I founded the Travel Bookshop in 1979; it was run privately for more than 30 years. Nestled between the local art galleries, eateries and the many retro and avant-garde boutiques of Notting Hill, it offered a cornucopia for travelling readers. So enticing was this bookshop, it was chosen as the main setting and inspiration for the 1998 film Notting Hill starring Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts.
I was often asked why I had started the shop and so here is the story behind it … Almost my first job had been in a bookshop – WJ Bryce in Museum Street near the British Museum. I LOVED working there although I was only paid £7 a week. After about 2 years I left to go travelling and when I came back (having been round the world and having lived in New York), I had a bad skiing accident. There is nothing like being unable to move to give you time to think. I decided to go to university and got accepted to read Chinese at SOAS – after that 4 year course I still wasn’t qualified to do anything so I mentioned to somebody that when I retired I would like to have my own bookshop. They looked at me and asked ‘Retire from what, Sarah?’ and ‘If you want to do something, do it now.’ Good advice. I decided to specialise in travel and was the first shop to arrange the books under country – so that I had function side by side with guides and histories etc. Although it still might not have gone ahead – as I went to the US for a holiday – tod people of my plans – and they all told me what a great idea it was, but they also warned me that when I got back to the UK – people would say ‘Don’t do it.’ That’s exactly what happened – but geared up by the American ‘can do’ philosophy – I went ahead. I opened in Abingdon Road in Kensington and in late 1981 moved myself and the shop to Blenheim Crescent – where the shop, now known as the Notting Hill Bookshop, flourishes. All of this and more can be read about in my autobiography Halfway to Venus – now available as an e-book.