Category Archives: Bookshops

Buying books?

I had some time to spare before Monday’s lunch, so called in at Waterstones West End. I don’t often go there. Mostly for events. But as it was just where I got off the bus, I felt it made sense to actually go in and actually look at the books they have.

Anyway, they have armchairs to sit in, so I reckoned I could always rest if it got too much for me.

Conveniently the categories I’m most interested in were all on the same floor. They were Children’s, Crime and Fiction. And Fantasy.

As you know, I never – well, hardly ever – buy books. This time I went in with the revolutionary thought that maybe I would. If they had what I could want, and if it felt right.

There’s a book I’ve requested several times from the publishers. It never arrives. Some books are like that. I try to console myself with the thought that it’s unlikely that it’s because they don’t like me, or because they can’t afford to send me books (considering how much else they send).

So I looked for that book, and found it, along with its successor. That tells you how long I’ve been asking. And no, they didn’t send the second book either.

Also chose an older book by an old favourite, because I wish to work my way through the as yet unread books of his.

Then I paid and got in the lift, where I remembered I had intended to look for some other book, too. Went back and searched and they had that book as well. Good for them.

I obviously can’t keep this up, but I wanted to discover what the sensation of entering a bookshop and spending money would be like. That side of things was fine.

Was a little worried when looking over the tables of children’s books they are recommending (i.e. wanting to thrust at customers first). I’d not read very many. In fact, I’d barely heard of most of them. It got better as I searched the shelves. I could see books I’d read and liked, and the more I walked round the room, I found lots of old favourites. If there had been any needy children there, I’d have pushed the lot at them.

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A perfectly ordinary Monday

Or was it?

As the rest of the literary world gathered in London for the announcement of this year’s Carnegie and Kate Greenaway medalists, I made my way to Edinburgh for lunch with a literary lady. It’s always nice to get out and see new places and new people and to pretend to be a proper grown-up. So over 35 years after eating at Brown’s in Oxford, I’ve now tried the more local-to-me branch north of the border.

On the way I passed Charlotte Square. It looks so small when you see it without a book festival on top. Just grass, and trees, with a fence round it. Soon, though.

For anyone who missed it, Geraldine McCaughrean is our latest Carnegie winner – second time round, I believe – for Where the World Ends, and Sydney Smith won the Kate Greenaway medal with the book Town is By the Sea. Thank goodness it was someone as senior as Geraldine who won, because who else would have the nerve to tell publishers off for dumbing down the language in children’s books?

By the time the lunch was over and my literary lady and I made our way to two different shoe shops; one for her, one for me, Son had begun his PhD viva ordeal at the nearby university. I’d have been there if they let people in to watch, but they don’t. I will simply have to assume the boy was brilliantly clever and dazzled everyone in the room, including the not one, not two, but three supervisors. And, erm, the specially flown in expert. From Norway, I believe.

I gather Son is now Dr Son.

On the train home I continued reading one of the books one of his supervisors – Peter Graves – has translated. But more about that some other day.

This year’s Bloody [Scotland] plans

If you thought that rubbing shoulders with crime writers at the Coo in Stirling, during the Bloody Scotland weekend in late September, sounds like fun, you can forget it. The event sold out in no time at all.

But there’s other daft stuff you could do, unless you delay so that these other events also sell out. Personally I fear this might happen more than I’d find convenient. You know, I don’t want to commit just yet. But I don’t want to be left without, either.

Bloody Scotland

There’s more than one event where crime writers do something else, like sing. Or pretend to be a television quiz show. There is even a musical, written by Sophie Hannah and Annette Armitage, which to begin with I believed to last seven and a half hours, but it’s just two ‘sittings’ so to speak. Or there’s the cast and crew of Agatha Raisin. You can go to the football. I haven’t yet, but there is no saying how long I can hold out.

If you fancy more ‘ordinary’ events where authors talk about their books, look no further. Bloody Scotland has a lot of them. I see James Oswald has a new detective. (I don’t like change!) There’s an event on breaking barriers with three Asian authors and one Icelandic one. Or there are more Icelanders in a separate event, if you prefer.

They have Swedes. Well, they have one real Swede, Christoffer Carlsson, from my neck of woods. He’s nice. Although not so sure about his murders. Then there is a French fake Swede, but who writes about Falkenberg, which I highly approve of. And someone else foreign who at least lives in Sweden.

It’s 2018, so violence against women has to be addressed. Our favourite pathologist is coming back. So is Pitch Perfect, where they let the hopefuls in. The Kiwis are coming, and Chris Brookmyre has got a new name as he writes with his wife.

They also offer some of the biggest names in the business, but you’ll need to read the rest of the programme yourselves. And come and see the torchlit procession on the Friday night!

Bloody Scotland Torchlight Procession

We’ve lost that community feeling

I had honestly forgotten about it. Totally, I mean, and not just the finer details. A while ago a freak pingback on a nine-year-old post on here made me have a look to see what it was. To begin with I didn’t even recall it as I read, but slowly it came back to me.

It, and the 27 comments, from nine authors, including the then children’s laureate Michael Rosen. Usually I remember my more successful posts, even in the past. But not this one.

The funny thing is, it started as nothing more than a disappointed review of a television programme on school libraries. A programme about Michael Rosen visiting a school. I wanted a good moan, and then I was fine.

But people commented like there was no tomorrow, and then, as I said, Michael himself pitched in with a couple of very long comments. I don’t even know how he found the post. (Until that day a few weeks ago, I’d been proud that he’d joined in a discussion on a blog I’d written for the Guardian…)

By now, it’s not just the comments on blogs that we’ve lost; it’s the school libraries too. So from that point of view, the programme is obsolete, even if our opinions are still valid.

Much as I enjoy the bantering on Facebook, it is what killed blog communities. I miss those comments and the way people returned to see what had been said and then offered up more thoughts. I get the hits, and if I hadn’t disabled the like button, people would like my posts.

But most of any chatting about anything I write on here now happens on Facebook. That’s not bad, but it happens away from the actual article we’re discussing, and it’s limited to my friends, or friends of friends, if someone shares. But you can’t do what I did that day recently, which is revisit the post, and then read all the comments from the past.

I called it a freak pingback. It really was, because it wasn’t new, it was a repeat from nine years ago, and presumably happened for some technical reason in cyberspace. But revisiting the whole thing was interesting.

Al Capone Throws Me a Curve

I love Gennifer Choldenko’s Al Capone books so much that when she told me the latest one wasn’t being published in the UK, I bought my own copy of Al Capone Throws Me a Curve. It was worth it.

Gennifer Choldenko, Al Capone Throws Me a Curve

Moose Flanagan is now 13 [and a half] and tall and kind and capable, and everyone expects a lot from him. But he’s still only 13, and it’s late May 1936 on Alcatraz, and school is about to finish and Moose wants to spend the summer playing baseball, hoping to join the team, just like other boys.

His older sister Natalie is about to turn 17, and needs to be watched over by Moose, because being autistic and living side-by-side with convicts on a rock isn’t ideal. Moose also needs to keep an eye on the Warden’s daughter, Piper, which turns his summer more into ‘girl-sitting’ than baseball playing.

So far it’s been quite easy to overlook Moose’s mother, but she has to be taken into account as well, and there is more woman trouble from Mrs Trixle, meaning Moose really has his work cut out. There’s only so much one boy can do.

This is a very much a baseball story and I happily admit to understanding almost none of it, except that Moose is dead keen. How to convince the team to take him and his friend on is another matter, though.

The story will ring true to anyone with an autistic sibling; how everything turns into being about them, and how you have to be the good one, putting your own needs aside. But even Natalie has some surprises up her sleeve. And when all is said and done, Moose discovers that while baseball is important, the safety of his family comes first.

Playing baseball with Al Capone? I’m not sure I recommend it.

This book, on the other hand, I do. And if you’ve not read the others, get them all. This is US history and a story about a boy and an autism book, all rolled into one. A great period piece!

For Mother

If you didn’t make the most of the UK Mother’s Day before Easter, or the US/Swiss/many other countries’ Mother’s Day a couple of weeks ago, I give you your third time lucky. Sweden, tomorrow.

I happened to visit a bookshop yesterday, and found a display of books suggested for Mother.

Jenny Colgan, Den lilla bokhandeln runt hörnet

One of them was by Jenny Colgan, who hails from not too far away from Bookwitch Towers, so I feel some kinship, and it was nice to see her translated work some distance away, and it’s good to know she’s suitable for Mothers. (I’m not sure, but it might be The Bookshop on the Corner, which I suppose makes sense to encounter in a bookshop, even if not on a corner.)

Well, it’s that, or a bunch of handpicked Lilies of the Valley.

Or both.

(And since you ask, yes, it’s a terribly blurry photo.)

Steve Cole – ‘Made to eat salad’

Steve Cole

On the 482nd anniversary of Anne Boleyn losing her head, Steve Cole walked into the Tolbooth in Stirling for his Off the Page event, to ‘deafening applause’ on a day when a few other things were also happening. Royal weddings, football, warm sunny weather. That kind of thing. He was going to tell us about writing, with the help of a ukulele. The telling, more than the writing, I believe.

Stirling Off the Page

I’d successfully climbed the hill, almost all the way to the castle, and Steve had come all the way from England, and this after his first – very eventful – encounter with oysters. The plane’s cabin crew had apparently questioned whether he really should be flying, but Steve insisted, and with a huge stack of sick bags at his side, he made it all the way.

Steve Cole

He treated us to his version of the Sick Man Blues, on ukulele. I shouldn’t think anyone in the audience will be having a meal of oysters any time soon.

This man who has written 157 books in the last 20 years, got his career started with the diary they had to write for Mrs Cave at school, every Monday. It got so boring he began to make it up, and seemingly Mrs Cave was also bored, so she told him to continue making things up.

Steve Cole

From oysters to salads, and more vomiting, this time courtesy of the dinner ladies at school. Once Steve’s parents realised they made him eat salad every Wednesday, an early introduction of packed lunches occurred. This was the dark days of the 1970s. But let that be a lesson to you; tell your parents if you are ever forced to eat your salad.

Some years after the eight-year-old Steve wrote his own Mister Men book, Mister Paint, he moved on to his Astrosaurs series of books, partly with the help of Enid Blyton’s daughter. The nice one. He told us in great detail how the dinosaurs got their names, but I suppose it’s what you should expect from the office junior at Noddy magazine.

Steve Cole

From Astrosaurs Steve went to writing Doctor Who stories, but then felt the need to return to writing about his own characters. Which must be why he borrowed Lucy the labrador from a child in the audience, and made Lucy – who I am sure is an upright, if doggy, citizen – into a secret bank robber, Canine X, master of crime. It was really to show how you can play with everyday stuff, or dogs, and make them do surprising things. Stories are everywhere.

Steve’s own alternate reality features cows. On this sad anniversary (for Anne Boleyn) he tested the audience on their knowledge of the wives of Henry VIII, and we eventually arrived at ‘the other Anne’ [of Cleves] who appears in his first CIA book. Something to do with a concrete cowpat.

This was a suitably Royal ending to an event on a day when we could hardly avoid hearing about other royal wives.

Steve Cole feedback, or book selling

The children bought books, and filled in feedback forms. (I didn’t, as I was a bit embarrassed about my age. I almost claimed I’m a year older than I am…)

Steve Cole

Steve encouraged the children to ask him questions over the book signing, and as far as I managed to overhear, there were several who required some writing advice.

Steve Cole

Steve Cole

There just might have been a hug for me as we swapped questions. I asked if he’ll ever eat oysters again, and Steve asked after Daughter. I almost suggested that next time it might be she who dedicates a ‘space book’ to him.

And no, he won’t have more oysters and advised me not to, either.

As I walked down the hill, I thought, not for the first time, how very dutiful my authors are, whether it’s murderous new boots, or oysters. They persevere, and come to talk to their fans. It’s why I love them.