Category Archives: Bookshops

Perfect for…?

If you want to add to the description of a book, you could say it’s a bit like ‘XX.’ But only if it is a bit like XX. Sometimes when I’ve written along those lines, I lie awake at night, wondering if anyone else will see it the same way, or if I have been misleading.

Or you could say it would suit someone who also likes XX or YY, whether they are genres or authors or single book titles. Because it helps in the describing, and it might genuinely assist fans of whatever it is, to try this particular book or author.

But again, it needs to have some semblance of truth in it. If you mislead and thereby disappoint, you will have undone what you set out to do.

So I have to admit to hating it when press releases claim things like that. Or when publishers actually put it on the cover of the proof copy.

Meg Rosoff

A while ago I read an early proof, the cover of which claimed it was ‘perfect for fans of Meg Rosoff and Annabel Pitcher.’ (This could help identify it to the people involved, so I hasten to add that I don’t intend to disparage this particular book. It just wasn’t what the cover claimed, but then I didn’t believe the statement in the first place. To my mind it is virtually impossible to be like Meg Rosoff.)

But to reviewers or bookseller who might not know this, it could lead to them recommending the book on those grounds. Hopefully, the reader would like this book as well. We can all like lots of different types of books.

What the statement says to me, is that it will be perfect for readers of other YA novels. But then you sort of expect that. YA readers will like YA books. No need to point it out.

It’s different if the publishers were to ask Meg or Annabel to read the book and provide a quote. Then it is ‘Meg Rosoff: “This is a great read!”‘ and it’s a recommendation, not a comparison. I would need to know what kind of books Meg likes, though, if I intend to use the information to help me decide.

Now would be a good time to tell me about all such comparisons I’ve made, which disappointed you deeply. (Sorry, no refunds.)

16 floors

On arrival in London yesterday, we had to repair to a nearby hotel’s facilities to make an emergency medical dressing repair (plasters and acetone do not make good partners, but at least no one fainted). Once done we made it on time – if only just – to Hodder & Stoughton’s 16th floor offices, with no visible blood whatsoever. The lovely receptionist even made sure I didn’t have to go up in the glass elevator by ordering me a proper old-fashioned lift.

When we got there, I made sure I sat with my newly dressed back to the windows, which according to my Photographer offered great views. (She went in the glass elevator, no doubt to show off.)

The blood aspect was unexpectedly apt, as we were there to interview Marcus Sedgwick about his new ‘bloody’ novel – A Love Like Blood. There was a slight misunderstanding as to his arrival on floor 16, which meant we had a nice long chat in the lobby, with me carefully not asking him about ‘the other stuff’ and instead discussing the high points of Gothenburg and hair raising theme park rides (neither of which I like very much).

Marcus Sedgwick

We got to meet publicist Kerry’s lovely dog, which I’d only seen photos of before. I think we’d get on; plodding walking pace and a fondness for hanging out in kitchens. (Dog, not Kerry.) We diligently interviewed, and then Marcus had to rush off to finalise things to do with his book launch, while we walked to another kitchen (the Scandinavian Kitchen, for a late Lent bun).

After that we whiled away our remaining spare time in Trafalgar Square, looking at tourists, pigeons and an enormous blue rooster, before walking over to Goldsboro Books for the book launch. Thanks to Kerry’s sun dance, it didn’t rain at all. That’s what I call service.

Marcus Sedgwick, A Love Like Blood

I believe there was champagne, or some such drink, judging by popping corks, but we stayed nice and sober (I am obviously not suggesting anyone else was drunk), and chatted to people, including Thomas Taylor, who does not like blood, much. I have to admit to advising him not to read Marcus’s book.

Children’s author Linda Chapman was there. And Cliff McNish and I really must stop meeting like this. That’s twice in eight days. He’s got a nice new book out about nice dogs, with no creepyness or blood.

And then my Photographer and I sneaked out before we suffered social overload, and sort of limped home in a tired kind of way.

Bookwitch bites #118

We are mostly the same, whether we are girls or boys. By that I mean of equal value, but not necessarily quite the same, which would be impossible as well as boring.

(Girls rule!!!) And that will be why the ladies on Girls Heart Books have actually invited a few men to write for them. They’ve got that Steve Cole, for instance. He used the charms of Matt Smith/Doctor Who to get us interested. OK, and that rather lovely Spidey photo of himself. They have Tommy Donbavand, who surely inspires crazy behaviour in his young fans. I don’t see how they could have been like that before he turned up. The poor ‘orphan.’

It’s half term, and one night earlier this week Jacqueline Wilson made an appearance at a rather special sleepover for girls, reading a bedtime story from Paws and Whiskers. It was at Waterstones Piccadilly, where The Children’s Reading Fund organised for twenty girls in care to spend the night in the shop, providing them with new onesies and hot chocolate at bedtime (along with Jacky). And all I can think of is onesies and hot chocolate, and lots of girls having fun. Onesies and hot chocolate. Not the most practical of combinations, however nice…

I’d further like to recommend Nicola Morgan’s latest venture, her Brain Sane Newsletter, which you can subscribe to. You don’t need to be a teacher, or even a girl. And you know Nicola, she knows her stuff, and there’s bound to be something interesting in those newsletters. She recommends coffee or herbal tea for people to work their way through her rather long newsletter. Good value for money (it’s free, of course).

Meet the Somalis

And – this is something I’ve been meaning to mention for months – here is a link to Meet the Somalis, which is a collection of real life tales about Somalis who have left their own country and are now trying to make a life for themselves elsewhere in the world. You can download the whole thing to read. Are people the same? No. Are they equal? Not always. And you change when you live somewhere else, even if you don’t think you do.

I might have wanted to bring up two new young ‘Swedes’ but if that’s what I had in mind I was in the wrong place. And this will be multiplied whenever and wherever parents go and live somewhere different. Their children can’t be like they themselves were. And you generally only live once.

When I was younger and sillier I quite fancied myself here:

Hollywitch

Preston’s Plumage

Some people don’t want to earn money. Or so it seems, in this crazy world. Just like I give you my witchy musings for free (would love to charge if I could), Damien M Love is doing his level best to let you read his latest short story for free. Except the big bookshop in the (cyber)sky will only let big publishers give ebooks away for free.

Damien M Love, Preston's Plumage

Small Damien didn’t want to give up, however, so he is using the loophole of being allowed to offer something to download for free for five days. Starting today. So get shopping! It won’t cost you anything but your peace of mind.

And that’s only if you read Preston’s Plumage, a nice (no, it isn’t) and short (yes, it is) story. It is short. It is good. It is creepy, in an amusing sort of way.

It’s about a not very nice boy not called Preston. You could say he’s dim, even. He’s got a granny. There’s a fence. And a major splat.

Don’t worry; it will soon be over. And you won’t have paid for it, unless you wait until after Monday, and thwart Damien by paying good money for his little story on how crime pays. Or maybe not.

Little orphaned Ondine

I must be careful. Very careful. If I’m not, you’ll find Ebony McKenna has taken over as chief Bookwitch. Which would at least mean you’d be well entertained. As you may have noticed in yesterday’s review of her third Ondine book, it is an ebook. Below is her background story as to why.

‘I hate orphans. Not actual orphans (poor loves) but the trope of orphans in fiction.

They started in fairytales and never went away, did they? The loner who has to face the world – alone – with no parental figures to offer sanctuary; the plucky victim of circumstance who wins the prize based on their sheer goodness/magical abilities/discovery of the elixir. Orphans may have reflected the times they were originally from – mothers who died in childbirth, parents who died in battle or from the pox – but they’re an anachronism today.

Which is why I made sure Ondine wasn’t an orphan. When her story first crashed into my brain she was an orphan. Because I picked that low-hanging fruit. But as her character became flesh and blood she grew a family. Two older sisters and parents who treated her like a baby, plus a batty great auntie slash mentor. Love and conflict all rolled up together. Plus, she worked in a pub, surrounded by people. Family, magic mayhem and a talking ferret. I’d captured lightning in a bottle.

Ondine and her sequel found generous parents at Egmont in the UK, who doted on her, educated her and gave her the prettiest clothes. They sent her off to the ball bookshop, in hope of finding true love with readers.

Many readers did love Ondine. Laika films showed interest in adapting the story for animation. Alas there were more books that were prettier, had wealthier suitors, were more glittering . . . and I’m clubbing this fairytale analogy to death.

Ondine had two big adventures in the bookstores in the UK and Commonwealth, but all the love and care in the world wasn’t enough to guarantee a third outing (let alone a planned fourth). Around this time, bookstores were closing and the GFC was kneecapping everything. Times were bad, especially for authors.

My anti-orphan series became an orphan.

If my life were a book, this would be ‘the black moment’, where all is lost and love is not enough.

After gobbling chocolate through a funnel, it was time to look at options. The first step was to take advantage of ‘the rest of the world’ rights I’d retained, so I could self-publish the first two Ondine novels as ebooks into the USA, Russia, China, Japan and Moldova (which has eerie similarities with Brugel, where Ondine is set. For starters, neither has won Eurovision).

Ebony McKenna, The Winter of Magic

The thing about self-publishing is you have to do it all yourself. Which means hiring everyone to do the things an author can’t do.

Fate had not completely given me the middle finger; I found an editor who used to work with Egmont, who was now living in my home country, Australia. Naturally I hired her to edit the next two novels in the series. I hired a cover designer to give the series a stunning new look. I hired a formatting company to crunch the pixels into shape so the novels would be available everywhere good downloads were sold. All the while I kept writing, because that’s what had gotten me into this fix in the first place, and it would be what got me out of it.

Now the Ondine ‘trequel’ is available worldwide. The Winter of Magic has me brimming with tears of joy. Relief is in there too. Terror gets a mention – it’s always scary putting a book out there into the world, however it’s published.

There is also pride. Not a boastful pride, but a quiet, satisfied sense of a job well done; a wellspring of hope as my orphaned Ondine gets to dance at the ball once again.’

Thank you, Ebony! And don’t worry too much about Eurovision. One day Brugel will win. (Also, please keep writing.)

Is that an avalanche I hear?

Do they help? Those reviews you see when you shop for books online. Do they? Or is it just reassuring for the author of a book to see many reviews, hopefully mostly positive?

If I wasn’t reviewing books on a blog like this, I would most likely put up a lot of reviews over there instead. As it is, I do a few of them. I don’t have time for more, because I tend not to be able to use the same reviews as I write for Bookwitch. They are often in a style that wouldn’t work elsewhere.

But then I get told by authors how valuable the shopping site reviews are. Some authors actively ask people to post a review once they’ve read their book. So it is at least perceived as useful. When there are truly awful reviews on the shopping site, I can see that having a more favourable one added will balance things somewhat.

I assume it also matters more if there are only a few reviews, whereas some books have more reviews than I as a potential buyer would ever want to read.

Which brings me to the question whether my reviews here make a difference. I just don’t know. Sometimes readers leave a comment to say they will definitely buy the book now, or that they have ordered a copy, and occasionally they report back later to say what they thought of the book.

But that’s just a handful. No one will eat well off that number of sales.

On the other hand, perhaps I start avalanches of book buying in silence. I hope I do.

Formby Books

You have another six weeks to shop at Formby Books. After that, Tony Higginson will close his shop for ‘good.’ Which, is not good at all.

This is the man whose enthusiasm for books and reading, and especially for children’s books, reached me all the way over here, when he was manager at Pritchards in Formby, years ago. I always meant to visit, to see what the fuss was about. But Formby is just that little bit further than is convenient from where I am.

When Pritchards closed, Tony set up his own shop. I met him soon afterwards, except I didn’t actually know it was him. The reason we met was that Tony – unlike me – never seems to feel that anywhere is too far away. He travels tirelessly; not just for his own events, but to put in an appearance when his author pals do events elsewhere.

Tony Higginson and Philip Caveney

And tireless is what he has been, arranging events in the shop, and at larger venues when necessary. He went out of his way to invite me to his ScareFests in Waterloo, and he was there to rescue me when I was lost and locked out, ‘wasting’ his money buying me a drink in the pub.

Tony knows everybody. And everybody knows him. The man reads an incredible number of books, even allowing for him not ever sleeping. I simply don’t want to hear about all the books he’s read, because it makes me feel inadequate.

But this kind of enthusiasm isn’t enough. Not enough people come into his shop to buy books. I find that hard to understand. There are far too many shops where staff aren’t interested in you, or know very much about what you might like to read. My fear is that if a shop run by someone like Tony can’t survive, then there isn’t much hope for anyone, other than maybe the biggest.

I kept thinking I’d get the Resident IT Consultant into the car and off we’d go for the day, visiting bookshops in the Northwest. I’ve left it too late for Formby. Should have gone years ago. (Not that any purchases I could have made would have been big enough to secure the future of the shop. But still.)

It’s not all the same to me

Why are we not the same? How come a book published in the English language in Ireland (which is practically British, anyway… 😉) needs to be published again in the UK? It seems so wasteful of resources, not to mention slow.

It must be something to do with money. Do more people make more money with a book published in English in ten different countries? I just get impatient with the waiting. And unlike television shows (although the less said about file sharing, the better) you can generally get hold of the physical book from ‘the other’ place.

Sometimes they are let loose on the same day, all over the world. But mostly not, even if it’s just a week’s difference. Harry Potter was released on the dot of whatever midnight was in every nook and cranny of the world. Because they knew if they didn’t, shops would not be able to sell many later copies, as the fans would have got their ‘cousin in London’ to buy and post the book.

Fine. If you need to have a publisher in each country, why not publish all over the world, in one fell swoop? Surely it would even out in the end? Big selling British novel makes money for publisher in London. In return an American publisher hits the jackpot with some other title they have published.

To return to the television angle for a moment. I love NCIS. First it appears gradually over the American continent on the first night’s screening. At a later point they sell the season to a UK channel I don’t have. This channel expects to make money from the commercials shown. Once they are done, one of the ordinary channels acquires the rights. They, too, want money from advertising.

Later on, I can buy the DVD box set. First comes the R1 version. Much later the R2. There will be a reason I can’t just tune in to CBS on the first night. I know. Advertisers in the US don’t reckon I’ll be buying much of what they want me to spend money on. But here’s the thing; I don’t buy much, if anything, brought to me by the UK advertisers, either. (There’s only so many sofas you can buy in one sale.)

So how does this work with books?

I recently reviewed Simmone Howell’s Girl Defective. Simmone sent it to me, because she reckoned it’ll be a while before it’s available in Britain. I could have bought it from that online bookshop we all love to hate. At least, I think I could have. The .com version no longer forces me back to .co.uk, but merely suggests I might prefer it.

As for working out which publisher to approach, that is also very tricky. The names are often the same in different countries, but that doesn’t mean they publish the same books. A couple of years ago I had to do some detective work in order to find the correct Indian publisher of a book.

The author has written the book. It has been edited and given a cover. The printers have printed. So why not just spread this one book? OK, that would be as un-green as Kenyan green beans. We don’t want to transport books across the globe. So why not print the same thing, but in each country?

Covers. Yes. We don’t fall for the same style. But we could learn. We like Indian food. Why not like Indian book covers? It might make us more open minded. Just like there is a market for new retro covers for crime novels, we could covet cultural covers.

In short, I know very little. But I don’t want to wait. At the moment I’m wanting Al Capone Does My Homework by Gennifer Choldenko. It exists. But it will be a long time coming my way, or so the publisher said, once I’d found out who it was (not the same as for the previous two Al Capones).

It’s one thing to wait for an author to write. We have to put up with this. But after that I will just vent my impatience, and snap.

Montmorency

After being introduced to Eleanor Updale over four years ago, I vowed to find out about Montmorency. As you do. But reality kept me in check, and when I was provided with one of Eleanor’s new books, I read that instead. And then last year there was another brand new one, and poor Montmorency slipped further into my black reading hole.

Until… just last week, in fact. Eleanor wrote to tell me she’s not only got back ownership of all four Montmorency books, but she has done what fans have been clamouring for, and written a fifth book, finally rescuing the man from the cliff he has been hanging from for some years.

Eleanor Updale, Montmorency - 3 covers

And would I like to read Montmorency Returns? Well, yes. But perhaps I ought to find out who he is by starting at the beginning, and that is what I’ve done. I told myself that reading the first book might be enough background, because to read all four very quickly, seemed a tall order. Only, I believe I will have to locate books two, three and four as well. If only to ascertain what kind of cliff-hanger, and to feel I’m up to speed on everything. Plus the small matter of my enjoyment.

Halfway through Montmorency I wanted to stop. Eleanor had done that thing again, where I am so worried I’m absolutely certain I can’t go on. I knew she’d have to do something bad to Montmorency, and I didn’t want to see it being done.

It’s curious, really. I shouldn’t cheer a thief on, or care what happens to him. The other thing is, the book has no child characters at all. Montmorency is an adult, and so are all the people he consorts with, in and out of jail. That doesn’t mean it’s not a ‘young’ book. It is, in much the same way as my childhood classics often were about adults, but written in a way that would attract younger readers.

Montmorency is a kind of Arsène Lupin; a gentleman thief, in Victorian London. Because he has to live off something. It’s fascinating to see how prisoner 493 spends time in jail, and how he plans what to do if and when he is free again, and then how he starts off once he does get out.

It involves sewers, and these ones are smellier and generally yuckier than the ones in Terry Pratchett’s Dodger. But it’s the same principle.

In the end Montmorency copes well with what the author throws at him, and I was able to continue. Did I mention I might have to read them all?

Knightley & Son

Think Sherlock Holmes. A present-day, small kind of Sherlock. 13-year-old Darkus Knightley is almost more Sherlock than Mr Holmes himself.

This is a fun crime novel for young readers, especially if you are a little bit of an outsider like Darkus, and would like to be cleverer than everyone else. It’s very satisfying being really good at detecting.

It’s a family thing, this. Darkus has a detective father (never mind that Alan Knightley has been in a coma for four years) and takes after his dad, sharing his passion for odd cases. Rohan Gavin who wrote Knightley & Son, takes after his mother Jamila, who is pretty good at writing for children. This is his first book, and it is Darkus’s first real case.

Rohan Gavin, Knightley & Son

People are behaving strangely in bookshops. They are buying the new must-have self-help book The Code, and afterwards surprisingly many of them commit a crime of some kind. Knightley Sr wakes up from his coma and jumps straight into this mystery, and because Darkus has spent the last few years reading up on his dad’s old cases, he’s the perfect assistant.

The plot is about as believeable as the other Sherlocks’ and as fun. Particularly for young readers who might not be so familiar with the Conan Doyle version as they are with Benedict Cumberbatch’s on television. In turn hilarious and a bit scary, it’s a good adventure.

Along with the detective duo you get a slightly crazy Scottish policeman, a Polish housekeeper (very handy at all sorts of things), a clever stepsister and a raving loony stepfather. There are cars. Tube trains.

Something tells me the tweed-clad Knightleys will be back.