Category Archives: Bookshops

Bookwitch bites #134

Kathryn Evans’s launch earlier in the week went very well, as I might have mentioned. Books selling out and bookshops being tightly packed and all that. Here is a photo I may have stolen from Candy Gourlay, which shows how happy Kathryn was and how they couldn’t possibly have fitted me in.

Kathryn Evans

On the same day the list of authors taking part in the 2016 Yay! YA+ in Cumbernauld was announced, after organiser Kirkland Ciccone had had me on tenterhooks for a long time. Some I know, some I don’t.

And the programme for Glasgow’s Aye Write! has now been made public, and you can get your tickets very very soon. Please do! They always have so many people coming that I want to go and see, that I have to give myself a stern talking to and remind me that I don’t have the stamina for traipsing to Glasgow all the time. But there is one event I must go to. Have a look through the programme and see if you can work out which one.

It was National Libraries Day yesterday, and the Guardian published love letters to libraries by people such as Meg Rosoff and Ann Cleeves.

The Branford Boase longlist was announced this week, and I have read precisely one of the books on it. I don’t know what’s wrong with me… And the odd thing is that even though it’s for first novels, I could swear some of those authors have been around for years. It’s probably just me again, isn’t it? To the list:

Othergirl by Nicole Burstein, edited by Charlie Sheppard (Andersen Press)
Aubrey and the Terrible Yoot by Horatio Clare, edited by Penny Thomas (Firefly)
The Bolds by Julian Clary, edited by Charlie Sheppard (Andersen Press). Illustrations by David Roberts
The Baby by Lisa Drakeford, edited by Rachel Leyshon (Chicken House)
The Dreamsnatcher by Abi Elphinstone, edited by Jane Griffiths (Simon & Schuster)
Captive by A J Grainger, edited by Elv Moody and Christian Trimmer (Simon & Schuster)
Seed by Lisa Heathfield, edited by Ali Dougal (Egmont)
Deep Water by Lu Hersey, edited by Sarah Stewart (Usborne)
Stone Rider by David Hofmeyr, edited by Ben Horslen (Penguin Random House)
13 Days of Midnight by Leo Hunt, edited by Jessica Tarrant (Hachette)
The Next Together by Lauren James, edited by Annalie Grainger (Walker)
The Unlikely Mabel Jones by Will Mabbitt, edited by Ben Horslen (Penguin Random House). Illustrated by Ross Collins.
Me and Mr J by Rachel McIntyre, edited by Stella Paskins (Egmont)
The Accidental Prime Minister by Tom McLaughlin, edited by Clare Whitson (Oxford). Illustrated by the author.
Girl on a Plane by Miriam Moss, edited by Charlie Sheppard (Andersen Press)
The Sin Eater’s Daughter by Melinda Salisbury, edited by Genevieve Herr (Scholastic)
My Brother is a Superhero by David Solomons, edited Kirsty Stansfield (Nosy Crow)
Birdy by Jess Vallance, edited by Emma Matthewson (Hot Key Books)
Hamish and the Worldstoppers by Danny Wallace, edited by Jane Griffiths (Simon & Schuster). Illustrated by Jamie Littler
One of Us by Jeannie Waudby, edited by Rachel Leyshon (Chicken House)
Time Travelling with a Hamster by Ross Welford edited by Nicholas Lake (HarperCollins)
The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson, edited by Bella Pearson (David Fickling Books)
The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow by Katherine Woodfine, edited by Alison Dougal and Hannah Sandford (Egmont)

Mystery tour

My knee felt tense earlier in the day. I should have heeded this, especially when the Resident IT Consultant proposed he take me on a mystery tour somewhere, as it looked like the afternoon might be sunny.


Let me be clear on this. I never agree to unknown surprises! But I felt I could just about give in, this once. As I got ready, I quickly ran through possible places he might have in mind, and realised fairly soon what he must intend. I didn’t want to ruin his happiness, so didn’t say ‘it’s going to be Linlithgow, isn’t it?’

But it was. Obviously.


So 42 – and a half – years after I didn’t go to Linlithgow, I finally set foot in the place, so carefully avoided, in order to keep it mysterious.

I needed my daily walk, so hobbled round the outside of the Palace, which was nice, but with a bit too much downhill for my liking. Kneewise. My mind doesn’t object to downhill.


Then hobbled along the High Street as far as Far From the Madding Crowd, by which time my knee pointed out it would like to sit down. That’s a bookshop, by the way. Bookshop with crafts and stuff, fully in the spirit of an old-style Scottish town.

My knee didn’t linger, so it and I hobbled back the other direction, to the tearoom we’d noticed earlier, where I did what I do best; tea and scone.

The Resident IT Consultant was feeling in need of a bookshop, so abandoned me there and went to Oxfam, which supplied him with a new old poetry collection, to replace his falling-to-bits one.

The poetry collection

By then darkness was descending on Linlithgow, so we went home again.

Life will never be the same.

Travelling books

Is one book as good as another? Interchangeable, just like that?

I was surprised to find the answer to an online query from a Swede in the UK whether there’s anywhere they could order books from, which wouldn’t be quite as expensive as the standard online Swedish bookshops he’d used so far. My feeling is that you have to be ‘grateful’ they will send anything abroad at all.

Swedish companies have been pretty slow to embrace this internet thing and credit cards from foreign lands, and all that. You can’t really trust outsiders.

Anyway, the reply suggested that he could look in the local (Swedish owned) bars to see what they had in the way of books. That’s all very well if you are desperate for just one book to read in your own dear language. But anyone who is buying books online might have specific needs and wishes. Just not to pay a fortune for the pleasure.

Fortune (albeit a minor one) is what Daughter paid to shift her books to that abroad last week. For some reason she also wants to have certain, specific books to aid her in her current task, and being academice ones, they cost enough the first time round. Hence her willingness to pay for them to travel once more.

Travelling boxes

They have arrived, too, however damp they might look. And in a mere six days. On that internet thing, you can track your darlings, so we knew the boxes reached Dortmund in two days. Which isn’t bad. And they sat in the delivery vehicle by 05.45 yesterday morning, which could be why they are trying to dry out next to the radiator. Brrr.

And her credit card provider found the whole business so suspicious that they declined payment and then blocked her account. Yes, why would anyone try to pay a worldwide shipping company?

This year’s gifts

Over the last ten years we have changed how and what we give for Christmas with regularity. Basically, we are not keen buyers or givers, and sometimes not even desperately keen to receive. Don’t know what that says about us.

We’ve done the charity shop purchases only, one gift from each person to all the rest (four) and one gift from one person to one other person in an almost secret santa arrangement. We tried maximum cost £10. Or was it £5? This year it looks like we’ll do one for each of us again, with no particular demands on price or where to buy from or anything.

It’s still difficult. But clearly not as hard as for the desperate parents seeking this year’s must have toy. I’ve never done that. And reading about this year’s I asked myself why parents don’t buy them earlier, before the frenzy. Or why they give in to the demands.

When we were still doing charity shop gifts I recall visiting the large Oxfam in central Manchester, simply because of its size. I met a young girl in one aisle who had obviously come for cheap books. Cheap as in the romantic notion that charity books can be bought for 20p. At the time it was ten times that if you were lucky. ‘It’s very expensive, isn’t it?’ she whispered. I had to agree.

She wanted to do gifts, but didn’t have the money, even at Oxfam.

And then there is the other side of charity bookshops in our local Oxfam. The Grandmother was always rejecting my review copies on the grounds that they couldn’t sell them. I kept feeling she was wrong. Must be wrong. How could anyone not want a ‘new’ and recently published children’s book at about half price?

But the thing is, she worked there, and I don’t. She knew. And once I began to think about it, I realised that people who buy for children don’t generally buy books – unfortunately – and if they do, they don’t think of charity shops. If they are wanting a book as a gift, they won’t expect a second hand shop to sell anything that’s new.

It’s a lose-lose situation.

Well, that was moving

So Kirkland Ciccone began by moving Waterstones where he was to launch his new book yesterday. That’s really well above and beyond his duty as an OTT writer from Cumbernauld. I had to call the Resident IT Consultant to ask where I was going.

Honestly! Old witches. You can’t let them roam Glasgow freely. Union Street. Buchanan Street. Same difference. I’ve been twice before. Went down each of those streets, and turned left the first time and right the second. On Wednesday Waterstones had turned into a shoe shop. Which is very nice. Except it hadn’t.

Anyway, the place was the same as before, once it had been found. Although, I believe I detected some slight doubt in the lift announcement. It said ‘first floor?’ in that American way.

Kirkland seemed reasonably happy to see me and gave me a copy of North of Porter, sounding very pleased that it was unlikely to be my kind of thing. We’ll see. Keith Charters and Alex Nye both arrived as I was gulping down my dinner (cheese and tomato wrap), so I was a little off-hand in my greeting.

Kirkland Ciccone

Last year’s fur was long gone, replaced by Hawaiian shirt and plenty of beads and pearls. Also contact lenses and sun glasses, which might explain why Kirkie didn’t see so well. He and Keith sat on bar stools, talking away like they are the latest in television chat shows. They could call it KCx2.

Kirkland Ciccone and Keith Charters

Keith rather unwisely invited Kirkie to tell us his one minute potted history, which is an impossibility. There was the library as babysitter story, something about being a psychic consultant, stalking Keith, and a pregnant London agent, before this ten-year overnight success finally arrived.

(As an aside, his friends seem nice and normal. I’m not sure how this happened.)

Kirkland Ciccone and Keith Charters

Kirkie read chapter one, and because it’s Keith’s favourite, a bit from further into the book. Apparently Keith reckons if Kirkland’s synopsis sounds insane, then it will work. North of Porter appears to have been inspired by a woman in Denny hitting her husband with her handbag. And something to do with Scooby Doo. Also a cow in the living room, three floors up.

Apple laptop

His nephew made a racket from the back, which I think was wise. No need to let Kirkie have all the attention. For some reason Keith talked about last year’s road trip which began in St Andrews, and he mentioned Daughter, who popped by on her way to a PhD. It was the library…

Kirkland Ciccone, North of Porter

They locked the doors (surely not…) so that people would buy copies of North of Porter and get them signed. Wine was drunk, as well as Irn Bru. Snacks were eaten. (And for me, Master Nye has promised me street curry in Dunblane, so I’ll hold him to that.)

North of Porter launch

While the going was good I escaped home to Kirkland’s favourites; tea and ginger nuts.

Pruning for Kenya

I thinned my books a little bit last week. The time had come when I could barely go to bed, on account of piles of books in unsuitable places. Like on my bed. So instead of the let’s get rid of three or four books policy, I decided to go for books everywhere, getting out climbing implements to help me reach.

The living room had been tidied, with only a pile of book boxes next to the sofa (so counting almost as a coffee table, really), being in the way, looking less than neat. The next step would be to send those boxes on their way to Grangemouth and from there to Kenya. The efficient way would be to add to those boxes before they went, rather than after (which would really be both stupid and impossible).

So I hardened myself and went for it. The shelves in Son’s room now look positively empty. No, they don’t. But they could certainly welcome quite a few newly read books as and when they are ready. Still double rows, but relaxed double rows.

I am not a library. I have to remind myself I don’t have a duty to stock a representative selection of children’s books for passersby. After all, I don’t lend books. I’m a mean old witch.

It’s no longer a question of whether I liked the book in the first place. It’s more whether I am likely to read it again. And even if it has been signed, I toughened up and pruned.

When I first met Adèle Geras and she signed her first edition hardback for me, we both agreed that if the book should turn out really valuable one day, then I should sell, and she wouldn’t mind. (This was as she reminisced about her signed proof copy of Northern Lights, which she gave to Oxfam after reading…)

So, dear authors, if by chance you come across one of your signed books and you can identify it as mine (I have no idea why it’s not in Kenya!), please don’t be insulted. I loved the book, but I have only so many shelves.

UKYA Extravaganza comes to Nottingham

I couldn’t go, so I sent an author instead. Or more accurately, Helen Grant was going, and before she knew it, she had volunteered to write me a blog post about Nottingham. You know, the place famous for sheriffs, Bookwitches getting lost, and YA Extravaganzas.

Emma Pass

So, last weekend was ‘the second ever UKYA Extravaganza, held at Waterstones in Nottingham. The Sillitoe Room was packed with YA readers and bloggers who came to listen to nearly 30 authors speak about their work and the reasons they love UKYA.

Amongst the authors who took part (too many to list here!) were Sarah Benwell, Mike Revell, Lee Weatherly, Zoe Marriott, Bali Rai, Lucy Coats, Teri Terry and David Owen.

Lydia Syson and Sarah Benwell

Some had been inspired by issues dear to their hearts, some by places and events they had experienced, and in one case – Sue Ransom – by the desire to create a relatable book for her daughter. In one particularly startling moment, Rhian Ivory described how she discovered that the village she had chosen as the setting for her book The Boy Who Drew The Future turned out to be the last place in Britain to duck a witch!

Lucy Coats

The schedule was divided into seven panels, usually comprising four authors; each author had two minutes to introduce themselves and talk about their work, and then the floor was opened to questions for five minutes. The panels were interspersed with breaks to allow those attending to meet their favourite authors, buy books and choose items from the well-stocked swag table, which offered posters, postcards, bookmarks, badges and even magnets. Attendees were also sustained during the event by refreshments, including chocolate brownies and specially-made UKYA Extravaganza fairy cakes!

UKYA Extravaganza Nottingham

UKYA Extravaganza is a truly egalitarian initiative, with all participating authors given an equal voice. With so many of them taking part, an energetic chairperson was required, and this role was carried out by YA author Paula Rawsthorne, who kept things moving along with a light touch – and a very large hourglass!

The other great thing about UKYA Extravaganza is that it is regional, rather than always based in the same place. This means it genuinely brings a mix of YA authors to the readers, wherever they may be. And after all, these are YA books we are talking about, and some of those young readers may not be able to afford to travel long distances to attend events (NB, speaking for myself, some of the old ones can’t afford to, either). The first Extravaganza took place in Birmingham, and future events are planned for other UK locations ranging from north to south.

Teri Terry and Lee Weatherly

For those who are unable to attend at all, or who would like to relive the Extravaganza fun, Lisa Golding of City of YA Books filmed the authors introducing themselves and talking for a few minutes. She’ll be editing these mini interviews into a YouTube video, so that’s something to look out for!

The second UKYA Extravaganza is followed this weekend (17th October) by a UKMG Extravaganza at Nottingham Central Library. For details of this and future events, follow UKYA Extravaganza on Twitter at @UKYAX or find them on Facebook at’

Helen and I are now holding out for more northerly Extravaganzas. I believe Newcastle has been mentioned, but I must point out there is nothing wrong with Central Scotland. Just bring it on!

(All photos by Helen Grant)