Category Archives: Bookshops

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

The Borrowers

Let me bore you with some irrelevant facts.

Back in July 2000 I was standing in a Stockport bookshop. I can’t tell you which one, and by that I mean I can’t recall what name it was trading under at the time. It kept changing, as chains bought each other. It was the one near Sainsbury’s, and I was at the back of the shop, in the children’s books department. I know when, because I was there with my visitors from Sweden, who desperately needed new books. As you do.

They had a table featuring books from one publisher, with a two for one offer. I’m terribly ‘economical’, so felt this was a good offer and I should make the most of it. I seem to recall buying eight books, paying for four. Most of them I had no idea what they were, and simply picked the ones that looked the least bad.

I know. How very negative of me.

Mary Norton, The Borrowers

And one of the books was The Borrowers by Mary Norton. Being somewhat foreign, I’d never heard of either her or the book. But I did like it when I came to read it. I also realised that the story about these tiny people, living somewhere near you, is a bit of a classic.

The things you find out.

It’s been reissued again, and now comes as a lovely clothbound hardback, looking precisely as you’d expect an old classic to look like. It has the original Diana Stanley illustrations, and is simply an attractive little book. And this time I know about it, too.

Say what you want

Confession: I don’t know much about Nadiya Hussain. Yes, even I have heard she is famous for baking. At the time I merely believed this was some normal average person who’d happened to bake well. On television.

What I hadn’t understood is the sheer celebrity status when you win this kind of thing, and how everyone – but me – knows you. I realised from an email from a bookshop from my past that hosting Nadiya for a signing was a big thing. I think they did timed tickets, which is something I last encountered in connection with Jaqueline Wilson.

And now Nadiya has written a book. I imagine she has a few baking books out there, but now she has written a novel. I’d like to think she didn’t just decide to do it on a whim. The likeliest thing is that the publisher knew they could shift a good many copies if her name was on the cover, so persuaded Nadiya to ‘write’ a novel.

She had help, as seems to be the case with many celebrity books. A biography based on her life could have been interesting, and any amount of ghost writing would have been quite acceptable. But we only need a novel from the celebrity who can write it themselves and do it well.

So I was surprised how negative people were when Jenny Colgan, who knows a thing or two about writing, reviewed Nadiya’s novel, managing to balance her admiration for this master baker with her feeling that a novel written with help wasn’t what the world needed. I thought the review was extremely well written, taking into account all the angles.

But it would appear that people want their celebrities to take over literature as well. No need to stick to what you are good at.

Dangerous book covers

And possibly dangerously murderous contents as well.

I rarely pay all that much attention to the more salesy emails I receive. No time, and no interest in buying lots of books. Especially if I don’t get round to reading them.

But there was this one yesterday, from the big bookshop chain. I have deleted it for my own safety, but I will admit to having looked more than once at the books they offered for Christmas.

I mean, they weren’t actually suggesting I buy these books to give to others, were they? I was more thinking I’d love the books for myself. But that’s a most selfish way of looking at Christmas.

What they had were a handful of crime novels, all with the most enticing covers. That’s the thing really. Some of the books may easily have been bad inside, but oh those dark, snow covered, often retro style houses, where murder is about to happen or has happened – in style, obviously – well, it’s just too hard to resist. Hence the email-deleting. Or else…

It’s the faux Agatha books, or perhaps even some real ones, that are so dangerous. Sometimes it feels as if I could sit and do nothing else but read snowy Christmas murders (as though that was a nice thing).

One Christmas, when I was 17 or thereabouts, I received The Secret of Chimneys (Hemligheten på Chimneys). I have no recollection whether Christmas featured in the story, or if it was my Christmas, all mixed up with a fancy house and all the people therein, murdering each other and stuff, but I so wanted to pack a suitcase right then and simply pop over to England.

Because that’s what it’s like, yes? All that snow, the pretty lights and the red of the holly berries. And the blood.

‘Fantasy readers are much better people’

I have to agree with Garth Nix there. Maybe. It’s not every day someone ushers a writer like Garth from the room, so I can have some peace and quiet, but this happened yesterday at Seven Stories in Newcastle. I was there to interview Cornelia Funke. Garth’s presence was an added bonus, and it was lovely to see him.

War Horse at Seven Stories

Newcastle wasn’t quite as complicated as it was when I was last there. The train was on time. The taxis behaved – sort of – normally. Seven Stories was just as nice, and they had several exhibitions on, including one about Michael Morpurgo, and as I waited for Cornelia, I visited all seven floors for a quick look. So did the woman with the pram, who was trying to locate her husband. I hope there was a happy ending for them.

Chris Riddell at Seven Stories

Cornelia arrived with her publicist Vicki, and along with Garth we were conveyed to a quiet room, with only one Tiger [who came to tea] in it. And then Garth was conveyed somewhere else. Cornelia and I had our chat, which I had ended up re-planning in the middle of the night when I came up with a more important question for her.

Cornelia Funke Blog Tour

Afterwards I climbed up to the seventh floor where I waited for Garth’s and Cornelia’s event to start, along with a few early fans, and I suffered only mild vertigo. In more than one direction, but I survived.

Cornelia Funke and Garth Nix at Seven Stories

I do love that room at the top, though! All those beams with fairy lights strung all over! And I reached the purple sofa first.

Garth talked about his premature idea of writing postapocalyptic dystopia, and he and Cornelia both agreed that writers write what they want to write. He works  towards the iceberg idea, where the story in the book is 10% with the other 90% existing in the writer’s mind. With fantasy you dig deeper, and it is more realistic than realism…

Cornelia Funke and Garth Nix at Seven Stories

A lot of fantasy is about boundaries; crossing them, or not crossing them. Cornelia who is now thinking six books for her Reckless series, is working on the fourth, which is exclusively Japanese fairy tales. Her plans for writing is to continue her three different series (which sounds like something her fans will approve of), taking them further.

There was some advice on what to do when meeting bears, but if it’s a grizzly I believe this will mostly mean the bears eating [you]. Garth grew up in Canberra where you are never far from the wilderness, and he had some tale about his father, who sounds as if he was the one who taught little Garth to lie so fluently.

Just as well, since he is monolingual, and quite jealous of Cornelia and her several languages. (She helpfully pointed out that speaking two languages protects you against Alzheimer’s.) In the US they believe Garth is English on account of how he speaks…

Cornelia Funke

After the Q&A session, Garth and Cornelia did a signing, and this was very much the kind of place where diehard fans had arrived carrying piles and piles of books, and much time was spent talking about whatever you talk about with your favourite author. Photos were taken, and even I had an offer of being photographed with Cornelia. But you know me; that’s not how I operate if I can help it.

Garth Nix

The first signing was followed by a second signing downstairs in the bookshop, where I carefully studied what they had for sale. A lot of good books.

Cornelia Funke

And then I went to check on my earlier booking for a taxi, joining other hopefuls on the pavement outside. Eventually I managed to persuade one driver that I probably was the Annie who had booked a taxi to the railway station.

(My apologies to any Annies left behind in Lime Street…)

Seven Stories