Back in HIP 148, Literature reviewer Elly Gibson reviewed Strange Exits from Hastings by local author Helena Wojtczak – and very favourably too. Since then Wojtczak has sold more than 550 copies in four months. “That certainly makes Strange Exits the fastest-selling local history book of the decade, and possibly of this century!” she told me.

Such encouraging sales figures have been no easy achievement for this local author and publisher however. There were problems with the original printer, which eventually went into receivership, leaving her without any books for two weeks then sending a consignment that had been incorrectly cut. And when the Covid-19 lockdown came into effect soon afterwards, Helena found all potential local outlets for the book suddenly forced to close, at least temporarily.

Far from discouraged, Helena decided to employ that ‘can do’ attitude so prevalent in Hastings & St Leonards and take matters into her own hands. As soon as the lockdown measures began to ease and it was safe to do so, she decorated her mobility scooter with sales placards and book covers and took to the streets and promenade with copies of her book to sell to anyone who wished to flag her down. Encouraged by the success of her friend, William the Conequerer, who has been selling ice creams in this way from his converted bicycle in recent years, she added a ‘Stop Me and Buy One’ sign. 

Apart from selling a record number of her latest book, Helena has really enjoyed the novelty of meeting her readers. She told HIP: “As an author and researcher my life is normally a solitary one and apart from my occasional public talks, I never meet my readers. With my previous books I was never involved in face-to-face selling.”

After a few weeks of selling from the scooter Helena began to encounter people who had already read the book and were keen to tell her to her face what they thought of it! Luckily, every piece of feedback so far has been positive, and she has had the added bonus of discovering which chapter they found most interesting.

“Many have told me that their copy had been read by an entire household, regardless of age or sex. Meeting my buyers has also revealed the demographic of my readership. Yesterday one man told me he was buying a copy for his Goth teenage son, whilst another wanted it as a present for his elderly mother because ‘she loves a good whodunit’. Lots of readers return to buy a second copy as a present for someone.”

There have also been some surprising sales for Helena. One day a man tapped her on the shoulder whilst she was queuing in Morrison’s and asked to buy one. Another time she parked her scooter outside the Wokulike in Norman Road to collect a takeaway and a man saw the placard and asked to buy a book. Selling Strange Exits from Hastings on the streets has also led to an upsurge in orders for earlier Wojtczak titles, especially Notable Sussex Women and Jack the Ripper At Last?

Now, as the lockdown eases further, Helena explains: “With nearly all my retailers back open again, I need not hawk my wares on the street. I’ll be doing it for fun whilst the weather is nice, but come September I’ll be leaving it mainly to the shops – though I will carry a copy or two with me on the scooter in case I am asked.”

Current local stockists of Strange Exits from Hastings are: Albion Books, Amore Italiano, Bookbuster, The Bookkeeper, Burton St Leonards Society shop, Hare and Hawthorn, Penbuckle’s, Pett Village butcher’s shop, Stella Dore Gallery, Sweet Selections, the True Crime Museum and Turn the Tide.

To contact Helena Wojtczak or see other of her titles available visit: 

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