‘Reading is like my shield,’ says fantasy book club co-founder

Waterstones bookseller, Rowan Maddock, talks about creating a safe community for readers to share their love of fantasy fiction through a book club

Rowan standing in front of the fantasy book section of Waterstones, reading fantasy paperback.
Maddock said: “Reading has been like my imaginary friend.” Photo by Sophie Colson

Once a month, as the cafe is closing,  Rowan Maddock, 22, co-hosts a fantasy book club in Cardiff’s Waterstones. Completely free, the book club chooses a novel each month to read individually and then meets to discuss their opinions on the story. 

Maddock hosts this event with her colleague, Lisa Foley, who both work as Waterstones’ booksellers, but Maddock felt that Cardiff needed more community reading spaces. 

Creating a community

Maddock said: “Having a space where you can talk to other readers and share your passion was really needed. Reading is quite a solitary activity, so it’s really nice because everyone that comes along is really grateful they have a space to sit and discuss these books.”

There’s always something to be learned from the pages of a book, even fantasy

The book club was started in July 2023, and is named Rowan and Lisa’s Fantasy Book Club “or Lisa and Rowan’s,” clarified Maddock with a laugh, “depending on how active I’m going to be that month.” 

Maddock explained how important it is to talk about the books you read, and how, even when she didn’t enjoy a book, the discussions helped her to see the story in a new light which in turn enabled her to enjoy it a little more. 

“I think just having a safe space where everyone can voice their opinions without feeling like they’re being judged for it, is so important. Allowing people to have and share their opinions is the heart of the book club. You don’t want everyone to agree,” Rowan said.

Rowan standing in front of the fantasy section of Waterstones with shelves of books behind her.
“Some weeks we don’t even get past ‘Did you like the book?’ because everyone’s got really strong opinions about it,” said Maddock. Photo by Sophie Colson
Escaping into fantasy

The bookseller has loved reading fantasy ever since she was a child. She said when she was 11 she read the entirety of her school library’s fantasy section until they had nothing left for her to read. 

Even in adulthood, Maddock felt the escapist nature of fantasy fiction could bring relief from life’s stresses. She said in the pandemic, living in student accommodation without heating was a real struggle, and fantasy books enabled her to escape.

She added: “I know that I have books that I read in dark times that brought me happiness. And now when I reread them, I don’t think of the dark times I was in. I remember the happiness they brought me and it brings that happiness back.”

The book club host explained that reading enabled her to experience someone else’s life for a minute, and helped her to forget her own worries.  

“Reading is like my shield,” Maddock added, with a laugh, “and I like the adventures as well. Plus dragons.”

She explained that characters became like family. They were role models that she could relate to, offered her comfort and boosted her self-esteem. “I feel there’s always something to be learned from the pages of a book, even if it’s fantasy,” she added.

Maddock summarised: “I’m not really a sporty person, but I feel like it’s my sport. I just love books in their entirety.”

The book club’s final meeting this year is on Sunday 26 November, 4:00-5:00pm, where they’ll be discussing Hogfather by Terry Pratchett.

  • The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch
  • Eragon by Christopher Paolini 
  • A House of Earth and Blood by Sarah J Maas 
  • This is How You Lose the Time War, Amal El-Motitar 
  • Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett
Rowan reading her favourite cosy fantasy extract from TJ Klune