Readers Companion, Wheatley's sitting in their orange van, Creative New England

Interview with Armidale local Michelle Wheatley

The team at Creative New England is creating a range of exciting competitions for one and all to get involved in over our lockdown period.  We’re really lucky to have a range of beautiful small businesses in Armidale and one of them is the newly positioned and refurbished Reader’s Companion owned by Michelle and Roy Wheatley. We got to spend a little time chatting with Michelle, who joins us as a judge for the BaBH Colouring Competition.

Michel, thank you for helping us as a judge – it’s really lovely collaborating with you!

Reader’s Companion is one of our favourite shops!

Thank you, I hope Reader’s companion is like a lounge room – with a collection of books and music and beautiful little bits of stationery. It’s welcoming and cosy; when you come in it’s like coming into our house.

We make thoughtful choices about what we decide to keep on the shelves. As far as WHY? Well, we just didn’t want the town to be without an independent bookshop.  Culturally, it’s very important.

How did you become interested in books and literature?

Let’s go back to 1978… I had two great teachers in year 5 who would read a chapter of a book every day to the class, after lunch – it’s a very clear memory. One book that stands out (I keep it on the shelf in the bookshop – it’s one of our core stock) is I Own The Racecourse by Patricia Wrightson. It’s a wonderful Australian book that is now published as an Australian Text Classic. A couple of the others they read to us were – The Hardy Boy’s The Green Ghost and Jonathon Livingston Seagull.

Roy had a wonderful English teacher when he started high school. He remembers the first book they read was Jonathon Livingston Seagull but still now he recalls the books they studied, films they watched, discussions they had.

Teachers make a big impression on you!

Business-wise you’ve recently gone through a lot of change –  how has adapting to change been for you and your team?

‘Just do it’ is our motto (I’m pretty sure that’s not original!) 😀 But really, we just make a decision and run with it. To be honest the hard work of the move was overshadowed by the excitement. And the long hours involved in the COVID business model are overshadowed by the thrill that the community is supporting us.

We always try to see the upside of any situation. This has been an opportunity to refine our online store and we have every intention of continuing deliveries to the New England area after this. We want the ‘new normal’ to include a greater consideration for our community. We know there are some people out there who’s life can be made a little bit better if they can have a book delivered.

Yay! This is so exciting for us to hear!

I bet you’ve met some characters, have you got any funny delivery stories yet?

We drop off in letterboxes and just leave a text to let you know your delivery is there so not too much face to face (of course!) But there has been the odd working from home in pyjamas (FYI we deliver after 3pm) and lots of excitement with kids on the front verandah waving at the Kombi shouting ‘the book van’s here!’ I delivered a vinyl album once to an out of town address near Walcha and they left an esky out near the front gate of the property – good insulation!

If you were going to advise parents to give their children a book to inspire them in their time at home, what would you suggest?

There is a picture book that I love called Rose Meets Mr WIntergarten by Australian Author Bob Graham. It’s a beautiful story about caring about other people in your neighbourhood.

One of my favourite books of the last few years is Lenny’s Book of Everything by Karen Foxlee. It’s a lovely book for everyone from about 10 years old. And I mean everyone – I have recommended it to adults and then they have gone on to recommend it to their bookclubs. You’ll need a box of tissues! It’s a little bit about families and neighbours and siblings and friends – caring for each other and just being there for each other. I love it!

Our colouring competition, that you’re kindly judging is tied to the campaign “Be a Better Human” what does being an everyday superhero mean to you?

To me, Being a Better Human just means to makes your own life better. By helping others you help yourself.

I enjoy reading Hugh Mackay who is an Australian Sociologist; he has published a few books. He says that if you feel a certain way then you are definitely not the only one feeling like that. If you feel lonely then connect with someone who also feels lonely – you help them but you also help yourself. I’ve simplified that a bit but you get the idea.

Do you write yourself?

I wish I could write well. I really need more practice because we all know that practice makes better!

I have so much admiration for writers of fiction – how do they come up with those ideas! The first time I had this thought was when I read The Curious Case of Benjamin Button by F Scott Fitzgerald. If you haven’t read it then I can recommend it!

What creative activities do you dabble in?

I love decorating and redecorating, moving furniture and moving paintings around the house – you will notice that I’m often doing that in the bookshop too. A change is as good as a holiday they say. Painting and drawing is something I’ve taken to lately but that is definitely all about the process, not the end product. I like doing random creative workshops – my most recent was leatherwork. Gardening; I love a day in the garden but it has to be nice weather. Cooking, sewing, knitting ….really just love it all.

If I’m being honest, then my guilty pleasure is watching garden and design programs on tv.

Wow – there are no secrets now.

Haha, we love this!

Do you agree with the quote: Writing is easy. You just open a vein and bleed?

Yes writing is easy. Writing for yourself is easy – a bit like painting or singing. Just don’t get caught up in it having to be a brilliant piece of work and just focus on the enjoyment of the process.  If you want it to be brilliant then you probably have to practice a lot!

What brought you to Armidale in the originally?

Roy and I have lived all over the world, but prior to Armidale we lived in Newcastle. We just thought we’d like a change and we wanted to have a little bit of bushland around us.  Armidale seemed like a nice place (we had visited a couple of times when my brother Matt was a student here and lived at Earle Page in the early 2000s). Location was good, day trip to the coast was possible, lots of cultural events – it ticked some boxes. However, we didn’t know one single person when we moved here in 2009. Importantly though, when we were making the decision, we knew that we didn’t want to come to some time in the future and say  ‘I wonder what it would have been like if we moved to Armidale?’  Just do it.

What’s your favorite thing about being a part of the New England community?

Prior to moving to Armidale, we had moved around a lot and never really been part of a community – but we didn’t know that it mattered.

You don’t know what you don’t know.

It turns out that Community really matters and we are seeing that now during this isolation period. Obviously living in a town this size you can’t know everyone but community is deeper than just knowing people. I love that here, in this community, strangers interact, they look each other in the eye and say ‘good morning’ they ask ‘how you going?’ they give a hand, they change a tyre, they carry groceries. I’m proud to say that’s one of my favourite things about being part of this New England community

Thank you so much for your time, we’ver really loved getting to know a little more about you, and thank you for helping with the colouring competition, it’s been a pleasure! 

If you’d like to learn more about Readers Companion you can check out their website here or connect with them on Facebook or  Instagram.

If you’re looking for something to keep you inspired why not check out Creative New England or join their Facebook group to keep in the loop with up and coming competitions!

There’s something for everyone! #CreativeNewEngland