Category Archives: Bookshops

Airborne books

‘Can I look in the bookshop?’ the Resident IT Consultant asked. I was tempted to say no, but gave my permission. We were at Edinburgh airport with too much time on our hands, and after using up the full Caffe Nero card which entitled him to a free drink (naturally he chose the most expensive concoction, something topped with whipped cream), he was dying to look in The Bookshop.

I looked in there myself, and they didn’t have much. Even WH Smith had more. By some coincidence we met up there after deciding to look around on our own. Neither shop stocked Into A Raging Blaze, special airport edition or not. We had both looked.

WHS had their fiction mostly arranged by numbers, a sort of books chart. We couldn’t work out whose chart, i.e. who decided, nor how to find any given book, short of looking at all of them. ‘There’s a blog there,’ said the Resident IT Consultant suddenly. I looked. ‘Where?’ I asked. I couldn’t comprehend the idea of a blog sitting anywhere on those shelves, but felt I needed to check.

Turns out he meant that the difficulty of finding a specific book could be turned into a blog post… Duh.

I had actually walked in there thinking I just might pay for a book. But only the recent fourth James Oswald novel. It’s Scottish, so maybe they’d stock it for that reason, I thought. But, no. Once I’d turned round a few more times I discovered some books arranged in the conventional alphabetical way, and there was a James Oswald book. The wrong one. Or the right one, depending on how you look at it. Not the one I was after. But for the Oswald novice it’d be good to find the first one, seeing as you mustn’t start anywhere else.

For children it was the usual suspects; The Gruffalo, David Walliams, Horrid Henry. I believe I’ve said this before. It’s excellent to find easy to read, good, fun books. But not if you’ve already read those. Then you need something more unusual.

And Terry Pratchett’s Raising Steam made it to the non-fiction.

Bookwitch bites #123

C J Flood has won the Branford Boase for her first novel Infinite Sky. Congratulations!

I had so wanted to be there. But in the end common sense prevailed and I didn’t travel to London. It would have been a good time for it, apart from my moving into a new house handicap. For once it wasn’t the only thing happening, and I could have combined events. Adrian McKinty’s publisher was offering beer and sausage rolls with Adrian at their office yesterday afternoon. Not even teetotal veggie witches should be able to say no to that. Except I did.

And then I discovered Adrian was appearing at Waterstones Piccadilly the night before, in the illustrious company of Barry Forshaw, Mallock and Pete Ayrton. But in a way it was lucky I wasn’t there for that event, seeing as it started a mere 30 minutes after another event in the very same bookshop, featuring *Meg Rosoff and Marcus Sedgwick. I mean, how could a witch choose?

Trying to count myself lucky I didn’t have to.

Found this interview with Terry Pratchett about his next new book, Dragons at Crumbling Castle. If he has a favourite book, it seems to be the Tiffany Aching books, because she just gets on with things. So does Terry, of course. He might have had to cancel his Discworld appearance in Manchester, but the man is still writing, and Tiffany fans are looking forward to book number five.

Despite the shocking figures on author incomes that emerged this week, many authors do like Terry and his Tiffany, and just get on with things. Despite not earning a living wage. Despite other stuff too, no doubt. Terry obviously has no money worries, but he has another concern instead; how much time, and how many more books?

There was the news last week that food bank parcels now contain children’s books. It’s wonderful that more children will have a book to call their own, but pretty dismal that they have to rely on charity for it, not to mention that anyone in Britain should need food parcels.

*So pleased someone saw the similarities between Meg’s Picture Me Gone and Marcus’s latest YA book; American road trips involving British teenagers. Both books are fabulous, and She Is Not Invisible has just come out as a paperback. I have to admit to having handed over my copy of the latter to a teenager, because I felt the need to share this wonderful journey. Not in a food parcel as such, although there was food involved. And much talk of money.

Bread sticks and brain sticks

Being attacked by a goose isn’t as bad as it might seem at first. It sets off your adrenaline and a few other chemicals and makes the required jump across a really high gate possible. It’s only if you then dwell on the constant possibility of further goose attacks that you might feel stressed in the wrong way. And that’s not good.

Nicola Morgan's shoes

Last night I went to the launch of Nicola Morgan’s new book, The Teenage Guide to Stress. I always forget how interesting Nicola is and how well she talks at events like these. There was absolutely no need at all for her to walk round persuading people they needed more wine before she began, but she did anyway. And there were bread sticks. Three kinds.

Nicola Morgan

The room at Blackwell’s – we really must stop seeing each other like this – was full. Nicola was wearing gorgeous shoes, and pink trousers I could have killed for, if I thought I could wear pink trousers. Even I, as a relative newcomer, knew a few people there, which is always nice. Nicola tried threatening us at the back with special treatment if we didn’t move to the front, but soon all seats were taken, so she couldn’t actually do anything about us. Me, especially.

She had stuff to offer. Free posters, rolled up, which looked just right to hit people with. Nicola introduced her brain sticks, which are USBs filled with useful material on brains, and which she has spent 1000 hours on producing. There were three tea-towels to win.

Nicola Morgan

People who say they never suffered from stress when they were young are wrong. They suffer from amnesia, which is a coping strategy. It helps you forget the bad stuff. Before, there was not a single book for teenagers on stress. Now there is one. And this is important, because teen stress is different from that suffered by adults.

It’s the constant, low level, kind of stress that won’t go away, which is so bad for you. It is constantly having to ‘perform at things you are not good at’ which makes the teen years such hell. It leaves less ‘bandwidth’ for other things. The two main bad things are exams and the internet. Teenagers don’t have the life experience we oldies have, and they tend to believe they are alone in their suffering. Adults are generally able to stop doing what they are bad at; in Nicola’s case maths and singing.

Nicola Morgan

With her book Nicola hopes to settle minds. That’s what people need. The book has three parts. The first is what stress is. The second what the stress is about. And the third how to deal with it.

She has looked into the research on whether chocolate alleviates stress and it appears it doesn’t. However Nicola feels there are more ways to look at this, and urged us to do more research. Generosity is good, which is why she offered us all some 70% dark chocolate.

Nicola Morgan

And speaking of generosity; you know what had to happen. I won a tea-towel. I already have one, so didn’t feel I needed to win, but as I stood there looking at the tickets in the envelope, I knew* that no matter which ticket I picked, it’d be the winning one. And it was. So I gave the tea-towel to the man behind me, scooped up some chocolate I can’t eat and took it home and gave to the Resident IT Consultant to see if generosity is as good as Nicola suggested.

I suppose it is.

*I’m a witch. I feel these things.

Nicola Morgan

Highly-promotable?

It really shouldn’t matter one bit what an author is like. I might have said this before. But whereas it’s pretty common for authors to be both nice and good-looking without it ruining their writing or their books, it is not strictly speaking essential.

I’ve come to hate it when publishers point out how easy this author will be to sell. It’s their books that have to sell. Not the author as such.

Vango, which I reviewed yesterday, was written by someone I’d never heard of and whose looks I only accidentally found out about while checking something on Wikipedia. Even had Timothée looked like an ogre, I’d have loved his book. Perhaps he does look like an ogre and hired a stuntman for the photography session. I don’t know.

I have here on the Grandmother’s kitchen table a book I was sent recently. It actually looks quite decent, and despite first thinking it sounded ridiculous, I half came round and thought I could read it. Maybe. If there’s time.

But then came the words on the back of the proof; ‘written by highly-promotable young author … pitched for radio coverage … debut author slots.’ That was the death knell as far as I’m concerned. I will, as a matter of principle, not read it now. My time and attention will move on to something written by someone old and ugly.

Will I regret it? Might this be the next big thing? Probably not, because those tend to take us by surprise. It will possibly do well. I hope so, even if s/he is young and highly-promotable (I’d not come across this word before, hyphenated and everything, so I can’t stop typing it).

The fact that the book arrived accompanied by the kind of contract I loathe didn’t help.

Some of the best books I’ve read have been written by handsome people. Some of the best books I’ve read have been written by the kind of person who would most likely not be described as highly-promotable. Some of the best books I’ve read have been written by individuals I have no idea what they look like or anything else.

It doesn’t matter as long as the book is good.

In fairness, I suspect the description of the author is mainly aimed at bookshops, who just might want to know that the media will love this author, so will provide lots of free publicity, and that if the author were to visit their bookshop, s/he will not disgrace them by smelling or burping or being hard on the eye.

But I’d like to think that if I ever wrote a book, its acceptance and subsequent promotion wouldn’t be hindered by my rather un-lovely appearance or an age that not much can be done about. Nor even any reluctance to appear in public at all.

EIBF and me, 2014

It is here. The programme for this year’s Edinburgh International Book festival. And I’m sorry, but all I can think of is that Sara Paretsky will be there. It’s been three years, and she is finally coming in the summer rather than freezing her nether regions off in February/March. Which is so sensible.

OK, there must be a few other authors scheduled for the two and a bit weeks. Think, witch, think!

There are some very interesting looking events where authors one admires talk about authors one admires. I’m going to have to see if I can catch one of those, because they look like tickets might sell out fast (small tent). Then there is Patrick Ness who will give the Siobhan Dowd talk and Val McDermid will pretend to be Jane Austen.

Wendy Meddour is coming and there is a lovely pairing of Francesca Simon and Irving Finkel. Another interesting pair is Caroline Lawrence with Geraldine McCaughrean. Elizabeths Laird and Wein will cooperate, and Gill Lewis is also making an appearance.

Many more excellent authors like Sophie Hannah and Arne Dahl, Tommy Donbavand and Liz Kessler will be at the festival. I have to admit to paying less attention to the ‘grown-up’ authors again, in favour of my ‘little ones.’ Those who are given orange juice instead of wine (although I am sure not at EIBF!) because they write for children.

Have to admit that many of my hoped for events are school events. I am glad that some of the best looking events are for schools, because it means someone thinks school children deserve the best. I want to be a school child on a very temporary basis at the end of August.

Deck chair

I’m hoping for plenty of stamina on my part. I have planned a number of full or nearly full days, for about two thirds of the festival. (I was thinking of having a holiday at some point.) The event I am fairly certain I won’t be able to go to but wish I could, is Eleanor Updale talking about Vera Brittain. That would be really something.

Perhaps I will see you in Charlotte Square? (If my eyes are – temporarily – closed, just give me a gentle nudge.)

Launching demons in Edinburgh

From the ‘dark underbelly of Crieff’ emerged two fabulous ladies to chat about The Demons of Ghent. I’m – almost – not sure who I liked best; author Helen Grant or her ‘chair’ Suzy McPhee. It’s a rare thing when two people sit in front of lots of other people and it’s both fun and interesting. (On the way back to Waverley I wondered why I felt so hungry and realised I’d forgotten about food. That’s how much I enjoyed it.)

Helen launched her new book at Blackwell’s in Edinburgh – or Thins, as the Resident IT Consultant prefers to call it – and for me who’d never been before (sorry) it made for a nice experience. I had enticed Son and Dodo to join us (Son used to work there…) so it was a family affair, with only Daughter missing, which is why the photos are not what they should be.

Demons of Ghent launch

I’ve obviously been around some authors too much when I recognise their parents even when I’ve never met them before. Their children. Their facebook friends. Nicola Morgan was there, a week early. Presumably to do a practise run before her launch next week.

The place was full, and the wine flowed. I found a most comfortable sofa to sit on. It was a bit difficult to get up from it again, but it was good while it lasted. The youngest there was 7 (and a half) weeks old. Didn’t ask how old the oldest one was.

Suzy McPhee and Helen Grant with Ann Landmann

Blackwell’s events organiser made one of the best introductions I’ve heard at an event like this. Admittedly there are a few words Ann Landmann actually can’t say, but we only found out one last night. (So we’ll have to return for more…)

Suzy McPhee and Helen Grant

Helen described her British rustiness, which is why she writes about Germans and Belgians. She and Suzy had some difficulty in finding spoiler safe topics, but settled for the famous altar piece, which plays such an important part in The Demons of Ghent. There was something else Suzy wanted to ask, but which met with a resounding ‘no’ after some whispered negotiations behind hands.

Helen Grant

Helen never set out to write YA books, but just wrote what she wanted to write. There is no need to ‘write down’ to younger readers, and they can always look things up on Google if necessary. Suzy described how she had needed to look up rorschach tests, and proceeded to test Helen on some inkblots she’d printed out and brought along. (See, not all people in her position would think to do such a thing.) I will await the results of the ‘dead chicken’ interpretation with interest.

Without the internet Helen reckons it’d be impossibly expensive for her to get research right. She’d need to travel to Ghent to find out how high the pavement is in the spot she needs for something to happen. And making sure Veerle eats the right kind of waffles, and not simply any old waffle. She doesn’t want it to be ‘Britain dressed up.’

She’s now eyeing up parts of Scotland for future books, and described her happiness after finding a hidden church in a churchyard, when all she’d expected were more old tomb stones.

Helen Grant

In the end there was no time for a reading and Ann craftily suggested we should (buy, and) read the book ourselves. Someone wanted Helen’s phone number to call for a private reading, but she hastily offered to put a chapter up on her blog. So I suppose that will have to tide us over while we wait for Urban Legends.

And there was time for more wine.

A change of scenery

‘All change, please!’ Except the guard didn’t say that. Instead, as we sat – packed like sardines – on the train from Copenhagen airport, the PA system indistinctly informed us something was about to change. Our end of the train was going no further. Only, he said it in Danish, and bad English, so it wasn’t either helpful or clear.

And we’d only just got acquainted with the couple out to celebrate Mother’s Day, whom we were sqeezed far too close to for polite company. So we ran for it at Malmö. Even Daughter made it, but only just. She was further in, so had longer to get out.

The drip in the bathroom has changed. It used to be considerable, becoming less with each passing day, while helpfully dripping into a rectangular former ice cream box. Now it refuses to drip into the box, and it is not slowing down, and I’m having to change its nappy, so to speak. (Square of towelling on the floor, which soon gets sodden.)

We’ve had Birdie with us for a week. She does incomprehensible subjects at university, along with Daughter. It means we’ve tried to explain some of the weird ways of Sweden, and we were working on the bottle and drinks can deposit system when we realised the smallest amount had doubled. After a while I hit on the reason for this. The place no longer has 50 öre coins, so can hardly have a 50 öre deposit. No small change here.

Birdie is staying on for the summer. Not with us, but with one of the country’s leading universities, which will mean a considerable change for her. She has spent her week here being led from one outdoor café to another. She’ll think we do nothing but eat. (She’d be right.) When not being force-fed cake, she has read incomprehensible books.

Speaking of books, I went into town (no, I never learn…) and wanted something from the bookshop. You know the drill by now. It had moved. Only about two doors down (or do I mean up?), so I found it easily enough once I could see I’d overshot. When I’d bought what I came for (amazingly they had it), I discovered it had changed names as well. It is now a completely different shop, except it’s the same, really. To me it will always be Larssons Bokhandel.

Went to look for the next thing on my list. Definitely didn’t get that. Mainly because the department store wasn’t there. In its place was a building site, and the only shop open for business was a – new – chemist’s. Presumably to make up for the halving of the old one and the moving of the door which they hit me with last year.

Remember the bus tickets? The ones that changed? Well, now they had to be ex-changed. Every four years your Oyster type card thingy has to be freshened up, so I came armed with the family’s tickets, with all of a week before they became invalid and fizzled into thin air. (I made that last thing up. We’d just have been stranded.)

And speaking of the bus tickets and being stranded; the unions have called a strike for Monday. Either they strike all the time, or we are simply extremely gifted at turning up when they do. May not be able to get rid of the Resident IT Consultant quite as smoothly as planned, because of this.

Stealing and borrowing

Some people put it better than others. That’s why I am borrowing someone else’s words to talk about stealing. Simply because they said it so well.

First it was Nicola Morgan who discovered that ‘pirates’ were offering her ebooks online. She has worked hard to bring them out, so wasn’t terribly pleased to find that people were that keen to avoid paying the mere £2 she’s asking for her books.

Nicola reckons ‘pirate’ sounds much nicer than ‘scummy thief’ and that it’s time we stop thinking of these book thieves as rather loveable pirates. She’s right.

Then came Joanne Harris who discovered her fans tweeting happily about how and where to best steal her books. Except if you use the word download it sounds rather better to those who do it.

She wrote a great blog post about it, and she doesn’t just mention her own – lack of – income, but that of everyone else in the book business, who will not have the money to feed their families or pay the bills.

It’s worth noting, too, that this is the way to lose the publishing business, and anything else connected with it, like libraries. Which is just as well, really, as there will be no books written, that could be published, or that might be borrowed from your local library.

For free.

Craig Robertson and ‘the grandad rap’

I know only one author in Stirling, and that’s Craig Robertson. He had the decency to launch his brand new crime novel yesterday, right here ‘at home’ and he had even tweaked his usual Glaswegian crime, to offer up a Faroese murder in its place. (I suspect he just wants to be one of these fantastically rich Nordic crime writers…)

Craig Robertson

The launch of The Last Refuge took place at The Mediterranéa restaurant (obviously some compass malfunction here, but I’d much rather attend a tapas bar than a dead whale kind of restaurant, or fried puffin place) and the Resident IT Consultant and I made our way there to rub shoulders with other local literary types. In the end it was the Faroese connection that persuaded him.

Craig received the news of our recent move with surprising calm and almost seemed to think it was a good thing. He had asked my ex-Bloody Scotland blogging colleague – and crime writer – Michael J Malone to come and talk to him about his new book. They were both rather fascinated with the traditional Faroese whale slaughter, the word for which I didn’t catch, but which Michael’s spellchecker suggested could be ‘grandad rap.’

Craig Robertson

After some mingling and Faroese music and pretty photos of the islands, Craig read a wee excerpt from the first chapter, where his hero John Callum wakes up dead drunk in the harbour, with a bloody whale knife in his possession. And there has been a murder…

Apparently the islands had not had a murder for 26 years, but soon after Craig’s visit there was one. It was probably not his fault.

Craig had initially wanted to set a novel in Tallinn, but was beaten to it, so went to Torshavn instead. He found his female main character in a bar one night, and soon learned to say ‘thank you’ and ‘beer’ in Faroese. He also realised you should never get drunk with the leader of the Faroese Hell’s Angels.

They have no forensics on the islands, so when – if – there is a murder they have to send for someone from Copenhagen. And speaking of Denmark, Craig couldn’t afford to buy the Sarah Lund jumper someone asked him to get, and he wouldn’t mind a Danish film being made of The Last Refuge. The book will also be translated into Danish for any islander who happens not to understand English (which seems pretty unlikely).

He missed the opportunity of joining a whale slaughter, which he would have liked (!) because it would be so interesting to see people’s faces as they do this dreadful (my word) deed. Craig thinks that – in theory – it would be good for a crime writer to have a go at this kind of killing…

Craig Robertson

The Q&A session that followed was fun, but possibly not taken as seriously as they sometimes are. The Mediterranéa was just about full, which is great going for this kind of event. There were tapas to eat and free drinks, and anyone brave enough was invited to try some of Craig’s 50% Faroese akvavit (although I believe he soon regretted having some himself), illegal to make, but not drink, in the Faroe Islands.

The tapas

We’d planned to stay and have a meal afterwards, but ‘unfortunately’ there was so much free food on offer that we were too full to do so. We will have to go back some day when we actually feel hungry.

Instead we did that thing we hardly ever do. We paid for a book.

Craig Robertson

OxCrimes

Pop down to your local Oxfam and buy a copy of OxCrimes: 27 Killer Stories from the Cream of Crime Writers and support the work of Oxfam while giving yourself something good to read for the next few hours.

It’s got ‘practically every crime writer’ contributing. Even the ones I’d not heard of, as I had to confess to yesterday. But especially the ones I do know. Foreword by that Rankin chap who always pops up and takes part in every worthwhile venture going. (All right, not everyone. But 27 isn’t bad. Plus Ian Rankin.)

OxCrimes: 27 Killer Stories from the Cream of Crime Writers

The stories were of every imaginable kind, including a pretty scary sci-fi thriller crime tale from Yrsa Sigurðardóttir. There’s war crimes and ghostly crimes, sexy ones and the usual crime-y crimes. How Anthony Horowitz could be allowed to say what I’ve always suspected about public toilets (you know the kind…) is beyond my comprehension. Now none of us will want to go.

My favourite – if I’m allowed one – has to be Stuart Neville’s, which was brilliant in all its period simplicity. Not to mention chilling.

As for the rest, I think I’ve listed them all. You will know some better than others, just like me. You might find a new favourite, or even one you wouldn’t mind killing slowly and painfully. What do I know?

It’s all in a good cause, even if the blood flows fairly freely in places.

‘With previous books OxTravels and OxTales having raised over a quarter of a million pounds since their 2009 publication, Oxfam is hoping OxCrimes will raise even more, helping to tackle poverty and suffering around the world. Visit Oxfam’s Emergency Response pages to find out more about how you can help.’