Talking with Melbourne bookseller Ellen Cregan about her whirlwind bookish tour of Seattle

Last month, Melbourne bookseller Ellen Cregan came to Seattle as part of a bookseller exchange program founded by Melbourne City of Literature and supported by Seattle City of Literature. Cregan, who is [the marketing and events director at Melbourne's Readings bookshop](, worked at Third Place Books for a weeklong residency. Unfortunately, the timing of her trip left a little to be desired; Cregan had to return home early due to the global coronavirus pandemic. I had the pleasure of meeting Cregan briefly while she was here (albeit from a social distance) and found her to be an enthusiastic and thoughtful ambassador for her city. This interview was conducted over email after Cregan had returned to Australia.

**How did you get interested in bookselling?**

Like many other booksellers I know, I studied Arts at university (in my case, it was literature and creative writing), and working in a bookshop seemed like the perfect retail gig to take me through my undergrad. I started off at a very small independent book shop with a slight [*Black Books*]( vibe, but after a year there, I moved on to my current employer, [Readings]( I don’t actually work on the shop floor anymore -- my current role is in our marketing department. But this move to behind-the-scenes has allowed me to learn about a totally new side of bookselling.

**Why were you interested in Seattle as a destination? Did you have any expectations of the city's literary life?**

Initially, I decided on Seattle as a destination because I wanted to see how indie bookselling worked in a place where Amazon is so huge. In Australia, the threat of Amazon looms but it hasn’t really taken off (yet). When I did a bit more research about Seattle, I was also amazed by the number of small and specialty booksellers in the city: I figured that any place able to sustain that number of indies was bound to have a super vibrant literary scene, and that cemented my decision.

**Can you talk a little bit about the plan for your visit was?**

Pre-pandemic, the plan was for me to do all sorts of things in the shop, including sitting in on and hosting some events, visiting some local literary conferences, and spending some time with Third Place’s schools outreach person to see what younger readers are into in Seattle. I was also going to check out some Libraries and other bookstores. And then beyond my week in Seattle, I had also planned to visit bookstores in other parts of the US.

**And obviously, you landed just as the pandemic was really getting out of control here, and coronavirus's spread here and at home cut your visit short. What were some of the other effects—were you not able to do anything that was on the itinerary that you were looking forward to?**

The timing was really horrible on my trip! When I boarded the plane in Melbourne to head over to Seattle, the Australian PM was on the news telling everyone it was still safe to go to the football, essentially saying it was business as usual. By the time I’d arrived in the US, the conversation in Australia had completely changed — people were getting really scared, and things were shutting down. I was really sad to not be able to see any literary events. This was something I was really looking forward to, and it was a shame that my timing was so bad with regards to this!

Further afield, the thing I’m really into that isn’t book-related is music, and I was really keen to go out and see some local bands play while I was in Seattle. I was also excited to go and visit art galleries and museums and all of those fun, touristy things.

**What were some highlights of your trip?**

I was still able to go on a (limited) tour of Seattle’s booksellers, guided by the very excellent Stesha Brandon from Seattle City of Literature. This was definitely the main highlight. And it was actually very interesting seeing how booksellers were adapting to not being able to trade normally — The Book Larder in North Fremont were closed to customers, and only operating as an online store, but they were also using their demonstration kitchen to cook meals for local frontline healthcare workers. That was really nice to see. I also got to go on a lot of really nice walks -- I’m extra glad I chose Seattle for my visit, because nature is everywhere, and the lockdown didn’t extend to the walking trails.

**Bearing in mind that you didn't have the full experience, were there any big differences between bookselling in Seattle and bookselling in Melbourne?**

There seems to be much more positivity from booksellers in Seattle than in Melbourne. I met so many enthusiastic career booksellers at Third Place, and that’s sadly not something I see so often in Melbourne. Seattle booksellers seem more hopeful about the future, despite recognising the challenges faced by the industry. And the Seattle booksellers I met were much more willing to be nerdy in a wholesome and unrestrained way — bookselling in Melbourne feels like more of an outwardly trendy pursuit.

**Did you find any new books from your trip here?**

I bought so many books on my trip, especially after I learnt I was going home early. I got some great recommendations from Third Place booksellers ([*The Bookish Life of Nina Hill*]( was an amazing balm for my long and stressful flight home), and I also just bought a bunch of things from the new releases table that I hadn’t seen yet at home. As well as this, I bought some zines from [Left Bank Books](, which is something I like to do in any city I visit -- I think zines give such a great little portrait of the local literary/arts community.

**Were there any experiences that you didn't get to in your trip that you'd like to get around to on a return trip?**

I definitely want to come back and see some literary events happen! And also see the libraries in action -- everyone I met in Seattle spoke so highly of the city’s library system.

**Is there anything you'd like Seattle's literary community to know about you? About Melbourne?**

Well for me: I was so impressed by the city, even as it was operating under a pandemic! And for Melbourne: it’s far away but worth a visit. I think Melbourne and Seattle actually have so much in common (lots of bookstores, a deep love of coffee, temperamental weather) and many Seattlites would feel right at home in Melbourne.

**Are there any authors from your home that you're particularly proud of that you want us to fall in love with, too?**

Well first of all, that Australian (and Melbournian) writing is really excellent. Australians hold onto a lot of cultural cringe, and can tend to be quite self-deprecating, so the fact that we produce so much great writing can get lost under our own negative chatter. Some of my absolute favourite Aussie writers are: [Robbie Arnott](, [Jane Rawson](, [Krissy Kneen](, Jamie Marina Lau (whose book is [coming out in the US via Coffee House Press very soon](!) and [Jennifer Down](