Meet the bookseller with Fiona Hardy
Fiona Hardy is a woman of many talents: bookseller, Readings Monthly’s crime fiction columnist, co-host of the Readings podcast episodes Good Cop, Bad Cop and the soon-to-be published author of the eagerly anticipated middle-grade novel How to Make a Movie in Twelve Days, (available September). In what little spare time she has, she also blogs about children’s books at Fiona The Hardy.
Here she shares some of her biggest literary influences and some hilarious candid memories from the shop floor.
Why did you decide to work in books?
I can’t really remember a time in my life when I didn’t want to work with books. I was an over-confident six when I decided I wanted to be a writer. Then, after years of voracious reading, I was a much more practical 16 when I chose to do work experience in a bookstore so I could be near books as much as possible. That was nearly 20 years ago now, and I’m still thrilled to work with something people adore so much.
What is your favourite part of your job?
When a customer comes back into the store to tell you that they loved your recommendations and do you have any more? Honestly, friendly customers make me feel like I’m part of a wide, word-loving community and I can’t get enough of it.
What is the weirdest thing to happen to you in a bookshop?
Serving Ben Mendelsohn shortly after seeing him in Animal Kingdom was quietly terrifying.
The most mortifying thing was definitely the time I misheard a customer, thinking she’d asked for a book ‘all about sex’ when, in fact, she’d asked for ‘Oliver Sacks’ (who probably would have found the exchange quite hilarious).
What is the hardest question a customer has asked you in the bookshop?
‘I want the book about sand’ – it turned out they meant Angela’s Ashes. I quite like the detective work of figuring out a book when a customer only has limited information though! People often seem nervous about asking those questions, but I love a challenge.
What is something new you’ve observed in bookselling over the years?
It’s been really interesting to go from the start of my career, when we had no computers bar a giant microfiche on the counter to look up titles, to now, when we can use the internet to look up what was discussed on ABC Radio National last Saturday at 3pm (probably my most-asked request). Despite all that knowledge online, it’s still usually the big brains of my colleagues that figure out exactly what book someone needs.
Tell us about an Australian book that made a significant impact on you.
When I was a kid, I read Hating Alison Ashley over and over, along with other Robin Klein books like Penny Pollard’s Diary (even though I hated horses then and do to this day), and authors such as Gillian Rubinstein, Margaret Clark and Jenny Pausacker. After years of effort, I have a book of my own coming out later this year (squeak!) and as it comes together, I can absolutely see in the pages that long-held adoration of Alison Ashley and Clark’s Hold My Hand—Or Else!
Tell us about a book that changed the way you think.
While I don’t agree with all of Peter Singer’s philosophies, I became a vegetarian more than 10 years ago when I read The Ethics of What We Eat (co-authored with Jim Mason). There are some things that once you know, you can’t un-know.
If you were cursed to be trapped inside the world of a book, which one would you pick – and why?
Oh, absolutely Family by Hetty McKinnon. I get hideously jealous when I sell cookbooks to people just before I’m about to go eat my lunch.
What books are sitting on your bedside table right now?
I write the Dead Write column for Readings Monthly, so I’ve always got a pile of sneaky advance copies of crime books that I’m barrelling my way through. I also love kids books, so I’ve got a copy of the new Matilda Woods beside my bed, and on the other side of the fiction spectrum, a copy of Ottessa Moshfegh’s unnerving My Year of Rest and Relaxation, which I’ve heard my colleagues rave about for months.