Interview: Emily Clifton, the owner of online local independent bookshop Olive's Book Club

We send film sub-editor Autumn Lily to pick Emily Clifton's brain about her queer independent bookstore.

Autumn Lily
7th March 2022
Olive's Book Club's table at the recent Idle Hands Art Mart. Image credit: @olivesbookclub on Instagram

“I think it's important to remain angry because we can see which way this is going'' Emily tells me, speaking about her time as a nurse during the pandemic, “the privitisation of the NHS is happening before our eyes - I dont know how much longer it's gunna be here.” We have met in a busy coffee shop in the centre of Newcastle, but Emily’s ‘Fuck The Tories’ necklace stands out to me straight away.  Alongside her work in healthcare she is the owner of Olive’s Book Club, (named after her dog), an independent book shop which focuses on selling the words of marginalised voices. This year, Emily plans to move into her first physical bookshop.

We have met in a busy coffee shop in the centre of Newcastle, but Emily’s ‘Fuck The Tories’ necklace stands out to me straight away.

“​​I started selling second hand books on Depop and it seemed to be doing really well even though they were just second hand books,” Emily shares, “but I think people kinda connected with the reason why I was selling them - I gave some of the profits to charities like Womens Aid and the Okra Project - which is a charity that provides hot meals for black trans people around the world.” From this progressive beginning, Emily has built up a project which boasts over two thousand followers on Instagram, and customers from up and down the country. Most impressively, Emily has built a literary community here in the North East - “I get a lot of repeat customers, people that come back, people who come and see me at every market and that’s really nice. You build up a kind of relationship. I get customers recommending books to me that I’ve never heard of, and I’m like ooo I’ll check that out. It's just really lovely, it's a really nice community.” 

Olive's Book Club logo, Image credit: @olivesbookclub on Instagram.

However, being someone so refreshingly vocal about the injustices in our society, especially online, Emily has faced abuse. “I feel quite at risk sometimes,” she admits, “even though people are like ‘ahhh it’s probably just a bot! It’s not a real person.’ I’m like - ‘but I am and I’ve got real feelings’” This hostility is a growing concern, “I think it’s something we need to consider going forward, having a physical space, because when people know that you’re political and you’re queer, there are a lot of people who don’t want your voice to be heard”. 

Fortunately though, Emily’s hard work on Olive’s Book Club has been recognised and won her a nomination for the ‘New Futures’ award run by the Booksellers Association. “I know what books I wanna sell, I’ve got my vision for my shop, I know exactly where I want it to go” Emily explains, “I guess I’m just lacking the business know-how. This award - it’s given me the tools that I need to hopefully make it a reality. It’s really exciting.”

It's just really lovely, it's a really nice community.

Emily Clifton

The assured way in which Emily speaks about her plans for her shop makes me wonder what advice she might have for students starting out in the arts - “You’ve got to be passionate about it. And stick with it”, she says immediately, but then she adds to not, “be so afraid of everything. It's only in the last year that I've become more sociable and felt comfortable actually speaking to people and branching out and that has really helped with my business”.

“I wanna open my book shop. That’s for sure”, Emily says of the future, but she feels sadness at the thought of leaving behind her work in healthcare, “I’m glad that I’ve got my bookshop as something to focus on, it's just a bit sad because I actually do really like doing my job [nursing] but I just don’t feel like I'm working under the conditions that make it possible for me to do it as well as I want to”. Although it is shameful that the NHS has been purposefully underfunded to the point where those within it feel unable to do the job they feel an instinct to do, it is inspiring to see Emily use her anger for the better.  “I think it’s quite a challenging time politically especially for like queer people and people of colour and trans people” she says, “it’s just a really toxic environment at the moment so we need to make safe spaces for queer people.” I am excited to see the space that Emily creates, and the ways it will improve the literary scene in Newcastle. 

Image credit: @olivesbookclub on Instagram

Emily’s bookshop is available at 

Olives Book Club suggested reading list exclusive for readers of the Courier: 

What White People Can Do Next- Emma Dabiri

The Transgender Issue – Shon Faye

Disability Visibility- Alice Wong

Pet- Akwaeke Emezi

Open Water -Caleb Azumah Nelso

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