Category Archives: Bookshops

A St Andrews bookshop crawl

I went to St Andrews the other day. It’s so much easier to pop over from the new Bookwitch Towers, because despite Facebook’s best attempts at putting it in England it is still in Scotland.

Monopoly mug

With a bit over an hour before my ‘assignation,’ I walked round the town in the rain. Looked in on the newly refurbished Students’ Union HQ. Fashionable seats in the new café. Small but serviceable Blackwell’s, which is where I encountered this half price Monopoly mug. The question was, half price of what? Half of the Old Kent Road at £60 or half Fleet Street, £220?

Monopoly mug

Went and pressed my nose to the shop window of the future Toppings. I found out they are opening a shop in St Andrews back in March, but still no open Toppings. Empty, but looks good. There was a light on in the back, so presumably Mr Topping was at work building shelves.

Waterstones was next. I browsed all their non-book stuff. Somehow I occasionally lose the will to look at more books, especially if I’m not buying. And the notebooks and mugs and everything looked really nice. I may not be an author, but I have the right instincts when it comes to notebooks. Rested briefly in one of their armchairs, before anyone worked out I wasn’t spending money.

At the end of town is a rather nice second hand bookshop. The rain was pouring down – as I said – so at least I had my answer to the question what they do about the pavement display of books. Do they quickly carry all the books in? No, they have a made-to-measure tarpaulin arrangement, which fits neatly over the whole book display.

After that I just may have looked in the shoeshop. It was an accident. They wanted to relieve me of my umbrella, so I didn’t linger. Quick accidental pause at the kitchenware shop that sells lots of things you want, but don’t need.

I hurried on to the next bookshop, with their beautiful window display of Advent calendars. Decided not to enquire how much they wanted for the second hand copy of Winifred Holtby’s South Riding. Suspect I don’t have the time. They had a whole load of crime in one window, including many by the almost local James Oswald.

On to Oxfam. They are primarily a bookshop, so do belong to my bookshop crawl. Doesn’t mean they don’t have attractive bric-a-brac, though… Hovered outside, afterwards, as my one hour+ was over, and I almost succumbed to the cheese shop and their bread, before remembering that I can bake.

Then it was time for tea and cake with Daughter. For some obscure reason I shifted a sofa cushion and found a couple of books, but no money. They were English books, so have clearly been overlooked, lost and forgotten by the previous flat dwellers. Daughter’s shelves looked nice enough. Plenty of excellent YA books there (but then she has access to the best).

I never read on the train as it crosses the Tay. Just to be on the safe side. In my mind I waved goodbye to James Oswald and Fife (anything to avoid thinking of McGonagall), before getting off the train in one piece, and finding the next train, on which I do read, every time.

I’ll tell you about that book soon.

My Christmas conundrum

I know it’s still September, but only just. The shops are already full of Christmas stuff. Saw some ugly trees at Dobbies the other day, and was disappointed, as this year I might actually be interested in a new tree (on account of the old one possibly not fitting into the new house so well). But I wouldn’t dream of buying it now.

Though that is perhaps my problem. I should buy now, while stocks last.

It’s not trees I wanted to discuss, of course, but books. In the book world they start being sold in October. It will be October in only a couple of days. I have had a pile of Christmas books lying around for weeks and weeks. The latest one to arrive I browsed through and found myself slipping into a Christmassy mood and that was way too early. Off to the premature Christmas pile with it!

I used to think that if I read them early and wrote reviews I could then post them on the blog close to Christmas. Handy. But I worked out that by the time we all feel more or less Christmassy in mid-December, no one will be reading reviews or going out to buy seasonal books for their little ones.

So December is too late. Maybe. When is the right time? If you ever want to read reviews of books with a Christmas theme, rather than suggestions of a book to buy as a Christmas present, when do you want it?

When would you buy it?

And who buys them and for whom? Is it as a Christmas present, or just as something December-ish to read to your tiny person (or give a slightly bigger tiny person to read themselves) to get into a Christmas mood?

I don’t remember Offspring being given anything like that, even by me. I think that any books featuring Christmas I got for me to read to them, to enjoy as December strolled along. So perhaps they aren’t presents?

It seems stupid to ask, but I just don’t know what purpose the books have, or who would buy them. Or when the ultimate time for reviews of them would be.

I have blogged before about my fondness for Rosamunde Pilcher’s Winter Solstice which is the perfect book to read in December. Or the various Advent-y books to read a little bit of every day, like those by Cornelia Funke or Jostein Gaarder. Those you do need to know about in time, or it’d be too late when Christmas arrives.

I’m not ready to read or review the Christmas pile yet. Are you?

Demon rules and the Glasgow underground

Did you know there are rules for summoning demons? And that crime writers all refer to the same rules?

I trust I didn’t imagine this. Michael J Malone chaired the Bloody Scotland Sunday afternoon supernatural event, talking to Alexandra Sokoloff, Gordon Brown (the other one) and James Oswald. Actually, I don’t suppose the event was supernatural. It was the topic. Although, Alexandra was described as the daughter of Mary Shelley, so I don’t know.

After a ‘warm bloody welcome’ Michael asked the three to blame someone or something for what they are doing. Gordon Brown didn’t know he wanted to write crime, but worked out that he could do a lot of horrible things to people if he did. He described a Glasgow pub fight he’d witnessed once, where one man was sitting reading a book, completely oblivious to the fighting going on around him.

Alexandra Sokoloff

Alexandra said that although she had a past working with juvenile crime in Los Angeles (where she’s from), it was the Scottish who led her to crime. Hearing Denise Mina and Val McDermid talk at BoucherCon one year, she realised that crime writing was the best way to address social issues, tired of the endless slaughter of women in books, and she wanted to turn that around, writing about a female Jack Reacher type.

James blames (hey, that rhymes…) Stuart MacBride. James was writing his epic fantasy series when Stuart told him to stop doing that. So James wrote a few short stories to see if he could write crime, but he hasn’t been able to totally shake off the fantastic element. Hence the demons.

James Oswald

Is evil a noun or an adjective? It can be both, but James uses it as an adjective. And he says that publishers want something different, as long as it’s the same as everything else. Gordon has a plan for putting two politicians into the same room, having the First Minister murder another Minister…

Sex? Well, Gordon doesn’t think he could write it very successfully. And can you let your mother read it? James doesn’t believe the reader should know about the detective’s sex life. They can have one, but you don’t need the details. Whereas Alexandra likes sex and so do her characters. She wants the stories to have erotic suspense, and besides, the books go on for too long for the characters not to have sex. But James said he feels the suspense can still be there with clothes on.

Have they met evil people? Gordon said you can’t possibly know. Alexandra thinks you can, and she has encountered many evil people in the past. James has led a sheltered life, but has come across evil intent, even if people are not evil.

Gordon Brown

Gordon said that if something feels gratuitous, then it probably is. It’s better to imply than to describe. It’s harder, but better, to get inside people’s heads. Alexandra gave up screenwriting because she didn’t like the ‘torture porn’ she was expected to write. She writes about violence, but doesn’t like to read about extreme violence. Humour, according to James, is true to life, so you need it in a book. If there is none, it makes the book hard to read.

Writing series – Alexandra has written two books, and is working on the third, but doesn’t know how long she would continue. Feedback from readers is a good thing. Gordon will write more if he likes the characters, but if he tires of them it’s hard to make it fresh. James doesn’t know. He’s got a contract for six McLean novels, and since his detective doesn’t die at the end of book six, there is scope for more. He gets to know him better with each book, so could go on forever.

Have they researched the supernatural? Well, there seems to be some ground rules about demons. Alexandra has read up on the rules. James relies on Buffy, and Gordon talked about getting the Glasgow underground wrong. The trains might go round and round, but you could still be on the wrong platform.

Sophie Hannah on Poirot

Sunday morning at Bloody Scotland just had to mean Sophie Hannah on writing the new Poirot. As Alex Gray who talked to Sophie said, it’s the kind of thing that will make you very excited. There had been a lot of serendipity involved in her getting the job, which involved Sophie’s crazy maverick of an agent (a man with hints of Sophie’s mother, Adèle Geras), a HarperCollins editor, Agatha Christie Ltd, and the fact that Sophie already had an idea for a plot that she simply couldn’t make fit into her own novels.

A life-long Agatha Christie fan, Sophie knew the books very well (and hearing her talk about them made me want to rush home and start re-reading), and like Poirot she is rather OCD (in her case about the tassels on her Persian rug). She reckons that David Suchet is Poirot, but she didn’t write with him in mind. There is a strong film interest in her book, The Monogram Mysteries, but as she pointed out, David Suchet has said he won’t do more Poirot.

Sophie Hannah

The novel is set in 1929 in the gap between The Mystery of the Blue Train and Peril at End House. Poirot has gone on holiday, to temporary lodgings opposite his own flat (which seems to have been inspired by Sophie’s father, Norman Geras), in order to be free from people seeking his help. The story is told from the point of view of a young detective called Catchpool, to avoid Sophie having to try and imitate Agatha’s style of writing. Catchpool is there to offset Poirot, to be bright, but obtuse.

One of the many coincidences in her being given the task of writing the book was that long before this she had booked a family holiday staying at Agatha Christie’s house, Greenway. Another odd thing was that the week they were there, the filming of Dead Man’s Folly took place on the property. Sophie worked every evening, and by the time the holiday was over, she had the whole novel in her head. She is ‘very serious about crime fiction’ which is the best kind of fiction.

She accidentally invented a new way of writing while jotting down her ten page plan, when it became 100 pages with every detail of the book. Sophie found that this meant she could forget worrying about plotting while also trying to write nicely, as the job had already been done. (She has since written her latest novel in this way as well.)

Before Sophie was allowed to go public with the news about her book, she discovered on Twitter that feelings go very deep when it comes to people taking over writing somebody else’s work, and she was shocked but not worried. She sat down and thought about it and came to the conclusion it wasn’t morally wrong, and that real fans would want to read a new book, and others were free to not read it. Most of her Twitter followers have since come round, with the help of tea and scones, except for Troy in Minnesota.

There was no reason to list what had to be in the book; she knew instinctively what it needed. She’d be happy to write another Poirot, but does not feel she should be the one to write about Miss Marple – a shrewd old bat – but this would be better done by someone else, like Lee Child…

Her Christie favourites keep changing, but Murder on the Orient Express remains on top, along with Sleeping Murder, and more recently Lord Edgware Dies (it’s got the best murderer in it) and After the Funeral (best motive) and Appointment With Death (psychological tyrant).

People who say Agatha was not a terribly great writer are wrong. There’s a reason Agatha Christie sold more books than anyone else, apart from the Bible and Shakespeare. The books can be read by a 12-year-old ill in bed, or a middle aged professor. They are the perfect blend of simple and complex; funny but filled with darkness, suffering and torment. Sophie reckons that people who say the books are no good ‘might just be a bit stupid.’

Sophie Hannah

The last question of the morning came from ‘Troy  in Minnesota,’ or so he claimed. Probably here for his tea and scones. Sophie said she likes rules, whether for poetry, crime or Agatha Christie. And her own next book has a bit of Golden Age Mystery in it, now that her appetite for such things has been awakened.

Alex Gray spoke for all of us when she said that we would happily have stayed another hour. At least. I feel sorry for anyone who didn’t get out of bed early enough to hear Sophie talk Christie.

Into the unknown

The day had its ups and downs. Twice, in fact. I’d carefully chosen my morning event at Bloody Scotland to be down at the Albert Halls, so you can work out what had to happen. Had to collect my ticket at the Stirling Highland Hotel first, way up where I was on Thursday. The Resident IT Consultant drove me there, and while I got the tickets and hobbled down the hill again, he drove home, parked the car and walked back to the Albert Halls. (Because, yes, I had given him permission to join me.)

Sharon Bolton, Helen Fitzgerald and Julia Crouch

Apart from venue, I had chosen events with people I don’t know. Leaving your comfort zone and all that. The day began with Domestic Noir as written by Sharon Bolton, Helen Fitzgerald and Julia Crouch. They each read a short piece, and that was pretty chilling stuff. I’m not sure I’d have the guts to read the whole book, by any of them.

All three believe in starting with a punchy first sentence, because you can’t afford not to. The reader should be able to tell it’s not chick lit, but hard-hitting crime. It’s the editor’s job to tell them when there is too much housework in a book. Well-ordered tins of food is very scary, and so is an unreliable narrator. Sharon even has an unreliable main character.

Helen Fitzgerald

None of them reckon they need to write about feminism. It’s obvious from their books. Helen spoke of Australian radio announcements when there are bushfires. If you can see flames, don’t leave your house. It’s too late. Sharon talked about snakes in Midsomer country, and Julia has a past travelling in Greece that involved drunken, unseemly behaviour. (She looked so nice, too.)

Helen Fitzgerald and Julia Crouch

They find their children useful as sources of information and style, and while Julia had borrowed a friend’s Cath Kidston type house for a book, Sharon went out of her way to find a ‘skanky’ riverside setting.

Helen works part time, having gone crazy, alone in her attic. Sharon said she’s an unsociable creature who works best alone, with the dog to tell her it’s time for lunch. Although Twitter is good to check when things aren’t going so well.

Sharon Bolton

Both Sharon and Julia know how their books should end, but will often change as they go along. Helen knows where she is going, and even has a last line that she aims for. Humour is necessary and contact with readers is good. They all listen to their editors, and writing can be ‘sheer hell to go through, but worth it in the end.’

Afterwards we repaired to the bookshop for signings, and I enjoyed a mug of tea and cake, and a good read. As I left, I found Peter Robinson, whose event came next, sitting incognito-ish in the foyer. I think that meant he wasn’t really there, but his fans recognised him and came up to chat.

I climbed up the hill, having sent the Resident IT Consultant home, wondering why the Back Walk gave me vertigo going up, when down had been OK. My afternoon event was about Glasgow Gangsters with Andrew Davies and Bryan McLaughlin, chaired by Douglas Skelton. Andrew is a crime historian, specialising in street gangs,  and Bryan is a retired Glasgow detective, who has written a book about his work.

Andrew Davies

Street gangs happen because of poverty, over-crowding and unemployment. Andrew compared the smaller number of gang members in places like Coronation Street, small streets of terraced housing, with the Glasgow tenements, where you could literally be on the wrong side of the street, on someone else’s turf, and be killed for it.

Bryan, who hails from Easterhouse, reckoned the 1960s weren’t as dangerous as the 1920s or 30s, and that it was mainly territorial fights rather than other crimes. Andrew has scoured newspaper libraries for everything on crime and gangs in Glasgow, including moving there for six months to learn more. Chicago crime featured heavily in the papers, and both authors reckoned newspapers could have been partly to blame for the reputation of gangs and individual criminals.

Bryan McLaughlin

According to Bryan, Manchester’s Moss Side is worse than Glasgow is now. There is less violence, now that it is mainly drugs, because you’d be stupid to attack a potential customer. Questions from the audience covered things like human trafficking and what gangsters did in the war.

Then there was more signing, in yet another bookshop, with people doing literary chairs to fit in behind the available tables. I did that thing I rarely do, which is buy a book. (For tomorrow. James Oswald. Thought I’d better be prepared. As I exited the bookshop I found myself face to face with James. As you do.)

Came across Bloody Scotland’s Lin Anderson, who had been collared by someone outside the Ladies (which might not be the best of places to waylay people). After which it was time for me to make my second descent of the day. I won’t be able to keep this up…

Off the Page with Cathy Cassidy

Deep down I knew. All day I stalked round the house ‘just knowing’ that whichever coffeeshop I picked for meeting Cathy Cassidy in, it would be the one that was closed. Luckily I was wrong. The place gave us half an hour before turfing us out. We drank fast and then we ran. But not before Cathy had insisted on paying. I told her it was my turn as she paid last time, and her retort to that was incredulity that anyone would remember. Remember? I even have a photo of her money.

Cathy Cassidy's fiver

So, anyway. Cathy came to Stirling on this momentous day for Scotland, feeling jealous because she is no longer eligible to vote. She was doing an event for Off the Page at the Tolbooth, and she is such a nice person that she agreed to meet up with me before it, only to be shown the door. Cathy even acknowledged that I had been right when I said her hotel was posh. (Of course I’m right about these things.) And it was conveniently close to the venue, so we only needed to climb that hill once and then back down again. (Note to Stirling Council: At 19.45 a witch needs street lights to manouvre herself safely down that hill!)

Tolbooth

Over our swift ‘coffee’ we swapped family stories, and then we climbed some more. The nice people at the Tolbooth let us sit the remaining time out in the bar, which was closed, but still nice. After some prepping in the auditorium, we went and sat in Cathy’s dressing room, where I could have had a shower had I been so inclined. (Glam!)

It was good to be able to case the joint before the event, and I found myself a suitable seat at the back. Met the helpful lady from Tuesday, who recognised me as the troublemaker, and I pointed out that I am not stalking her literary guests, even if it looks like that. (Not much, anyway.) When the guy with the lights heard there were two chocolate fairies coming, his face lit up. Tsk.

Cathy Cassidy

At half past six the first girls came in and claimed the middle seats in the front row. All the girls (I am fairly sure there were only girls) were beautifully dressed, which is something I’ve observed about Cathy’s fans before. Quite a few mums and two dads.

This event was mainly about the latest of the chocolate box girls, Sweet Honey. Cathy said she’d answer any question – within reason – except if it had to do with numbers. And there was a no teachers allowed rule, which broke, because ‘they always slip through the net.’ So any fan who wanted detailed information on daydreaming, Cathy’s favourite subject at school, was directed to her website.

Cathy Cassidy

The teacher who told the young Cathy that daydreaming wouldn’t get her anywhere was wrong. Cathy has visited most parts of the world in her role as very popular author. (So there.) She talked about her research on chocolate, and how she ‘had to’ travel to a beach in Somerset to find where her chocolate girls live. Cathy plans her books with the help of a mood board, and we saw photos of some charming young men for Honey in the new book.

Persistence pays, as the teenage Cathy found when she finally had a story published, before landing her dream job working for Jackie magazine. These days she runs the blogzine Cathy Cassidy: Dreamcatcher with the help of her fans.

Cathy Cassidy

Her favourite book as a child was Watership Down, and it taught her that reading is cool, because although she tried to hide the silly rabbit on the book’s cover, she was chatted up by the coolest boy in school, and discovered that he loved the book too…

The most fun book to write was Dizzy, her first one. These days Cathy has to get past the throwing-the-laptop-out-of-the-window moment. Earlier this week she had a mishap where she lost a week’s work when her computer crashed (not through a window, I expect), so she now has to promise to save and back-up everything a hundred times.

As for the dreaded number question, she might have written 22 books. But generally her fans know the facts better than she does. There is more and more to do, and she feels as if she’s never going to catch up with herself. But if she does, there will be an Alice in Wonderland kind of book for us next year.

Cathy Cassidy

When question time was over, Cathy’s fans formed a signing queue faster than you could say book signing. And those who weren’t in that queue, were in the other one, buying more Cathy Cassidy books.

I tried to take photos, but basically, Cathy disappeared behind the hordes of lovely girls. And that is as it should be.

Cathy Cassidy

Me, I hobbled down the hill in the dark, as I said, musing over how Cathy manages to make every event feel special. I am an old cynic who has heard much of it before, but even I felt pretty special. If I were an 11-year-old girl I would worship her. I mean, I sort of do anyway, in my ancient way. But you can always worship more.

Firebird trilogy; get your copies today!

Firebird is finally available to buy! I’ve said my bit – as discreetly as possible – about parts one and two (don’t worry, part three will be reviewed later this week), and now I turn directly to the press release, which says it so much better. Or at least differently. If I hadn’t already read the books, this would sell them to me:

‘The FIREBIRD TRILOGY by Nick Green, publishing in September 2014

“Thoroughly entertaining, exciting, thought-provoking and powerfully written … The characters are many, all individual and lively – their dialogue is excellent, and witty … I loved it. Highly recommended.” (Susan Price, winner of the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize and the Carnegie Medal)

How do you save the world when it’s already too late? Well, don’t ask Leo Lloyd-Jones. Ask him how to steal a car, or why he got excluded from every school in Salford, but don’t come to him for help. This whole thing must be a daft mistake – and if anyone finds out, he’s done for. But Leo is about to find out why he’s here.

Project Firebird is the first book in the Firebird trilogy by Nick Green, all three volumes of which are published simultaneously this autumn. Known for the Cat Kin trilogy (published in the UK by Strident and in Germany by Ravensburger) and for The Storm Bottle (published independently to Amazon), Nick has taken a new direction with this latest series, which begins with the end of the world as we know it.

The saga’s accidental hero is Leo Lloyd-Jones, who after a daring rescue (a case of mistaken identity) finds himself part of an unlikely team: a hand-picked elite of youthful prodigies given the task of preserving civilisation, following a global catastrophe – which is just around the corner.

Sure at first that a yob like him cannot possibly belong with this bunch, Leo slowly comes to a realisation: his lawless nature could be an asset in a world in which there are no laws. Maybe, amid the ashes of the end, the misfit can become the saviour. But not even he can foresee where Project Firebird – a mission spanning hundreds of years, lifelong friendships, bitter enmity, love, heartbreak and freezing oceans – will eventually take him.

Nick: “I wanted to have a go at something big, an epic trilogy of the kind you get in fantasy fiction, but one that was firmly rooted in the real world. The Firebird trilogy is my sort of take on the traditional ‘epic quest’, except that there’s no magic as such, nothing supernatural – just real people in a situation that could theoretically happen, trying to deal with something overwhelming. As dark as it gets sometimes, it’s also a celebration of the human spirit – the ability of our species to come back from absolutely anything, and to keep hope burning no matter what else is lost.”

The volumes in the trilogy are:

PROJECT FIREBIRD, FIREBIRD DAWN, FIREBIRD RADIANT

All three will be available for Kindle from Amazon from 3rd September 2014, priced at £1.99 ($2.99) each. Subsequently they will become available on other ebook platforms.’

That’s not even £6 for all three.

Right, that’s me done. I’m off to see if I can find this launch party.

Nick Green