Category Archives: Bookshops

Hiding in full view

Sometimes I do stuff which is not all that nice. Often it’s done hurriedly, and later I might wish I hadn’t. Once I had it forced on me. And that’s the one time I don’t regret.

I used to have this irrational belief that adults can and will behave like adults. That the politics from the school playground stayed there and didn’t enter any grown-up dealings. But as I watched the new employees of a small business I was slightly connected with, come, and go, followed by childish but unpleasant gossip behind their backs, I was a bit shocked. However, I assumed that what was said was mostly true, because I couldn’t see the point of them lying.

Until one day I realised that I was next. I wasn’t employed by the business, nor was I paid. I had believed this would safeguard me from being ‘fired.’ And I wasn’t, because I simply walked away.

But I could see that it was likely similar gossip would be used about me, and potentially to people I liked and who I would prefer if they continued liking me to the same extent they’d done in the past. And belatedly I understood that what had been said about all those other people had not been true, but more a way for the business owners to justify the departure of yet another member of staff.

What to do? Well, I blogged about it. No, not about that as such, but about what had gone before. It wasn’t nice, but it was done with names changed, and only to get in there first, in case anyone ever asked. Because blog posts are dated, and I’d read enough crime stories to see the value of that. And if it wasn’t needed, then no one would be any the wiser.

It deeply offended the business owners. I was actually quite touched that they continued reading Bookwitch after what had been said between us. The thing is, I didn’t want to upset them, even though they upset me at the time. It was merely intended as a safeguard.

In the years since, I have talked to others who knew them, and I believe I know where I stand with most of them. Some continue being friendly with the business, and I don’t mind that. Others have been able to share openly how they themselves felt ‘at their hands.’

The funny thing is, I am really, really good at bearing grudges. I could grudge for Scotland. But in this case I don’t. On the other hand, when I see they are looking to recruit new staff, I don’t suggest anyone has a go. I don’t wish that experience on anybody.

If the playground could have been left where it belonged, I reckon we would all have benefitted from continued collaboration. Because when it was good, it was good. It’s just that when it wasn’t, it really, really wasn’t.


The embargo

Reading Harry Potter a week after ‘everyone’ else never bothered me. I would hope for no spoilers, but I didn’t feel an absolute urgency. We already bought two copies of the book, and three or four would have been ridiculous. Especially as I preferred to take my time over the book, savouring the adventure, not wanting to hurry, and definitely not being an officially recognised reviewer.

I’ve had today’s date in my diary for months, and suspecting a return to the secrecy Harry got, I enquired a few months ago whether this was likely to happen again. Hard to tell whether I was strung along or misunderstood. I wouldn’t have minded the answer, whatever it was. I merely wanted to know what to expect.

As with Harry Potter, I know full well that a review – by anyone – is not needed. Millions of impatient fans will buy the new book. Most of them today.

I want to savour this book as well, so there’s not going to be a hurried review. It would obviously have been different had I been sent an early copy, in good time. I know there are copies. I know of some people who’ve had one. I’ve seen a photo of one. So not only do I know they are numbered (woe if your number ends up on eBay), but I know who’s got the number I’d have liked…

What I don’t know, at the time of writing this, is if today’s post will bring anything, or if I should put my shoes on and walk to the nearest bookshop. That is another bit of information I’d have appreciated, and I could have ordered online, in advance.

While a reply to my emails would have been nice, no one owes me anything.


Isn’t it marvellous what you can do with the word noir? All these crime festivals where noir can be slotted in quite effortlessly. Like here, in Noireland, which as any fool can see is short for Northern Ireland.

That’s Belfast, really. It’s where you want to go to spend the weekend of 27th to 29th October. Sorry about the short notice.


I’d like to go myself, as it looks both tempting and is a short hop across the water from here. It’s organised by David Torrans, the man famous for running Belfast’s famous crime bookshop. The one who’s actually in some crime novels. It all happens at the Europa hotel, so would be convenient, too. Hotel stay. Shoulder-rubbing with crime writers. Perfect.

Judging by the photos flashing across my computer screen, Stuart Neville will be singing and playing the guitar. Many of the Irish authors I’ve come to know from the Crime Always Pays blog will be appearing. My favourite as ever is Adrian McKinty who’ll be travelling across a rather bigger water than I’d have to do.

They are borrowing a few people from Scotland, like Craig Robertson and Abir Mukherjee. From England Sophie Hannah, and from my own neck of woods Arne Dahl. So, not all Irish, but satisfyingly Irish.

Have a look on their website. This is their first time. I’m guessing it might not be the last. I hope not, because one of these years I will get to Belfast. The Titanic, you know.

National Bookshop Day

Every day should be bookshop day. But that’s not how it is, so after the surge of new books on Super Thursday two days ago, our bookshops are celebrating being bookshops today.

I’ve known a lot of bookshops in my life, but the one that stepped forward when I thought how the best thing would be if books came a bit more evenly distributed, was Waterstones in Altrincham. It used to be semi-local to me, although not terribly close.

This is going back almost twenty years, but when we were Christmas shopping in Wilmslow en famille – which is a most uncharacteristic thing for the Witch family  to be doing – the Resident IT Consultant found a copy of Joan Aiken’s The Wolves of Willoughby Chase. I didn’t know it, but he remembered it from a long time before.

So we bought it. I think as a present for all of us. He read it again, and I read it, and Son read it. The following year I had cause to go to Altrincham, where I visited the High Street bookshop. Because you have to. Not looking for anything special, I found Black Hearts in Battersea. I bought it. It felt like it was meant. Besides, it also turned out to be what I consider the best in the whole Willoughby Chase series.

As I said, I had cause to go to Altrincham, and on my subsequent regular visits, I always popped into Waterstones, where they always had the next Joan Aiken book. It felt weird, because the shops closer to us didn’t seem to have any, and it was always the one I needed next that I found. I don’t believe I was ever disappointed.

And it’s not as if I had to wait for a new book to be published. It’s more that they didn’t seem to have all of the books at the same time, which they could have had.

The Willoughby Chase books are special to me primarily because they are very, very good  books. But also for the way I was able to buy them, one after the other.

I was about to say I couldn’t recall what the [first] shop in Wilmslow was, but Ottakar’s just popped into my mind.

Yesterday The i published an article about authors’ favourite bookshops. Toppings does well, and Hatchards. Bath in general seems to be good for books. And of course there is a difference between where authors might go to shop, and where they enjoy doing events.

As this old blog post of mine shows, there are other reasons for shopping – or not – in certain bookshops. Pushchairs and no [working] lifts would be one of them.

‘The lucrative children’s fiction market’

They usually start arriving early summer. And I usually have to leave the reading of most of them until much closer to the first Thursday in October, purely because I have too many books with earlier publication dates. Or I would throw myself at some of the tastiest October offerings. I’m only a witch.

They are the books destined to be released on Super Thursday, which is today. It’s almost ironic how in the week when I and many others are furious over the celebrity books issue, there are so many fantastic new books being published. Sally Gardner’s My Side of the Diamond which I reviewed yesterday is one such Super Thursday book. In Sally’s case I’m not in the slightest surprised she’s been chosen.

It’s like Christmas. Well, it is for Christmas, of course. And just as with Christmas when we tend to get too much of whatever it is we fancy, so do the offerings of great books in early October seem to me to be too much. I can’t appreciate them all, and I don’t even get to see every potential Bookwitch favourite published today.

The Scotsman had an article about this earlier in the week, and two things in particular struck me. One was the photo of books stacked in a bookshop, to illustrate Super Thursday. I can only assume it was sheer fluke which made it a table laden with children’s and YA books. But it pleased me to find myself face-to-face with books by Patrick Ness and Michael Grant, and others behind them.

The other was the quote above; ‘the lucrative children’s fiction market.’ I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. It’s good to feel there is money in children’s books. And if there is, it’d be great if it could be more evenly distributed and not go to the celebrities. Because the quote was in the context of one of ‘our new children’s authors, Cara Delevingne.’ Maybe that’s what was meant by lucrative – it’s what it becomes when they get someone ‘properly famous’ in.

Because all the names mentioned in the article are well-known ones, or dead and well-known ones. Not the people I mainly read and like. Much as I loved and admired Terry Pratchett and Henning Mankell, if the only live authors listed are Cara, plus Miranda Hart and Tom Fletcher, this could, well, it could give people looking for ideas on what to buy for Christmas, the wrong ideas.

The only books by celebrities I might want to read are their biographies, but I gather they are out of fashion. I wish the celebrities were too.

You’d have thought publishers wouldn’t want to unleash all the new books at once. Surely many books will go unnoticed in this avalanche?

Yes, it seems some books are being kept back a couple of weeks, like Philip Pullman’s The Book of Dust. Good for him.

And anyway, all that unpacking and displaying of so many new books all at once can’t be much fun for the bookshops.

Same goes for reviews. Even if I could read the Super Thursday titles well before October 5th, there is no way I could suddenly make all the reviews available in one fell swoop. They need to be eked out. As do the books. Too many marvellous books is like being given a whole chocolate cake. You need to be disciplined and tackle this loveliness in small portions.

A book is not only for Christmas. In fact, for me it’s the time of year I read the least.

That World Book Day book list

What do I think of the World Book Day book list for 2018?

I think that the world has gone crazy, and that I am looking forward to reading Oi Goat! by Kes Gray and Jim Field.

Celebrities… Even the word has gone funny. I used to feel it described a certain type of people fairly well, and in a not too derogatory way. Now I just feel slightly unclean thinking about the whole thing. And today I’m only addressing the WBD book list, not the whole ‘can famous people actually write books, and should they?’ conundrum. That will have to be another day.

World Book Day 2018 book titles

I’m so out of the ‘Strictly/BakeOff’ world that I know very few celebrity celebrities, if you get my drift? It wasn’t until recently I understood that Tom Fletcher isn’t only a normal author. I believe that Pamela Butchart is, and I saw her in Edinburgh in August. The Paddington book is obvious, but somewhat unnecessary.

I have heard of Clare Balding. I don’t quite know what she normally does for a living, but it seems that as with David Walliams she is deemed to need Tony Ross to illustrate her book. Julian Clary is famous. I know that. But not what for. (I know. I could Google.)

Not a great fan of Mr Men, but OK. The Avengers? Really?

Well, that’s enough insults for one day.

I used to be a great fan of these £1 books, with or without the free book token. That’s until I began my now long finished relationship with an indie bookshop. They were furious with the system, moaning about how it was they who had to pay for all this. I was surprised, and a bit shocked. Both by the idea of who pays, and that a bookshop would hate [a category of] books.

On the WBD website – where I went, trying to find out the answer to the burning question, which is ‘who decides which books?’ – I found only this:  ‘World Book Day Ltd is a small, registered charity. The financing of World Book Day comes mainly from contributing publishers, the generous sponsorship of National Book Tokens Ltd, some literacy partnerships and other supporters, as well as the participating booksellers who fund the entire cost of the Book Token redemption.’

But it stands to reason that they want this venture to be popular, so choosing celebrity books because they are deemed the most likely to succeed, makes some sense. But it’s a crying shame that this is what we have come to.

As for me, I went off the whole idea after my bookshop surprise. I felt as though I was stealing from poor innocent shop owners.

What I never stopped to consider at all, neither then, or now, was what I discovered on Facebook, in one of the countless discussions on the choice of books. Understandably the place has been heaving with feelings, because I associate mainly with book people. Someone left a comment; someone I don’t know myself, but I’m grateful for her input.

She described her daughter’s reaction to a WBD book by Cressida Cowell, quite a few years ago. The girl was reading it slowly, to make the book last as long as possible, because she felt she had discovered treasure in this story. She went on to find and read all the How To Train Your Dragon books, staying with the series, and buying the most recent one as an adult. In other words, a love affair that lasted.

So in this case it was the start of something great, and reading about it made my heart glow. But I’d not reckoned on that kind effect on the £1 book readers, because I was coming at it from the opposite way round. But of course that’s what it’s for; not only possibly to discover reading, but to meet a new literary best friend.

And while I hope the Oi Goat! will be fun, it’s hardly a book that would tempt a teenager. As Nicola Morgan said in a comment on here a day ago, there’s nothing on the list that would have interested her at that age. There are many of us like that.

(Here is Nicola’s own blog post on the topic. Much better written than the above, but as she points out, we are all different.)

Fathers and their children

Ah, fathers! You’ve got to love them, don’t you? They’re so wise and gentle and handsome.

In Dragons – Father and Son, by Alexandre Lacroix, with beautifully fierce dragon drawings by Ronan Badel, and translated by Vanessa Miéville, we meet young Drake and his father, at home in their cave.

Alexandre Lacroix and Ronan Badel, Dragons - Father and Son

The time has come for Drake to go out and burn down a few houses where the humans live. It’s tradition. Drake’s not keen, but he goes. But of course he doesn’t burn anything down; the humans are too canny. I mean, they are so kind that he just can’t.

He learns a few things from the humans he encounters, though. Enough to placate his father when he gets home. It’s better to be admired for your good looks than how much you scare people. I’d like to think that in future Drake can continue just breathing fire on his intended meals (which seems awfully handy, as skills go).

In Me and My Dad by Robin Shaw, we find a little girl going out for a walk past the local shops with her Dad. She likes everything about their walks, but the best always comes last.

They see dinosaurs and crocodiles (this is a typical British town) and all kinds of magic creatures. But the best bit is at the end.

And when you get to the end you realise why the little girl can see all these fantastic things en route. It’s because of what’s at the end. It’s teaching her to use her imagination.

Robin Shaw, Me and My Dad

It’s a bookshop, with a café. She and her Dad choose a book, and sit down with a hot chocolate and read.

They might even read about dragons. Humans like them. And if not, there’s always hot chocolate. Potentially another crocodile in the puddle on the way home.