Category Archives: Bookshops

Ghost launch #2, take #2

I completely forgot the Mars bar. I’m the kind of witch who gives authors in need Mars bars.

Che Golden and Helen Grant

We launched Helen Grant’s Ghost last night. This was the second Edinburgh attempt, after the snow in March, and this time we were successful. Author Che Golden had mentioned the need for a Mars bar in her reverse psychology sort of invitation to the event on social media the day before. Che was chairing, so clearly felt the need to entice people to come. Online, Helen and Che have been known to call a spade a spade. And worse.

In person, Che is disappointingly polite.

Helen Grant and Ghost

We had a full room at Blackwells, and not just because both Daughter and the Resident IT Consultant came. There were a few authors, like Alex Nye, Joan Lennon, Philip Caveney and Roy Gill. Also a Ghost, except it was just some lunatic covered in a bedsheet, who later turned out to be Kirkland Ciccone gone bananas. And some perfectly normal people.

The bananas were later visible on his shirt, which he’d teamed quite nicely with a sequinned jacket. So while everyone else was also beautifully turned out, no one was quite as bananas as Kirkie.

Kirkland Ciccone

Once the silly photographs had been tweeted, Che went to work with a host of questions. Helen continued the fruit theme by mentioning The Pineapple, where you can stay for a holiday, and the deserted ruin nearby, which is one of the many places to have inspired her.

Helen Grant

She said again how hard Ghost had been to write. The dream would be an agent who reads her new novel immediately, loves it and calls with a book auction offer of £5 million. Helen doesn’t want to write more YA, but prefers to work on traditional ghost stories.

Che reminisced about how on their first meeting Helen took her to Innerpeffray Library, and showed her the leper squint. It’s what she does for her friends, I find.

Che Golden

Che also pointed out that while she has read every single book Helen has written, Helen has not read any* of Che’s. This is possibly not true, but a sign of how they insult each other. I occasionally wonder if I shouldn’t have introduced them, but then, where would I learn such a varied vocabulary?

Helen sets herself an amount of words to be written every week. If she has worked hard, she might get Fridays off. That’s when she relaxes by visiting solitary places, for the atmosphere. She can recommend graveyards.

Philip Caveney and Susan Singfield

And on that cheerful note it was time to buy copies of Ghost and to mingle and chat. There was wine.

Roy Gill

After I’d given Mr Grant a quick Swedish lesson, it was time to go home. Which, is easier said than done on a Thursday, with still no evening trains. We lured poor Kirkland to come along with us, which meant his debut on the Edinburgh trams as well as probably getting home considerably later than he’d have done under his own steam. But we meant well.

*I can recommend them.

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To board or not to board

Toddler Tollarp is two today. When his mother invited us to an Easter lunch last week (I was very grateful because no one ever invited me/us to a proper Swedish Easter lunch in all my Easters here), we felt we wanted to bring an early birthday present. Daughter had rather fallen for those books we saw in Oxford the week before, and wanting to engage in some massive brainwashing she ordered a few books for Toddler Tollarp.

Let’s just say that they had never expected books like that!

Rocket Science for babies, and General Relativity for babies. Yeah, at two he is slightly too young, but you need to start in time. I think the books are intended for children a few years older, but no self-respecting five-year-old – or his/her parents – would look at a board book at that stage.

Because that’s what they are, and quite sensibly too. Larger than a baby board book, so it fits in with the serious nature of the subjects. And being a board book it should withstand the young genius through some rough times (unlike that train book Son killed over a couple of years) and plenty of re-reads.

However, if the child and his/her adults also see the title XXX for babies, the baby-ness of the board book will be reinforced. And then where will you be? Who is it to be for, and who will buy it? A baby will almost always be somewhat young for Quantum Physics. Even if starting early is good.

(I occasionally suspect that commissioning editors aren’t always aware of the facts of life. Titles like Quantum Entanglement for babies are so attractive. But are they truthful? And then there is the board book aspect.)

It is time we take back control of board books and their juvenile looks. The sturdy quality is good for years, and a child will generally like a beloved book for a long time. All we need is for the adults not to tidy them away prematurely.

Chris Ferrie, who has written a whole host of these clever little books, is on to a good thing. At least if pride doesn’t get in the way.

Chris Ferrie, Rocket Science for babies

(If I seem confused re book titles, it’s because all this quantum stuff is now twirling round in my brain and I no longer recall which book is which. But they are all good, and all seem to be about balls…)

Blanks

Where was I? Last week I claimed to have taken a leaf out of Chris Riddell’s book, albeit not literally. He had a blank sketchbook when I saw him, and I simply had to have one too, when I found some for sale in the Bodleian’s shop.

There were several books on a table. All very attractive, but one spoke to me more than the others, despite being a bit beige and plain. It reminded me of something Mother-of-witch might have read when she was young.

Blanks - Anne de Vries, Ratje

Once upon a time it had presumably been a Dutch children’s novel, whereas now it ‘just’ had the cover, with blank pages inside for Riddell masterpieces, or stupid words by me. The author was Anne de Vries, and I was rather taken aback to discover that Anne was a man.

Anyway, Anne’s book is called Ratje, Een jongen van de straat, which I take to mean Ratje was a child of the street. He looks it, if you apply the standards of maybe 80 years ago. Haven’t found a date for the story.

It’s a bit worn, and a bit watermarked. It’s lovely.

Blanks

As with that other notebook I told you about once, chances are I will never ruin it by writing in it… And it wasn’t quite as cheap, I have to admit.

A small Oxford miscellany

The Bodleian Library shop is a dangerous place. I only went in because Daughter went in, and because it meant standing still instead of walking even more. I have a very effective do-not-buy filter that I can apply in a situation like this. Still, I went from one item to the next, feeling that as a one-off I really could buy it. Or that other thing. Maybe both.

In the end I channelled my inner Chris Riddell and bought what he had when I last saw him; a notebook covered in the cover off an old – now dead – ‘real’ book. I know, I know. But if it was good enough for the then children’s laureate to doodle in, then what hope could there possibly be for me?

We began Sunday morning by resting on the seat outside Trinity College. As we sat there, Sheena Wilkinson walked past. But these things happen. We’d had our Weetabix in the same college breakfast room as well.

Palm Sunday, Trinity

Anyway, Trinity. Suddenly there was singing from afar. The singing drew nearer and Daughter got up and said people were coming towards us. There was incense and some of them carried bits of what looked like stalks of grain. Finally, the penny dropped and Daughter remembered it was Palm Sunday. They were singing their way to the morning church service.

Very Oxford.

A ‘classmate’ from St Andrews had popped up on Facebook the previous night, and we had arranged to have lunch with him. We chose the biggest tourist trap in town, or so it seemed. But it came with Morse and Lewis connotations. And they had my broom on a beam on the ceiling.

Broom

The classmate had recently started his PhD in this venerable spot. Oxford. Not the pub. It has something to do with doughnuts. I think.

After we’d fed, we staggered round past a few more bookshops, and finished up in the Weston Library. Which is very nice. They have seats. Good baking. And a shop. Saw Ian Beck, presumably on his way to an event.

Then we agreed we’d done quite enough for one day, and walked back to our luggage and a train to take us to the sleeper train home, via another bit of Blackwells. We went in and said we wanted to buy ‘that book in the window.’ They were extremely helpful.

It would be safest never to go back there, ever again.

Lounge mouse

Sleeper passengers get to wait in the lounge at Euston. We met a nice little mouse in there. I suspect it was getting ready to collect the day’s food debris, fresh off the floor. It knew to wait until the exact right moment.

And this is not an invitation to put any traps out. Or poison. It was cute.

Lit there

Or ‘sit there!’

After a morning of walking round Oxford, waving to colleges everywhere, taking touristy photographs, refraining from buying stuff we don’t need, even when it looks so tempting – Dobby mask, anyone? – it was good to get to the litfest venue for a sit down.

At our first event with Miriam Halahmy and Bali Rai, I managed a polite negotiation on not sitting where they wanted me. When it came to the event with Sally Nicholls and Sheena Wilkinson, I ended up offering to leave. I somehow don’t feel that 20 of the best – in my opinion – seats should be reserved for latecomers.

If there is a next time, I will arrive late.

On our way ‘home’ Daughter was enticed into Blackwells where she spent lots of money on some heavy books. I know this, because I carried them, while she carried the pizzas. Safe hands, and all that.

Early check-out and changing of the clocks have ensured this brief blog post. There will be more on what people said later.

Worcester College

Snow stops play

So. Snow.

It can be quite annoying, at times. Even if all that white looks pretty, what with the beautiful light coming into your rooms and everything.

We had a full Thursday planned. I was going to Edinburgh for some Swedish church stuff. Daughter was flying in from the continent to join me. (At one point it looked like both the Resident IT Consultant and Son were going to come along too. Unheard of.)

After that we were going to hang out somewhere nice for a bit; maybe Dishoom.

And then we’d go to Blackwells and launch Helen Grant’s Ghost again.

But you probably know what happened. Snow closed airports and railway stations and the trains and the planes went nowhere. One Scottish children’s author managed to leave the country on what must have been about the last plane out of Edinburgh on Wednesday.

Ghost was postponed. Personally I blame this weather on the children’s author who was going to chat to Helen about her book at the launch. She had gone out and bought garden things, envisaging some imminent opportunity for sitting out in the garden over drinks.

At one point it looked like church was cancelling itself too, but with the help of higher powers the minister found a train out of Newcastle. On the other hand, I doubt she had many ‘customers’ as I suspect most of the others couldn’t get anywhere either. I certainly couldn’t.

And with snow closing Geneva airport as well, Daughter could no longer blame it all on the UK and its way with snow.

I remember The Big Snow in 1968. It’s just that back then we had few plans for our time. It didn’t matter too much. Today, Son is/was due to go somewhere [ridiculously far] for the day. Dodo’s family are/were coming north for the weekend. The Resident IT Consultant even had to cancel a phone call due to snow.

But it does look quite nice.

Snow

Ordeal by teacher

I grew up surrounded by teachers. Yes, I know, most of you have had quite a few of them in your early lives. I had a few more, what with being the child of one and therefore getting to enjoy many more teachers as friends of the house, so to speak. And that didn’t stop when I left school, for obvious reasons.

I have liked them as much as you like people in general. No better but no odder than the rest of us.

So I was at first surprised by the Resident IT Consultant’s feelings about teachers, but I have become aware how right he is. One of the main characters in this old blog post of mine is a former teacher. And that’s probably half the trouble. Some teachers aren’t nice in the first place. Others forget that they are no longer teachers, with the ‘right’ to tell anyone and everyone off at all times. Those that remain teachers lose track of who they can reasonably treat like naughty children.

And no, that does not include me.

Which brings me to Nicola Morgan, who is excellent in so many ways. She is an author, who does school events. What’s more, she has done extensive research into other areas and written books about her findings, and now she travels the country giving talks on this. She’s good. She has made interesting discoveries and she presents them really well. Anyone would be lucky to hear Nicola speak.

But do those teachers behave? No they don’t. Well, quite a few do, of course, and she has met many good hosts during her travels. But recently she had one or two bad trips, where [head] teachers forgot she is a professional, invited by them and paid by them, and she shouldn’t be treated like a child, whose every move has to be controlled. Or that you drive off leaving her standing alone in the dark outside a school at the end of a long day, with her hoping a taxi will turn up.

Nicola is surprisingly polite still, but decided to put some of her experiences into a blog post on her website. I suspect she’s still holding back a little, but urge you to read what life at school is like, even for invited adults.