recession snipping at our heels and the future, so we’re told, heading down the e-reader route, isn’t it a bit mad to be opening a bookshop? Not so much as you’d think, says Diane.

‘It feels like the right time. There’s the Shop Local movement, with people supporting farmer’s markets and small retailers, and the scandal with Amazon’s tax avoidance. Chorley doesn’t have a Waterstones and the Smiths is a bit…’ ‘Like going in to buy milk?’ I suggest. ‘Well, it’s not much of an experience. And there’s a loyal shopping body in Chorley. They seem to be really pleased that the town has its own bookshop again.’

ebb and flo 4

So what does a small bookshop have to do these days? Certainly not sit around and wait for people to realise that they need a book. ‘I did about a year’s research before going ahead, and met lots of other booksellers. The ones that are thriving seem to be the new ones who are working really hard at building a customer base.’

An important part of this base-building involves holding events. Upstairs is a gallery space for local artists, where Diane also hosts workshops and an eclectic range of groups. ‘There’s story-time and rhymes every week, and children’s crafts in the holiday. And we have Baby and Parent Yoga, Story Yoga and Baby Tunies.’ Diane stops to laugh. ‘They were worried about making too much noise, but it’s lovely to hear the children. I don’t want customers to feel that they have to whisper.’ In the main shop, kids have their own story den. ‘When we close the curtains, they’re either really quiet, or really wild because they think we can’t see them.’

Then there’s the monthly Thursday evening reading group. There was so much interest in this that the first session had to be done twice, and they’ve continued to be very popular. The last book was Patrick Gale’s Notes from an Exhibition, and coming up are Espedair Street by Iain Banks, and Mark Haddon’s Red House.

My first visit to the shop was a meetup with writing friends Claire Dean, Jenn Ashworth, Carys Bray and Sarah Schofield, because what could be better than an afternoon talking about writing in a bookshop with cake? The shop has a real collaboratively arty feeling, a sense that it’s a good place for creativity. The artist Kate Bufton held her first bookshop exhibition  here, and her beautiful pieces scatter the shelves. She ran a workshop for children, making little books, at half term; so many of the adults wanted to have a go that more are being planned for them.

ebb and flo 1

Last month, the Bookshop Band were here as part of their tour of independent bookshops, alongside readings from Claire Dean. Yesterday, you could have caught an evening with Cath Staincliff, the crime author behind television’s Scott and Bailey. Later this month, Jenn Ashworth will be launching her paperback edition of The Friday Gospels with support from Carys Bray. Jenn and Carys both come from a Mormon background, and The Friday Gospels is set in Chorley, the home of the largest Latter Day Saint’s temple this side of the Atlantic. I’ve reviewed both of their books previously on this blog: search for them at the top right of the page.

I’ve just realised that this means everyone from our little writers’ meeting other than the two Sarahs will have performed here. So, Sarah Schofield, when Diane told me about Chorley Live (performances in cafes and shops in the first weekend of October) and said she was looking for book-related acts, I somewhat rashly mentioned my plan for a short story accompanied by ukulele. Do you want to join in…?


So, there’s a lovely space to sit and have coffee and chat about books. There are so many happenings that Diane sometimes feels ‘more like an event manager than a bookshop owner.’ At the bottom line, though, do people still want to come to a shop to buy actual books?

Doing this interview has made me question my own attitude towards book buying. I am, I admit, something of a cheapskate: I like a charity shop bargain, and love the fact that I can download library books onto my Nook e-reader. I also (whisper) sometimes buy things from Amazon. Why am I whispering? We all do. And then, living on a boat, I just don’t have space for a lot of books, so I quite like buying second-hand and passing them swiftly on. However, I have recently rediscovered the thrill of buying a whole, new, shiny book, almost at random, and it feels different. Satisfying. And it costs less than the price of a cinema ticket.

That’s a good analogy, I think. We can watch things for free at home, but going out makes it an event. An important part of special occasions for my kids has always been going to choose a new book, and it’s soooo much easier to choose in an indy shop where, as Diane says, ‘the books are curated’ rather than being plucked off a best seller list. My twelve year old came along with me to the interview, and this was one that he just couldn’t resist:

ebb and flo 3


Books as treats, then, and books as gifts. But let’s not forget books as things we can just enjoy, for the price of a coffee or two. Yes, the big retailers can offer big discounts, but only on the books they choose. I’d rather be guided by word of mouth, and that’s something that small retailers can tap into. ‘I just have what’s on the shelves,’ says Diane, ‘so I can see what people want, watch what they order.’ A bit like the Zara method of stocking, then? Fluid and flexible to demand? ‘Yes. And I can order for the next day.’ She goes off for a moment to deal with a query from a young woman with a big pushchair, and I get drawn into the shelves next to me. I quite fancy this:



but Diane is back, so we carry on. ‘We can’t offer the range of, say, Waterstones, but I want people to be able to pop in and see what’s around.’ Big bookshops can be a bit overwhelming, I suggest, with too much choice. Diane laughs. She’s got a lovely laugh, with dimples. ‘There are hundreds of books I’d like to order,’ she confides, ‘but my husband’s an accountant, he keeps the brakes on. I can’t help adding to the stock, though.’

We finish with the name, Ebb & Flo. It suits the shop, I think: quirky, friendly and suggesting infinite possibilities. How did they come up with it? ‘I’ve always liked double names, like Plackett and Booth in Lytham, but mine and my husband’s name didn’t sound like a bookshop! So we had a family debate, I’ve still got the big sheet we wrote them all down on.’ Flo is Diane’s grandmother’s name, and she liked the idea of using that. ‘And we came up with Ebb & Flo. When the signwriter came in, he said it was like the ebb and flow of customers and ideas. I like that.’

I like it too. And the shop. And Diane. I hope that the revival of independent bookshops keeps on growing, because the world would be a little more grey without them. To do my bit, I take home Resistance, by Owen Sheers. It’s a poetic alternate history novel, and something I’d never have found in a charity shop. And, later, I check the price on Amazon. Diane is cheaper, hurrah 🙂 I can see my book collection starting to grow, so if anyone wants to go on my list of recipients for ‘books I really have to pass on to make room for more’, please let me know!


To keep up with everything that’s going on at Ebb & Flo, you can follow them on Twitter here.

This is the shop’s website.

Jenn Ashworth and Carys Bray will be reading at the shop on July 20th.

Children’s workshops will be running through the summer holidays, and Chorley Live is on the first weekend in October.





  1. Sarah Schofield
    4 Jul 2013

    A great review of a brilliant shop! Thank heavens for people like Diane. Can’t wait to visit again soon.

    And I’d delighted to float ideas for Chorley live – I play the saxophone – any good?! It might sound great alongside a ukulele but would make reading a story at the same time somewhat challenging!

    • Sarah
      4 Jul 2013

      I think we can make that work! People of Chorley, hold onto your hats 🙂


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