visits the ANHOLTS
& their amazing
bookshop by the sea
[images are clickable for 800x600 view]
With the radio tuned in alternately to Radio 1’s Ibiza
weekend and the Ashes cricket commentary, I found myself Berlingo-ing
along on a sunny day in the middle of August, enjoying the four
hour drive to Lyme Regis for a visit to Laurence and Catherine
Anholt, specifically to visit their new shop - Chimp and Zee,
Bookshop by the Sea – which they opened at the beginning
The Anholts live and work in Uplyme, in an old farmhouse with
substantial grounds and spectacular views over Lyme Regis. They
are not easy to find, even with the aid of a sketchmap emailed
to me by Laurence. Eventually, after two phonecalls and patiently
repeated directions, I found the two gateposts and cattle grid
on the righthand side of a narrow lane high above Lyme, and drove
up to the house.
The welcome was warm and immediate. After tea and a ‘biscuit’ (which
proved to be a luxuriously large soft cookie) by the pool, I
was shown Laurence’s studio and took photos of him and
Catherine. Laurence had brought inside, from the table by the
pool, a hardback copy of Hilary Spurling’s biography of
Matisse, to protect it from the mid-day heat, and he took from
his pocket a small flipbook, a gift from his son, and showed
of a boy watching the great painter at work. Laurence is on a
mission to identify that boy, because Matisse is to be the subject
of the next title in the Artists series which he both writes
and illustrates for Frances Lincoln.
Later in the day he and Catherine tell me the story behind their
discovery of the young model who sat for Picasso, and the subject
AND THE GIRL WITH A PONYTAIL A Story About Pablo Picasso (an
earlier book in the artists series, published by Frances
Lincoln, a company tha Anholts speak particularly warmly
Laurence is hoping for some similar serendipitous discovery
the case of Matisse.
While still outside by the pool I asked whose idea the
shop had been. Catherine laughed, and said, smiling, ‘Who
do you think?’ On their website, Laurence describes himself
as having a butterfly mind and being happiest working on several
diverse projects at once, but it is only by spending a few hours
in his company that you come to fully appreciate the manner in
which he thrives on having multiple tasks on the go at the same
time. He currently has no fewer than nine ‘open’ writing
and illustrating projects, a workload which he views as perfectly
manageable, but acknowledges to be the result of having, in effect,
taken a year off as a writer and illustrator in order to set
up the shop.
From acquiring the property at 51 Broad Street in the centre
of Lyme (in an auction) to actually opening for business has
taken the best part of two years, with Laurence being fully committed
to the project in a hands-on regard for the greater part of that
Since it opened some six weeks ago the Anholts’ older
daughter had been running the shop, but she is now travelling
abroad and they have recently appointed a part-time team to man
the counter during the day. On the day of my visit, their younger
daughter was holding fort. Her twin brother has taken his turn
too, as has Catherine. Now the family is looking forward to being
able to step back from day-to-day management. At least, that
is the plan, though they acknowledge that there is more to ‘retail’ than
The small two-floor property has been fully gutted and renovated.
Laurence once worked as a ‘chippy’ installing kitchens
and enjoys working with his hands. So he had the necessary skills,
although the renovation and restyling of the interior involved
far more than putting up the usual bookshop fittings.
In the upper floor, he took out the plaster and lath ceiling
(to get deluged in ancient dust and dead rats) and then had to
work on the roof beams. One night while the street was quiet
a whole tree was carefully squeezed inside the shop and now forms
a centrepiece running from the shop counter up through the stairwell
towards those renovated roofbeams.
At every turn there is another fascinating detail for the eye,
including a fully anamatronic window display, a giant book
which young children can climb inside to find a reading corner,
Silly Stories' mural by Arthur Robins and the oak tree which
'grows' through the counter right up into the roofspace in
the gallery upstairs. Indeed, the attention to detail that
into this enterprise, the dedication and the determination
to achieve a highly professional and artistic result – these
are mindboggling and can only be fully appreciated by a personal
The photos give the merest flavour of the shop’s impact,
which begins with the colourful shop frontage and window display.
In the course of developing the shop, Laurence made contact with
many skilled local craftsmen and artisans, and he pointed out,
as an example, the moving letters of Chimp and Zee, made for
the shop by one such contact. In the short time that I was in
Lyme I saw several family groups stopping outside to watch Chimp
ride round and round on his bicycle.
Laurence tells me later, after we have returned to the house
for lunch, that one of his inspirations was a shop that he remembers
from his childhood, much of which he spent growing up in Holland.
There he would occasionally be taken to a tiny shop that sold
only toothbrushes, and this shop enticed customers inside with
an ingenious window display.
Their new shop is a showcase for the Anholts’ work. The
books – most of their 70-odd titles remain in print – are
displayed downstairs, with each title or series given a specially
designed display case. Laurence is grateful to publishers for
their support in supplying stock at discount levels that make
the enterprise viable. His one regret is that the picturebook
he wrote about the fossil collector Mary Anning is, exceptionally,
no longer in print. There is a rueful irony about that, as this
would have had immense local interest value. Indeed, the two
hundred copies which Anholt managed to get hold of are already
The upper floor of the shop is, in effect, a mini-gallery, where
both prints and original artwork are for sale. Laurence and Catherine
plan to use the upstairs gallery for rotating exhibitions of
their artwork and limited edition prints and are also keen to
utilise this space for special events such as storytelling sessions.
Now that he has the shop, Laurence tells me that he would consider
self-publishing if a title were one that would have specific
appeal to the shop’s clientele.
The Anholts’ books do particularly well in foreign editions,
and Catherine’s illustrations seem to be especially favoured
by the Japanese market, where the Chimp and Zee books are doing
extremely well. In Chimp and Zee, the Anholts have created characters
with immediate appeal for young pre-school children, and Catherine’s
illustrations are particularly well attuned to this audience,
a fact appreciated by Booktrust when they included the Anholts
in their recent list of recommendations for babies and toddlers.
ACHUKA tended to agree with Dina
objections to the list as a whole but asking, “Why include
Chimp and Zee, two monkeys without a life, when Anthony Browne's
simian tales parallel childhood
experience on every page?” provokes the repsonse that Chimp
and Zee certainly do have a life, and one that artfully mirrors
the rhythms of typical toddler experience, and that Anthony Browne’s
picture books are perhaps best saved for 4+.
Catherine apparently exploits a different drawing style in the
personal illustrated diary which she keeps, and she and Laurence
are in the early stages of developing characters and a storyline
based on this style. A display case in the shop includes some
macquettes that form part of this project.
In addition to Laurence’s nine deadlines (these include
four new Silly Stories to be illustrated by Arthur Robins) he
has the long-term aim of completing a graphic novel for teenagers,
telling us, "The central character is called Lorenzo and
his gloomy companion is Unwin. The nature-girl character is Catrina.
I have written two stories so far but the visual side will take
some time to develop."
The Anholts, who prefer to work without an agent, astutely stipulate
in their contracts that each book published by them has to include
the address of their website. This has ensured that it is regularly
visited. The current site will shortly be redesigned with a view
to its becoming an internet adjunct to the bookshop by the sea,
with the facility to make online purchases of books, prints and
The shop’s opening times are 10-5.30 Monday-Saturday.
Birthday, Chimp And Zee published Sep 2005.
© ACHUKA 2005