Category Archives: Bookshops

Dangerous book covers

And possibly dangerously murderous contents as well.

I rarely pay all that much attention to the more salesy emails I receive. No time, and no interest in buying lots of books. Especially if I don’t get round to reading them.

But there was this one yesterday, from the big bookshop chain. I have deleted it for my own safety, but I will admit to having looked more than once at the books they offered for Christmas.

I mean, they weren’t actually suggesting I buy these books to give to others, were they? I was more thinking I’d love the books for myself. But that’s a most selfish way of looking at Christmas.

What they had were a handful of crime novels, all with the most enticing covers. That’s the thing really. Some of the books may easily have been bad inside, but oh those dark, snow covered, often retro style houses, where murder is about to happen or has happened – in style, obviously – well, it’s just too hard to resist. Hence the email-deleting. Or else…

It’s the faux Agatha books, or perhaps even some real ones, that are so dangerous. Sometimes it feels as if I could sit and do nothing else but read snowy Christmas murders (as though that was a nice thing).

One Christmas, when I was 17 or thereabouts, I received The Secret of Chimneys (Hemligheten på Chimneys). I have no recollection whether Christmas featured in the story, or if it was my Christmas, all mixed up with a fancy house and all the people therein, murdering each other and stuff, but I so wanted to pack a suitcase right then and simply pop over to England.

Because that’s what it’s like, yes? All that snow, the pretty lights and the red of the holly berries. And the blood.

‘Fantasy readers are much better people’

I have to agree with Garth Nix there. Maybe. It’s not every day someone ushers a writer like Garth from the room, so I can have some peace and quiet, but this happened yesterday at Seven Stories in Newcastle. I was there to interview Cornelia Funke. Garth’s presence was an added bonus, and it was lovely to see him.

War Horse at Seven Stories

Newcastle wasn’t quite as complicated as it was when I was last there. The train was on time. The taxis behaved – sort of – normally. Seven Stories was just as nice, and they had several exhibitions on, including one about Michael Morpurgo, and as I waited for Cornelia, I visited all seven floors for a quick look. So did the woman with the pram, who was trying to locate her husband. I hope there was a happy ending for them.

Chris Riddell at Seven Stories

Cornelia arrived with her publicist Vicki, and along with Garth we were conveyed to a quiet room, with only one Tiger [who came to tea] in it. And then Garth was conveyed somewhere else. Cornelia and I had our chat, which I had ended up re-planning in the middle of the night when I came up with a more important question for her.

Cornelia Funke Blog Tour

Afterwards I climbed up to the seventh floor where I waited for Garth’s and Cornelia’s event to start, along with a few early fans, and I suffered only mild vertigo. In more than one direction, but I survived.

Cornelia Funke and Garth Nix at Seven Stories

I do love that room at the top, though! All those beams with fairy lights strung all over! And I reached the purple sofa first.

Garth talked about his premature idea of writing postapocalyptic dystopia, and he and Cornelia both agreed that writers write what they want to write. He works  towards the iceberg idea, where the story in the book is 10% with the other 90% existing in the writer’s mind. With fantasy you dig deeper, and it is more realistic than realism…

Cornelia Funke and Garth Nix at Seven Stories

A lot of fantasy is about boundaries; crossing them, or not crossing them. Cornelia who is now thinking six books for her Reckless series, is working on the fourth, which is exclusively Japanese fairy tales. Her plans for writing is to continue her three different series (which sounds like something her fans will approve of), taking them further.

There was some advice on what to do when meeting bears, but if it’s a grizzly I believe this will mostly mean the bears eating [you]. Garth grew up in Canberra where you are never far from the wilderness, and he had some tale about his father, who sounds as if he was the one who taught little Garth to lie so fluently.

Just as well, since he is monolingual, and quite jealous of Cornelia and her several languages. (She helpfully pointed out that speaking two languages protects you against Alzheimer’s.) In the US they believe Garth is English on account of how he speaks…

Cornelia Funke

After the Q&A session, Garth and Cornelia did a signing, and this was very much the kind of place where diehard fans had arrived carrying piles and piles of books, and much time was spent talking about whatever you talk about with your favourite author. Photos were taken, and even I had an offer of being photographed with Cornelia. But you know me; that’s not how I operate if I can help it.

Garth Nix

The first signing was followed by a second signing downstairs in the bookshop, where I carefully studied what they had for sale. A lot of good books.

Cornelia Funke

And then I went to check on my earlier booking for a taxi, joining other hopefuls on the pavement outside. Eventually I managed to persuade one driver that I probably was the Annie who had booked a taxi to the railway station.

(My apologies to any Annies left behind in Lime Street…)

Seven Stories

Another Light on Dumyat

And by that I mean a brand new edition of Rennie McOwan’s Light on Dumyat, and some extra ‘light’ on the book in the local Waterstones shop window. It’s as it should be, since Rennie is very local and so is his adventure, up in the Ochils, just above town. As I said in my review last year, this is Enid Blyton in Stirling. A bit better written, but not as well known as it deserves to be.

Light on Dumyat at Waterstones

Now is your opportunity to rectify this. If you are near me, you can buy it at Waterstones this week, whereas the rest of you need to wait another week until its general release date.

Rennie McOwan

Because he lives a few streets away, I thought I might occasionally see Rennie out and about, but that honour befell the Resident IT Consultant a few weeks ago when he discovered Mr and Mrs McOwan occupying ‘his’ table at the local library. They chatted a bit about the new Dumyat, and the window launch at Waterstones. (That should teach me for not visiting the library too.)

Rennie has kept ‘a lively interest in the run up to the publication of LOD and was able to mark up page proofs’ for the book. There has been plenty about the new edition in the local press, with one columnist reminiscing about reading Light on Dumyat as a boy. If only we were that young!

Rennie McOwan, Light on Dumyat

I quite like the new cover. It manages to look retro and up-to-date all at once. I prefer the retro, but I can see that in order to attract new readers you need to have something for them to identify with as well.

IMG_4393

(According to the Resident IT Consultant the map in the window is showing the wrong bit of the map… Only he would notice a thing like that!)

Covering Christmas

Daughter and I went into Waterstones the other day, went straight upstairs and looked for what I’d seen when I was last there a few weeks ago. No luck. So I descended again and walked up to the man at the till and explained I’d been sitting next to some lovely diaries last time, and where were they now???

Right inside the front door, apparently…

Mairi Hedderwick, Hebridean Pocket Diary 2017

Well, I didn’t need a diary as such, but there was no way I wasn’t going to own Mairi Hedderwick’s Hebridean Pocket Diary 2017. It’s gorgeous. It has Mairi’s Hebridean illustrations on every spread! (And it seemed Daughter was unlikely to get it for me for Christmas.) So I bought it.

And there was so much that one doesn’t strictly speaking need, but could easily develop a craving for. The diaries were next to the extra special editions of well known books with new beautiful covers, aimed at those who need to buy gifts. Had I not been a sensible Witch, I’d have come out of there with an empty credit card.

So yes, I bought myself a present. Nothing for the rest of you. Sorry.

But they – whoever they are – are fiendishly clever in thinking up new desirable book covers. The kind that would make you buy a book again, just because it was wearing new clothes.

I’d better not go into town again for a few months.

A wee week

It’s enough to make me wish I still travelled to St Andrews regularly. I know I can still go, but the other end of Fife is just that wee bit too far, even for me. At least when I feel all travelled out and all that.

Wee Book Fest

Toppings, the bookshop that opened a branch in St Andrews a couple of years ago, have taken up the book festival baton, after the closing of the theatre. And that is very nice of them, and good for the town. There are a few children in St Andrews. It’s not all Royal Princes and students.

So, this week is their Wee Book Fest, which I believe means it’s for the wee ones, not that it’s all that wee. They have a programme for the whole week, which is ambitious for a smallish town. And most of the programme looks good, and some of it so tempting that I almost got the train time table out to see if maybe perhaps I could go after all.

Wee Book Fest

But then I told myself not be silly and that I can see most of these authors somewhere closer and more convenient some other time. Probably.

It does look good, though, doesn’t it?

Sophie Hannah on her second Poirot

Despite Edinburgh’s trams trying really very hard to keep me from Sophie Hannah’s event at Blackwell’s on Thursday evening, they failed. I steamed in just as Ann Landmann was pressuring everyone to move closer, saying there – probably – wasn’t going to be any audience participation to worry about. I was just pleased to be so late but still find someone had kept Bookwitch’s corner on the leather sofa for me. That’s all I cared about.

Ann at Blackwell's

Ann was busy stroking Sophie’s new Poirot novel, Closed Casket, suggesting what a good Christmas present this lovely, shiny book would make, hint, hint. (And it would, were I the kind of person who gives people presents.) The rest of you, pay attention! Buy Closed Casket for everyone.

I have heard the background to how Sophie was given the lovely task of becoming the new Agatha Christie before. I was interested to see how much she’d be able to vary it. It was about half and half; some the same, some new.

She put most of the blame on her crazy agent, who doesn’t do reassurance terribly well, and thinks it’s OK to tell her she is ‘brilliant, etc’ when she needs to be comforted. (As an aside I reckon Adèle Geras [Sophie’s mother] was quite correct in feeling her daughter should have been made head girl at school. Sophie is a very head girl-y kind of person.)

Basically Sophie got the job (Agatha Christie, not head girl) through good timing, and also by having plenty of experience of Dragon’s Den. Whatever that is. And you ‘can’t say no to Agatha Christie’s grandson.’

Sophie Hannah

The idea for Closed Casket, which incidentally is another four-word idea [like Murder on the Orient Express], describing how the novel ends, came when she had an argument with her sister. As Sophie now ‘blames’ her Christie fixation on her father Norm’s cricket book collection, I feel we have much to thank the Geras family for.

She doesn’t know if her book is any good, but she does know that her idea is. It’s the best and simplest idea ever, and she is very fond of this book. It has an Enid Blyton style character in it, and if the first chapter is anything to go by, I can see this will be a fun book to read.

Sophie doesn’t write chronologically, and in this case she was so tired that she began with the easiest chapter. Chapter 23. The house where the murder takes place was found by extensive time spent on Rightmove until she happened upon a house in Ireland that fitted the bill. So no, nothing to do with Irish politics in 1929.

Sophie Hannah

As she doesn’t know how many Poirot books there might be, Sophie is eking out the years between 1928 and 1932, not letting much time pass between her first two mysteries, just in case. Hitherto every generation has discovered the world of Agatha Christie, but not the current one. That’s partly the reason the Christie family needed something new to offer potential readers, and the idea appears to have been successful, with fresh interest in Poirot.

No, writing Poirot is not difficult. It has ‘instantly become the thing she most wants to do.’ Even if she does have to share the profits with the Christie family. Sophie does not want to write any Miss Marple stories, if only to prevent herself from believing she actually is Agatha. She’s already half expecting them to turn over Agatha’s house Greenway to her…

Sophie Hannah

Launching Charley Chambers

If you’re like me, you might struggle to remember if Charley Chambers is the author or the book title. Or if Rachel Kennedy is. One or the other. After a long day out and about, going to Edinburgh and back, I had a book launch to attend at Stirling Waterstones yesterday evening. This happens so rarely I simply couldn’t miss it.

Charley Chambers launch

(Although, between you and me, had the comfortable armchair not appeared right next to me at the moment I really, really wanted to sit down, I don’t know what I’d have done. But I’m a Witch. I suspect either the chair or the bookshop realised that they had to deliver, without delay.)

Charley Chambers launch

I have not – yet – read Rachel’s book. Yes, Rachel is the author and Charley is the name of her heroine. Remember that! The short excerpt one of Rachel’s friends read to us last night sounded good, so I might find myself dipping into this YA fantasy. It’s Rachel’s second novel, but the first published by Fledgling’s Clare Cain.

Talking to Emma Clapperton, the sizeable audience (they had to keep putting out more chairs) found out quite a lot about Rachel, who has wanted to write books since she first held a pen in her hand. Because she herself reads YA, this decided her on doing the same, and her writer stepfather advised her to just send the book in, and that seems to have paid off with getting published.

Rachel Kennedy

Rachel can write anywhere, as long as it’s quiet, and she does very little planning beforehand, but finds that plot and characters develop as she writes. Currently writing the sequel to Charley Chambers, Rachel also has a few chapters of another book written; not a fantasy, but one which we all seemed to like the sound of. She doesn’t like editing, and finds things like cutting thousands of words pretty hard.

Rachel Kennedy

Her favourite book might be Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and you can always find things to inspire you wherever you are, but especially in Glasgow. With a job and a young daughter, plus books to write, time to read has to be carved out of sleep time, or maybe when the writing gets tough and she needs a break for a bit.

I’d say Rachel has refreshingly many opinions on things. All too often you have to drag thoughts out of people, but here they just popped out. She is so right about one thing; no matter how good a book is, someone will dislike it. And that’s why you sometimes get rejected by publishers.