Sometime in the ‘90s, I think it was about ‘97, I was involved in a business in Tuanjiehu Park, which was a member’s club.
It was a very creative space, and the library that we built, it was just beautiful.** That’s where the initial stock of books came from**.
I had a theater company called The Island Productions [in the club], and I would put on different types of events. There were many groups of incredibly talented **musicians, actors, dancers, fire-throwers**, all these kinds of people living in Beijing at the time. We’d also bring musicians or actors in from abroad to do different types of concerts or performances. And then on Friday and Saturday nights it became The Poachers. It was a particularly bizarre business, but quite fun. When we lost that business, I took the books and that was really when the [Bookworm](http://www.cityweekend.com.cn/beijing/listings/dining/cafes/has/the-bookworm/) started.
I was like a hermit crab for a couple of years. I moved the Bookworm from a courtyard into an existing restaurant. That worked very well for a year, but then the wrecking balls came in. At that point I had to make the biggest decision of the last decade, I suppose, which is: do I continue to be a hermit crab and move into somebody else’s business, or do I stand on my own two feet and try to convert this concept—I suppose it’s an events company in a way— into **a viable business**?
Coincidentally, a Chinese artist friend of mine at the time had this place. They were trying to persuade me to take this venue. I told everyone to leave me alone for a month and I went up to Mongolia with a tent, and did lots of thinking and lots of scribbling on bits of paper. I came back and took on the lease.
About six months later, my business partner came on board, Peter Goff. He was very keen to take the Bookworm elsewhere and expand it as a successful business model. So he then went down and **opened the Chengdu branch**, and also the Suzhou branch.
Chengdu was for a couple of reasons. We knew that businesses would be opening down there and there weren’t any services at the time. We thought that if we were to open a Bookworm, it would probably be appreciated. Secondly, it is actually** a very poetic and literary city**. It’s got lots of juicy romanticism about the city, so it kind of suits the Bookworm. Suzhou we did very much for similar reasons.
My thing is to go to places where you’re really needed, rather than move into a place where you’re instantly competitive. When I first came here in ’92, Beijing really didn’t have a lot going on in terms of literature, music. Everyone was wanting to come to China and do stuff but there wasn’t any kind of of infrastructure here for people then to do it.
Right from when we started the Bookworm, we did **year-round programming of literary and musical events**, and I think got a bit of a reputation for it. There was a tipping point, when suddenly it wasn’t always me going out to look for authors, authors were beginning also to look for us.
By tapping into the community and providing a service, the community supports us. We get a lot of donations … **when people leave China, they’re happy to give us their books** and they go straight into the lending library. But at the same time, I’m always keeping an eye out for things, opportunities to get more books. I think I can smell books. I know how to find them.
BILF: The Bookworm International Literary Festival has morphed from a small festival to an international event. It's happening March 2012 this year. For more details, check [http://bookwormfestival.com/](http://bookwormfestival.com/)