Sunday, October 29, 2006

A night of scrapbooking

A quick post and some piccies after our scrapbooking event held in the shop on Thursday night - top fun. Myself and Carole Waechtler (ably helped by her daughter Kim) welcomed 15 people to the shop of assorted ages to have a go at scrapbooking and journalling. Everyone brought photos and were able to use various neat gadgets to crop them, then create highly artistic pages - Carole was on hand to give tips: At one point I nipped outside and took some pictures looking back in. Several people peered in during the evening. At the end of the evening, I took some photos of everyone's creative efforts (with permission!). (I think my own cropping skills are thrown sharply into relief in that last photo - suffice to say that any scrapbooking I get involved in will have an online component - scrapblogging anyone?) Thanks to Carole for working frantically all night, and to everyone who pitched up for what was - frankly - a bit of an experiment, and the first of possibly more come-and-try craft evenings. All part of our ethos of a bookshop being a hub of activity, and not just a place to buy books...

Friday, October 27, 2006

Some more tough customer requests

In our occasional series of tricky or challenging requests from customers, here are a few that have come in in the last week:
  • Friendship books (auf deutsch, "FreundschaftbĂĽcher" - the lady who asked about these was German, and apparently they are very big in Germany). These are books that you write in and pass on. I found a website about Friendship Books, but I got the impression they were books you made yourself. Apparently you can buy books which are "ready to go" but couldn't seem to find anything on the web about it (aprt from this site).
  • We have a new poetry section (something that was left over from our opening, and we get chastised about ocassionally). We're keen to provide accessibility to poetry - is there a good introduction to someone coming into modern poetry for the first time?
  • One of our regular customers was looking for a good book about the tooth fairy, which contains some good guidance about the importance of dental health, etc. Both of us seemed to remember a story about a 'nasty toothfairy', ripped off a few years ago by the Listerine mouthwash commercials. Can't locate the book however...
  • A 'very close family friend' (OK, its my Mum) is running a Christmas fun night, and wanted to know if there is a good book with Christmas stories, anecdotes, sayings, etc. To be honest, I wouldn't even know where to begin to look, there are so many books of that ilk...
OK - thats it. Scrapbooking event well last night, We've sold all the tickets for Sophie Grigson next Thursday and have started a reserve list. It promises to be a busy week next week...

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Santa, Scrapbooks and Smoked Parmesan Kumara Cubes

Nicki and I have just about recovered from our manic schedule of events, tradeshows and bookgroup meetings in two weeks. Christmas is beginning to loom like a large tinsel-decked iceberg, and we're hoping that the Mostly Books ship doesn't come a cropper on it. Our only experience of the retail run-in to Christmas has been from the other side of the counter, and I guess the challenge for all booksellers is to use all their long bookselling experience so that when - on Christmas Eve - 20 different people are clamouring for the same unexpected must-have Christmas bestseller, they can emerge triumphant from the stockroom with cannily-placed emergency copies. Unfortunately, we don't have that much expertise to call upon (although someone did send us an email a few weeks ago advising us to make our best guesses and then max out our lines of credit to get the books in. Not sure we're that brave!) Anyway, Nicki and I are deep into preparations for our next events. This week we have a craft-theme evening on Thursday: "The Art of Scrapbooking" to coincide with the annual Abingdon Craft Fair. Next Wednesday is the first meeting of the Wednesday bookgroup. However, I would be lying if I didn't say we are extremely excited (if a tad nervous) about our event on November 2nd - Sophie Grigson will be at the shop, answering questions about and signing copies of her new book "Vegetables". It will be far and away our biggest event to date (no offence to Mr McNair!) and we're keen to make it a big success...

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Mr Morello Writes

In keeping with our current schedule of writing up events from over a week ago, our first evening (and adult!) event was Mr Morello Writes the Thursday before last (October 12th). with Morello Letters author Duncan McNair. It was a small, but perfectly formed event - even if 1/8 of the audience consisted of our relatives... I've already written about The Morello Letters itself - and a great little book it is too (signed copies still available). But I'd thought you'd appreciate some details of the behind-the-scenes activities beforehand. We'd advertised the event as started at 7pm, and had bought some funky folding chairs the previous week specially. It's fair to say that ticket sales had been a little slow - new bookshop, new author, etc. However, with a combination of Duncan's skilful marketing, our in-house mailing list and some frankly disgraceful bribery and blackmailing of family and friends we were confident of getting above the figure Nicki and I had set ourselves (10) to avoid the event being a bit of a damp squib. At 5pm the shop was still set-up for a normal retail day, so when the trusty James turned up at about 5.30pm, we had to swing into action. By 6.30pm the front of the shop looked like an event was about to take place (see photo above). Duncan McNair's agent had kindly sent us a whole load of fliers which had arrived that morning, so I went a bit mad in the shop window: Did it look tacky? Possibly. Did it bring anyone extra to the event. Probably not. But there was no mistaking the fact that an event was taking place that evening in our shop. You'll notice the new chalkboard - which had arrived the day before. I had expectations of creating a nice, smart, artistic advertisement for the event, but it's been a few years (20?) since I last tried to write on a blackboard, and a have a new respect for some of my old teachers. It's a darn site trickier than it looks. In the end I hastily scrawled details of the event, and shoved it out of the front of the shop. No time to consider whether it looked slightly less classy than "apples £2 a lb". I did at least resist the temptation to write 'free wine' at the bottom. (BTW, the chalkboard has worked wonders for the significant number of people who walk down Stert Street most weeks and who have never noticed our shop. In the last week we have suddenly had people visiting the shop who never knew we were there. I put it entirely down to the chalkboard, although word-of-mouth must also be partially responsible...) Duncan turned up at 6.30pm, and despite a farcical 15 minute attempt by me to erect a 9 foot display poster of a goat (which ended in failure) by 7.15pm approximately 15 people were seated with glass of wine in anticipation of my big introduction. (I think that's me looking for a bit of inspiration, as I had my usual stomach-churning bout of nerves, fuelled by forgetting to eat anything but a banana all day). Duncan was brilliant - a very good public speaker, with loads of great behind-the-scenes anecdotes of the birth of Mr Morello, his family and menagerie of animals. He read out some of the letters and responses, and finished the evening signing copies, and chatting to everyone. Nicki and I felt the event was a great success. A big thank you to everyone who came to the event - everyone seemed to have a great time. Thanks particularly to Duncan's marketing posse who travelled down from Banbury, our neighbours in the flat upstairs who - it turned out - were big fans of Henry Root (which The Morello Letters have been critically compared to), and last but not least to my Mum who drive down from Cambridgeshire (and back) with her friend Jill. Kudos and respect. Thanks of course to Duncan - who was in Pinar the next day, and had an estimated 40 gigs lined up between then and Christmas (as well as keeping down his day job of a solicitor). Who'd be an author, eh? We had the first proper meeting of our Thursday bookgroup last Thursday, and next Thursday we have an arts and crafts themed scrapbooking event (Oct 26th) to coincide with annual Abingdon Craft Fair. But Nicki and I are tremendously excited about the event that will be taking place on November 2nd...more about that in our next blog post...

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Charlie & Lola Funday

We now have a fabulous mobile hanging from the beams of the children's room - thanks to the combined efforts of everyone who attended our Charlie & Lola funday on October 7th. At times the room got a bit crowded, and we had to move a few tables to accommodate buggies, but we had a steady stream of eager participants who coloured away, drank approximately 16 pints of pink milk, munched their way through several packets of biscuits - and even braved the odd moonsquirter (that's a tomato to the uninitiated). Here are some pictures of top colouring-in underway:

Butterflies were a popular choice - we asked everyone to sign their masterpieces:

Eli and her Mum - with crayon poised...

Possibly the best-coloured flowered...someone seems to think so anyway...

Mind you, I think next time we'll get the kids to make the mobile, whilst I colour in the pictures. Having bought a collection of lolly sticks, skewers, thread, etc. I wished we'd got a bit of advice before I started to try to make it.

It turned out that The Foulsham Family (that's Andy, Sally Ruth and Ben) were mobile-meisters, and told us we should have used green gardening sticks. Too late - but after a bit of wrestling, sticking, knotting (and mostly thanks to Karen on Monday, because I gave up Saturday evening!) here's the finished article:

(That Roald Dahl dumpbin is going ASAP - not one of our better decisions. Still, we're learning from our mistakes...)

Thanks to everyone who came, we hope you had as much fun as we did...

Sunday, October 15, 2006

In danger of burning out

After Charlie & Lola Day, The Morello Letters, we were at a Tradeshow today (Sunday) - for 8 days, that's quite an itinerary, and with the first meeting of our bookgroup (to discuss The Secret River) on Thursday, I think we're going to need to pace ourselves a little better, or Christmas will flatten us. We took loads of pictures of the two events, so expect some postings later this week. And the Charlie & Lola mobile is now in place in the children's room - so if you coloured in and signed a piece last Saturday, a pop in and make sure it's hanging up correctly!

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

The Morello Letters

Just time to draw breath from our Charlie & Lola funday (which was a big success - piccies to follow, we promise) before our first 'adult' author event this Thursday - Duncan McNair with his book The Morello Letters. Duncan McNair dreamed up the Italian Mr Morello, a lover of all things British, yet struggling to understand some of the finer aspects of British life, as an amusement for his nieces and nephews. He has written to politicians and celebrities and received some good natured and sometimes hilarious replies. As our first event, we're understandably nervous, and keen for it to be a success. This has been helped by the fact that the book is excellent, and we really feel that it deserves to be a great success, and also the fact that Duncan himself has been a joy to deal with, and extremely slippy with the old publicity. People genuinely love the book - and from my own (albeit unscientific and limited) view of people browsing in the shop, it is laugh-out-loud funny. Duncan has already got quite a bit of coverage for spoof letters to local councils (and others) - but unfortunately his highly amusing letter to Abingdon Council (which we shall have on display Thursday evening) was met with a bit of a sense of humour failure. Mind you, having just implemented a major change in Abingdon's traffic system, and having faced quite a bit of criticism for it, maybe they were understandably sensitive with Mr Morello's suggestion of using a dilapidated council building to store his menagerie in, with a moose and giant mexican slug being thrown in to cement the deal (the council have also received lots of criticism for the state of this building too). We still have tickets for the event on Thursday, and despite our failure in getting hold of a live goat for the evening (Duncan's original suggestion), it still promises to be a lot of fun. We extend an invitation into the blogosphere to come along and meet the author over a glass of wine, this Thursday at 7pm.

Friday, October 06, 2006

One of those eeeogggrrrhhh! moments

It was probably about Tuesday of this week when we were amassing glitter, crayons and pink biscuits that we suddenly realised something rather crucial was missing for our Charlie and Lola Day on Saturday. As Lauren Child outsells everybody in our shop, when some new books were coming out (especially one complete with glitter) we thought we just had to celebrate. Then a few mums pleaded that we hold it on a Saturday so their at-school children wouldn't miss it. Then August gave way to September and our Saturdays got really busy and we realised we could well have hoards of small children waving crayons (as they help us to make a giant Charlie and Lola mobile for the shop) in among the usual, fairly harassed and hurried Saturday shoppers. A good mix? We'll see. It should all be good fun. And there is free pink milk. So we were fairly panicky about what we might have let ourselves in for. And then we realised none of the books had arrived. About August time we ordered what is known in the trade as a 'dump bin' - a cardboard stand that comes full of nicely displayed books, especially for the new Charlie and Lola books. We thought we'd been well ahead of the game. We had been expecting it to arrive in plenty of time to assemble before Saturday and had also been running down our stocks of the books as we thought plenty more would be coming in. Then we realised, One Charlie and Lola day. No books. This is when a phone call (a bit panicky) to our suppliers told us that two days after we'd ordered it back in August it was cancelled because they'd run out. Gulp. Whoops, missed that one. Back in August we were generally panicky every day. We certainly hadn't got clued up to that fact that the way your suppliers inform you that something crucial is not going to arrive is as follows - the word cancelled appears next to the order line in very small type, at the bottom of an invoice full of details of half of your weird and wonderful opening stock ideas that have been discontinued or deleted and won't be coming in. We missed quite a few. We also missed several weird and wonderful customer orders that had also been cancelled. We don't do that much any more. Of course we're old bookselling hands now with a whole three months' experience behind us now and know to read to the bottom. But it was a bit of a shock when we realised we had practically no Charlie and Lola books to sell on Saturday, and certainly none of the new ones with the glitter. We do have some very nice mugs, though. And there's pink milk (did I mention this?). Anyway. We were lucky. None of them was out of stock and we had plenty of time to get shedloads in and we shall just use a good old fashioned table to put them on. Who needs fancy dumpbins anyway? Pictures next week.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Our doppelgänger?

A few week's ago we had a visit from WingedChariot Press - a splendid new publisher of translated children's books from around continental Europe. The range fits our shop perfectly, and we now have a WingedChariot display in the window. They are also based in Wallingford - a short boat ride down the Thames from Abingdon. However, when Ann from WingedChariot visited, she mentioned a new bookshop in Abingdon that she had recently visited - Mr B's Emportium of Reading Delights. Had we heard about it? Last week we were visited by Zoe from Egmont Books - and lo and behold she had just visited Mr B's - they were set up by a husband and wife team, not a great deal of experience, etc, etc. Did we know about them, etc? This required further investigation. It turns out that the spooky coincidences don't stop there. Consider that:
  • Mr B's opened on July 1st (admittedly with a big celebrity author, as opposed to me almost barfing in the entrance)
  • They have made extensive use of blogging (albeit theirs is in the more salubrious location of the Guardian culture pages)
  • Reading through the blog, their initial stock ordering experience was described as death by spreadsheet (check)
  • They have a cupboard behind the counter teetering with publishing catalogues
(That's enough spooky coincidences - Ed) Anyway - hoorah to Mr B's for giving the fine city of Bath something to celebrate after the demise of Secession Books, and we have added Bath to our places to visit when time allows to see it for ourselves...