Category Archives: Bookshops

Potions & Poisons

The programme self-destructed. Or so it seemed when I went back to double-check I had the right names and the title for the event. Because, you know, I am old, and I forget.

Tickets for Cymera

Anyway, for my first Cymera event on the first night, it was all potions and poisons, and they were far too cheerful about these dangerous substances. They were Melinda Salisbury and PM Freestone, talking to Laura Lam, and the rule for the evening was ‘no spoilers.’ Unfortunately, this rather cramped their style, as nearly everything they wanted to contribute could count as spoilers.

Apart from having to stop themselves from giving too much away, they seemed to get on very well, laughing like a group of friends out, chatting away about what they write about. I think the audience got what they wanted; they seemed to be knowledgeable about the same stuff, and as they filed into the Upper Hall, they looked like fans too. I know that sounds silly, but they did. Sometimes the, well, wrong people go to events.

I wondered what the bucket was for. One of the volunteer ushers carried around a bucket. Seems it was for money. (I sent mine by bank transfer…)

Pleasance, where the Cymera Festival is doing its thing this weekend was very pleasant. At least if you ignore the lift. I will never ever go in that lift again! Afterwards I was further alarmed when one of the very helpful and polite volunteers came up to me to say the lift was now activated..! I don’t think I want to know.

I arrived early. Again. Was ushered to the lanyard table, where I found Sarah Broadley and Lari Don, and also my nice orange badge. Came across one or two people I knew, including someone who also knew me, but we both agreed that while we had met, we had no idea where or when. LJ McWhirter sat in front of me at the ‘poisonous’ event and had much news to share.

The venue does look very good, nicely decorated, albeit with too many stairs. And that lift. Fashionable café and for the weekend a lovely bookshop stocked with all the science fiction, fantasy and horror you could want. Possibly more.


What if the ‘Ants’ say no?

Oh, the relief I felt when the man accepted all five large bags of books without fuss! I’d been building up to what I would do when refused and where to take the unwanted books next. Presumably to the tip…

I had checked, and double-checked, that Myrorna (Salvation Army charity shop) still take books. But you can’t be too certain. The discussion on social media, maybe last year, where other Swedes had discovered there was nowhere to take books, because their nearest ‘Ants’ (=Myrorna) have stopped selling, and thereby accepting, books.

It was all very well that I’d made more room on my holiday shelves last summer. And then Daughter and I didn’t feel quite up to taking them, but I waited until I had a nice strong man to carry them for me. But would that mean I was too late?

I’d Googled the situation too, discovering that Amnesty take books, but ‘please, pretty please, not Bra Böckers Lexikon! (That’s the 25 volume encyclopaedia ‘all’ Swedes own. So what happens when charity shops are given all those sets at once makes the mind boggle.)

The one thing I’d come up with when considering whether my old – well, Mother-of-witch’s old – ‘leather’ bound poetry collections, and similar, would actually be something a charity shop could shift, was that they’d look good as props. Interior magazines are full of silly still life arrangements consisting of piles of old books and candles* (think of the fire hazard!!) and stuff. So that might still make the books attractive to some.


*Maybe artichokes instead? Or there is colour coordinating your shelves/rooms. There are some lovely brown and blue books right there, above.

Val McDermid – no singing in September

My heart sank as I walked up the slope towards the Golden Lion, where half of Scotland’s crime writers were milling about in the street. Not because of them, but they were milling next to the ‘wee tourist train’ parked outside. For a brief moment I was worried the launch of Bloody Scotland involved the train, but it seems they just ‘played’ on it.

Crime authors on wee train, by Paul Reich Photography

On reaching the ballroom anteroom upstairs, my heart sank again. Were we really launching in this hot little room with no seat in sight? We were. But I lie. There was the usual tartan-covered bench outside the room. I sat there, instead, doing my best to hear some of what was said.

Boss Bob McDevitt spoke, as did Val McDermid and various other people, including the Provost. The speeches were pretty much what you expect in these circumstances, until a cleaner squeaked past with her towel trolley and they closed the door.

The programme looks good, though, so I expect you’ll find me back at the Golden Lion come September. And hopefully also my colleague Lizzy Siddal who very kindly offered to share her photos of Val with me. I don’t deserve it, but that’s never stopped me.

Val McDermid by Lizzy Siddal

After a sandwich break, it was time for Val McDermid’s launch event, in the actual ballroom, with actual chairs. This crime writing star, who only mildly complained that the Bloody Scotland bloody logo doesn’t feature Fife, where she grew up, is heading to this year’s Glastonbury with her crime colleagues. To sing.

On Monday she was here to talk about her new book – My Scotland – alongside photographer Alan McCredie. The book features all the places in Scotland Val has included in her novels over the years. She’s a bit embarrassed about the title of this travelogue and memoir, which she reckons was easier to write than an autobiography, because ‘my life is quite dull.’

It was their first time doing the talk, so it counted as a work in progress. Val has done a lot in her time, beginning with the Fight for Fife, demolishing Wemyss Castle [in a book] and ‘opening’ a [temporary] pub in Edinburgh called the J K Rowling.

Now she’s off to be a professor in New Zealand, which is why she will have to give Bloody Scotland a miss. She might commit murder down under, but she only does what she has to.

If you ask me, they ought to have got Val and her band to perform for us. That would really have made for a memorable launch. Especially now she’s not singing in September.

And things keep a-changing

‘It was a bit chaotic,’ said the Resident IT Consultant when he returned with the milk and other early essentials. I heartlessly assumed he was just being useless at shopping, but it turned out the holiday ‘super’market was being rebuilt. Hence his difficulty in foraging for food, as well as finding the – temporary – way out again, once he’d paid.


So yes, change keeps a-coming at me. Some days later we popped over to the big opening of the shop, which was mostly finished, with only the one man still hammering away up on the roof. And there was cake after a long waffley speech by Master Koch, the owner, who – now that I think of it – is probably over fifty, but younger than his retired father.

Ankaret cake

It was the Resident IT Consultant’s birthday and Daughter decided to feed him salmon to celebrate, so off we went to Laxbutiken. Yes, yes, don’t worry. It, too, had changed. New furniture in the restaurant, and gorgeous new marble counters from which to choose your salmon.

Another thing that has changed is that Daughter can now drive her mother places. It’s really convenient. First we went to the optician’s. You’ll be pleased to hear he has not changed. Other than his computer system, which meant that he couldn’t take payment for Daughter’s new glasses, so she was able to walk out without paying. (I think on the hopeful understanding I’d be back with money some other day.)

From there we went to buy bread at the best baker’s in the world. When I showed them my membership card [ it’s a coop] they suddenly charged me less. Not being one to refuse such a thing, I said nothing. I suspect they have changed (yes, there is that word again) from annual dividend payments to an instant 10% off.

Walking through town we discovered the main square had been redesigned. And then came the sad sight of my old bookshop, which is no more.

We were invited to a friend’s house for tea and rhubarb pie. I was a bit surprised, as I didn’t remember her sea view. I mean, I knew she had one. Just not used to seeing it. This is what happens when hedges are trimmed.

Sea view

Money is forever a problem. The woman at the flea market looked at my offered two kronor coin and recoiled. Older than me, yes, but presumably a permanent resident, so should be used to the new coins by now. But I know what she was thinking; that I was handing over what looked like the 1 öre from our childhood. That’s how small small change has become.

You might recall I wondered how pay toilets would work after the big coin change. It’s now contactless. Very hygienic and all that. Except my only affordable – currency wise – credit card isn’t contactless. If your need is not too great, you read on and discover that chip and pin will also be tolerated, once the machine thing has had a little think. Some of them even still take coins…

But cash in general has become a problem. It’s not wanted. Many places are card only, or as with Riccardo’s Glass (that’s ice cream to you), you can swish. Except I can’t. I believe Son knows how to swish. I’ll have to investigate further. Anyway, Daughter paid for our ice cream and milk shake with, erm, cash. She said she had the correct change so just did. I suspect that maybe she simply dropped the money and exited, before they knew what had hit them. Or they are more versatile than they let on.

This time last year was hot. So hot we did nothing, and one day that was so hot I lost the will to live. This year I have to say that my padded jacket I wore all through winter has come in quite handy. It sort of averages out.

Holiday Bookwitch Towers has new neighbours. On two sides. I’m not quite sure how to deal with this, but the house opposite has gone from being the neighbourhood dump, to looking so great that it’s a pleasure to look out the window again, 35 years on. Not a moment too soon for this change.

The neighbour on the third side was given some coins, to pay for the life-saving midnight milk, and a bottle of whisky.

Luckily not all is change. Here is what we encountered in the ‘salmon car park.’ The only reason they almost fit is that the parking spaces are huge.

Dream cars

Don’t forget Cymera

I trust you will remember to attend Cymera next weekend? I mean, you already have your tickets, or at least a hitlist for events not to be missed, and your bag is packed and all that?

Good. I’ll be generous. Your hitlist needn’t be the same as mine. It’s not technically possible to see it all, unless you are Hermione Granger, so choice needs to enter into things. There are some events where I’ve really had to decide who’s more important to me.

And then the question is whether I’ll get up early enough on the Saturday to see Philip Caveney, who will now be without his partner in crime, Dawn Finch. (Of course I will. Just teasing.)

The other question is whether you can outlast me. Let me be the first to tell you that yes, you can. However keen I am, I will flag at some point.

But you know, there are so many people I like, like Helen Grant – wearing her YA mantle, but talking about her adult Ghost – and Moira McPartlin, Claire McFall, James Oswald, and yes, Philip Caveney. Robot Chickens. As well as these excellent people, there will be another 70 mostly unknowns [to me] so you won’t have to worry about any inconvenient quiet moments.

Get your tickets here. Now, before they sell out. Which would be a good thing, but not for you.

Crazier by the day

We might as well give up.

I ought to say I’m grateful to my friend who sent me the link to this article (which you really must read) in The Spectator, but considering how awful its subject matter is, am I really grateful? It’s an interesting read; I’ll say that much. But it seems YA literature is in as much of a pickle as world politics. (I hope things will get better, but probably not before it’s got a lot worse.)

Do you remember what I had to say about sensitivity readers a while back? It’s OK, I had no recollection of it myself until I went digging for those occasions when I am in agreement with Lionel Shriver. (Seems I’ve agreed at least twice.)

Apparently you have to be politically correct in fantasy writing, as much as you do in ‘normal’ fiction. If not, you’ll be accused of cultural appropriation. And much as I’d like authors – new and old – to have a spine, I suspect that’s a lot easier to say than to practise.

As for those publishers who withdraw or apologise for causing offence, they really should have more spine. Or at the very least, they could think three times as much before accepting a work for publication, if all that will happen is that braying idiots on Twitter will cause them to take far too many steps backwards.

Some years ago I was visited here by someone looking out for Native Americans. She had many unpleasant things to say about authors who dare write about them without being one of them. I gather she isn’t one herself.

Where to draw the line? Lionel felt that memoirs would be all that was left, but who’s to say that won’t cause offence as well?

I discussed this with the Resident IT Consultant, who brought up Malorie Blackman’s Noughts & Crosses series. It turned out we had different ideas about where it might be set. If the books are set somewhere vaguely real, that is. But she writes about both black and white characters. So far, as I understand it, people have been pleased that they are about black characters, and written by someone black, too. I don’t think I’ve come across the idea that there should be no white characters in the book. I have no objection to any of the white people in the story.

But what do I know?

Angie Thomas, who has been praised for writing amazing YA books, with mostly black characters, does have white people in her stories as well. You sort of have to, don’t you? I have no experience of life in Mississippi, either as black or white. I have no objection to Angie’s white characters. She mentioned at her event in March that one of the girls was based on a ‘friend’ at school. I can believe that. Not all whites are like her, but some probably are.

The book I reviewed yesterday, Dreamwalker, is fantasy, and features dragons and humans. James Oswald is human. So the question is did he describe the dragons correctly? Does he even have the right to write about dragons?

In Rachel Hartman’s Seraphina we have mixed characters; half human, half dragon. Who, here, has the moral right to be offended for what Rachel did to one of them?

What many authors say to the common question – how do you know about xxx? – is to mention research, and ‘it’s fiction; I make it up.’

I don’t know where this will end, but I am ashamed of the YA bloggers, etc, who feel they have the right to ruin the lives of so many people by being so bloody rude. And insensitive. And other words I could list here but won’t.

What shall we do without Kerry?

Yesterday the Bookseller delivered the unwelcome news that my favourite publicist is retiring. Yes, Hodder’s publicity director Kerry Hood is hanging up her, well, I don’t know what she’s hanging up. But something. Her not being one of those 27-year-olds, I did realise this time would come, but I pushed the thought away and hoped for the best.

Because that’s what Kerry has given me; the best PR help and some of the bestest authors. (I’m sure the woman cherry-picks…)

We first met eleven years ago, when I forced her to bring me Sara Paretsky. Seriously, I had no idea people were so easy to force. Nor did I know that publicists could speak, I mean type, like normal people, which is why when I got this email I’ve treasured it all these years, ‘Crikey! Yep – that’s you!’ (It refers to an unexpected appearance by me on Sara’s website.)

Hodder's Kerry

The next time was in that maze they call Nottingham, and I will link to the whole blog post here, because it shows so clearly how Kerry provided 110% book & author experiences.

More recently I have had thoughts such as, ‘that looks like Peter Robinson over there! I wonder where Kerry is?’ I’ve not had enough time to be a Peter Robinson fan, but his choice of publicist is certainly a recommendation.

Kerry has not only facilitated meetings with authors of interest, but she has gently pushed me in the direction of others that she just knew would be my kind of author. And there have been so many books, usually dispatched with that admirable hands-on technique that I – well – admire. Everyone should be like that.

I have so many great Kerry-related events that I can’t link to them all. Hence Nottingham. I know I’m not alone in this fan behaviour. Just mentioning her name leads to others admitting they love her too.

Daughter and I met Kerry’s dog when we were in London. I had no idea that having your dog in the office could work so well.

I hope there will be another lovely dog for Kerry’s retirement, if that’s what she wants. And maybe the odd appearance at book events? Please? Or just call in for tea.