Category Archives: Bookshops

Success ahead

So, two weeks later another one gets ahead to the number one spot for ebooks.

This week it is J D Kirk’s Ahead of the Game, which sold better than the others, including his pal Alex Smith who has been ‘relegated’ to fourth place with his Paper Girls. (But fourth is still really good.)

I’ll probably tire of this, but so far I am enjoying the successes of ‘my’ former children’s books authors. And J D – or Barry, as I call him – shot to the top on the very day his tenth DCI Logan novel was published. Without my assistance, because I wasn’t going to buy book ten* when I have all those other single digit books to get through, was I?

But 14,501 fans did buy. Well done.

*And I hear book 11 is due in May. Doing better than trains and buses, being both regular and on time.

Best

I’d like to think that they all did what I had done. I bought Alex Smith’s first* crime novel, Paper Girls, as an ebook a few weeks ago, a little before Alex – or Gordon as I call him – announced that his was the best selling ebook that week. I’m afraid I didn’t entirely believe him. Sometimes people are top of some smaller category, which is still nice, but easier to achieve.

But no. Alex was first. Or so The Bookseller told me some days later. Or would have, had I not got stuck the wrong side of the paywall. But you can eventually find out what they would have said.

So Paper Girls really did sell more than others, and what pleased me especially was that Alex did better than that charming Danish woman, Jo Nesbø.

I will now have to read Alex’s book. No, I didn’t mean that the way it came out; I bought it to be able to see what it’s like, as soon as I am able to fit in more adult crime from my growing list of children’s authors who have gone over to the other side. A side where they are selling really well.

And, surely, the world was aware of what I’d done, and decided to follow suit. Follow that Witch!

*There are five in total. Unless there are even more by now…

A new home for the Edinburgh International Book Festival

‘What sort of place is this meant to be?’ said one Swede to the other, as the four of them settled down with coffees at my table in Charlotte Square one August. ‘I think it’s some sort of book fair’, said the second person. They all looked around and seemed to find it wanting (because it wasn’t exactly the Gothenburg Book Fair, was it?). I refrained from letting on that I could understand what they were saying and didn’t rise in defence of the Edinburgh International Book Festival. I suspected they wouldn’t get it.

I have had ten lovely years in Charlotte Square, missing it badly last August, but certain we’d all be back one day. And we will be. Though from summer 2021 it will be a togetherness somewhere else. They are moving house, so to speak. From the open square to an actual building; the Edinburgh College of Art.

We discussed this at Bookwitch Towers when the news reached us yesterday, and I believe we are all in favour. I carefully went over every book festival or fair I’ve frequented over the years, and came to the conclusion that indoors is good. At least if there can be a little bit of outdoors when you are overcome by the beautiful, balmy evening and want to sit out under the string lights and talk about literature with nice people. (Daughter says I am crazy, but I will request the lights specially.)

There will be less need to worry about one’s outfit; will it rain, or will it be too hot? Less need for wellies. I imagine the seats in a building will be somewhat comfier than in the tents, and there will be fewer screeching buses going round and round. The toilets may be of the more permanent kind.

But then, where will I be? And where will the authors be? We’ll find out. Will there be a good photo corner for the paparazzi? And can the ducks come?

It will be different. It will be fine. I just have to find out which bus I need to get there.

If there is to be any getting this year. I hope so. But if there isn’t, they will broadcast online events from their new home, which is better equipped to do that sort of stuff. After which it will be the next year again. I hope.

‘I’m discovering things about daemons all the time’

We could see the writing on the wall. Literally. Blackwell’s Thursday event with Philip Pullman took us to his study, where words appeared to be hovering above his head. It was a quote in Spanish, which he claimed to have mostly forgotten about. Something along the lines of you should find out about everything, and then keep the best.

Philip was speaking to Sian Cain, although at one point a bearded man also appeared, waving, as though this would make him go away. Zoom is nearly always interesting.

There was much talk about splitting from your daemon and how it feels. There was quite a bit of mention of the third Book of Dust, ‘which hasn’t happened yet’. Well, it should. Just saying, in case other fans haven’t already. Philip is not a short story person. So maybe stop writing these little extras? Write more on Dust?

He loves Mrs Coulter, who has no inhibitions. But it seems he loves Lee Scoresby the most. I like an author who can have favourites! And Lee was a wise choice. We love Lee.

Philip does not travel for research. It’s far too uncomfortable. The Bodleian does just fine. He points out he is old, and ill. (Which is when Daughter shouted ‘finish your book!’) He also claims to like the BBC version of His Dark Materials, which caused more shouting at our end. But he’d not wanted to write the script; there is too much time wasted on talking when you are involved with filming.

There were questions. The Lord of the Rings would ‘impress an Edwardian schoolboy’. And Narnia lacked Christian charity. He loves Michael Sheen as narrator of his books. (Well, who doesn’t?)

The good news is Philip wants to return to writing about Sally Lockhart. Although, that’s what he said in 2005 as well…

Now that we’ve seen his study, we know what it’s like, and we will urge Philip on to finish the writing. First Dust. Then maybe Sally.

On writing about robotic cats among the lilacs

It was strictly BYO cupcakes for the launch of Sheila Averbuch’s debut novel Friend Me. But we didn’t know that. Ah well. Nor did all of us know how to find ‘the way in’ for this online launch party. Quite a few of us bumbled along on virtual darkened pavements before the door magically sprang open.

So, I might have missed a bit.

Sheila was talking to her pal and fellow writer Louise Kelly about those 17 years when she was trying hard to write a novel someone would want to publish. It’s good to know that it’s not always plain sailing for everyone else in life, but 17 years is a long time. A long time to keep working towards a goal. But she did it!

You should always show your work to writer friends. And early rather than late, because they will give you the best advice and help you on your way. As did Sheila’s two teenagers who had much to say about her book, including the ‘missing’ last three pages.

Starting up a local SCBWI group helped too, and having Keith Gray come and lecture on how to write made a huge difference. When nerves got too frayed Sheila decamped to some lilac bushes in her gorgeous garden, which seems like a great place to write. The same can be said about Moniack Moor where she was able to spend some writing time, thanks to financial help through Scottish Book Trust.

Reading a lot helped as well. (When I first met Sheila she asked me for recommendations, and I was most taken by her seriousness in writing it down.) Reading soothes when you are stressed, and reading other books will give you ideas and inspiration.

I’m less sure where the spooky robotic cat came into it all. I believe it features in the plot, but above everything else, Sheila has one, right there. She stroked it as we all watched and it purred and miaowed, and I’m not sure what we felt. But the cat seemed happy enough.

Chatting to the Irish actor who is doing the audio book of Friend Me, she had experienced the exact same ‘washing powder incident’ as the character in the book. (I suspect I have, too.)

There were questions from the literally hundreds of guests, there was a giveaway, with free books on bullying, and we learned that Sheila has favourite chapters in the book. She mostly aimed the novel at the US market because, as she said, it’s where her own middle grade reading happened.

Before we all parted, going in search of cupcakes in our respective freezers, Sheila wanted to thank her mother. It’s what you do, and her mother has been really supportive. So we toasted mother McDonald. (No, not that kind of toast.)

It was lucky in a way that the launch party had to take place online. All those friends who turned up would have made for a very cramped bookshop in real life. And the cupcakes would definitely have run out.

‘Her election book’

It was gratifying to discover an online book event, shared with the US, where I was still awake enough to attend. But I suppose with Elizabeth Wein sitting not too many miles north of Bookwitch Towers, it needed to be early enough, while still permitting Carole Barrowman, somewhere in the US Midwest, to have got past her morning coffee.

They met up at the end of a week filled with online events for Elizabeth’s war time book The Enigma Game, recently published in her home country America. Carole gave us all of one sentence in a Scottish accent before switching back to her American one. I wish she’d said more! It’s strange really, how she’s over there and Elizabeth is over here.

The above quote is Carole’s who, having started reading the book on election night and loving it, now felt it was her ‘election book’; the one which made her week endurable. (I just want to know why she waited so long.)

Anyway, there we were, and I suddenly realised I was sitting next to two of my former interview subjects, which felt a bit weird. But nice. And fun. Because Carole is good at this interviewing thing, and Elizabeth has just the right books to be interviewed about, even if, as she said, she’s no good at elevator pitches. After an extended pitch, Elizabeth read us an early chapter about the German and the grammophone.

For this book she learned Morse code. Of course she did. Apparently it’s easy to learn, but hard to understand when it comes at you, so to speak. It was a suitable thing for young girls to learn, giving them something to do.

As Carole pointed out, everyone in The Enigma Game has something to hide, or they are hiding, like being a traveller, or a German refugee, or in the case of Louisa, someone who can’t hide her darker skin. Elizabeth said she always has someone like her in her books, a stranger, and she thinks it’s because she has never quite belonged where she’s lived.

During the conversation Elizabeth even began mixing herself up with Louisa, which proves the point. As a child in Jamaica she spoke fluent Jamaican patois, which she quickly had to shed when moving to the US. Carole compared that with her and her brother John’s needs when they moved from Scotland to America, quickly having to fit in.

Carole kept discovering more and more of Elizabeth’s books, and made notes on what else to read. The Enigma Game was going straight to her parents. She had actually read the Star Wars book, Cobolt Squadron, which Elizabeth described as her practice for Enigma, saying ‘how much fun is it to write an air battle?’ (Quite fun, I’d say.)

She’d got the railway line up the east coast somewhat confused, which means she forgot it had to be allowed for. So the northeast of Scotland was slightly altered by Elizabeth. Her fictional airbase is based on Montrose airfield.

Slightly behind her deadline for the next book, which she is not allowed to tell us about, is a kind of Biggles for girls, set in the 1930s. That’s good enough for me! And then Carole read out my question! I never ask questions in Zoom events. But I’d really like more books about the three characters in Enigma. No pressure, but yes.

As always when you have fun, this event came to an end. But it was good, and this was a perfect pairing of people to chat about a perfect book. Like Carole said, read The Enigma Game!

Was happiness wasted on him?

We ‘went’ to Kirkland Ciccone’s book launch this evening. By which I mean we attended the online launch, happening on Facebook, and which Daughter cast to the television, for us to sit in comfort and enjoy.

Well, after some ‘casting around’ for the actual event, we found it, but immediately discarded it, since it was clearly a mistake, what with mad fuzzy lines in colour and then there was some maniac who muttered curses, and fairly loudly too.

Turned out it was the real thing. Very psychedelic, it was. But once our dear host had been messaged to mute his sound, we could actually make out what was being said in his interview with Gillian Hunt at Cumbernauld Library. Well, some of it… And the rest was taken care of by some of the most inspired subtitles I’ve come across in my life. ‘Hommage’ turned into ‘a mash.’ And why not? Kirkie mentioned that he would usually launch his books at Waterstones in Argyle Street, which became ‘our street.’ That too.

He read the haircut episode from the book.

Did I mention the new book? It’s for adults. Hah. It’s called Happiness Is Wasted On Me.

And then he was at home again, Kirkie. He wasn’t sure we could hear or see him, when we could actually do both. Sort of. He kept breaking up, and laughing so much that we decided he’d overdosed on IrnBru. But he was very Kirkie.

He has a playlist that goes with the book, somehow. Daughter warned me never to try listening to it. (As if I would.)

Kirkie is very popular. The event was well attended and we all love him. But next time I’ll insist he takes Daughter’s advice on the technical stuff.

Autumn

I have to say it! I reckon Ali Smith writes almost as well as Meg Rosoff. (Whose birthday it is today. Meg’s, not Ali’s.) It was a piece Ali wrote for the Guardian, probably just before Summer was published, that had me reach towards the buy button, and I ordered Autumn, feeling curious and actively wanting to read some literary adult fiction.

This hardly ever happens.

I felt I should start at the beginning, so Autumn it was. (Winter is already standing by.)

I really, really liked it. Elisabeth is a most interesting heroine, and her passport application is to die for. I wish I could be like her. There is a mother, who at first seemed less attractive, but who grew on me. There is a friendship with Daniel, a much older man, who was great from the start. There are many thoughts about a lot of things.

The whole book, and I say whole, but it’s admirably short, really, is full of fragments, maybe jigsaw pieces, that eventually mostly fit together. There was one piece that didn’t join up, but having cheated and read a description of a later book, I know that my feeling that it would be important, was correct.

I can’t wait.

Except I might. Winter is coming, as I said, but perhaps I will keep Spring and Summer for later. Or not. As the Resident IT Consultant says, it can be sensible to get on the train standing at the platform now. Just in case.

Susanna Clarke was there

No, we would not sit at the back. For this event the teenage Son insisted we descend all the way to the bottom, and front, of the cake slice shaped auditorium at the Gothenburg Book Fair. Uncharacteristically I followed him and actually sat a long way from the door.

This was fifteen years ago. Perhaps not to the day, because the fair happens when it happens, and it just so happens that it begins today. The online 2020 Book Fair. Then, it was our first, and we’d come in search of Philip Pullman, but once he’d been dealt with, we had a list of others we wanted to see.

Susanna Clarke was one of them. The bookshop we used to frequent had a lovely, well-read girl working part time for them, and it was she who had suggested Son might like to read Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. He did, and he found it good. (I could never quite manage it.)

We both liked her event, and this was so new to us, and Son enjoyed being able to go up and chat to the various English-speaking authors as ‘one of them’. At the time I don’t believe we realised quite how exhausting the public event lifestyle is for an author.

I was made aware of how tired Susanna Clarke was in this Guardian interview the other week, when they spoke to her in connection with her next novel, Piranesi, which is out now. It’s been a long time, but I don’t blame her. Chronic fatigue is not much fun.

So what was the start of a book world whirlwind future for us, was perhaps the beginning of an essential period of rest for Susanna. I’m glad she’s found her way back. I hope the Gothenburg Book Fair does all right, and that we will all meet again at some other live event or book festival, but that we will also take it easy and not overdo things. None of us is getting any younger.

(I almost said older, which proves how tired and confused I am.)

And I like Susanna’s thought that ‘one day, there will be the wardrobe’.

The book’s Böll, Heinrich Böll

Guardian reader Wendy, on the paper’s letters page, pointed me in the direction of Adrian Chiles and his column on bookshelves last week, which I had missed. Because we mostly don’t buy a paper on a Thursday. But that’s what the internet is for, discovering what I missed.

It’s yet another article/post/column on how some of us have too many books, and we don’t mind displaying our groaning shelves to the world via Zoom. Adrian now claims he’s going to get rid of, or actually read, some of his ignored volumes.

Easy for him to say. He’s probably not got a book blog to feed.

But, yeah, it seems his books are not even ones he doesn’t like the look of. And this is true of mine as well. I can comfortably ignore books I really wanted, maybe even bought. In fact, just the other day I was congratulating myself for having a more attractive tbr pile right now, basing it on having bought books, rather than it being only review copies of books soon to be published.

Then there are the books you acquire because someone recommended them, or worse, shamed you into feeling you should read them. That’s where Heinrich Böll comes in. Back in 1972, in my German class at school, one of the boys (we only had three, so they kind of stood out) said he’d had an inkling Böll would get the Nobel Prize, so he’d got a few of the man’s books out from the library to read in preparation.

So, of course, I did the same, only for me it was after the award was made public. But still. I dutifully read quite a few of Böll’s novels, and I’m fairly certain I didn’t enjoy any of them.

I have none of them here. Possibly one or two got left on the shelves belonging to Mother-of-Witch, but again, maybe not. Perhaps I borrowed from the library.

There will have been a few other Nobel laureates whose books I’ve read, but not many. I am cured of needing to keep up with boys in classrooms. And let’s face it, I can prune heavily and still have a most respectable looking set of shelves behind me on Zoom.