Story of her life: Manapouri's Ruth Shaw's life story's been documented in her memoir, The Bookseller at the End of the World


It’s one heck of a back story.

Ruth Shaw, 75, once deserted the Navy.

She’s also sailed the Pacific and Indian oceans, escaped from pirates, and worked with sex workers and drug addicts in Sydney’s Kings Cross.

Her extraordinary life story’s now been documented in a memoir, The Bookseller at the End of the World, published by Allen & Unwin and the subject of a special event in  Queenstown this month.

It’s aptly named.

Her Manapouri property proudly boasts more bookshops than can be found in all of Queenstown.

Ruth says she started with one bookshop, ‘‘because it gives me an excuse to go out and buy books’’.

Hobby-turned-business: Two of the bookshops on Ruth Shaw’s Manapouri property

Then, she opened a second one for children, complete with soft toys, before opening a third for the men who were sitting in their cars waiting for their wives.

‘‘I promised my husband I wouldn’t build another one, but I’ve got a really good idea,’’she giggles.

‘‘I’m going to keep my promise.

‘‘I think.’’

Ruth began her life as a Fiordland skipper and environmentalist, but her story is one of trauma and love, having been married four times, including to Lance who she reconnected with in 1981, 17 years after they first got engaged.

Bookseller and author Shaun Bythell describes Ruth’s book as ‘‘an extraordinary story … illegal gambling, pirates and numerous personal tragedies, all punctuated by warm
stories from her bookshops and an ultimately-resolved love story’’.

Ruth’s speaking in Queenstown at Sherwood on May 29 at a special event organised by the Queenstown Writers Festival, where she’ll be interviewed by Sara Litchfield, a former London accountant who’s now a Te Anau-based writer and book editor.

Tickets for the event, which start at 2pm, cost $23 from eventfinda — at her request, her speaking fee’s being donated to Happiness House.