Friday, July 18, 2014

A Vintage Summer: Mother Island with Bethan Roberts

It's going to be a Vintage Summer. And no, we aren't just talking about the weather...

For the whole of August, we will be celebrating Vintage Books, with competitions, activities and discovering the mixture of classic and contemporary writing that are the hallmark of one of our most successful publishing imprints.

And on Thursday, July 31 at 7.30pm - to launch the whole month - we will be welcoming Vintage author Bethan Roberts to talk about her new book 'Mother Island'.

Bethan grew up in Abingdon. Her first novel 'The Pools' won a Jerwood/Arvon Young Writers’ Award. Her second novel 'The Good Plain Cook' was serialized on BBC Radio 4’s Book at Bedtime and was chosen as one of Time Out’s books of the year. She also writes short stories (receiving the Olive Cook short story prize from the Society of Authors in 2006) and has had a play broadcast on BBC Radio 4.

Her third novel 'My Policeman' - inspired partly by the private life of EM Forster - was the 'Brighton City Reads' choice for 2012, and one of our favourite books from that year.

'Mother Island' has two storylines and two voices - but one child. Controlling, career-minded new mother Nula employs her contrasting cousin, Maggie, to look after her baby. When their childcare approaches clash too much, Maggie decides to take the child. But has she misread how much Nula will care? A dissection of motherhood and how the lasting subliminal effects of your own parents can have on your approach to your own children.

Read more about the book here.

Tickets for the event are £3 and include a glass of wine. And if we're really lucky, and it turns out to be a real vintage Summer, the event will be in the Mostly Books garden...email us if we can reserve you a space.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

For the love of bookshops: Mark Forsyth, IBW2014 and The Future of the Book

What could be more lovely?

A sultry summer evening, a glass of Pimms, a crowd of book enthusiasts and a bestselling author gathered in the courtyard garden at Mostly Books.


It felt slightly surreal then to find ourselves discussing the very future of books and bookshops.

But why the need for a debate?

Surely independent bookshops are much-loved and have a secure future? Is there a real threat? Are people seriously suggesting that independent bookshops will be squeezed into extinction?


The gathering was to mark Independent Booksellers Week – an industry initiative given wholehearted industry support from publishers to authors, the media and readers – which specifically sets out to remind people of the value an independent bookshop can bring to their community. 

It urges people to re-engage with their local bookshop and to rediscover that bookshops really do add ‘something else’ to their communities, to reading and to shopping for books.

A traditional part of the week has been the writing of an essay, published as a small pamphlet, that invites people to celebrate independent bookshops. 

This year’s is entitled 'The Unknown Unknown' and was penned by Mark Forsyth, who writes delightful quirky books, including ‘The Etymologicon’, based on his passion for words. Mark was on a big IBW tour of bookshops, and was fresh from a previous evening's visit to Foyles, taking part in 'The Great Bookshop Debate'.

He was invited to Mostly Books to discuss whether we are seeing the beginning of the end of the independent bookshop – or if it is a sector creative and robust enough to continue to find ways to have a healthy future.

The Unknown Unknown’ celebrates the joy of finding a bookshop, of being in a bookshop with the time to browse, and to discover a book you would never otherwise have even known you wanted to read.

‘Discoverability’ as it is known in the book trade.

Debating with Mark Forsyth for the evening was Mark Thornton of Mostly Books, who started off playing devil’s advocate, asking when bookshops are so clearly well-loved and so well supported – is there even a need to have a special week to remind people to celebrate them? Or is it - as one of customers wryly remarked last week via a Tom Lehrer reference - merely a week to patch over problems that loom all too large for the other 51 weeks of the year?

Do people really need reminding to go out and do something as pleasurable as reconnecting with a real bookshop and discovering an Unknown Unknown within?

A show of hands revealing that nearly half of the audience like to read on electronic devices (though not exclusively) was a clear demonstration of a trend that didn’t even exist a few years ago that bookshops now have to compete with.

How to stay relevant in this digital age, and to stay profitable and in business in the face of the rapid decline in sales of print books, has very quickly gone to the front of this debate.

Mark Forsyth explained how, as an author, he is aware how the Kindle is changing the nature of discoverability. Anecdotally from his publisher he is aware that, when new, popular and bestselling books are offered as an eBook ‘deal of the day’ for 99 pence, there are plenty of purchases not just of the eBook, but of the print book too.

To offer a book for such a cheap price is a persuasive way of getting people to try a book you didn’t even know you wanted and to some extent simulates the serendipity of browsing, but without the need to switch off the computer and go out into the world. To judge by our own conversations with Kindle users, this is an increasingly popular way of discovering new books. In fact, many Kindle try never to pay full price, and instead wait until books are on offer.

Discoverability, and the ability of independent bookshops to provide this, has seen much news coverage this week, with several authors adding their voices to the thought that they would never be around today if their sales had been purely down to whether they generate buzz on the internet. 


If you can’t explain the concept in 140 characters and tweet it today, authors are finding it increasingly difficult to get anyone to buy and read their books – particularly new authors.

Jonny Geller, the literary agent and joint CEO of Curtis Brown, said in the Daily Telegraph: ‘There's a whole mid-range of novels that don't have a hook or spectacular angle that would have been published five years ago, but fewer publishers want to take the risk. When the Borders and the Ottakars [bookshops] started closing, the market for more experimental novels and novelists with no track record got smaller.’

E-readers have meant that for a short time there has been a boom in book sales; the total book market grew for the first time in twenty years last year as the surge in eBook sales more than made up for the drop in print sales.

EBooks are now 48 per cent of total fiction sales (they were seven per cent in 2012, with sales up by 366 per cent last year) and in 2014 they are predicted to overtake sales of fiction paperbacks. 

And as at least 90 per cent of eBooks sold are on the Kindle, which can only be bought on Amazon, this is less than brilliant news for independent booksellers. 

Figures show that the UK eBook market is set to triple over the next four years and will by then have overtaken the paperback and hardback as the preferred option for reading novels, as sales of print editions as expected to fall by more than a third in that time.
Why are eBooks so popular was something else up for discussion.


"Now, where did I put my
copy of 'The Etymologicon?"
One aspect of its appeal that we debated was that digital devices help overcome the problem of all the physical space you need to have a really good library. 

Having too many books can be a problem with deciding to allow yourself something new to read. And people have difficulties in knowing what to do with all the books that they have – even those they don’t think they will read again. 

Everyone agreed that books are difficult things to give away.

(Except Mark Forsyth – who caused ripples of consternation when he mentioned he had recently been on a long trip around Europe, and found a fascinating delight in disposing of the books as he read them – putting them in bins or recycling containers, or throwing them out of the train window.)

Perhaps we need to encourage people to sacrifice all the old books taking up room and make space for an Unknown Unknown?

However, Mark said he couldn’t possibly do without his library at home, but agreed that people are buying fewer books, and now being far more selective, tending towards buying print copies only of titles they wish to keep on their shelves, being happy to have the rest as eBooks, taking fewer risks with physical books.

The questions of storage, or possessing a physical book, was further explored following a question about the reading habits of teens. It was pointed out that, given the audience sitting in the Mostly Books garden, you could accuse an event with an author and bookseller as simply 'preaching to the converted'. Today's kids are growing up 'digital natives', and whilst an older generation might wax lyrical about 'the smell of books', etc. the next generation may not have that affinity to physical books - and instead may be more interested in social aspects of reading online - sharing favourite authors, snapchatting shots of reading the current 'must-read', reading from Wattpad, and even writing fan fiction.

The question was perhaps left unanswered, although Mark Thornton explained that at a number of recent events at secondary schools a common phrase heard was 'I've got it on my Kindle'. This seems like the perfect 'talk to the hand' teenage response to quickly shut down any discussion about whether they might want to engage with the book at all - particularly in front of peers where it might not be cool. Whether the book was already on their Kindle - and more importantly, whether it had been read - goes to the heart of possibly a new kind of consumerist experience, that of having 'experienced' the book socially without actually having read it. As social buzz about books explodes, and 'fear of missing out' is almost classified as a psychological condition, the form of response is perhaps understandable. You can only read so many books.


Forces combined: Mostly Books and Abingdon Library
jointly welcomed Rachel Joyce and  'The Unlikely
Pilgrimage of Harold Fry' in 2012
There were other questions from the audience: in an age of austerity, surely more people should be using libraries, so did bookshops see libraries as competitors? Both Marks categorically agreed 'no'. Independent bookshops and libraries were natural partners, and research has shown that more library users in a community means more book buyers, because of an overall rise in the level of a love of books. It is interesting to note that libraries are facing their own existential threat - albeit for very different reasons.

So, if Independent Booksellers Week is all about visiting a physical bookshop, what can bookshops do to make people want to head to their local high street to visit them? How can we get more people to want to discover their next Unknown Unknown on the high street?

Mark Forsyth definitely felt that curating the stock choice, with fewer bestsellers, fewer celebrity biographies – and less room for coffee and more room for books, were definitely on his wishlist for the bookshop of the future.

Mark Thornton agreed that bookshops needed to keep at the very top of their game in terms of events and curation, services and community. But he also agreed with one audience member who said that, ideally, readers would have the best of both worlds: eBooks and physical, High Street and the Internet. But the economics of being on the High Street does represent a real and present 'Reality Gap' that may not be overcome.

Whatever we feel about independent bookshops, the figures tell their own story.
In the past 10 years, the number of independent booksellers in Britain has halved. More than 500 independent outlets have shut since 2005. Last year 67 local bookshops closed, leaving 987 still trading – the first time it has fallen below 1000.

The story is not the same all over the world. In France booksellers cannot discount French-language books by more than 5 per cent below the list price and there are grants and loans available to those looking to start up bookstores. France has 2,500 bookstores, with e-books counting for just 1.8 per cent of the market.

As the number of bookshop closures mean the distance between independents grows ever larger, some bookshops have turned themselves into multi-purpose outlets (from cafes to chocolate concessions, ice-cream parlours to creches), or even community bookshops run by volunteers, just to survive and to find a way to keep physical bookselling alive when the economics say otherwise.

The book world continues to evolve at a bewildering pace. Last week author James Patterson announced that he is offering a grant available to keep bookshops going. This has caused a perhaps surprising number of our customers to enquire whether things are really that bad for bookshops. Will it be only through the support of grants that they can continue to provide much loved services, as bookshops are no longer terribly robust businesses? Are we saying the French model is not only desirable, but essential?

Are indie bookshops like elephants: we all love them, we'd hate them to disappear from the wild, but commercial realities are causing more of them to disappear and in the end - and, you know, the world won't end if they do.

Looking at the figures it is hard not to conclude that in a very few short years the preferred way of the personal reading of fiction is very fast becoming digital - and the preferred way of discovering new reads and authors is online. 

Is it because there are fewer and fewer bookshops around, or is it more to do with the fact that as we lead busier and busier lives, something like browsing in a bookshop is a luxury we no longer find the time for? Or are we genuinely falling out of love with print books, except as gifts? And are we falling out of love with bookshops?

If browsing is a dying art, then here is a recent experience that may offer a way forward.
A few weeks ago, a local English teacher brought in a dozen of her pupils (boys aged 14-15) to buy something challenging and different for their Summer reading, outside the usual YA genre. The experience was nothing short of amazing. We were challenged to select and display a range of new books and authors, we spoke to them about the skill in selecting a book in a bookshop:'How to Browse 101'. Sullen faces and closed body-language evaporated as a genuine excitement about choosing books was turbo-charged with one-on-one conversations - and even customers joined in. It was one of those pieces of magic in a bookshop that we would love to replicate with other schools next year.

In one hour, all the strengths of a bookshop - community, education, physicality, passion, enthusiasm, expertise, curation - came together to produce a moment of real and lasting value. This is, in our opinion, what IBW is attempting to do, a great way of giving people an opportunity to try to find some time to think about bookselling on the high street - and to find an unexpected new book to read.

As IBW draws to a close for another year it is always worth reminding people that bookselling is a joy and a privilege – helping people discover new books and authors from our side of the counter is something we love to do. Providing a community hub for people to meet and engage with books feels like something worthwhile.

We're fortunate at Mostly Books to have an amazing, and diverse, range of hugely supportive customers. They are as likely to be in the shop, discovering new titles, when the snow is piled high in January as when queues form out of the door on the last Saturday before Christmas. We also have seasonal visitors who - often with no independent near them - take the opportunity to visit, share and discover new books whilst travelling, or visiting family and friends.

We really hope High Street bookselling is something that continues to be enjoyed and appreciated.

Our sincere thanks to Mark Forsyth and Icon Books for organising the tour and for selecting us to be amongst some very august bookshops to host the visit during Independent Booksellers Week. Thanks also to the Bookseller's Association for their herculean efforts to make IBW happen.

If you still haven’t paid us a visit to celebrate then any time over the summer we will be pleased to see you – and hopefully you will also discover an Unknown Unknown to discover, to take home and treasure.

Monday, July 07, 2014

Chasing the past, a stolen child, and shadows in Sherwood Forest - the BBC Radio Oxford Afternoon Bookclub

My three picks for today's BBC Oxford Afternoon Bookclub were three books with strong local connections (authors or publishers), all by significant publishers, all with strong, bold or innovative covers.

This is the whole jacket laid out -
front and back mirror the different points of view.
 'Mother Island' by Bethan Roberts (Vintage, HB, £14.99) has two storylines and two voices - but one child. Controlling, career-minded new mother Nula employs her contrasting cousin, Maggie, to look after her baby. When their childcare approaches clash too much, Maggie decides to take the child. But has she misread how much Nula will care? A dissection of motherhood and how the lasting subliminal effects of your own parents can have on your approach to your own children.

Bethan - born and raised in Abingdon, now living in Brighton - is sublime in subtly showing how love can bring out the worst in people. But she also shows how it can act as a force for reconciliation and healing. We loved Bethan's previous book as well - 'My Policeman' - inspired in part by the personal life of EM Forster, and the lives of two people - one male, pne female - fighting over the same man.

'After I Left You' by Abingdon author Alison Mercer (Transworld, PB, £6.99) is another absorbing and powerful novel of love, friendship and secrets, following her critically acclaimed debut 'Stop The Clock'.

The story follows Anna, who has not been back to Oxford since her last summer at university, seventeen years ago. She tries not to think about her time there, or the tightly knit group of friends she once thought would be hers forever. She has almost forgotten the fierce sting of betrayal, and the secret she carries around with her, the last night she spent with them all. A chance meeting on a rainy day in London means Anna is forced to remember the events of that summer and the people she left behind.

(You can listen to Bethan Roberts at Mostly Books, at an event on July 31 - and Alison Mercer will be launching the paperback of 'After I Left You' at the shop on Thursday Aug 7.)

Finally, in 'The Shadow of the Wolf' by Tim Hall (David Fickling Books, HB, £10.99) you'll be forgiven for thinking you know nothing about Robin Hood, in this dark and dramatic re-imagining of a legend. This is an exciting debut by the newly-independent David Fickling Books, and reflects their aim to publish ambitious children’s books that have a strong appeal to adults as well.

Robin Loxley’s parents disappear when he is seven years old. Learning to fend for himself, and living on the outskirts of his village, he strikes up a deep and intense relationship with the Maid Marion – and then events wrench her from his life. Following an ever darker path in Sherwood Forest, his experiences there transform him, and the legend of Robin Hood emerges…

Nigel's choices included YA book 'Replica' by Jack Heath, Emma Chapman's 'How To Be A Good Wife' and a brilliant new voice from the wonderful Serpent's Tail 'After Me Comes the Flood' by Sarah Perry.

Click on the link, and fast-forward 1 hour 7 and a half minutes to listen to the show.

(If you start four minutes earlier, you'll hear Gerry Rafferty's 'Baker Street'. Coincidentally, this was a song inspired by a book: 'The Outsider' by Colin Wilson)

Friday, July 04, 2014

Louise Millar and Kate Clanchy help to discuss 'What Makes a Good Bookgroup Book?'

A fine sultry, summer evening – the perfect occasion to sit in the courtyard garden of Mostly Books to discuss ‘What Makes a Good Bookgroup Book?’ And even better if we entice a couple of authors to discuss the topic with us...


As our opening event to mark Independent Booksellers Week (a week in which everything wonderful about independent booksellers is celebrated), it was a great opportunity to gather and discuss what is so great about being in a bookgroup – and why we get more fun and pleasure out of debating some books rather than simply enjoying them privately.


Our first guest speaker, Louise Millar said she had been invited to join in many bookgroup discussions about her psychological thrillers and said the thing she noticed people particularly liked to discuss was the issues that are raised in her books (her books are so popular with reading groups that they feature reading notes and points of discussion in the back, something not universally popular with the audience).

Louise explained that her books have domestic settings where the characters are often faced with very modern dilemmas – who to trust to pick up your children from school, what lies you would tell to cover any cracks in order to successfully adopt a child? – the sort of issues people can relate to - or at least imagine themselves in - and find it stimulating to debate.

On the evening, Louise read from her latest novel 'The Hidden Girl', another taut tale that ratchets up the tension and suspense, involving a woman who 'moves to the country' in an attempt to improve her life ahead of an impending adoption, but the rural idyll turns into anything but.

Thrillers are really popular choices for book groups, perhaps as crime fiction is predominantly read by women and women tend to outweigh men in book groups. In a discussion actively joined in by the audience - many of whom were bookgroup members themselves - the consensus was that the act of meeting up and discussing a book - the social aspect - was more attractive to women, which might explain the dominance of women at groups. (Mark did make the point, however, that there is at least one all-male bookgroup that meets regularly in Abingdon).

Publishers know that bookgroups are hugely popular and that meeting to discuss books is a great way to extend what you read and also to think in different ways about a book you may not have got very much out of if you’d read it alone.

Kate Clanchy, our other guest speaker, an acclaimed and award-winning poet who has written for radio, a memoir and a novel said that her book ‘Antigona and Me’ had been marketed as a bookgroup book because it is full of issues and opinions, even though it is a memoir.

On the evening she read from her first novel, the Costa shortlisted ‘Meeting the English’, which is on many bookgroup reading lists as a great summer read.

We agreed that it might be difficult to put your finger on what exactly makes a good bookgroup book, but definitely the book that is not a good book group book is one where everyone agrees, opinion is not divided and there is not much to discuss. 

Often bookgroups are groups of friends and they can all have the same viewpoint. We felt that bookgroups work best if people come ready to discuss rather than expecting to have loved everything they read. In addition, an atmosphere or tolerance and respect in discussions is far better than just an 'I loved it / I hated it' approach.

Publishers increasingly view the ‘bookgroup’ book as a genre in itself, with books published that are targeted at being read and discussed in a group, reading group notes provided to help readers to scratch beneath the surface of whether a book is simply an enjoyable personal read or not.

There was general agreement that it is not always the books that you think will be good for discussing that stimulate the best debate, which sometimes can make it difficult to choose what to read. The event rather took on the form of a good bookgroup discussion: most of the audience contributed, and it was interesting to get a poll on the types of genre that made a good bookgroup memoir: most did not read exclusively fiction for book group choices, mixing in travel writing and biography/memoir as popular alternatives to mix things up a bit.

But the final vote of the evening was: is there such a thing as a 'bookgroup book'? It wasn't unanimous, but the majority felt 'no'. In the end a strong bookgroup with plenty of mutual respect and a good standard of discussion can deliver the best discussions when allied to a well-written novel with plenty of themes.



Many thanks to Louise Millar and Kate Clanchy for inspiring such an interesting debate, and thanks to all the bookgroups who not only came along, but who support Mostly Books by choosing and buying their books from us (and feeding back which books have lead to a great discussion!). Huge thanks to Macmillan for making the whole thing happen.

If Independent Booksellers Week is a time to celebrate bookshops, for us it is also a great time to say thank you to our customers for supporting high street bookselling and being part of the bookish community here in Abingdon.

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Abduction, Abuse, Brutality, Hope: The Abingdon Carnegie Forum 2014

Of the four words in the title, can you spot the odd one out?


The annual Abingdon Carnegie Forum is one of the highlights of our year - something we have been involved in for six years now, ever since our first forum back in 2008. The forum sees Carnegie Shadowing Groups from six school in Abingdon come together, with a day of workshops and frenetic activity to celebrate the culmination of this year's Carnegie award. As well as a vote amongst students as to their favourite book, schools are mixed up into different groups, and they are given one of the shortlisted titles for which they have to put on a 4-minute performance in front of all the other students.

Terrifying huh?

The aim is to 'pitch' the book to the audience, using the performance to convince us all that their book deserves to win. It works brilliantly, even though for some of the students they are having to pitch a book that they may not have necessarily liked.

This year had a very different feel to it for several reasons. Firstly, I was chair of judges this year for the first time, which meant I had to concentrate extra hard to make sure I didn't screw up in announcing the winners at the end of the day (I have 'previous' in this area).

Whilst I missed the opportunity to take a Jim-Al-Khalili-style audience selfie, I did perhaps the next best thing...

Secondly, this is the first forum I have been involved in where the winner was known before the actual event. The Abingdon forum is notorious for never voting for the winner, so would this be different this year?

Finally, it cannot have escaped anyone's notice that the shortlist this year has been, well, a tad controversial. Four of the books deal with abduction and abuse in some form and certainly in the shop, we have had more conversations with (and concerned emails from) parents this year concerned about the content of the books that children involved in the Shadowing were being asked to read.

Stand out titles in this regard were the brutal and bleak 'The Bunker Diary' by Kevin Brooks (abduction, torture, murder), 'Blood Family' by Anne Fine (alcoholism and drug-abuse), 'All The Truth That's In Me' by Julie Berry (abduction, mutilation) and 'The Child's Elephant' (elephant poaching, child conscripts).

A jolly old roster of themes to get stuck into. And it was notable - and we judges made the point in our summing up - that several children had had difficulty sticking with the books. Phrases like 'it will shock and disturb you no end' (All The Truth That's In Me), 'his mother, beaten and crazy' (Blood Family) and 'pointless and crushing' (Bunker Diary) were accompanied by a general sense of unease and a surprising amount of guidance in terms of how old readers should be to deal with the violence.

(For an excellent collection of reviews on each of the shortlisted titles, head on over to Space on the Bookshelf, which has been reviewing each title and the competition in genera, for the last few weeks)

And yet, and yet...

"I think [it is] is a gripping, skilfully written novel. I felt that every word that had been printed was true and spoken directly to me, as if there was no book, just Eddie and the other characters standing in front of me talking" (Blood Family)

"...an amazing, well-written, unforgettable story that kept me reading almost non-stop from three o'clock in the afternoon until I finished at one o'clock in the morning" (Bunker Diary)

"This book proves the true significance of friendship" (The Child's Elephant)

The 'Rooftoppers' group and
infamous 'Chelsea Buns'!
Talking to some of the children, may had mixed emotions about books that hadn't exactly 'enjoyed' but felt were 'amazing'. In that regard, some of these young readers had had wonderful literary experiences, which many adult readers may never have had.

Many of the reviews described reading late into the night to finish what were gripping books.

The unprecedented outpouring of hand-wringing and condemnation of The Bunker Diary in particular (notably being described as 'vile and dangerous' by Lorna Bradbury in The Telegraph) has been met by a robust defence by the CILIP judges and from his publisher Puffin. Children's book critic Amanda Craig, hugely respected throughout the publishing world, has tried to provide some context by looking at the history of the Carnegie in this article in The Independent. However, she refused to review The Bunker Diary on publication because it was so bleak.

This definitely feels like battle lines being drawn up - and booksellers are increasingly finding themselves on the front line of this battle, having to listen to the concerns and alarm of parents, and - increasingly- school librarians (under pressure IMHO to take the side of CILIP and defend books they feel uneasy about).


The reality is that many of the children actually doing the Shadowing tend to be 11-13, because the older children get, the less time they have to read generally, and the more focused they tend to be on studying for exams (we know this anecdotally from the shop: nothing kills reading for pleasure more effectively than exam pressure). Several of these books are for teens - indeed Kevin Brooks' own defence is that he's written for teens, and 'they can handle it'. But a significant number of the readers aren't teens. And even when age guidance is given by school librarian, those confident bright readers who are up for a challenge don't want to be left out. Remember peer pressure at school? Difficult to resist.

CILIP can't pretend that this isn't an issue, and they have a responsibility not to put children, parents and librarians in positions where children are under pressure to read what they can't handle.

Recreating a scene outdoors
ahead of the performance
But there is also the commercial pressure from publishers to 'up the ante' in terms of content to tap into the current sweet spot of publishing ('Young Adult'). We recently had a big argument with one of our reps, who age-guided a particular book as 12+, and then (sotto voce) hinted that it was really 'at the upper end' of that age range [sic]. Given the brutal content of the book, we decided to formally complain about the age guidance to the publisher (who, to be fair to them, responded sympathetically and are looking into changing this).

Right, time to dismantle the soapbox. I think the most considered and sensible comment on this comes from the extremely wise and sensible Frank Cottrell-Boyce who has said "The Carnegie was instituted as a prize for children's fiction. Brooks is a YA writer. YA fiction is extremely lucrative for publishers...Could not some of the publishers who have done so well out of the category stump up for a YA prize instead of predating on one of the few places where children's books aimed at children can still get some attention?"

(Well said. And splitting the prize would neatly address the 'young shadowers' issue. Will be interesting to see how CILIP respond)

An Abingdon Carnegie Forum tradition - cake!
The vote was taken at the end, and - perhaps unsurprisingly - for the first time, the popular vote matched the actual vote, with The Bunker Diary being the winner. Kevin Brooks deserves a lot of credit for writing such a superb book with great skill - it has had a great, and mostly positive, impact on many of the children who read it.

As always, thanks to the tireless efforts of the Abingdon Schools - particularly the librarians - for creating such a fantastic day, The judges read through an extremely high-quality shortlist of book reviews. What is always impressive is the quality of the reviews, across all the schools, and the language, passion and flair of what is a skill in its own right.

And that odd word out? Hope. Left at the bottom of Pandora's Box, and something we feel all children's books, no matter how dark, should have a little of...

(Update 4/7/14 - the splendid Gerald Dickens, great-great-grandson of Charles Dickens - was the guest of honour, and you can read his blog of the day here. And Griselda Heppel, author of Ante's Inferno, has written a rather excellent, succinct piece on YA fiction, the Carnegie Medal, and how we got here, on her blog).

Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Future of the Book with Mark Forsyth and IBW2014

Is it 'time up' for books and bookshops?
Photo credit: Scott Wishart
During Independent Booksellers Week (#IBW2014 from 28th June – 5th July) author and self-confessed ur-wordgeek Mark Forsyth (aka The Inky Fool and author of The Etymologicon, The Horologicon and The Elements of Eloquence) will be touring an independent bookshop every day to lead discussions about the importance of books and bookshops. Bookshops on the tour include Foyles in London, Red Lion Books in Colchester, JaffĂ© and Neale in Chipping Norton - and Mostly Books in Abingdon.

Mark will be in conversation with the other Mark, owner of Mostly Books, to talk fittingly enough about 'The Future of the Book'. The event takes place on Thursday July 3 at 7.30pm at Mostly Books.


As well as having exclusive early copies of the paperback of Mark's brilliantly subversive book on the rules of rhetoric 'The Elements of Eloquence', Mark has also written this year's exclusive essay for IBW entitled "The Unknown Unknown: Bookshops and the Delight of Not Getting What You Wanted".

'The Unknown Unknown' will be available as a pamphlet from independent bookshops from 28th June. It will explore important questions such as why Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy would never have met online, as well as the pleasure of leafing through a dictionary and "why only a bookshop can give you what you never knew you were looking for”.


Mark explains why 'Bond, James Bond'
is far more memorable than
'My Name Is James Bond'...
Mark Forsyth said: “I firmly believe that the bookshop is alive and well with a long life ahead of it, and I intend to explain my reasoning on the night. [And] these being talks in bookshops – places that specialise in providing you with something you didn’t know you were looking for – I may also talk about something that you never knew you were interested in."

Come and listen to the two Marks and join in the discussion about the future of the book.

Tickets £3 which includes a glass of wine. Places will be limited - so please reserve your tickets by email, or call in at the shop...

(Find out more about the whole #IBW2014 tour with Icon Books here. And Mark is no stranger to Abingdon as you'll find here).

Monday, June 23, 2014

What Makes A Good Bookgroup Book? IBW event with Kate Clanchy and Louise Millar

What makes a good bookclub book? Is it a chance to read an author you wouldn’t have otherwise discovered? To provoke or to entertain? To divide opinion – or help to unite it?

On Wednesday 25 June at 7.30pm – as part of celebrations for Independent Booksellers Week – we’ve invited two dynamic, and very different, authors to Mostly Books to help us find out.

Louise Millar writes psychological thrillers, and Kate Clanchy is a poet and Costa-shortlisted author. Together they are going to debate the qualities that make a book that gets book-groups talking.

Louise Millar has published three novels and is making a name for herself as a writer who puts her characters in almost unbelievable situations – but also ones we can all imagine happening to us.

She began her journalism career in mainly music and film magazines, working as a sub-editor for Kerrang!, Smash Hits, the NME and Empire. She later moved into features, working as a commissioning editor at Marie Claire. Her books ‘The Playdate’ and ‘Accidents Happen’ have won huge critical acclaim for her combination of family drama and slow-building psychological suspense.

Her latest novel 'The Hidden Girl' is another taut, psychological thriller in which wife Hannah Riley and her musician husband move to Suffolk, and an idyllic life threatens to unravel - but are the increasingly sinister events Hannah is witnessing simply in her head?


Kate Clanchy was born and grew up in Scotland and now lives in Oxford. Her poetry collections have brought her many literary awards, she is the author of the much acclaimed Antigona and Me, and was the 2009 winner of the BBC Short Story Award. She has also written extensively for Radio 4. In 2011 she was appointed as the first Oxford City Poet to encourage the reading and writing of poetry in Oxford and the region.


Her Costa-shortlisted debut novel ‘Meeting the English’ is about a group of characters living in that quintessentially English borough of Hampstead, but whose backgrounds could not be more different. It’s a richly conceived, original and very entertaining social comedy about the lies we tell to fit in.

The two authors will be debating what makes a good bookgroup book – as well as talking about their own writing.

Even if you are not a member of a bookgroup, we promise an evening of lively discussion – and a celebration of a good read in the company of two writing talents. The event takes place at Mostly Books at 7.30pm, on Wednesday 25 June. Tickets are £3, to include a glass of wine.

Places will be limited – so please email to reserve your tickets, or call in at the shop.