Category Archives: Bookshops

‘I am Mary Queen of Scots’

Or so Alex Nye claimed, when she launched For My Sins at Blackwells last night. (She laughed when she said it. So she’s perhaps not entirely serious about it.) It’s her first adult novel, and it’s about Mary, Queen of Scots.

Mary Queen of Scots

The real Mary was there too, and she was looking good for her age. Actually, on such a dark and stormy night when the rest of us were pretty drenched, I have to point out that Mary looked both dry and beautiful.

As I ran in, Tesco prawn sandwich in hand, Alex and her publisher Clare were already there, and Mary turned up soon after. She posed for photos like Royals tend to do, and I believe she even showed off what was under her skirt. Honestly. I ate my sandwich, turned down the offer of wine and was rescued from dying of thirst by the lovely Ann Landmann of Blackwells.

Roy Gill, Kirkland Ciccone and Mary Queen of Scots

We admired the book, which has unusually nice looking pages. I know this sounds strange, but it does. Several other authors turned up to celebrate, among them Kirkland Ciccone wearing a rather loud outfit, Roy Gill who looked suitably handsome, Gill Arbuthnott, Philip Caveney (or was it Danny Weston? They look so alike…) with Lady Caveney, and then Kate Leiper came and sat next to me again.

Alex talked about her love of Scottish history, and for Mary, about her research, and walking round Edinburgh for two years (that must have been tiring) to see the places Mary went, and visiting all her castles. And 28 years on, the book is finally here.

Alex Nye and Mary Queen of Scots

Luckily Alex has managed to get hold of Mary’s diary from her time ‘in jail,’ which must be considered a bit of a royal scoop.

Kate Leiper, Gill Arbuthnott, Kirkland Ciccone and Roy Gill

There was a signing afterwards, and much literary gossip. It was almost a shame some of us had to go home, but I couldn’t leave my chauffeur in the Park&Ride all night.

Alex Nye

I’m just over halfway through the book so far, and I have a dreadful feeling this isn’t going to end well.

Tom, George and the others

A long time ago, when the New Librarian had just left school, she came and stayed with us, doing some unpaid work in the local bookshop. One day she came home and mentioned she’d been out on a school visit with some actor who’d written a book. I asked who. She’d clearly not had a lot of interest in an older man she’d never heard of, so the name was some time coming, but once I’d established it was George Layton – and I’d had no idea he was visiting! – I turned green [with envy].

It was so unfair that she’d met him, when I’d ‘always loved him’ and I wanted to stomp my foot.

Luckily, George came back, and more than once. So I did get to meet him (see about lunch here), and I bought his short story collections and got his autograph, and… Well, at the time I liked the stories. I don’t know if I still would.

Same bookshop, slightly later, another of my younger days’ favourites turned up. Tom Conti, who’s even more handsome than George. I know that in book terms this is irrelevant, but I thought I’d mention it anyway. He came because he’d written a novel, and I bought a copy. Obviously.

I sort of wish I hadn’t. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t good. These days I’d start by assuming it to be just another celebrity book, but then I was more naïve. Besides, it had been written [I hope it had, anyway] by my kind of celebrity. But yeah, I wouldn’t mind if I’d not read it.

The celebrity avalanche is just getting worse and worse. Someone on social media was saying how the latest announcement of a celebrity book [by someone I don’t know] was so welcome, because it had to have been at least 48 hours since the one before it.

The most recent one I received in the post I put to the side immediately. I felt slightly rotten doing it, but if someone is already famous – even when I don’t have any idea who they are – and are getting a good financial deal from the publisher, then they don’t need a review from me. I can’t help them on their way to greater greatness.

I’m very happy to have met Tom Conti and only slightly annoyed that he didn’t sign the book I then went on to not like (there is a farcical story about the non-signing of his books, involving a train). But I got closer than the 20-year-old me would ever have thought possible.

Likewise with George Layton. As I watched Doctor in the House in pre-historic times, I simply didn’t believe that one day I’d meet him. Or that the first thing he’d say was that he needed to pee.

Unbranded

Unbranded sounds simple and wholesome, doesn’t it?

For a few years I actually boycotted Waterstones, but gave it up because I grew more sensible, and I also gained another bookshop to boycott in its place. A Bookwitch needs to have some kind of enemy at all times.

I mention this because I’m about to say I am in favour of the new, small, unbranded bookshops Waterstones have started up in smaller towns. Yes, it can be seen as sneaky not to use the Waterstones name, but if the shop is smaller, and thereby a little different from your usual High Street stores, then maybe a separate name is more suitable. And it’s not as if it’s a secret, since they have a small sign saying it’s really them.

As long as they don’t descend on a small town with an existing bookshop, this development can only be a good thing. Maybe the town lost its bookshop because someone retired? Or they didn’t have enough funds to keep going. Waterstones are obviously in a stronger position, having a big and successful organisation behind them, as they aim to become Small Town Books.

There can be drawbacks with large commercial bodies – although it seems as if Waterstones have become more sensible in recent years (rather like me…) – and I would much prefer that a small town has a bookshop than not. Hopefully there won’t be any of the daft stuff you occasionally get with small indies, however much I like them.

As as the Resident IT Consultant said, we can only hope Waterstones staff and their unbranded colleagues now have permission to recommend books (unlike when Son had to resort to advising customers in secret).

From the launch pad

There are only so many simultaneous launches a witch can attend. Last night offered two; both of which I dearly wanted to go to.

Marnie Riches, Born Bad

Marnie Riches brought her new baby, crime-thriller novel Born Bad, into the world at Waterstones Deansgate (that’s Manchester, folks), and it felt like such a special event that for weeks I believed it would be the one to take me back there at long last. After all, what else would I be doing on a dark February night?

The answer to that is three things, and being exhausted and having the builders [still] in were two of them. I sensibly declined in the end, and no sooner had I done that than James Oswald declared he was also launching his new novel at exactly the same time, at Waterstones West End (that’s Edinburgh), and this did feel a lot more feasible. But in the end the same three things conspired against me and I didn’t go.

Sigh.

I trust books were launched successfully anyway, and that Written in Bones is now sailing somewhere well past Princes Street Gardens, possibly as far as the Meadows, where it might encounter the dead body I told you about yesterday. If James continues to write and continues to launch, it is my ambition in life to go along to one of these events. Perhaps the trains will even run all evening at some distant point in time.

James Oswald, Wriiten in Bones

Back to Marnie and Manchester. Born Bad is about bad people doing bad things in Manchester. It has a great cover, and I’m so happy for Marnie, whose first paper book crime novel it is. The George McKenzie books are ebooks (they ought to be in paper as well!). There was mention of booze with the invite, but as I wasn’t going to drink any, I reckon my absense won’t make a difference.

I’ll get to Manchester one day. And Edinburgh. Well, the latter could be next week.

Meanwhile I’ll polish up the broom.

Just weird

After watching the programme about Terry Pratchett last weekend, I told myself I really must read more of his books, as there are some I’ve not yet read. I’ve been hanging on to the idea of them as a treat. It’s time to forget about [some] new books and dip into my reserve. The last time I thought along these lines I realised there is a problem. Son has custody of most of the Discworld books, and when we moved house that custody shifted from being his room in our house, to a room in his own home.

So I reached the conclusion I need to visit some charity shops, but before doing that, I ought to check which – if any – books we had managed to hang on to. I especially wanted to read Night Watch, after it was mentioned so many times last week.

It turns out we have exactly one unread Pratchett novel. Night Watch.

As I was visiting a real live bookshop, I had a quick look at their shelves of Discworld books. Seems there are some tasteful new covers of paperback sized hardbacks. I liked them, but £13? Besides, don’t they sort of have to be the cover designs we’ve got used to? Discworld’s not the same without them.

I had been invited to another event at the same time as Debi Gliori was talking at Blackwell’s on Thursday. It was the launch of the International Science Festival, and having had to miss it last year, I’d intended to make it work this time. And then I bumped into the publicist I thought had invited me, at my event, which seemed a bit odd. She’s working on something else. (So I clearly wouldn’t have found her at the launch.)

On my way to and from Edinburgh I read James Oswald’s new crime novel (more about that later). His corpse had a background in Saughton. It could be my old age, but while I knew this was a prison, I didn’t actually know where. Two minutes later my tram took me through Saughton.

I appreciate this kind of helpful behaviour in trams.

Debi’s Night Shift

There were people already sitting in the leather sofas at Blackwell’s. And I arrived really early, too. So there was nothing for it but to sit on one of the ‘filthy’ staffroom chairs (this charming description courtesy of the shop’s Ann Landmann) at the back, but that was fine too. I like the back. And I didn’t break the chair, which at one point seemed worryingly likely. Maybe next time.

Ann Landmann with Debi Gliori and Andrew Eaton-Lewis

I’d come to Edinburgh to see – well, hear – Debi Gliori talk to Andrew Eaton-Lewis from the Mental Health Foundation about Night Shift; her book on depression. The event had been sold out for some time, and it was the fullest I’ve seen the room. Hence the need for all the ‘uncomfortable folding chairs’ as well as the staffroom contribution.

Debi arrived with her family in tow, and was greeted by lots of people who seemed to know her. And she noted I wasn’t sitting on the sofa, as I’d promised…

Ann Landmann’s introduction was more honest than ever, and also covered the matter of blue drinks being served, the shop front being painted blue, and that it is ten months until Christmas, but that this musn’t deter anyone from buying copies of Night Shift.

Debi Gliori and Andrew Eaton-Lewis

Debi and Andrew ended up doing their talk standing up, the better for us to hear them. The first time Debi suffered from depression was the worst, possibly because it was the unknown. These days she doesn’t always notice when it’s coming, but her family can tell. Debi feels she has wasted enough time on depression over the years, which is partly why she started on the book.

The pictures were mainly intended for herself, but part-way in she changed her mind and felt there could be a book in it. Debi is an ‘ancient hippy’ which could be why she uses dragons to illustrate the bad feelings. She made the pictures big, but is unsure why the book ended up quite as small as it did.

The book was mostly intended as a communication tool, a bit like the Point It book she used on holiday in Portugal. If you can’t say it, you can always point to a picture of what you mean. It was hard finding a publisher for the book, because it was so dark, and so far removed from fluffy bunnies.

Debi Gliori

Fellow illustrator Kate Leiper, who sat next to me, asked how Debi manages her ordinary illustration work when she’s depressed. The first time it was so bad Debi couldn’t even go in her studio for over a year, but now she finds she writes better books the more depressed she is. No Matter What is ‘a very dark book.’ But she’d rather make bad books and be happy.

Running was what saved Debi, and that first time it was running that led to her feeling able to go next door and have coffee with her neighbour, at a time when even little things like that seemed impossible.

Andrew Eaton-Lewis and Debi Gliori

While she doesn’t want to put dark images in the minds of children, Debi pointed out that children watch some pretty grim television these days. The US version of No Matter What has lost the last page in order not to upset American sensitivities. Debi occasionally checks reviews on Amazon to see what people say about death in picture books.

Asked if there was a book that made her feel very special when she read it, Debi mentioned Tove Jansson’s Comet in Moominland; the most perfect book in the world. She wants to be adopted by the Moomins, and to have access to Moomin mamma’s handbag.

From there it was straight to the signing table, where a special silver sharpie awaitened Debi and her queue of fans. I hurried over with my book, but got stuck waiting for a bit after all, chatting to someone from the book festival, who in turn introduced me to the person responsible for Granite Noir. Queues can be useful that way.

Debi Gliori

Finally, before running off to the airport, I stopped and chatted to Kate Leiper who was busy ‘being spontaneous.’ And we talked a bit more about illustrating. Seems Kate makes ‘notes’ when she comes up with good ideas for pictures, just like I do with words; before they can escape.

Literary footprints in Charlotte Square

Charlotte Square

The talk has been talked for a few years now. The damage done to Charlotte Square every year as the Edinburgh International Book Festival sets up its tents and invites thousands of visitors, can no longer be ignored.

2011 mud

I’ve been torn between agreeing with the square’s owners that you can’t go on and cause more damage every year, while also agreeing with director Nick Barley that the festival would lose its personality if it had to move indoors, somewhere else in Edinburgh. When both parties are right, it’s hard to say what should be done.

Edinburgh International Book Festival

The news in the Scotsman this week is that the book festival has to ‘scale back’ its use of the gardens, and that they will have to move out onto George Street. I’m not sure whether it is ‘only’ the orders that are new. Reading the whole article it seems as if the move will be gradual and might not happen this year. Or I could be wrong.

Charlotte Square

I like the gardens. It’s lovely with all the trees and it’s good to be able to sit out on the grass when the weather is nice. It’s also a comfortable size; big enough, but still quite small and contained behind the metal railings. On the other hand, when I walk through George St on my way home in the evenings, I do like the feel of the street, with the people and the bars and the lights.

You always feel like you’re sitting on a traffic roundabout, with the buses and taxis just the other side of the tent walls, so perhaps it’s not too different to be moving out into the street itself. Although to be doing that, the book festival would be taking space from other festival businesses. George St is busy these days.

Well, I don’t know what will happen. We will have to wait and see. But the festival needs to stay in central Edinburgh; both to catch any casual visitors walking past, and to make it feasible for some of us to get there without extra travelling once we’ve got to Edinburgh.

Charlotte Square