Tag Archives: Formby Books

Formby Books

You have another six weeks to shop at Formby Books. After that, Tony Higginson will close his shop for ‘good.’ Which, is not good at all.

This is the man whose enthusiasm for books and reading, and especially for children’s books, reached me all the way over here, when he was manager at Pritchards in Formby, years ago. I always meant to visit, to see what the fuss was about. But Formby is just that little bit further than is convenient from where I am.

When Pritchards closed, Tony set up his own shop. I met him soon afterwards, except I didn’t actually know it was him. The reason we met was that Tony – unlike me – never seems to feel that anywhere is too far away. He travels tirelessly; not just for his own events, but to put in an appearance when his author pals do events elsewhere.

Tony Higginson and Philip Caveney

And tireless is what he has been, arranging events in the shop, and at larger venues when necessary. He went out of his way to invite me to his ScareFests in Waterloo, and he was there to rescue me when I was lost and locked out, ‘wasting’ his money buying me a drink in the pub.

Tony knows everybody. And everybody knows him. The man reads an incredible number of books, even allowing for him not ever sleeping. I simply don’t want to hear about all the books he’s read, because it makes me feel inadequate.

But this kind of enthusiasm isn’t enough. Not enough people come into his shop to buy books. I find that hard to understand. There are far too many shops where staff aren’t interested in you, or know very much about what you might like to read. My fear is that if a shop run by someone like Tony can’t survive, then there isn’t much hope for anyone, other than maybe the biggest.

I kept thinking I’d get the Resident IT Consultant into the car and off we’d go for the day, visiting bookshops in the Northwest. I’ve left it too late for Formby. Should have gone years ago. (Not that any purchases I could have made would have been big enough to secure the future of the shop. But still.)

Sefton Super Reads 2013

Lady with lamp

It was time for another Sefton (‘see if you can find us this time’) Super Reads yesterday afternoon. And yes I could. Eventually. This venue, Southport Arts Centre is even larger than Crosby Civic Hall, and was thereby proportionally harder to find. But you can’t keep a good witch away. (I had a choice of Sefton on Tuesday or Carnegie today…)

Tony Higginson

You could call it Ladies’ Day, since it was the girls on the shortlist who made it to Southport. Tony from Formby Books seemed to feel that recent fatherhood (David Walliams) or living in Italy (Fabio Geda) was reason enough to stay at home. And he came up with no excuse whatsoever for J D Sharpe.

Tony and Lesley with Barbara Mitchellhill, Ruth Eastham and Caroline Green at Sefton Super Reads

And then there was Ruth Eastham who had come here all the way from Italy. (Girls rule!) Caroline Green came from London, and Barbara Mitchelhill had done something for the first time (or so she confided to me) and had had eyes for the Manchester train only. But she was nevertheless the first one to arrive.

So, when I had finally deduced that what I wanted was the enormous building in the middle of Southport, on its impressive Lord Street, I popped in and asked for more directions. Was told that I wanted the same as ‘that lady’ so followed her, and found it was Barbara. Which is why we shared travelling information with each other, as we waited for the others.

It’s a fabulous old/new theatre and library and museum, which has been done up so recently that not all areas are 100% ready and there is a fresh paint kind of smell. The theatre we were in was great, and the charming man in charge of it serves coffee very nicely. (It seems we had a narrow escape. The people before us had been served dinner by staff from Fawlty Towers.)

Books at Sefton Super Reads

When the invited school children were given a guided tour of the place, the rest of us tagged along, admiring the chandeliers and stucco ceilings and purple armchairs.

Tony with Barbara Mitchellhill and Ruth Eastham at Sefton Super Reads

After threatening the audience with a Latin lesson and some singing, Tony introduced the three ladies, before opening the floor to Q&A. Writing a book takes anything between two months and three years. All three authors save the stuff they’ve written but have decided not to use. Just in case.

Caroline had an inspiring teacher in Year 6, after which there was a gap in writing until she was an adult. Barbara loved Enid Blyton, but after the age of twelve she found her library so stuffy that she went off reading. Meanwhile Ruth relied on reading recommendations from librarians.

Caroline Green

Character names can be difficult, especially historical ones. These days you can be called anything (Caroline made up the name Kyla for her book, only to find Teri Terry had done exactly the same) but in Shakespeare’s time there were only certain names to choose from.

Barbara had inspiration for her 16th century novel, Road to London, from The X Factor. But she herself would really like to be Anthony Horowitz.

Ruth Eastham

Ruth began by reading Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials ‘backwards’ but was still very impressed. And Caroline has read everything by Marcus Sedgwick and thinks he’s fantastic.

They were all a little embarrassed to admit they hadn’t read each other’s books, but at least Ruth has now put the other two on her tbr pile. And I can no longer remember why Barbara told us that she ‘likes killing people!’ but I’m sure she only kills for a good reason.

Barbara Mitchellhill

After learning all about our three ladies, it would have been a bit of an anticlimax if the winner of the Sefton Super Reads had not been one of them. But you can relax. She was there!

Before Ruth Eastham could receive her winning trophy, there were prizes for best book reviews to be awarded. The participating children had read and reviewed the shortlisted books, and there was a first and second prize for a review of each of the six books.

Barbara Mitchellhill, Ruth Eastham and Caroline Green at Sefton Super Reads

Once the winners had received their book tokens and been photographed with the authors, it was time for Ruth’s winner’s speech (when all she wanted to do was show Caroline her trophy).

Long before the afternoon was over, the children had bought nearly all the books for sale and queued up to have them signed, and to be photographed with their favourite author. (And it has to be said, one school – very sensibly – ate a late lunch first.)

Signing at Sefton Super Reads

I had rather witchily managed to put my copy of the winning book, The Messenger Bird, in my bag before I left home, so I joined the signing queue.

Then it was time for goodbyes, with all three authors sprinting off to catch trains. Possibly even the same train. I’m hoping to see them at another award ceremony soon. And having checked out Barbara’s and Caroline’s books, I’m thinking I’d like to read them.

As for me, I called the Resident IT Consultant (who had very kindly driven me all the way to Southport) and ordered him to take me for a walk on the pier. I hadn’t come all the way to the seaside not to see where the sea ought to have been if it had any sense at all.

Southport Pier

This being Southport, there was no sea below the pier, obviously, but we had a most acceptable stroll along it anyway. Made the mistake of not buying hot donuts as we passed on the way out, meaning the mug of tea the Resident IT Consultant bought me at the end of the pier, had to go unaccompanied. But we bought some on our way back, and had them for dessert.

Very nice. Very seasidey. Apart from the distinct lack of sea.

Bookwitch bites #99

The children’s book world is a very nice place, but not 100% so. My estimation of Terry Deary sank somewhat this week. Not because he thinks it’s OK to do away with libraries. It’s his right to have opinions, and I’m sure there is a (very) small grain of truth in there, somewhere. But it appears he felt it was all right to get personal when Alan Gibbons turned out not to agree with him. Here is what Alan had to say in reply, and he has to be admired for the way he did so. He’s got style!

Rhys - Thirst For Fiction

I don’t know where Rhys of Thirst For Fiction blog fame started off his reading. These days I assume he gets all the same books I do. But he might well have been to a library at some point during his 16 or 17 years. The library is where I first met Caroline Lawrence, and here she can be found talking to Rhys, in an interview that is so much better than what I managed with Caroline.

How did you people do with getting your hands on the free ebook The Storm Bottle during the last couple of days? Don’t tell me you forgot. It’s no longer free and you will have to fork out 77p. But it will be worth it. Katherine Langrish posted a pretty perfect blog about Nick Green on Thursday. With people like her and Rhys around I will soon have to hang up my broomstick.

Formby Books

Another tireless book person is Tony Higginson, whose Formby Books is opening in new premises today. It sounds like he needed more space, and that can only be a good thing. (Please tell me those are the customer toilets, Tony? Or the fitting rooms, where you try new books out before taking them home, perhaps?) The address you want is 5 The Cloisters, Halsall Lane, Formby. Run along now! There is an absolutely perfect book waiting for you.

Formby Books

Neither present nor correct

Having planned for almost a year to attend the third Scarefest in Crosby, I ended up not going at all, so missed seeing and hearing the charming Barry Hutchison, Curtis Jobling, David Gatward, Jon Mayhew, Joseph Delaney, Philip Caveney, Ruth Symes and Tommy Donbavand. Formby Books had organised a whole Saturday of horrible things for the young and innocent, and I’m so sorry not have been able to drag myself there.

I know! I’ll steal a photo off facebook! I’m sure facebook was there.

Philip Caveney, David Gatward, Tommy Donbavand, Barry Hutchison and Jon Mayhew

Hmm, that’s not all of them. Perhaps a few perished early? Oh well. I know the feeling.

There is a certain something about late September and early October. Book festivals. You couldn’t go to them all even if you wanted to. Actually, maybe you could, if you’re happy with a day here and a day there. I’m so greedy that I expect to ‘go for a while.’

What I am currently not doing is roaming around Cheltenham. But oh how I wish I were. They have some interesting people on offer this year. Even J K Rowling is there. And whatever you say, she is a writer first. Many of the other tempting names are celebrities first. Actors who have written a book. Television presenters. Politicians. But is is tempting. Benedict Cumberbatch. As I said, tempting.

I have missed Bath, and Wigtown, and I have a feeling I am in the midst of missing Bouchercon in Cleveland. Luckily Peter Rozovsky is doing his duty and posting daily, by the looks of it. Dead Guy has someone there, as well. Facebook (there it goes again…) has offered up countless photos of people posing with their favourite crime writer. One day I will do that too. If I was the type to pose with authors, which I’m not, unless it’s done under duress. Stephen Booth is doing an event called Murder in the Great Outdoors, and that just sounds so frightfully healthy, don’t you think?

And so is, to some extent, the non-attendance at countless festivals. Rest. Sleep…

Tony Higginson, David Gatward, Barry Hutchison, Tommy Donbavand, Jon Mayhew, Philip Caveney and Joseph Delaney at Scarefest 3 - photo by Sean Steele

PS It was only poor Curtis who didn’t make it through the evening. In fact, he didn’t make it at all. And Ruth Symes who had an early pumpkin arrangement.

Pre-mcbf midweek miscellany

Fearing I might not be able to bite you this weekend, I will give you a mixed bag of stuff today instead.

Fear. Yes. It’s the done thing. Meg Rosoff blogged the other day about all the dangers of going to the library. Is it safe now to admit to having omitted to fit a stair gate when Offspring were at their most vulnerable? I am a coward most of the time, but there are some things I feel you just need to risk, or we risk (hah) losing sight of common sense. I eat old food, too.

Shortlisted books for the Scottish Children's Book Awards

And I am afraid I daren’t say anything about this rather excellent shortlist for the Scottish Children’s Book Awards 2012. The three books for older readers comprise one author whom I admire a great deal (Elizabeth Laird) and the other two just happen to have written what must count as my bestest books (so far) this year, even outside Scotland. That’s Elizabeth Wein (odds that an Elizabeth wins?) and Barry Hutchison. And I see that even more favourites narrowly missed the shortlist. They clearly need a longer shortlist. Or more awards.

The younger shortlists (you know what I mean!) are also full of jeopardy, with people being eaten and there being nuts, soldiers, crocodiles and lions.

A man who lives dangerously is Tony Higginson of Formby Books. He works too hard. Now he has added to his burden and blogs in his spare (double hah) time. Double danger there next Thursday (and I’m telling you now because I plan to be busy for a while) when he has invited customers to a crime barbecue. I mean, books and flames! Stephen Booth is the one who will be flambéed. Or was that the burgers?

This is assuming Tony makes it through his day. I believe I have counted three more events he’s doing that day, which is the day I already have so much on that I am wondering if I can crawl out of bed for the piano tuner at the crack of dawn. I suppose, take one event after another… But no trips for me to the coast and Tony.

Next year I’ll send out dates when I’m available.

Bookwitch bites #73

How about we go totally miscellaneous today? I feel all higgledy piggledy, completely lacking in plans and any greater pictures.

This lovely pirate photo appeared before me only yesterday. It’s really Marie-Louise Jensen behind that mask, and I gather the handsome young assistant pirate is her son. I wholeheartedly approve of people who make full use of their children, and junior is to be admired for agreeing to be dressed up. The event was for Marie-Louise’s new book, aptly titled The Girl in the Mask.

Marie-Louise Jensen

In fact, authors who dress up to ‘go to work’ in support of their work are to be admired. Normal people just have normal clothes to fret over. Have you even considered what it must feel like to get on the bus dressed like a pirate?

Stephen Davies (of Ouagadougou fame, if you recall?) also has a new book out, which is anything but masked, seeing as it’s called Goggle-Eyed Goats. I’ve not read it, and am very intrigued about Stephen’s comment re polygamy. That’s  not your typical topic for a young child’s book, but no doubt reading it will reveal all. Sort of.

I am busy missing book events here. Friday night saw Joan Bakewell at the Stockport Plaza, launching yet another new book. It’s an adult novel, so I know nothing. The reason I heard about the event was that Mrs Pendolino mentioned that her father, being childhood pals with the beautiful Joan, was wanting to go along and renew the friendship. I hope he had a good time.

And I probably won’t be going to Formby. At least not this Thursday evening, because it’s a long way and it will be dark. But I do want to. I have been meaning to visit Tony Higginson’s bookshop, and the weeks and months are simply slipping by. The fact that I won’t be there is no reason for the rest of you not going, so do pop along if Formby is within your reach.

Tony is offering a Night of Crime, for a mere £3, at six o’clock on Thursday 15th March. The ‘criminals’ are two favourites of mine, Kate Ellis and Martin Edwards, who both write crime novels, and they do it much closer to home than Formby, so perhaps I should ask them round for tea instead of haring across Lancashire in the dark.

Actually, once you start looking for events (not) to go to, there is no end of them. Although I am not totally ruling out Stephen Booth, another fairly local crime writer, at the library in Dukinfield on Wednesday. That’s at ten in the morning, so will require getting out of bed. I know they all do, but not as early.

I’ll think about it. I am always more willing the further away it is in time…

Runemarks

Yes, the eagle eyed among you will think I’ve got the wrong book here. I know that Joanne Harris has just published her second Norse gods novel, Runelight. But a witch has to catch up first, hence the reading of book one. My usual Norse rash is nowhere near as bad as I’d been afraid.

I had never read any of Joanne’s books. Until now. I am reasonably pleased with what she’s done to those old gods. (Except for the word ‘Gødfolk’, which makes me think of broilers.) I have always had some difficulty keeping track of who’s who in Norse society, and I now feel I know them a little better. Unless Joanne has been lying through her teeth and none of it was ‘true.’

Runemarks is about Maddy who has never fitted in with her family or her village. Well, there was a reason for that. Accidentally running into Odin – as you do – she has learned all sorts of new things, like magic. And inevitably there is a war between the gods and normal people and ‘the church’ coming. Maddy has to learn who to trust, which is hard among so many tricky characters.

The best bits are the dialogue, which is clever and funny, and the action. I did find some of the back story a little slow. But as I said, the dialogue is witty and satisfying. Of the characters I grew fond of Ethelberta. And Sugar-and-Sack (who I renamed Sugar-and-Snack) is a nice goblin who will go far, if only literally.

For all Joanne Harris fans in the northwest, there is an event tonight  arranged by Formby Books at Crosby Civic Hall. Well worth going to for anyone not yet succumbed to travel fatigue.

The Sefton ScareFest 2

Skeleton 2

Barry Hutchison and I are doomed. At least photo wise. I press. He blurs. Happily he’s not as doomed as some. Whether this is a former performer or an ex-member of the audience, I’m not sure. But almost anything can happen at ScareFests.

My train travel was a wee bit doomed yesterday. But I suppose there has to be a first time for waiting for a train on the opposite platform. (I blame Liverpool South Parkway. I have rarely seen a more confusing station. Apart from Edgware Road, of course.)

Tommy Donbavand, Joseph Delaney, Barry Hutchison, Jon Mayhew and Curtis Jobling behind the fire at Sefton ScareFest

Which will be why when I arrived at Crosby Civic Hall, Tony of Formby Books had taken his performing authors and gone to the pub. This much was clear from what the locked-in technician could tell me. ‘I have no keys. They have gone to the pub.’ Thanks to my Resident IT Consultant Tony’s mobile number was found and the scary authors were found and I was found and so on.

Curtis Jobling, Sefton ScareFest

Facebook is such an introducer of perfect strangers, that I almost didn’t say hello properly to Tommy Donbavand. We’ve shaken hands now, so must know each other. And Curtis Jobling I didn’t know at all. He seemed like a perfectly nice looking man until he did this.

Philip Caveney, Sefton ScareFest

As I mentioned earlier, we were fed. Some clowning around was done for the benefit of the photographers. The authors forced chocolate cake down and worried about laptop support for their performances. I admired Philip Caveney’s red Converses. (This thing with grown men wearing cool red shoes has to stop!)

Then it was time to descend to the level of the waiting throngs, where Philip was first to be thrown to the wolves. He survived by reading from his new book The Eye of the Serpent, and if I never hear about crawling beetles in ancient Egyptian tombs again it will be too soon.

Philip Caveney, Sefton ScareFest

Second out was Tommy who cheated by wrapping a member of the audience in toilet paper, assisted by Barry, and terrorising a perfectly good egg. Sorry, this was a nice girl, who was made to act the part of the dragon’s egg. But we had fun. Even the pumpkin had fun. It looked far too happy for a ScareFest.

Tommy Donbavand with dragon and others at Sefton ScareFest

Curtis Jobling, Sefton ScareFest

Scarecrow by Curtis Jobling

Last before the interval was Curtis, who was cooked to a crisp by then, having been made to sit more or less right inside the flames on the right of the stage. He’s a jack of all trades who can write books but also draw pretty pictures and does animation. Cool. (Well, he was hot, but you know…) It’s a neat party trick that; being able to draw scarecrows with parsnip noses, not to mention Were-Bob the Were-Builder. Who was raffled for charity. (I’d have liked him. I suppose if I’d bought a ticket I would have stood a small chance.)

Tommy Donbavand, Sefton ScareFest

Joseph Delaney, Sefton ScareFest

In the interval sweets were eaten and books were bought and signed. And people generally thronged. They could only be tempted back by the promise of having won Were-Bob and other goodies. There were prizes for best costume, and that was a hard choice, so it was lucky someone like Tommy got to pick the little cat.

Sefton ScareFest

Joseph Delaney, Sefton ScareFest

Joseph Delaney set a cracking pace after his ‘rest’, talking about book covers and what he thinks of them. He’s got a lot of book covers, and some of the more foreign ones don’t get anywhere near Preston or Lancaster in looks. Oh well.

Next was Jon Mayhew, who told us what we should ask for when the angels and the devil come calling. And then he read us the prologue to his new book, The Bonehill Curse. (It’s not out yet.) It won’t have a prologue, which will be why Jon read it and then gave it away. Authors!

Jon Mayhew, Sefton ScareFest

Last out was Barry who is still scared of squirrels. (So he should be…) There was also the small matter of scary milk cartons and cream eggs. Being a boy at heart, Barry managed to mention both number ones and number twos in his little act. It involved the kitchen sink (ew) and imaginary friends, possibly by the name of Derek. With or without knives. If the book trade runs dry he should have a go at stand-up.

Barry Hutchison, Sefton ScareFest

He just about finished on time. The reason I go on about time is that Tony thought it’d be a good thing for me not to disappear on an early pumpkin as I had planned to, but to stay and let Jon drive me (along with Philip and Curtis) to a better railway station to catch a later train.

I didn’t think it’d be possible. Philip was extricated from the proceedings. Then Curtis. No, he had more doodles to do in books. And a suitcase to pack. I found Jon and decided to hold on to him. But the man has little fans. He signed. And doodled. More books.

Now Philip had started signing. And Curtis, asked by Tony, who soon realised the error of his ways. So stop again. Then more fans for Curtis. Suitcase packed. Same fan with booklet for Jon. At this point Philip gave up all hope of ever seeing Stockport again.

Skeleton 1

It blurs. But eventually we were all squeezed into two-door car. (Ow.) Curtis sat on the windscreen liquid bottle. Nice drive into Liverpool, with lots of book talk. (And yes, I know one shouldn’t get into cars with men one has met on facebook.)

Liverpool has been so re-arranged that to get to the station you find yourself up close to the Catholic Cathedral, where you have no business being when catching trains. And then Jon missed the turning, so we went round again, not going down the one way street the wrong way as suggested by Curtis.

We decanted ourselves from small car. Hands were shaken. Witches were hugged. Philip and I headed into station despite it being five minutes too late by then. I insisted on looking at the departure board anyway, because the Resident IT Consultant has brought me up to do things like that.

Happy pumpkin

Did we catch the train?

Yes, we did. It was late. And I have not done such running for years, is all I can say. Philip ran faster, if only to make sure he didn’t have to spend an extra hour in the pub with a witch.

Curtis? Don’t know what happened to him. He wasn’t going where we went. You win some, you lose some.