Friday, October 17, 2014

In Conversation...An Evening with David Mitchell

Mark Thornton of Mostly Books will be interviewing comedian, actor, journalist and author David Mitchell about his new book “Thinking About It Only Makes It Worse: and Other Lessons from Modern Life” on Thursday, 13 November 2014, 7pm.

David Mitchell is one of the UK’s best-known comedians. He’s also an actor and writer. A former pupil of Abingdon School, he came to prominence as one half of ‘Mitchell and Webb’ and has since won BAFTAs for ‘Peep Show’ and ‘That Mitchell and Webb Look’. He has also starred in ‘Jam and Jerusalem’, ‘The Bleak Old Shop of Stuff’ and ‘Ambassadors’. He writes for the Observer, chairs ‘The Unbelievable Truth’, is a team captain on ‘Would I Lie To You’? and has appeared regularly on almost all of our most popular panel shows, including ‘QI’, ‘Have I Got News For You’ and ‘Mock The Week’. In 2012 he published his memoir ‘Back Story’.

David will be in conversation about his latest book ‘Thinking About It Only Makes It Worse: And Other Lessons from Modern Life’, a collection of essays in which David considers the problems of everything from chocolate toothpaste to Ryanair, Poundland to ‘whether anything can be done about the Internet’. It’s funny, profound and provocative – and shot through with a surprising amount of common sense.

The event takes place at The Amey Theatre, Abingdon School, Oxfordshire OX14 1DE. David will be signing copies of his book immediately after the event.

Tickets are £12 and are available from Mostly Books. They can be reserved by calling the shop or emailing them on Seating is unreserved, and doors open at 6:15pm for refreshments.

You can also pre-purchase advance copies of the book at a special discounted pre-order price of £15 (RRP £18.99 hardback) when purchasing your ticket. All advance purchased books will be collected on the night, and David will sign following the event. Pre-ordered books can be signed by David prior to the event at your request.

(Books can also be purchased on the night for £1.99 off the retail price, or £17).

We have an allocation of tickets for Mostly Books customers that will sell out shortly, so please let us know as soon as you can if you would like tickets. All tickets will be sold in advance – not on the door – and all sales are non-refundable; no discounts or concessions on tickets.

Friday, October 03, 2014

Books Are My Bag Bookshop Party! with Alison Mercer, Tom Moorhouse, Neill Cameron and David Melling

We're having a party - and we'd love you to come.

On Saturday, 11 October we are delighted to be welcoming local authors Alison Mercer, Tom Moorhouse, Neill Cameron and David Melling.

Throughout the day, they will be sitting in a special 'live window', drawing, writing, creating something special - and of course meeting readers and signing books.

It's all happening as part of a national celebration of bookshops called ‘Books Are My Bag’. And we are challenging you to be creative too and become part of our live window throughout the day. We are challenging everyone to come in, sit down, and get creative too with our authors: write a short story or poem, draw a cartoon or picture.

Everyone entering the shop can take part - and you'll be given a sheet starting "Suddenly at Mostly Books...". What happens next is up to you!

And if that isn’t enough to tempt you, there will be champagne, cake, and a few other surprises as well. You'll also be able to get hold of a limited edition 'Book Are My Bag' bag designed by artist Tracey Emin, available exclusively at High Street Bookshops.

We are very lucky at Mostly Books to have so many supportive readers (and writers) who help us continue to thrive. But as the number of bookshops around the country dwindles, there is growing support for those of us who are still passionate about a place for books on the high street. 'Books Are My Bag' is an opportunity for people to celebrate what makes bookshops so special, as hubs of culture and community and a place where literacy can be fostered.

So what's happening on the day?

From 11am, Alison Mercer will be in the window, talking and signing books, creating a piece of writing, and on hand to answer questions about the path to becoming a published author.

Her latest book 'After I Left You' was launched at Mostly Books earlier this Summer - learn more about the author and the book here.

Then from midday, we have wonderful children's author (and ecologist) Tom Moorhouse, author of 'The River Singers' and its follow-up 'The Rising' (just out). This captivating tale of daring, loyalty and adventure involving water voles - based on the author's own conservation experiences - has already been hailed as a classic animal adventure, and Tom will be 'in the window' talking about his experiences, and showing videos of his work with water voles!

Then at 1.30pm we have the awesomely talented Neill Cameron in the window, showing you 'How To Make Awesome Comics'. A regular contributor to legendary comic The Phoenix, and author of YA graphic novel 'Mo-Bot High', Neill will be inspiring comic talent, and creating something special for the Mostly Books window! Everyone shout 'Aaaaiiieee!'...

Finally, at 2.30pm we welcome Abingdon's very own David Melling, creator of the bear that has taken the world by storm, 'Hugless Douglas' (don't believe us? just take a look at the different language versions below). David's going to be creating something extremely special in the window, answering questions about his illustrator life, and signing copies of his books.


Wherever you are in the country, if you are lucky enough to have a great bookshop nearby, we hope as many people as possible will take the opportunity go visit, meet an author, be inspired, and browse some of the brilliant new titles being published.
To find out more - go visit the Books Are My Bag website...

Cute Emergency: Hero Pup with Megan Rix

This week, we took animal-adventure author Megan Rix into two schools in Abingdon - as well as an extra special guest who went down well with all the children...

Children from Thomas Reade Primary School and Chandlings School listened as Megan described her experiences training assistance dogs, and how she used this to tell her stories of animals performing incredible feats of bravery and heroics during times of conflict.

Her latest book, 'Hero Pup', tells the story of a young boy Joe and a puppy, Patch. Joe and his Dad have always wanted a dog, but when Joe's father dies, he doesn't think he will ever have one. But when Joe meets Patch at Helper Dogs, Joe has the opportunity to train Patch to make him a useful companion to someone in need. And as their relationship develops, Joe starts to overcome his feelings of gried in what is a very moving but uplifting story.

The special guest was a retired guide-dog called Dru, brought to the school by her owner Richard. Part Labrador Retriever, part Golden Retriever, 12 year old Dru had actually been a breeding dog for other guide dogs, having had 25 puppies, most of which had gone on to become guide dogs.

Megan explained how she came to be a writer - including her own experiences of being off school with whooping cough for a whole term. Having been at the bottom of her class and not very interested in reading, she had nothing to do but read - with her mum bringing books from the library, and her voraciously reading everything she could get her hands on in the house ((including books she probably wasn't supposed to read!). When she returned to school, she found herself at the top of the class - a great testament to the power of reading for pleasure!  

The children had plenty of questions about her books, but also about her own dogs - and of course Dru.
She also read to the children from Hero Pup (published this week) and signed copies for children who queued up to meet Megan and Dru...

Our thanks to Megan for a truly heartwarming talk (and plenty of cute pictures of animals!), Puffin for setting the whole thing up, the children who behaved impeccably...and of course, we took the opportunity to find out more about what makes Megan tick as an author...

Five questions with . . . Megan Rix's writing life

1.  What are you working on at the moment?
I’m currently working on a World War I-era tale involving a circus dog and a young elephant – the dog attempts to reunite the young elephant with its mother. During World War I a lot of elephants were taken from zoos and circuses and ended up doing heavy lifting work around the country, and the older elephant is logging in the Lake District. I typically think and plan the book for a month before writing, but this one is taking a bit longer.

2.   What is the best writing tip you’ve ever been given?
Don’t stop. You must continue to write, because as you practice you cannot help but get better. Don’t instantly think that you’ll be good, and don’t limit yourself to one kind of writing, because you don’t know how your style will evolve.

3.   What’s the best thing and the worst thing about being a children’s writer?
The best thing is the sheer variety of writing that you can do – for different ages, styles, etc. You have total freedom to set books where you like, when you like. If you write as an adult author, you tend to get stuck with a particular genre (such as crime) but you are really not as limited as that when you are a children’s author. Worst thing – I can’t really think of one!

4.   Do you have a writer’s survival kit, eg a place, thing or snack essential before you can start work?
Years ago, when I was writing books under my real name (Ruth Symes) I would have said yes, I would prepare to write by lighting some incence sticks, etc. But now, and particularly since I’ve owned and trained dogs, I tend to sit on my bed writing with the dogs asleep next to me. One thing I do use is a marvellous digital pen. This lets me write in longhand as if with a traditional pen, but then I plug the pen into my laptop and everything is downloaded as text without having to retype it.

(As regards the dogs, I now just have to say ‘work time’ and they immediately trot upstairs to the bed!)

5.   What was your biggest breakthrough?
It sort of relates to what I mentioned earlier about writing tips – the whole ‘Megan Rix’ pseudonym came about because (initially) I wanted to write about things that had actually happened to me and my family – and to protect my privacy. But out of that came stories about animals, and I changed my style of storytelling. Up until then I had always written in quite a ‘realistic’ style, but with Megan Rix I was able to develop an ‘omnipotent viewpoint’ style. I had never had the confidence before, because at school they squashed you if you tried to use this. It was almost like “The omnipotent viewpoint? Do you consider yourself to be God?”!

Friday, September 26, 2014

The Word At War with Philip Gooden and Peter Lewis

War words have embedded themselves in our collective psyche; British politicians are fond of invoking the 'Dunkirk spirit' whenever the country is faced with major crisis or even minor adversity, and Roosevelt's famous description of Pearl Harbor as 'a date which will live in infamy' was echoed by many US commentators after the 9/11 attacks.

So far, so familiar. Or is it? How many of us know, for instance, that 'Keep Calm and Carry On', far from achieving its morale-boosting aim, was considered at the time to be deeply patronizing by the people it was directed at, and so had only limited distribution?

The 'Word at War' explores 100 phrases spawned and popularized in the lead-up and during the conflict of World War Two. Substantial essays explore and explain the derivations of, and the stories behind, popular terms and phraseology of the period, including wartime speeches (and the words of Churchill, Hitler and FDR); service slang; national stereotypes; food and drink; and codewords.

We're delighted to be hosting an event with the book's eloquent authors Philip Gooden and Peter Lewis at Mostly Books on Monday, October 13 at 7pm. So why not 'Keep Calm and Come Along' to listen as they 

Come along and listen as the book's eloquent authors explain the origins of Jeep, SPAM, flak, kamikaze and mega (amongst others) - and how a Daily Telegraph crossword clue almost wrecked D-Day. But more importantly, they examine the way language rapidly develops in times of crisis and disaster.

This is a special launch event, and is free to attend, but space is limited - please email us to reserve your place.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Become a fan of family reading

We’re hoping we can persuade you to start a new family tradition – we want you to start a family reading group.

It’s difficult to overstate the importance of reading.

There are plenty of studies and research into this. There’s all the obvious stuff, stuff you probably know (although it is worth reminding yourself occasionally). Reading improves concentration, vocabulary and comprehension. 

But there is a growing body of evidence that shows that children who read for pleasure do better in just about every area of human activity. Interestingly, all these studies show it's the reading of fiction that seems to open doors into wider experiences.

There is now compelling evidence that links reading with creativity. And creativity seems to be the key skill in responding to a rapidly changing world.

Reading can quieten the noise of a 24/7 twittering world clamouring for attention and creates a space in which to explore, consider and think. It teaches us to be happier within ourselves. 

Yet reading is on the decline. Literacy is significantly in decline for both adults and children.

Like any skill, it is more difficult to start it again if you don’t commit to doing it regularly.

Reading is a skill like anything else. Want to be better at football? Train more, get fitter. Want to be better at reading? Read more, get better.

So many people come into our shop and tell us how they would really like their children to read more (mostly because they recognise how good it is for them – but hopefully, also, because it is FUN).

But do your children ever see you read?

Admit it, you tend to read just before going to bed. Or from an electronic gadget. When do they ever see you obviously taking time during the day, when you are not tired, to put aside everything else to enjoy a book? 

Children (particularly boys) can hit an age when they look at their parents and think ‘this isn’t something my Mum or Dad do for fun, it’s babyish’. And as levels of schoolwork increase, and life gets ever more complex, reading for pleasure seems like a luxury.

So here’s our idea: start a family reading group. It’s simple, compelling and we think you’re going to really enjoy it.

How to start a family reading group.

“The path of a reader is not a runway but more a hack through a forest, with individual twists and turns, entanglements and moments of surprise.” – June Holden

And it always helps not to do it alone!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Independent Reading - some books for the referendum

We've had a lot of discussions about the Scottish Referendum in the shop with customers over the past week. Some have been a bit bemused by the whole thing, some intrigued, some saddened. But for anyone living in Scotland and allowed to vote, it must be exciting and heady; it's only about once a generation that democracy brings potential for genuine change.

Unable as we are to vote, however, we thought we might come up with a few of our favourite books - recently published - that contain themes being played out in what is this evening (on Sep 17) the northern part of the United Kingdom.

'And the Land Lay Still' by James Robertson is possibly the novel to read that encapsulates the modern history of Scotland. This ambitious, sweeping tale grows out of a retrospective exhibition of photographs to take in a quest for Scottish identity, but one set within the ebbs and flows of politics and culture from the wider world. If you (unfairly) had to pick a custodian of Scottish culture and identity, it'd be Robertson  - and the complex feelings stirred up by Thursday’s votes are almost encapsulated in miniature by an extract from the novel you can read here.

It has been fascinating (and disconcerting) in the past few weeks to see the various 'iron fists' slip out of numerous velvet gloves, as the big guns come out to defend the union. We know of no other recent novel that describes this process better than ‘Other People’s Money’ by Justin Cartwright (who lives very near here). The modus operandi of 'power' is something we should all take a keen interest in, but in this tale of a fading banking family's attempts to shore up their business in the face of the credit crunch, Cartright absolutely nails the slow stripping away of breeding and manners when entrenched power is really threatened. You'll never look at newspaper headlines in the same way again (and if you're interested in power-plays, this analysis post-vote is well worth reading)...

Of course, you might just want to skip the metaphors and go for a factual expose of who runs the country and how they do it. Owen Jones' ‘The Establishment’ caused a stir even before it was published, but this passionate, consistent and brilliant investigation into the often shadowy (and unaccountable) organisations and individuals who control almost every aspect of our lives is a tour de force. Yes, Owen is an (unashamed) leftie, but whichever side of the political divide you happen to be on, we can all agree that some aspects of social justice in this country could be improved upon...

Lighter in tone, but pitch-perfect in its observations of modern Britain, 'Meeting the English' by Kate Clanchy provides us with a wry look at English (or, more accurately, London) life from a Scotman. Kate talked about this book when she visited the shop over the Summer, and her eloquent poetic sensibilities gives us a highly entertaining read.

Thatcher (or more accurately Thatcherism) is often fingered as the big baddie that stoked Scotland to the edge of independence (as this Spitting Image sketch from 1987 demonstrates), but in Damian Barr's 'Maggie and Me' he paints a far more nuanced interpretation of the 1980s, with his touching and darkly witty memoir about surviving Thatcher's Britain, and of growing up gay in the shadow of the Ravenscraig Steelworks. We read this book for our morning bookgroup earlier this year, and it provoked a lot of uneasy discussion.

'Acts of Union and Disunion' by Linda Colley examines the Union in the context of a wider historical context. Is the Scottish nationalism a recent phenomenon, or just another piece of the longer break-up of empire? A short but extremely thought-provoking book. If the union of Scotland and England was really just a joint-venture for Empire, is it time to break-up - or renegotiate?

Finally, and no matter who prevails in the vote, Graham Robb's 'The Ancient Paths: Discovering the Lost Map of Celtic Europe' provides a neat historical perspective that reminds us that before Empire, before The Union, even before The Romans, we were part of a much older connection with Europe - one which still echoes in our landscape and cultures. Based on original - and breathtaking - research, Robb has pieced together hitherto unknown aspects of the Celts, revealing a civilization of previously unrecognised intellectual sophistication.

So there we are - our contribution (albeit slight) so some of the themes thrown up in recent weeks. Whatever the vote on Thursday, we’ll still be living on the same island, we’ll still have the same Scottish friends, and we’ll still be facing the same global problems that threaten the world and don’t care a jot about borders or nationality. I think all of us who perceive ourselves as underdogs feel - as Philip Pullman says - 'a bit yessish', and if voters go to the polls and gain catharsis of ‘sticking it to the man’, it might lead all of us to scrutinise and challenge the status quo just that bit harder – yes or no, might that not be a good thing?

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Forbidden books, dangerous secrets and a deadly can only be the BBC Radio Oxford Afternoon Bookclub

There was a lot happening in the book world on Monday. A quivering of anticipation about the Booker Shortlist and a national debate about a reading crisis among children. Oh, and the busiest time of year for new titles arriving at bookshops up and down the country.

What better time to step into the fray and recommend a few titles?

As always, you can listen to the show on BBC iPlayer until Monday Sep 15 - fast forward to 1 hour and 7 minutes - there is also a cracking interview with Kate Mosse in which she discusses her writing, and what inspired her to become an author.

Here are some of the books we discussed:

As far as themes go, they don’t get much bigger than the entire history of our species. Yuval Harari’s ‘Sapiens’ is one of those monumental works that gives a dizzying perspective on how we came to rule – and threaten – the entire planet. It starts with the changes in our brain that allowed us to tell stories, imagine alternative scenarios, and out-manoeuvre other species (notably Neanderthals). From there we become farmers, develop religion, invent money, harness technology and threaten widespread extinction – including our own. The writing is superb – never dry, occasionally brazen, at times almost sardonic – and never afraid to come off the fence in areas that are controversial: did we domesticate wheat, or did it domesticate us? Did stockpiling food lay the psychological seeds for consumerism? Are we happier now than *any* of our ancestors? And what is going to replace our species, as surely as we replaced earlier species?

In 'Archie Greene and the Magicians Secret' by DD Everest, Archie receives a mysterious book on his birthday, written in a language he doesn't recognise, and one with a Special Instruction. Archie must then travel to Oxford to return the book to the Museum of Magical Miscellany. The journey leads Archie to discover the world of the Flame Keepers - a community devoted to finding and preserving magical books. But the magical book under Archie's protection is dangerous, and dark spirits hunt it out. With the help of his new-found cousins, Archie must do everything he can to uncover the book's hidden powers and save the Flame Keepers from evil.

Archie’s adventure takes place in an Oxford bookshop (one that sounds nothing like Mostly Books!), full of underground caverns that house the books of dark magic under lock and key, and fantastical creatures and people busy at work keeping magical books in the right conditions. It’s a fabulously imagined and exciting tale, beautifully produced, with a special Oxford flavour!

In terms of suspense, we don't think anything can match Tana French's 'The Secret Place', a journey into the dark heart of loyalties, rivalries and secrets in the intense emotional landscape of teenage lives. A murder at an exclusive girls school gives detective Stephen Moran the chance for his big break - and an open door into the Dublin murder squad. But the suspects he has to crack are a bunch of close-knit girls, to whom friendship is more important than playing by any other rules. Trying to get teenagers to talk is about as impossible as enjoying working with Detective Antoinette Conway - tough, prickly, an outsider - with a background that couldn't be less like the suspects they are trying to win over. Both have a lot at stake and watching them in action is really compelling, particularly in the claustrophobic school setting as they move painfully closer to the truth. A really different, original piece of crime fiction.

To hear all these books - and plenty more (including the latest Martin Amis) click the link and fast forward to 1 hour 7 minutes...

(You'll remember last month we were raving about 'The Bone Clocks' by author David Mitchell? Kat interviewed David on the show yesterday and you can listen to *that* interview here by forwarding to 2 hours and 7 minutes...)