Friday, April 29, 2016

Just Read! Help your child become a keener reader with Barrington Stoke


We know that reading opens doors, engages the imagination, builds confidence and stimulates curiosity. But that doesn't mean the path to reading success is a smooth one.

Parents want to help their children develop the skills of reading, yet many are unsure of how best to support their child, and help them overcome barriers to reading.

We've got together with Larkmead School and would love to invite you to an evening with a specialist publisher for more reluctant readers, Barrington Stoke. They will reveal tips, simple strategies and target books that are proven to help support your child and give them the opportunities to become more successful readers.


Mairi Kidd
Barrington Stoke specialises in publishing super-readable children’s books that break down the barriers that can stop kids getting into reading.

Barrington Stoke MD Mairi Kidd will be joined by bestselling author Anthony McGowan to discuss ways of removing barriers to reading, and helping parents to take confident steps to turn reluctant readers into keener readers.


Anthony McGowan
There will be a chance to ask questions, and browse books from Barrington Stoke from some of their most famous authors, including Michael Morpurgo, Tom Palmer, Chris Bradford, Malorie Blackman, Frank Cottrell Boyce, Julia Donaldson, Alexander McCall Smith and Chris Riddell.

The event takes place at 6.45pm on Thursday, May 5 in the LRC at Larkmead School. The event is free and there will be refreshments available. We really hope you can come – particularly if you’re looking for ideas to encourage reading.

If you would like to come along, please email us as soon as possible to let us know you will be attending.

All children can develop their reading skills, and read to succeed. We hope you can join us!

Calmer, Easier, Happier Screen Time with Noël Janis-Norton

In the past she's come to Abingdon and given fantastic advice on parenting and homework. But we are excited to welcome back Noël Janis-Norton, who is coming to John Mason School to talk about children and ‘Screen Time’.

The most frequent question Noël is asked is how to limit and manage screen time. Parents know their children become aggressive and stressed after prolonged time on an electronic device - whether phone, XBox or TV - and they know that it limits their child's willingness to do other activities - yet they struggle to find ways to deal with it.

Noël is a real inspiration and has just so much wisdom and experience in dealing with children of all ages. She will be at John Mason School on Thursday, May 12 at 6pm to discuss her proven techniques to help parents in this complex area.


In 'Calmer, Easier, Happier Screen Time' she uses the latest scientific research to show just how addictive the digital world can be for the developing brain. She'll also use calmer, easier, happier techniques to help parents wean their children and teenagers away from their electronic devices, to limit and guide their screen time in a positive way and, feel parents are more in charge of this challenging area of modern life.

This event is free, but space is limited - so please email us to reserve a place if you want to come. For anyone who has seen Noël speak before, she's a quietly engaging and inspiring speaker. 

And if you know anyone who you feel would benefit from practical advice – let them know!

The Perplexing Theft of the Jewel in the Crown: an evening with Vaseem Khan

We are hoping it will be hotter than Mumbai by Monday 23 May, when we welcome author Vaseem Khan to Mostly Books to talk about his latest crime fiction book ‘The Perplexing Theft of the Jewel in the Crown’, set in the heart of one of India’s most vibrant and contrasting cities.

Vassem’s debut ‘The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra’ was one of the biggest crime fiction debuts of last year and became a bestseller. It introduced us to retired police inspector Ashwin Chopra (and his slightly grumpy baby elephant, Ganesh). With a very modern Indian setting, yet drawing comparisons with Alexander McCall Smith, Khan’s latest book sees Chopra investigating a daring heist set in the heart of Mumbai.


When the Crown Jewels go on display in Mumbai, security is everyone’s principal concern. And yet, on the very day Inspector Chopra visits the exhibition, the diamond is stolen from under his nose. The heist was daring and seemingly impossible. The hunt is on for the culprits. But it soon becomes clear that only one man – and his elephant – can possibly crack this case...

Vaseem will be in conversation with Mark Thornton at Mostly Books on Monday, May 23 at 7pm. Tickets are £4, and refreshments will feature a definite Indian theme...email to reserve your ticket for what we hope will be an entertaining evening with a bright new writing talent.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Not of an age, but for all time: Shakespeare Saturday at Mostly Books


His language is at times impenetrable, yet all of us know huge chunks of it off by heart. He can cause teenagers to groan in the classroom, yet set those same adolescent imaginations on fire with tales of jealousy, love and revenge. He’s as recognisable as Albert Einstein, yet we’re not entirely certain what he looked like or what he did for large parts of his life.

There is a whiff of the paradox about Shakespeare. Condemned in his own time for mixing tragedy and comedy, he eventually triumphed to become the ultimate playwright, the third most translated author of all time, and whose stories have seemingly become encoded into the DNA of our greatest literature for centuries.

What is it about William Shakespeare? What makes him the ultimate Elizabethan Bard-ass? Just what is it that makes him so special? Ahead of a weekend of bookshop celebrations both here and around the world a few clues can be found amongst the many books recently published which look at everything from Shakespeare's skill as a writer, to the murky world in which he lived.

Michael Rosen asks ‘What’s so Special About Shakespeare?’ and it's a wonderfully engaging, brilliant introduction to Shakespeare.

Rosen has always been able to look at subjects through the eyes of a child, and with his usual wit, wordsmithery and deep passion for language he answers questions such as 'What do we actually know about Shakespeare' and 'how did he become so famous?' (something a child asked us this week in the shop).

It’s a cracking route into Shakespeare’s world, and the next time someone asks 'What's so special about Shakespeare' you can answer "there's a book for that"...

(And you can listen to Michael enthuse about Shakespeare here)


Another really imaginative route into some of Shakespeare's plays is offered by the wacky and wonderful Pamela Butchart in 'To Wee or Not To Wee'. We love Butchart's school mysteries such as 'Attack of the Demon Dinner Ladies', and again features illustrations with Thomas Flintham.

It features the star of those books (Izzy) whose passion and enthusiasm for Shakespeare (particularly the gruesome bits) spills over into a retelling of four of Shakespeare's most well-known plays to her school friends. It's a really effective and fun device, and we reckon a superb introduction to Shakespeare to young readers 8+

'Shakespeare in Love' may have taken him off his academic pedestal and brought him imaginatively to life, but for a decade now James Shapiro has been quietly fleshing out the real-life Shakespeare, arguing convincingly that it is impossible to understand Shakespeare’s work without understanding the world in which he lived in – one of conspiracy, political intrigue and the ever-present dangers of the Elizabethan world.

His books are as dramatic as Shakespeare's plays (his book '1599' opens with Shakespeare’s actors dismantling a theatre and carrying it across the Thames in a dispute about money), but his latest book '1606 : Shakespeare and the Year of Lear' starts seven years later, the year in which Shakespeare shakes off worries, uncertainty, set-backs and a feverish political atmosphere to write 'King Lear'.

Obviously there's a huge number books about Shakespeare and his legacy, but what about a book written *by* Shakespeare? Aside from getting hold of one of his sonnets or plays (or better still, going to see a production) we recommend 'The Globe Guide to Shakespeare' by Andrew Dickson and published by Profile Books.

It's ultimate guide to his life and work, with full coverage of the 39 plays, including a synopsis, full character list, stage history and a critical essay for each. Use it as a quick reference before nipping off to a play - or a comprehensive primer for theatre goers, students, film buffs and lovers of literature.


You might feel Shakespeare is a bit highfalutin, pretentious and, well, not for you - but for many years he was claimed as a symbol of working-class struggle and revolution. And in 'Shakespeare on Toast' actor, producer and director Ben Crystal knocks the stuffing from the staid old myths of the Bard, revealing the man and his plays for what they really are: modern, thrilling, uplifting drama. The bright words and colourful characters of the greatest hack writer are brought brilliantly to life, sweeping cobwebs from the Bard - his language, his life, his world, his sounds, his craft. Find yourself uplifted and entertained (some Shakespeare would have wholeheartedly approved of!)

Finally, can you ever write like Shakespeare? Mark Forsyth thinks you can. The beginning of his book ‘The Elements of Eloquence’ begins with the words ‘Shakespeare was not a genius’ (controversial stuff). But he shows how Shakespeare sat with tudor history books on one side, and rewrote huge passages using rhetorical devices to make the language sing. Good artists copy, great artists steal – and according to Ben Johnson (England’s the second-greatest playwright) “Shakespeare wanted art”.

So we have some art that you can show off to your friends. To celebrate Shakespeare Saturday, we have some exclusive limited edition tote bags with the ‘The Bard is my Bag’ in glorious orange. 

Yours if you spend £20 or greater on Saturday, strictly on a first come, first served basis.

400 years after his death, the genius tag is firmly stuck. Shakespeare’s plays are performed more than ever, in more places than ever. Many of our favourite authors continue to revisit their favourite plays, having been profoundly affected by them when young. Jeanette Winterson's 'The Gap In Time' is a retelling of 'The Winter's Tale' and Howard Jacobson has retold 'The Merchant's Tale' in 'Shylock Is My Name'.

But our final recommendation is Malorie Blackman's 'Chasing The Stars'. Othello was the book that first inspired her, and although set deep in space, with Othello recast as a teenage girl, it’s Shakespeare through and through.

Shakespeare in space – who’d have thought it?

Well, in 1964, during the world’s first three-man spaceshot by the Soviet Union, the Chief Designer, Sergei Korolev, radioed to Vladimir Komarov that he should terminate the mission immediately. Unbeknown to the crew, there had been a coup and Kruschev had been deposed. Korolev wasn’t allowed to reveal what had happened, but he had to get the men back on the ground. They were reluctant - the mission was going well.

Korolev thinks for a moment, then quotes Hamlet, Scene V:

O day and night, but this is wondrous strange!
  And therefore as a stranger give it welcome.
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy. But come,
Here.

There is a moment’s silence. The words of an English playwright, at the height of the Cold War, transmitted over centuries and through space. Komarov gets the meaning “Pack up boys” he sayd to the crew "it's time to go home".

Friday, March 11, 2016

The Enid Blyton of Murder! Tanya Landman at the Abingdon Joint Author Event

Tanya Landman started off receiving some fantastic career's advice at her school - nurturing, inspirational - which can be summed up as 'if you don't know what you want to do in life, you're doomed!". Luckily for her - and us - she wasn't too freaked out by this mentoring-from-hell experience, and after working in a bookshop, Arts Centre, Bristol Zoo and travelling performer - she became an author.

Her breakthrough book was 'Apache' - shortlisted for the 2008 Carnegie Medal - and the seed of an idea from that book grew, several years later, into 'Buffalo Soldier' which won last year's Carnegie Medal and, quite rightly, elevated Tanya to the Pantheon of contemporary children's authors. It was a huge coup to get her to come to Abingdon, and groups from eight schools in Abingdon came to visit over three sessions.

Tanya is funny, wise and inspirational - and (with the help of a large globe) gave the children a crash course in geo-politics and the history of colonialism in North American. She shared her own journey of understanding of American history, from facts gleaned from the pages of 'Gone with the Wind' and watching Westerns, to the stories of remarkable native americans - and the freed slaves who fought against these brave warriors in the aftermath of the American Civil War.

In her own words she felt that these hidden stories of the American Deep South were "a piece of the jigsaw dropped down the back of the sofa of history" and felt compelled to tell that story.

Along the way, we discovered the real reason Tanya started writing murder mysteries for kids (no spoilers here, but we will say that this story is worth asking Tanya to come to your school all on its own), the inspiration behind the children - and dog - in her Sam Swann books, and why you wouldn't want to be up against her at an award's ceremony...

Tanya enjoys writing about murder (possibly a little too much, according to her publisher). In ‘Mondays are Murder’, her child sleuth Poppy Fields goes on an activity holiday to a remote Scottish island. She is looking forward to a week of climbing, hill-walking and horse riding. But things take a bad turn when their instructor has what appears to be a fatal abseiling accident. When Poppy discovers that his rope was cut, and more of the instructors start to have "accidents", she and best friend Graham suspect foul play and decide to investigate...
Tanya's crash-course in colonialism and
'places not to go if you are
a sailor in the 15th century'...

There are now ten books in the series, so the description of her as the 'Enid Blyton of Murder' may not be too far-fetched...

Tanya also talked about her latest book ‘Hell and High Water’. This is a fantastic book for teens, a thrilling adventure story set against the backdrop of smuggling and conspiracy, and based on research Landman did around the notorious villain Thomas Benson, owner of Lundy Island, corrupt merchant and MP for Barnstaple in the 18th century.

When a body washes up on a beach, Caleb Chappell finds himself involved in a dastardly plot: a plot that places him and his family in mortal danger. With his father falsely accused, it is up to Caleb to save him.

Drawing parallels with modern political corruption, this tells a gripping tale with plot twists galore and strong, believable characters that stay in the memory.

In between sessions, we asked Tanya to tell us a little bit about her writing life...

Five Questions with...Tanya Landman's Writing Life

1.    What are you working on at the moment?
Not telling you!

2.    What is the best writing tip you’ve ever been given?
Daydream! Get it all started in your head first, before putting pen to paper. Writing it out is just technique, but you need to get the idea ready in your head. It needs to get you excited – it’s why I didn’t want to tell you about what I’m working on at the moment actually, because I feel if you talk about it too soon when it’s still in your head, you ‘deflate the cake’!

3.    What’s the best thing and the worst thing about being a children’s writer?
Getting out to schools, book events, or the Carnegie Shadowing. It’s incredible how much energy and enthusiasm you encounter. The worst thing? Every author has days when, what you are writing, isn’t just the worst thing you’ve ever written, but the worst rubbish any author has ever written, ever. You have to write through it of course – but those days are really tough.

4.    Do you have a writer’s survival kit, eg a place, thing, or snack essential before you can start work?
Cup of tea!

5.    What was your biggest breakthrough?
With Apache, it was really the moment when an idea was triggered in my head, and my fingers started twitching, and I had an image in my head. This had never really happened before, and was very different to things I had written before.


The Abingdon Joint Author Event has seen some fantastic authors over the years - Caroline LawrenceAlan GibbonsJulia Golding and Marcus Sedgwick - and yesterday's event with Tanya was a splendid addition to this tradition.

As always there is an incredible amount of hard work behind the scenes from the Abingdon school librarians and teachers who accompanied children to and from the event - we honoured to be asked to get involved. We know just how much time, effort and planning goes in to taking children off timetable - but hopefully listening to an inspiring, award-winning author is worth all the effort!

Thanks also to the awesome help from Jo and Sally, and finally, thanks to Tanya for being such an amazingly inspiring speaker, writer (and incidentally passing the Mostly Books "authors-you'd-most-want-to-go-down-the-pub-with' test!)

To discover more about Tanya, come into Mostly Books to discover what she has written - or visit her website to learn more about her writing.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

This is how the world will end: The Trees with Ali Shaw

In 2009, Atlantic Books published a remarkable debut novel, 'The Girl with Glass Feet', and we instantly fell in love with it in the shop. Realising the author Ali Shaw lived in Oxford, we got in touch - and our first event of 2010 found us listening as Ali describing how that book came to be written.

We weren't the only ones whose hearts and imaginations were captured: it was shortlisted for the Costa first novel award, and finally rewarded with the prestigious Desmond Elliott Prize for New Fiction in 2010. We were first in the queue to get Ali to Abingdon again when his second novel 'The Man Who Rained' was published - and we are delighted that he will be returning to Mostly Books again to discuss his third novel 'The Trees'.


'The Trees' is another remarkable feat of imagination, a story of the power and brutality of nature, and our relationship with it - and each other.

It follows Adrien Thomas, not much of a hero, faced with an overnight transformation of the world which is as brutal and terrifying as it is unexpected. Setting off to reach his wife who is across the sea in Ireland, he is joined by green-fingered Hannah and her teenage son Seb. 

Their journey will take them to a place of terrible beauty and violence, the dark heart of nature and the darkness inside themselves.

The book is already receiving some fantastic reviews:

"The Trees is a stunning and vivid examination of the relationship between humans and the environment in which they live. Violent, beautiful, devastating and utterly enchanting, it's a complete triumph for Shaw, who masterfully brings every detail of the book to life. A wonderfully imaginative story, but also a compelling social commentary, The Trees is a rarity and an absolute must-read." - Graeme Smith, The Herald Scotland

Ali will be in conversation with Mark Thornton, and the event takes place at Mostly Books on Wednesday, March 16 at 7.30pm. Tickets are £4, to include a glass of wine.

Email us to reserve a place for what we know will be a captivating evening with this talented and special author.

Thursday, March 03, 2016

Elementary, In Trouble - and Off The Leash: Our Mother's Day Book Selection 2016

At Mostly Books, we try to resist stereotypes, and let's face it, 'Mother's Day' can be full of them: cue lots of images of immaculately dressed elegance, 1950s throwbacks and Von Trapp-style children. But where's the frazzled, barely holding-things-together, 'technically-it's-not-drinking-alone-if-the-kids-are-in-the-house' reality?

Still, we reckon that buying Mum a book is a good bet whatever the reality.

Buying a book as a gift conjures up the promise of unplugging from the world (at least for a while) and opening a door onto a wider world. These things go down extremely well (along with the flowers, chocolates, cups of tea and inexpertly-made breakfasts in bed of course). And reading is officially very good for you.

We're here to help you give Mum the day she deserves - so here is this year's Mostly Books Mother's Day recommends from everyone at the shop (several of whom are mothers themselves, and hence know about these sort of things).

'How It Works: The Mum' is another brilliantly-written, subversive spoof Ladybird title from the team behind 'How It Works: The Wife' and 'How It Works: The Husband'.

With the genius combination of nostalgic original artwork from the genuine Ladybird books, and sardonic observations on modern life that worked in earlier titles, this is definitely going to generate a laugh or two on Mother's Day, and will tide you over until the eagerly-awaited 'How It Works: The Student' is published this Autumn...

Continuing on the subversive, satirical theme, 'The Trouble with Women' by Jacky Fleming is an illustrated gem of a book that tells an alternative history of the ‘women history wrote out’. From 'Fallen Woman' (those that strayed outside their Domestic Bubble) to the men who have proved womens ‘puny’ intelligence, this is subversive, genuinely eye-opening, and very funny with plenty of historically-significant mothers (many with tell-tale ‘genius hair’...).

There's loads of new fiction out at the moment, and here are a few of our favourites which we think make extra-special Mother's Day choices.

One of Nicki's favourite children's authors, Meg Rosoff, has written her first book for adults - 'Jonathan Unleashed' - and it's a total joy.

New Yorker Jonathan has got a job, an apartment, a girlfriend - what more could he want? But when suddenly he also has two dogs, his life starts to painfully and hilariously unravel. Jonathan starts to see his life differently and feels perhaps there should be more...

A smart, funny book and beautifully written book about modern relationships (and dogs). For anyone who loved the quirky humour of 'The Rosie Project', it's a book that will surprise and go straight to the heart.

Mrs Hudson’s role in the Sherlock Holmes books was always being the woman whose main role in life was bringing Sherlock Holmes tea. Well, what if she is secretly covering up another brilliant mind, listening in to all Sherlock’s cases and longing to be a detective herself? That's the premise behind 'The House At Baker Street' by Michelle Birkby.

When Holmes dismisses a case of blackmail, Mrs Hudson, with the help of Mary Watson leaps in, determined to finally fulfil her dream and solve a case of her own. There is plenty of Sherlock-inspired fiction at the moment, but this is a triumph of imagination, exciting and thoroughly satisfying as a mystery in its own right.

Like Meg Rosoff, Lissa Evans made the leap from children's to adult books, although she was already an accomplished television director and producer. 'Crooked Heart' is a delightfully quirky story about the relationship between a struggling wartime widow and the evacuee she doesn't really want.

Vee reckons everyone is doing well out of the War, but she just keeps getting caught out. She takes in evacuee Noel, feeling there are opportunities to exploit his limp. They form a deep and touching relationship that survives both treachery and bombings in this heart-warming drama infused with both charm and moments of laugh-out-loud comedy.

In 'A Year of Marvellous Ways', 89 year old Marvellous Ways is waiting. She’s not entirely sure what she’s waiting for - but she knows it’s coming. Then Francis Drake arrives, a soldier fresh from war, and she sets out to use the power of stories to help him heal his past. Sarah Winman's tale is full of magical realism which gives the book a hint of ‘fairytaleness’. All in all it’s a book that will definitely whisk the reader away.

A good book cries out for a associated beverage, and if it's a lovely cup of tea then why not consider one of our range of mugs? Our bookish range from Scribbelicious have books on one side and quotes on the other.

It’s the perfect way to sink into a drink. And a book.

Some people may not agree with them being relaxing, but we have a collection of jigsaws at the moment (see 'Mother and Child' at left). What better to make, either alone, or with the ‘help’ of a son or daughter?

And do take a look at our pop-up 'flower' cards - the perfect way to send flowers through the post when you can't send flowers through the post!

A perfect present from a child? Try the following:

In 'My Mum is a Supermum' a wonderful, imaginative story celebrates mothers everywhere, written by Angela McAllister and illustrated by 'Claude' author and illustrator Alex T Smith

Does your mother have eyes in the back of her head? How about X-ray vision? Milo’s definitely does, since how else would she always know what he was doing?

There’s also 'Just Like My Mum' (now available in a board book as well as paperback). It's an extremely cute story all about a little lion cub and how he wants to be just like her - all drawn with the warmth and charm of Hugless Douglas creator David Melling.

Whoever you are buying for, just come into the shop and let us find the perfect gift!