Tag Archives: Oxfam


Pop down to your local Oxfam and buy a copy of OxCrimes: 27 Killer Stories from the Cream of Crime Writers and support the work of Oxfam while giving yourself something good to read for the next few hours.

It’s got ‘practically every crime writer’ contributing. Even the ones I’d not heard of, as I had to confess to yesterday. But especially the ones I do know. Foreword by that Rankin chap who always pops up and takes part in every worthwhile venture going. (All right, not everyone. But 27 isn’t bad. Plus Ian Rankin.)

OxCrimes: 27 Killer Stories from the Cream of Crime Writers

The stories were of every imaginable kind, including a pretty scary sci-fi thriller crime tale from Yrsa Sigurðardóttir. There’s war crimes and ghostly crimes, sexy ones and the usual crime-y crimes. How Anthony Horowitz could be allowed to say what I’ve always suspected about public toilets (you know the kind…) is beyond my comprehension. Now none of us will want to go.

My favourite – if I’m allowed one – has to be Stuart Neville’s, which was brilliant in all its period simplicity. Not to mention chilling.

As for the rest, I think I’ve listed them all. You will know some better than others, just like me. You might find a new favourite, or even one you wouldn’t mind killing slowly and painfully. What do I know?

It’s all in a good cause, even if the blood flows fairly freely in places.

‘With previous books OxTravels and OxTales having raised over a quarter of a million pounds since their 2009 publication, Oxfam is hoping OxCrimes will raise even more, helping to tackle poverty and suffering around the world. Visit Oxfam’s Emergency Response pages to find out more about how you can help.’


The #8 profile – Phil Rickman

Today I give you a – very – brief profile of Phil Rickman. And no, I had never heard of him before this. He is an adult crime writer (I know, most writers are adults. It was the crime I meant) and he’s one of the contributor’s to OxCrimes: 27 Killer Stories from the Cream of Crime Writers, which is out today. I thought it’d be an adventure to meet someone totally new – to me – and hopefully Phil didn’t mind too much having to answer stupid questions from a Bookwitch he’d never heard of before, either.

Between you and me, I find his answers admirably informative while not wasting anybody’s time. And he is clearly a witty man. I like witty men (within reason).

Phil Rickman, by John Bullough

How many books did you write before the one that was your first published book?

One. The Secret of Shimmering Cliffs. (I was nine)

Best place for inspiration?
Bath (the tub, although the town has its merits).

Would you ever consider writing under a pseudonym? Perhaps you already do?
Twice. All four books bombed.

What would you never write about?
A superhero.

Through your writing: the most unexpected person you’ve met, or the most unexpected place you’ve ended up in?
Last few book-signings, it was two exorcists and a shamanic healer, but I can’t think of anybody unexpected.

Which of your characters would you most like to be?
Ethel, the vicarage cat.

Do you think that having a film made of one of your books would be a good or a bad thing?
Depends if I had to watch it.

What is the strangest question you’ve been asked at an event?
I’ve heard there’s supposed to be a writer here today. Don’t know who it is, do you?

Do you have any unexpected skills?
Demolition (according to my wife).

The Famous Five or Narnia?
Famous Five.

Who is your most favourite Swede?
Eva Gabrielsson (the ripped-off Mrs Stieg).

How do you arrange your books at home? In a Billy? By colour, or alphabetically?
Hang on… there are people who actually arrange books by colour? Is there a medical term for this?

Which book would you put in the hands of an unwilling eight-year-old boy reader?
Probably not The Secret of Shimmering Cliffs.

If you have to choose between reading or writing, which would it be?
There’s a difference?

You can tell Phil hasn’t moved in the same circles as you or I have, or he’d understand about the colour of books. But he seems quite nice anyway, and got the Famous Five versus Narnia question right. And before long I might stop calling him Rick…

Phil will be talking about OxCrimes at Hay on the 28th of May (that rhymed quite nicely), and the book – which I recommend you actually buy – is available from Oxfam, as well as all those usual shops you sometimes buy from.

Who loves Sara Paretsky?

I was about to say it’s the good people of Cheadle Hulme.

Let me tell you why. Back when the Bookwitch clan actually bought each other Christmas presents, and we’d settled on only buying from charity shops, I soon learned what you could expect to find in different shops in different parts of town.

It was during my I-must-collect-all-Sara-Paretsky’s-novels days, and you don’t find them just anywhere, you know. But Oxfam in Cheadle Hulme seemed to be a reliable supplier of V I Warshawski’s adventures. During one visit I found some books there, and then discovered that if I went back again later, I’d be reasonably likely to find another one. Or two. (Because, obviously, I forgot all about buying for other people when I saw them. I just bought for me. Me, me, me.)

So I reasoned that the people nearby must be Paretsky fans. (But if they are, why on earth were they giving the books away?) Maybe, the fans are actually to be found in my neighbourhood, say, because our local charity shops never have any Warshawski.

They do have a lot of Carl Hiaasen novels, however. I used to think that I was surrounded by lovers of Carl’s books, but now I’m thinking that this is also incorrect. If they love him, surely they would keep him? And not let me buy almost a complete collection.

Well, no one is going to get my Sara Paretsky books! Especially not the family, seeing as how we’ve turned so Scrooge-like that we have said there’ll be no presents at all in 2013.

We just haven’t quite worked out how to fill that time-gap on Christmas Eve. Eat some more, perhaps?


Please, where can I find a needy motorway? I have stuff to get rid of, and there is landfill, and then there is landfill (to build roads, or so Hilary McKay has been saying for far too long about her own wonderful books). The latter strikes me as the much more sensible option, if there’s nothing else you can do with your unwanted books.

And when I say unwanted, I am not referring to Hilary’s work, nor am I suggesting that the unwantedness stems from the Resident IT Consultant so much. They just happen to be his books. Most of the ones from the back row on the double rows of books. They are unwanted by me. And looking at them, I am shocked ‘we’ ever wanted/bought/kept them at all.

Future motorway?

But now that he has been a very good Resident IT Consultant and cleared them out (when I say that, I mean onto the floor in the front room), they need to go a little bit further. Where to, though? The Grandmother was consulted, in case Oxfam could pass them on, but she felt they were beyond even that.

They are not allowed in the paper and cardboard recycling bin our local council has provided. As far as I have been able to find out, there is nowhere to take them. Except to the general hole in the ground for all general things that don’t fit the description of any recycling category at all.

I suspect books are something you are not meant to have very many of. Meaning you will have no problem giving them a comfortable forever home, and books are sacred and Can’t Possibly Be Got Rid Of! Hence the lack of a recycling category for them.

Now that I have had them declared unsacred, I will have to get them out of the house quickly (if only so I can use that bit of floor to pack, reorganise or dispose of other belongings), and the only way appears to stick them in the boot of the car and point it at the local tip. But that makes me feel sick.

Bra Böckers Lexikon

I am the proud owner of two sets of the same – Swedish – encyclopaedia (one here, one there…) and neither is especially useful in this age of Google. The ‘one there’ can remain for the time being. But the ‘one here’ will have to go. Presumably also into a hole in the ground. And not of the new motorway variety, either.

(Perhaps… no, probably not. You can build houses out of straw. And stuff. The ideal thing would be to build a new house out of books.)

If she sees one coming

Grandmothers! We were enjoying tea and Christmas cake (except for me. I had Stollen, on account of sensitivity to all that brandy I had been pouring over the cake since October), and as so often happens, the conversation strayed to Maths and other intellectual topics.

When that last happened a few days earlier, Son moved closer to his mother in order to escape the numbers and funny words discussion, in exchange for something suitably light for the two of us.

But at this point the Resident IT Consultant entertained his mother – the Grandmother – by showing her the new Brewer’s. She browsed for some minutes before pointing out they’d got Fermat’s Last Theorem wrong. She read it out, with the Resident IT Consultant and Dodo all nice and alert, and Son and me turning our eyes heavenwards.

As it happens, she was right. It is wrong.

We moved on to secondhand bibles, as you do. The Grandmother works in an Oxfam bookshop, and they get lots of Bibles in, and they sell like hotcakes. She displays all the various kinds of Bibles, and when she returns they have all sold and she has to start over again.

What a ‘shame.’

Something they also have lots of but which doesn’t sell the way of the Bible, is The Da Vinci Code. It might once have been an Oxfam bestseller, but if she sees one coming, she throws it out.

That’s the spirit!

After Fermat, they moved on to Faraday’s complete letters. Someone found a letter where it was mentioned that Mrs Giles would have been very happy to see him. Faraday, that is. The Grandmother was surprised to find the volume she was holding only covered a few years of Faraday’s life (there are six in total), and marvelled at quite how many letters got written back in the olden days.

I’m thinking the stamps didn’t cost 50 pence in the 19th century.

Rinsed off

I cleaned up the Solar System this week. It needed doing. I carried it to the bathroom and showered it very carefully. It’s almost as good as new.

Another lovely side effect of the witchy upheavals is that the Astronomy textbook has been found. The Resident IT Consultant had been accused of losing it. And worse, your witch had heard it insinuated that she’d given it to Oxfam. There’s many a bad thing I will do, but there are limits. Even for me.

Although the Solar System is only so big.

The Solar System


We’re having the weekend ‘off’. Sort of. So you will not get a real blog post out of me, because I’ve not behaved in a terribly bookwitchy way.

Once I staggered out of bed after Friday’s graduation excesses I did, however, have a very good literary Saturday. As I mentioned a few weeks ago Helen Grant moved to Scotland in June, and I’m afraid I took advantage of her weakened state by suggesting we might meet up now that I was temporarily in the same country.

Helen was sufficiently taken aback by this and didn’t even claim a prior appointment with her hairdresser to get out of it. So she and her lovely children Blackwolf and Shardspirit along with the energetic Mr G obeyed my witchy summons and made it to Corrieri’s for pizza, pasta and proper Italian ice cream.

It was very nice. I brought Daughter along and even the Resident IT Consultant got an airing, seeing as it was his hometown. The place was quietening down as we arrived, but we soon put a stop to that, and soon we could barely hear ourselves chat. So I’m unable to report too many indiscretions, I’m afraid.

The Grant pets (no, they didn’t come) have taken well to their new home, and once Helen has finished murdering her way around Flanders, she will consider killing off some of Perthshire. I’m looking forward to that.

Both Shardspirit and Blackwolf brought books to read (I suspect they sensed I might be boring, and how right they were) which I thoroughly approve of. Daughter had nothing better to do than fiddle with her mobile. The lovely Helen gave me a devil rubber duck, which I will treasure always. Unless that cheeky Daughter steals it off me.

After a nice meal the Grants dropped us off so dangerously close to Oxfam that the Resident IT Consultant went there and ‘had an accident’. Bookaholics! Honestly!


I was very surprised to find that Susan Hill blogs, but it seems she does. The surprise arose from the fact that I was under the impression she doesn’t like our lot. I must have been mistaken.

What Susan doesn’t like is Oxfam. There have been a few blogs based on her feelings, so I’m just adding mine to the pile. I’m doing so because since marrying the Resident IT Consultant at the beginning of time, I have been sort of related to Oxfam, what with the Grandmother volunteering with them for decades. She’s still going strong, and is happy with the fact that her local Oxfam turned into one of these vile bookshops.

The Stirling Oxfam is a good bookshop, in a good position, and from what I gather they do sensible things with their books and their prices. I have no idea if they’ve forced anyone out of business, but they are where they have been for a long time, next to a bus stop, and customers come in and buy while waiting for the bus.

If I have time now that I’m up in Scotland, I will pop in and examine the situation. But it stands to reason that they won’t ask prices that are so high that people won’t buy. And having once given a friend bags and bags of books to sell for a charity he supported, and finding that they went for 10p each, was a shock. I had hoped ‘my’ books would do more good than that. But had I been buying them, I’d have been pleased to pay so little.

Shows what a turncoat I am.

But, I look in all the charity shops when I’m buying. Sometimes I will do a Susan Hill and not buy from Oxfam if the price is roughly the same as the new book would be on Amazon. I prefer the cheaper shops, obviously. My experience from doing the rounds of all of them before Christmas every year is that you can’t know what you’ll find in any given charity’s shop. It’s not as if readers of certain authors’ books only give to one particular charity.

Oxfam is in business to make money. Not for shareholders, but for the recipients of various projects. It makes sense that they charge as much as they can, and that they start up new shops in places where they think they will do well. I hope that doesn’t mean that other charities are forced out.

And as the Grandmother pointed out over breakfast, people complain that the books are expensive and then they happily fork out £2 for cards. Each. Often more than one card.


Right children! We’re doing ageism and sexism today, along with any other -isms I may have forgotten to mention. If I could, this would be where I put my foot somewhere in the vicinity of my mouth, but my legs don’t bend well.

Logarithms have long been a little hard for me to understand. Not how to use them, you know; just understanding what they are, is enough to bring me out in a rash. The Resident IT Consultant despaired from almost Day 1 over his bad choice of wife, but there you are.

So, as Daughter and I were in Scotland for the Edinburgh Book Festival, we stayed with Grandmother. On our one free day we relaxed by having Aunt Scarborough over for a cup of tea. We always love to see her. I was just a little taken aback by Grandmother’s conversation starter which went like this: ‘Scarborough, do you happen to have any logarithm tables? There was someone at Oxfam who was looking for one, and we didn’t have any, so I said I’d look at home. I don’t seem to have any left, so wondered if you do?’

Grandmother’s age is, as I’ve mentioned before, a nice round figure, and Aunt Scarborough is five years older. I don’t think of them as old, honestly! I just don’t expect logarithms to pop up among the cups of tea and the biscuits. I should be ashamed of myself. Girls can do anything, and we are all still girls on the inside. Anyway, no logarithm tables anywhere. Grandmother works in the Oxfam bookshop, and generally likes recycling things.

slide rule

That will be why she swiftly moved on to slide rules. I know what they are. Could never quite use mine, because it seemed a little complicated. Daughter, on the other hand, didn’t know. So age can be useful occasionally. Grandmother brought out her two, and offered them to Daughter. We needed to know why she had more than one, and also got an explanation as to how she had worn another one out. It’s obvious, really. Grandmother used hers in the kitchen, to adapt recipes and things. As you do. At least if you are a physics graduate with an inquiring mind and like experimenting with things.

This week is science week in Manchester. Me, I think it’s a clever guise to get children to go and look at sciencey things, in order to get hooked, and then sign up for science at university when they’re older. Daughter wants to go, and I know just the person to go with her. (And for the record, the witch got top grades for both Maths and Science at school. She just knew when to give it up. In time.)

How to ruin a book with a sticky label

As I understand it, Oxfam staff are meant to write the price of the used books they sell, in soft pencil, inside the book. Many branches of Oxfam do, and all I need to do post-purchase is to get my eraser out, and the book will look fine.

Some of my local branches, like the big one in central Manchester, use sticky labels. You know, the kind that divides into three or four pieces, in order to prevent shoplifting. The ones they use are particularly sticky, and for good measure they use two per book. One on the outside, front or back. One on the inside where the soft pencil should go.

Some book covers are strong enough and glossy enough to allow removal of the label without too much damage or difficulty. The inside is another business, and I’ve torn a good many books that way. The very worst is when the book cover is soft or has a matt finish. Then the outside label can’t be removed. The worst I’ve ever had was a really old copy of an Arthur Ransome, where the label ruined the dust wrapper completely.

Oxfam could argue that with used books it doesn’t matter, but I just don’t want an ugly label stuck where it doesn’t belong. If the books were still sold for 20p, my case would be weaker, as it would be really good value (though I still don’t think it’s OK to ruin books), but Oxfam are expensive. Sometimes the books are not much cheaper than the big online bookshop. And if I’ve found an old book, it would be good to have it free from both labels and damaged covers.