Category Archives: Bookshops

Ready, steady, go

Really? Can they do this to me?

I had coldly calculated that I’d start my Edinburgh International Book Festival late this year. That way I can have a slightly longer/later August holiday and still be there to take in the generally excellent authors coming to do school events in the second week.

But the programme, which was made public yesterday, is busy scuppering those plans. I will have to talk to myself and see what I can do. My favourite author is appearing on one of the first days! But at least she [Meg Rosoff] is appearing.

And there are others. In fact, I think I can confidently state that there will be authors, good ones, almost every single day for the 17 (18 if you count the school finale) days the book festival is on. That’s without me even checking the details of adult authors who are going to be there. Authors for adults. Most of them are adults in themselves.

Then we have the news that the festival is spilling out of Charlotte Square and onto George Street this year. This is both exciting and slightly worrying, for those of us who like things to be exactly the same as it always was. How can I imagine an event in a venue I’ve never seen?

It will be fine. Well, it will be, setting aside the vaguely annoying fact that my Photographer has plans to, well, not to be there, this year. She claims to be as upset about it as I am. For the inconvenience, you understand.

Charlotte, and George, here I come!

Local history

It’s a good friend who brings a Bookwitch more books. Admittedly muttering the Swedish equivalent of ‘coals to Newcastle’ under her breath as she offered her pile of books to me.

And whereas I don’t need gifts, I can’t think of better ones than books.

Albert Olsson trilogy

In this case it’s both what the books are, as well as how they were come by. She has searched for them secondhand, until she found a copy of each of the three volumes in this very local (holiday local) historical trilogy about the hardships and adventures of the people who [might have] lived here four or five hundred years ago, when life was tough.

Another old friend talked about them when we were both in our early teens, and while she loved the books, I thought they sounded dreadfully boring.

These days there are performances (in promenade form, I believe) near where we spend our holidays, most summers, and they are tremendously popular. It will come as no surprise to you that I’ve never been…

Last year when my book-bringing friend let me read her own book on a similar topic, she mentioned how much she liked Albert Olsson‘s trilogy about local farmer Tore Gudmarsson (there is a road near us named after him), so I admitted my ignorance again.

And now she has spent all winter looking for copies for me. She apologised for them not being matching, but that surely is the charm of used books? They needn’t match. They just are. Besides, I suspect the odd one out might be a first edition. The other interesting thing about the books is that they appear to be published by one of the local bookshops.

So far I have tried the beginning of book one, Sand, and I have to admit it’s like pickled herring. Much better than I’d imagined.

The poor Resident IT Consultant – always keener on history than his wife – eagerly had a go, only to give up because they are too hard for him to read. Now, where’s a translator when you need one?

Interning

Read in the paper about how the interning – same as working for free – business is spreading. I thought it was merely for the hopefuls in creative jobs, but it seems to have grown to High Street clothes shops. Yes, of course I’d love to flog t-shirts all day long and not be paid!

I can see how it began, and I can also see how someone saw how this could be used to line their own pockets, because we are all desperate to be part of something.

Yes, me too.

Right now I’m only my own intern, but I argue with myself every week about this. Years ago I did other unpaid work, but it was called volunteering, and was mostly once a week in the school library. At least there was a library. And books. And I was needed/wanted for several years.

I liked the access to unlimited books, and getting out of the house. And when the author visits began, meeting authors. Discovering they actually shop in Tesco, like normal people.

So what to do once that ended?

I sold myself to a bookshop, that’s what. I didn’t mind doing things for free. I chose what to be involved in, and it meant much more author contact. There was some writing/blogging involved, and eventually a young readers’ review group.

I watched the part-time employees come and go, telling myself it was different for me, because I wasn’t being paid. But eventually I got pushed out, the same as the employees. Because I am under the impression they weren’t ever sacked. They chose to leave. And so did I.

Having witnessed what was said about them afterwards, I determined to get in there first, so wrote a blog post about some of it. Only to get it out there, dated in cyber space. I didn’t mention names. But my ‘ex-non-employers’ read it and were not pleased. I’m just amazed that two weeks after such a falling out they were still reading Bookwitch.

I must be better than I thought.

I have no idea if they spoke about me after. Doesn’t matter. For years I had to explain to publishers and publicists that there was a ‘situation’ and in many cases this didn’t seem to surprise them. You have to tread carefully after this kind of thing, but I’d say I made more friends because of it, rather than losing them.

Because I wasn’t alone. Authors were bullied. Publishers’ reps were bullied, and publicists. Someone totally un-initiated regarding this reported what was being said at Hay (I think). That helped make me feel a lot better. I mean, I knew I was no more horrible a person than average, but this kind of blowing hot and cold bullying got to me.

So money had nothing to do with it. Means I never got paid, but it also meant it was quick to walk away from.

Meeting Danny the Granny Slayer

Charlotte Square comes to Cumbernauld. I might have mentioned before that the Edinburgh International Book Festival have decided to branch out, and are touring five New Towns in Scotland over the next year and a half, with little pop-up festivals for a weekend, and this is the Cumbernauld weekend. The first weekend, and with a really good looking programme.

I could have wanted to do more, but limited myself to the children’s event on Saturday morning. I couldn’t resist David MacPhail, Lari Don, Barry Hutchison and Jenny Colgan. Barry unfortunately couldn’t come and was replaced by Mark A Smith, but that was also fine. Not that I knew Mark, but he had a very jolly song for us.

Lari Don and Macastory

As did Macastory; two oddly dressed men from the future who sang a lot, and required hands to be clapped and shoulders shaken and other energetic stuff. The venue got changed to the pop-up Waterstones in the shopping precinct, which I thought was odd until I understood there was no ‘real’ Waterstones there. I did see the yellow buckets I’d been told about by Kirkland Ciccone, however.

The Resident IT Consultant came along to make sure I found the way, and he discussed getting lost – or not – with David MacPhail as we waited. David was first up and had some fun Vikings he told us about. I liked the polite one best, who apparently was modelled on David himself… He read a bit from one of his Thorfinn books, and then he told those brave enough to ask, what their Viking names would be. We had Danny the Granny Slayer on the front row.

David Macphail

Lari Don came next and talked about her Spellchasers trilogy (I know, I covered this a few weeks ago), and she wanted to know if any of us had the urge to be turned into an animal. One girl wanted to be a dragon, with an interesting idea for how to deal with the 45th President while in her dragon state. Long live creativity!

Lari Don

Mark A Smith followed, talking about his hero Slugboy, who seems to be some kind of anti-superhero. Unless I got that wrong. He Slugboys it out of St Andrews, which I felt was rather posh for slugs. Mark, as I said, had a song written about his hero, which we had to sing, to the tune of Glory glory halleluja, so it was terribly uplifting and all that, as well as a clever idea for audience participation.

Mark A Smith

Last but not least we had Jenny Colgan, who brought ‘her child to work’ and then proceeded to use her – fairly willing – son to hold the iPad to illustrate her Polly and the Puffin story as she read it to us. We had to do the puffin noises, so thank goodness for Macastory who didn’t seem to mind making fools of themselves.

Jenny Colgan

They also provided fun interludes, with songs and commentary, and we learned some sad facts about the future.

And that was it. The Resident IT Consultant led me safely back to the car (free parking in Cumbernauld!) with only one wrong turn. I’m hoping the authors were suitably accompanied back to somewhere they wanted to be, too. If not, there are authors to be discovered in downtown Cumbernauld.

Cumbernauld New Town Hall

Launching The Pearl Thief

Elizabeth Wein was clutching a bunch of flowers when I found her just inside the doors of the Perth Museum last night. (I hadn’t thought to get her anything…) She introduced me to a fellow American, whose name I immediately forgot. Sorry.

I said hello to Elizabeth’s publicist Lizz, and it is so nice to find that London-based people occasionally venture this far north. I mean, Perth is practically the North Pole. I stepped outside again to fortify myself with a sandwich, where Alex Nye found me. She had also braved the travel situation, but had to drive (trains stopped at her station going north but not south, which is no way to get home), unlike me who had the luxury of the London train. Very nicely timed.

Gavin Lindsay, Jess Smith and Elizabeth Wein

After bagging a seat on the back row, I was greeted by ‘Mr Wein’ who was doing his utmost not to pass on his cold. And five minutes past the starting time the museum’s lecture theatre was just about full.

Elizabeth was joined by Jess Smith, another local author with a traveller background, who’d been an early reader of The Pearl Thief. They were kept in order by Gavin Lindsay of the Perth and Kinross Heritage Trust. We were treated to the first chapter in Elizabeth’s book, and she apologised for not being able to read with a Scottish accent. (That’s OK.) Then Jess read a long poem called Scotia’s Bairns, accompanied by a slideshow of old travellers, showing how they lived. She described it as a fading culture, that has to be grabbed before it disappears.

Elizabeth Wein

Elizabeth made her heroine Julie posh, so she could be educated and well-read in the 1930s. The reason the travellers are in the story is due to her PhD in folklore, having been introduced to them by her professor, and Jess was there to see to it that she described them properly. ‘Casting’ a pair of traveller siblings balanced Julie and her brother Jamie. Jess said she ‘lived’ in the story, but both she and the editors demanded more action. And apparently the villain was the wrong one.

Jess Smith

Jess spoke of writing her first book, about her life growing up in the travelling community, explaining how she could deal with the bullies. She just learned to run fast. She hopes that young people will read her books, and she spoke fondly of her mother. Both writers agreed there is a lot of freedom in fiction.

Gavin Lindsay, Jess Smith and Elizabeth Wein

‘A homecoming’ is how Elizabeth described The Pearl Thief. It’s the first book set where she lives. Lara, the librarian from Innerpeffray Library, was in the audience, and I wasn’t the only one to have visualised her as the librarian in the book. Asked when Elizabeth knew she wanted the library in her story, she said she’d always known it was a part of it.

The reason Elizabeth wanted to return to writing about Julie was that her voice is so easy, although in this book she needed to adapt because Julie is younger. And the back story had to be expanded, as Elizabeth only had a name for one of Julie’s five brothers. She doesn’t know whether it’s best to read The Pearl Thief before or after Code Name Verity, but said that the experience would be different, whichever of the books came second.

Jess had a cousin in the audience who’s read all her books and loves them, and Jess suggested she would like Elizabeth’s book as well, and that she’s not getting paid to say so.

Logboat

Before finishing Gavin Lindsay mentioned the museum’s archeology programme for 2017, which includes the logboat that features in The Pearl Thief. And as long as we didn’t bring drinks in, we were allowed to have a look at the boat, which was much larger than I had imagined. It was surrounded by notices not to touch, and I was overcome by this dreadful urge to disobey, but didn’t…

Elizabeth Wein and Jess Smith

People bought books, had books signed, had more to eat and drink, and chatted. I explained my conundrum to Elizabeth that I didn’t know which of my copies of The Pearl Thief I would like to have signed, so in the end I’d brought both. Yes, I know it’s greedy, but this is the prequel to the second best book in the world. A bit of greed is fine.

I helped myself to one of the free maps of Perth, having got there totally mapless (someone had left the printer without toner), and set off on the walk back to the station. Halfway there I was asked to rescue my new American friend, who felt a bit lost. I could do this, but I’m warning you; don’t ask if you actually want to catch your train. She had so much spare time that we talked about books and reading and she very nearly didn’t make it and had to run. Which was entirely my fault.

But it is good to meet other book fans.

After this I discovered that one route to my platform involved getting the lift up to a glass-fenced bridge over the station. Aarrgghhh.

Reader, I did it!

And the evening also solved a little problem I’d had. So it’s all good.

Perth Museum

Patrick Ness – setting aside expectations

Ann Landmann clearly knew she could fill the George Square Lecture Theatre for the Blackwell’s Patrick Ness event on Saturday afternoon. So she did. People were queueing before the doors opened. There were plenty of young fans, but also a good number of unaccompanied adults. It’s OK. I was one myself, as was Kate Leiper who turned up again. (We’ll have to stop meeting like this…)

Patrick Ness and Keith Gray

I knew it’d be good when I heard that Keith Gray was going to be the one to talk to Patrick about his new book Release. This was their third event together (and I’ve been to them all), and as Keith said, a lot has happened since the last time; three books, television, a film.

The edge of the stage nearly brought Patrick down as he entered, but he managed to right himself, and then he put his mic on, having left it off in case we could hear him in the Gents.

Keith wanted to know if he had anything he needs to get to before… ‘Death?’ Patrick is aware that every book could be the last, so he doesn’t hold back. He sets aside what the publisher and the market might expect, and writes what he needs to write. He pointed out that no one was expecting Harry Potter, and that J K Rowling’s joy with her book is clear.

Patrick never expected anyone would want what he wrote. Asked to describe Release to the people in the audience, most of whom had not yet read the book, he said it’s A Day in the Life of Adam Thorn, based on Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway and Judy Blume’s Forever, from buying flowers in the morning, to a party at night.

Patrick Ness and Keith Gray

He wants to kick off his safety net, and see how you survive the apocalypse; what feels like the end of the world. Asked why he wrote it now, Patrick felt the time was right. All his ten books are about him, but this one much more so. He’s not trying to be controversial for the sake of controversy. But it was time. It’s the book he’d have wanted to read when he was 16. And he can only write about his own experiences. Gay love needs to be described as more than romantic hand-holding, and he pointed out that his story contains ‘no worse’ than what’s in Judy Blume’s Forever.

Keith wanted to know if Adam might turn up in more books, but Patrick felt that was a terrible question. (He doesn’t know.) Yes, he does want to get people to read Mrs Dalloway and Forever, and there isn’t much difference between Stephen King and Virginia Woolf. Joanna Trollope’s name was mentioned, followed by a laugh. Patrick likes Donne, but not Wordsworth, which is perfectly valid.

Patrick only writes for himself at 16. He writes about everything that he’d have wanted to talk about at that age. When he wrote A Monster Calls, he knew he couldn’t guess how Siobhan Dowd would have written the story, so he had to do it his way. And books are like children; you love them, and send them out into the world, hoping for the best.

Angela in Release was based on his oldest friend, and he used the name Angela Darlington after someone paid £1000 (to charity) to have their name in his book. Someone wanted to know if Patrick would ever write about a trans character, and he replied ‘never say never.’ He mentioned his friend Juno Dawson [formerly James], who came out to him about being trans, and he feels it’s wrong that even now you ‘have to’ come out about sexuality.

Another question was about the world ending, and Patrick said he had waited for the apocalypse, but when the world kept not ending, he didn’t know what to do. Now he worries more about the boiler making odd noises, than about the apocalypse. He had a very kind answer to the age old question about what inspired him to become an author, and which book he liked writing the best.

Stories get to stew in his head for a long time before he starts the painful process of writing. And it never becomes what you think it will be. If he has a new idea when reading the first draft, he pretends in the second draft that he always knew about it.

Queue for Patrick Ness

Keith brought the discussion to a close, and Ann Landmann directed everyone where to go; those who had books for signing, those who still needed to buy books, and those who had no intention of stocking up on Christmas presents.

George Sq Lecture Theatre

Patrick Ness

As for me, I realised this was too long a queue for me to stand in (it was of Pratchett/Gaiman proportions), so I stared at the recently emptied auditorium, at Ann waving her hands in the air, took a few fuzzy photos from a distance, said goodbye to Kate, and walked out into the sunshine again.

And here is a prettier one ‘we’ snapped earlier:

Patrick Ness

(Photo above by Helen Giles)

Lari Don – aiming higher with every book.

She’s got some lovely fans, this author who wrote her first book in Primary 2. Lari Don has aimed to improve her next book ever since (although I’m sure the P2 book wasn’t all that bad). And I suppose because she remembers her own early start, Lari is quite happy to read what anyone in her audience has written, which is really generous. She even said she’d hand out her email address [the better to receive these works of fiction].

Lari was at Blackwells on Saturday to launch her second Spellchasers book, The Shapeshifter’s Guide to Running Away. I brought both my Photographer and the Resident IT Consultant. The latter was the first at Bookwitch Towers to read the first Spellchasers book, and he is currently ensconsed in his reading spot with the second.

Lari Don

But as I said, Lari didn’t have to rely on us oldies, as she had a lovely collection of nice girls who have read and loved her books and who had lots of opinions and questions. The perfect fan audience, in fact. She got quite a bit discussed as we waited for two o’clock, thanking the fans for choosing her over the park on such a nice day (of course they would!), finding out their favourite characters, and reminiscing about a school pupil, years ago, who was started on reading by an author’s visit to his/her school.

Lari Don

After an introduction by Ann Landmann, who reckoned we were the right kind of audience, liking the right kind of books, even more readers arrived and everyone had to squeeze in. Lari said she’d tell us about her writing process, and then she’d tell us a story, because Ann had asked her to.

She showed us her older books, including the embarrassing (to her own children) The Big Bottom Hunt. Lari likes novels the best, and after she had made the characters in the Fabled Beast Chronicles suffer enough, she started on Spellchasers. The trilogy will end with The Witch’s Guide to Magical Combat, which is out this autumn.

Lari Don

Lari read us the first page of it, which is still only in manuscript form [until later this week], and she had changed the odd thing over breakfast. Book two is about shapeshifting, so Lari asked the audience how they perceived this would look as it happens. They had a lot of ideas; eggs, smoke, eagles on top of bunk beds. That kind of thing.

As Lari began telling us the promised story, about a boy with a drum in Africa, I sort of rested my eyes a little, and the Resident IT Consultant looked as if he was asleep (I’m sure he wasn’t, really), but we both rallied when Lari requested snoring sounds, as though coming from the beast in her story… There was a monster who ate the boy’s parents and then vomited them out again. You get the idea.

Lari Don

After a brief reading from the second book, we had five minutes left for Q&A. I estimate those five minutes to have lasted about 15, so that was good value. The girls had a lot of questions, but I suppose it’s to be expected from people who know that eagles need to sit on bunk beds in order to see better.

She doesn’t want to think about how many hours she uses up on writing her books. One book takes about a year, but she’s always working and hours would be too scary to contemplate, in ‘the interest of sanity.’ A brief mention of the excellence of Speyside whisky, Alan Garner and Diana Wynne Jones, and then we found out that the pre-school Lari had been quite sneaky and faked reading in bed when she was actually ‘writing’ books. Unfortunately the squiggles she wrote back then are hard to read now and she doesn’t know what the books were about.

Lari Don

Ann Landmann finally put a stop to Lari and her fans (who simply continued talking over the book signing), after admitting she’d missed half her requested story because she’d had a customer to serve… As for us oldies, we had tea to drink in the café, and felt we really couldn’t compete for Lari’s attention with such ardent fans, anyway.