Category Archives: Bookshops

Some EIBF thoughts at the end

It might not be the end, of course. For me and the book festival, I mean. There are events galore that I want to see, so will carry on when I can. I just didn’t feel up to more consorting with strangers on trains. That situation may well improve at some point.

Some people have been negative about the new ways. But in this instance ‘we’ have to try new ways to survive. One day they might feel like the old ways.

All the photos I’ve since seen from the Art College suggest that people came and they sat and they enjoyed. Maybe on a smaller scale. But they came. Some authors also came. It would have been nice to see more of them actually there, but the way it was done, the ‘menu’ had scope to be more exotic.

Perhaps the days of seeing Garth Nix in the flesh are over. (Just picking an Oz author at random here.) And if they are, then so be it. I had the opportunity of seeing him live live, and will be able to live on memories. Soon people will not have this kind of expectation when the new becomes the norm. A Garth on a screen is still a Garth.

The authors – and the audiences – have not been not travelling just because of Covid. It is also a greener thing to not travel, and the planet might last a little longer if we refrain from frying it too much. I’m sure some authors have enjoyed traversing the globe for events, but am equally sure some have hated it, or at least the accompanying exhaustion.

So here’s to a few more years of trialling the next ‘old ways’ of bookfesting. Garth on a screen, and Bookwitch at her desk. Both of us dreaming of the olden days. Or not.

Goodbye Cathy

Cathy MacPhail has died. She had been ill for several years, and I often thought of her, but felt I mustn’t keep asking her family for news.

We met over ten years ago, in a [Stockport] hotel bar. The first thing Cathy did was demand I take her necklace off, so I gave it my best shot, but I must be quite a bad necklace-taker-offer. Luckily Rachel Ward arrived soon after, so I introduced them to each other, and then Rachel had a rather more successful go at removing her new friend’s necklace. (The necklace in the photo below is not that necklace. It’s the one Cathy replaced it with for the awards ceremony. Very glam.)

From then on I came across Cathy in various places, and mostly in her native Scotland. Always cheerful, always supportive of people. And always very much admired by everyone. Children liked her books. Adults, authors, liked her books. I think I especially admired the way this selfmade woman had achieved so much, and I used to enjoy thinking of her in her waterside home in Greenock, watching the large cruise ships cruise by.

When I came up with my crazy idea of inviting my dear children’s authors to lunch at Bookwitch Towers, she was the first to volunteer. Admittedly, she was about the last to arrive, because she got a wee bit lost between Greenock and Stirling. In the end I sent the Resident IT Consultant out with my mobile phone, to try and find Cathy before she turned her nice big car round to go home again.

She even returned the next year, and I do admire (there’s that word again) the way she’d get into her car and drive to all sorts of places just because people wanted to see her.

We’d meet at the RED book awards, where she’d be accompanied by one of her daughters.

The last time I saw Cathy was at the Glasgow launch of Theresa Breslin’s book about Rasputin, almost four years ago. There was a group of us who sat down where we were not supposed to sit, to have a nice gossip about the kinds of things a person needs to gossip about.

It was after another book launch, in Edinburgh, that Kirkland Ciccone asked me about Cathy’s health. He’d heard rumours about her being ill, but didn’t feel he had the right to start asking questions. I made enquiries. Sadly he was right; Cathy was ill. We kept hoping for the best, and hopefully the best is what Cathy’s family got over the last few years.

The first day

Today was the first day of the rest of its life, for the new Edinburgh International Book Festival. I had to be there. It’s now in the Edinburgh College of Art in Lauriston Place. It’s different, but not that different. As the Photographer and I dithered near the entrance, the first person we encountered was Ian Rankin. Rather like on our first ever EIBF in 2009. This was clearly a good omen.

The next thing for us was to find the press yurt, looking smaller than ever, but still our press yurt. It still had Frances Sutton and were it not for current circumstances we could have hugged her. We all agreed we had missed this very much; this getting together in the same place, especially with people who had not Zoomed endlessly during the last year and a bit.

The ducks were in situ, which was a relief for us and them. However, the badge for my Photographer was classier than mine. Just saying.

We saw one of the crew (I’m never quite sure what he does, but we’ve seen him every year), who still had Covid hair. Very fetching.

Walked around the courtyard of the college, getting our bearings. It’s smallish, and very green. It’s got a lot of decking, because although small, it’s ‘hilly’. Trees and tent coverings have my favourite little string lights. I’ll have to come back in the dark. There are picnic tables and several mobile bars serving stuff, as well as the college café which does hot food. Play tent for the young and first aid tent for the unfortunate.

Didn’t think much of the bookshop. Few books and looked more like the old signing tent.*

There is a large, but not too large, screen in the middle of all this. We arrived in time for the live event with Zoë Wicomb, talking to Stuart Kelly (another stalwart of the festival, who is always there), and this was something I liked. It was a free event to enjoy from wherever you might be sitting, resting, eating lunch, or whatever. Good quality picture and decent sound. I’d never heard of Zoë, and for that reason would never have bought a ticket to see her, but this was good. I dipped in and out of their chat, feeling it personified the general sentiment of the bookfest.

Saw two gentlemen wearing top hats and tails, and felt they looked a bit familiar. Decided they were Macastory, whose job it was to do live talks and walks on the Meadows. So there were a few familiar faces, at this new hybrid affair of books. Missed Daniel Hahn whose recorded event with Jenny Erpenbeck was done closer to [his] home than previously advertised. I only cried a little into my cups over that, but they were Moomin cups, so…

Having brought with us foreign food to eat, just in case, we then made the sacrifice of road testing the college café as well. Just to be sure. It was very pleasant. I could go back. (At least if the train journey wasn’t quite so hot and crowded.)

*That would be because it was the signing tent. As we left, turning the corner to go find a train home, we came across the real bookshop. It was bigger, with more books. And it has seating outside if you are overcome by some urge to read what you bought.

Purged

We rolled up our sleeves and started chucking books at the sofa. Although first Daughter and Hetty dusted off the very worst, and let me tell you, the worst was pretty bad. Maybe dusting twice a year isn’t often enough?

There were books I felt really could go, because if I’m not getting any younger, I probably won’t reread them. And another thing about age; we find we don’t see so well when we [try to] read the classic Penguin Classics. The print is very small, isn’t it? The Resident IT Consultant is a firm believer in the e-reader, and the fact that if the author is long enough dead, then financially it makes sense – and sensibility – to go for the classic ebook experience. Out went Austen and Brontë. Gaskell is still here, but she can leave next time.

But yeah, we can both carry the complete works of – insert name of old author here – in our pockets. All at once.

And Daughter says we haven’t got rid of nearly enough books, but as I said, there can be a next time, or so I hope.

The odd thing about all this is that for all the books on the sofa – now in carrier bags for the charity shop – the gaps on the shelves are nowhere near as large as one would expect…

(And with the Edinburgh International Book Festival opening its doors tomorrow morning, I am rubbing my hands in anticipation of the bookshop experience I might have there!)

Whine, anybody?

Has it been long enough since I whined, so I can whine again?

Someone emailed me the other day, saying they were done with the toxic world of YA books (this is an author, btw).

I believe her/him. I just haven’t got the experience of behind the scenes to know all that they refer to.

Currently I have some unsolicited – by me – books hoping for a review.* Simultaneously, I have a wish list for books to read and review. But they’re not going to come, are they?

* So it can’t be that they hate me, or that they can’t afford to send books out. (I was about to say that I would understand. But then I remembered the figures I happened to read in The Bookseller with my breakfast. They are doing all right financially.)

I’ll go shopping.

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.