Category Archives: Bookshops

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)


In mid-September a Swedish book fan was ordered by Stirling Sheriff Court to leave her favourite author alone, and to go back to Sweden the next day. And no, that wasn’t me.

The author in question is Stirling historian Neil Oliver, who has been bombarded with letters and photos and CDs by this woman over the last year. Her stalking continued when she turned up at a book signing Neil was doing at Waterstones in Glasgow this month, trying to hand him an envelope.

I understand that this must have been upsetting for Neil. I’m wary of people knowing where I live, so for his address* to have become known to her will have made him feel unsafe.

But, the man appears on television regularly. It’s easy to ‘fall’ for a charismatic television presenter at the best of times. As an author he’s a bit of a public figure. At a bookshop signing he is doing a public event.

It’s tricky. I understand her fervour, and I get his fear. I don’t know what the solution is.

But I can sort of see myself in her place. It can be hard not to admire too much.

(*The full name and address of the poor fan has been made public, with the help of the Stirling Observer. This is something that wouldn’t happen in Sweden.)

Btw, I love you all!!!!!!

Capital Crime; Edinburgh Noir

They are busy upsetting tourist boards all over Scotland. They, being Neil Broadfoot, Doug Johnstone and James Oswald. I mean, how dare they commit murder in the lovely settings the tourist boards are meant to promote?

Yes, well, they do. But last Sunday morning the topic for discussion was putting people off Edinburgh, or rather, telling us about how they have approached murder in the Scottish capital.

James Oswald – described in a blurb as the new Ian Rankin – started writing his Tony McLean books in Wales, so had to pick the areas of Edinburgh he knew from when he was a student. Besides, Stuart MacBride already had Aberdeen, which would have been a second choice for James.

Doug Johnstone is from Arbroath and thought that Dundee is a big city, so he simply ‘got over it’ [Edinburgh’s reputation], and he tries to find areas less well represented in fiction to make them his. He has also written about Islay, and in order to avoid lots of research he makes his characters visitors, so that he doesn’t have to prove he knows a place like a native.

Neil Broadfoot’s only reason for ‘being here’ was Edinburgh. A journalist for the Scotsman he described getting the idea of killing someone by throwing them off the Scott Monument. He also enjoys killing on Skye, and generally likes taking a beautiful place and doing something terrible in it.

So the introduction by Alanna Knight was obviously quite apt; ‘Edinburgh has always been bad.’ She talked about Burke and Hare, saying what a fascinating crime history Edinburgh has.

James Oswald

James’s Tony McLean hardly ever gets sent out of Edinburgh. He needs to be there. In the early days of writing James described the rather nice area of Trinity, off Leith Walk, as a place full of drug addicts and whores. Now he checks his facts a bit better. He also finds he needs to move McLean and the murders to new areas, and not just stick to the few he knew well years ago. A while ago he thought of a friend’s house in Gilmerton, and decided he was going to murder someone there. He then discovered the caves in Gilmerton, which were absolutely perfect for killing people in.

Doug tries to be as accurate as possible, so has maps and photos on his wall. He checks distances from A to B, and which way you’d travel between them, as well as knowing house numbers, mentioning a murder which took place in Ian Rankin’s house.

Neil Broadfoot

Neil said you’d never have a Mardi Gras in Princes Street, and that tone and flavour is the most important. He also seems to have considered, very carefully, how you’d kill someone by running a tram into them.

Questioned on writing series, Neil said that one novel tends to give him the next one. Doug isn’t strong enough to be hard to his characters by having them go through the treatment he dishes out more than once.

Tony McLean gets more scarred with every book, but James blames Stuart MacBride for this. Asked if you have to read the books in order, he said you don’t need to, but that he’d prefer for people ‘to buy all the books…’ (The Benfro books must be read in order, however.)

James read the passage from Gilmerton cove and it was chilling even when you have already read the book. Doug read a suicide scene set on the Forth Road Bridge in Queensferry, which made me want to read the book, while also making me not want to read it. Neil said that as it was after twelve, he was allowed to swear, which he did when he read about murder in a newspaper editor’s office [not the Scotsman].

As to who they write for, they agreed you must write for yourself and not try and please others. James found this out when publishers made him lose the supernatural from his books, but it was rubbish. Besides, Allan Guthrie told him to keep the ghosts in.

Doug Johnstone

Doug said you have to write what you have to write. This former nuclear physicist has always written, and he was encouraged to ‘go for it’ after getting two quite nicely done rejections.

And politics is generally a no.

A pathological liar

Even though I know I will love listening to Sophie Hannah talk about her new book, it takes me by surprise how entertaining she is. Fun. Intelligent. I’ve had her A Game For All The Family sitting here for a while. First I was going to read it immediately, but you know how that tends to go. After that I was too scared to contemplate it. Because Sophie is one scary woman, too.

Sophie Hannah

She’s satisfied with the title of her novel. She got the words from numerous boxes containing board games and the like, and her novel is about a family playing games, just not Cluedo or Monopoly. It’s her first standalone novel, and she couldn’t use her normal detectives Simon and Charlie, because she needed the police to be useless. And to be in Devon.

It’s about pathological lying, which is different from ‘normal sensible lying.’ She was inspired by her daughter’s friend, who was an unusually interesting nine-year-old boy. (Sophie tends to go out of her way to avoid children.) Set in a house on the same spot as Agatha Christie’s Greenway, it was inspired by Sophie’s family holiday there.

Sophie Hannah

Sophie has to plan everything in advance, as her ‘mysteries are so weird’ and there is generally just the one possible solution. She reminisced about her own house move from Bingley to Cambridge, moving not because they needed to, but because she felt like living in Cambridge. It made her feel a bit neurotic, worrying about having randomly moved her family, possibly tempting fate in doing so.

As a child she used to write jolly, childish stories, but rarely of the fingerprints and DNA variety. She talked about the pathological liars she has known. Her husband told her ‘no one is even remotely as weird as you.’ She feels attuned to the weird side of life, and loves inviting insane guests for dinner. (You’ve been warned.)

Apart from for her Poirot novel Sophie has come up with the titles for all her books, and she likes having the title before she starts writing. She feels there is often a link between what authors like reading and the kind of books they write. Sophie grew up on Agatha Christie and Ruth Rendell, who are both favourites, as well as P D James’ Innocent Blood which she would go up to strangers to recommend.

Sophie Hannah

At the moment Sophie has four and a half days off from having finished her next book, The Narrow Bed, before she starts on a secret writing task that has to be done by Christmas. I think we can guess.

When I got home, all fired up, I discussed the book with the Resident IT Consultant. I said I must read it. He – who has read it – commented on the plot, and I said ‘that sounded like a bit of a spoiler.’ He looked embarrassed before saying he’d better not say any more. Wise man. Maybe I’ll gag him.

And then it was Sunday

Rubbing shoulders with all these crime writers has made me see the potential for murder everywhere. For instance, the fresh blood spatters in the ladies toilet? The possibilities are endless. The man with the shoulderbag strap? I saw him twice. Just because you see someone a lot, doesn’t mean you know them and that they are safe. (You from them, or they from you…)

Neil Broadfoot and James Oswald

I went to see three more noir boys before lunch. This time they were Edinburgh Noir. They may have been sold out. James Oswald reckoned ‘that was fun’ when I caught up with him in the corridor after the event.

You may remember I had running to do. So after I’d made sure the three noirs sat down to sign at the table laid for three, rather than four, it was all downhill for me again. But at least it was dry.

Outside the Albert Halls

It was so dry I was able to sit in the small park area in front of the Albert Halls to have my lunch. I even had a wasp trying to enter my sandwich bag. It made me realise two things; that we’ve not seen many wasps at all this cold summer, and that here is where I always attract wasps. Between one Bloody September and the next, I forget. I watched two men wielding a mallet and a saw (because that’s not dangerous at all). From their sign it seems they build cabinets. Don’t know why they did it in the park, though.

Queue for Sophie Hannah

Missed Lin Anderson’s signing due to my outdoor picnic. And then I went in for my two Albert Halls events, not meeting a single unexpected person and having a generally uneventful afternoon. If I could have Sophie Hannah’s trousers I’d be happy, but I daresay she needs them herself.

Ian Rankin

If Ian Rankin looks happy it’s because he and his fellow Scots in the Scottish football team drew with England. Naturally this was when it rained. 5-5, which apparently means the local team keeps the cup because they won last year…

It wasn’t so dry that it didn’t rain at all, but it mostly did this while I was indoors and the rain was not. On my way home I could have made it all the way in the dry, had I not stopped to help a lady in a car find her way to the street next to Bookwitch Towers. It struck me I could have offered to show her the way if she gave me a lift, but it also struck me that we’d both be safer not sharing a car with a stranger, however nice we both seemed.

That’s murder for you.