The Bookseller’s Apprentice by Amelia Mellor

Article | Oct 2022

Return to Amelia Mellor’s magical Melbourne in the prequel to bestseller The Grandest Bookshop in the World.

Twelve-year-old Billy Pyke has a talent for sorting things out, whether it’s his chaotic family home or the busy book stall at Paddy’s Market. In 1871, the market is the loud, smelly, marvellous heart of Melbourne, and Billy is delighted to work at the book stall there for the eccentric Mr Cole. When his new friend Kezia warns him of a sinister magician called the Obscurosmith, Billy can’t believe her stories of magical deals gone horribly wrong – until he sees them happening. And the night that the Obscurosmith crosses a terrifying and dangerous line, Billy realises something: if he wants the Obscurosmith stopped, he’ll have to do it himself.

Award-winning author Amelia Mellor delivers another race-against-time adventure in this action-packed prequel to The Grandest Bookshop in the World. Loaded with tricks, riddles, magic and mayhem, The Bookseller’s Apprentice is perfect for Mellor fans and newcomers alike.

Published by Affirm Press
Age Guide 12+

Amelia MellorAMELIA MELLOR is a Melbourne-based writer whose debut novel, The Grandest Bookshop in the World, won an Australian Book Industry Award, an Indie Book Award, a NSW Premier’s Literary Award and a Booksellers’ Choice Award. When she isn’t writing she loves to hike, garden and draw.

What made you want to start writing?

I’ve loved books, words and language since I was a baby. When I was three, I said that when I grew up, I wanted ‘to work in a shop surrounded by books that I have written.’ I started writing with serious dedication when I was nine – and nearly always with fantastical, supernatural or science-fiction elements in my stories! I even took my laptop on beach holidays as a teenager, because writing was such a joy and I was so driven to complete my stories.

The Bookseller’s Apprentice is the prequel to your much-loved novel The Grandest Bookshop in the World. What can fans look forward to or expect to see a return of in this novel?

There are three characters that readers might recognise: Mr Cole, a kind and eccentric bookseller; the Obscurosmith, a diabolical magician and con artist; and Billy Pyke, who was Mr Pyke the manager in The Grandest Bookshop in the World. This book expands on their pasts and their motivations. The Bookseller’s Apprentice is also set in Melbourne in the late 1800s – on the same street, in fact! There’s more magic, more riddles, and more bizarre little shops and stalls set within a larger, awe-inspiring emporium. Once again, I’ve drawn a lot of inspiration from the writings of EW Cole. 

Billy works at a book stall in Melbourne’s Paddy’s Market – is this based on a real place?

Paddy’s Market certainly is based on a real place, and I did some very thorough research in old newspapers (digitised by the National Library of Australia) to understand what it was like! It started as a simple farmer’s market in the 1840s near the eastern end of Bourke Street – hence its other name, the Eastern Market. With the Gold Rush, Melbourne’s population exploded, and Paddy’s Market became a kind of carnival and cultural hub as well. The newspapers describe lots of music and street performers, live animals, sideshow games, street food stalls, fortune tellers and con artists. In 1878, it was renovated – gentrified, really – and all the stalls had to move down to the current site of the Queen Victoria Market. After the renovation, it looked beautiful, but the soul of it remained at the Queen Vic, which is still popular nearly a hundred and fifty years later.

What can you tell us about Billy Pyke?

Billy was on the margins in The Grandest Bookshop in the World – to the Cole siblings, he’s this strict authority figure, but we also get a glimpse of his good heart when they need his help. He’s based on a real person called William Thomas Pyke, who was the first and most faithful employee of bookseller, writer and activist Edward William Cole. The real William Pyke was hired in his early teens by Mr Cole at Paddy’s Market in the early 1870s, became the manager when he was sixteen, and worked for the Cole brand until the late 1920s, a few years after Mr Cole’s death. To create Billy, I’ve used a blend of facts about William Pyke, and imaginative interpretations of those facts. I know William from reading his diary, articles and family tree, though pictures of him are rare. He was the eldest of nine children, born and raised in less-affluent suburbs, and a history buff, who looked up to Mr Cole as a mentor, even in adulthood. So I decided, for example, that for Billy to be worthy of becoming manager at sixteen, he would have to be reliable and honest – perhaps because he has to look after all those younger siblings.

Which characters did you enjoy writing the most and why?

Any character with an unusual or distinctive voice is great fun, and it’s even better when they interact. I had the most fun writing encounters between Billy and the Obscurosmith, because they’re constantly scheming against each other and trying to puncture each other’s egos with their tone and wordplay. But the interactions between Billy, Kezia and Mr Cole warm my heart so much as well.

Your books are stories of magic and adventures – have you ever encountered anything magical or been on any adventures?  

I’m actually quite a sceptic when it comes to magic and the supernatural! But I love going on adventures, seeing new places and learning new skills. I love a big hike in the bush. I ski and scuba-dive sometimes. The scariest adventure of my life was in a Vietnamese cave with my family. There were a lot of dangerous ladders, narrow passages and big spiders. At one point, we had to swim through churning floodwaters in the dark! But it was all worth it to see the beautiful jungle and amazing cave formations. Wonder and beauty are pretty magical, if you ask me.



Book Format:


ISBN: 9781922400871

RRP: $

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