A new chapter

Headshot of Chris Curtis on his stall

Local market trader and author Chris Curtis tells IslingtonLife how his writing career took off after starting a stall on Chapel Market

One of Islington’s oldest markets, Chapel Market has been operating for more than 150 years.

Stalls have been passed down through generations, some spending decades on the same pitch, becoming a permanent fixture in the community.

For others, the market was a chance to try a new venture, or turn a hobby into a business, building relationships with customers face-to-face rather than behind a computer screen.

One such stall holder is Chris Curtis, who has lived and worked in Islington for most of his life, including running newspapers stands at Highbury and Islington and Finsbury Park Underground stations. His dream of being a published author came to life when he decided to take up a pitch on Chapel Market in 2012. “I wanted to commit to my writing, but still needed an income,” Chris explains. “I saw that Islington Council was running a ‘how to be a market trader’ course, so I signed up. It helped me with budgeting, finances and deciding what to sell.”

After that, Chris set up on Chapel Market, selling a mix of historical local photographs and sports and music memorabilia. “Chapel Market has such a long and rich history – I’ve been told hundreds of stories about it,” he continues. “The market keeps going because the traders make the time to look after the customers, who in turn come back for a chat and see what’s new on the stalls, which is what I liked about it. Plus, being my own boss meant I could set my own hours and give more time to dedicate to writing.”

Now, the stall has become a regular pitch on Chapel Market and Chris has published two novels, with a third due out in August. And it’s not just Chris who has found success on the stall. Chris’ son was working with him one Sunday afternoon when he was scouted by a top London modelling agency, while packing away the stall. “You meet new people every day, and you never know who might pop by and say hello. I’ve met Bobby Gillespie from Primal Scream and Terry Hall from The Specials – he even signed a copy of Smash Hits from 1979 for me, which I’ve got framed on my wall,” says Chris. “Not long after that, Mark Ellen, who was an editor on Smash Hits, also stopped by the stall. It’s a small world!”

One of Chris’ most memorable encounters was when author of Fever Pitch and High Fidelity Nick Hornby stopped by to check out the memorabilia on his stall. “I couldn’t resist asking Nick if he would take a picture with my first book,” he grins. “He’s sold millions of books around the world and to have a photo of him holding one of mine, it’s just crazy.”

Chris’ stall is open on Chapel Market on Tues, Thursdays and at weekends. His first two novels, The 25 of October and When You Fall In Love With A Dying Woman are available from bookstores.

For details of all the other markets around Islington, visit our markets page.

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