By Mike Ritchie

A NEW chapter for bookworms has opened at a first-time, sold-out book swap event in Glasgow, which will be repeated in other parts of Scotland to meet demand for what can fairly be described as a novel idea.

Sales of fiction rose dramatically in the UK last year – they went up 16 per cent for fiction, non-fiction by four per cent – with £2.1 billion spent on new books when lockdown re-kindled people’s love of reading.

Publishers have been praised for a steady supply of excellent reading material, despite many bookstores being forced to stay shut during the pandemic.

While she was devouring books Heather Suttie, creative director at a Glasgow-based agency, was always on the look-out for recommendations and hit on the idea of an online book lovers’ club for avid readers.

Bookface 2020 was started last July and has proved hugely popular with its membership now standing at 1,200.

Initially, it was all about its members recommending books, offering opinions on them and so on.

“All suggestions were most welcome – proper page-turners, memorable memoirs, cracking cookbooks, super self-help titles, coffee table treats,” said Heather.

“It’s a lively forum with insightful and entertaining chat about books of all kinds. Low brow, highbrow and everything in between: there’s something for everyone in our group.”

She believes that books have a ‘magic spirit’ to bring people together and she has made friends as a result.

“Ten years ago, I met a girl on the beach in Dar es Salaam when I lived in Tanzania for a year, and we bonded when I passed onto her my copy of The Great Gatsby. We still keep in touch.“ Bookface 2020’s members are scattered worldwide – from the UK, USA, Australia, Bali, Canada, France, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Tanzania, Kenya, South Africa and New Zealand.

Heather suggested that this geographical reach “means that Scottish authors are being embraced and recognised even more.”

Heather added: “The loveliest thing is that although I’ve never met 90 per cent of the members there’s a real community feel and we are amongst friends where great recommendations are traded, so there’s something quite special about it.”

With the pile of books she had read getting ever higher, Heather, like many avid readers, wondered what she could do with them.

Giving them to charity, storing them in the attic or a cupboard, lending them to friends and relative or filling a bin bag before heading for the local recycling dump were options, of course.

“I love recycling so I hit on the idea of having this big, book swap and so the first-ever Bookface Book Swap Brunch came together.

“But then I thought what would make it even more appealing and a whole lot different would be to invite an author to the event, talking about a book and we have the author of a brand new book appearing, which is brilliant.

Saturday's event at Glaschu Restaurant and Bar celebrated “Daisy Chain” the third novel by Scottish author, Maggie Ritchie, which has just come out to glowing reviews – The Herald described it as an “evocative and highly readable novel.”

BBC Scotland news presenter, Sally Magnusson, who is also a published author, chaired a question and answer session with Maggie, who read out excerpts from Daisy Chain.

“When I spoke with Maggie she said ‘yes’ immediately and so did Sally,” said Heather. “I’m pleased to say tickets sold out in 72 hours and we had a waiting list.”

Fifty people attended and all left with four or more books they have swapped.

Maggie said: “t will be a lovely feeling reading from my new book to such a gathering of book lovers and answering questions. Like everyone else, I loved swapping like mad. It’s a really good idea so I’m so pleased to be at the first book swap of its kind.”

Heather now has plans to take the Book Swap on the road to Edinburgh, London, the Cotswolds and further afield.

“The ideal scenario would be me in an electric vehicle driving around Europe meeting new friends in person, swapping books and having brunch,” she said.

The next Bookface Book Swap Brunch takes place at the new gastropub The Duke’s Umbrella in Glasgow in August.

“Bookface 2020 is a private group on Facebook where new members are always welcome,” said Heather. “The events are not for profit and I’m grateful to the lovely people at Glaschu for letting us have their beautiful restaurant for the Book Swap.”

It was Ernest Hemingway who commented: “There is no friend as loyal as a book.” The book swappers today will agree wholeheartedly.

• Daisy Chain by Maggie Ritchie is published by Two Roads.