Sunday, July 31, 2016

Time-Travelers, Watchmakers and Sunlit Nights: Ten top reads for the Summer

Looking for some satisfying, independent-minded, hand-selected Summer Reading? Then here are ten top reads for the Summer as selected by all of us at Mostly Books. Hopefully this will give you a few ideas for your next favourite read, particularly as some of favourite books of the last few months are new out in paperback.

And of course - come in for personal recommendations at any time!

In 'Beside Myself' by Ann Morgan, Helen and Ellie are identical twins: Helen is the leader and Ellie the follower. Until they decide to swap places: just for fun, and just for one day. But Ellie refuses to swap back. And so begins a nightmare from which Helen cannot wake up... 

This is much more than just an intriguing book on the nature of identity, it's actually a sensitive, accomplished and really gripping debut and a thoroughly engaging story. Constantly surprising, you find yourself desperate to discover how the story ends, with a twist that is brilliantly done and entirely satisfying. We think Ann Morgan is definitely an author to watch.

'Even Dogs In The Wild' is Ian Rankin's latest John Rebus thriller, and after 'retiring' Rebus a few years ago, and dabbling with other characters in Rebus' world, Rankin offers us a fantastic return to form - and a cracking thriller in which Rebus must join forces with DI Siobhan Clarke to stop a killer striking again.

Rankin's mastery of plot and characterization is complete, and Rebus's world is complex, brilliantly drawn, and utterly compelling.

The best holiday reads utterly transport you to places exotic and strange, and after the blistering temperatures of earlier this week, we recommend reading 'The Sunlit Night' by debut novelist Rebecca Dinerstein. Two very different people - one fleeing heartbreak, one looking to bury his father - meet on an archipelago in the Norwegian Sea, a hundred miles north of the Artic Circle.

Beautifully written, with a real sense of place, yet quirky, unashamedly romantic and hugely satisfying.

'The Immortals' by SE Lister is one of Julia's picks this Summer - published at the end of 2015, but new out in paperback. And get that cover!

When Rosa gets tired of living through 1945 again and again, she escapes from her parents and begins a rollercoaster ride back and forward through time and meets many strange and wonderful characters.There are so many effortless layers to Lister's writing that it allows the story to meander from one era to another. Can any human live, ever really live without a home and is a life spent without roots or relationships any real sort of life?

If Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan Quarter of novels has you hungry for more translated Italian fiction, we recommend you look at 'I'm Not Scared', originally published in 2001 by novelist Niccolò Ammaniti (and made into a film of the same name).

A classic contemporary thriller, it follows the story of nine-year-old Michele Amitrano, who makes a discovery in a dilapidated farmhouse so momentous, he dare not tell a soul - something that will have profound consequences on him and the world around him.

Another brilliantly inventive debut is Natasha Pulley's 'The Watchmaker of Filigree Street' which combines shades of Nick Harkaway, David Mitchell and Joseph Conrad's 'The Secret Agent' (now that's some combination!).

In a steampunkish London, a mysterious watch saves Thaniel Steepleton from a bomb which destroys Scotland yard - and then sends him on an increasingly frantic hunt for its maker. Questions of fate and destiny, as well as two remarkable female characters that Thaniel is increasingly torn between, this is a book of real ambition.

Talking of ambition, 'Arcadia' may be author Iain Pears' biggest yet. It's a story of three worlds: One present (1970s), one future and the third an invention from the mind of a writer called Henry Lytten. When these worlds collide a whole heap of trouble occurs. A schoolgirl from the nineteen seventies is mistaken for a fairy. Security officers from the future are arrested as Soviet spies and Lytten enters his own story and is worshipped as a deity. This is an eclectic mix of fantasy, history, science fiction and dystopian future which together make an engrossing read.

In 'Rembrandt's Mirror' by Kim Devereux, we are plunged into the world of legendary Dutch painter Rembrandt's later years, which were blighted by a string of personal and financial losses. This is a powerful a compelling story of the later loves of the painter's life and the clash of genius and the man inside.

The novel is steeped in Rembrandt's art; each chapter is named after, and in some way reflects, one of his paintings. The writing is laced with painterly description and art theory, giving the impression that we are looking at this world through an artist's eyes. Who can resist the charms of the Dutch Golden Age - now in a sumptuous paperback.

Want more? We reckon you should also take a look Sebastian Faulks' latest sweeping novel 'Where My Heart Used to Beat' and Edna O'Brien's story of a charismatic faith-healer on the West coast of Ireland ('The Little Red Chairs').

But come in for more recommends - because there are a whole collection of great reads out this Summer and we'd be happy to show you more!

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Come and Meet Hugless Douglas!

On Tuesday 2 August, we're inviting you to come along and meet the big bear with the big heart - Hugless Douglas!

The last time Douglas visited Mostly Books we had a fantastic time, with scorching weather and hot hugs in the garden.

For anyone who came along and had fun with The Gruffalo a few weeks ago, Douglas isn't scary at all, and there will definitely be hugs all round...

This time round, Douglas gets involved with some baking, and as usual, things don't got entirely to plan.

In 'Hugless Douglas and the Great Cake Bake' the sheep are baking cakes and Douglas can't wait to try them. However, he's sure that food without honey just isn't yummy. Can he ever be tempted to try something new?

There will be cupcake-making activities from the beginning of August - and on the day itself, Hugless will be making a special guest appearance. There will also be a book signing from award-winning author and illustrator (and creator of Hugless Douglas) David Melling.

We'd really love you to come along and transform our window with some brightly decorated cupcakes. There will be activities all week, and special prizes to win on the day itself. And there may even be the odd yummy treat to try if we're really lucky...

There is no need to book - but if you'd like more details of the event, including more details on timings closer to the day, please email us.

David Melling is an author who is an incredible talent of whom Abingdon can be particularly proud. Over ten years, David has taught children how to draw Hugless Douglastold us about his writing lifeproduced masterpieces live over the Internet sat as a 'live window display' while he has worked and hosted a goblins party in Abingdon Library.

We'd love to see you on August 2 in our courtyard garden - and celebrate one of most endearing picture book characters!

Saturday, July 09, 2016

Ten years of Mostly Books - a heartfelt thank you

Ten years ago - July 1 2006 - two nervous and extremely naive booksellers opened the door to their shop, and began a journey into the unknown. It was 9am, and already sultry on what would become a scorching hot day. The street was largely empty.

One of the booksellers had met Tim Waterstone at a book event a few weeks before and had asked him "If there was one piece of advice you would give to anyone opening a bookshop, what would it be?"

"Don't do it" he said.

After all, there was already trouble brewing on the High Street, Internet shopping and supermarket dominance was already well underway in transforming how we shop. But the future looked bright, the economy was healthy. The word 'Kindle' meant "to start a fire" and hardly anyone would have a clue if you mentioned 'subprime mortgage'.

What followed has been an incredible ten years - not easy, not smooth, but the most amazing adventure with many more highs than lows. We had plans to do a series of blogs on 'ten years in bookselling', or 'the best books of the last ten years'. That's for the next few months as we enjoy our tenth year. For now, we'd just like to say 'thank you'.

Thank you to everyone who has, over the years, helped this bookshop survive and thrive. We could not do what we do without you, but we feel incredibly blessed to have such a community of book lovers, engaged and passionate readers, and regulars who have come to be more friends than customers.

We believe bookselling is very different to almost every other form of retail. It is humbling what people share with you when they come into a bookshop: their hopes and fears, their frustrations and triumphs. We've met people who helped shape history but you wouldn't look twice if they passed you in the street. We've met a truly awesome array of inspirational authors. And there are the many hundreds of families who have given us a part of their children's future, allowing us to help them find books that they can grow with. There is no better feeling in the world than watching a small person grow in leaps in bounds - physically and intellectually - as literacy puts down deep roots and, month-by-month, you feel you have pressed fast-forward on a life blossoming in front of you.

Abingdon is an international town, a town with a long and proud history, a tradition of resilience, that sits at the heart of one of the most thriving and dynamic science communities in the world. We feel we have the most diverse customer mix anywhere, from Abingdonians who've lived here all their life, to others who choose to put down roots here from all over the world. Our country may feel like a more isolated place after recent events, but this can only be temporarily. The future belongs to people who know - and act on - a faith that more unites us than divides us. Those people tend to read books, and if a revolution is coming, we're betting it'll start in a bookshop.

Like most dynamic, outward looking towns, people do come and go. You hope it wasn't something you did or said (the deepest fear of the entrepreneur, which leaves you gasping in sweat-soaked panic at 4am). But the world of social media has allowed us to keep in touch with many ex-Abingdonians around the world.

Over the years, inevitably, often months after the event, you discover that a customer is no longer with us. It's can be heartbreaking, but it's a price you pay for sharing in a community. That is a price well worth paying.

We have so many special memories over the last ten years, it's impossible to pick just a few. But we've tried below. We'd love to hear yours.

We're holding a party tomorrow (Saturday July 2). We'd love you to come. There will be cake and champagne (the two essentials of a bookshop party). And will give us a chance to say thank you.

And if someone came up to us and asked me that question: "Would you open a bookshop?". We'd say "Are you crazy? Don't do it!". Because maybe, just maybe, if you ignore that piece of advice, you may have passed the first test in your steps to become a bookseller.

Thank you from all of us at Mostly Books.

Mark, Nicki, Karen, Julia, Imogen, Sara


Some highlights from the last ten years:

2006: Our first ever children's event (Charlie and Lola) and breaking every health and safety rule going to pack 54 people in the shop for Sophie Grigson
Some highlights from the last ten years:

2007: Sam Jordison v Didcot, Pirates take over Mostly Books, The Glastonbury of Food, and the World's Greatest Portrait Artist

2008: Raymond Blanc and the four hour signing, Martin Clunes and a dog or two, Survival Training in the Garden and celebrating winning *that* award.

2009: Susan Hill in the Roysse Room, Alan Titchmarsh, Gryff Rhys JonesAlice in Wonderland and Monsters and Muchamore

2010: BBC Oxford Bookclub, rockstar authors at Carswell SchoolDinopants at Thomas Readethe best event we ever did, Barbara Trapido, Ben Macintyrethe birth of Hugless Douglas, and Chris Bradford on World Book Day.

2011: Five questions, Frank Cottrell Boyce before the Olympics, Kennington Lit Fest, Our first Oxfordshire Book Awards, Cathy Cassidy in Didcota masterclass in dealing with the undead, John Hegley, Sentimental Amateurs.

(And of course, Jeffery Deaver and the launch of 'Carte Blanche' at the Diamond Light Source!)

2012: Ben Goldacre at the Oxford Union, from Black to Green, Clarissa explains it all, the launch of a sparkling new talent, Ann Cleeves, Bethan Roberts, the Olympic Torch goes past our windowFrances Hardinge at St Nicolas School and The Unlikely event with Harold Fry

2013: HL Dennis at OLA, exploring strange new world, Old Bear, Salley Vickers, Nosy Crow takeover, Carnegie Forum, Hot Hugs

2014: Too many to pick - but this montage gives you an idea! David Mitchell, The Gruffalo and awards aplenty!

2015: Suzanne Barton, travelling to Pluto and Caroline Lawrence!

Saturday, July 02, 2016

The Phoenix Comic-Making Workshop!

On Saturday, July 9 we're teaming up with legendary children’s comic ‘The Phoenix’ to hold our very own Comic-Making Workshop!

This is a chance for you to come along and work in a team to create an awesome comic story. You’ll be guided through the entire process, with ideas, inspiration and exercises to bring out the creative genius within.

There will be fun, there will be inspiration, there will be moustaches (more about that when you get here!)

There will be two sessions at 9.30am and 2pm, and we expect it to last 90 minutes. 

There are workshops happening all over the country, and the best entries will be chosen for a special anthology to be published by ‘The Phoenix’ in the Autumn.

Tickets cost £3 and places are limited, so if you have a child who is a budding author or illustrator, let us know if they’d like to come along.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Come and meet the Gruffalo! Help celebrate Independent Bookshop Week 2016!

To help us celebrate Independent Bookshop Week 2016 - and as part of our tenth birthday celebration - the Gruffalo is coming! And we'd love you to come too!

The Gruffalo last visited Mostly Books in 2014 and because he had such a lot of fun, he's coming back!

We will be running two special Gruffalo Storytimes at 10am and 3.30pm on Wednesday, June 22.

The storytimes are free, but space is limited so you must book!

We will be reading the Gruffalo, and you may even be able to have your picture taken with him!

Pop into the shop - or email us to reserve a place. And help us celebrate!

Friday, June 10, 2016

Living in Interesting Times: Buy Dad A Real Book for Father's Day 2016

This year's 'Buy Dad A Real Book' campaign might be slightly overshadowed by "events, dear boy, events" but that still doesn't mean, amongst the swirling chaos and uncertainty of the next few weeks (and that's just the football) we still can't carve out a moment of calmness and sanity, and treat Dad to a special book.

Yes, if ever there was a moment to pull the plug on the 24/7 world of news, punditry, opinions, trolling, tweets and status updates, Sunday June 19 might just be that day...

As has become customary over the past few years, here's our selection of books for you to choose from. We have many more recommends for you to pick in the shop, so why not come in and ask for a special recommendation for the Dad in your life.

And - as has also become customary, and with inclusion uppermost in our minds - we offer this piece of wonderful wisdom told us in the shop by a lady who remembers her Dad every year by reading a book she knows he would have enjoyed. Kudos.

Abingdon's ATOM Science Festival kicks off at the end of June, and ‘Atoms under the Floorboards’ is a light-hearted science read that gets down to the things around us and looks at them at an atomic level. Chris Woodford takes us on a fun and fascinating journey that will answer questions such as 'why dust never blows away' and 'why ice is slippery', to 'how you can split an atom in your living room'. Focusing on our daily lives, yet choosing imaginative subject matter, this will interest those curious about the scientific underpinnings of the modern world.

Anatomy of a Soldier’ is the riveting story of the everyday life of a soldier and coming to terms with a life-changing injury. Harry Parker tells the brave tale in an unusual but effective style, using objects around the soldier to demonstrate and explore the extremes both of boredom and danger. How does a solder deal with the ever-present threat, yet have to face and try to understand the enemy? How does he or she cope with the thoughts of those at home? A thought-provoking, at times chaotic book that looks set to become one of the must-reads of 2016.

A whole plethora of picture books has been published aimed at little ones, and celebrating the father-child relationship (bizarrely, many of them seem to feature animals - go figure). We appreciate that a title that seems unbearably cute to one chap might represent the epitome of saccharine queasiness to another - so our bookseller Imogen has hunted through the titles for the best of the bunch.

In ‘School for Dads’ the talented writing partnership of Adam and Charlotte Guillain (who wrote the brilliant 'Socks for Santa' and 'Treats for T-Rex') come up trumps with a great, inclusive celebration and an imaginative and respectful twist on the 'clueless Dad' character who seems to crop up a lot in contemporary culture.

All the dads that are late to pick up their children are sent to school for the day, where the children teach them everything from play time to ‘being fair’. The dads are made to do P.E. and are not allowed sweets for lunch, and the children begin to realise that it might be pretty difficult to be an adult sometimes. A sweet, funny story perfect for dad that will remind them of their own days at school, and the cold floor they had to sit on in assembly...

Little Monster can’t wait to grow up like his dad in When I’m a Monster like you, Dad’ by David O'Connell. Little Monster can be big and scary, but Dad knows there is also fun in staying small and young, and playing games.

Thanks to big, bold illustration by illustrator Francesca Gambatesa, this is a really fun story about how dads and their little monsters can mess around like children and enjoy their time together.

If that dose of cutesiness has got you gasping for something a bit more in the way of good old British sarcastic humour (!), then look no further than 'How It Works: The Dad'. Another in the genius 'Ladybird Books for Grown-Ups' series, it's another brilliantly funny gem, featuring genuine artwork from the original Ladybird books.

It's a fine celebration of the institution of fatherhood. So if your Dad has superpowers (such as the ability to turn invisible whilst picking his nose in traffic) then we reckon he'd love to get a copy of this book...

There's no denying the boom in lycra-clad men on bikes in recent years, but cycling is most definitely booming, and we're extremely lucky in Abingdon to have arguably one of the country's most dynamic and exciting cycle shops, Outdoor Traders (they even have their own race team who won the Oxfordshire Road Race League in 2015).

So if you know someone who dreams of doing legendary Tour de France climbs but perhaps needs a bit of motivation to get there, we reckon they will love 'Tour de France Legendary Climbs on Google Earth' by Richard Abraham. They feature 20 notorious 'Hors Categorie' Tour de France Climbs, which you can follow through the power of Google Earth. From the dizzying heights of the 2,715-metre ascent of Col de la Bonette to the historic Great St Bernard Pass, this is a book to inspire (albeit from the safety of the living room and a laptop).

One of our favourite bike books of the last ten years was Robert Penn's 'It's All About the Bike' - about as infectious and inspirational exhortation of a life on two wheels as it's possible to get. But in the course of writing that book - partly from meeting artisan bike builders in California - Robert's latest book is 'The Man Who Made Things Out of Trees'.

With his trademark passion and enthusiasm, he travels across Europe and the USA looking at people who still use ancient techniques with the tree that has been used the most over thousands of years to make everything from wheels and arrows to furniture and baseball bats. With ash trees facing extinction on both sides of the Atlantic, this is also a poignant cri de coeur about keeping our connections with our environment.

As well as bike books, we're currently living through a golden age of sublime 'football literature'. Nick Hornby's 'Fever Pitch' and David Peace's 'The Damned United' come to mind, but also Jonathan Wilson's history of football tactics 'Inverting the Pyramid' (so gripping and readable, it's like a thriller) and Lynne Truss' 'Get Her Off The Pitch' (about how sport in general can take over your life).

Football arouses such passion amongst the British (from a hatred of football culture right the way through to a kind of religious passion) and right at the top of the pile sits 1966. We thoroughly recommend Peter Chapman's tour-de-force look at the wider context of England's last major football triumph in 'Out of Time: 1966 and the End of Old-Fashioned Britain'. It's a highly personal - and unflinching - look at both the exciting opportunities and grim realities of a country on the cusp of social change over the Summer of the 1966 World Cup. From cruel teachers, low expectations, industrial disasters and the London music scene, it's our big recommend for anyone who wants a corrective to the myth behind *that* football match and *that* legendary piece of commentary...

Moving from 1966 to 1666, we've loved introducing readers to Andrew Taylor's 'The Ashes of London'. An historical thriller, set in the aftermath of the Great Fire of London, it involves the son of a Cromwell supporter, jailed for treason, who is investigating a murder victim discovered in the ashes of the fire. Anyone looking for a new 'Matthew Shardlake' are not going to be disappointed, with Taylor pulling off CJ Sansom's trick of a cracking mystery with excellent period detail. We're already looking forward to a sequel.

Just out in paperback, one of Julia's favourite books of last year, 'Arcadia' by Iain Pears. It's a story of three worlds: One present (1970's), one future and the third an invention from the mind of a writer called Henry Lytten. When these worlds collide a whole heap of trouble occurs. A schoolgirl from the nineteen seventies is mistaken for a fairy. Security officers from the future are arrested as Soviet spies and Lytten enters his own story and is worshipped as a deity. This is an eclectic mix of fantasy, history, science fiction and dystopian future which together make an engrossing - and brilliantly original - read.

The 1966 players became rock stars in their day, and Neil Gaiman is the closest thing to a literary rock star (a 'ledge' as the kids might say). Whilst the author of 'American Gods' is viewed as a God by most of his fans, this collection of the best of his non-fiction writing allows you to get inside the head (and heart) of one of our most celebrated writers.

Read 'The View from the Cheap Seats' cover to cover or dip in, you'll find essays on everything from 'How to make good art' to working with Terry Pratchett, from the comic creations of Jack Kirby to the songs of Lou Reed. And if you fancy a treat on how good Gaiman's writing can be, take a look at possibly the finest advice ever offered to authors on how to write. Seriously, utter genius...

We reckon Neil Gaiman likes a drink (although perhaps he's teetotal. Or perhaps he just *says* he's teetotal to gullible journalists?). Anyway, if he *does* drink, we reckon he'd love 'Craft Spirits' by Eric Grossman.

Whilst the 'Craft Beer' movement has taken the world by storm, Craft Spirits is the next big thing, and Grossman is an enthusiastic guide through the international range of craft spirits, with the names to watch and spirits to try with new recipes for cocktails and the stories behind the spirits.

There we go - a dozen recommends for Father's Day inspiration. But don't forget that we are all about recommending for anyone you are buying for. Why not pop into the shop and we can put together your very own shortlist of titles to choose the perfect gift!

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

All children can and should read! Barrington Stoke, Anthony McGowan and an evening spent cracking reading

Last Thursday we spent a wonderful day in the company of Mairi Kidd, MD of publisher Barrington Stoke, and Anthony McGowan, award-winning author of many books including 'Brock' and 'Pike'.
Anthony spoke to students from Larkmead School and Thameside School in the afternoon - and in the evening we welcomed teachers and parents to the Larkmead LRC to discover how they can help their children to 'crack' reading.

It was an inspirational evening, one brought alive by Mairi's passion, enthusiasm and courage in the face of the mass of traditionally published children's books which often let down swathes of children by erecting unnecessary barriers to the way words get into a child's brain.

Mairi started off explaining how children read, and then used examples of both the good and the bad in children's books. 

Ultimately it was a plea for diversity in publishing, and to give all children the chance to discover books which allow them enter the world of storytelling off the page - something that has proven benefits in everything from improved maths skills, to reducing stress and improving wellbeing.

Anthony spoke about his route to becoming a writer, reading the opening extract of his novel 'Pike' and talking about the nature of inclusive stories, and the importance of stories to convey 'truth' not necessarily fact.

We made notes on the top issues that would open the door to more children reading for pleasure. This list wasn't exclusive:

1. Books themselves can be the problem. The publishing industry in general does not always think about being inclusive and how making even small changes to how books are presented would actually expanding the pool of readers.

2. Around 7-10% of people are dyslexic and will have physical, neurological reasons why they find reading books difficult.  Small changes, mostly to the way text is traditionally presented on the page would actually remove most of these barriers and make these people able to read books more easily, eg using a font where you can tell the difference between letters (eg a capital I and the letter l looks identical in some fonts).

3. The way children learn to read is often driven by getting them to recognise particular words, or phonics sounds, repeating the same sounds without there being any sense to the sentence, any story worth reading or any point or enjoyment to what is being read. Children can quickly not see the point of reading, particularly children who don’t have books at home or have role models of adults who see reading as enjoyable.

4. Having picture content is viewed as being for young children, yet the internet is full of adults sharing images. If adults find images such good ways of communicating, why do so few books use images?

5. Books are often written in a particular literary style which does not reflect the way people speak. It is more difficult for children to decode meaning. It can take a while to work out what a sentence means. When we speak, we tend to use subject, object and verb in a logical order, but this isn’t always reflected in books.

6. Reading for pleasure should be about magazines, comics, even audio books – anything that opens a door to taking pleasure in the written word or in stories.

7. There seems to be a perception that as teenagers get older, they want longer books. But the teenage years are often where there is most study pressure and competition from other areas of life and many stop reading altogether. Shorter books can help.

8. There is a prejudice against short books – very few ever make it onto prize lists. Yet research has shown that teenage boys would most like to read books of 100 pages or less. So this is the norm, yet almost no books this short are published.

9. We have a thriving publishing sector for young adult fiction, but figures show that 80% of YA of this is bought by adults. So why do we congratulate ourselves on publishing marvellous fiction for teenagers?

10. Everyone can feel daunted by the challenge of reading. One of the barriers to reading for pleasure is fear of failure. It’s a bit like if an adult wants to be recommended a good book to read and is presented with ‘War and Peace’. People’s perceptions of the value of a good book are very different. It is also easy to ‘dumb down’ to reluctant readers and think they will only read books about football or simple topics.

On the Barrington Stoke website, you can read 'Mairi's 10 Laws' which include a suggestion that we think is absolutely fantastic - a National Reading Day. A day to go to work and school as normal, but one where everyone puts their feet up and reads for the whole day. We know several teachers who would love to do this at their schools - so I reckon we should try to make it happen.

Mairi suggests calling it 'Terry Pratchett Day' and we wouldn't disagree with that either...

We have always been very proud of our association with Barrington Stoke, so if you have any concerns about your children reading - whatever their age and ability - please come in and ask our advice.

We always say 'one mountain, many paths' (which we may have cribbed from someone else!) as far as reading goes, and this isn't a one-shot deal to 'solve' your child's reading issues. It's definitely a journey, there may be a few false starts, but we know that there are books out there that can really open the door to reading - and Barrington Stoke titles (written as they are by many of our most well-known children's authors) is a great place to start.

Thanks to Linda Stone at the Larkmead LRC for doing such a fabulous job of hosting the event, and also to Sally Poyton who helped with the author event in the afternoon - and ran the bookstall for us in the evening.

Having an author to ourselves for most of the day was also a bit of a luxury, so we managed to ask Mr McGowan a few questions about his writing life, and any tips he might have had...

Five questions with . . . Anthony McGowan's writing life

1.    What are you working on at the moment?

I'm working on a teenage horror/Sci-fi mash-up called "The Wrath" (working title!) set in the future. It centres on a school in a desolate, barely-functioning town, and specifically in an exclusion unit within the school. When a train accident involving a battlefield chemical agent spills into the schools, it turns out the kids in the unit - by way of a medication they have been taking - are unaffected. I like to think it's horror in the way that Stephen King writes horror, aside from the idea and setting, what drives the story forward is following the individual characters that you invest in. I'm also hoping there will be a 'Battle Royale' feel to it (the Japanese novel some cite as an influence on The Hunger Games).

2.    What is the best writing tip you’ve ever been given?

I wasn't really given any writing tips as such starting out - I just started writing and made loads of mistakes along the way. But the one thing I did do is read a lot, so I guess I passively absorbed a lot of great writing. After that it's just trial and error as you find your own writing style.

3.    What’s the best thing and the worst thing about being a children’s writer?

When you are writing for teens, you are writing for readers who are at the most intense phase of their life - their friends represent the strongest friendships they will ever have, they have enemies that want to do them actual harm. But above all they are incredibly open to ideas, which means they will go with you on whatever direction you want with the story. They are open to challenging - and sometimes upsetting - subject matter in a way that isn't the case once you get into your 20s. I've talked to students who have walked out because of the subject matter in my books, but teens would never do that.

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

I have a study - the smallest, ugliest room in the house with a window you can't really see out of. And that's where I write, because it's the room with the least distractions. But sometimes I want a place which is a bit more 'active' and I head to the British Library. It's only a half hour bike ride away, but it feels like I'm definitely heading out to work like a proper job (rather than sitting at my desk in my pyjamas!)

5.    What was your biggest breakthrough?

That's a really interesting question (*think hard*). I did a PhD, and that required me to write 100,000 words, and actually *finish* something, so I knew I was capable of writing a physical book. I then found myself working in a pretty dull job, and one day I had an idea for a story, and I started writing it down, and the words just flowed out. So I knew I could *write* (getting the words out and down) but I think - creatively - the breakthrough was when I realised that what I was writing was funny, and then I showed it to someone, and they thought it was funny. If you can use humour, you know you can engage the reader. That book went on to be 'Hellbent' my first novel.

(Much more about Anthony McGowan on his website here)