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A Day In The Life Of… Alice Spencer, a “Barefoot Bookseller”

14th January 2021

We are delighted to introduce to our new feature #ADayInTheLife … and it’s off to meet Alice Spencer, a Barefoot Bookseller on Soneva Jani in the Maldives!

‘Wanted: barefoot bookseller sought to run Island bookshop in Maldives’  (Guardian September 24th 2020) 

Barefoot Bookseller

THE BOOKSHOP: Photo courtesy @barefootbooksellers

It has been six weeks since I touched down by seaplane in the lagoon of Soneva Jani, and each morning I still wake up and forget where I am. As I come round I realise I am in fact in my room on a Maldivian island in the Indian Ocean, I roll out of bed (Maldivian island or not I don’t think I’ll ever be morning person), get ready for the day and head to the host canteen for breakfast.

The hosts live in accommodation on the island, hidden amongst the forestry and windy lanes whereas most of the guests stay on villas built on stilts at the end of a long jetty over the crystal clear water. This is also where the bookshop is so I set off to walk what is probably one of the most beautiful commutes in the world.

I push open the door of the shop in to the breath-taking heat, the glass fronted shop faces the sunrise so by the time I get to it in the morning the room has heated up like a greenhouse. First port of call – air con.

Barefoot Bookseller

Island Transport @barefootbooksellers

Though I run the shop on my own on the island, I am supported by a brilliant team. Aislinn is the Barefoot Bookseller on nearby Soneva Fushi and we talk everyday about the running of the shop, what’s working and what isn’t and general island life as we both get in to the groove of things. We talk with Philip Blackwell, founder of Ultimate Library and the Barefoot Booksellers and also talk with Lili Cooper. She heads up marketing for Ultimate Library so we discuss online outreach, which is anything from blog posts to the running of the social channels and press opportunities.

After meetings I collect a stack of books and head over to guest breakfast to work from there. This gives me the chance to chat to guests and let any new ones know about the bookshop.

After guest breakfast and a few hours of bookselling in the shop, I close up at 2pm for an afternoon break, if there are no other bits of work to be done I walk over to the gym for a quick work out and then jump in the sea with a snorkel to see what I can find. If I’m lucky I might sea a sting ray, a reef shark or even an octopus.

Some days I spend the afternoons helping other teams with things they need. This could be anything from swimming underneath the villas picking up any rubbish that might have washed in, or pretending to be a guest and model for photographs that the marketing team need.

The Barefoot Booksellers (Insta)

Back in the shop at 5pm and I’m arranging a bookshop event for the following week, serving customers and restocking shelves.

The Barefoot Booksellers (Insta)

We have two Marine Biologists on the island, 27 year old Ellie from Brighton and her assistant, 19 year old Maavin from the Maldives. They lead the early evening dolphin cruises but when they are stretched thin, Ellie asks me to accompany the guests as well. I have done my swatting up on dolphin facts and join the boat crew and guests as we ride out in to the lagoon keeping a keen eye on the horizon for dolphins. It’s also a great opportunity to let the guests know about the bookshop and discuss books.

Hopefully we spot dolphins and get watch them jumping and spinning in the sea, but if they are shy that day, just cruising around on the clear water lagoon is a lush way to spend a couple of hours.

Once a week there is a cocktail party for guests, usually hosted on the north beach. The white sand is decorated with white flags and candles and is nothing short of stunning. Drinks are served and the entertainment begins. This is a group of island hosts who sing, play drums and dance in the traditional Maldivian way called Boduberu, which translates as ‘big drum’. Management and guest engagement hosts mingle with the guests and enjoy the incredible sunset, which floods the sky with pink and red hues.

After dinner, a group of hosts head over to the tennis court to play and be shown a thing or two by our resident tennis coach Nicola Reynolds, though even at night the temperature rarely drops below 28 degrees Celsius so it’s a sweaty game and we often reward ourselves with a drink at the host bar afterwards. Tired and happy, its bed time and we walk back, admiring the clear night sky which shows off thousands of stars, before falling in to bed.

Barefoot Bookseller

Alice at work Photo: Julia Neeson

The Barefoot Bookseller is a misleading title, yes I am barefoot (although not at night as I don’t fancy my chances with the snakes and spiders) and yes I am a bookseller. But I am also an occasional dolphin cruise assistant, model, reef cleaner, tennis student and a very appreciative and lucky person indeed.

Alice Spencer

Catch the Barefoot Bookseller team on Insta, find out more via their website and give Alice herself a follow on Twitter

As of early 2021, the positions of Barefoot Bookseller are currently very happily filled by Alice on Soneva Jani and Aislinn on Soneva Fushi but if you are in any way tempted to apply in the future, then keep an eye out on this link to find out when the positions become vacant in late 2021!

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