Friday, January 26, 2007

Never Admit To Beige with Jonathan Drapes

Next Wednesday (January 31st) we have a triple-bill of events in the shop. I've already blogged a little about the next one of our Coffee and Light Reading events, and storytime happens every Wednesday, but on Wednesday evening at 7.30pm we will be warmly welcoming Jonathan Drapes, author of Never Admit To Beige. Jonathan is published by Macmillan New Writing, the bold if somewhat controversial new author publishing initiative from Macmillan that launched last year. Never Admit To Beige has received good reviews, and some great coverage in the media, and we are keen to learn more - not just about the author and the book, but also his experiences under the scheme. Macmillan New Writing has been covered in some detail on other blogs - Grumpy favourably reviewed it when first announced (and he knows a thing or three about publishing), but when Richard Charkin on Charkblog gave an update on the scheme back in December, he had high hopes that Never Admit To Beige would be the imprint's first bestseller. We shall find out next Wednesday. As always, tickets £3 (redeemable against a purchase on the night). We can't promise to have the Fosters on ice, but in honour of Jonathan's Australian heritage we will ensure suitable wine from the region will be sloshing around during the evening. We hope you can join us...

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Love, War and Coffee

On Wednesday morning we had the first of our Coffee and Light Reading events, and were delighted to welcome Susie Vereker, author of Pond Lane and Paris and An Old-Fashioned Arrangement. We were a bit worried when we woke up yesterday morning to Abingdon in the snow, and unfortunately a few people couldn't make the event. Susie bravely battled through snow, ice and - most challenging of all - the roadworks on the A34, and was able to lead a discussion on the theme of Love & War, whilst everyone else warmed up with coffee and cake. Susie took us through a number of her favourite books to explore the theme. She began with Vera Brittain's Chronicle of Youth, her 1913-17 Great War diary, in which love and war are inextricably bound together. The Balkan Trilogy by Olivia Manning was - for someone with Susie's background as a diplomat's wife - particularly relevant. Apparently the FO recommended this book as a starting point to Brits being stationed in Romania after the war. Olivia Manning was felt to be a very underrated author - and Guy Pringle not the nicest husband in fiction! We then touched on The Pursuit of Love, Captain Correlli's Mandolin (where the film was felt to be better than the book, the opposite to The Balkan Trilogy), The Quiet American (again, of particular personal interest to Susie having been stationed in Thailand, interested in the history of Indo-China before the French were drummed out), Birdsong (felt to some extent to be a mirror image of Chronicle of Youth, where emotions are very much more controlled - there was some debate about whether Sebastian Faulks pulls off his ability to write from a woman's point of view). Finally, Susie introduced us to The Past Is Myself by Christabel Bielenberg, and Mary Wesley's The Camomile Lawn got an honorable mention right at the end. It was an excellent discussion, offering up a lot of debate, and a theme Nicki and I may return to in another morning event. I think what we particularly appreciated was the opportunity to be reminded of books - some we may not have read for years - which can be dug out, dusted off and added to our book piles. Susie was also able to sign some copies of her own books. It was a great start to our series, and we're immensely greateful to susie for coming along. We look forward to next Wednesday, where Mary Cavanagh will lead a discussion on the theme of love in old age.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Music, stories - and magic

We have had two events in the past few days (three if you count our weekly storytime on Wednesday afternoon). The first of our coffee and Light Reading events took place yesterday morning (more on that shortly) but on Saturday we had "Storytelling" with Peter Hearn. We cleared the front of the shop on Saturday morning, and Peter did two session each of about one hour. The morning session didn't attact too many takers, but we had a great turnout for the afternoon - which went wonderfully. It's not many people who can keep children of varying ages spellbound (and I don't use that word lightly) for an hour, but Peter's combination of story and music (accompanied by a celtic harp, lyre and even a banjo) was a joy to watch. The feedback we received from parents was unequivocal and we have agreed to run another event in the next few months - so watch for announcements on our blog (or - if we ever get it up - our events diary on the main website). Our thanks to Peter - and also for everyone who came along for a wonderful experience. Peter was warming up with some music before both events, and it was nice to see people's faces when they came in, going rapidly from a typical British "uh-oh what banjo weirdness have we stumbled onto here" reaction, and then getting into the whole event and staying to watch! As Peter sings himself during his finale, "We Need More Banjo Players in this World" and I couldn't agree more!

Monday, January 22, 2007

Coffee and light reading at Mostly Books

This Wednesday (January 24th), at 10.30am, we will be launching a series of morning events in conjunction with the Oxford branch of the Romantic Novelists Association (RNA). Our excitement is matched by a slight nervousness as we (again) try to do something a bit different, but we have had quite a few requests for daytime events, and we anticipate a good response. Over the next four weeks, several working writers will be dropping in on a Wednesday morning to join us for coffee, a chat and to talk about some of their favourite books. The theme is loosely love (in all its forms), and will culminate with an event on Valentine’s Day itself. The first author to join us this Wednesday will be Susie Vereker. Her theme Love and War is influenced by her life travelling the world; first as an army officer's daughter and then as a diplomat's wife. Frequent moves resulted in Susie turning her hand to a number of different jobs ranging from welfare work to archaeology. Susie’s first novel - Pond Lane and Paris - was published in 2005. Her latest - An Old Fashioned Arrangement - was published in 2006, and she will be very happy to answer questions about her writing life. Abingdon’s very latest author Mary Cavanagh (whose book launched on January 11th) will follow on January 31st talking about Love in Old Age. Jenny Haddon will take the chair on February 7th, taking in everything from Claire Tomalin to PG Wodehouse with her talk on Books and lovers. Current vice chairman of the Romantic Novelists' Association, Catherine Jones, will lead the discussion on St Valentine’s Day. These events will be free of charge, but do please contact us to reserve a place.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Storytelling on Saturday

Tomorrow (Saturday, January 20th) master storyteller Peter Hearn - better known as Beltaine - will be weaving some story magic at Mostly Books. A local author, Peter is also a poet, musician, folklorist, and teacher. He became a professional storyteller after winning the Sidmouth Festival storytelling prize and uses a unique blend of story, music, and poetry. Peter will be performing at 11am and again at 2.30pm, and the sessions are most suitable for children five and older (and their parents of course), but all are welcome. If you've read the same story umpteen times to your little ones, we hope you can pick up some hints to stimulate the imagination and improve your storytelling technique!

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Biography and memoir

A genuinely innocent (and hopefully uncontroversial) question today - concerning the organisation of biography and memoir on the shelf. Should it be by subject or author? And is there a hard and fast rule? Some examples should give you an idea of the problem we face: The Invisible Woman, Samuel Pepys and Jane Austen are all by Claire Tomalin - so we've placed them all together under 'T' (we have Tomalin fans who look for other biographies). However, there are two John Betjeman autobiographies by Bevis Hillier and AN Wilson - currently placed side-by-side under 'B', but does Hillier deserve his own section? So...some challenges: "A Woman In Berlin" by anonymous, but with an introduction by Anthony Beevor - A, B or W? Or next to "Berlin" in the history section? "Bruce Chatwin" by Nicholas Shakespeare - C or S "Gilbert White" by Richard Mabey - W or M Alistair Cooke by Nick Clarke allows us to fudge the issue of course... Any suggestions gratefully received.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Whereof one does not know...

...thereof one should not blog. Yesterday I posted about the difficulty of getting hold of the book Not Buying It by Judith Levine. I very much appreciated her posting to this blog (and also for the very nice email she sent me), but several other bookshops have been in touch to say that there is a UK wholesaler - Bertrams - who do in fact have stock (24 at the time of writing this email). So my post was factually inaccurate (as kindly pointed out by Clive Keeble). Apologies for that. It just so happens that we don't have an account with Bertrams (more fool us it looks like). We chose to have accounts with two other wholesalers when we set up and I'm sure sometimes it works to our advantage, sometimes against. I just assumed that if two of the UK's leading wholesalers were showing February for delivery, that was indicative of the market as a whole. BTW, and coincidentally, EUK (which owns THE) today announced that they will be attempting to acquire Bertrams. More on Charkblog, but the competition commission will no doubt be asked to adjudicate...

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The irony of this is staggering

Something has happened today which has left me, well, if not speechless (or commentless I guess - what's the blog equivalent?) significantly staggered. I've done my blustering bit on the phone to Nicki, a few customers, so now for the blog entry to draw a line under it. I would really, really appreciate anyone out there explaining this to me, or at least appreciating the irony of it - and (small chance) if Judith Levine is reading this, your comments would be particularly welcome. Last year American author Judith brought out a book called "Not Buying It" - an account (as I understand it) of a year-long experiment in not buying anything, in an attempt to wean her family off conspicuous consumption. This book looked just the thing to have in our shop. One of our customers Helen alerted us to it shortly after we opened, and it fits with our small but rapidly expanding range of books on sustainability, eco-thinking and ways to reduce your eco-footprint, etc. We have had the book on back-order since last September. The due date was 4th January. This deadline has continued to slip and now we are told by both our wholesalers that the date is now February 11th. One of our very good customers - Ali - has ordered this book - from her local independent, for which we are extremely grateful - and has been mentioning it on her blog. Imagine my surprise when someone posted that the book was available in Tescos (for the obligatory cheaper-than-we-can-order-it-in price point). I then did some checking. Available on Amazon - check. But no availability in any of the main wholesalers. I've done some more digging around - it seems Tescos hoovered up the entire stock of this book as soon as it was published. This...book...(sorry, spluttering again) which is aimed at raising awareness about over-consumption, which (I assume) carries a diatribe about the deleterious effects of Wal-Martisation / establishment of the de facto Tescopoly in the UK, has been bulk-bought by Tesco!!! OK (gulp) I've taken my medicine. I shall clamber down off this soapbox and return to my usual calm self. But I do feel that more people should know about this situation, and I would *love* to know what Ms Levine think about the whole situation...

Friday, January 12, 2007

The Crowded Bed - book launch

Last night Nicki and I took a break from the bookshop, left Alex in the safe hands of his grandmother ("Grammy" who had braved the nasty weather and 2 hour drive down from Warboys), put on some posh clobber, and went along to the Ashmolean for the launch of Mary Cavanagh's book "The Crowded Bed". We were both terrifically excited, having never been to one of these things before (and also because we don't get out much), and the choice of the Ashmol was inspired. The whole thing was very well put together, and much kudos is due to publisher Transita, and to the large number of Transita authors who made it to the evening as well (thanks to Christine Coleman, Susie Vereker and Stella Sykes for posing so obligingly for a blog pic!). As well as meeting authors, we met customers, bookcrossers and at least one other blogger. It was particularly inspiring to meet Sara Banerji - she is a brilliant author (bit gushy this bit, but Nicki and I are big fans). It's very uplifting when you meet people in real-life and they are just what you expect - inspirational, life-affirming, and just the right amount of British eccentricity which always gives me a real buzz. Mary clearly enjoyed herself - here she is reading an excerpt from the book. Mary is an Abingdon author (hooray), and The Crowded Bed is her first book. We've had it in the shop for almost a week. Mary came into the shop shortly after we opened, as one of the authors of The Sixpenny Debt And Other Oxford Stories, a collection of short stories by Oxford writers (The Oxpens group). This has been one of our bestsellers since we've opened, so we hope this book does even better. To round off a perfect evening, we even managed to slip round the corner for a pint at the Lamb & Flag on St Giles (The Eagle & Child being packed out). Ahh, memories of simpler days.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

It ain't easy being green

In theory, at Mostly Books we recycle everything. Paper, plastic, cardboard and metal goes to Grundons on a recycling contract, glass has to be sneaked home for recycling in our domestic green bin (which I'm sure is illegal, but as we have about one glass a wine a month, courtesy of our reading group, I'm not sure the recycling police will haul me away in irons for that). It is a lot of effort, but something we feel is important. Anyway, last night I put all the stuff out for recycling, and this morning went out to find the big sack of paper missing, as well as half the cardboard. Obviously it's been a tad windy of late. I phoned up Grundons to find out why they hadn't collected. They told me they had changed the collection date to the day before - but hadn't told us. To be fair to Grundons, someone did come into the shop yesterday asking for the recycling sack, but I told him he'd come on the wrong day, so he left again. Anyway - to anyone in Abingdon town centre who found a large see-through sack full of paper, or a soggy piece of cardboard with our address on it - we do apologise!

Friday, January 05, 2007

Hello, hello, it's good to be back

'Tis twelfth night, and although Nicki and I didn't originally plan it this way, with the decorations now down, and the Christmas Tree back in the garden we felt it appropriate to break our Christmas blog purdah. I hope you all had a relaxing and enjoyable Christmas too. Also - more importantly - as of yesterday big boxes of fresh, invigorating new books arrived from various locations, so we felt able to talk properly about a New Year, rather than feeling a bit sheepish that there were still lots of old Christmas books kicking around the place like so much leftover turkey. One of the best things that has happened this week is the feedback from some of our Christmas recommendations. Winner in this category has to be Melissa from our Thursday bookgroup. Back in November I did some serious hunting around for her difficult-to-buy-for uncle in Canada (my only clues: "he doesn't read much, but used to be a semi-professional pool player). In the end I suggested an obscure US book on pool called "Hustler Days". Well, not only did he read it in a day, but he had already (before she'd left to return to England) used two of the hustles to earn himself CAD$200 - not sure if that's legal, but I guess we should have sold the book on a cut of the earnings... Our favourite customer at the moment, however, is Ruth Foulsham - only 7 years old (apologies if I got the age wrong Sally!), Upon receiving a book token for Christmas, she wrote in her thank you note words to the effect of "Thank you for the book token, I am going to spend it in Mostly Books". So - yes, we did survive Christmas, and, yes, we had a fantastic break. Alex turned three on the 29th December, had a frightening number of presents (including plenty of new books, many of which closely resembled the reading list from storytime these last few months), and had a huge blowout of a birthday party last Friday which obviously took some organising. So we didn't exactly spend the festive break sitting around watching telly and eating chocolates (well, not the whole time anyway). So - to 2007. Six months down the round, and Nicki and I have plenty of new ideas for the New Year, some of which we will be posting on the blog over the next week or so. The next issue of the Mostly Books newsletter goes out this weekend - please email us if you want to receive a copy. We have plenty of challenges ahead - but I'm pleased to report that the bookshop is in good shape for 2007. In terms of our mid-year report card, a B+ for the shop and the feedback we have received, a B- for finances, and a C for going a teensy bit mad on stock in the run up to Christmas. 'Satisfactory work and progress, must do better' for those last two. The year ahead will be a red letter one for many reasons - but the biggest challenge undoubtably will be a new arrival in April which has nothing to do with books. Yes, it's official, bookselling not only helps you lose weight, but boosts your fertility too. I am pleased to report that Alex is expecting a new baby brother or sister sometime around the second week in April. I'm sure Crockatt and Powell will think we're copying all their best ideas you know...