Thursday, December 20, 2007

Home for Christmas

Several years ago, my sister was working in Harrods during the Christmas period - more specifically as an elf in the Harrod's Christmas grotto. The grotto itself was suitably grand: the entrance was lined on both sides with giant gilt (and, distinctly Orwellian) teddy bear figures looking like a line up on Easter Island. Everything was big and grand and glittering. That year, my sister was also selected to accompany Santa - and Mohammed Al Fayed - on a tour of the store just before the big day. Most of the children were very excited and happy to see Santa. However, if there were any children who were unhappy, Al-Fayed would snap his fingers and one of his security guards would produce a lollipop, which would be handed to said kid to cheer him or her up. I felt a bit like that today, having as I did mince pies and chocolate coins to dispense. Resplendent in my Christmas waistcoat it was good fun spreading the largesse around. Anyway, the door is now closed, I've just scoffed the last of the mince pies. I'm now heading home for Christmas. It's a been a hectic few days, but we're happy (if tired) booksellers. Happy Christmas everyone - we hope Father Christmas brings you some good books...

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Cold ears

Some bad news on Saturday - someone left this in the shop:
We get a lot of lost property left in the shop. I was traumatised enough by the white mittens left last week, but this is another level. It's been so cold over the last few days that this little fellow should be keeping someone's ears particularly snuggly and warm.

There is a very chilly little head out there. So, if anyone recognises it, please come into the shop and collect it. And then I can sleep more easily at night.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Someone tell Dan Brown...

..we sold our first copy of the Da Vinci Code today, ever, since we opened. I can't work out whether this is a good thing or a bad thing (from an independent bookshop POV). Still, it shows we get some different people in here at Christmas time. (Mind you, someone was in after that Peter Kay book today, which we didn't have. But she ordered it - hooray!)

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Controversial Author visits Mostly Books. Flies into "Crap" Storm

Tabloidese - what would we do without it?

The truth is that on Friday, we had a visit from Oxford-based author Sam Jordison, in our first "return" of an author since we opened. When Sam visited us last year, he'd just published "Bad Dates" and his latest book, "Annus Horribilis" takes the idea further, with a collection of generally bad things that have befallen the famous (and not-so-famous), one for each day of the year (hence the title).

So why controversial? And what was the storm?

Sam originally shot to fame (or, more accurately, infamy) with a book called Crap Towns, which he wrote whilst working as a journlist on the Idler magazine. Memorably described by the Sunday Telegraph as "The Domesday Book of Misery" the book listed the 50 worst places to live in Britain. The inclusion of Hull near the top of the list was perhaps not surprising, but the inclusion of home town Oxford was. However, at #20 on the list was our geographical neighbour Didcot.

Didcot gets a bad rap around here, mostly because of the iconic Didcot Power Station which can be seen from large parts of Southern England and thus rather dominates most of the town.

When we first publicised Sam's visit, an organisation called Didcot First heard about it, and invited Sam to visit Didcot before the event to spend a day sampling the delights that the town has to offer, and to try to convince him that Didcot isn't actually that crap. The Oxford Mail trailed the visit (as well as listing ten reasons why Didcot isn't crap - some of these look a bit dodgy to me...)

This explains why, at 5pm, Sam (right), me (left) and local MP, Ed Vaizey (middle) can be seen hanging out together at Splitz in Didcot, drinking champagne, eating canapes and getting along famously. I took the opportunity to sell copies of Sam's book to the assembled throng of Didcot luminaries, and judging by the take-up, decided that Sam must have won over the townsfolk during a successful charm offensive.

It was then a quick car journey up the A34 to Abingdon for the event itself.

I think there is probably only one major faux pas which must not be committed when you organise an author signing. Assuming you actually turn up to open the shop, you can probably get away with all kinds of gaffes - including, perhaps, getting the author's name wrong in the intro, or forgetting to bring any wine. No, I think the only thing you might do that would cause you all kinds of "swallow-me-now-earth" shame and humiliation is not to have any copies of his latest book to sell...

(This happened at the Oxford Literary Festival in 2006 to Melvyn Bragg. Myself and over a thousand people packed into a large marquee being told they could fill in an order slip for a copy once it arrived from the publisher).

...OK, it wasn't quite that bad, but thanks to my persuasive sales patter over at Didcot, I realised with mounting horror that we didn't have that many copies of Annus Horribilis in the shop. Of Sam's other books, Crap Towns was only available on Amazon, Crap Towns II was RPU, and The Joy of Sects (Sam's account of inveigling his way into a number of religious cults) couldn't be had anywhere. This ensured that I sweated profusely as the event progressed, awaiting the signing with a growing sense of dread.

At least no-one had started digging up the road...

Sam is a fantastic raconteur - engaging and disarming, with anedotes peppered with the crazy stuff he does to research his books. Sam started with a few tales from Sects, followed by stories from his recent year in the US, trying to get under the skin of small town America (and succeeding by all accounts).

It was then on to Annus Horribilis itself. Here's Sam explaining how the book came about:

We finished the evening with the dreaded signings - and, yes, we ran out of books. Luckily, Sam is such a nice chap, he came back with his girlfriend yesterday and signed some more. And luckily we have such lovely customers, they came back in today to buy them.

And hopefully, both forgave the bookshop owner for being a bit, well, crap.

We got some good coverage in the Oxford Mail and (gasp!) the Abingdon Herald (or perhaps the Didcot Herald, I can never work out just how different those two papers are...).

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Happy Christmas me hearties!

Pirates took over Mostly Books this evening during the Christmas Extravaganza. They tied up the real staff, and then set about plastering "3 for 2" stickers on everything and ordering in vast (or should that be 'avast') quantities of ghost-written celebrity autobiographies.

It wasn't a pretty sight.

Customers were threatened and told to "buy on Amazon". It was a terrifying ordeal for some:

Luckily, our customers fought back, and the naughty pirates saw the error of their ways. They eventually agreed to leave the shop, taking with them some improving literature and some fun books for the kiddies.

OK - perhaps that's not quite what happened...

The annual Abingdon Extravaganza is the cue for turning on the Christmas Lights. There's a parade through the town, and then fireworks later in the evening. Here's the parade passing the shop:

Here's some of our esteemed town councillors dressed in their finery. If you look *really* closely you can make out a few of our regulars:

Finally, here's Father Christmas himself whooshing past the shop (with obligatory health an safety elves behind).

The Abingdon blogger has more.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

By Special Arrangement: Judith Blacklock at Mostly Books

At first glance, this may have looked like another of our "They Shouldn't Do It In A Bookshop" events, but here the match was perfect. Judith Blacklock is not only one of the country's pre-eminent floral designers (and I can definitely confirm that having watched her Wednesday night) but she is also a bestselling author on the art and practice of flower arranging.

We welcomed her to Mostly Books last night for a stunning event which - if you missed it - we'll definitely do again in the next few months.

I first met Judith earlier this year at the Society of Authors in London, and again at her eponymous (and completely gorgeous) Flower School in Knightsbridge (in Kinnerton Place, just round the back of Harvey Nicks). As well as running the school, and teaching flower design to students from all over the world, Judith has written a number of bestselling books on flower design - including a title for the Teach Yourself series which is (I believe) their biggest ever seller. Judith is also the editor of the Flower Arranger magazine.

Now, I have to admit first off that my knowledge of flower arranging (and floral design books specifically) is not as great as my knowledge of, say, cookery books. Having got to know her, and now having seen her in action, however, I would say her style is a combination of Sophie Grigson and Heston Blumental (bear with me on this one). She has a very down-to-earth attitude that belies an utter professionalism and passion for her craft, but she also has Heston's pursuit of the fundamental principles that underlie the subject. If all that sounds a bit pompous, what I'm trying to say is that Judith believes there are fundamental principles which anyone can learn in flower arranging - even if it's just placing a few flowers in a jug - and she is remarkably effective at getting them across to her students or an audience.

She came to Mostly Books Wednesday night to do just that.

The event didn't start in the most auspicious way. Attrocious traffic conditions in London meant that Judith was delayed - and of course, we have the ongoing Stert Street resurfacing which meant that the road was due to be closed. Now, I've mentioned before that for some reason our events often seem to coincide with some major highway maintenance. Little did we know, however, that later that evening, the workman - probably under pressure to re-open the road as quickly as possible - were to slice through a major electricity cable and black out the entire street. The road was closed all day today, gridlocking most of this part of South Oxfordshire. Nice one.

Earlier in the day a delivery of six fine Amaryllis had arrived, courtesy of Gary and Matthew at Fabulous Flowers in Abingdon. By the way, if there is anyone in Abingdon who doesn't know what a gem of a flower shop we have in the town, their shop is on Bridge Street. And the boys have just opened their second shop next to Gees, on the Banbury Road in Oxford.

We had wine, gentle music and the shop decked out in its Christmas finery - and Judith hit the ground running from the moment she arrived.

My shaky camera work really doesn't do justice to the demonstration she gave, but here we go. Note how the arrangements - music like - build into a grand finale which I've tried to show at the end of the post.

Starting with some basic principles (including vase and foliage selection) she proceeded to show techniques for vase and hand-tied arrangments.

She was also keen to get everyone involved, so those sitting on the front row were busy for most of the evening.

Here's the basic technique for hand-tied arrangements:

Eh voila:

Now, I've never heard people gasp at one of our events before - but when we got onto "leaf manipulation" everyone was gripped. I'll not reveal too many of Judith's top tips in this post, but I glimpsed the reasons why George Orwell satirized the plant - it lasts for a long time, surviving all kinds of indignities. It's a firm favourite amongst flower arrangers.

Here's a tutorial of how to produce a stunning floral mount using the humble leaf:

By the end of the evening, Judith had produced a fabulous collection - including a stunning arrangment of the Amaryllis (seen here on the left of the photo).

(We now have the best-dressed shop in Abingdon by the way!)

Judith answers questions, signed books, and was whisked away by her husband after staying to chat to everyone who came.

It was a wonderful evening, and my thanks to Judith for accepting our invitation. Everyone had a wonderful and inspiring time. Pop into the shop to get signed copies of her Encyclopedia of Flower Design and Flower Recipes for Winter books - or to have a look at the flowers!

Friday, November 16, 2007

Separated at Birth

We're doing The Virgin Suicides as the next book for the daytime bookgroup in a couple of weeks time. I noticed the cover of the new edition of Jeffrey Eugenides' debut novel for the first time today:
Something stirred in my mind, and I mosied over to grab a copy of Tim Pears' novel In The Place of Fallen Leaves (also, his debut). There were some startling similarities:

Almost a whole girl I thought. But it did get me thinking - are there any other cover designs that go together this well?

Thursday, November 15, 2007

QS - Quite Sad

Yesterday, I made one of my periodic trips into Oxford, on what is usually a mixture of business and pleasure. In this case, an emergency trip for a stock item that we screwed up on (this music ordering is still proving a bit tricky), some general soul-enhancing bookselling inspiration around Blackwells and the QI Bookshop, and then on to some light cloak-and-dagger stock-spying in the big chains. It was a gorgeous day, lots of students milling about, throngs of bicycles in the Broadway - obviously if this kind of thing winds you up (bl**dy students, etc.), then you're not missing anything, but I do feel lucky that people travel from all over the world to soak up the Oxford atmosphere, and I can pop in whenever I like (sort of). Anyway, armed with Timothy in his buggy, and thus disguised as a sleep-deprived Dad (oh, actually, that's not a disguise...) I was deep undercover and began my mission. Within the space of about 1/4 mile on the Broadway, you have possibly the biggest concentration of retail bookselling anywhere on Earth. A few years ago there was Thornton's Bookshop as well, which sadly closed - although the shop lives on in cyberspace. The unrivalled staff in the Blackwells Music shop were absolutely brilliant. They helped me carry said buggy to the top of their building - and back down again five minutes later, without a grumble (akthough Timothy did his bit and delivered one of his winning smiles the whole time). I then went round the corner to the QI Building - home to the QI Bookshop. And discovered some sad news. The QI Bookshop is closing on December 22nd. This is Quite Sad. Quirky does not begin to describe the bookshop, with its idiosyncratic section layout and deliberate stocking of obscure and non-bestselling hardback fiction, it is a lovely, unique place to visit. And it was their Christmas catalogue last year (neatly tied with ribbon) that inspired ours. So - is this another "small independent closes in face of severe competition" story? Has the challenge of selling books around the corner from three enormous retailers taken its toll? Er, no. Apparently the company that makes QI was recently taken over, and the bookshop has no place in the new company's future plans. Which is Quite A Shame.

Friday, November 09, 2007

It's beginning to look a lot like...

Sorry to use the C-word so early in November, but we're now well and truly into the Christmas shopping 'zone'. When you consider that 34% of all books are sold in the final three months of the year (and almost a quarter in the November/December period), you can understand why everyone goes a bit bonkers in retail in the run-up to Christmas. It really can be make or break.

Last year we didn't really know what to expect, and the festive season hit us like a particularly overloaded sleigh. This year, we feel a bit more prepared.

So it was with nervous anticipation that we kicked off the seasonal spendfest in style last night with our "Champagne and Stollen" Christmas Shopping Event:

The invites had been sent out, I was dressed in my Christmas waistcoat, and the shop was decked out in its Christmas finery. We're not actually putting up decorations until the end of November, but there were a few subtle hints dotted around the place:

The main event of the evening was the launch of our Christmas catalogue. Last year we gave out the standard wholesaler catalogues, but a) as they were a bit cheesy, and b) we didn't actually have that many books from those catalogues in the shop, we thought we might be able to do a bit better by getting reviews and recommends from everyone who works for us and putting them together in our own publication:

We had plenty of champagne and punch, and six different types of stollen (which might have been a tad over the-top) courtesy of Added Ingredients up the road.

Despite the awful weather, we had a really good turnout. Here's the welcoming view from the road (note new pavement, albeit not looking at its best in the rain).

Wednesday, October 31, 2007


A few weeks ago, Dawsons - a large music shop in Abingdon High Street - sadly closed its doors. The shop used to be called Modern Music, and had an enviable reputation for its range of musical instruments and expertise in all matters musical. It was taken over by Dawsons - a chain based in Warrington - last year, and it's a great shame that it closed less than a year after taking over.

Anyway, some of our customers were quite upset at not being able to order music in the town. We discussed it with them, and we also had the opportunity to talk to a major music wholesaler at the recent Gardners Trade Show. After some consideration, we said - why don't we offer sheet music and music book ordering as a service?

I mean, the books all have ISBNs. Said wholesaler says they stock loads of them. Some are even available through our usual book wholesaler. How difficult can it be?

So, a few weeks ago, with a bit of a flurry, we announced the launch of our music ordering service. It also gave us a wonderful excuse to beef up our music section.

The response was hugely positive. Lots of people were very impressed that we decided to move into this area, and we started receiving our first orders.

Which is where the problems started.

Admittedly we were a bit speculative about the whole thing, and realised that there might be a bit of a learning curve (ho ho) and some jargon to learn. Well, I've learned a lot. For example, when someone asks for a title containing the words "flute with bass continuo", I now know that "bass continuo" isn't a musical instrument. That sort of thing.

But I hadn't appreciated just what a challenge getting hold of books would be. Of the first six orders, one was available through our music wholesaler. We discovered that we would have to set up additional accounts with another 3 wholesalers (which we did, albeit on a pro-forma basis - they always want about 6 trade references, and our existing suppliers get a teensy bit hacked off when you keep asking them to provide a reference). One title was so obscure, it is only available as a print-on-demand title from an obscure source in the US and (technically) qualifies as a Googlewhack when you search for it.

So, 6 books, 5 seperate sources. As you can appreciate, these are hardly huge volumes we're putting through each of them. And it's a bit of a shock when you start seeing terms and conditions like "free postage only for orders above £2,500" (it's £100 for our usual wholesalers). So it started to dawn on us that our service was going to be slightly less appealing to customers if they were going to have to pay the full whack of delivery charge for just one of little Johnny's flute books.

But it got worse. We tried to order a piano grade book set by the UK's largest examination board (this is a reasonable popular title). The response we got was "we don't sell that book to trade anymore". I'm sorry? But how on earth can we get it then?

Anyway, with our first few orders fulfilled, and only two customers severely hacked off with the delay (to whom I have already offered our sincerest apologies) we are now committed to cracking the music wholesaler 'code'. Our strategy now will be to talk directly to some of the music teachers in Abingdon (some of whom have already come into the shop) and try to anticipate which books are likely to be in demand in the future. And we're going to establish a service-level in terms of timescales for ordering, which should allow us to bulk up orders ourselves and absorb the delivery charges.

Other than that, I may just take up the piano myself.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Julie Hearn

On Saturday we welcomed local author Julie Hearn to Mostly Books for the first of two author signings for half-term week. This was the first time we've ever done a straight signing (as opposed to a meet-the-author or themed event) and - in the absence of any ticket sales to give me an idea of numbers - I was a bit nervous about whether anyone was going to turn up.

Abingdon should be very proud of Julie Hearn. She was born here, and returned after spells in Australia and Spain. And her books are amazing. I'm always pretty fulsome in my praise of writers who have come to the shop, but it's been a complete joy for Nicki and I to discover Julie's books, and we're very lucky that she lives on our doorstep.

No matter that the books are aimed at the teen market - it's the ideas that do it for me. Neal Stephenson is my ur-author, and although the style is obviously different, for me, Julie's books have that same heady mix of deeply engaging characters, resonant historical settings and powerful ideas - whether it's witchcraft, social justice or suffragettes.

One reviewer praised her skills at 'weaving together folklore and history' (in The Merrybegot), and another describes her writing thus: "She takes scraps from history and creates characters so vivacious that they walk right out of history, off the page and into life cursing, kicking, scabby and loving.". Spot on.

In the end I needn't have worried about numbers. We had enough to keep Julie signing for the period, but not so busy that she couldn't spend time talking to everyone who turned up. It was a delightful afternoon, and we're really pleased she was able to come to the shop.

Having spent the last few weeks poring over the somewhat meagre offering for girls this Christmas (and for teenage girls in particular), I'd definitely recommend giving her books: Hazel, Ivy, The Merrybegot and Follow Me Down - a try.

Monday, October 22, 2007

The beginning is half of everything

When we started this blog, back at the start of last year, we didn't even have a location for our bookshop, and we weren't quite sure what to expect (from the blog that is, although probably not from opening the shop either). A lot has happened since then - and the observant amongst you will (hopefully) have noticed some general 'sprucing up' of the blog in the last few days. A new title, updated links, that sort of thing. Whilst I hesitate to call it a relaunch, after a two month(ish) sabbatical, that's kind of what it is. The blog isn't the only thing to have been given a make-over. Mostly Books has a splonky new pavement outside courtesy of some incredibly noisy roadworks that have slowly moved up one side of Stert Street, and down the other. Ours seems to be the only shop where the pavement hasn't actually been widened, but no matter - the effect along the entire street is to make it a more pleasant (and safer) experience for shoppers, and we're hoping that this improves access to Stert Street from both ends of town. Inside, the shop is eagerly awaiting Christmas (the nature of retail, sadly) with the shelves and tables bulging with what we feel are some of the best books of the season. We've even bought a new table for the children's room to display them. And this year we are publishing our own Christmas Catalogue. It's a bit of an experiment, but everyone who works here has selected their pick of books, and we hope it gives an alternative selection to the standard "wholesaler fayre" which will be available everywhere in the next couple of months. We've had two author signing events in the last two days - and we've got some cracking events lined up between now and Christmas. You can find out more here. However, we have recently discovered that there is a new bookshop in the same situation as we were all those months ago, blogging and endeavouring to open as soon as they can sort out the premises. Tim West and Simon Key were made redundant when the Waterstones they worked in closed with 9 days notice. They decided to respond by opening their own bookshop. But, first things first, they started blogging about it. Now, these guys are hardly neophytes, but they will need all the help they can get over the next few months. I therefore officially hand over the "new bookshop" staff of blog power to Tim and Simon. Crockatt & Powell had it before us, and it has served them and us well. Look after it guys. And the very best of luck with shop. Let us know if we can help out in any way possible.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Mardi après-midi à la librairie

We recently welcomed local author Gwen Brookes into the shop for our first non-English event (if that doesn't sound too grand) - an afternoon of French songs, stories and games to coincide with the publication of Gwen's Berthe the Witch books.

Language teaching is undergoing something of a revolution at the moment. The biggest change is the gradual introduction of language teaching aimed at 7-11 over the next few years. I can't profess to be expert on this, but it sounds a fantastic idea. Language teaching when I was a kid seemed to consist of endless rote-learning of verbs, accompanied by the reading of dull 60s-era textbooks about "Cos Le Facteur" (from memory) which has left me with huge mental block every time I've ever tried to speak French since.

Our event couldn't have been more different. Gwen is a local French teacher, and put together a series of songs, stories and games for the children who came along. What was impressive to watch was the kids learning and remembering the new words, and obviously enjoying the experience to boot.

And here's the proof:

Her books came about after Gwen - a French teacher of almost 30 years - became frustrated by the lack of simple story books for kids learning French, and wrote and self-published La Semaine de Berthe. Her visit to the shop coincided with the publication of the next two books in the series: Bonjour Berthe and Les Amis de Berthe.

The Times Educational Supplement said this about the first book: "The language is repetitive without being boring and a good basic vocabulary is introduced using common sentence structures children will be familiar with...there is a wealth of work to be obtained from this book. I look forward to seeing more in this series."

Each book retails for £3.99 - and if your interest is piqued and you can't pop into the shop in the foreseeable future, £14.00 buys you all three and shipping to anywhere in the UK...

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Hello, hello, it's good to be back

Ah, a few days by the seaside, which just happened to coincide with the only hot weather of the Summer. Maybe it's because I grew up by the seaside, but there is really nothing that can beat the simple, uncomplicated pleasure of a day at the beach (providing it's not raining of course - then the experience is rather different). Sandcastles, crabbing, ice-creams, penny slots - one happy little boy last week, I can tell you. And Alex was pretty excited too...
Of course, next year we'll choose a better date to close the shop than the week in which the Booker Longlist is announced (doh!) but at least we have the literary delight which is the dovegreyreader bookerthon to look forward to. The literary equivalent of an advent calendar stuffed with chocolate, this annual event already has the makings of a literary institution as far as Nicki and I are concerned, and deserves to become as well-known as the Booker itself.

Anyway, the shop survived its week off, and we're back today with our storyteller Peter Hearn, who is - as I type - telling stories of a bear going to a birthday party, the tale of Orpheus and Eurydice (accompanied by a real lyre) and much banjo-playing. Fantastic. This is lifting my spirits even more post-holiday.

Next Tuesday we're having our first language event, an afternoon of French songs, stories and games with local author Gwen Brookes, creator of Berthe The Witch. We predict big things for Berthe, with French soon to be on the primary school curriculum, and Berthe La Sorcière is a great creation.

Friday, August 03, 2007

A Week Off

On Monday, August 6th, we'll be closing the shop for a week and having a break. After the madness of July (and it was a bit overwhelming at times) Nicki and I have been looking forward to having some time off. This week coincides with holidays for some of our staff as well, so it works out well all round. I must admit to being a bit nervous about actually closing the shop. We've told everyone about it, sent out the newsletter, we've got big posters around the shop - but sometimes, in the wee small hours (the time at which most small business owners are visited by the entrepreneurial heeby-jeebies) I do wonder if a few people will visit and be very disappointed that we're not open, or will have travelled from some distance as part of a long-planned trip to visit us ("I don't believe it, and I made a special trip here from Wyoming just to see Mostly Books", etc.). I don't know whether this is extremely neurotic of me, egotistical, or simply I overrate how people view our shop, but I'm still slightly unnerved. I'll just have to relax about it all on the trip to the seaside we've got planned with the boys next week. Frankly, I'm looking forward to getting some sleep...

Sunday, July 22, 2007


Focused as we were on Harry Potter over the past 48 hours, we've been watching nervously as increasingly large parts of Abingdon are being inundated with water from the variety of rivers that flow into the Thames at the town (notably the Ock) - and of course, the Thames itself. mostly books is on Stert Street, named after the river Stert that flows underneath the road. As far as we know, we're not facing any problems - but the situation is becoming increasingly severe. The Abingdon blogger has been updating us with pictures of the severe flooding caused by the River Ock bursting its banks. Things are expected to continue to get worse and peak sometime in the early hours of Monday morning, or even on Tuesday.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

"The Glastonbury of Food"

Too tired to do much blogging (in fact, I have strict instructions to get to bed now, as we've got another busy day tomorrow) but we just finished our day 1 of The Children's Food Festival.

We are tired but happy - it was an incredible experience.

There were doubters, and undoubtably there were a few things that didn't got to plan, but everyone who came along to the first day of this, the first ever food festival for children on this scale were fair blown away.

Stars of the day included Sophie Grigson (who compared the Rangemaster Cookery Theatre (1 500-seat audio-vidual live cooking demonstration theatre - awesome) and then demonstrated herself.
All the chefs who demonstrated came into the Mostly Books tent to sign books - and major thanks to Raymond Blanc, who sat in the baking sun outside the front of the tent and signed almost constantly for over an hour. And the kids that saw him (and joined him up on stage) were just bowled over.
I know the weather is not looking great for tomorrow - but if you can get there, we'll be doing it all over again...

Monday, July 09, 2007

365 days + 8

With a lack of blogging for the last few weeks (month?), one of two things must have happened in the shop. Either: a) things have gone completely pear shaped. Nicki and I are losing interest, and the difficulties of running a bookshop in this day and age mean we were crazy to even think we could get it to work, etc. or b) all the hard work we've put in on the events, activities, book selection, etc. together with an exponential word-of-mouth effect and a few lucky calls have meant things have gone a bit bonkers in the shop in the last month. Happily, I'm pleased to report, it's the latter. I'm not saying we're rolling in cash or anything. Far from it. But the shop is definitely *viable* and a success on its own terms. And that's both a great relief, but also tremendously rewarding for Nicki and me. (We are, to be frank, a bit knackered, for reasons you'll discover below. We're looking forward to a holiday at the beginning of August, when we'll be closing the shop for a week). I believe there are lots of things that have happened in the shop over the past few months that have contributed, and - in keeping with things we've posted historically on the blog - I wanted to share a few of them with you. A couple of months ago we launched our loyalty card - slightly quirky, a bit home brew, like most things we have done with this shop. And that has made a tremendous amount of difference. If there are any independents out there who *don't* run a loyalty card, seriously, set one up. Yes, it's a lot of effort. Yes, getting one 'off-the-shelf' from one of the (unnamed) wholesalers seems easier. Yes, you do have to apply quite a bit of commonsense at the till (does £9.50 count as £10 towards a stamp? Can my mother use my card this time, etc. - to which we say yes, BTW), and you have to deal with all kinds of 'special circumstances' (like not giving stamps for book tokens) but - it really does help you to reward your best customers, and it's a lot of fun for everyone when someone completes their card. (Thanks to Anu's brilliant innovation, we have a big gold star stamp that gets brought out especially. Hee hee) Plus we've started giving stamps for kids reviewing books - and that's also been great fun. The Saturday before last we celebrated one year in Abingdon - and despite awful weather (what a difference from last year when I was in shorts for about 3 months) lots of people turned up to sip champagne and celebrate with us. Thanks to everyone who popped in, it was a bit manic (!) but we really appreciated it. This weekend (July 14/15) we will be the official bookseller at the UK's first Children's Food Festival at Abingdon Airfield. Since we first were chosen, the event has ballooned from a modest celebration of children's cooking, to an enormous event with 10 celebrity chefs, and scores of marquees, displays, farm-to-fork activities and cookery demonstrations. Having to get hold of the cookbooks has been a nerve-wracking affair (not to mention getting hold of a marquee at a time of a national shortage), and liaising with various PAs and PR companies to get the signings set up has experience...but we're focusing on having fun, there are some frankly amazing things taking place on the day (Bicycle-powered smoothie makers anyone?) so fingers crossed the jet stream moves north this week and we get some decent weather. If you are coming to the festival - pop over to our tent and say hi. Collapsing in a big heap next week will be tempting, but we'll be getting up all over again for the big launch of Harry Potter. Inspired by Crockatt & Powell's donation antics, we're raising money for the Silver Star Team at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford. Yay. There's still some places left for the midnight event. And we've got muggle quidditch. No really. We worked out how to do it, and there will be no health and safety issues, no books will get hurt, and there will be some decent prizes to boot...

Friday, June 29, 2007

One Good Turn...Deserves a Blog

We were delighted this morning when we had 5 copies of Kate Atkinson's "One Good Turn". Floyd - who has been with us this week on work experience - has had rather a lot of books to unpack this week, but he spotted that these ones were on back order, just published and put them out on the table. We're very excited, we have a lot of Kate Atkinson fans, and this is a book we've had on order for a while. And then he noticed something a bit odd... They all had a big Tesco sticker on the front. OK, it happens, we had a book in this week which was pre-signed and had a big "signed in Waterstone's" sticker on the front, we just send these back as damaged. Then we looked again. A bit more closely. On the back of the book, actually printed on the cover, was "Tesco Book Club". There was a Tesco bookmark in it. There was "exclusive content" (which, as far as we can tell, is a letter inside telling you a bit about the club). Hang on a bit. Something is wrong here... Yes, one of our wholesalers (who shall remain nameless because I don't want to embarrass them) has sent out the Tesco Book Club edition to us in error. I hope we're the only ones because they might get in a bit of trouble otherwise... I can't work out whether this is a devious trick by Tescos to get greater coverage of the launch of their club? Or perhaps this is just meglomaniac Tesco boss Terry Leahy's way of keeping me awake even more at night as I huddle up under my duvet and consider a nightmare world where Tesco sells everything...yes, I think I can hear his maniacal laugh all the way from his mansion in Cuffley... In keeping with my post about Tesco a few weeks ago (which hopefully was über-reasonable), I will just say that I think they've made a decent fist of it, and if it gets more people reading cracking authors such as Kate Atkinson, then well done. But it's another step towards world domination IMHO... Anyone else get the Tesco version by mistake today?

Saturday, June 16, 2007

The Final Piece

The final piece (or should that be slice?) in our nefarious plans for world domination came together this week - home-made cake. (Sounds of Dr-Evil style chuckling, etc.).
The cakes are courtesy of the newest member of the Mostly Books team, Alison. All this week our regulars have been sampling her cappucino cake, victoria sponge sandwich (made with buttercream and real raspberry jam) and lemon drizzle cake.

The cappucino cake was the clear favourite - and - being in a somewhat whimsical mood this week with a couple of decent night's sleep under my belt - I got me to thinking 'if this cake were a book, what book would it be?'.
The cappucino was definitely The Kite Runner of the three. Moist, flavoursome, multi-layered, universally admired by those that know their cake. After eating it, you have to think whether this was the best cake you've ever eaten, with everything else seeming a bit bland for a while afterwards.
Second was the Victoria Sponge - The Crowded Bed of the three. Initially considered a bit old-fashioned perhaps, pleasantly surprisingly and high-quality when tasted. This is surely a cake of quality, durability - more please.
Finally, the Lemon Drizzle. The What Was Lost of the three. In comparison with the high standards set by the other two, this had bags of potential and one to watch for the future, but needs more lemon.
So - if the freshly-ground, single origin coffee or fairtrade tea haven't grabbed you up until now, the new home-bake range makes it to the menu next week (in time for Abingdon's farmer's market on Monday morning). Hooray.
This week we did a bit of rearranging of the window display:

Yes, the deckchair is back. This is in anticipation of a very important event in two week's time: our first birthday - can you believe that? Just as we tried to blog each day as we counted down to opening all those months ago, we'll try to do a countdown again. And of course, you're all welcome to join us on June 30th at the shop for a glass or two of champagne...

Sunday, June 10, 2007

The World's Greatest Portrait Artist

On Saturday, we welcomed Korky Paul to Mostly Books for one of our biggest events to date. Whilst I have heard plenty of first-hand accounts of Korky's genius, this was the first time I'd seen him in action, and he was quite brilliant.

Usually, I finish an event report by thanking the author, but in this instance I'm going to start by thanking him (and may do so several times below). In theory, we had planned two 45-60 minute sessions at 11am and 2pm respectively, but Korky slaved away almost solidly from 11am until 4pm.

The weather on Saturday was evil - hot, humid, and in our suntrap garden the sun was beating down relentlessly, and yet he slaved away with infinite patience, good grace and effortless brilliance painting portraits of the children who had come along, and signing books. Above and beyond the call of duty, and much respect sir.
Korky kicked off by explaining what a portrait was, and why he is the world's greatest portrait artist:

The garden was standing room only, and I did get a bit worried about kids getting frazzled and people keeling over in the heat. We kept a constant supply of water jugs and cups coming out of the shop to keep people hydrated.
Here's a BenOsaurus Rex underway - Korky was also full of tips for aspiring artists, and mixed marker pens with paint to create the effects:
The children were spellbound - he has that wonderful knack that the best storytellers and entertainers have of commanding attention without resorting to gimmicks or patronising the crowd.
Here's Korky "counting spikes" for one of his young subjects:

As if that wasn't enough, Korky sat and chatted to families as he signed books - and I do hope he wasn't in trouble with his family for being extremely late back.

Having never done this before, we really didn't know quite how the event would run, and Korky did his best to do portraits of everyone, but in the end ran out of time. We do hope to have him back, so for those children disappointed at the end, let us know who you were.
Thanks once again to Korky for a wonderful event. Thanks are also due to Anu, who kept the shop running superbly whilst I was out the back, to Oliver and Simon who I worked almost as hard as Korky throughout the day, and finally to everyone who came along and sat in the garden - I hope you all had as good a day as I did!

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Korky on Saturday

You always know when we've been busy at Mostly Books because the blogging gets pushed down the old to-do list. However, my to-do list is now such a teetering monster that I've decided to post anyway and give you a quick update of what's been going on in the shop.

Last week was half-term, and we embarked on a busy week of events. As well as storytime on Wednesday and Thursday, we had a bookmark-making day on the Tuesday, which was going great until the laminating machine conked out.

This Saturday we will be welcoming Korky Paul to the shop. For those that don't know Korky, he is the illustrator of such literary giants as Winnie The Witch and The Fish Who Could Wish (amongst many others). Korky has been top of our children's author wish list for some time, because anyone who has seen Korky perform with his portraits raves about it, so we're very excited.

We have two session booked, and - weather permitting - we will be doing them out in the courtyard garden. Both sessions are now full unfortunately, but we will be taking a lot of pictures and video for the blog for the after-event report...

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Literature, cake and a new look

In the fine weather today, we had plenty of takers for the courtyard garden, but we're rather used to having to entertain periodic groups of 2s and 3s - rather than the party of eleven that piled into the shop this morning just past 10. Anne Soper - a teacher of English Literature at Abingdon School, who has (I discovered with some expert googling) been with the school's English Department for over 20 years - came in to see if we could accommodate a departing English Literature set, one of whom had been in the previous day to pick up a leaving present. "No problem" I said (this is my standard pathologically-optimistic reply to almost any question BTW) and led them through the shop, stopping to press-gang two stragglers into taking an extra table and chairs in the garden. After having served up copious amounts of coffee, cake, soft drinks (including one pink milk, complete with coloured straw) I demanded something that I could put on the blog - here is the piece submitted: "Anne Soper and Rodney Mearns of Abingdon School led the departing Upper Sixth English Literature set on a jaunt to the 'mostly books' courtyard for coffee and cakes (all of them). The set consisting of: Andrew Barton, Oliver Foster, Henry Freeland, Kevin Lee, Oliver Minton, Huw Parmenter, Dacid Radcliffe, Stuart Robertson and Adam Withnall. Thoroughly enjoyed their hour in the May morning sunshine. Thank you." Would appreciate a copy of the (obviously brilliant) photograph I took of you all - cheers guys! Lots to say about the shop at the moment. The launch of our loyalty scheme (homebrew, bit of an experiment), the launch of our Children's Review Project and our selection as official booksellers at the Children's Food Festival in July will be the subject of future blogs. But the big news is - we've had a big revamp and switch around of where we put book in the shop - pictures soon!

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Tesco Effect

One of the great things about living in Abingdon is the proximity to Oxford, and as I now (mostly) have Thursdays off, I decided to head off into the city with Alex for a few hours.

As you might expect given its situation and student population, Oxford has three large bookshops. Blackwells is far and away the best, and is good to pop into for general inspiration, replenishment of the soul, and worshipping at this cathedral of books. Waterstones and Borders on the other hand are good for the odd spying raid (mentioned before on this blog), and having Alex with me is a good excuse to hang around the children's room for a while without being escorted from the premises.

Being anonymous in these places allows me to engage the staff in conversation about business - and everyone agreed that the last month or so has been quieter than normal. I got this message from several other (non-book-related) businesses as well.

But it was the very revealing chat I had with one business owner that got me thinking. He runs a fantastic little shop in Oxford (which will have to remain anonymous for the moment as I was sworn to secrecy). Apparently, he had been approached by the manager of a well-known UK chain in the same line - who was a bit desperate, having seen a massive fall in sales over the past couple of months, and had come in to ask, with much humility, what on earth was going on.

Now, my sample here is small, and it could be due to lots of factors such as the weather, rising interest rates, etc. But I think we're about to see some dramatic changes in retail (a Tipping Point if you like), partly due to the inexorable rise of the Internet, but mostly due to what I like to call the Tesco Effect.

Back in April Tesco posted record profits (again) of approximately £2.5 billion. Sales increased in excess of 10%, and if you are the size of Tescos, and increasing sales by that much, your competitors must be suffering pretty badly. Add increased sales by Sainsburys, and that's a big hit for anyone competing with the big supermarkets.

And that can be just about anyone. I don't think it's any surprise that the retail chains suffering the most at the moment are media (including books), clothing and electricals. These are all the areas that have fuelled the impressive sales growth of Tescos et al. Next Wednesday sees sales figures released by Next, DSGI (what used to be Dixons), and Sainsburys. What's the betting that Next (clothing) and Dixons (electricals) are hurting, whilst Sainsburys post some new records?

In their seminal (though slightly clumsily-titled) book, The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing, authors Al Ries and Jack Trout explain that, as any market matures, usually only two major players are left in the game (the others having gone bust, or have been bought out). These would be Tesco and Sainsbury then. However, what market are we talking about? Not the grocery market - after all, we can't be using 10% more toilet paper every year. No, the eventual market will be "everything-that-can-be-sold-by-a-supermarket" market. And what can't they sell?

So if you're selling something that's sold by the supermarkets, and haven't worked out your niche yet, start getting worried. Depressing? I don't think so. You just need to work out your niche (if you're not a big supermarket). And this report from the US - who are a few years ahead of us on this, having been battered by Wal-Mart - say that there are fantastic opportunities for independents.

I think if there is going to be an imminent massacre on the British High Street, people are going to want to do something, and supporting local shops might be an easy, rewarding way for people to feel empowered in the face of these retail behemoths.

Abingdon is in the front-line of this paradigm-change in consumer habits BTW. We have one of the UK's most profitable Tescos on the outskirts. Fed up with several years of small expansions (which don't trigger planning reviews, but are slow and messy) Tesco has now decided to go for broke and apply to increase its store by a third (or 19 independent shop sizes). I wouldn't mind, but the store is already huge. It's a Tesco Extra store. You have to walk half a mile to find the milk. On a foggy day, you can't see the far wall. On Monday, the District Council will decide to approve this application. They can't really do anything else. If they oppose it, Tesco will continue to appeal until they win, and then the council will have to pay Tesco's legal bills. Tesco has deeper pockets than the council (and better lawyers and expert witnesses probably). Sad, and democratically-emasculating, but that's the modern world for you. If I were Tesco, I'd do exactly the same. The politicians set the rules, Tesco maximise their shareholders profits within them. And don't forget, Tesco got so big by being brilliant at customer service. If Tesco weren't #1, we'd be moaning about Asda Wal-Mart. I think Tesco is actually a great business. But it's ironic that I get several communications a week asking my opinion about THE taking over Bertrams (Titanic and deckchairs anyone?) and a deafening silence about the big supermarkets taking over the world.

So - I think we can forget some brave local councillors standing up for choice and biodiversity in retailing. Instead, I think we need to get creative, and work out what competitive advantage we have over Tesco. I think it's a lot - but what does everyone else think?

Saturday, May 12, 2007

The Force is strong in this one

The following book arrived this morning. Hee hee...

It has been drawing admiring glances all morning, and is (conservatively) now on two people's Christmas lists. You have no idea how much fun this job can be sometimes...

The sooner Nicki is back in the shop the better I think...

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Livres and Bücher

Abingdon is a curious place in lots of ways - one day I'll get round to blogging about Abingdon in a bit more depth (the mysterious Abingdon blogger does a good job anyway). For those wanting to know more, we've amassed a goodly selection of books about the town and surrounding area in the shop. One thing about Abingdon that impacts heavily on us (in a good way!) is the large community of French and German language speakers who live here. There are many reasons for this: proximity to Oxford, location of UK headquarters of Miele, the European School down the road at Culham, and various internationally-renowned research centres dotted about nearby (notably at Culham and Harwell - in fact, having just checked now, Culham have the best location map of any website I've seen in a while - why does this look like something produced by Douglas Adams?). As well as a chance to try out my slightly rusty German occasionally, it does mean (for example) that we have quite a few books in translation (for our size), and books from publishers like the splendid Winged Chariot have done very well in the shop. But now we'd like to stock a small but significant range of French and German-language children's books - but I really don't know where to start on this. Someone once told me that ordering French-language books can be a bit of a challenge (most are not carried by the UK wholesalers), but at the moment it's knowing what the "must-haves" might be in any range we carried. "Le Petit Prince", "Le Livre Des Mots" by Richard Scarry and "Harry Potter A L'Ecole Des Sorciers" is about as far as I've got (I'm sad to say). We shall be discussing this with customers over the next few weeks...I'll let you know what the final line up is...

Thursday, May 03, 2007

And the winner is...

I love elections - I can't help it. Despite the blandness, spin and who-on-earth-stands-for-what postmodern political landscape, there's something optimistic and (to me) life-affirming about going to cast your vote.

This year I was able to introduce Alex to the concept of local democracy, and although my first explanation got a response of "wot?"he did manage to post my ballot papers for me to a round of applause from the polling station staff. Heady stuff.

Back in 1992, and the general election that year, on what was also a gloriously sunny May day, I was a fresh-faced(ish) fairweather-lefty student (in Birmingham's Selly Oak - where crusty Tory Anthony Beaumont-Darke was about to get dumped by a Labour newbie much to our delight). I walked up to the polling booth with a mate of mine Denis - who was most definitely a committed lefty - and he asked me to take a picture of him in front of the polling station sign. He had been born on an election day, and there were photographs of him on every polling day ever since. I remember that walk vividly, and the excitement and optimism that Kinnock would trump Major, not knowing that "The Sun Would Win It", etc.

I thought the photo thing was a nice tradition - so hence the above picture.

Talking of elections (well, votes) is a thinly-veiled segue to say congratulations to Much Ado Books, in Alfriston, East Sussex - voted Independent Bookshop of the Year at the recent British Book Industry Awards. It looks a fantastic shop, as does the website. Nicki and I will be shamelessly pouring over the site in the weeks to come for ideas and inspiration, but I have to say the Paperback Piazza is a stroke of genius...

I notice that Charkblog noted the lack of booksellers who attended the awards this year - well, we would have been there apart from recent family developments, so we'll definitely try to go next year...

Friday, April 27, 2007

Taking stock

On Sunday it's our first stocktake - which, let's face it, is dull, dull, dull and no amount of honeyed blogging words are going to make it sound anything other than it is - a systematic recording of everything currently residing in our shop. However, it will give us our first definite confirmation that we have been woefully ill-disciplined in allowing our stock to increase dramatically past what we originally planned for in the business plan. Ah well. I've asked Brenda to post an event report following the visit of Tim Pears on Wednesday. All I'll say is, thanks to Tim for coming along (and particularly for his very kind comments about the shop), and thanks to everyone who came along and made it such a great evening. I am also grateful to Andrew Ffrench (a.k.a The Page Turner at the Oxford Mail) for coming along, and then writing this terrific report on the event the next day. Andrew lives in Abingdon, and he and his son Luke have been great supporters since we've opened. I'm going to blog about this at the start of May (when I shall be posting our April bestseller list) - but Andrew's particularly keen to hear about your top five books (either recently, or of all time) - so go post yours on his blog. It's great to see so many blogs springing up, but big corporates may have some way to go before they fully realise the potential (and dangers) of allowing unfettered feedback. The Orange Prize (sorry, Orange Broadband Prize, - ack, ack - why can't people leave these prize titles alone?) has set up the Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction Forum (hey, hey). All I'll say is that you don't want to be posting open-ended questions like "What Do You Think about The Prize?" - it's just inviting abuse...I'm sure a sharp-eyed Orange Broadband employee will remove those recent comments shortly...oh dear. And talking of prizes, one of our customers asked us if we could recommend one of the Carnegie Prize shortlist for his 13 year old boy. There doesn't seem to be an age guide as far as the Carnegie medals go (and of course it's practically impossible to place an age range on a children's book) but reading through the list, I was struggling to find something suitable...I'm veering between "Road of Bones" and "My Swordhand is Singing", but any other recommendations out there? (BTW, this year's list - and I can't claim to be an expert on previous years' lists - struck me as particularly grim. The phrase 'a tough read' gets mentioned several times in the judges comments...maybe it's a reaction against wizards and magic?)

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Tim Pears

Next Wednesday (April 25th) we welcome Tim Pears to mostly books, an event I've been looking forward to for some time. I won't bang on about how good his novels are (you can learn more here). Suffice to say that this critically-acclaimed author is (IMHO) one of our finest novelists in terms of characterisation, and the way he relentlessly, uncomfortably nails down in prose the essence of 'the way we live now' in all its paradoxical glories and shamefulness. So that's my colours nailed to the mast... His latest book, Blenheim Orchard, is no exception, and set in Oxford where he now lives. The main part of his talk will be why, after living in Oxford for almost 30 years, this is the first novel he's set there. As usual, we extend our invitation to anyone reading our blog. The evening should be a special one indeed, with a chance to get up close and personal with the author over a glass (or two) of wine...

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Embargoed titles

We almost made a big boo-boo this morning - "The Tenth Circle" by Jodi Picoult arrived, but I didn't immediately appreciate that it was embargoed until the 19th April. It did go on the table, but was whipped off before anyone could purchase it. We don't have a lot of embargoed titles in the shop - but the embargo list on the BA website says that publishers can enact sanctions against booksellers if they stick titles out too early. Phew. Having said that - and not wishing to act like a school sneak here - I did notice that a large and very famous Large Online Retailer (or L.O.R., who shall remain nameless) is claiming to be able to deliver Ms Picoult's latest book by 1pm Wednesday, April 18 - so presumably because they send stuff through the post, embargoes don't count (sorry, I am acting exactly like a school sneak aren't I? Mind you, I can't see Hodder being too annoyed about a book currently sitting at #43 in L.O.R's current chart...)

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Indies rule

David Cameron came to Abingdon yesterday, ostensibly to meet the local Conservative party members and candidates standing in the council election. However, thanks to the tireless machinations of the local Chamber of Commerce (under the auspices of our very dynamic president Jill Carver) a deputation (if that's the right word) of us retailers met David (sorry - 'Dave') and the Conservative Council members, to discuss some of the pressing issues facing our businesses in the town. Most of the discussion was on traffic, taxes, red tape, etc. but the value of small, independent businesses to the biodiversity and sustainability of town centres was also on the agenda (mmm, I wonder who slipped that one in there?) After the meeting, David asked about the shop (I can't pretend he came in), we discussed an awful New Labour book that's been stuck on the shelves since we opened (Unfinished Revolution - firm sale sadly) transpired that he grew up a few miles from Wantage, and asked after the independent bookshop he used to visit in the town. Unfortunately, the Wantage Bookshop sadly closed in February, so I was able to make the point about the tough times facing small independent booksellers. So expect questions in parliament soon (maybe not). Just doing my bit to raise awareness of independents ahead of the London Bookfair (ahem). And...talking of striking a blow for independents - see this article in today's Grauniad from those bookselling revolutionaries and Waterstones' gadflies (and soon to be film stars) Adam and Matthew at Crockatt & Powell. Splendid stuff chaps. And I would suggest required reading for anyone involved in bookselling, because its a succinct round-up of the current state of play in bookselling in the UK. I won't be going to London (due to recent family events - plus the fact that Alex now has chickenpox) so I'll have to go next year instead. Still, I'm expecting a succinct report from the C&P boys after the event for those of us not able to go!

Thursday, April 12, 2007

David Melling: drawing the crowds in Abingdon

Today we held out first "interactive" children's author event. By interactive, we mean - getting the kids involved (ah, Internet jargon, I love it).

David Melling is a star children's illustrator and author or several critically-acclaimed children's books including Jack Frost, The Kiss That Missed and the Fidget and Quilly books. He also happens to live in Abingdon, so hits pretty much all our targets in terms of our perfect author.

We laid on copious amounts of pens, pencils, crayons, paper and some splendid original artwork provided by David for everyone to colour in.

David was a bit nervous, he'd only done this type of gig in schools, and this was his first bookshop. I was also nervous and twitchy (big author, had I taken too many bookings, plus ever so slightly sleep-deprived after recent momentous events). But...David was a big hit and everyone had a great deal of fun.

David started off reading from The Kiss That Missed - and talking about where his ideas come from. He sketched along the way.

Here's an excerpt:

At one point he invited audience participation...drawing around hands and even heads... create a new character.

(not sure what the young chap thinks of the result).

We're getting a good feel for how events work best, and having a formal/informal split to proceedings is working really well. It lets us have a initial, scheduled and well-planned format, which we can run for 30 minutes to an hour, then people who need to go can slip away, and others can stay and chat to the author during the informal bit.

In this case, David was a complete star and spent some time with the kids who were busy creating their own masterpieces:

And we also had a question and answer session as well.

This evening I brought home a (signed) copy of David's new book - Two By Two and a Half - for some user feedback (Alex, aged 3). It was a big hit. As an illustrator, David has an uncanny knack of communicating movement and dynamism into his work, and Alex particularly liked the bit where the bear rips up the tree and starts chasing Miss Moo Hoo and the animals:
More signed copies in the shop of course...

Our thanks to David for giving up his time, I know he put a lot of effort into the event (and thanks for the great artwork too). Thanks to everyone who came along and made the event so much fun. We'll definitely be doing this again...

Our next events include an evening with Tim Pears (April 25th) and the return of storyteller Peter Hearn (May 5th - see what happened when he came last time). More in our next newsletter...but for now, watch our for those raggamuffins...

Thursday, April 05, 2007