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).