Wednesday, February 28, 2007

World Book Day

It's our first World Book Day tomorrow - we're not quite sure what to expect. As is usual with us, our first efforts were not too successful. We ordered all of the point of sale material, registered, etc. - then forgot to order the actual books. So back in January I hurled myself on the mercy of Gardners, and now we have 9 out of the 10 books. With all the posters and display racks, the shop is looking like a veritable World Book Day grotto (fighting with Mary Cavanagh's books ahead of our event this evening). So far four people have used their vouchers. All of these have been teachers. Mmm. I guess the vouchers will be handed out in schools tomorrow. Let's hope so! It's been very interesting to learn about World Book Day. Did you know that World Book Day is only March 1st in the UK and Ireland. Actual World Book Day (for the rest of the world) is on 23rd April, and relates to a Catalonian tradition of giving books (and roses) to celebrate St George. I wonder why it's March 1st in the UK? I guess because the school's would be on holiday for Easter break around St George's Day... Anyway (and in the style of DGR!), here's a quick Mostly Books run-down (pop pickers) of the nine books that have been specially prepared, and are currently in the shop: "Let The Snogfest begin" is by Louise Rennison. Girls looking to "avoid boy fiascos" and who are keen followers of the life and loves of Georgia Nicholson should love this one (there is a particularly amusing incident with the book Heidi after her charge Gordy "goes off lederhosen and cheese"). Good stuff. "The Seriously Squishy Science Book" by Nick Arnold should be a great favourite for anyone into the other Horrible Science (or Horrible History and Horrible Geography for that matter). There is a brilliant imagined radio commentary of pioneering surgeon Robert Liston, as he attempts to beat his 150 second record of amputating a leg. Truly awful, splendid... Much more gentile (and for younger kids) is the "Sharing A Shell Song", by the incomparable Julia Donaldson (illustrated by Lydia Monks - a partnership which produced The Princess and the Wizard, and one of our favourites - Aaaarrgghh, Spider!). Crab, Blob and Brush discover the joys of sharing, and despite high melodrama when they all fall out, the story (and the sons) ends happily. The Selfish Crocodile is a counting book by Faustin Charles, illustrated by Michael Terry. A sturdy board book for youngsters, with animals straight out of the Serengeti. Free jungle height chart available if you're quick (500 apparently - details on the back of the book). Leaving the toddlers, we move to "Vampirates: Dead Deep" by Justin Somper. Anyone who knows the other Vampirates stories will know about the combination of, well. vampires and pirates. Featuring a 14 year old protagonist, and with plaudits from Darren Shan and Anthony Horowitz on the cover, this should be fighting (avast!) for the boy's tokens with... ..."I Know What you Did Last Wednesday" by Anthony Horowitz. An instalment of the Diamond Detective Agency, and featuring Horowitz's usual blend of gruesome / witty / teenage boys action stuff, this whodunnit's has a striking cover leaving little to the imagination. "My Sister Has A Spoon Up her Nose" by Jeremy "100 mile an hour dog" Strong looks a lot of fun for slightly younger readers. The cover has been given a bit of a Captain Underpants make-over ("Teaspoons! Penguins! Dee-Doo" it proclaims) and this book gets our vote for book most fun to read aloud. In the same way that Mr Somper sat down and thought "I Know - vampires and pirates!", Astrosaurs (by Steve Cole) is dinosaurs in space. Featuring Teggs, captain of the DSS Sauropod. You can bet the baddy is a T-Rex...again, great reads for kids 6-8 (IMHO). But (in the absence of Princess Megan which sadly hasn't arrived yet) the winner of the Mostly Books favourite WBD book, is "The Code of Romulus" by Caroline Lawrence. We love the history mysteries here at MB, and this mystery set in Ancient Rome, featuring ordinary (Roman) kids trying to solve a puzzle, looks another great addition to the series. Tapping into popular Da Vinci code-esque themes, it features latin posers, palindromes, historical artefacts with Flavia Gemina again out to prove her worth as a detective. Highly recommended!

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Come and join us in the Crowded Bed

Next Wednesday (February 28th @ 7.30pm) we are hosting an evening with Mary Cavanagh, Abingdon resident and author of "The Crowded Bed". We would love for you come along and join us at the shop for what will be a splendid evening.

Some of you will know that Nicki and I attended the launch of The Crowded Bed at the Ashmoleum back in January. However, since then, we've been watching excitedly as Mary has been garnering some impressive reviews which - to be honest - most authors would give their eye teeth for.

Here's a taster - received in an unsolicited note to her publisher Transita:

"Sunday morning I opened the book and finished it at 19:15; I am going to buy it to read again in a month to taste again the texture of it. I laughed; I cried; I sat stunned by the depth of treatment of many of humankind’s blackest deeds: incest, alcoholism, bullying and betrayal. The systematic destruction of motherhood by fear; the familial structures being denied; religious and racial differences of the times and the social blindness of observers all being treated so wittily and sometimes cynically, this book reveals an intensity rarely shown by a first timer...I can honestly say that I rarely give up food for a book but today I did so. Is she a 21st century Susan Hill, I believe so."

And how about this one:

“Mary Cavanagh's characters and their motivation are completely convincing, and she writes with relentless pace. To say this book is a page-turner barely does it justice. One simply cannot put it down.”

(There will also be an extra frisson to the event, courtesy of David Baddiel in the Times over the weekend. It's a very funny piece (which you can still read here) though hardly a conventional book review, but after reading this, hop over to dovegreyreader and see what she thought of the book - and the brouhaha.)

I'm coming to realise that - along with harbouring secret writing desires, as I'm sure many bookshop owners do - the big dream of a bookseller is to discover someone and have them in the shop before they "go large". Crockatt & Powell believe this passionately with their recent launch of Catherine O'Flynn's What Was Lost, and I have to say that Nicki and I really believe this to be the case with The Crowded Bed.

Mary's own story is also compelling. A first-time author who only started writing in her fifties when her children left home, the event next Wednesday will be part celebration of her writing achievement, part chance to meet someone who is a delightful author, and part inspirational about achieving your goals. So please contact us to book your ticket...

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

What we did in half term... Nicki and Mark

We had a busy half-term week, starting with the final coffee and light reading event. Catherine Jones led the discussion and the theme was Love and Gardens, appropriately enough on valentine's Day. Her books included Tom's Midnight Garden, the Secret Garden and - interestingly - John Le Carré's The Constant Gardner, which Catherine felt would have been a strong contender had it been entered into the Romantic Novel of the Year, having a powerful love story at its core.
The shortlist for the Romantic Novel of the Year had been released the day before. Find out more on the RNA website.

Catherine also touched upon Gardens of Delight by Erica James - the 2006 winner, before finishing on RHS Encyclopedia of Plants, and the "Expert" gardening guides of Dr DG ('David') Hessayon. It turns out that David's wife Joan was herself a romantic novelist, and every year the RNA awards a prize in her name for the best debut Romantic Novel.

We'd like to thank Catherine - as well as Jenny Haddon, Mary Cavanagh and Susie Vereker - for what has been a very successful series of events, and enjoyed by everyone who has come along.

We also had storytime on the Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday with some guest storytellers. As well as thanking Pat and Laura, we have to especially thank the redoubtable Miss Markey from Long Furlong school who ran storytime on Wednesday. So many children turned up, we had to do it in the main part of the shop!

So - add in our Thursday book group, and the launch of our Chinese book festival on Saturday, it was a busy old week.

We are gearing up to a big event next Wednesday - but more about that in our next post...

Monday, February 12, 2007

Books and Lovers

Last Wednesday we welcomed Jenny Haddon to Mostly Books, as part of our Coffee and Light Reading series.

Chairman of the Romantic Novelist Association, Jenny is exactly the kind of person you would expect a romantic novelist to be like - larger than life, enormous fun and unashamedly romantic.

Her theme was Books and Lovers, and this gave Jenny a great opportunity to introduce a number of favourite books (from a variety of genres) which she felt dealt with this theme particularly well. As we are getting used to during these morning events, not only did this give everyone a chance to rediscover some old favourites, but it also stimulated some great discussion.

Jenny started by making an observation that books and lovers are often mutually exclusive. In popular television and soap opera for example (where love is a stable theme) there are often no books, nor shelves of books in the houses where the melodrama takes place. This is quite a shocking state of affairs, but Jenny was heartened to note that the few characters who *do* have books in their houses are often some of the characters who you'd actually like to meet.

Jenny's first book was Jane Tomalin's biography of Samuel Pepys (The Unequalled Self), which she compared (favourably) with her former favourite Pepys biography by Richard Ollard. She described Pepys as a sexually insecure book-addict (I'm paraphrasing here) who liked to give young girls 'advice' on world matters, before 'testing their mettle' and attempting to seduce them (often breaking into French on the point of conquest). Pepys sounded like just the kind of customer today's independent bookseller would love to have, someone who couldn't help themselves when dropping in on a bookshop en route somewhere and coming out with a clutch of slightly esoteric purchases.

At the start of the 20th century, books were often a lover's calling card - a sign of upward mobility in an age of increasing level of literacy. With examples from DH Lawrence and EM Forster, books were often by author such as Ruskin - self-consciously delightful books.

Jenny turned to adolescent love, with two books Daddy Long Legs by Jean Webster, and I Capture the Castle by Dodi Smith. Jenny explained Jean Webster's difficult relationship with Mark Twain (she was his great niece) but felt that this book - often known as a children's book in the vein of Anne of Green Gables - deserved wider reading for the brilliant description of American East Coast society, and the way that the reader realises that the young narrator is falling in love before she does. Dodi Smith's book is a more sophisticated, if pitiless, telling of (essentially) the cinderella story. Comparing Rose and Neil's elopement with "Wyckham /Lydia", and the total collapse of everything that follows, Cassandra maturely comments on the way in which adolescents engage in the "follow-my-leader game of second best" when it comes to love.

Other books introduced: The Thirteenth Tale, Cornelia Funke's "Inkheart" (the joys and pitfalls of reading), before coming to the doyen of historical romantic fiction and her novel romantic comedy of errors Sylvester (best name for a Regency fop here: Sir Nugent Fothersbury).
Jenny ended with PG Wodehouse - doing superb Russian novelist impersonations, and leading to a general debate about romantic fiction.
Thanks very much to Jenny, and to those people who came along for a fun morning.
This Wednesday we have the final event of the series, with Catherine Jones (vice-chairman of the romantic novelists association) appropriately enough on Valentine's Day, with her theme "Love and Gardens". The shortlist for the Romantic Novel of the Year will also be announced. The event starts at 10.30am at Mostly Books!

Friday, February 02, 2007

Aussie (book) rules

Panting and breathless (for various reasons) from Mary Cavanagh's coffee and light reading event, followed by storytime (only one taker, but an important one - Ali and her son Johnny) we welcomed Jonathan Drapes to the shop Wednesday evening. Being completely honest about this (as we always try to be, to give you a realistic impression of what it's like to run a bookshop) we had had few takers come the Tuesday night, which was a bit gutting for us and Jonathan. Whether it was the time of year, the fact that we'd done a few events of late, I'm not sure. Anyway, I'd chatted with Jonathan on the phone, and with hopes of our podcasting technology being up and running, we'd decided on going ahead with the event anyway. I'm very glad we did - it was one of the best events we've run. Jonathan and his girlfriend Katherine arrived just after 7pm, and we got started at 7.30pm. We dispensed with the tables, and just drew the chairs around, poured out some wine, and discussed the book and his experiences as a new author. The story of how Never Admit To Beige got published is a good one. The book is published by Macmillan New Writing (MNW), an innovative imprint of Macmillan that has attracted a good deal of attention in publishing circles (and a lot of criticisms, mostly by agents - but more about that in a moment). It's fair to say that Never Admit To Beige (NATB) is the most successful (in terms of coverage) of all the books in the imprint so far (I'm sure I'll get some comments disproving this - my view only I hasten to add). NATB was originally written 9 years ago, in Australia, and Jonathan found an agent very quickly. Thinking that "this publishing lark is a doddle" (or words to that effect) he went travelling, whilst the agent totally failed to place the novel, then got sick, then retired. Jonathan returned to find he was back to square one. Fast forward a few years, and Jonathan had travelled to England, where he hit on the idea of recasting the protagonist as an Englishman, not an Australian - in one of those eureka moments that made the book much stronger. Much of the action takes place on Australia's Gold Coast, a place Jonathan knows well and loves, and placing a bumbling Englishman into this exotic location suddenly threw up plenty of potential for the kinds of misunderstandings and fish-out-of-water gags that NATB delivers very well indeed. Jonathan submitted the revised MS to approximately 40 agents - before chancing upon the Macmillan website. Jonathan submitted his MS directly (MNW accepted manuscripts by email - what a radical concept!) and what followed was a relatively smooth route to the eventual launch at the beginning of December. Jonathan was very honest about his experience with MNW - and Macmillan seem to deserve a lot of credit for trying (and succeeding) to do something both innovative and imaginative, which really does benefit new writers. (If you are interested in some of the fuss that accompanied its launch, check out this post from Grumpy Old Bookman and some of the later posts). Jonathan answered a whole range of questions about the book, and his writing. Was he a full-time writer (unfortunately not), did he write the book with a view on the film (yes, and the name Doug McAvoy was mentioned), is he writing a new book (yes, but not a follow-up, and maybe a change of style - although this was the subject of some debate between him and Katherine!). He described his slightly freaky experience of appearing on the Simon Mayo show on Radio 5 (his book was selected as book of the month back in December), and we even had a healthy debate on the cover design. So, having spent a highly enjoyable hour kicking back with the author, Jonathan signed some books, we welcomed a few late arrivals (including one person out on a post-prandial stroll who popped in because 'it looked like we were having fun') and everyone finally said goodbye at about half past nine. We definitely need to do more events like this one. NATB is a really quality piece of writing, genuinely funny, very original and slips down easily (no, I'm getting dangerously close to a v. poor Australian lager comparison - I will stop there). I'm sure regular readers of this blog probably get a bit fed up with me describing authors as "nice" or "decent" or " very nice". I got all gushy over Sophie Grigson, and Sam Jordison was a delight to have in the shop. But it's true - and now I'll have to add Jonathan to this niceness hall of fame. Thanks very much to Jonathan and Katherine for making the journey down to the shop, and we look forward to NATB getting the wider promotion and readers that it deserves. And of course - we have signed copies now on the shelf.

Love in the Third Age

On Wednesday morning we had the second of our Coffee and Light Reading events. Mary Cavanagh lead a meaty, far-reaching (and slightly raunchy as far as I was concerned!) discussion on the theme of "Love in Old Age" (or "Love in the Third Age" as everyone quickly decided it should have been called). With a healthy attendance, and everyone esconced with coffee and cake, Mary began with Ovid's fable of Baucis and Philemon. Granted a wish by the gods to stay together forever (in return for hospitality granted to them by Baucis and Philemon), the couple are transformed at the end of their lives into an intertwined Oak and Linden tree at the entrance to their temple. If that was a beautiful start to proceedings, things become more sombre, with a reading from Cider with Rosie, and the death of an elderly couple a week after arriving in the workhouse. Mary did promise things would get happier - and we were treated to extracts from Ethel & Earnest, Raymond Brigg's biographical story of his parents. I'm a big fan of Mr Briggs, with When The Wind Blows making a big impression on me (about the time of Threads in the late 80s from memory) and the story of Ethel & Earnest is one which suits Briggs' imagery and humour (you could imagine Alan Bennett making it into a great television piece). We finished with something altogether more upbeat - and raunchier, with A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, and the horror that strikes the offspring of an 84 year old father when he declares his intention of marrying a 30-something Ukrainian immigrant. The choice of books, and the excellent contributions from those that attended resulted in a fascinating debate which then covered such subjects as theological definitions of love, the recent film Venus (with Peter O'Toole and Leslie Phillips which sounds fab), Alan Bennett, the practical aspects of sex in old age (I told you it got a bit raunchy), Somerset Maugham, and a very sweet story of a retired wife publishing saucy poetry which had obviously gone over her husband's head: (A first for the Mostly Books blog - hope this works! We were trying to set up a podcast, but 'new technology baffles booksellers' for the time being...) Thanks again to Mary for leading an excellent event, and to everyone who came and made it such a stimulating morning. Next Wednesday (at 10.30am) we welcome Chairman of the Romantic Novelists Association, Jenny Haddon - her theme is books and lovers, and we hope to get pulses seriously racing just 7 days before Valentine's Day...

Those event reports are imminent

Slightly pooped after Wednesday's triple bill - so apologies for the delay getting the event reports posted. Nic's in the shop today, and I've just returned from a magical 3-hour monster round walk up and back along the Thames with Alex. And we only managed to lose his football (it's still in the park if anyone comes across it - it's got Lilo & Stitch on it. We did manage to lose his water bottle and banana as well, but some incredibly kind soul placed both items by one of the Thames path gates. Many thanks. Just another reason why Abingdon is such a nice place to be). Anyway - I'm going to post our event write-up now whilst Alex is snoozing on the sofa....