Category Archives: Bookshops

Down #6 Memory Lane

I was going to go with a male author this time, having gone down Memory Lane with mostly girls so far. But as it said in the Guardian at the weekend, men don’t read books by women to the same extent women do books by male authors. Although, as you will see below, there is a male reader involved here.

Having met Sara Paretsky quite a few times by now, I was recently reminded of the second time, and how surprised I was by the attitude of the bookshop owners, who provided the venue for our meeting, and subsequent interview.

Offspring and I talked to Sara in Gothenburg in 2006, when Son was able to ask his standing question (which we seem to have lost by now), which was her opinion of Philip Pullman. We took for granted that she’d be a fan, and Sara did not disappoint. She was very graceful, saying good things about another author, in what was her own signing queue.

And then came the second time. I’d seen she was coming to Manchester, so spruced up my interview hat and asked for an interview. All properly done through her publicist. I suggested we meet in the local bookshop, believing it’d be great for all of us, including the bookshop who’d get a major crime writer come to them.

I was so naïve.

They didn’t say no, but neither did they in any noticeable way advertise her coming. I don’t think it was that they disliked her. I reckon they just had no idea what a big name Sara was. And, yes, I had invited her. So clearly she was no one special.

The day arrived. Sara arrived, chauffeur-driven, in the company of her publicist Kerry. I was beginning to worry that no one would turn up. Luckily, some people did, and it being a small shop, the small crowd looked bigger than it was. What pleased me the most, apart from getting my interview, was that the bookshop’s customers knew what a great deal it was, even if the owners didn’t. And one man, whose favourite author Sara was, had just come for his Saturday coffee, not knowing she was there, right then. This lovely surprise for one fan, outweighed the rest, as far as I was concerned.

From then on we have met in more sympathetic bookshops and at book festivals. Always with the assistance of Kerry. Some publicists are very special. Our next meeting in Nottingham, on a snowy Sunday is one of my best memories, complete with my half-eaten sandwich and discovering how ‘all’ involved were fans of NCIS.

(Mostly) sold out

I was going to be helpful.

When we were property-hunting seven or eight years ago, the Resident IT Consultant bought a fold-out paper map of his birth town. The kind where you can look up street names and be told where to find said street on a grid. We reckoned it would be useful, even though he presumably had most of it ingrained on his brain, and I knew some bits of it.

Seven years is a long[ish] time. Most of us, even me, often use a map on a device. For me, not exclusively, but it’s handy having it out with you at all times. Assuming you have some access to all the stuff up in cyberspace when on the move. Or, I don’t know these things, maybe you can bypass old cyber if you app it?

Anyway, I wanted to suggest which map we’d found useful when talking to the newly arrived Swedes I mentioned the other day. Most online retailers reported it as being sold out, and that’s taking into account an edition later than ours. One shop, Waterstones, reckoned it could get it within ten days.

Ten days makes me suspect it won’t happen.

Newcomers need maps. They also need things like mobile contracts and bank accounts, but you can’t easily get one without the other. In which case the map on your mobile is gone when you’ve gone out and about, needing it the most.

Hence the need for paper maps.

Getting your priorities right

I found them on Facebook. Sometimes this crazy place has space for other stuff, including groups where everyone has the same thing in common. An early request on there for guidance before a move to Scotland from that place on the other side of the North Sea, led to me trying to be a little helpful. I usually stay away for fear of Facerage.

I believe I avoided saying that moving during a pandemic and the wrong side of Brexit was so crazy that they’d be better not doing it. How do you even buy a house to live in?

Anyway, some people really do need to move country and house and school and jobs. In which case some local advice is not necessarily a bad thing to provide.

A few months and two quarantine periods later, here they are. And the answer to the above is that you rent for a bit.

They are, probably temporarily, actually in the same town as myself. I have still not met them. I’m just good at dispensing advice, whether wanted or not.

But I was pleased to get a report from their first day of freedom. After an essential trip to a bank and lunch, they went to the town’s bookshop so the boy – neither old nor young – could buy a book.

I had to ask which one, because I wanted to form an opinion. I’d never heard of either the author or the title. It’s apparently fantasy. And adult. As in not children’s, not the other kind of adult. Like me at the same age, he reads in English. And for good measure his mother also photographed the pile of books he’d brought with him, in preference of more conventional packing. Toothbrushes are so overrated.

Let’s hope everything else goes well too. All you need is books. (Maybe a house. And a bank account.)

The new Edinburgh International Book Festival

I miss the live programme launches in Edinburgh. But there is plenty of information online for this year’s book festival, and whereas they can’t guarantee that everything will happen as it says in the programme, I feel they are more confident. This has been planned, in a fashion that takes in all the different ways of attending, both for the authors and the audience.

Some events will actually – fingers crossed! – have both live authors and a live audience. But you can still sit at home and watch it either live or a bit later. Or there are recorded events. Or the authors are there but the audiences are at home. And many other configurations.

It’s still free to watch online, but they would obviously appreciate some financial help, and there is a Pay What You Can system in place.

As you may remember, they have left Charlotte Square and will now be at the Edinburgh College of Art, on Lauriston Place in the heart of Edinburgh’s Old Town. From what I can see, this will be just as good, only different. But maybe the same. Less mud, perhaps?

They will have a physical presence, with not only a couple of theatres, but a bookshop and a café, and I’m sure that between us we will be able to make it as cosy, in a new way. And you know about new ways don’t you? Soon they feel like the old way, how it always was.

I haven’t yet got my head round the whole programme, but I see they have a lot of local talent, with many Scottish authors. I have worked out how to tell if there can be a live audience, and I will see if I can get a grip on where the author will be; in Edinburgh, or in their own kitchen.

If you don’t plan to be in your kitchen, tickets can be fought over on July 22nd. Read the programme. Plan. And go!

The tea nook

We made our Book Nook debut yesterday, Daughter and I. It had been a long time coming. This second-hand bookshop in Stirling was due to open around the time of the first lockdown. Then it did open during the freer parts of last year, but we weren’t so fast on our feet. The bouncy Kirkland Ciccone attended. Every week, or so it seemed. So I felt that he might carry the place forward on his own.

But yesterday, we had cause to visit the street it’s in anyway, and decided the time had come to actually enter and have a look around. Daughter looked around a lot, as she had time to kill while I ‘visited’ the nearby barber shop…

And then, because this is almost more café with [lots of] books than bookshop with added tea, we had something to eat. Lunch bagel for Daughter and tea and cake for me. All the cakes bar one was chocolate, so I ordered the ‘much healthier’ carrot version. I should let them know that while chocolate is the nicest thing on earth to eat, some of us can’t.

Anyway. The china was rather nice, and so was the presentation of everything. Mark Twain marked – haha – our table. Even the carrot was suitably unhealthy, and I understand the bagel was acceptable too. We chose the table next to the YA section. Obviously.

I was sufficiently tired after the barber’s, so we mostly looked at the books from a distance and promised ourselves that the books will get more and closer attention next time. There are a lot of books. Although Daughter said she recognised most of them from our shelves at home, this might have been an exaggeration.

The whole shop is quite large. Airy. Very nicely decorated. It’s everything I’d have wanted to do myself, but have now been spared from having to do. Someone else did it for me, including painting the shelves a rather nice green colour.

1987

That’s not a year, btw. Well, it is, but not here and now. It’s how many copies of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone were sold. Last week. Or maybe the week leading up to last week. I’m not entirely sure where the time period starts and ends, but it was in last week’s The Bookseller.

I’ve seen these figures before, and noted that J K Rowling’s wizard still appears in the top 20, two, maybe three, times. Alongside some other reasonably good books, and some not.

But that’s not what I’m about today. As I said, I’ve noted the sales figures but not considered anything more than that they still sell.

What I realised today was that 1987 new readers got the opportunity of meeting Harry for the first time, experiencing that moment of magic when you find yourself surrounded by the Dursleys, Hagrid, Muggles, lemon sherbets, and all the rest. When you realise that something very different and exciting is kicking off.

I had that moment over twenty years ago, and after reading the first three books in quick succession, had to sit back and wait for the remaining four for something like eight years. After that I was mostly envious of the new readers who didn’t have to wait, but could read all the books ‘now.’

Whereas in this new ‘now’ there are readers who weren’t even born then, who get to discover the famous books at their own pace.

Adapting

I know which layby it would be. Just as I know which house is Mr Micawber’s.

It’s funny how you picture things in a way that clearly has nothing to do with what’s in a book, or how it’s been described.

The Swedish book business newsletter Boktugg mentioned one debut author’s solution to having a book launch when bookshops were not available. And I rather approve. She invited prospective book buyers to come to a certain layby – and this being Sweden, I imagine somewhere deep in the woods – one afternoon, and there she was, sitting in her car, signing copies of her new book.

Not that I have a book to sign, but I could immediately visualise which layby I would use, should it ever come to this. ‘My’ one even has a snack van stationed there, although I suppose if it were a real lockdown, it would have to be shut, instead of open for business. And perhaps one would need permission from the authorities. But as an idea I like it.

So that’s my layby sorted.

Mr Micawber’s house is obviously nothing at all like the ‘real’ Mr Micawber’s abode, which I imagine would be brick or stone and somewhere in civilisation. My Micawber house is a ramshackle, wooden, 20th century house in the Swedish countryside. I decided many years ago, as we travelled past it every day, that that’s what it was. And to this day I can’t unthink the label as a most unlikely Dickensian house. With a smoked salmon shop across the road…

Big in Barnes

Today I bring you a review from the keyboard of the Resident IT Consultant. He’s been enjoying Bernard O’Keeffe’s debut crime novel, The Final Round:

“DI Garibaldi is the only policeman in the Met who can’t drive a car which means when he’s not being driven by his DS, he uses a bicycle or buses to get around. The tube gives him claustrophobia and he feels you learn more about London and its people by travelling by bus. You have to go back sixty years to the crime novels of John Creasey and his ‘handsome West of the Yard’ to find a London detective who travels by bus.

DI Garibaldi lives in Barnes, so when a man’s body is found near the Thames, he’s conveniently close to hand. The victim was last seen at a charity quiz at which, during the last round, a series of scandalous allegations were made about his Oxford contemporaries, most of whom also live in Barnes. Any one of them might be the murderer, and their sense of entitlement and self-satisfaction only reinforces one’s suspicions.

Perhaps DI Garibaldi is a little unrealistically free from the police procedures and paperwork that dog most other modern detectives, but it’s an amusing story, firmly rooted in southwest London, and leading to an exciting climax.”

And, there’s more! On the day of publication – Thursday – the Resident IT Consultant joined me at the launch, held online and also a little bit in the Barnes Bookshop, where Gyles Brandreth showed what a fan of the book he is, by asking Bernard lots of questions. And he’s also a Barnes inhabitant…

After explaining quite how much the book, or rather, the detective, has to do with Garibaldi biscuits, Bernard read from the beginning of the book, when the dead body is found..

Generally speaking, this was a very Barnes-y launch, quite noisy, in fact, with what I suspect to have been mostly Bernard’s friends and family, plus the publishers. And us at Bookwitch Towers and Bernard’s publicist Fiona, also up here in the north.

Apart from being a bit related to the biscuit, on his wife’s side, Bernard refused to jinx book no. 2 by talking about it prematurely. He is a pantser, not a plotter, and it sounded as if he’s the kind of author who changes his mind about who did it, somewhere in the process of writing. More exciting that way.

Asked who he’d like to see as Garibaldi on screen, were this ever to happen, Bernard moved swiftly between [a younger] Tom Conti, or maybe Peter Capaldi, to Toby Jones, which really doesn’t leave us any the wiser as to what the man looks like.

Oh well.

The virtual Phil Earle

One has some great looking string lights and the other a colour coordinated bookcase. And it really does improve things when someone with a new book to launch – Phil Earle – gets to do the launching with a good friend – Sarah Crossan, or two – Charlie Sheppard. The always enthusiastic Charlie, who is Phil’s editor, introduced everyone and pointed out that the best thing is to be friends with authors, followed by free food and wine.

Sarah Crossan, who is a great friend, took over the chatting with Phil. She knew what to ask and which direction to go, even if she was having to get used to not chatting as privately as usual. Although, no secret was made of the fact that Phil has had some personal problems, when ‘everything went wrong’, in the last five years or so. It had made him worry that he was ‘done’ with his idea for the new book – When the Sky Falls – but in the end he channelled all his pain and wrote it.

According to everyone who has provided a quote for the book, and I do mean literally everyone, this is not just Phil’s best work but really great stuff in general. (I can’t wait to read it.) It has been compared to Goodnight Mister Tom, The Machine Gunners, Kes, and so on. Set in WWII it’s about a boy who is so badly behaved that he is packed off to London, in a reverse evacuee kind of way.

The idea appears to have come from Phil’s ex father-in-law’s father and what he did in the war. (Basically, if there was a bomb threat to the local zoo, he was to shoot the lion.) Phil read to us – from page 30 – about when his main character meets a different animal at a different zoo. It’s the kind of reading that makes you want to know more.

He put his own feelings into this book, and as Phil said, ‘I can only write like I can’. He’d been afraid he was too old, in a world of publishers obsessed with debut authors, but judging by what everyone has said, he’s done all right. There was a lot of emotion, for a book launch. And contrary to what most authors say when asked about their favourite of the books they’ve written, Phil really does love When the Sky Falls best of all his. And he has written some seriously great books.

Interestingly, both Phil and Sarah, are currently reading Hilary McKay’s new book, and Phil also praised Elizabeth Wein’s war stories. He likes to read about ‘the small stuff’, rather than official war history.

He’s now off to visit sixty bookshops to sign books. ‘I have waited for this!’

You’d better watch out, for Phil and his book.

The other bookshop

Waterstones had been expecting me.

No, not really. But they might have. I was right; there were far more normal customers in this shop, browsing in a normal fashion.

Even I tried to behave normal.

As I slowly shuffled down to the children’s end, I was overtaken by a mother with a boy, perhaps three or a small four?

I was terribly disappointed when they passed me going the other way, both by how brief a time they’d spent and by the book the mother was clutching. Upside down, but I could easily tell it was by DW. ‘So, not for the boy himself,’ I thought.

Except, when I shared what I’d seen with Daughter, she had witnessed the other half of what was going on. The boy clutched £5 from Granny. He didn’t want to be in a bookshop. He didn’t want a book.

Sad, but ultimately fine.

The mother wanted him to want a book. The problem is you don’t get much for a fiver. I don’t think she knew this before forcing him into the wrong shop in which to spend Granny’s gift. Basically, they ended up with DW because of the price – is he really that cheap? – and because he’s in such plentiful supply you can’t but help see those books wherever you turn. And everyone’s heard of him.

That is not a recommendation.

But whatever else you think about this unwilling spend on a book, and the type of book the boy got, there is one more wrong thing here. He’s too young for DW.

He will end up even less keen on reading, having spent his fortune on the wrong book.

Resting on a bench outside Waterstones I pondered two things. Is it ever all right to tell someone they should leave DW’s books alone (unless, perhaps, if actively chosen by the young reader)? And what should I suggest they buy instead? Especially as a fiver won’t generally cover a picture book, or one of the better chapter books with illustrations aimed at pre-schoolers.

I had hoped they were speedy and chose that book because they were getting a birthday present for a cousin or a friend. Not wasting Granny’s money on turning someone off reading.