Interview by Gary Radice
: Added April 2010
Nick Laister.   In the Library.   With themagiceye.

Being given the chance to Interview Nick was for me a bit like taking on the mantle of a detective in a game of Cluedo. Am I going to ask the right things and tick all the boxes? So many questions and not enough time.

Who is the person behind the big successful volume of stories that is Joyland Books? The last time I interviewed Nick the Save Dreamland Campaign was in its infancy. Today Joyland Books and the campaign are going from strength to strength.

Reading between the lines you feel there is so much more to come...

themagiceye: Joyland Books became a reality a decade ago Nick but when did you first get the idea?

Nick Laister: Although it was launched in April 2000, Joyland Books can be traced back to 1998, when I decided to embark on writing the first ever book about seaside amusement arcades. I had decided to base the book on the history of what was Britain’s largest seaside arcade – Joyland in Bridlington. I spent 1998 and 1999 researching the book and conducting a lot of first-hand interviews in various locations around the UK, tracing people who had been involved in the development of this pioneering seaside establishment. By early 2000, with work on the book progressing at quite a rate, I started to turn my attention to thinking about marketing the book. I didn’t for one minute expect a mainstream publisher to pick up the book, so I started to think about how I might be able to sell it.

I hit upon the idea of setting up a website to sell the book on. I thought I would get the website established by adding a few books, but the real intention was mainly as a way of selling my book. That is why I called it ‘Joyland Books’ because it was designed to sell my book about Joyland.

Then the unexpected happened and I found out that there was a genuine demand for amusement park and fairground books, so I started adding more books. Joyland Books was born, but the amusement arcade book that was the catalyst for Joyland’s birth took another six years before it hit the book stores as Pennies by the Sea!

Other than being the home to Britain's largest seaside arcade what else does Bridlington mean to you?

Back in the 1970s Bridlington is where my family holidayed every year. I used to spend my entire six weeks school holidays in my grandmother’s second home in Bridlington, and we also visited most Easter holidays too. It was great as a child to leave grimy Wakefield behind and spend several weeks at the seaside. They were exciting times, and of course I ended up spending a lot of time in the amusement arcades and fairgrounds of the town. Joyland was the biggest and most fascinating, with its haphazard layout made from knocking through numerous buildings, and its mix of slot machines and rides, indoor and outdoor areas.

I think Joyland was the place that started my interest in amusement parks and visitor attractions, which of course is the industry in which I work now as a planning advisor to many operators. And I am not the only industry person whose fascination with amusement parks can be traced back to Bridlington and Joyland – roller coaster designer John Wardley was another person who spent large parts of his childhood fascinated by “dark and mysterious” Joyland. 

Can you remember the title of the first book you sold through Joyland Books Nick and which title has proved to be the most popular seller?

Blimey, that is a tough one. At a guess I think the first book we sold was Roller Coaster by David Bennett. I am going to cheat now and find out which it was by looking through our files. [Goes away and cheats]. OK, I know now. I have found out that the first book we ever actually sold to anybody was Roller Coasters: Their Amazing History by Robert Preedy. I still think that the first book we offered for sale was the David Bennett book, but I could be wrong, but Bob Preedy’s wonderful book was the first we actually sold. The most popular seller is more difficult as we don’t keep such records. I would guess that A Palace on Wheels or Dreamland Remembered are our most popular books, or maybe Kursaal Memories. For DVDs it is easier, as This is the Life: On the Road with Billy Smart’s Circus has got to be the clear winner.

In hindsight how important was the Joyland Books web site to the success of The Save Dreamland Campaign? 

Well it meant that Save Dreamland didn’t have to pay for a website! In the early days I think Joyland Books helped because it sent visitors to the Save Dreamland website through endless promotion of the campaign on the Joyland Books News page. As time has gone by Save Dreamland got a life of its own and it could even be said now that Joyland benefits from Save Dreamland being on its server as there is the odd link back in the other direction. The tables have almost turned due to the unbelievable success of the Save Dreamland website which now measures its hits in the several million per year!

What was it like having to move all your stock when you moved home?

That was the biggest single nightmare since starting Joyland Books. The several thousand books we have in stock were destined to be stored in a former recording studio at our new site. However, there was a period of almost two months during the move when most of the books had to go into storage and I only had a small selection available, which were stored temporarily in Didcot.

I attempted to keep the business going, but finding books that people ordered was not easy when they are all stored in large boxes! I did put a notice on the website in the run-up to Christmas 2008 warning people that we would be unable to process orders as quickly as normal. We had the worst Christmas sales for several years in 2008!

Thankfully we are now up and running at Southcombe Farm near Chipping Norton, with loads of storage space, some of it air conditioned, and we can turn orders around in less than 24 hours. Moving house and business at the same time is not recommended!

Nick, are you able to say which is the rarest book you have ever had in stock?

That is a difficult one. It is probably A Dream Came True, the original book on the history of Dreamland Margate by the late John Hutchinson. I had several very interesting telephone conversations with John over the years, as his knowledge of and passion for Dreamland were immense. On his death, he donated his extensive Dreamland collection to the Dreamland Trust, which we will maintain and hopefully make publicly available in his memory.

Generally fairground books fetch the best prices, followed by circus and then amusement park/roller coaster books. The rarest fairground books would be Fairfield Folk by Frances Brown, which traces the history of the Matthews fairground family. John Ling’s Memories of a Travelling Life, the autobiography of the showman and Bridlington amusement arcade owner, is also very rare now, as is Mannings Amusements by HJ Haines, which is the story of the famous Hertfordshire fairground family. You rarely see copies of Midland Fairground Families by Ned Williams now, sadly, as this is a great book. Books on ride-builder Savages of Kings Lynn are also very hard to find.

I can't interview you about Joyland Books without asking you about "Pennies by the Sea..."

That book was something of a labour of love, and is of course the reason why Joyland Books exists. I started writing it in 1998 and finished it in 2006, so it only took me eight years! I started work on a book on the history of Battersea Fun Fair in 2002 as a joint project with author Robert Preedy (author of Roller Coasters: Their Amazing History, possibly my favourite book of all time) and I am going to struggle to finish it in 2010, so this project will take even longer. A lot of people have taken an interest in the Battersea book – I really do thank them for their patience!

What for the future for Joyland Books

A bit of a boring answer, I am afraid. We will just keep trundling along doing what we have been doing and making sure that there is a home on the world wide web for amusement park, fairground, roller coaster and seaside books and DVDs. What I can say, though, is that Joyland is here to stay.

Much as I would like to expand Joyland into other specialist areas, alas I do not have sufficient time to do that and at the same time ensure that we remain a must-visit place for amusement park and fairground enthusiasts. I hope, however, that we continue to add more books than we delete, so we gradually get bigger and bigger. Organic growth is Joyland’s future.

I would like to see themagiceye become a more important part of Joyland Books over the years, expanding into a major resource for amusement park-related nostalgia.

I hope that our association with the Save Dreamland Campaign and The Dreamland Trust continues, at least until Dreamland reopens. And we are working on plans for a new visitor attraction in Oxfordshire that now has planning permission and will ultimately see Joyland Books have a 'bricks and mortar' shop. Maybe our future is not so boring after all!

Now Sarah Vickery, owner of the Shell Grotto attraction in Margate, as well as one of the driving forces behind the Save Dreamland Campaign, asks two questions of Nick:

I consider myself to be a pretty busy person, able to keep a few plates spinning. Most of the time. But I'd like to ask Nick if he ever sleeps. Does he know what's happening in Corrie? Does he have a cloning machine hidden in an outbuilding? In short, how on earth does he do it?

The answer to each of these questions in order: Yes, but nowhere near enough. Haven’t a clue, but I usually know what is going on in The X-Factor. No, but I do have a lot of books stored out there. Do what?

And another if I'm allowed - What's your favourite Bee Gees song?

I can only assume by this question that you are a closet Bee Gees fan, but I will try and answer it in detail. My favourite songs are Ghost Train (1991), Melody Fair (1969), Robin Gibb’s 1969 number two hit ‘Saved By The Bell…On Your Own Carousel’ and the one they wrote for Barbra Streisand in 2006 about roller coasters. Or perhaps their 1971 song about the UK town & country planning system, ‘Walking Back to Waterloo’.

Actually it would probably be a toss-up between ‘Craise Finton Kirk Royal Academy of Arts’, ‘Lemons Never Forget’, ‘I Have Decided To Join The Airforce Today’, ‘Marley Purt Drive’, ‘I Lay Down And Die’, ‘Bury Me Down By The River’ or ‘Paper Mache, Cabbages and Kings’. So many great songs over five decades, it is hard to choose.

And the final question from themagiceye:

How do you think personally you will feel when you do eventually wave goodbye to the "Chapter in your life" that is/has been the Campaign? (I think people will always associate you with it and may wonder if you will have any part to play in later years).

Well I will have a lot more time on my hands, that's for sure! Although I do plan to step back and reduce my involvement once Dreamland reopens, I expect that I will always take an interest in the park. I may even remain involved in some way, but it will not be in a lead role any more. Once it is operating it will need to be run by people with different expertise to mine. I will probably find myself another project to replace Dreamland, which is likely to be the Fairytale Farm attraction in Oxfordshire that I am currently developing.

Joyland's Dodgems, in the centre of the "dark and mysterious" amusement arcade, which was made up of numerous buildings on Bridlington seafront.
"Nick's passion for nostalgia has been proved through Joyland Books and the incredible Dreamland project."

Chris Parcell, Proprietor, Old Penny Memories, Bridlington

The best selling DVD on Joyland Books in its first 10 years is This is the Life: On the Road with Billy Smart's Circus.
"Congratulations Joyland Books and many thanks for 10 great years of serving amusement park enthusiasts around the world as one of the premier sources for amusement parks, DVDs and other media!"

Bill Linkenheimer, Secretary/Past President, American Coaster Enthusiasts

Part of the disused recording studio complex at Southcombe Farm near Chipping Norton prior to its refurbishment. Previously operating as Sonic Farm Studios, it is now the home of Joyland Books. In addition to the mixing room pictured above, there is a vocal booth and a massive performance room as well as several store rooms. This air conditioned facility has now been fully refurbished and is now in use as the Joyland Books stores.

A Dream Came True by John Hutchinson, the story of Dreamland, Margate, is identified by Nick Laister as one of the rarest books Joyland Books has had in stock.
"Circus as a performing art form attracts widespread interest, particularly from students and historians, all of whom benefit from a niche supplier of books, film and other circus material. Joyland Books offers a unique service, providing access to not only recent specialist publications, particularly those published abroad, but also, in its second-hand section access to important books which are now out of print.

Malcolm Clay, Secretary, Association of Circus Proprietors of Great Britain.

Lemons Never Forget: Bee Gees, pictured in 1983.

Next: Joyland Books Timeline

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