A new start after 60: ‘I handed in my notice – and opened my dream bookshop’

All her life, Carole-Ann Warburton kept a little hope glowing at the back of her mind. “You’re living your life. And every now and then you think: ‘I have a dream.’” Warburton’s dream was to work in a bookshop.

It took an experience of terrifying disorientation to find her way to it.

In 2010, she collapsed at home. Her legs didn’t know what to do and she was “vomiting all over the place”. The hospital eventually diagnosed an inner-ear infection. Warburton had to learn to walk again. Recuperating for weeks at her daughter’s farm in Ilminster, Somerset, she was “a captive audience”.

She had worked for 15 years in an administrative post at the South West Regional Development Agency. Her daughter felt it was time to retire. “‘Here are some bungalows and houses for sale,’ she said. It was pure coincidence that she showed me details for a little shop with a flat above it.”

The barber shop had been on the market for years. Warburton viewed it on her new walking sticks. “It was a godawful place. I fell in love with it.”

At work, she handed in her notice. “They said: ‘What are you going to do?’ I said: ‘I’m going to have a bookshop.’” It was the first time she had said her dream aloud.

“It took fewer than 12 weeks for everything to happen and everything just sailed through,” she says. She sold her house, bought the shop and, a few weeks after her 65th birthday, The Book Rest opened.

Warburton has always loved books. As a child, any spare sixpence went on Enid Blyton’s Mary Mouse. Every Saturday morning, she and her parents would “do a gentle shop, then go to the library in Ashby-de-la-Zouch … However many books we got out, we read.”

At university in Cambridge (she studied maths), she began to buy books – a habit that, in adult life, yielded a hoard.

“Our house was absolutely chock-a-block,” she says. Her ex-husband shared her passion. “Most rooms had boxes of books and bookshelves of books. We had a four-bedroomed house and all the rooms consisted of small walkway passages between piles of books.” Her three daughters “hated it”.

By the time The Book Rest came along, Warburton had 8,000 to 9,000 books with which to fill it. But although she dreamed of working in a bookshop, she hadn’t reckoned on selling her own books. “That took a bit of psychological talking-to,” she says.

Her first sale was hard. “I sort of held on to the book. I said: ‘You’ll enjoy this. I enjoyed it very much and it’s a little bit difficult to let it go.’ We had a laugh. And I did let it go.

“It still feels, when a special book goes out, like a bit of a loss – as if some little part of me has been taken away. And then I make common sense come back to me and say: ‘Let someone else learn from it.’ It’s a growing up, if you like, an acceptance.”

This year, The Book Rest celebrates its 10th anniversary; soon after, Warburton will turn 75. While the shop makes neither profit nor loss, it brings other rewards, including friendship. “There are lots of people who stick their head round the door and say: ‘Are you all right, Carole-Ann?’”

If the days are quiet, no matter. “I am so happy standing here in the middle of a pile of books. I can walk around the shop, pick up a book and sit down and read it … I would like to keep doing this until I no longer can. It’s a wonderful feeling. Someone can walk in tomorrow and say: ‘I have been looking for that for an awfully long time!’”

So while Warburton’s dream came true, what about those of others? “All the dreams are in the books,” she says. “They are all there waiting to be picked up.”